The Henriad

The Council of Trent from 1545-1563 reaffirmed a veritable laundry list of Catholic doctrine, and offered some changes of its own. Even on matters like music and art the Council’s influence is felt in the Renaissance. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Reformation had also prompted some Catholic soul searching of its own. For many of the more liberal figures in the Church it finally gave them the momentum to push through some long cherished reforms. At several Cardinal’s gatherings, a cherrypicked few of Luther’s suggestions were adopted as a carrot for the faithful.[1] However, it was a small carrot next to the very large stick the Church opted to pick up, and the Jesuit order came into being as a direct response to Protestantism. For all the good the Jesuits would do to advance science and learning, there was no getting away from their mandate to stamp out Protestantism from any leadership roles they could find. Essentially the Church admitted reform was necessary, but that still didn’t make them like Protestants for daring to suggest it. With both sides at loggerheads, Europe began to tear itself apart in the late 16th Century.

In the Catholic corner, Charles’ son Philip II had capably taken the reigns of Spain, but found himself locked in a war of his own making with the insurgent Dutch United Provinces.[2] Many of Phillip’s erstwhile subjects had converted to Calvinism, and unlike his father Charles V, Phillip was neither Flemish nor ever seemed to show much interest in anything from the Lowlands other than their taxes. Between the Inquisition and the high handed monarchy, it didn’t take long for a revolt to break out in 1566 in the Dutch province of Holland. Off and on, the resulting Dutch Rebellion would sprawl for a staggering eighty years (officially 1568-1648). While the Dutch were the clear underdogs in the conflict, several factors conspired to keep Philip from concluding the war. The first was that the Dutch had built a sophisticated network of fortresses and dikes to keep out their rival gods, be it Catholic Spain or Poseidon Atlantic, and they were more than willing to flood their lands if it meant keeping the Spanish army at bay. The Lowlands region was one of Europe’s largest producers of arms, armor, cannon, and gunpowder. As proud merchants of death, the Dutch happily sold to anyone they weren’t actively at war with, including Spain during ceasefires.

The Armada grapples with English ships near the Isle of Wight. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The other issue was that Spain’s enemies regularly intervened to prolong the conflict. At the height of their own internal disunity Spain’s best General the Duke of Parma came dangerously close to conquering the Netherlands. Yet in their hour of need the Dutch turned to Philip’s rival and sister in law Elizabeth of England, and offered to surrender their sovereignty to Great Britain if she could claim it from Spain. While the deal was a disappointment to both sides, Philip’s attention was diverted into a lengthy and expensive punchup with Elizabeth. This was the source of the failed “Great Armada” in 1588, and the somewhat less well known but equally failed English counterattack.[3] While their attention was elsewhere, the Dutch pulled themselves out of their squabbling funk. Political leaders Maurice of Nassau (of the House of Orange) and Johan van Oldenbarnevelt banded together to respectively change the military and the state of the Netherlands. The new Dutch army placed a greater emphasis on firepower, discipline, and was theoretically modeled on Rome’s legions. More practically they bore no resemblance whatsoever, but the classical allusion was important.

Elsewhere, Poland-Lithuania, Sweden, and Denmark engaged in a dynastic and sometime military struggle that seemed mostly secular, but tangled religious elements as Catholic Poland grappled with the Protestant Scandinavians. Just for fun, one of them would also occasionally stumble into the new Russian state to burn something like Moscow. Topping the whole mess off, the French essentially dissolved into decades of religious warfare as the French Huguenot (Calvinist) population fought for recognition, and the Spanish and Dutch propped up one side or the other as proxies. After several massacres,[4] this spiraled into the even more confusing war of the Three Henrys[5] from 1587-1589 when King Henry III decreed that Protestantism was outlawed. Battle lines were quickly drawn between the Huguenots backing Henry of Navarre, the Catholic hardliners backing Henry of Guise, and King Henry trapped in the middle. After several brutal years Henry of Guise was preemptively assassinated by King Henry, who was in turn assassinated by an extremist Catholic monk for the perceived betrayal. Seeing his chance Henry of Navarre converted to Catholicism and attempted to rule as a religious moderate. While later French would recognize the golden age of unity and growth Henry IV brought to the country, his middle of the road attitude led to no fewer than 13 assassination attempts. Tragically, the final one in 1610 was successful, and Henry “the Good” was shown the door by another Catholic extremist as punishment for tolerating the Huguenots.

Philip II, seen here wondering how best to ruin his neighbor’s day. Photo Credit: Titian

Relatively secure in their own borders, the subjects of the Empire must have felt they had dodged a whole volley of bullets. A series of relatively moderate Hapsburgs also helped keep tensions to a low simmer.[6] Yet the foundation of the peace was more tenuous than it seemed. Part of it was that while the original pre-Augsburg generation could recall what religious unity had been like, the memory was fading as the older set passed away. The younger leadership in Germany had a greater share of its own hardliners, and both sides of the religious divide considered Augsburg unfinished business. For the Protestants, their own demographic gains since 1555 had gone unrecognized. While many converted to Lutheranism or Calvinism, the Cuius Regio part meant that such conversions were at best moot, and at worst still heresy to the local lord if he didn’t follow suit. This was most painfully apparent in imperial territory itself. Bohemia in particular had seen a wave of Calvinist conversions, and the new believers were painfully aware that while their souls were predestined to paradise, their physical forms were more an open question in Hapsburg territory. Protestant attempts to secure any gains in the Bundesrat were also stonewalled by the Catholic majority, whose hardliners merely considered the stamping out of Protestantism postponed until the Turks were safely on the backburner.

[1] For instance, Bishops had to actually live in the area they were responsible for shepherding. No more lettering in their holy duties.

[2] Phillip’s nickname “the Prudent” is a bit ironic in light of his handling of the Netherlands. The mostly religion driven war forced Spain into bankruptcy at least four times in spite of the influx of hard silver from the new world. The sentiment “more money, more problems”.

[3] The Counter Armada is one of those things the British try to forget about, and cost more than 11,000 men.

[4] Most notoriously the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, where between 3-70,000 Huguenots were murdered in a planned series of assassinations and slaughters across France.

[5] Not to be confused with the War of the Three Henries.

[6] While the Emperors would often crack down on their own Protestant sects, mostly they were far too busy fretting about whatever the hell the Ottomans were up to on the other side of the border.


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