Schmalkaldic League

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Engraving from Schmalkalden, the place where the Schmalkalden League was founded (1645)
The princes of the Schmalkaldic League receive the Lord's Supper in both forms from Luther and Melanchthon . History painting by Hermann Wislicenus in the Kaisersaal Goslar , around 1880

The Schmalkaldische Bund (also called Schmalkaldische Liga or League of Schmalkalden ) was a defensive alliance of Protestant princes and cities under the leadership of Electoral Saxony and Hesse against the religious policy of the Catholic Emperor Charles V, concluded on February 27, 1531 in Schmalkalden .

In the years after its foundation, the federal government was able to continuously expand its power and successfully attract additional members. From 1542, however, there were increasing internal disagreements between the members, which increasingly paralyzed the Schmalkaldic League. Charles V was able to lead the decisive military counterstrike in the Schmalkaldic War of 1546–47 and smash the union.

The Catholic Nuremberg League served, alongside the Kaiser, as a counterpart to this league and was intended to counteract the increasing spread of Protestantism in the empire. However, the Catholic Federation was never militarily active and could only exist from 1538 to 1539.



Emperor Charles V (painting by Titian )

After the rejection of the Confessio Augustana by Emperor Charles V at the Augsburg Reichstag in 1530 , the evangelical estates that did not submit to the emperor were in danger of being executed for breach of the peace . As early as September 1530, voices had risen indicating how desirable an alliance of all Protestant princes and imperial cities was.

Since such an alliance was in any case directed against the legitimate Roman emperor , the discussion about the right to active resistance against the head of the empire revived. The concerns of theologians and jurists resulted from the view that the emperor was the head of all secular dominions and that they owed him unconditional obedience; for whoever opposes him is accordingly also opposed to God's order.

But the political situation that arose at the Reichstag urged a quick decision, so that Luther and other doubters at negotiations in Torgau at the end of October 1530 accepted the arguments of the (primarily Saxon) lawyers. According to this, there is a right to armed resistance if the emperor commits a breach of the constitution.

The foundation of the federal government

One of the two captains of the league: Landgrave Philip I of Hesse
One of the two captains of the league: Elector Johann von Sachsen
Elector Johann Friedrich von Sachsen, who took over his position after the death of his father in 1532

The Elector of Saxony, Johann , invited representatives of Protestant cities and territories to Schmalkalden on December 22, 1530 to discuss the election of his brother Ferdinand as Roman king and the impending court proceedings against the secularizing princes and cities . These discussions in Schmalkalden soon turned into alliance negotiations. On December 31st, the participants agreed to jointly provide assistance if the High Court would initiate a lawsuit against one of them.

The contract was officially signed on February 27, 1531 by Landgrave Philipp I of Hesse , Elector Johann von Sachsen , Duke Philipp von Braunschweig-Grubenhagen , Duke Ernst von Braunschweig-Lüneburg , Prince Wolfgang von Anhalt-Köthen , the Count von Erbach and three - and eight Upper German imperial cities signed.

The resulting Schmalkaldic League was a defensive military alliance with an obligation to provide mutual aid in the event of a Catholic attack. This alliance case was defined very imprecisely in the federal treaty (attacks in “matters of religion”). The alliance obligations were initially supposed to apply for six years, but were extended for a further twelve years in 1535. The leadership of the federal government was in fact with Hesse and Electoral Saxony, the two most important Protestant principalities of the time.

Rise to a significant power factor

The rapid expansion of the Schmalkaldic League that followed was primarily due to foreign policy reasons. On October 11, 1531, the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli died in the Second Kappel War . The Upper German imperial cities that had hitherto orientated themselves towards his movement lost their religious and political point of reference. If they wanted to continue to assert themselves against the emperor, sooner or later they had to seek affiliation with the federal government.

Furthermore, the emperor and his royal governor Ferdinand could not take political or military action against the federal government, as they needed the support of all imperial estates in the fight against the Turks . This financial and military aid was bought by the so-called Nuremberg decency of July 23, 1532. This granted the various denominations for the first time a (albeit limited) mutual legal and peace guarantee for the current confessional acquis.

In 1533, the federal government adopted the “constitution of hurrying help and resistance” and appointed the Elector of Saxony, Johann Friedrich von Sachsen , and Landgrave Philipp von Hessen to be its federal captains and commanders of the federal troops.

The following year, the forcible reinstatement of Duke Ulrich von Württemberg into his rule meant a special increase in power. He was expelled in 1519 because of an attack on the imperial city of Reutlingen , and the duchy has been under Habsburg administration ever since. After the victory in the battle of Lauffen and the reconquest of the duchy, which was achieved with Hessian help , Ulrich immediately introduced the Reformation and joined the alliance. His return considerably strengthened the Protestant position in the south-west of the empire. At the same time, a rapprochement between Lutheran and Zwingl theological positions in the doctrine of the Lord's Supper made it easier for many Reformed imperial cities to join the covenant.

With the "Constitution for Counter-Defense" passed in 1535, the federal government considerably expanded its military potential. The alliance of words should now become an alliance of deeds , said the Saxon elector. From 1536 to 1542 the Schmalkaldic League functioned very efficiently and was at the height of its power. In addition to military defense, the federal government now also formulated political demands such as the free choice of denominations for the princes or the establishment of their own regional churches .

In addition, the federal government became an important negotiating partner in the Reich and also at European level. Pope and Emperor tried to resolve the theological differences between Protestants and Catholics in religious talks, while other European powers, such as France, tried to integrate the federal government into an anti-Habsburg alliance. During these years, Emperor Charles V was primarily involved in wars in Italy .

The Alliance's Crisis

From the 1540s it became more and more difficult to bridge the internal differences of the federal government. Above all, Johann Friedrich's plan to give the Bund, which was founded as a purely defensive alliance, an offensive anti-Habsburg direction, met with increasing resistance. The smaller members feared that this could mark the beginning of a permanent split in the empire.

The differences between the Lutheran and Reformed members - despite all theological approaches - could never be completely overcome. The Schmalkaldic League saw itself primarily as a Lutheran alliance in which the Reformed were more or less tolerated.

The alliance was also weakened by a scandalous double marriage of one of its federal governors - Philip of Hesse. In order to avoid the punishment for bigamy, Philip had to promise Emperor Charles V in the Regensburg Treaty in 1541 to prevent France, England and Cleves from joining the Schmalkaldic League. His behavior also irritated many of the more immoral allies.

Philip of Hesse with Johann Friedrich von Sachsen, Schmalkaldischer Bundestaler 1546. The two
federal heads celebrated the victory over the Duke of Brunswick with the taler.

A decisive turning point occurred when the two captains used the military potential of the federal government in the summer of 1542 to drive Duke Heinrich II of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel from his country. The duke was a loyal supporter of the emperor and a staunch opponent of the Reformation. He owned one of the few Catholic areas in northern Germany and was an active member of the Catholic princes' union, the League, founded in 1538 . For a long time, Duke Heinrich II had threatened to conquer the two alliance members Goslar and Braunschweig . The preventive strike of the Schmalkaldic League, which led to the eviction of the duke, was in no way covered by the federal statutes. Many members spoke of behavior contrary to the federal government because sooner or later this action had to provoke a reaction from the emperor. Regardless of this, the leaders of the Schmalkaldic League, with their Schmalkaldic Bundestalers minted in Goslar, propagated the league's victory over the Duke of Braunschweig.

Other decisions also met resistance within the federal government. For example, the federal government supported the attempt to transform Kurköln into a secular Protestant duchy. This was a direct declaration of war on the emperor and the Catholic imperial estates, since a conversion of Cologne to Protestantism would have shifted the majority relationship within the electoral council to the disadvantage of the Catholics. For many members such a policy of open confrontation was too risky.

From 1542 the Schmalkaldic League was therefore largely paralyzed and, although it continued to exist for the time being, actually ceased to exist as a functioning framework for action.

The smashing of the covenant

Duke Moritz of Saxony
Emperor Karl V after the battle of Mühlberg

The constellation for a final smashing of the Schmalkaldic League was favorable for the emperor in 1546: the neutrality of the foreign powers seemed assured. France in particular posed no threat for the time being since the Peace of Crépy in 1544. In lengthy negotiations, the emperor and Pope Paul III came to an agreement in the period that followed . that Rome would finance the war against the federal government.

In addition, the emperor had succeeded in driving a wedge in the line of the Protestant princes. Duke Moritz von Sachsen , head of the Albertine line of the Saxon dukes, lived in constant enmity with his Ernestine cousin - Elector Johann Friedrich von Sachsen. In the Prague treaty (signed on October 14, 1546) , Charles V succeeded in winning Moritz over to his side by promising to transfer the Saxon electoral dignity . Charles V was also able to win over several other north German gentlemen with lucrative service contracts.

The formal reason for the opening of acts of war was the enforcement of the imperial ban on Electoral Saxony and Hesse. This was imposed on the two federal governors because they had led the conquest of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (which was also disputed within the federal government). Through this legal procedure, the emperor hoped to be able to persuade other Protestant princes and cities to fail to comply with their alliance obligations.

In the course of 1546 the imperial troops in alliance with Bavaria conquered almost all Protestant areas in southern Germany with relative ease. At the same time, Duke Moritz attacked Electoral Saxony and thus ensured that the Saxon troops had to withdraw from the fighting in the south. A year later they were finally defeated in the battle of Mühlberg .

To avert his impending execution and to secure at least some areas in Thuringia , Johann Friedrich signed the Wittenberg surrender . This transferred the Saxon electoral dignity to Moritz, which was awarded to him on June 4, 1547. In addition, large parts of the Ernestine hereditary lands ( Wittenberg , Torgau , Eilenburg and Grimma ) were transferred to the Albertines.

Landgrave Philipp von Hessen surrendered voluntarily to the emperor in Halle and thus completed Charles V's victory. Both former federal heads were imprisoned in the Netherlands for years .

The alliance agreement expired at the end of 1546. Negotiations about an extension failed at the beginning of 1546 when the members asked for financial relief. Due to the war and the capture of its captains, these negotiations could not be continued. After the emperor's victory, the negotiations were finally broken off and the Schmalkaldic League dissolved.

Structure of the Confederation

Founding members (light purple) and after the founding (purple) members of the Schmalkaldic League

The Schmalkaldic League was founded in 1531 as a loose support alliance of Protestant princes. In the founding documents, the allies pledged to support each other if they were attacked because of their religion.

From 1535 the character of the alliance changed. It was decided to raise an army of 10,000 soldiers and 2,000 horsemen in the event of an attack and to provide them with 70,000 guilders a month. Landgrave Philip I of Hesse and Elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony were appointed captains of the league and commanders of the troops, who replaced each other every six months. For a long time, this shared leadership prevented the alliance from being instrumentalized for purely Hessian or purely Saxon matters. The leading members of the Alliance appointed councilors of war to assist the captains in carrying out their duties.

According to the federal treaty, half of the costs should be borne by the cities and half by the princes. Due to the steadily growing number of members, the exact payment obligations of the individual members were adjusted several times and finally completely reorganized in August 1537. In the event of war, the contingent was now divided into two groups: the Saxon district, which was supposed to provide 50,925 guilders, and the Oberland district, which was supposed to provide 53,665 guilders. Due to the continued recruitment of new members, these obligations also had to be adjusted several times. The war treasure of the federal government was initially 140,000 guilders and grew to 430,000 guilders by 1538.

Meetings of all members (known as the Bundestag ) took place every six months . The members also sometimes met on the fringes of the Reichstag to coordinate their actions. In votes, the weighting of the votes was roughly based on the share that the individual alliance partners contributed to the financing of the alliance. The resolutions of the Bundestag were put down in writing as Schmalkaldic federal approvals .

Philipp's secretary Sebastian Aitinger was the federal secretary. He took part in the most important Reich and Bundestag parliaments and conducted most of the political negotiations of the federal government.

Founding members of the Schmalkaldic Federation

Territories Imperial cities
Landgraviate of Hesse,
Electorate of Saxony,
Duchy of Braunschweig-Lüneburg,
County of Mansfeld,
Principality of Anhalt-Köthen,
Duchy of Brunswick-Grubenhagen,
County of Erbach
Lower Saxony cities Hanseatic cities
Magdeburg Bremen
Lübeck (resigned in 1536)

Members of the Schmalkaldic Confederation joined after the foundation

Territories Imperial cities
Principality of Anhalt-Dessau (1536)
Principality of Anhalt-Zerbst (1536)
Duchy of Pomerania-Stettin (1536)
Duchy of Pommern-Wolgast (1536)
Margraviate Brandenburg-Küstrin (1538)
Duchy Rochlitz (1538)
County Nassau-Weilburg (August 1537)
County Schwarzburg (1538)
County Tecklenburg (1538)
Duchy of Württemberg (1536)
Duchy of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1542)
Duchy of Saxony (1537 to 1541)
Esslingen (1531/32)
Nordhausen (1532)
Frankfurt (1536)
Augsburg (1536)
Kempten (1536)
Heilbronn (July 1538)
Schwäbisch Hall (1538)
Dinkelsbühl (1546)
Bopfingen (September 1546)
Ravensburg (1546)
Lower Saxony cities Hanseatic cities
Einbeck (1531/32)
Goslar (1531/32)
Braunschweig (1531/32)
Hanover (1536)
Göttingen (May 1531)
Hildesheim (January 1543)
Osnabrück (1544)
Hamburg (1536)
Minden (August 1536)


Similar Protestant alliances to prevent the Worms Edict from being implemented had already existed before 1530 (for example the Torgauer Bund or the Protestation in Speyer ). What was new was the military component, which relied on targeted military deterrence.

As a result of a favorable constellation in terms of foreign and domestic politics, the federal government was able to grow into the central platform for political Protestantism in the empire. Although all Protestant regions never joined the alliance, from 1536 to 1542 the alliance was a decisive power factor in the empire, with which the Emperor, Pope, German and European powers entered into negotiations.

The relatively effortless removal of the Schmalkaldic League in 1546/47 succeeded on the one hand because Charles V was very clever at tactics and was able to win important allies. On the other hand, since the 1540s, the federal government was exposed to a progressive alienation of its members from one another.

Even the crushing defeat in the Schmalkaldic War did not mean the end of Protestantism in the empire. It was already too deeply anchored in the north, east and the southern imperial cities. The insight that Protestantism could not be destroyed politically or militarily ultimately led to the Augsburg religious peace and thus to the end of the medieval idea of ​​empire.


  • Peter Blickle : The Reformation in the Reich. 3rd comprehensively revised and expanded edition. Ulmer, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-8252-1181-9 ( UTB for science - university paperbacks - history 1181).
  • Ekkehart Fabian: The emergence of the Schmalkaldic League and its constitution. 1529–1531 / 33 .. Brück, Philipp von Hessen and Jakob Sturm. Presentation and sources. With archival supplements and a Brück bibliography. Osiander in commission, Tübingen 1956 ( writings on church and legal history 1, ISSN  0582-0367 ), (at the same time: Heidelberg, Univ., Diss.).
  • Ekkehart Fabian (Ed.): The Schmalkaldic Federal Fares. 2 volumes. Fabian et al., Tübingen 1958, ( Writings on Church and Legal History 7–8).
  • Gabriele Haug-Moritz : The Schmalkaldic League. 1530-1541 / 42. A study of the cooperative structural elements of the political order of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. DRW-Verlag, Leinfelden-Echterdingen 2002, ISBN 3-87181-744-9 ( Writings on Southwest German Regional Studies 44), (At the same time: Tübingen, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1999/2000), ( Summary ( Memento from 24 July 2012 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Ferdinand Seibt : Karl V. - The Emperor and the Reformation. Complete paperback edition, 2nd edition. Siedler, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-442-75511-5 .

Web links


  1. In the literature, December 31, 1530 is sometimes given as the date of foundation. On this day, the participants in the Schmalkaldic Convention agreed to found the union. The official signing of the contract did not take place until February 27, 1531.
  2. For a discussion of the right to resist, see Blickle, Die Reformation im Reich , p. 207
  3. Source: Die Zeit - Welt- und Kulturgeschichte , Volume 19, p. 232
  4. quoted from Haug-Moritz Der Schmalkaldische Bund (1530–1541 / 42) - A constitutional case study on the cooperative structural elements of the political order of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation ( Memento of July 24, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  5. On the connection of the Reformed forces see Blickle, Die Reformation im Reich , p. 208
  6. ^ Quoted from Haug-Moritz
  7. Haug-Moritz
  8. Haug-Moritz
  9. ^ Hermann Kellenbenz: The fundraising of Protestants in the Schmalkaldic War , in Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte , 1989, p. 15
  10. ^ Hermann Kellenbenz: The fundraising of Protestants in the Schmalkaldic War , in Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte , 1989, p. 15
  11. ^ Hermann Kellenbenz: The fundraising of the Protestants in the Schmalkaldic War , in Blätter für deutsche Landesgeschichte , 1989, p. 17
  12. The various sources give some contradicting information. The data here has been compiled from many different sources, as the list of members is often only given in part.
  13. These cities in Lower Saxony had, depending on their individual history, obtained extensive autonomy from their mostly Catholic rulers, which, although not under imperial law, existed in fact at the time considered here.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on October 29, 2007 .