Schmalkaldic War

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Schmalkaldic War
date July 10, 1546 to May 23, 1547
place Holy Roman Empire
Exit Imperial victory
consequences Dissolution of the Schmalkaldic League , capture (from 1547 to 1552) of both main leaders of the Schmalkaldic League, transfer of the Saxon electoral dignity to the Albertines
Peace agreement Wittenberg surrender
Parties to the conflict

Holy Roman Empire

Schmalkaldic League


Emperor Karl V,
King Ferdinand I
Fernando Álvarez, Duke of Alba,
Duke Moritz of Saxony

Elector Johann Friedrich I of Saxony,
Landgrave Philipp I of Hesse,
Elector Friedrich II of the Palatinate

The Schmalkaldic War was waged from 1546 to 1547 by Emperor Charles V against the Schmalkaldic League , an alliance of Protestant princes and cities under the leadership of Electoral Saxony and Hesse . The emperor tried to push back Protestantism in the Holy Roman Empire and to strengthen imperial power in relation to the imperial estates .

The war was initially waged in southern Germany, but then shifted to the Saxon - Thuringian area. After the capture of the Saxon Elector Johann Friedrich and the Hessian Landgrave Philipp , the two captains of the Schmalkaldic League, the war ended successfully for the Emperor. The Schmalkaldic League was dissolved after this defeat.

The war is named after the central war party, the Schmalkaldic League. This was founded on February 27, 1531 in Schmalkalden .


Portrait of the Saxon Elector Johann Friedrich, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. J. 1578
Portrait of the Hessian Landgrave Philipp
Portrait of Moritz 'von Sachsen, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. J. 1578

At the beginning of the 1530s, the Reformation was introduced in many areas and imperial cities of the Holy Roman Empire. This exacerbated the question of the legal position of Protestantism. According to the opinion of the time, the Roman-German emperor had to oppose the increasing spread of the evangelical conceptions understood as heresy in the empire. In order to be able to effectively counter a possible military attack by the emperor, some Protestant princes and cities formed a defensive alliance on February 27, 1531 - the Schmalkaldic League. Members included elector Johann Friedrich von Sachsen, Landgrave Philipp von Hessen, the dukes Philipp von Braunschweig-Grubenhagen and Ernst von Braunschweig-Lüneburg as well as eleven imperial cities. The predecessor of this alliance was the Torgauer Bund , which only worked on a regional level (Northern Germany) and was never militarily active.

For Emperor Charles V, the restoration of religious unity in the empire - whether by peaceful means or by force - was a central concern. In addition to religious motives, political motives also played a role: a denominational fragmentation of the empire strengthened the power of the imperial estates at the expense of the imperial central authority . In addition, the idea of ​​the Roman-German Empire had a strong religious component. A rejection of the old church thus - in his eyes - also called into question the legitimacy of his imperial title. The Protestant princes and cities, on the other hand, had considerably increased their political and economic power base by incorporating church property. In addition to the official recognition of their denomination, their main interest was the legal protection of these territorial expansions.

Emperor Charles V was in personal union also King of Spain and ruler of other areas and rarely stayed therefore in the kingdom on. This made it possible for the imperial estates organized in the Schmalkaldic Confederation to expand their influence and gain additional princes and cities as members. Furthermore, the emperor was involved in wars in Italy against France and against the Ottomans in Hungary and needed the military and financial support of all imperial estates. Because of this, he was repeatedly forced to meet the Protestants politically and religiously, for example in the Nuremberg Religious Peace of 1532 or in the Frankfurt decency of 1539.

Since the beginning of the 1540s, a creeping alienation set in among the members of the Schmalkaldic League, which increasingly paralyzed the league.

War preparations

After Charles V was able to end the conflict with France in the Peace of Crépy in 1544 and had also negotiated an armistice with the Ottomans, he had his back free in terms of foreign policy in order to be able to actively seek a solution to the religious question in the empire. At first the emperor hoped to be able to restore the unity of faith through a council or a series of religious talks. The uncompromising attitude of both sides and the papal promise to provide 10,000 servants and 500 horsemen for a period of four months in the event of a war against the Protestants and to support the campaign financially, convinced him of the possibility of militarily defeating the Schmalkaldic League .

At the Worms Reichstag in the spring of 1545, the emperor promised early religious negotiations and called on the Protestants to participate in the upcoming Council of Trent . However, Charles V used the Reichstag to establish initial contacts with possible allies for the upcoming war. The Reichstag in Regensburg , which began in June of the following year, was also marked by confrontations. Even before the end of the Reichstag, which was overshadowed by rumors of recruiting and war intentions, the Protestants left it prematurely.

The Kaiser also used this Reichstag to negotiate with potential allies. On June 7, 1546 he signed a treaty with Pope Paul III. and on the same day also an agreement with the Bavarian duke. Bavaria remained neutral in this respect, but undertook to provide assembly points, food and ammunition for the imperial army . The emperor honored this with the promise of territorial gains, a vague option for the Palatinate electoral dignity and the marriage of a Bavarian prince with a daughter of King Ferdinand .

On June 19, the emperor's treaty with the Protestant Duke Moritz von Sachsen , head of the Albertine line of the Saxon dukes, came about, whose countries were of great strategic value in the war against Electoral Saxony. The duke, who was also courted by the Schmalkaldic League, pledged to be neutral and in return received patronage over the Halberstadt monasteries and the diocese of Magdeburg . The emperor was also able to win over a number of other Protestant princes such as Margrave Hans von Brandenburg-Küstrin , Duke Erich von Braunschweig and Margrave Albrecht Alcibiades von Brandenburg-Kulmbach .

On July 4, 1546, the two captains of the Schmalkaldic League, Elector Johann Friedrich and Landgrave Philipp, who had by no means escaped the emperor's preparations for war, met in Ichtershausen . Here they negotiated how the federal government should deal with the looming conflict with the emperor. Both quickly agreed that the emperor could ultimately fall back on the larger financial resources and thus also raise a larger army. Both saw the chance of the Protestant alliance in the fact that it could mobilize its troops faster than the emperor. So they decided to wage a preventive war.

Course of war

Council of war during the Danube War. Woodcut from the "War Book of Reinhart the Elder, Count zu Solms and Herr zu Müntzenberg" from 1549. Solms was an imperial field marshal

The Danube Campaign (July to November 1546)

The southern German imperial cities and alliance members raised an army of 12,000 men within a few days at the beginning of July 1546. At its head was the military leader Sebastian Schertlin von Burtenbach . In the north of the empire about 16,000 infantry and 5,000 horsemen were drawn together at the same time, who gathered in Thuringia. At that time, Charles V had little more than 1,000 men under his command. Troop reinforcements from the Netherlands , Italy and Hungary were already on the way.

Schertlin's plan was to disrupt the imperial recruiting as early as possible and thus prevent the approaching troops from uniting with the emperor. The Protestant army, which had gathered in southern Germany, moved to Füssen for this purpose and occupied the city on July 10, 1546. The emperor and his relatively small army withdrew to Bavarian territory in the direction of Regensburg . Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria declared himself and his country neutral. The Narrow Kaldic War Council, which wanted to prevent the Catholic Bavaria from intervening on the emperor's side, did not allow the imperial army to pursue any further and stopped Schertlin's army on the Bavarian border.

Schertlin now planned to advance further south. The goal was to prevent the influx of imperial and papal troops from Italy by occupying Tyrol and the most important Alpine passes . The Narrow Kaldic War Council did not allow this either. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was also officially neutral and the Protestants did not want to provoke him to intervene in the war either. However, this gave the emperor valuable time to gather his troops under the protection of Bavarian neutrality.

On July 20, the emperor imposed the imperial ban on the two Protestant leaders of the Schmalkaldic League John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse. The legal justification was that they had illegally captured the Duke of Brunswick Heinrich II , as one of the last dedicated Catholic princes in the north, near the Bierberg in 1545 with the help of Protestant troops. The strategic process of this Declaration of Eight was obvious, nevertheless the emperor hoped in this way to be able to persuade some Protestant princes and cities to fail to comply with their alliance obligations.

Towards the end of July, the Protestant troops united at Donauwörth with the troops of the northern federal members advancing from Erfurt into southern Germany. The Narrow Kald Army now consisted of around 7,000 horsemen and 50,000 foot soldiers. No more than about 5,000 horsemen and 30,000 servants were under the command of the emperor. But the imperial army was still growing steadily. The Schmalkalder were forced to act. But the Protestant council of war was divided on how to proceed.

The imperial troops camped near the Bavarian fortress of Ingolstadt on August 24th . Landgrave Philipp now urged a decisive battle. The emperor knew that he could play for time and did not accept the battle. Rather, he holed up with his troops in his positions with the mighty fortress at his back. The Protestant army did not dare to attack the well-protected positions and therefore broke off the siege of Ingolstadt after a few days. Consideration for Bavarian neutrality is also likely to have played a role in this decision.

In mid-September, Maximilian von Egmond's army joined the imperial army. This had gathered near Aachen on July 31 and moved towards Bavaria throughout the summer. It comprised about 17,000 men. The imperial army was now about as strong as the Narrow Kaldic troops. The Imperialists, who had previously behaved rather passively, now seized the initiative and set off in the direction of Nördlingen . The Protestant army had no choice but to follow them. On October 4th, the Schmalkalder tried to bring the emperor to battle again in front of Nördlingen, but here too he avoided a decision.

In mid-October diseases broke out in the imperial camp near Giengen an der Brenz . The Protestants therefore once again hoped to end the war successfully and force the emperor to negotiate quickly. Because since mid-September they had been suffering from a considerable lack of money and the onset of autumn weather was also bothering them. In this situation, Archduke Ferdinand and Moritz of Saxony invaded Electoral Saxony, which was only weakly defended. The Saxon Elector Johann Friedrich then moved his troops back to Saxony on November 16 after a long dispute with Landgrave Philipp, who first wanted to defeat the Emperor. The rest of the Protestant army quickly disbanded under the increasing financial hardship. The emperor was in this way supremacy over southern Germany almost fell without a fight in their hands.

Before Karl could turn north, he had to deal with potential enemies behind him, especially Duke Ulrich von Württemberg and Elector Friedrich von der Pfalz . Both princes bowed to the imperial superiority and signed contracts at Christmas 1546, which obliged them to be neutral and to pay large amounts of money. The largely isolated Upper German imperial cities also capitulated around the turn of the year 1546/47. Some of the subjugated cities and princes suffered unheard of humiliations from the emperor. For example, Karl had two ambassadors from the imperial city of Ulm lie on his knees in front of him for 30 minutes and ask for forgiveness.

At the beginning of 1547 only the imperial city of Constance still offered resistance in the south of the empire . The emperor could not subdue them militarily until October 1548 and punished them with the loss of imperial freedom.

Map of the Electorate of Saxony (shown in red ) and the Duchy of Saxony (shown in yellow )

The Saxon Campaign (November 1546 to April 1547)

Preparation and beginning of the Schmalkaldic War in 1546/47. Painting from 1630, German Historical Museum Berlin

As early as August 1546, the emperor had asked his brother Ferdinand and Duke Moritz, who had only committed himself to neutrality in the Regensburg Treaty, to finally enforce the imperial ban on the leaders of the Schmalkaldic League and attack Electoral Saxony. While Ferdinand's troops in Bohemia under Sebastian von Weitmühl refused to cross the Bohemian-Saxon border for a long time, Moritz delayed his participation. Finally Moritz declared war on his Ernestine cousin in mid-October . This was preceded by long negotiations, which culminated in the Prague Treaty , which primarily concerned the treatment of the occupied territories and the coordination of joint warfare. In the negotiations Moritz was cautiously, but nevertheless clearly promised the transfer of the Saxon electoral dignity to his house.

At the end of October, Bohemian troops took Plauen in the Vogtland and Moritz brought Zwickau and large parts of the poorly defended Kurland under his control. Only Gotha , Eisenach , Coburg and the heavily fortified Wittenberg remained under Electoral Saxon control. With the onset of winter, Ferdinand's troops withdrew to Bohemia. Elector Johann Friedrich, who rushed back to his country with his troops from the southern German theater of war, took advantage of this relief and drove the enemy troops out of the areas around Jena and Weimar . and on December 31st also took the Halle belonging to the monastery area of ​​the diocese of Magdeburg .

From January 6, 1547, the troops of the Schmalkaldic League finally besieged Leipzig , but were unable to take the city, in which Moritz had placed ten men’s servants, so they withdrew on January 27. The money needed to pay the mercenaries during the siege was covered by minting the Leipzig emergency cliffs from silver and gold, mainly using church utensils and silver dishes from the diocese of Merseburg .

Thereafter, Elector Johann Friedrich stayed mainly in Altenburg and Geithain , while his Colonel Wilhelm von Thumshirm turned to the Saxon and Bohemian mining towns. In Bohemia he conquered the Elbows and Komotau .

At the same time Ferdinand again called the Bohemian armies together for the Schmalkaldic War.

Margrave Albrecht Alcibiades also hurried with his troops to help the beleaguered Duke Moritz, but was himself captured on February 25th. Theoretically, the Elector of Saxony would now have the way to attack Bohemia. Probably the lack of money and the long distance prevented him from doing so and he occupied himself with mediation offers from the Brandenburg elector. Ever since the withdrawal from southern Germany, Hesse was no longer capable of military action because of exhausted finances.

Ferdinand and Moritz considered the presence of the emperor on the Saxon theater of war to be urgently necessary. In February 1547 Karl hesitated and only announced at the beginning of March that he would come in person.

The bridge at Mühlberg
Pen drawing approx. 1596/1598
Battle of Mühlberg in 1547 and capture of Elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony. Painting from 1630, German Historical Museum Berlin

The battle near Mühlberg

On March 28, 1547, the Emperor set out from Nuremberg. The armies united near Eger and pushed together towards Saxony along the Elster and Muldetal valleys . At this time Johann Friedrich was with his army near Meissen . There he felt relatively safe from the emperor's access, as he could cross the Elbe at any time and destroy the strategically important Elbe bridge behind him.

It was not until April 23 that the elector crossed the Elbe and moved north along the river with his approximately 7,000 soldiers. In the evening Johann Friedrich set up a field camp to spend the night there. The combined forces of the emperor followed him with about 27,000 men on the other bank.

On the morning of April 24th, the Saxon troops were preparing to march on when soldiers of the emperor, partly swimming, partly at a ford, crossed the river and the first skirmishes took place. The few guard soldiers from Electoral Saxony withdrew into the camp, fighting. Elector Johann Friedrich gave the order to withdraw completely because his army was not up to the imperial superiority. But it was no longer possible to reach the heavily fortified cities of Torgau or Wittenberg in the Electorate of Saxony . The Protestant troops were crushed.

In a small wood near Falkenberg , Spanish and Hungarian hussars surrounded the elector together with heavy Neapolitan riders. He resisted, but was taken prisoner and first brought before the Duke of Alba , and finally before the Emperor himself.

Political Consequences

Area changes in the course of the Wittenberg surrender of 1547

With the victory at Mühlberg the war was decided. The Protestant victory on May 23, 1547 in the Battle of Drakenburg , which led to the withdrawal of the imperial from the north of the empire, did nothing to change that. Also Magdeburg made until 1551 resistance.

The captured elector was initially sentenced to death. In order to avert his impending execution and to save at least some areas in Thuringia for his heirs, Johann Friedrich signed the Wittenberg surrender on May 19, 1547 . This transferred the Saxon electoral dignity to the Albertine line and reduced his lands essentially to his Thuringian ones. On June 4th Moritz von Sachsen was proclaimed the new elector. Landgrave Philipp threatened a similar fate as Johann Friedrich and he looked for a way to reconcile himself with the emperor. The electors Joachim von Brandenburg and Moritz von Sachsen finally arranged the conditions for his submission. The landgrave was to surrender to “mercy and disgrace” , the emperor assured in return that he would be sentenced neither to corporal punishment nor to perpetual imprisonment ” . Then Philipp came to Halle on June 19, hoping for a relatively mild sentence . Charles V also had him arrested, which was particularly annoying to the mediating electors. Both former federal heads were taken by him as personal prisoners to Augsburg, Brussels, back to Augsburg, Innsbruck and Villach and finally back to Augsburg. They were not released until 1552.

The saying on the back of the Philippsthaler , which was coined in 1552, the year Landgrave Philip was released from imperial imprisonment, refers to his release without renouncing Protestantism. However, it is often disputed that Philip commissioned this thaler. He is usually attributed to his followers.

After the successful end of the war, the emperor was at the height of his power. He believed that he had finally defeated Protestantism and seriously weakened the power of the princes. His personal behavior at that time was marked by excessive pride. The emperor intended to use his victory in two ways: First, he wanted to reform the imperial constitution in a monarchical sense. This so-called Reichsbund project , however, failed due to the resistance and the drag-off tactics of the imperial estates. Second, at the armored Augsburg Diet of 1548 , Charles V dictated the Augsburg Interim , a kind of imperial intermediate religion, with which neither Catholics nor Protestants were satisfied.

Charles V could not end the unrest in the empire and his victory over the Protestants was short-lived. In 1551, the strengthened Elector Moritz of Saxony conspired in the prince revolt with other princes against the Spanish succession and plans of Charles to expand the empire into a universal monarchy . When in 1552 the conspirators allied themselves with the French King Henry II and forced Charles V to flee, his brother Ferdinand I negotiated the Passau Treaty , which guaranteed the Protestants extensive rights. In the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, these rights were confirmed.

After these defeats, Charles V abdicated in 1556 in favor of Ferdinand I.

Aftermath and reception

The Schmalkaldic War was waged with considerable propaganda and military effort. Although there was no major field battle in the course of the war, large parts of what is now central and southern Germany were devastated , especially by sieges and cannonades . Similar to the Thirty Years War , most of the fighting was carried out with recruited mercenary troops . These were often underpaid, as both warring parties quickly ran out of money, and so they fed themselves by roaming the country, pillaging and plundering. Due to the loss of safe traffic routes, the destruction of entire villages, the general impoverishment of the population and the epidemics that broke out as a result of the army moving through, an economic decline quickly set in in the affected regions.

The Schmalkaldic War is an integral part of the history of the Reformation to this day. Its contemporary importance can be gauged from the fact that it was referred to as the "German War" in the Old Kingdom. After the Thirty Years' War it was sometimes referred to as the “first” German war. Since the Second World War , the general interest in the Schmalkaldic War has waned, as it was largely overshadowed by the events of the "second" German war - the Thirty Years' War.

The war, which historians sometimes also refer to as the first denominational war, was one of the first modern conflicts that was also carried out by means of the relatively new printed matter . The war was accompanied by countless pamphlets, mock poems and caricatures for propaganda purposes.

See also : Schmalkaldischer Bundestaler / Münzgeschichte


  • Nicolaus Mameranus, Catalogus omnium Generalium, Tribunorum Ducum, Primorumque totius Exercitus Caroli V Impr. Aug. et Ferdinandi Regis Roman., Super rebelleis et inobedienteis Germ. quosdam principes ac civitates conscripti anno 1546 ( digitization )


  • Johann Gottlieb Jahn : History of the Schmalkaldic War. A memorandum from the history of the Reformation to commemorate the fateful decade from 1537 to 1547 for the entire Protestant church at that time . Reclam, Leipzig 1837.
  • Alfred Kohler : Charles V 1500–1558. A biography. 3rd revised edition. CH Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-45359-7 .
  • Theodor Neumann : Contributions to the history of the Schmalkaldic War, the Bohemian outrage of 1547, as well as the Pönfall of the Upper Lusatian Six Cities in the same year . Görlitz 1848 ( e-copy ).
  • Helga Schnabel-Schüle : The Reformation 1495–1555. Stuttgart 2006. ISBN 3-15-017048-6 .
  • Klaus Schulte-van Pol: “A common war against all Protestants.” The battle of Mühlberg. In: The time . April 25, 1997 ( online version )
  • Günther Wartenberg : The battle near Mühlberg in the history of the empire as a dispute between Protestant princes and Emperor Karl V. In: Archive for the history of the Reformation. 89, 1998, ISSN  0003-9381 , pp. 167-177.
  • Wieland Held : 1547, the battle of Mühlberg / Elbe: Decision on the way to the Albertine Electorate of Saxony, 2nd edition, Beucha: Sax-Verl., 2014, 168 pages, ISBN 978-3-930076-43-7 .

Web links

Commons : Schmalkaldic War  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Kohler, Karl V., p. 296
  2. Olaf Mörke, The Reformation: Requirements and Implementation, p. 57
  3. Schnabel-Schüle, The Reformation 1495 - 1555, p. 203
  4. ^ Kohler, Karl V., p. 299
  5. ^ Friedrich Wilhelm Hassencamp, Hessian Church History since the Age of the Reformation, p. 646
  6. Schnabel-Schüle, The Reformation 1495 - 1555, p. 204
  7. a b Kohler, Karl V., pp. 301/302
  8. a b Friedrich Wilhelm Hassencamp, Hessian Church History since the Age of the Reformation, p. 648
  9. Johann Gottlieb Jahn, History of the Schmalkaldic War, p. 77
  10. Bernd Moeller : Germany in the Age of Reformation. P. 156
  11. Gabriele Haug-Moritz : On the construction of war defeats in early modern mass media , in war defeats , p. 347
  12. Theological Real Encyclopedia, p. 305.
  13. ^ Kohler, Karl V., p. 305.
  14. ^ Gabriele Haug-Moritz: On the construction of war defeats in early modern mass media, in war defeats. P. 346.
  15. ^ Kohler, Karl V., p. 307
  16. quoted from Kohler, Karl V., p. 318
  17. ^ Kohler, Karl V., p. 314
  18. On the imperial Reichsbund project see: Komatsu, Landfriedensbünde im 16. Century - A typological comparison, pp. 109–112
  19. ^ Kohler, Karl V., p. 301
  20. ^ Gabriele Haug-Moritz: Geschwinde Welt. War and public communication - to experience accelerated historical change in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in the first half of the 16th century (1542–1554)  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  21. ^ Gabriele Haug-Moritz: On the construction of war defeats in early modern mass media , in war defeats , p. 346