GHDI logo

Protestant Resistance – The Schmalkaldic League (1531/35)

Since the time of the Peasants’ War, the evangelical princes and city regimes had talked about forming a defensive military league to protect themselves, their lands, and their cities in the event that the Edict of Worms (which forbade their religion) were imposed on them by force. Early efforts failed because the leading southern cities refused to enter into an alliance with the princes, and, more importantly, because the evangelical party was split between the followers of Luther, on the one hand, and Zwingli, on the other, over the meaning of the Lord's Supper (Eucharist). But on April 19, 1529, the estates did in fact come together to protest the Diet of Speyer’s decision to enforce the Edict of Worms, and it was at this gathering that the name “Protestant” was born. Still, the intra-evangelical doctrinal dispute prevented the formation of an alliance for another eighteen months. After the Diet of Augsburg (1530) failed to reconcile the Catholic and evangelical parties of the Diet, the Saxon elector called the Protestant estates to a meeting in the small town of Schmalkalden in December 1530. There, under the leadership of the Saxon elector and Landgrave Philip of Hesse, an agreement was made; a related treaty was approved at a second meeting in February 1531 (A). On December 23, 1535, nearly five years later, twenty-three estates approved the constitution of the Schmalkaldic League (B). The constitution makes clear that the alliance, unprecedented in its geographical scope, nonetheless conformed in its political and military institutions to the customs of the German federations.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 6

A. The First Agreement on the Founding of the Schmalkaldic League, February 27, 1531

We, by the grace of God, John, archmarshal and elector, and John Frederick, father and son, dukes of Saxony, landgraves of Thuringia, and margraves of Meissen; we, Philip, Otto, Ernst, and Francis, brothers and cousins, all dukes of Brunswick and Lüneburg; we, Philip, landgrave of Hesse and count of Katzenelnbogen, Dietz, Ziegenhain, and Nidda; we, Wolfgang, prince of Anhalt, count of Askania, and lord of Bernburg; and we, Gebhard and Albert, brothers and counts and lords of Mansfeld; and the mayors, councilors, magistrates, and envoys of these southern and Saxon cities – Strasbourg, Ulm, Constance, Reutlingen, Memmingen, Lindau, Biberach [an der Riß], Isny, Lübeck, Magdeburg, and Bremen – declare and inform everyone:

Recent events have gone back and forth, rapidly and menacingly, in such ways that they seem to develop, signal, and portend that some intend to coerce those who, through God's grace and grant, have allowed the open, clear, pure, and unspotted Word of God to be preached and spread in their principalities, cities, lands, and regions, by means of which all sorts of abuses are reformed or abolished. The former intend to block with armed force the latter's Christian enterprise, even though every Christian ruler is obliged by his office not just to have the holy Word of God preached to his subjects, but also to employ every effort, firmness, and resource to assure that they are not coerced away from God's Word or even against it. For us, the highest duty and obligation of the ruler's office requires that if it should happen, now or in the future, that anyone should attempt to force us or our subjects to surrender the Word of God and the clear truth – which God may prevent, and which we expect from no one – and to return to the abolished and corrected abuses, we intend with all possible effort to see that such coercion is blocked and our ruin, body and soul, ruler and ruled, may be avoided. Therefore, we have formed a Christian brotherly agreement with and among one another. We make it for the praise of God Almighty, for the spread and growth of godly, free doctrine, and for the revival and promotion of a united, Christian body, and for the peace of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and all that is honorable, also for the prosperity, welfare, benefit, and honor of all of our principalities, cities, and lands. We do this solely for the purpose of defense and self-preservation, which is accorded to everyone both by customary and written law. This association shall be considered and accepted at this time through the power of this document in the following form and measure.

To wit, that we all intend loyally and sincerely to support one another, and that we should and will warn one another of dangers. None shall knowingly allow the enemies and foes of another to sneak through, advance, or withdraw. Our League is intended solely for defensive and repulsive purposes and not for any of us to start a war of any kind. It may happen that one of us, no matter which one, shall be attacked and invaded or threatened by feud and invasion because of the Word of God, the evangelical doctrine, and our holy faith, or on other grounds that depend on the Word of God, the evangelical doctrine, and our holy faith, or because of something alleged against one of us, so that we others, who are not attacked, can conclude that this attack is being made principally because of the Word of God, and thus could be extended to the rest of us. In that case, we others who are all united in this Christian League, also each on his own account, shall, as soon as we hear and accept report from the victim or another reliable source, regard the matter as though we ourselves were under attack, made feud against, or invaded, and as though the matter were our own. In that case, each ally shall, without delay and without waiting for the others, muster all of his resources to aid him who has been declared feud against or invaded, to save and free him and give him air and space. The rest of us shall, as best we can, loyally take up the matter, just as each one's Christian love and loyalty, conscience, and interest demand. We shall, one and all, render aid in the most rapid and efficient manner, as seems best and most appropriate to the case at hand. Nor, failing the knowledge and consent of the others, shall any undertake or commit himself to any arbitration, agreement, or truce.

first page < previous   |   next > last page