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The Bohemian Religious Peace (July 1609)

Formal religious toleration most often came not as the fruit of magnanimous tolerance but rather of political struggle. After the Religious Peace of Augsburg of 1555, the most important law on religious toleration in the Holy Roman Empire was issued in 1609 by Emperor Rudolph II for the kingdom of Bohemia. The edict (called a “Letter of Majesty”) confirmed to each of the recognized confessions the right to practice its faith without coercion. Making good on a promise that Rudolph’s father, Maximilian II, had made in 1575 to the Bohemian estates, the edict departed drastically from the religious settlement of 1555 for the German lands.

Establishing a convivencia in the Bohemian kingdom was complicated by the existence of two religious parties of Hussite origin, the Bohemian Brethren [Unitas Fratrum] and the Utraquists, the latter of whom had come under more or less strong Lutheran influence. The Bohemian Confession of 1575, which Maximilian II had promised to tolerate, had been signed by both of these parties and the Lutheran estates (and later by the Calvinists as well). In 1608, the political leaders of these religious parties presented the confession to Rudolph and requested his approval of complete freedom of religious practice for their parties.

The emperor's grant of religious toleration was heavily determined by the contemporary political situation, above all by a struggle within his dynasty. His brother, Archduke Matthias, backed by two other brothers, had demanded Rudolph’s abdication and followed up on this with a military invasion of Bohemia in 1608. This intra-dynastic “Brothers’ Quarrel” gave the dissenting estates their moment to act. Matthias’s invasion of Bohemia forced Rudolph to accede almost totally to the allied estates’ demands, although he insisted that the name “Evangelical” (i.e., Protestant) be replaced by the name “Utraquist” (A). On the same day, the leaders of this hybrid “Protestant” party within the Bohemian Diet signed an agreement with their Catholic counterparts (B). These acts created a status quo that the dissenting estates aimed to defend by their deposition of King Ferdinand II in 1618.

The Bohemian Edict of Toleration was thus in principal comparable to the Religious Peace of Augsburg for the Empire. It remained in force until the new Bohemian Constitution of 1627, which reflected the victories of Imperial-Catholic forces in the 1520s.

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(A) Emperor Rudolph II’s Edict of Toleration [Majestätsbrief] for the Bohemian Kingdom

We, Rudolf, etc., make known this Patent to all men, to be kept in mind forever: All three Estates (1) of Our Kingdom of Bohemia who receive the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in both Kinds, Our beloved and loyal subjects, have at the Diets held in the Castle of Prague in the past year of the Lord 1608 on the Monday after Exaudi [19 May 1608] and on the Friday after the Feast of John the Baptist [27 June 1608] in the same year, humbly and with due submissiveness besought Us, as King of Bohemia, concerning the general Bohemian Confession, called by some the Augsburg Confession, which was codified at the general Diet of 1575 and submitted to His Majesty the Emperor Maximilian of glorious and honored memory, Our most beloved father. As We have deigned to ascertain from reliable information on the subject and from letters written in his own hand by Our most beloved father, and which is also plain from certain credible documents preserved in the Estates' archives, it was at once agreed to by His Majesty. And [they also requested that] the settlement between them (2) contained in the foreword to the same Confession, and also the other requests relating to religion expressly added by them at the same Diet, might be confirmed, the free practice of the Christian religion in both Kinds (3) permitted without let or hindrance, and sufficient assurances be given to the Estates by Us. All of which is on record, including the request at the said Diet [of 1608] and the negotiations at the Diet itself, a verbatim record whereof is contained in the registers of the General Diet of 1608, for the Monday after Exaudi under letters K 8 (4).

Since, however, We were prevented by other very important and urgent business, on account of which the Diet of that year had been convened, from conferring the confirmation at that time, We most graciously asked for a postponement of the decision on all these questions until the following Diet, fixed for the first Thursday before St. Martin’s Day, assuring the Utraquist Estates. Meanwhile, pending the complete settlement at the general Diet they were entitled to practice their religion as they would, and until a decision had been reached on the temporarily adjourned points, We would not issue or accede to any further dispositions, or submit any proposals of any kind to the Estates, nor should they be required to enter into any negotiations.

Since then We were obliged, for certain reasons, to postpone the Diet fixed for the Thursday before St. Martin’s Day and by Royal mandate to convene another in the Castle of Prague for the Tuesday after the Conversion of St. Paul [1 January 1609]. The Utraquist Estates again submitted to Us their Confession and the agreement concluded between them, and did not cease to pray Us, their King and Lord, both in their own repeated humble supplications and also by invoking sponsors of high standing and repute, graciously to accede to the request of the said Utraquist Estates, Our loyal subjects. We gave to all this Our careful Imperial and Royal consideration, in consultation with the supreme functionaries, judges and councilors of Our Kingdom of Bohemia, and resolved, on the submissive petition of the said Lords, Knights, Burghers of Prague and other cities from all the three Estates of this Our Kingdom of Bohemia who receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in both Kinds, and belong to the said Confession, to convoke by Our Royal mandate Our well-beloved and loyal subjects of all three Estates of this Kingdom to a general Diet on a Monday after Rogation Sunday [25 May], otherwise called Holy Week, in this year 1609, in the Castle of Prague. We also expressly added in the same general notification that at this Diet We would submit for decision in the Proposals of the Diet the adjourned Articles of Religion and would also provide sufficient assurances that all of them, both the party which receives the Holy Communion in one Kind and also those who receive it in both Kinds and belong to the above-mentioned Confession, may practice their religion without any let or hindrance from any person, spiritual or temporal, as laid down in Our Mandates on this point, given in the Castle of Prague on the Saturday after Jubilate [16 May] of this year 1609. When all three Estates had assembled obediently and submissively at this general Diet convoked by Us, and after We, in accordance with Our gracious assurance included in the said Mandate, deigned first to propose this article on religion in Our Proposals to the Diet, for debate, the said three Estates of both Kinds renewed their former request to Us and humbly begged for sufficient safeguards and for official registration thereof in the records of the Diet.

(1) The Bohemian Diet was constituted of three estates: Lords (spiritual and temporal), Knights, and Burghers.
(2) Between the Bohemian Brethren [Unitas Fratrum] and the neo-Utraquists, the two parties descended from the Hussite.
(3) That is, Communion allowed to be given under both species, bread and wine.
(4) “K 8” is an archival signature.

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