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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

But the two chiefs of the Schmalkalden League


The

Council of Trent, which was composed almost entirely of Spanish and Italian prelates, followed the instructions of the Pope and declared that the traditions of the Roman Church were of equal authority with the Bible. This made a reconciliation with the Protestants impossible, which was just what the Pope desired: his plan was to put them down by main force. In fact, if the spirit of the Protestant faith had not already entered into the lives of the mass of the people, the Reformation might have been lost through the hesitation of some princes and the treachery of another. The Schmalkalden League was at this time weakened by personal quarrels among its members; yet it was still able to raise an army of 40,000 men, which was placed under the command of Sebastian Schertlin. Charles V. had a very small force with him at Ratisbon; the troops he had summoned from Flanders and Italy had not arrived; and an energetic movement by the Protestants could not have failed to be successful.

[Sidenote: 1547.]

But the two chiefs of the Schmalkalden League, John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, showed a timidity almost amounting to cowardice in this emergency. In spite of Schertlin's entreaties, they refused to allow him to move, fearing, as they alleged, to invade the neutrality of Bavaria, or to excite Ferdinand of Austria against them. For months they compelled their army to wait, while the Emperor was constantly receiving

reinforcements, among them 12,000 Italian troops furnished by the Pope. Then, when they were absolutely forced to act, a new and unexpected danger rendered them powerless. Maurice, Duke of Saxony (of the younger line), suddenly abjured the Protestant faith, declared for Charles V., and took possession of the territory of Electoral Saxony, belonging to his cousin, John Frederick. The latter hastened home with his own portion of the army, and defeated and expelled Maurice, it is true, but in doing so, gave up the field to the Emperor. Duke Ulric of Wuertemberg first humbly submitted to the latter, then Ulm, Augsburg, Strasburg, and other cities: Schertlin was not left with troops enough to resist, and the Imperial and Catholic power was restored throughout Southern Germany, without a struggle.

In the spring of 1547, Charles V. marched into Northern Germany, surprised and defeated John Frederick of Saxony at Muehlberg on the Elbe, and took him prisoner. The Elector was so enormously stout and heavy that he could only mount his horse by the use of a ladder; so the Emperor's Spanish cavalry easily overtook him in his flight. Charles V. now showed himself in his true character: he appointed the fierce Duke of Alba President of a Court which tried John Frederick and condemned him to death. The other German princes protested so earnestly against this sentence that it was not carried out, but John Frederick was compelled to give up the greater part of Saxony to the traitor Maurice, and be content with Thuringia or Ducal Saxony--the territory embraced in the present duchies of Meiningen, Gotha, Weimar and Altenburg. He steadfastly refused, however, to submit to the decrees of the Council of Trent, and remained firm in the Protestant faith during the five years of imprisonment which followed.


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