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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Styria was at that time Protestant


Duke Ferdinand of Styria, a young cousin of Rudolf II., began the struggle. Styria was at that time Protestant, and refused to change its faith at the command of the Duke, whereupon he visited every part of the land with an armed force, closed the churches, burned the hymn-books and Bibles, and banished every one who was not willing to become a Catholic on the spot. He openly declared that it was better to rule over a desert than a land of heretics. Duke Maximilian of Bavaria followed his example: in 1607 he seized the free Protestant city of Donauwoerth, on the Danube, on account of some quarrel between its inhabitants and a monastery, and held it, in violation of all laws of the Empire. A protest made to the Diet on account of this act was of no avail, since a majority of the members were Catholics. The Protestants of Southern Germany formed a "Union" for mutual protection, in May, 1608, with Frederick IV. of the Palatinate at their head; but, as they were mostly of the Reformed Church, they received little sympathy or support from the Protestant States in the North.

[Sidenote: 1609. THE "SUCCESSION OF CLEVES."]

Maximilian of Bavaria then established a "Catholic League" in opposition, relying on the assistance of Spain, while the "Protestant Union" relied on that of Henry IV. of France. Both sides began to arm, and they would soon have proceeded to open hostilities, when a dispute of much greater importance diverted their attention to the North of Germany. This was the so-called "Succession of Cleves." Duke John William of Cleves, who governed the former separate dukedoms of Juelich, Cleves and Berg, and the countships of Ravensberg and Mark, embracing a large extent of territory on both sides of the Lower Rhine, died in 1609 without leaving a direct heir. He had been a Catholic, but his people were Protestants. John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg, and Wolfgang William of the Bavarian Palatinate, both relatives on the female side, claimed the splendid inheritance; and when it became evident that the Catholic interest meant to secure it, they quickly united their forces and took possession. The Emperor then sent the Archduke Leopold of Hapsburg to hold the State in his name, whereupon the Protestant Union made an instant alliance with Henry IV. of France, who was engaged in organizing an army for its aid, when he fell by the dagger of the assassin, Ravaillac, in 1610. This dissolved the alliance, and the "Union" and "League," finding themselves agreed in opposing the creation of another Austrian State, on the Lower Rhine, concluded peace before any serious fighting had taken place between them.

[Sidenote: 1606.]

The two claimants to the succession adopted a similar policy. Wolfgang William became a Catholic, married the sister of Maximilian of Bavaria, and so brought the "League" to support him, and the Elector John Sigismund became a Calvinist (which almost excited a rebellion among the Brandenburg Lutherans), in order to get the support of the "Union." The former was assisted by Spanish troops from Flanders, the latter by Dutch troops from Holland, and the war was carried on until 1614, when it was settled by a division which gave John Sigismund the lion's share.

Meanwhile the Emperor Rudolf II. was becoming so old, so whimsical and so useless, that in 1606 the princes of the house of Hapsburg held a meeting, declared him incapable of governing, "on account of occasional imbecilities of mind," and appointed his brother Matthias regent for Austria, Hungary and Moravia. The Emperor refused to yield, but, with the help of the nobility, who were mostly Protestants, Matthias maintained his claim. He was obliged, in return, to grant religious freedom, which so encouraged the oppressed Protestants in Bohemia that they demanded similar rights from the Emperor. In his helpless situation he gave way to the demand, but soon became alarmed at the increase of the heretics, and tried to take back his concession. The Bohemians called Matthias to their assistance, and in 1611 Rudolf lost his remaining kingdom and his favorite residence of Prague. As he looked upon the city for the last time, he cried out: "May the vengeance of God overtake thee, and my curse light on thee and all Bohemia!" In less than a year (on the 20th of January, 1612) he died.


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