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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Matthias was elected Emperor of Germany


was elected Emperor of Germany, as a matter of course. The house of Hapsburg was now the strongest German power which represented the Church of Rome, and the Catholic majority in the Diet secured to it the Imperial dignity then and thenceforward. The Protestants, however, voted also for Matthias, for the reason that he had already shown a tolerant policy towards their brethren in Austria, Hungary and Bohemia. His first measures, as Emperor, justified this view of his character. He held a Diet at Ratisbon for the purpose of settling the existing differences between the two, but nothing was accomplished: the Protestants, finding that they would be outvoted, withdrew in a body and thus broke up the Diet. Matthias next endeavored to dissolve both the "Union" and the "League," in which he was only partially successful. At the same time his rule in Hungary was menaced by a revolt of the Transylvanian chief, Bethlen Gabor, who was assisted by the Turks: he grew weary of his task, and was easily persuaded by the other princes of his house to adopt his nephew, Duke Ferdinand of Styria, as his successor, in the year 1617, having no children of his own.


Ferdinand, who had been carefully educated by the Jesuits for the part which he was afterwards to play, and whose violent suppression of the Protestant faith in Styria made him acceptable to all the German Catholics,

was a man of great energy and force of character. He was stern, bigoted, cruel, yet shrewd, cunning and apparently conciliatory when he found it necessary to be so, resembling, in both respects, his predecessor, Charles V. of Spain. In return for being chosen by the Bohemians to succeed Matthias as king, he confirmed them in the religious freedom which they had extorted from Rudolf II., and then joined the Emperor in an expedition to Hungary, leaving Bohemia to be governed in the interim by a Council of ten, seven Catholics and three Protestants.

The first thing that happened was the destruction of two Protestant churches by Catholic Bishops. The Bohemian Protestants appealed immediately to the Emperor Matthias, but, instead of redress, he gave them only threats. Thereupon they rose in Prague, stormed the Council Hall, seized two of the Councillors and one of their Secretaries, and hurled them out of the windows. Although they fell a distance of twenty-eight feet, they were not killed, and all finally escaped. This event happened on the 23d of May, 1618, and marks the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. After such long chronicles of violence and slaughter, the deed seemed of slight importance; but the hundredth anniversary of the Reformation (counting from Luther's proclamation against Tetzel, on the 31st of October, 1517) had been celebrated by the Protestants the year before, England was lost and France barely restored to the Church of Rome, the power of Spain was declining, and the Catholic priests and princes were resolved to make one more desperate struggle to regain their supremacy in Germany. Only the Protestant princes, as a body, seemed blind to the coming danger. Relying on the fact that four-fifths of the whole population of the Empire were Protestants, they still persisted in regarding all the political forms of the Middle Ages as holy, and in accepting nearly every measure which gave advantage to their enemies.

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