38. Papacy & Counter Reformation     39. Empire & Counter Reformation     40. Spanish Crusading   




 St. Robert Bellarmine



A. Nature of the Counter Reformation






 The term ‘Counter Reformation’ is to be understood literally: it embraces the movements of Catholicism directed against the Protestant Reformation. Contrary to a rather common notion these movements did not arise from human ambition but from the Church’s innermost vocation and from her sense of duty. It was necessary (a) to withstand the attack, (b) to reject Protestant tendencies in the Church itself, (c) to regain lost territories. To accomplish this triple task all religious, theoretic-theological, political, and juridical (inquisition) means were employed. In the sphere of political interests the term ‘Counter Reformation’ took on a special, narrower, meaning.”


In the sense of Church politics, Counter Reformation means the attempt to win back by political means the domain lost to the new religion.” 1 Men’s minds did not become instantaneously “modern” during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For many centuries the medieval attitude, especially among the laity, had confused Church and state into one Christian Commonwealth. Though religious unity had been broken by the revolts of the first half of the sixteenth century, few believed that Europe could remain permanently divided according to [p. 247] the maxim, cujus regio ejus religio. For neither Catholics nor Protestants could conceive of a nation divided by religious views any more than one differing in political allegiance. Catholics, divided and demoralized, had been forced to make a truce in central Europe. But now that the Catholic Reformation had revived their devotion to the Church, Catholic princes and statesmen reverted to the medieval mode of proving their devotion by going on crusade against heresy and infidelity. It would take many years of fighting without tangible success to disillusion them of advancing the Catholic cause by the sword.

Joseph Lortz, History of the Church, trans. Edwin G. Kaiser, C.PP.S. (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1935), p. 444. [246


The reform popes were men of their time, and consequently would not, if they could, utterly discourage their sons from defending and advancing the Catholic cause by any legitimate political or military means. But they were not unaware that selfish motives intermingled with the religious zeal of Caesaro-papist Catholic monarchs, to say nothing of the Machiavellianism of some nominally Catholic intriguers. Hence, they did not return to that immersion in politics of the popes of the Renaissance, and they were prepared to console their adherents in case of failure with Christ’s assurance that His kingdom was not of this world.

B. Papal History (1585-1655)

(1) SIXTUS V (1585-90)

Felice Peretti (1521-90) was unanimously elected to the papal office on April 25, 1585. As a popular Franciscan preacher, he had won the friendship of Sts. Ignatius Loyola and Philip Neri. Though of humble birth, he was strong-willed and resolute.

Temporal administration demanded immediate attention. Pope Sixtus dealt sternly with the rebellion against his predecessor. By vigorous, frequent, and impartial use of the death penalty on nobility and peasantry, men and women, he restored order. The brigands were suppressed. Pasquinio, court wag, depicted St. Peter slinking out of Rome lest he be arrested for cutting off Malchus’s ear. Next the entire administration of the city was reorganized and modernized. Piazzas were laid out and streets cut through. Six hundred men worked day and night on the cupola of St. Peter’s. Aqueducts were constructed. The conquest of Turkey and Egypt, the building of a papal navy, the digging of a canal at Suez, promotion of pilgrimages from America—these were some of the projects that flitted through the pope’s vivid imagination.

Curial reorganization also was undertaken. Besides the subdivision into fifteen congregations already described, the college of cardinals was fixed at the number of seventy: six bishops, fifty priests, and fourteen deacons. Creation of lay cardinals was prohibited; henceforth cardinals were at least to be in minor orders.

Politics found Sixtus V lukewarm toward Philip II’s designs on England and France, especially in regard to the Spanish Armada of 1588. During, rather than because of, Sixtus’s pontificate the militant Counter Reformation was launched.

(2) PAPAL MORTALITY (1590-91)

Reaction against the vigor of the preceding pontificate seems to have induced the cardinals to elect aged or sickly pontiffs; at least, three short reigns ensued.

Urban VII, Giambattista Castagna, was chosen on September 15, 1590, and died on the twenty-seventh of the same month, having had time merely to issue a few sumptuary regulations.

Gregory XIV, Niccold Sfondrati, elected December 5, 1590, reigned until October 15, 1591, but he was in poor health, and could achieve little beyond a firm stand against concessions to Henry of Navarre.

Innocent IX, Gian-Antonio Facchinetti, secretary of state during the preceding pontificate, was selected on October 29, 1591, to deal with the French Huguenot crisis, but by December 30 of the same year was dead.

(3) CLEMENT VIII (1592-1605)

Ippolito Aldobrandini (1536-1605) was elected pope, January 30, 1592. He was a holy and able cleric who relied greatly upon the advice of St. Philip Neri in his early years. He devoted himself to parochial supervision, promoted the Forty Hours’ Devotion, published the final edition of the Vulgate, mediated between Thomists and Molinists, and denounced dueling. He added a Scottish seminary to the foreign training schools at Rome. In 1600 he presided over a jubilee in which three million pilgrims attested reviving Catholic fervor.

Reconciliation of Henry of Navarre to the Church was the chief diplomatic triumph of Clement, who steered between the pro-Spanish Cardinal Farnese and his own pro-French nephew, Cardinal Aldobrandini.

LEO XI (1605)

Alessandro de’ Medici (1535-1605) was elected finally as an affable compromise candidate on April 1, 1605, but died only twenty-seven days later.

The conclave had perhaps been more eventful than the pontificate. Sixty-two cardinals had begun deliberations on March 14. St. Robert Bellarmine received ten votes, but incurred the veto of the absolute monarchs for his democratic views. Cardinal Baronio had thirty-seven [p. 249] votes on the second ballot, but was feared for his impartial historical spirit.

(5) PAUL V (1605-21)

Camillo Borghese (1552-1621) was elected on May 8, 1605, after both St. Robert and Cardinal Baronio had again discouraged their own choice. Borghese’s comparative youth enabled him to endure a long and trying pontificate. He was a pious, learned, if somewhat punctilious ruler. Patron of learning and stern foe of disorder, he did not neglect the provision of the poor while pursuing bandits. St. Peter’s Basilica was brought to completion during his pontificate, and the façade bears his name.

Diplomacy. Paul V made friendly overtures to James I of England, but the Gunpowder Plot soon destroyed what chances there were for concessions to Catholics. When the king exacted a new oath of supremacy, rejecting papal censures and theocratic powers, the Catholic leader, Archpriest Blackwell, consented to subscribe. The pope, however, condemned this oath and removed Blackwell, temporarily dividing English Catholics.

Friendy relations were maintained with the Habsburgs, though Paul V was but mildly sympathetic toward their cause during the opening years of the Thirty Years’ War. The Catholic side, however, needed little support during the years before the pope’s death, January 28, 1621.

Venetian Schism. It was rather with the Venetian Republic that Pope Paul had his chief trouble. The Republic had always resented papal theocracy and had refused to promulgate the bull In Cena Domini. Serious trouble began in 1603 when the senate forbade erection of ecclesiastical institutions without its permission. This was aggravated in 1605 by meddling with wills in favor of the Church and citing Bishop Sarrasin and Abbot Valdemarino before the civil tribunal. After his admonitions had failed, the pope excommunicated the senators and imposed interdict on the city, April 17, 1606. Doge Donato retorted with an order forbidding the clergy to disregard the interdict. The secular clerics for the most part acquiesced in the secular ruling, but the regulars were exiled for upholding the papal censure. A notable exception to the latter category was the Servite, Paolo Sarpi (1552-1623), who conducted antipapal propaganda for the Republic. Finally King Henry IV of France intervened to arrange a compromise: the senate released imprisoned clerics to the canonical tribunals, withdrew its manifestos, and Paul V removed his censures. Sarpi fled to London where his salacious History of the Council of Trent appeared in 1619. And the Jesuits remained banished by the Venetian Senate, a first instance of their persecution for loyalty to the Holy See. [p. 250]

(6) GREGORY XV (1621-23)

Alessandro Ludovisi (1554-1623) was chosen on February 9, 1621, after a third refusal by St. Robert Bellarmine. Though in ill health, Pope Gregory was ably assisted by his nephew, Ludovico Ludovisi, whom he named cardinal secretary. Pope and secretary worked well, if not always on a very lofty plane.

Ecclesiastical measures. Gregory XV issued two decrees of lasting importance. In 1621 he made new regulations for papal conclaves, insisting on a secret ballot and prescribing procedure in detail. In 1622 he established the Congregatio de Propaganda Fidei to supervise Catholic missionary activity.

Diplomacy. The pope tried to preserve peace between Habsburgs and Bourbons. While he made Paris a metropolitan see and named Richelieu cardinal, he also supported the Austrian cause during the Thirty Years’ War and sanctioned the transfer of the Rhenish electorate to the Catholic Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. The pope died on July 8, 1623.

(7) URBAN VIII (1623-44)

Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644) was chosen pope, August 6, 1623. Personally moral and zealous, the pope was beset with nepotism, devoted to maladroit political intrigues, and an ardent builder at the expense of classical monuments of Rome: Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini.

Galileo Case. One of Urban’s ill-advised acts was to approve the censure of Galileo by the Holy Office. Galileo’s defense of the Copernican theory against Ptolemy and Aristotle was believed by the curialists to subvert Scriptural inerrancy, and indeed Galileo sometimes spoke impudently and inaccurately. Yet the Holy Office need not have therefore branded his theory as “senseless and absurd in philosophy and formally heretical.” This decision, first rendered in 1616, though conformable to contemporary opinion, both Catholic and Protestant, was rash, and St. Robert Bellarmine had advised patient waiting for the facts. But the decisions of the Holy Office were never deemed infallible, and Urban VIII, though keeping Galileo on parole for the rest of his life, treated him with great consideration. Not until 1822, however, was the decision cancelled.

Politics. As nuncio to Paris, Barberini had become a Bourbon partisan. Although he strove to maintain impartiality as pope, he yet seems to have been unconsciously biased in his diplomacy. As arbitrator in the Valtelline Case (1625) he awarded equal rights to Habsburg and Bourbon in regard to a vital communications link between Spanish and Austrian [p. 251] territories. The pope was lukewarm to the Habsburg cause during the Thirty Years’ War and quite attentive to the diplomacy of Cardinal Richelieu. He refused to sanction the imperial Edict of Restitution, probably wisely. He gave no aid to the Habsburgs against the Lutheran Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, claiming that the war was not one for religion; it is not true, however, that he positively assisted the Swedish king, as did Richelieu. But if he did not approve, he tolerated Richelieu’s offensive against Catholic Austria, and Richelieu never took the papal peace efforts seriously. The one time that Urban VIII favored the Habsburgs, by nonrecognition of Portuguese independence, he provoked a Portuguese estrangement that lasted for years. He himself was badly defeated when he resorted to arms in a petty Italian quarrel about the fief of Castro, spending 12,000,000 scudi in an effort to collect a debt of 1.500.000.

(8) INNOCENT X (1644-55)

Giambattista Pamfili (1574-1655) was selected as a compromise between Bourbon and Habsburg pressures on September 15, 1655. Though personally worthy of the papal title that he assumed, Innocent X was too tolerant of nepotism, especially in the person of his domineering sister-in-law, Olympia Maldochina. But the Barberini were arrested or exiled for embezzlement during the preceding pontificate. The pope sponsored Bernini’s additions to St. Peter’s: the colonnade and the transfer of the obelisk.

The Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War during Innocent’s pontificate. Its spirit of compromise involved many losses to the Church in rights and property, against which the pope protested in vain. Perhaps had Urban VIII been less academically neutral, such concessions might have been avoided; now it was too late. Pope Innocent X by Zelus Domus Meae might declare the treaty provisions “null, vain, invalid, iniquitous, reproved,” but the day when papal wishes were respected at peace conferences was over. A secularist era had dawned in which scant respect would be shown to the rights of the Church and of the clergy. Papal protests in time subsided to a tacit toleration of secular indifference in a world no longer culturally Christian, but it was a toleration under protest against physical might. Aged and feeble, the pope was neglected in death by his relatives. Olympia refused to take charge of his funeral, so that for three days after his death on January 7, 1655, the pope’s corpse lay abandoned. It was perhaps symbolic of the vanished material glory of the papacy, but a corpse is neither a pope nor a man, and secular rulers would yet discover that the spiritual glory of the papacy was undimmed. [p. 252]





 Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden



A. Armed Truce (1555-1618)






The Peace of Augsburg (1555) had divided Germany about equally between Catholic and Lutheran princes, according to the axiom, cuius regio eius religio [“whoever rules – his religion (prevails)”]. The pact was concluded on the assumption that the religion of the German princes would remain the same. But on the one hand, there were new apostasies to Lutheranism, and on the other, the Reformation stemming from Trent imparted to the Catholics a revived militancy. The Calvinists, whose greatest advances had been made since the Augsburg settlement, had no share in the legal toleration. The Lutherans finally protested at the Ecclesiasticum Reservatum clause of the Peace of Augsburg, which forbade apostate prince-bishops and -abbots from transferring their states to the Lutheran camp.


Prelatial palatinates, then, proved a source of dispute. Those ecclesiastical territories surrounded by Lutheran states soon succumbed. Thus the Protestants acquired no less than fifteen small states. These Lutheran gains threatened the balance of power between the religious parties in Germany, and finally incited the Catholics to resist. Catholics, on the other hand, were consolidating their position in the south of Germany through the efforts of the bishop of Würzburg and the margrave of Baden-Baden to win back their subjects to the Church, and by the abjuration of heresy of the margrave of Baden-Hochberg. A Protestant claimant to Strasburg was bought off by Catholic subscription.

Active Catholic resistance began in 1581 when the Lutherans seized the see of Aachen. Though it required fifteen years of undeclared war, the Catholics recovered it. A greater crisis arose in 1583 when Gebhard von Waldburg, archbishop of Cologne, married his concubine and tried to retain his see despite his adhesion to Calvinism. When the chapter had declared Waldburg deposed and the pope had excommunicated him, the emperor and other Catholic princes assisted the people of Cologne in driving the apostate out. Ernst von Wittlesbach was installed in his stead, and thereafter until 1784 all the prelates of this key electorate were chosen from the Catholic Bavarian dynasty. Tension occurred elsewhere when Catholic princes tried to enforce religious conformity in their own dominions. Lutheran protests, however, were inconsistent, for they had annexed Catholic lands wherever they could. [p. 253]


Donauwörth Incident. These remote causes of conflict were accentuated by recurring clashes. The first of these took place at Donauwörth on the Bavarian border. On April 11, 1606, the Protestants attacked a Eucharistic procession and desecrated the church. The Emperor Rudolf II (1576-1612) placed the rioters under the ban, and Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1597-1651) seized the town, which was permanently held for the Catholic cause.

Rival leagues. By 1608 the French monarchy had recovered from the Huguenot Wars and was prepared to intervene once more in German affairs. The ultimate objective of Henry IV’s “Great Design” seems to have been the immemorial royal aim of weakening the Habsburgs. In 1608 the French king sponsored the Protestant League of Alhausen under the presidency of Elector Frederick IV of the Palatinate. Catholic princes promptly (1609) organized the rival League of Würzburg under the leadership of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. Armed conflict seemed likely between these two combinations in 1609 when Duke William of Cleves-Jülich died without direct heirs. Both Catholic and Protestant princes had claims to his Rhenish dominions and when the emperor named his brother as administrator, the Protestants threatened war. Henry IV was on the point of setting out to their assistance when he was assassinated by François Ravaillac, a religious fanatic. French administration fell into the hands of his widow, Marie de’ Medici, pro-Habsburg, but incompetent. France was temporarily out of the international picture, and this and the death of its president the same year (1610) induced the Alhausen League to postpone hostilities. The Cleves-Jülich decision was also postponed; eventually the territories in dispute were divided between Catholics and Protestants.

Bohemian casus belli. Nonetheless the radical antipathies remained and the new Protestant leader, Elector Frederick V, relied on the assistance of his father-in-law, King James I of England. A favorable opportunity seemed to arise in Bohemia. Since Emperor Matthias (1612-19) was childless, it was necessary to provide for the Habsburg succession. His cousin, Duke Ferdinand of Styria, well known as an uncompromising Catholic, was accepted without difficulty as heir in Austria and Hungary. But Bohemia retained a large anti-Catholic and anti-German party from Hussite days. To Ferdinand’s claim to inherit Bohemia by hereditary right, the Bohemian nobility opposed the ancient custom of election. On May 13, 1618, they replied to a Habsburg ultimatum by defenestrating [i.e. throwing out of the window] the imperial envoys, and Count Thurn led the rebels in electing Frederick V of the Palatinate as King of Bohemia. He invoked the help of the Alhausen Union to defend his position and war loomed. [p. 254]

B. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-48)

(1) BOHEMIAN PERIOD (1618-25)

Emperor Ferdinand II (1619-37), succeeding to Catholic leadership on Matthias’s death, invoked the aid of the League of the Catholics and of the Spanish Habsburgs. Against such odds, Elector Frederick proved to be but a “Winter King.” The Alhausen Union, solidly Lutheran, was awed and displayed no disposition to risk much for a Calvinist pretender, while James I of England confined himself chiefly to advice. The Catholic general, Johann Tserclaes, count Tilly, directed invasion of Bohemia from all sides. After a decisive Habsburg victory at White Mountain, November 8, 1620, Frederick fled and the rebellion collapsed.

Habsburg triumph. The emperor seized the offensive by decreeing dissolution of the Alhausen Union and forfeiture of the electoral Palatinate, while Philip IV of Spain resumed the attempt to subdue the revolted Dutch. By 1625 Tilly had expelled Frederick V from the Palatinate, and the Spanish general Spinola had captured Breda from the Dutch Protestants. The emperor then awarded the Rhenish Palatinate to Maximilian of Bavaria, thus gaining for the Catholic side a state and an electoral vote.

(2) DANISH PERIOD (1625-30)

Protestant desperation at this alarming turn of events induced Frederick’s brother-in-law, Christian IV of Denmark, to accept an invitation of the Lutheran magnates to invade Germany. But the king was defeated at Dessau Bridge near Lutter (1626) by a new imperial general, Albrecht von Wallenstein. Harried northward by Wallenstein and Tilly, Christian IV was glad in 1629 to conclude peace. He yielded a few sees appropriated by his relatives since the Augsburg Peace and promised never again to intervene in German affairs—a pledge kept by his successors until 1848.

Edict of Restitution. Two months before this settlement, the emperor had issued an Edict of Restitution nullifying all Protestant seizures of Catholic territories since the Peace of Augsburg. Lutherans, however, were permitted the free exercise of their religion. Imperial commissioners began enforcement of this edict so vigorously that within three years five bishoprics, a hundred monasteries, thirty imperial towns, and numerous other territories had been recovered. This not only tipped the German balance in the Catholic favor, but considerably enhanced imperial Habsburg power, which might now conceivably be able to weld Germany into a centralized monarchy. This prospect frightened Cardinal Richelieu, French prime minister from 1624 to 1642. Though but lately (1628) victorious over French Protestants, he did not scruple to intervene [p. 255] on the side of German Protestants in order to thwart the Bourbons’ Habsburg rivals. At first avoiding any direct French intervention, Richelieu subsidized Austrian foes.

(3) SWEDISH PERIOD (1630-35)

Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden needed little urging. Already possessor of part of German Pomerania, he dreamed of making the Baltic a Swedish lake and his realm a great power. Accepting Richelieu’s arms and money, he landed in Pomerania, July, 1630. While the Swedish king negotiated with the German Protestants, Tilly captured Magdeburg, May, 1631. His mercenaries, however, got out of hand and perpetrated a massacre which so infuriated and alarmed wavering Protestant magnates that they made common cause with Gustavus. Once in the field, the king proved more than a match for Tilly. He defeated him at Breitenfeld, September 17, 1631, and again at Rain near the Lech in April, 1632; in the latter contest the chivalrous Tilly was killed. Carrying the war into Catholic territory, the king defeated Wallenstein as well at Lutzen, November 16, 1632, but was himself slain in the battle. The new Protestant general, Bernard of Weimar, skirmished without decisive result for two years with Wallenstein. The latter, whose loyalty became suspect, was removed from command by assassination in 1634, but the Catholic cause was somewhat restored by a victory of General Gallas at Nördlingen in central Germany.

The Treaty of Prague, signed May 30, 1635, promised a reasonable settlement of German differences. The emperor offered an amnesty and freedom of religious cult to all Protestant princes who would lay down their arms. Captured territory was to be restored, and ecclesiastical palatinates returned to the status quo of 1627, a compromise between the Catholic nadir of 1618 and their zenith of 1629. Another important provision required dissolution of all private leagues and subjection of German military forces to the imperial command. This pact, actually signed by a majority of magnates, might have made Germany a united kingdom.

(4) FRENCH PERIOD (1635-48)

Richelieu, however, refused to permit such a solution and directly intervened in the war to encourage the Protestant princes to repudiate the Peace of Prague. This French intervention prolonged the conflict in Germany for another thirteen years. Spain, menaced by France, had to withdraw her forces for her own defense, and after a defeat at Rocroy (1643) was herself in desperate condition. In Germany, Bavaria bore the brunt of French attacks and was forced out of the war in 1647. But Austria held out, and presently Maximilian of Bavaria took a page from [p. 256] Richelieu’s diplomatic notebook to repudiate his separate peace. Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin, then agreed to terminate the indecisive German phase of the conflict by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), although the contest with Spain went on until the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.

C. The Westphalian Settlement (1648)


The Treaties of Westphalia, concluded on October 24, 1648, terminated thirty years of wasting conflict on substantially the same basis as the Peace of Augsburg nearly a century before. Once again it was cujus regio ejus religio, though this time legal toleration was extended to the Calvinists as well as the Lutherans. Ecclesiastical palatinates were apportioned on a norm of 1624; that is, before noteworthy Catholic annexations. Past and present confiscations were condoned, though the ecclesiasticum reservatum was to apply again to the future. But every provision was made to obviate future religious differences: all imperial courts, bureaus, and commissions were to have an equal number of Catholic and Protestant members. Pope Innocent’s disapproval of the peace was chiefly excited by the formal concession to all German princes of “the right to reform religion,” which was an implicit recognition of the Protestant principle of secular supremacy. Though the pope denounced “all articles of the Treaty prejudicial to the Catholic religion, divine worship, and the Apostolic See,” Catholics perforce had to allow secularization of lands already in Protestant hands, amounting to sixteen sees and six abbeys.


Politically, Germany ceased to be a nation save in name. Every prince was allowed to rule his territory and make war independently of the emperor-king. Though the title of Holy Roman Emperor survived until 1806, all imperial reality had vanished. Already possessing no more than honorary precedence over kings, the emperor now ceased to be effective king of Germany itself. If the Habsburgs continued powerful, it was in virtue of their dynastic possessions in Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary. The Rhenish Palatinate was restored with its electorate, though Bavaria was also given an electoral vote so that the Catholics retained a majority of five to three electoral votes. They also had a majority of representatives in the Reichstag, but this was of slight advantage in that antique body which became little more than a debating society. Broken into a thousand pieces at the mercy of foreign intervention, Germany for two centuries became the “Germanies”; only an inarticulate German patriotism [p. 257] survived to the Romantic revival in reaction to Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion at the opening of the nineteenth century.

Social results. Unparalleled destruction had been wrought in Germany by the campaigns of thirty years. Population had declined; towns had been abandoned; education had disappeared, and the lower classes were brutalized and exposed to superstition. The German “Fatherland” was ruined, and despite economic recovery the German patriot began to nourish resentment against France—though cosmopolitan nobles still aped the French fashions. The perils of disunity may have made some accept unification at too great a price from Bismarck and Hitler, and may have provoked a sort of inferiority complex that sought compensation in the quest of might and conquest.





  Philip II of Spain and Mary Tudor



A. Habsburg Spain (1516-1659)




(1) CHARLES I (1516-56)


Spanish orthodoxy had been protected by the timely reforms of Cardinals Ximenes (1436-1517) and Dedel, later Adrian VI. A pseudo-mystic sect known as Alumbrados, however, appeared about 1512. These “Enlightened Ones,” like the later Quietists, claimed that perfection consisted in annihilation of human liberty in an absolute passivity, and terminated in a state of impeccability. But the Inquisition suppressed them.

Comuneros’ revolt. Charles of Habsburg, first king of a united Spanish monarchy, introduced Flemish counselors from his native Netherlands. Their rule was resented by the Spaniards who rebelled during Charles’s journey to receive the German imperial crown. In July, 1520, a junta seized control to demand continuous royal residence in Spain, removal of all foreigners from office, reduction of taxes and curtailment of expenditure on alien projects, convocation of a cortes every three years, and abolition of the feudal privileges. But this last demand divided the rebels, and the nobles sided with the royal troops when their own prerogatives came to be threatened. The emperor refused to yield and the rebels were defeated at Villalar, April, 1521.

Benevolent despotism followed the emperor-king’s return in 1522. Excluding the nobles from high office, he relied heavily on the gentry in filling civil and military posts. Though Spanish regionalism did not die, thereafter the Spanish Habsburg monarchy was comparatively absolute. Church and state became so fused in Spanish mentality that both monarchs and people regarded themselves divinely appointed crusaders against infidelity and heresy. Charles gave Spain and the New World humane and intelligent government, though his financial muddling [p. 258] mortgaged the future revenues. The emperor raised Spain to the first rank in Europe and made her, quite unwillingly, the arsenal of Christendom. His New Laws of 1542 laid the basis of the Spanish colonial system in America. To Spain the Teutonic and much-traveled emperor finally returned to die, having abdicated the Spanish crown in favor of his son Philip two years before his death in 1558.

(2) PHILIP II (1556-98)

Philip (1527-98) received the Spanish crown in 1556, though the Austrian Habsburg possession went to his uncle Ferdinand. By birth and education Philip II was more popular with his Spanish subjects than his father, but he lacked his father’s cosmopolitan viewpoint and his diplomatic skill. Philip became the personification of royal bureaucratic efficiency, laboriously supervising every detail of administration. Withal Philip was a just and stern ruler, a sincere Catholic, though quite prone to regard himself essential to the Church. Charles and Philip both meddled in ecclesiastical affairs with the best of intentions. They never, however, resisted unto anathema, and both died edifying deaths. Philip in particular worked with the Council of Trent and had its decrees promulgated, but he could never be induced to yield an iota of patronage nor confine the Spanish Inquisition within papal norms. It was with the greatest difficulty that the Holy See induced the crown to yield the archbishop of Toledo for judgment at Rome—where he renounced some unintentionally inapt expressions.

The diplomacy of “Philip the Prudent” was directed alike to Catholic and Habsburg interest. His suppression of the Moriscoes (1567-70) in Spain completed the Reconquista. He contributed to the defeat of the Turks at Lepanto (1571) . His intervention in France, if not without blunders, probably prevented Huguenot capture of that kingdom. In Italy and America he warded off any encroachment of Protestantism, and he brought Portugal and its colonial domain under Spanish rule for half a century (1580-1640). England was Philip’s great failure, and the Netherlands in large part escaped him. But all in all, Philip continued Spain’s Golden Age of glory and power: his was the century of St. Ignatius, St. Theresa, St. Francis Borgia, the Salamanticenses, Suarez, Lope de Vega, Cervantes, El Greco.

(3) PHILIP III (1598-1621)

Philip III (1578-1621), sickly son of Philip II’s old age, inherited the throne after the mysterious death of his erratic elder brother, Don Carlos (1545-68). Philip III was a good man and pious Catholic, but only a mediocre ruler. He committed administration to a prime minister, Francisco de Sandoval, duke of Lerma (1598-1618), who permitted intrigue [p. 259] and corruption to flourish. Fortunately for Philip III, no major crisis arose to demand genius; the Dutch were glad to conclude a truce in 1609; Marie de’ Medici’s regency in France was favorable to Spanish interests; and James I of England was fascinated by the Spanish ambassador Gondomar into keeping the peace.

(4) PHILIP IV (1621-65)

Philip IV (1605-65) was a more active, but scarcely more able ruler than his father. Pleasure-loving and immoral, he expended his personal energy elsewhere than on affairs of state, leaving these to a prime minister, the count of Olivares (1621-43) . The reign proved one long misfortune and the beginning of a decline which continued until the extinction of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain in 1700.

The Thirty Years’ War, insofar as Spain was directly concerned, was designed to regain the revolted Dutch Netherlands. But after the initial success at Breda (1625), Spanish progress bogged down as the bulk of Spanish forces were shifted to Germany. The Dutch, who had used the truce to good advantage, proved strongest at sea. After 1635, moreover, French intervention forced the Spaniards to direct their main efforts against a new foe. Early victories were won against undisciplined French troops, but in 1640 the Portuguese declaration of independence and the Catalan uprising (1640-59) withdrew Spain’s armies to the peninsula. The French won a triumph at Rocroy in 1643, and after a period of domestic strife—the Fronde—resumed the offensive with another victory at Dunkirk (1658). The Peace of the Pyrenees, signed November 7, 1659, was extorted from Philip IV to save his kingdom. He yielded Roussillon in the Pyrenees and Artois in Belgium, but worse than that had to acknowledge that Spanish leadership in Europe was at an end.

B. Portuguese Separatism (1521-1640)


Portuguese colonial dominion had been extended widely in the East and West Indies during the reign of Manoel I (1495-1521), and at the height of the Renaissance, Portugal expended an energy and attained a grandeur quite disproportionate to its resources. King John III (1521-57), Manoel’s son and successor, continued to promote Portuguese overseas ventures. Though not deserving all the charges of indolence leveled against him, the king saw his country’s power decline despite external magnificence. The king gave some, but insufficient, backing to St. Francis Xavier and the missionaries who evangelized Portuguese outposts from India to Japan. Always the Jesuits had to complain of the bad example given prospective converts by Portuguese colonists, traders and administrators. At home, disputes about control of the Portuguese [p. 260] Inquisition severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See from 1544 to 1548, when the tribunal resumed work under certain papal safeguards.

Extinction of the dynasty that had ruled Portugal since its birth in 1140 was now in prospect. John’s grandson and successor, Sebastian (1557-78), despite papal disapproval, embarked on an injudicious attack on Morocco. Here he fell at the battle of Alcazar-El-Kabir, August, 1578. Since he was unmarried, the crown went to his elderly great-uncle, Cardinal-Prince Henry.

(2) SPANISH SUCCESSION (1578-1640)

Spanish claims were advanced on behalf of Philip II as son and heir of Empress Isabella, a daughter of Manoel I. In a desperate effort to avert rule by Spain, the Cardinal-King Henry (1578-80), though sixty-seven years old, requested Gregory XIII to dispense him from sacerdotal celibacy. The Spaniards, on the other hand, interposed against such a dispensation. The pope temporized for a year, and then refused the concession as a matter of principle. The forlorn Portuguese dynastic hope perished with Henry in January, 1580.

Spanish domination began after the duke of Alba’s prompt invasion in August, 1580. At Lisbon, Philip II’s hereditary claims were recognized by prelates and nobles, though from 1583 he had to contend with a pretender, Antonio of Crato, illegitimate nephew of the cardinal-king. Support of Antonio by the French (1583) and the English (1589) failed to win him the Portuguese crown, but forced Philip II to employ unpopular martial rule. Portugal chafed under Spanish administration until an opportunity for revolt occurred in 1640. Taking advantage of Spain’s distractions in the Thirty Years’ War, the Restaurodores of Portuguese independence made good their rebellion.

C. The Spanish Netherlands


The Netherlands had formed part of the dynastic inheritance of Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy that had passed to the Habsburgs by the marriage of his daughter Mary to Emperor Maximilian. Their grandson, Emperor Charles V, as a native of the Netherlands, loved its people and was respected in return. The provinces formed a wealthy and strategic part of his far-flung dominions, and he could usually rely upon their financial support in an emergency. The single instance of revolt, the Ghent uprising in 1540, had been quickly suppressed. Charles was tactful and tolerant on the whole, and employed capable deputies.

Protestant infiltration had begun during the emperor’s reign so that he had resort to the Inquisition. Lutheranism spread from Saxony, and Anabaptist radicals fled to the Low Countries to escape the common opposition [p. 261] of German Catholics and Lutherans. Calvinism, however, proved most attractive to the burghers of the Netherlands. Pierre Bruly, Calvin’s friend, introduced the sect, but was executed with five others at Tournai in 1545. Other Calvinist preachers succeed these. Especially active until his execution in 1567 was Guy de Bray who appeared in 1556. After 1560 the Calvinists were active iconoclasts, and despite 159 executions at Tournai between 1567 and 1570, gained control of the nationalist movement. In the north they instituted a reign of terror against Catholics and in 1572 massacred nineteen priests and friars at Gorcum.

Philip II found his Spanish birth and manners, so favorable to him in Spain, a handicap in winning the affection of the Dutch. Patriotic feeling was aroused when his Spanish deputies deprived the natives of self-rule and curbed their commercial privileges. Philip’s rigid and tactless use of the Inquisition aggravated the discontent, and radical sectaries retaliated with violence. Various nobles, while not in sympathy with such tactics, did petition for redress of Dutch grievances. Dismissed with the contemptuous appellation of gueux, “beggars,” patriots seized on this name as a party label. Discontent proved too much for the regent, Margaret of Parma (1559-67), and she was replaced by the duke of Alba as military governor (1567-73) . His stern reign of terror united all patriots against him, especially after he had executed two prominent Catholic nobles, Egmont and Hoorn (1567) . Neither Alba nor his first successors, Requesens (1573-76) and Don Juan of Austria (1576-78), could prevail. In 1576 the Pacification of Ghent proclaimed the union of all provinces, irrespective of religious beliefs, in the cause of expelling the Spaniards.


Belgian Catholicity. The next governor-general, Alessandro Farnese, duke of Parma (1578-92), resorted to the time-honored maxim of “divide and conquer.” Skillful as a diplomat and a general, after subduing the southern provinces he promised restoration of political autonomy. These lands were predominantly Catholic, Gallic in culture, and industrial; their interests differed from those of the northern provinces, more strongly Calvinist, Teutonic and commercial. By playing upon these divergences, Parma at length succeeded in detaching the southern provinces from the rebellion. The resulting Belgian Netherlands remained under Spanish rule until the eighteenth century, when they were transferred to the Austrian Habsburgs down to the French Revolution.

William of Orange (1533-84), an unscrupulous Dutch patriot, prevented the subjugation of Holland. A poor general, his fame lay chiefly in his diplomacy. He organized the “Land Beggars,” a guerilla force [p. 262] which harassed the Spanish legions, while the privateering “Sea Beggars” cut their line of communications by sea. Orange cemented the alliance of the northern provinces in the Union of Utrecht (1579) which, with occasional assistance from England and France, held out against Spain. Though William of Orange was assassinated in 1584, his family continued influential in Holland.

Dutch regime. The defeat of the Spanish Armada probably saved the Dutch as well as the English in 1588, though the war continued until a truce was declared in 1609. Spain’s renewed efforts to conquer the Dutch during the Thirty Years’ War were unsuccessful, and Dutch independence of both Spain and the Empire was formally recognized in 1648. The Dutch built up a colonial domain in the East Indies and made their Republic a leading financial power in Europe. “The Dutch Reformed Church proclaimed in its confession of faith that ‘the office of the magistracy is to prevent and to eradicate all idolatry and false religion and to destroy the kingdom of antichrist.’ But the states never acted according to that ecclesiastical doctrine.” 2 Catholics, a strong minority in Holland, were denied civil rights and public worship, but enjoyed an uneasy toleration of the services held in private houses, as in later English penal days. Calvinist bigotry flared up from time to time to deport vicars apostolic and missionaries, but it was seldom of protracted duration. When the penal regime terminated in the nineteenth century, a third of the Dutch were still Catholic.

2 Adriaan Barnouw, Making of Modern Holland (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1944), p. 147.

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