The Protestant Reformation and the Holy Roman Empire 1560–72

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Map Code: Ax01478

The Protestant Reformation saw the decline of the powerful Holy Roman Empire, which was already suffering divisions over the dominance of the emperor, and was instrumental in weakening papal power in Europe as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church’s attempt to calm violence, unrest and iconoclastic riots at the Peace of Augsburg only further weakened the Empire; the emperor lost support and the Catholic papacy received less money as the princes turned to Protestantism. In the north and east, and beyond the borders of the Empire, Protestantism spread; the south remained largely Catholic. The decrease in power, unity and stability brought about by the Protestant Reformation left the Holy Roman Empire in a vulnerable position. The Council of Trent (1545–63) formulated the ecumenical response of the Counter Reformation, which ranged from the formation of the Jesuit Order, to the creation of the Inquisition. The papacy instituted wide-ranging reforms to tackle the abuses highlighted by Protestantism, and used nuncios (diplomats) to reinforce Catholicism in wavering territories like Bohemia and Poland. The ‘Statue Riots’ which preceded the Dutch Wars of Independence, and the riots which followed the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France (1572), presaged the brutal religious wars that would wrack the continent in the century ahead.

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