Their Cross to Bear: An Alternate Reformation Timeline

Prelude One: The State of Europe in 1525
This is the first of three Prelude Updates for my new Timeline "Their Cross to Bear" which takes its divergence during the early Reformation and tries to conduct a detailed (and hopefully entertaining) examination of a vast number of butterflies. We will see new and different forms of Christianity, follow dynasties as they rise and fall from power, explore the four corners of the world and determine what sort of world might have developed if things turned out differently. Sorry about the rather massive rehash of OTL that make up the preludes, but I felt it better to get all of this out of the way beforehand so that I can focus on the narrative and require fewer explanations later on. This first prelude focuses on the Italian Wars, the Ottoman Empire and the growth of Iberian power on a global scale. The second prelude gives a detailed overview of the background to the Reformation while the third documents the first several years of the Reformation. I would suggest reading the footnotes, I put a lot of comments, explanations and details in them which wouldn't fit in the actual update so you might miss out on a lot if you skip them. Please let me know your thoughts and comments if something seems implausible, incorrect or if you just want to discuss any topic that comes up. I plan to put up the first actual update on the 1st of January, while the three preludes will come out during the coming week. I really hope you enjoy!

The State of Europe in 1525

Italy at the Start of the Italian Wars
The Italian Wars would prove to be an era-defining source of strife in Europe for the first half of the sixteenth century, involving almost every political actor on the European Continent and redefining European Society on every level. Originally arising from dynastic disputes over the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples, the Italian Wars rapidly became a general struggle for power and territory among their various participants, and were marked with an increasing number of alliances, counter-alliances, and betrayals. Following the Wars in Lombardy between Venice and Milan, which ended in 1454 with the Peace of Lodi, Northern Italy had been largely at peace during the reigns of Cosimo de' Medici and Lorenzo de' Medici in Florence and the Sforza family in Milan, with the notable exception of the War of Ferrara in 1482–1484. Thus, when King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494 under the pretext of pressing the Angevin claim to the Kingdom of Naples and at the invitation of the Duke of Milan - in response to King Ferrante of Naples’ growing power and influence, the fragile equilibrium which had allowed Italy to become the economic, cultural and social heart of Europe found itself shattered and Italy given over to the horrors of war for decade upon decade. After initially driving all opposition before him and successfully taking up the Neapolitan Crown, Charles was forced to flee Italy, losing all of his conquests and dying two years later from an accident while playing tennis, his plans for another invasion interrupted.

Charles left behind no surviving heirs, leaving the Kingdom to his ambitious and popular cousin who ascended to the throne as King Louis XII of France. Under Louis, French ambitions expanded to include the Duchy of Milan which he claimed through descent from the Visconti Dukes of Milan in opposition to the Sforza Dukes who had driven Louis' distant cousins from power. Alongside the French, the Imperial Habsburgs under Emperor Maximilian I had involved themselves in northern Italy while to the south the Aragonese King Fernando/Ferran II, also King-Consort of Castile, expanded his power in southern Italy. Louis XII's reign would last seventeen years and would see wave upon wave of French, German and Spanish armies march into the fires of Italy where they became contestants on a field of battle like no other. Armies of unprecedented size clashed with sword, pike and cannon in an ever escalating series of skirmishes, sieges and battles. When King Louis finally passed away in 1515 he left behind two daughters who found themselves, as per established Salian inheritance law, passed over for their cousin, Francis of Anglouême, who would in turn marry the oldest of Louis’ daughters. King Francis I would prove to be a dynamic warrior-king who reformed French culture and society in his image and personally led French armies to victory in Italy on multiple occasions (1), bringing the War of the League of Cambrai to a victorious end in 1516. Fernando II of Aragon died a year after Louis, leaving his throne to his grandson Charles I von Habsburg who ascended to the throne Spanish thrones at the age of 16 and stood to inherit his paternal grandfather's Imperial throne.

By 1518, the peace that had prevailed in Europe after the Battle of Marignano was beginning to crumble. All European countries except for the Muslim Ottoman Empire had been invited to London for treaty negotiations where they hoped to bind the 20 leading states of Europe into peace with one another, and thus end warfare between the states of Europe. In October 1518 it was initiated between representatives from England and France. It was then ratified by other European nations and the Pope. The agreement established a defensive league based upon terms which committed states with an active foreign policy to not only commit to a stance of non-aggression, but also to promise to make war upon any state which broke the terms of the treaty. At the time, it was thought a triumph for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (2) and allowed Henry VIII to greatly increase his standing in European political circles, to the extent that England grew to be viewed by some as a third major power. The major powers: France Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire were outwardly friendly but they found themselves divided on the question of the Imperial succession.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, intending for a Habsburg to succeed him, began to campaign on behalf of King Charles of Spain, while Francis put himself forward as an alternate candidate. At the same time, the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire were forced to deal with the rising influence of Martin Luther, who found support with some Imperial nobles, while Francis was faced with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who interposed himself into the quarrels of the continent in an attempt to increase both England's influence and his own in the hopes of gaining enough stature to become Pope. Maximilian's death in 1519 brought the Imperial election to the forefront of European politics. Pope Leo X, threatened by the presence of Spanish troops a mere forty miles from the Vatican, supported the French candidacy. The prince-electors themselves, with the exception of Friedrich von Wettin, Elector of Saxony, who refused to countenance the campaigning, promised their support to both candidates at once. Before his death, Maximilian had already promised sums of 500,000 florins to the Electors in exchange for their votes, but Francis offered up to three million, and Charles retaliated by borrowing vast sums from the Fuggers (3). The final outcome, however, was not determined by the exorbitant bribes, which included Pope Leo promising to make the Archbishop of Mainz his permanent legate in Germany, an immensely powerful position which would have made the Archbishop the second most powerful figure in the Catholic Church. The general outrage of the populace at the idea of a French Emperor gave the Electors pause, and when Charles put an army in the field near Frankfurt, where they were meeting, the Electors obligingly voted for him. He was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on 23 October 1520, by which point he already controlled both the Spanish crown and the hereditary Burgundian lands in the Low Countries which he had inherited from his father (4).

Cardinal Wolsey, hoping to increase Henry VIII's influence on the continent, offered the services of England as a mediator for the various disputes between Francis and Charles. Henry and Francis staged an extravagant meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold (5). Immediately afterwards, Wolsey entertained Charles in Calais. Following the meetings, Wolsey, also concerned with improving his own stature in preparation for the next papal conclave, proceeded to stage a hollow arbitration conference at Calais, which lasted until April 1522 to no practical effect. In December, the French began to plan for war. Francis did not wish to openly attack Charles because Henry had announced his intention to intervene against the first party to break the tenuous peace. Instead, he turned to more covert support for incursions into German and Spanish territory. One attack would be made on the Meuse River, under the leadership of Robert de la Marck, son and heir to the Duke of Bouillon and Seigneur de Flourance. Simultaneously, a French-Navarrese army would advance through Navarre after reconquering St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The expedition was nominally led by the 18-year-old Navarrese king Henri d'Albret, whose kingdom had been invaded by Fernando II of Aragon in 1512 and had seen its lands south of the Alps occupied by the Spanish ever since, but the army was effectively commanded by André de Foix and funded and equipped by the French. The French designs quickly proved flawed as the intervention of Henry van Nassau-Breda drove back the Meuse offensive; and although de Foix was initially successful in seizing Pamplona, he was driven from Navarre after being defeated at the Battle of Esquiroz on 30 June 1521 by Íñigo Fernández de Velasco, 2nd Duke of Frías and Constable of Castile.

In the meanwhile, Charles found himself preoccupied with the issue of Martin Luther, whom he confronted at the Diet of Worms in March 1521 (6). On 25 May 1521, Charles and Cardinal Girolamo Aleandro, the Papal nuncio, proclaimed the Edict of Worms against Luther. Simultaneously, the Emperor promised the Pope the restoration of Parma and Piacenza to the Medici and of Milan to the Sforza. Leo, needing the Imperial mandate for his campaign against what he viewed as a dangerous threat, promised to assist in expelling the French from Lombardy, leaving Francis with only the Republic of Venice for an ally. In June, Imperial armies under Heinrich van Nassau-Breda invaded the north of France, razing the cities of Ardres and Mouzon and besieging Tournai. They were delayed by the dogged resistance of the French, led by Pierre Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard and Anne de Montmorency, during the Siege of Mezieres, which gave Francis time to gather an army to confront the attack. On 22 October 1521, Francis encountered the main Imperial army, which was commanded by Charles V himself, near Valenciennes. Despite the urging of Charles de Bourbon, Constable of France and fifth in line to the throne behind Francis' two sons and the Duke of Alencon, Francis hesitated to attack, which allowed Emperor Charles time to retreat. When the French were finally ready to advance, the start of heavy rains prevented an effective pursuit and the Imperial forces were able to escape without a battle. Shortly afterwards, French-Navarrese troops under Bonnivet, a royal favorite, and Claude de Lorraine seized the key city of Fuenterrabia, at the mouth of the Bidasoa River on the Franco-Spanish border, following a protracted series of maneuvers, providing the French with an advantageous foothold in northern Spain that would remain in their hands for the next two years.

By November, the French situation had deteriorated considerably. Charles, Henry VIII, and the Pope signed an alliance against Francis on 28 November. Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec, the French governor of Milan, was tasked with resisting the Imperial and Papal forces; he was outmatched by the Imperial commander Prospero Colonna, however, and by late November had been forced out of Milan and had retreated to a ring of towns around the Adda River. There, Lautrec was reinforced by the arrival of fresh Swiss mercenaries; but, having no money available to pay them, he gave in to their demands to engage the Imperial forces immediately. On 27 April 1522, he attacked Colonna's combined Imperial and Papal army near Milan at the Battle of Bicocca. Lautrec had planned to use his superiority in artillery to his advantage, but the Swiss, impatient to engage the enemy, masked his guns and charged against the entrenched Spanish arquebusiers. In the resulting melee, the Swiss were badly mauled by the Spanish under Fernando d'Avalos, Marquess of Pescara, and by a force of landsknechts commanded by Georg Frundsberg. Their morale broken, the Swiss returned to their cantons; Lautrec, left with too few troops to continue the campaign, abandoned Lombardy entirely. Colonna and d'Avalos, left unopposed, proceeded to besiege Genoa, capturing the city on 30 May. Lautrec's defeat brought England openly into the conflict. In late May 1522, the English ambassador presented Francis with an ultimatum enumerating accusations against France, notably that of supporting the Duke of Albany in Scotland, all of which were denied by the king. Henry VIII and Charles signed the Treaty of Windsor on 16 June 1522. The treaty outlined a joint English-Imperial attack against France, with each party providing at least 40,000 men. Charles agreed to compensate England for the pensions that would be lost because of conflict with France and to pay the past debts that would be forfeit; to seal the alliance, he also agreed to marry Henry's only daughter, Mary. In July, the English attacked Brittany and Picardy from Calais. Francis was unable to raise funds to sustain significant resistance, and the English army burned and looted the countryside.


The French advance into Lombardy and the Pavia campaign of 1524–25: French in Blue and Imperial in Red
Francis tried a variety of methods to raise money, but concentrated on a lawsuit against Charles III, Duke of Bourbon. The Duke of Bourbon had received the majority of his holdings through his marriage to Suzanne, Duchess de Bourbon, who had died shortly before the start of the war. Louise de Savoy, Suzanne's sister and the king's mother, insisted that the territories in question should pass to her because of her closer kinship to the deceased. Francis was confident that seizing the disputed lands would improve his own financial position sufficiently to continue the war and began to confiscate portions of them in Louise's name. Bourbon, angered by this treatment and increasingly isolated at court, began to make overtures to Charles V to betray the French king. By 1523, the French situation had entirely collapsed. The death of Doge Antonio Grimani brought Andrea Gritti, a veteran of the War of the League of Cambrai, to power in Venice. He quickly began negotiations with the Emperor and on 29 July concluded the Treaty of Worms, which removed the Republic from the war. Bourbon continued his scheming with Charles, offering to begin a rebellion against Francis in exchange for money and German troops. When Francis, who was aware of the plot, summoned him to Lyon in October, he feigned illness and fled to the Imperial city of Besançon. Enraged, Francis ordered the execution of as many of Bourbon's associates as he could capture, but the Duke himself, having rejected a final offer of reconciliation, openly entered the Emperor's service. Charles then invaded southern France over the Pyrenees. Lautrec successfully defended Bayonne against the Spanish, but Charles was able to recapture Fuenterrabia in February 1524. In the meanwhile, On 18 September 1523, a massive English army under the Duke of Suffolk advanced into French territory from Calais in conjunction with a Flemish-Imperial force. The French, stretched thin by the Imperial attack, were unable to resist, and Suffolk soon advanced past the Somme, devastating the countryside in his wake and stopping only fifty miles from Paris. When Charles failed to support the English offensive, however, Suffolk—unwilling to risk an attack on the French capital—turned away from Paris on 30 October, returning to Calais by mid-December (7).

Francis now turned his attention to Lombardy. In October 1523, a French army of 18,000 under Bonnivet advanced through the Piedmont to Novara, where it was joined by a similarly sized force of Swiss mercenaries. Prospero Colonna, who had only 9,000 men to oppose the French advance, retreated to Milan. Bonnivet, however, overestimated the size of the Imperial army and moved into winter quarters rather than attacking the city; and the Imperial commanders were able to summon 15,000 landsknechts and a large force under Bourbon's command by 28 December, when Charles de Lannoy replaced the dying Colonna. Many of the Swiss now abandoned the French army, and Bonnivet began his withdrawal. The French defeat at the Battle of the Sesia, where Bayard was killed while commanding the French rearguard, again demonstrated the power of massed arquebusiers against more traditional troops; the French army then retreated over the Alps in disarray. D'Avalos and Bourbon crossed the Alps with nearly 11,000 men and invaded Provence in early July 1524. Sweeping through most of the smaller towns unopposed, Bourbon entered the provincial capital of Aix-en-Provence on 9 August 1524, taking the title of Count of Provence and pledging his allegiance to Henry VIII, in a reoccurrence of the English claim to the French Crown, in return for the latter's support against Francis. By mid-August, Bourbon and d'Avalos had besieged Marseille, the only stronghold in Provence that remained in French hands. Their assaults on the city failed, however, and when the French army commanded by Francis himself arrived at Avignon at the end of September 1524, they were forced to retreat back to Italy. In mid-October 1524, Francis himself crossed the Alps and advanced on Milan at the head of an army numbering more than 40,000. Bourbon and d'Avalos, their troops not yet recovered from the campaign in Provence, were in no position to offer serious resistance. The French army moved in several columns, brushing aside Imperial attempts to hold its advance, but failed to bring the main body of Imperial troops to battle. Nevertheless, Charles de Lannoy, who had concentrated some 16,000 men to resist the 33,000 French troops closing on Milan, decided that the city could not be defended and withdrew to Lodi on 26 October. Having entered Milan and installed Louis II de la Trémoille as the governor, Francis at the urging of Bonnivet and against the advice of his other senior commanders, who favored a more vigorous pursuit of the retreating Lannoy, advanced on Pavia, where Antonio de Leyva remained with a sizable Imperial garrison.

The main mass of French troops arrived at Pavia in the last days of October 1524. By 2 November, Montmorency had crossed the Ticino River and invested the city from the south, completing its encirclement. Inside were about 9,000 men, mainly mercenaries whom Antonio de Leyva was able to pay only by melting the church plate. A period of skirmishing and artillery bombardments followed, and several breaches had been made in the walls by mid-November. On 21 November, Francis attempted an assault on the city through two of the breaches, but was beaten back with heavy casualties; hampered by rainy weather and a lack of gunpowder, the French decided to wait for the defenders to starve. In early December, a Spanish force commanded by Hugo de Moncada landed near Genoa, intending to interfere in a conflict between pro-Valois and pro-Habsburg factions in the city. Francis dispatched a larger force under Michele Antonio I of Saluzzo to intercept them. Confronted by the more numerous French and left without naval support by the arrival of a pro-Valois fleet commanded by Andrea Doria, the Spanish troops surrendered. Francis then signed a secret agreement with Pope Clement VII, who pledged not to assist Charles in exchange for Francis's assistance with the conquest of Naples. Against the advice of his senior commanders, Francis detached a portion of his forces under the Duke of Albany and sent them south to aid the Pope. Lannoy attempted to intercept the expedition near Fiorenzuola, but suffered heavy casualties and was forced to return to Lodi by the intervention of the infamous Black Bands of Giovanni de' Medici, which had just entered French service. Medici then returned to Pavia with a supply train of gunpowder and shot gathered by the Duke of Ferrara; but the French position was simultaneously weakened by the departure of nearly 5,000 Grisons Swiss mercenaries, who returned to their cantons in order to defend them against marauding landsknechts. In January 1525, Lannoy was reinforced by the arrival of Georg Frundsberg with 15,000 fresh landsknechts and renewed the offensive. D'Avalos captured the French outpost at San Angelo, cutting the lines of communication between Pavia and Milan, while a separate column of landsknechts advanced on Belgiojoso and, despite being briefly pushed back by a raid led by Medici and Bonnivet, occupied the town. By 2 February, Lannoy was only a few miles from Pavia. Francis had encamped the majority of his forces in the great walled park of Mirabello outside the city walls, placing them between Leyva's garrison and the approaching relief army. Skirmishing and sallies by the garrison continued through the month of February. Medici was seriously wounded and withdrew to Piacenza to recuperate, forcing Francis to recall much of the Milan garrison to offset the departure of the Black Band; but the fighting had little overall effect. On 21 February, the Imperial commanders, running low on supplies and mistakenly believing that the French forces were more numerous than their own, decided to launch an attack on Mirabello Castle in order to save face and demoralize the French sufficiently to ensure a safe withdrawal (8).


The Siege of Rhodes
1510 was a time of intense political troubles for the Ottoman Empire. Succession struggles among princes, an endemic Ottoman problem, were exacerbated by the rise of Shah Ismail of the Safavid Dynasty in Persia around the turn of the century and the rebellions of his followers in Anatolia in 1511–12. The Ottomans had, from the very beginning, opposed the partition of their lands among princes, and favored what could be called “unigeniture”: following the sultan's death, and sometimes before, princes fought among themselves for the succession, often to the death, and only one of them became sultan. Thus, rather than dividing territories among the members of the ruling family according to a common Turko-Mongol practice, the Ottomans were able to secure the reign of only one member of the dynasty. This ensured the preservation of the domains, but also legitimized civil war as the path to succession. In 1509, Selim, an Ottoman prince, was the provincial governor, “sancakbeyi”, of Trabzon, on the southeastern corner of the Black Sea. He was concerned that his father and the majority of the elite favored his brother, Ahmed, as the successor to the Ottoman throne, which amounted to an eventual death sentence for him. Selim left Trabzon, crossed over to the Crimea to join his father-in-law, who happened to be the Tartar Khan of Crimea, and his son, the future sultan Süleyman - the provincial governor of Caffa, and then moved to the Balkans, where he gathered an army. He could not prevail over his father's forces in a fateful encounter near Istanbul in the summer of 1511, but he was able to secure the support of the janissary corps and the military elements in the Balkan provinces. He had already established a martial reputation for having fought against the Georgians and Ismail's supporters during his governorate in Trabzon. His nearly self-destructive campaign against his father further solidified his image as a warrior prince: he was widely seen, against his more gentlemanly brothers Korkud and Ahmed, as the man who could meet the considerable military challenges created by pro-Ismail rebellions in Anatolia and Ismail's move from Iran and Eastern Anatolia to the west.

Selim thus came to the throne in May 1512. From then until January 1514, he waged incessant warfare against his brothers and their sons, finally emerging as the sole victor in early 1514. The march of Shah Ismail Safavi to power in the lands of the Aq Qoyunlu Turkmen confederation prepared the necessary background for Selim's rise to power as well. Ismail, as the leader of the Safavid religious order and the self-styled representative of Twelver Shiism's messianic Hidden Imam, led a politico-religious movement that created a powerful vortex for various groups in the Middle East, including many in Ottoman territories. The relations between the Ottoman political center and the nomadic communities in Anatolia had always been strained, and the nomads resisted, to the extent of their abilities, Ottoman attempts at taxation, sedentarization, and deportation. Moreover, in various parts of Southern and Eastern Anatolia, Ottoman conquest was relatively recent, and the Ottomans did not have time to co-opt or assimilate the local power holders. Ismail, willingly or unwillingly, started a powerful movement that resembled a social revolution and pulled in not only nomads, but also townsmen and disgruntled tmar holders as well. Since Timur Leng’s invasion of Anatolia in 1402, the death of Bayezid I in captivity, and the partition of the Ottoman realm among the surviving princes, this was the first genuinely existential threat encountered by Ottoman rule. Under Bayezid II, the Ottoman establishment had already tried to formulate a coherent military as well as ideological/theological answer against the Safavids. Selim, on the other hand, turned it into his main focus. He sought the support of religious scholars, who sanctioned his activities against the Safavids through legal opinions that described the latter as apostates and unbelievers and ascribed to the Ottoman sultan the duty to fight. As soon as he exterminated his dynastic rivals, Selim marched against Ismail's followers in Anatolia and massacred thousands of them. He then marched further east and defeated Ismail's troops at the Battle of Çaldran in August 1514. The victory at Çaldran, secured by the supremacy of Ottoman gunpowder weapons over the Safavid cavalry and light infantry, probably stopped an eventual Safavid takeover of Anatolia. Because both rulers survived what was expected to be a final and fatal encounter, however, Çaldran also signifies the first step in the institutionalization of the Ottoman-Safavid religious and political competition. In his next attempts at securing Ottoman domination in the region and preempting another Safavid push eastward, Selim destroyed the principality of Dulkadir in 1515 and overran the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria in 1516-17, bringing the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina under Ottoman sovereignty.

Thanks to his swift conquests, he was thus able to almost double the empire's territory and population in the scope of a few years. Selim's takeover of Egypt and Syria can aptly be considered the beginning of the sixteenth century’s global conflict. His capture of parts of the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea coast pitted the Ottomans against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, further contributing to their emergence as global actors in early modern Eurasia. By rising to the challenges posed by Ismail and his supporters, Selim started a period of intense military, cultural, and religious competition. Ottoman imperial ideology began to revolve increasingly around notions of messianism, universal monarchy, the caliphate, and the ultimate politico-religious leadership of the ruler over his subjects. Such universalist ideologies had been popular among the Ottoman elite since the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, but their popularity had somewhat decreased under Bayezid II, whereas Selim revived them to an unprecedented extent. In the coming decades, the new ideological arsenal would be utilized not only against the Safavids, but also their Christian rivals. Selim's conquests did not solely produce new political and ideological stakes. They also led to the emergence of new problems on the administrative front. The quick conquest of large territories in Eastern Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt did not mean that the Ottomans had control over them. Most of these areas had been under the rule of various Muslim powers for several centuries, and local laws, customs, and rules were developed enough to require a careful work of harmonization and adaptation on the part of the Ottomans. Moreover, in predominantly Muslim areas of the Middle East, the Ottomans had always suffered from being a Muslim dynasty with a less than stellar pedigree, and the simple act of conquering never brought them the comforts of legitimacy. The persistence of local and tribal identities and the survival of figures from the old dynasties further complicated the task. For these reasons, a new administrative apparatus was increasingly needed to make the Ottoman presence durable in the newly conquered areas and to ensure the extraction of resources necessary for the Ottoman military machine. Selim was the first ruler to actively steer the Ottoman enterprise toward a process of early modern Eurasian empire building. He deployed large armies fortified with gunpowder weapons and instigated a process of territorial expansion. He explained and defended this expansion with reference to ideologies that attributed to the Ottoman sultan a function of political and spiritual guidance and a world-historical role in the fight between the forces of good and evil. He promoted sultanic authority, tried to curtail the power of the Ottoman elite and especially the prominent pashas, and created an environment that was conducive to the rise of secretaries as record keepers and the rulers’ trusted assistants. The generation that followed, led by Süleyman, inherited these challenges, problems, and opportunities, and members of this generation spent their lives in a world whose foundations were laid by Selim.

From Süleyman’s accession, his father Selim’s aggressive policy in the east was superseded by one of disengagement: Süleyman sought to contain Persia, not conquer it. Envoys sent secretly to the Safavid court at Tabriz to ascertain the risk posed by Shah Ismail established that he was preoccupied by an army of the Sunni Özbek state which lay to his east, which was again threatening Safavid territory. This left the new sultan free to set out on his first campaign – in the west, where unfinished business demanded his attention. Like Shah Ismail, European monarchs were also occupied elsewhere – Charles V with the first stirrings of the Reformation and Francis I of France with resisting Charles’s claims against his territories in Italy – and unprepared for a sudden reversal of Ottoman policy in the west after years of peace. Süleyman aimed to capture the great fortress of Belgrade which neither Murad II nor Mehmed II had been able to wrest from Hungary. Hungary was weak and isolated and unable to respond, and on 29 August 1521 Belgrade surrendered after a siege of almost two months. Some of the defenders who had hoped to remain were forcibly exiled to Istanbul where they were settled near the fortress of Yedikule; others from the towns and castles of Srem, the tongue of land between the Danube and Sava rivers, were settled in villages of the Gelibolu peninsula. Several other Hungarian strongholds also fell to the Ottomans, who now had access to the route westwards along the Sava and the possibilities of water-borne transport which it offered. Possession of Belgrade after the failed sieges of 1440 and 1456 provided the Ottomans with a strong forward base for any push into the heart of Hungary.

Next it was the turn of Rhodes, another stronghold Mehmed II had failed to capture and which the Knights had feared Selim would surely attack. What the Ottomans found insupportable was not that Rhodes sheltered and supplied pirates who made attacks on Ottoman shipping, but that the Knights held as slaves many Muslims captured on corsair raids while making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Those who managed to escape from Rhodes complained of the harsh treatment they received, which often ended in death for those who did not escape or could not afford to ransom themselves. Süleyman commanded his army in person; the siege lasted five months and the Ottomans accepted the surrender of Rhodes on 20 December 1522. The Knights had sustained great losses, and were allowed to go free; settlers from the Balkans and Anatolia soon arrived to take their place. The Knights sailed west but could find no permanent refuge until in 1530 they settled on the inhospitable island of Malta which Charles V offered them on condition that they take responsibility for the defense of the Spanish outpost of Tripoli in North Africa. The conquest of Rhodes brought the Ottomans a step closer to full control of the eastern Mediterranean basin. They failed, however, to exploit the island’s commercial or strategic possibilities; the Venetian envoy Pietro Zeno noted this neglect almost immediately, observing in 1523 that ‘the Sultan has no use for Rhodes’. Of the large islands in the region, only Cyprus and Crete remained in non-Ottoman hands.

Moors and Turkish adventurers from the Levant, of whom the most successful would prove to be Hızır Reis (9) and Oruç "Barbarossa" Reis, natives of Mitylene, increased the number of raids conducted on Europe from the North African coast around the turn of the 15th century. In response, Spain began to conquer the coastal towns of the region including Oran, Algiers and Tunis. Algiers was taken by Oruç in 1516, wherefrom he soon began terrorizing the coastal population of the Mediterranean alongside his brothers and a host of other corsairs. But when Oruç was killed in battle with the Spanish in 1518, in the aftermath of his attempt at capturing Tlemcen, his brother Hızır appealed to Selim I, the Ottoman sultan, who gave Hizr Reis the title of Beylerbey of Algiers, along with janissaries, galleys and cannons, in the process Hızır inherited his brother's place as leader of the Barbary Corsairs, his name "Barbarossa" and his mission, and at the same time brining the Ottomans directly into conflict with the Spanish in the eastern Mediterranean. With a fresh force of Turkish soldiers sent by the Ottoman sultan, Barbarossa recaptured Tlemcen in December 1518. He continued the policy of bringing Mudéjars, Moors who had remained under Spanish rule following the fall of Granada, from Spain to North Africa, thereby assuring himself of a sizable following of grateful and loyal Muslims, who harbored an intense hatred for Spain. He captured Bone, and in 1519, he defeated a Spanish-Italian army that tried to recapture Algiers. In a separate incident, he sank a Spanish ship and captured eight others. Still in 1519, he raided Provence, Toulon and the Îles d'Hyères in southern France. In 1521, he raided the Balearic Islands and later captured several Spanish ships returning from the New World off Cadiz. In 1522, he sent his ships, under the command of Kurtoğlu, to participate in the Ottoman conquest of Rhodes, which resulted in the departure of the Knights of St. John from that island on 1 January 1523. In June 1525, he raided the coasts of Sardinia. In May 1526, he landed at Crotone in Calabria and sacked the city, sank a Spanish galley and a Spanish fusta in the harbor, assaulted Castignano in Marche on the Adriatic Sea and later landed at Cape Spartivento. In June 1526, he landed at Reggio Calabria and later destroyed the fort at the port of Messina. He then appeared on the coasts of Tuscany, but retreated after seeing the fleet of Andrea Doria and the Knights of St. John off the coast of Piombino. In July 1526, Barbarossa appeared once again in Messina and raided the coasts of Campania. In 1527, he raided many ports and castles on the coasts of Italy and Spain. These intensifying raids would eventually lead to a major contest for control of the Mediterranean between the Ottomans and their Christian rivals.


Spanish Conquest of Mexico, meeting of Cortés and Moctezuma II
In one area of Europe only did the crusading ideal win striking success: on the south-western frontier of the continent in Iberia. Here that different outcome was hugely significant for the future not merely of western Christianity but of the world. From the eighth century, Arab Islamic conquests had established long-lasting Moorish principalities and kingdoms in the Iberian peninsula. These became centers of a highly developed Islamic culture which, with a tolerance imitated by the Ottomans and not by Christians, also allowed Jewish culture and thought to flourish in its midst. However, the fifteenth century saw the culmination of centuries of gradual Christian reclamations from the Moors with the capture in 1492 of the Islamic kingdom of Granada, in the extreme south of the peninsula. The news was celebrated all over Christian Europe as a rare reversal of Muslim advance. The victorious troops were in the service of joint monarchs, Fernando of the eastern Spanish kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia and the principality of Catalonia, and Isabel of Castile, a much larger though mostly more thinly populated kingdom which ran from north to south in the peninsula. Aragon and Castile, precariously united by the joint accession of Fernando and Isabel as a married couple in 1474, remained separate political entities, and there was no reason for them to remain linked when Isabel died. However, the death of her successor Philip of Burgundy after only two years resulted in a new union of the crowns under Fernando; henceforth they were never again divided, and Aragon and Castile could be regarded for external purposes as a single Spanish monarchy. To the west, the kingdom of Portugal, at the remote edge of Europe on the Atlantic seaboard, had long before this won its struggles against the Muslims and had secured its independence against Castile for the time being.

The distinctive brand of Christianity formed in Iberia not only destroyed the only non-Christian societies left in western Europe, it also began extending the reach of western Christendom beyond its natural frontiers, in sharp contrast to the defeats and contraction in the east. The initiative in military and commercial conquests across the sea was taken not by Spaniards but by the Portuguese. Their seafaring expertise was forced on them by their exposed and isolated position on the Atlantic seaboard and by their homeland’s agricultural poverty, but they also had a tradition of successful crusading against Islam. They began their adventuring in north Africa, capturing the Moroccan commercial center of Ceuta in 1415, and they went on to contest with Muslims for dominance in African trade through ever more bold exploration, seeing their efforts as a fight for Christianity as well a quest for wealth. From as early as 1443, they were actively involved in the slave trade, which had previously been a Muslim monopoly: they created the first extensive intercontinental slave-trading route, shipping African slaves back home as labor to such an extent that soon a tenth of the population was black in Portugal’s southernmost region, the Algarve, a foretaste of later enforced mass movements of population to America. By the end of the century, Portuguese ships had become much more ambitious. They were fueled in their adventures by an optimistic myth or quarter-truth, that there was a distant, powerful Christian kingdom ruled over by ‘Prester John’, who would be an unbeatable ally against Islam – probably an echo of the real existence of a Christian kingdom in Ethiopia. Although Prester John never fulfilled European hopes, the galvanizing effect of the myth was enough. The Portuguese explored down the western flank of Africa, eventually rounding the Cape of Good Hope, reaching India by 1498 and sailing around the Chinese coast by 1513. In 1500 they made their first landing on the east coast of South America, in what later became their colony of Brazil, and everywhere they established footholds, forming the basis of a maritime empire which to some extent came to justify the pretentious title confirmed by Pope Alexander VI for King Manuel of Portugal in 1502: ‘Lord of the conquest, navigation and commerce of India, Ethiopia, Arabia and Persia’. Latin Europe marveled at their achievement, gradually swallowed its disappointment at the non-appearance of Prester John, and turned from the wretched situation in the Balkans to take new hope for survival.

In 1492, the same year that Granada fell, the adventurer and explorer Christopher Columbus rewarded Fernando and Isabel’s trust by making landfall across the Atlantic on the islands of the Caribbean. His achievement caused tension with the Portuguese, and this prompted Pope Alexander VI, a former subject of King Fernando, to partition the map of the world vertically between the two powers in 1493: the kingdoms confirmed this agreement in 1494 by the Treaty of Tordesillas. Although the uncertain conditions of map-making meant that the line was not as clear a division through the Atlantic as it was intended to be, and the Portuguese were later able successfully to appeal to Tordesillas when they established their American colony of Brazil, the bulk of transatlantic activity would be Spanish, technically the new dominions became part of the Kingdom of Castile. Over the next three decades the Spaniards realized the vast scale of what they were now invading, as they moved beyond the Caribbean into Mexico, and saw that they had reached not merely Columbus’s scattering of islands, but a whole continent. Columbus made four voyages to the West Indies as the monarchs granted Columbus the governorship of the new territories, and financed more of his trans-Atlantic journeys. He founded La Navidad on the island later named Hispaniola on his first voyage. After its destruction by the indigenous Taino people, the town of Isabella was begun in 1493, on his second voyage. In 1496 his brother, Bartholomew, founded Santo Domingo. By 1500, despite a high death rate, there were between 300 and 1000 Spanish settled in the area. The local Taíno people continued to resist, refusing to plant crops and abandoning their Spanish-occupied villages. The first mainland explorations were followed by a phase of inland expeditions and conquest. In 1500 the city of Nueva Cádiz was founded on the island of Cubagua, Venezuela, followed by the founding of Santa Cruz by Alonso de Ojeda in present-day Guajira peninsula. Cumaná in Venezuela was the first permanent settlement founded by Europeans in the mainland Americas, in 1501 by Franciscan friars, but due to successful attacks by the indigenous people, it had to be refounded several times. The Spanish founded San Sebastian de Uraba in 1509 but abandoned it within the year.

Following Christopher Columbus' establishment of permanent settlement in the Caribbean, the Spanish authorized expeditions, or "entradas", for the discovery, conquest, and colonization of new territory, using existing Spanish settlements as a base. The first encounter with the Yucatec Maya may have occurred in 1502, when the fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus came across a large trading canoe off Honduras. In 1511, Spanish survivors of the shipwrecked caravel called Santa María de la Barca sought refuge among native groups along the eastern coast of the peninsula. Hernán Cortés made contact with two survivors, Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero six years later. In 1517, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba made landfall on the tip of the peninsula. His expedition continued along the coast and suffered heavy losses in a pitched battle at Champotón, forcing a retreat to Cuba. Juan de Grijalva explored the coast in 1518, and heard tales of the wealthy Aztec Empire further west. As a result of these rumors, Hernán Cortés set sail with another fleet. From Cozumel he continued around the peninsula to Tabasco where he fought a battle at Potonchán; from there Cortés continued onward to conquer the Aztec Empire. In 1524, Cortés led a sizeable expedition to Honduras, cutting across southern Campeche, and through Petén in what is now northern Guatemala. In 1527 Francisco de Montejo set sail from Spain with a small fleet. He left garrisons on the east coast, and subjugated the northeast of the peninsula. Montejo then returned to the east to find his garrisons had almost been eliminated; he used a supply ship to explore southwards before looping back around the entire peninsula to central Mexico. Montejo pacified Tabasco with the aid of his son, also named Francisco de Montejo.

The Spanish campaign for Mexico began in February 1519. The Spanish campaign declared victorious on August 13, 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured the emperor Cuauhtemoc and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. During the campaign, Cortés was given support from a number of tributaries and rivals of the Aztecs, including the Totonacs, and the Tlaxcaltecas, Texcocans, and other city-states particularly bordering Lake Texcoco. In their advance, the allies were tricked and ambushed several times by the people they encountered. After eight months of battles and negotiations, which overcame the diplomatic resistance of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II to his visit, Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519, where he took up residence, welcomed by Moctezuma. When news reached Cortés of the death of several of his men during an Aztec attack on the Totonacs in Veracruz, he took the opportunity to take Moctezuma captive, Moctezuma allowed himself to be captured as a diplomatic gesture. When Cortés left Tenochtitlan to return to the coast and deal with the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez, Pedro de Alvarado was left in charge. Alvarado allowed a significant Aztec feast to be celebrated in Tenochtitlan and on the pattern of earlier massacre in Cholula, closed off the square and massacred the celebrating Aztec noblemen. The Alvarado massacre at the Main Temple of Tenochtitlan precipitated rebellion by the population of the city. Moctezuma was killed, although the sources do not agree on who murdered him. According to one account, when Moctezuma, now seen as a mere puppet of the invading Spaniards, attempted to calm the outraged populace, he was killed by a projectile. Cortés had returned to Tenochtitlan and his men fled the capital city during la Noche Triste in June, 1520. The Spanish, Tlaxcalans and reinforcements returned a year later on August 13, 1521 to a civilization that had been weakened by famine and smallpox. This made it easier to conquer the remaining Aztecs. After hearing about the fall of the Aztec Empire, the Tarascan ruler, the Cazonci, Tangaxuan II sent emissaries to the Spanish victors, the Tarascan state having been an enemy of the Aztec Empire. A few Spaniards went with them to Tzintzuntzan where they were presented to the ruler and gifts were exchanged. They returned with samples of gold and Cortés' interest in the Tarascan state was awakened. In 1522 a Spanish force under the leadership of Cristobal de Olid was sent into Tarascan territory and arrived at Tzintzuntzan within days. The Tarascan army numbered many thousands, perhaps as many as 100,000, but at the crucial moment they chose not to fight. Tangáxuan submitted to the Spanish administration, but for his cooperation was allowed a large degree of autonomy. This resulted in a strange arrangement where both Cortés and Tangáxuan considered themselves rulers of Michoacán for the following years: the population of the area paid tribute to them both. Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, then president of the first Audiencia decided, to march on northwestern Mexico with a force of 5,000–8,000 men in search for new populations to subdue, and when he arrived in Michoacán and found out that Tangaxuan was still de facto ruler of his empire he allied himself with a Tarascan noble Don Pedro Panza Cuinierángari against the Cazonci. The Cazonci was tried with plotting a rebellion, withholding tribute, sodomy and heresy, and he was tortured and executed.


The Italian Wars dominate Western European politics from 1494 onward.

By 21 of February 1525 King Francis and an Imperial army find themselves on the eve of a battle at the Italian city of Pavia.

The Ottomans advance in every direction, from Algeria to Mesopotamia and from the borders of Hungary to the Cataracts of the Nile.

The Iberian Kingdoms spread across the globe, initiating the first great period of Colonization.


(1) King Francis I of France is a really interesting character who I hope to explore in depth as part of the timeline. He has a rather mixed record, like almost every other ruler of this period. The sixteenth century in many ways forged European culture as we know it today and was dominated by an eclectic group of rulers who stand out from many of their predecessors and successors. Francis I of France, Philip II of Spain, Henry VIII of England, Emperor Charles V, Süleiman the Magnificent, Ismail I Safavid, Babur and Akbar of the Mughal Empire, Christian II and III of Denmark, Gustav I of Sweden and a whole host of others are among the most prominent and memorable rulers in history, dominating history books like few others. They were joined by some of the most powerful, fascinating and influential women in history, from Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, through Catherine and Marie de' Medici, as well as Roxelana and Margaret of Parma. I am really looking forward to exploring this period in detail.

(2) Thomas Wolsey was an English churchman, statesman and a cardinal of the Catholic Church. When Henry VIII became King of England in 1509, Wolsey became the King's almoner. Wolsey's affairs prospered, and by 1514 he had become the controlling figure in virtually all matters of state and extremely powerful within the Church, as Archbishop of York, a cleric in England junior only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. His appointment in 1515 as a cardinal by Pope Leo X gave him precedence over all other English clerics. The highest political position Wolsey attained was Lord Chancellor, the King's chief adviser. IOTL he eventually fell from power when he failed to negotiate the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

(3) The Fuggers were a German family who proved became a historically prominent group of European bankers, members of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century mercantile patriciate of Augsburg, international mercantile bankers, and venture capitalists. Alongside the Welser family, the family controlled much of the European economy in the sixteenth century and accumulated enormous wealth. The Fuggers held almost a monopoly on European copper market. This banking family replaced the de' Medici family, who influenced all of Europe during the Renaissance. The Fuggers took over many of the Medicis' assets and their political power and influence. They were closely affiliated with the House of Habsburg whose rise to world power they financed. Jakob Fugger "the Rich" was elevated to the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire in May 1511 and created Imperial Count of Kirchberg and Weissenhorn in 1514. Today, he is considered to be one of the wealthiest people to have ever lived.

(4) Simultaneously with all of these challenges Charles was facing a significant popular revolt known as the Revolt of the Communeros in Spain. It was an uprising by citizens of Castile against the rule of Charles V and his administration between 1520 and 1521. At its height, the rebels controlled the heart of Castile, ruling the cities of Valladolid, Tordesillas, and Toledo. In 1519, Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor. He departed for Germany in 1520, leaving the Dutch cardinal Adrian of Utrecht to rule Castile in his absence. Soon, a series of anti-government riots broke out in the cities, and local city councils (Comunidades) took power. The rebels chose Charles' own mother, Queen Joanna, as an alternative ruler, hoping they could control her madness. The rebel movement took on a radical anti-feudal dimension, supporting peasant rebellions against the landed nobility. On April 23, 1521, after nearly a year of rebellion, the reorganized supporters of the emperor struck a crippling blow to the comuneros at the Battle of Villalar. The following day, rebel leaders Juan de Padilla, Juan Bravo, and Francisco Maldonado were beheaded. The army of the comuneros fell apart. Only the city of Toledo kept alive the rebellion lead by María Pacheco, until its surrender in October 1521.

(5) The Field of the Cloth of Gold was a meeting between the Kings of England and France which while ludicrously, impressively and famously lavish proved of little political significance beyond allowing the two kings and their retinues to get to know each other.

(6) The second and third parts of the Prelude will deal almost exclusively with the Reformation, where the Diet at Worms and many other events will be covered.

(7) Henry blamed the Imperial forces for this failure which had proven fruitless and expensive in the extreme. IOTL he stayed out of the war following this campaign and sided with the French during the next Italian War. ITTL things will play out somewhat differently but will take all of this into consideration.

(8) Keep this in mind, the PoD will center on the Battle of Pavia with the ripple effects causing changes everywhere afterwards. The Battle of Pavia really should be considered immensely important when trying to evaluate how impactful certain battles were.

(9) This is the man known to posterity as Hayreddin Barbarossa, but both of those are names he has yet to gain at this point. He will probably pop up again under several combinations of these names, his titles etc. He is yet another figure who makes up the incredible tapestry of personalities in this period.

As I have been made aware that I should inform readers, this TL borrows extensively, particularly for the OTL parts, from a range of different sources. These range from wikipedia pages to books.

The most often used sources are as follows:

MacCulloch, Diarmaid:
Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 (2003)
A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (2009)
All Things Made New: The Reformation and its Legacy (2016)

Weir, Alison:
Henry VIII: The King and His Court (2001)
The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (2015)

Keay, John:
India: A History
China: A History
The Spice Route: A History

Clot, André:
Süleiman the Magnificent

Crowley, Roger:
Empires of the Sea

Finkel, Karoline:
Osman's Dream

Mallett, Michael and Shaw, Christine:
The Italian Wars

Caroll, Stuart:
Blood and Vengeance in Early Modern France
Martyrs & Murderers: The Guise Family and the Founding of Modern Europe

Fletcher, Catherine:
The Black Prince of Florence

Gristwood, Sarah:
Game of Queens: The Women Who Made The Sixteenth-Century

Norwich, John Julius:
Four Princes

Grousset, René:
The Empires of the Steppes

Fisher, Michael H.:
The Mughal Empire

Hemming, John:
The Conquest of the Inca

MacQuarrie, Kim:
The Last Days of the Inca

Wikipedia has been used extensively both as primary source and to cross reference.

And more...
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Prelude Two: Before the Reformation
Hi Everyone,
I hope you enjoyed the last prelude which worked to set up the political situation in the southern half of Europe. This one goes into detail with the factors which led to the Reformation and tries to explain what exactly the building blocks on which the Reformation built were. There is quite a bit of theology and explanations of various religious movements and points of debate which helped give me a better understanding of the period and what concerned the clergy and laity of the time. The footnotes in this one are very expansive and try to give a definition of terms I couldn't work into the text of the update. This is all OTL. I hope you enjoy.

Before the Reformation

The Execution of Jan Hus​

Unrest due to the Avignon Papacy and the Papal Schism which followed in the Roman Catholic Church from 1378 to 1416 sparked wars between princes, uprisings among peasants, and widespread concern over corruption within the Church. The first of a series of disruptive and new perspectives came from John Wycliffe at Oxford University and later from Jan Hus at the University of Prague. The Catholic Church officially concluded debate over Hus' teachings at the Council of Konstanz from 1414 to 1417. The conclave condemned Jan Hus as a heretic and executed him by burning in spite of a promise of safe-conduct. At the command of Pope Martin V, Wycliffe was exhumed and burned as a heretic twelve years after his burial. The Council of Konstanz confirmed and strengthened the traditional medieval conception of Churches and Empires but did not address the theological tensions which had been stirred up during the previous century. The council could not prevent schism and in fact provoked the Hussite Wars that followed in Bohemia lasting until 1434, concluding with the Compacts of Basel which forced the Catholic Church to compromise with moderate Hussites, allowing communion under both kinds (1). Following the breakdown of monastic institutions and scholasticism in late medieval Europe, accentuated by the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Papacy, the Papal Schism, and the failure of the Conciliar movement, the sixteenth century saw a great cultural debate about religious reforms and later fundamental religious values. These frustrated reformist movements ranged from nominalism and Devotio Moderna practices to humanism occurred in conjunction with economic, political and demographic forces that contributed to a growing disaffection with the wealth and power of the elite clergy, sensitizing the population to the perceived financial and moral corruption of the secular Renaissance church (2).

At the same time the outcome of the Black Death encouraged a radical reorganization of the economy, and eventually of European society. In the emerging urban centers, the calamities of the fourteenth and early fifteenth century, and the resultant labor shortages, provided a strong impetus for economic diversification and technological innovations. Following the Black Death, the initial loss of life due to famine, plague, and pestilence contributed to an intensification of capital accumulation in the urban areas, and thus a stimulus to trade, industry, and burgeoning urban growth in fields as diverse as banking, textiles, armaments, especially stimulated by the Hundred Years' War, and mining of iron ore due, in large part, to the booming armaments industry. Accumulation of surplus, competitive overproduction, and heightened competition to maximize economic advantage, contributed to civil war, aggressive militarism, and thus to centralization. As a direct result of the move toward centralization, leaders like Louis XI of France, ruling from 1461 to 1483, sought to remove all constitutional restrictions on the exercise of their authority. In England, France, and Spain the move toward centralization begun in the thirteenth century was carried on successfully. But as recovery and prosperity progressed, enabling the population to reach its former levels in the late 15th and 16th centuries, the combination of a newly-abundant labor supply and improved productivity, was a mixed blessing for many segments of Western European society. Despite tradition, landlords started to exclude peasants from "common lands". With trade stimulated, landowners increasingly moved away from the manorial economy. Woolen manufacturing greatly expanded in France, Germany, and the Netherlands and new textile industries began to develop. These economic trends would provoke intense growing pains over the next several centuries, but would prove integral to the creation of the modern world.

Two recent technical innovations were recognized even during the fifteenth century as a radical improvement on the past; together they revolutionized the speed of communicating information and ideas. The first was a writing material in increasingly widespread use in Europe since the thirteenth century: paper manufactured from rags. Europe had not invented this process; it had been known in China for centuries. Paper was much more easily and cheaply manufactured than reed-based papyrus or animal-skin bases for text such as vellum or parchment, and by the end of the fourteenth century, Christian Europe far outstripped the Muslim world in production. In the early fifteenth century came the second technological revolution, printing with movable type: again, this was a much older invention of the Chinese, but once it was introduced Europeans rapidly took it up with enthusiasm. It was immediately clear that printing like this was much more flexible and useful as a technology of reproducing information than the existing use of carved woodblocks, which usually rather crudely reproduced mass copies of a design, but only at the size of a single page. For texts which required very many copies, printing was soon indispensable. Movable-type text on paper was radically cheaper than a manuscript to produce and once the rather laborious process of setting up the pages was completed, it was incredibly easy to reproduce large print-runs. The resulting product was not necessarily cheap to buy, but for that reason, printing could be extremely profitable and was an attractive trade to enter. The effect of printing was more profound than simply making more books available more quickly. It affected western Europe’s assumptions about knowledge and originality of thought. Before the invention of printing, a major part of a scholar’s life was spent copying existing texts by hand, simply in order to have access to them. Now that printed copies of texts were increasingly available, there was less copying to do, and so there was more time to devote to thinking for oneself: that had implications for scholarly respect for what previous generations had said. Even the larger number of books in circulation had its own effect.


Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Writer of the "Manifesto of the Renaissance"
Because printing generated so much more to read, reading became a skill much more worth acquiring. It is worth noting that although in our society reading and writing are generally taught in the same educational timescale, there is no particular reason for this, and of the two skills, reading is probably the easier to acquire. In medieval and early modern Europe, many more people could read than could write. This spread of reading skills had consequences which began to be felt in Europe even before printing appeared, but which it then powerfully encouraged. As reading became a more prominent part of religion for the laity, as it had long been for the clergy, the shift in priorities encouraged the more inward-looking, personalized devotion affected a number of spheres in the fifteenth century: lay enthusiasm for the writings of the mystics, meditation on aspects of the life of Jesus, the ethos of the Devotio Moderna (3). For someone who really delighted in reading, religion might retreat out of the sphere of public ritual into the world of the mind and the imagination. So without any hint of doctrinal deviation, a new style of piety arose in that increasingly large section of society which valued book-learning for both profit and pleasure. Even if such people were in the crowd at the parish Mass, they were likely be absorbed in their printed layfolk’s companion to the Mass, or a Book of Hours – books commonly known as primers. The wealthier folk among them might build themselves an enclosed private pew in their church to cut themselves off from the distractions provided by their fellow worshippers. This new emphasis in devotion tended to be urban in its perspectives, for there were more books, and soon very many more printing-presses and schools, in towns than in the country. It was likely to associate the more demonstrative, physical side of religion with rusticity and lack of education, and treat such religion with condescension or even distaste, seeing rituals and relics as less important than what texts can tell the believer seeking salvation. In the fifteenth century, the attitude spread to a much larger group of prosperous and well-educated laypeople: merchants, gentry, lawyers, people who would form a ready audience for the Protestant message, with its contempt for so much of the old ritual of worship and devotion. Yet although this mood certainly found forthright expression in the Protestant Reformations, it was already flourishing in the thought of the major new departure in late medieval Europe’s intellectual life, the movement known as humanism.

Renaissance Humanism was not a philosophy but a method of learning. In contrast to the medieval scholastic mode, which focused on resolving contradictions between authors, humanists would study ancient texts in the original and appraise them through a combination of reasoning and empirical evidence. Humanist education was based on a programme of "humanae litterae", literature which was human rather than divine in focus, and was made up of the study of five humanities: poetry, grammar, history, moral philosophy and rhetoric. Humanism was defined as the movement to recover, interpret, and assimilate the language, literature, learning and values of ancient Greece and Rome". Above all, humanists asserted that "the genius of man was the unique and extraordinary ability of the human mind". A scholar who had a particular enthusiasm for these subjects was called a "humanista". Humanist scholars shaped the intellectual landscape throughout the early modern period. Political philosophers such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas More revived the ideas of Greek and Roman thinkers and applied them in critiques of contemporary government. Pico della Mirandola wrote the "manifesto" of the Renaissance, the Oration on the Dignity of Man, a vibrant defense of thinking. Matteo Palmieri living from 1406 to 1475 was another humanist, most known for his work Della vita civile, which advocated civic humanism, and for his influence in refining the Tuscan vernacular to the same level as Latin. Palmieri drew on Roman philosophers and theorists, especially Cicero, who, like Palmieri, lived an active public life as a citizen and official, as well as a theorist and philosopher and also Quintilian, a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing. The humanists believed that it was important to transcend to the afterlife with a perfect mind and body, which could be attained with education. The purpose of humanism was to create a universal man whose person combined intellectual and physical excellence and who was capable of functioning honorably in virtually any situation. This ideology was referred to as the uomo universale, an ancient Greco-Roman ideal. Education during the Renaissance was mainly composed of ancient literature and history as it was thought that the classics provided moral instruction and an intensive understanding of human behavior. Humanism stimulated unprecedented academic ferment, and a concern for academic freedom. Ongoing, earnest theoretical debates occurred in universities about the nature of the church, and the source and extent of the authority of the papacy, of councils, and of princes.

Erasmus’s life and achievements combine so many themes of European renewal in the early 1500s. He came from the land of the Devotio Moderna and was destined to become the supreme humanist scholar. He was a friend not merely to princes and bishops but to anyone who shared his passion for learned wisdom. In 1518 he happened to meet a well-read tax-collector on the River Rhine at Boppard, Christopher Eschenfelder, who was thrilled to meet the great man and talk to him about his work. They kept in touch until the end of Erasmus’s life. All Europe wanted Erasmus as its property: the Spanish Cardinal Ximénes made vain overtures to get him to Spain, and the cultivated humanist Bishop of Cracow Pietr Tomicki had just as little success with his invitation to Poland –curiously superstitious, Erasmus would never travel very far east of the Rhine, although he was frequently prepared to risk the English Channel. Instead, people came to Erasmus as devotees. Erasmus constructed a salon of the imagination, which embraced the entire continent in a constant flow of letters to hundreds of correspondents, some of whom he never met face to face. In the later days of division, this proved a precedent for the letter-writing empires of many Reformist leaders of humanist inclinations, like Philipp Melanchthon, Heinrich Bullinger, John Calvin and Theodore Beza, but also for the 30,000 letters surviving from that phenomenal correspondent of the Counter-Reformation, Archbishop Carlo Borromeo. Erasmus was a classical scholar and wrote in a pure Latin style. Among humanists he enjoyed the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists", and has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists". Using humanist techniques for working on texts, he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, which raised questions that would be influential in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. He also wrote On Free Will, In Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and many other works. Erasmus lived against the backdrop of the growing European religious Reformation, but while he was critical of the abuses within the Catholic Church and called for reform, he kept his distance from Luther and Melanchthon and continued to recognize the authority of the pope, emphasizing a middle way with a deep respect for traditional faith, piety and grace, rejecting Luther's emphasis on faith alone. Erasmus remained a member of the Roman Catholic Church all his life, remaining committed to reforming the Church and its clerics' abuses from within. He also held to the Catholic doctrine of free will, which some Reformers rejected in favor of the doctrine of predestination. His middle road the "Via Media" approach disappointed, and even angered, scholars in both camps. By 1525 Erasmus found himself increasingly mired in the ever more contentious scholarly environment of Europe.

The varied agendas of renewal did not stay as mere talk, but were put to work in tackling the faults of the Church. Reform at the top turned out to have little momentum. There were still plenty of conciliarists in positions of authority, especially in universities, who might have exploited the mood of reform if an effective General Council had been called, but memories of the fifteenth-century traumas made the papacy nervous about giving any council too much freedom of initiative, and this combined with contemporary politics to cheat widespread hopes. The King of France first engineered a group of cardinals into assembling a council to Pisa in 1511; this talked a great deal in traditional conciliarist terms about Church reform but it was really designed to bring pressure on the Pope in the interests of the French monarchy. In angry retaliation, the Pope called a council to his palace of the Lateran in Rome in 1512. The opening of a fifth Lateran Council caused much excitement in Europe. In England, the bishops believed that their own careful and tidy administration of the English Church might at last be duplicated elsewhere. Two days after King Henry VIII had formally commissioned English delegates to set off for Rome, Archbishop Warham and his colleagues sat back in their meeting of Convocation to listen in gloomy satisfaction as Dean Colet used all his considerable eloquence to lambast the assembled English clergy for their faults. This penitential version of a school speech day was the culmination of a year-long initiative by the English bishops to search out, discipline and re-educate Lollard heretics, using some of their most talented humanist-educated clergy to lead their campaign, conducted on a scale unprecedented for a hundred years. Yet though the Lateran Council went on to sit for five years, it failed to achieve anything important. It listened to well-argued memoranda on reform, it gave Pope Julius useful support in his haggling over jurisdiction with the King of France, it made clear its disapproval of scholars like Pietro Pomponazzi, who were reviving ancient scepticism about the immortality of the soul, it forbade wild preaching about the Last Days, and it expressed the emphatic opinion that bishops ought to exercise more control over monks in their dioceses. But even that last item raised a problem which would return to complicate talks of Church reform: how did the power of the bishops relate to the power of the Pope? No one was prepared to offend vested interests by enacting concrete proposals which would significantly change anything. The Council was dissolved in the same year, 1517, that saw the spark of Luther’s Reformation.


Martin Luther, Instigator of the Reformation​

Martin Luther was typical of the recruits to the monastic and clerical life on whom the smooth running and reputation of the Church depended: a bright boy from a hard-working middle-rank family with a shrewd respect for education. His father Hans, a younger son of prosperous small farmers, had done well for himself in the mining industry of Saxony, and married into a respectable urban family which included several distinguished graduates. Hans projected a career for his eldest son in secular law, the law of the Empire, paying for his education right up as far as university at Erfurt. But Martin branched out in his own direction to become a monk. The circumstances had the providential character which he would have recognized from reading the lives of the saints: caught in a fearsome thunderstorm in 1505, the twenty-one-year-old student was so terrified that he vowed to St Anne, the mother of Mary, that he would enter monastic life if he survived. When the storm was over he kept his vow, moving only a step down the road from his college to the Erfurt house of the Augustinian Eremites, a strict Order who had the austere reformer Egidio of Viterbo as their current Prior-General in Rome. Hans Luther was annoyed at this sudden decision, but he could hardly gainsay St Anne, who happened to be the patron saint of miners as well as the grandmother of God. Luther was thus launched on a monastic career which proved highly successful: he did well, naturally took priestly orders in 1507 and was soon marked out for senior responsibilities among the Augustinians. In 1510 he was chosen as one of the delegates to Rome on important business for a consortium of Saxon Augustinian monasteries. From 1511 he was sent by his Order to teach in a new university in Wittenberg, the little Saxon town which would become inextricably linked with the fortunes of his new movement.

Wittenberg was ruled by Friedrich ‘the Wise’, Elector of Saxony, an enigmatic, highly cultured ruler, who was the most consistent long-term patron of Germany’s greatest contemporary artists, Albrecht Dürer and Lukas Cranach the Elder, as well as of the Augustinian monk who became the catalyst of the Protestant revolution. Friedrich devoted much of his considerable energy to promoting the hitherto insignificant town of Wittenberg, and his pride and joy, apart from the large collection of relics which he accumulated in his family’s Castle Church there, was the university, which he endowed in 1502. This was the first in Germany to be founded without the permission of the Church authorities, and it was a natural attraction for a printing-firm which set up in Wittenberg in the same year – another significant asset for Luther later on. The infant university’s selling-point was its claim to offer an up-to-date humanist education, in contrast to the prevailing scholasticism of the rival older university in Albertine Saxony at Leipzig. Wittenberg’s advertising handbook of 1508 referred equally disparagingly to the hundred-year-old ‘pseudo-University’ at Cologne. Because Luther was associated with this optimistic and rather brash little institution, and indeed quickly became the dominant figure in its Theology Faculty, it was not surprising that he was widely mistaken for a humanist scholar once his inner turmoil became public knowledge in 1517. But despite Luther’s use of humanist techniques in his teaching and writing, his increasingly dark view of human potential and his eventual insistence on the primacy of the revealed will of God in Scripture cannot be said to share much in the humanist spirit. As well as keeping his distance from humanism, he loathed the ethics of Aristotle, which were among his earliest teaching assignments, and he developed a lifelong hatred of this philosopher who was so important in scholastic learning. His whole later career represented a rebellion against the scholastic nominalist theology and philosophy which remained standard components of a northern European education, and which were dominated by the softened view of humanity’s role in its own salvation presented by the via moderna. There were indeed already nominalists who distrusted via moderna theology, and who were so insistent on the importance of Augustine that they were styled the ‘modern Augustinian movement’ the schola Augustiniana moderna. In 1513 and 1514 Luther lectured on the Psalter, a natural first choice for a monk for whom the chanting of the Psalms structured his daily life, and to help his students he had a batch of psalters printed for them with the text surrounded by wide margins, so that they could make their notes around the text as he spoke. As a humanist should, the lecturer was stripping the text of all the medieval commentary which provided a ready-made lens through which a student would have been expected to view the Bible. This forced them to look at it afresh and build up a new picture from scratch. In 1515 Luther moved on in his lectures to Romans, the central text for Augustine’s message about salvation (4).

As his theology gradually took shape in Luther’s mind and brought him peace and spiritual security, a wholly unrelated event in southern Europe set up reverberations which reached Wittenberg and precipitated a crisis for him: the rebuilding of a church. Luther would not have considered church-building an unworthy cause – all Europe echoed to masons and carpenters building churches at the time – and this was something special, for it was the project for St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, begun by Pope Nicholas V some seven decades earlier and still nowhere complete. Leo X was determined to move it along for the greater glory both of God and of his Vicar on Earth, and conscious of the huge costs involved he turned to the usual late medieval method of raising funds, the issue of an indulgence, duly proclaimed as a solemn papal Bull Sacrosanctis in 1515. Every worthy institution sought money through indulgences at the time – England’s hospitals could not have functioned without them – but this was an exceptionally ambitious scheme which needed pan-European co-operation. In Germany, the Pope had approached Jakob Fugger of Augsburg, current proprietor of the family banking business which financed the most powerful people in Europe. Fugger had done his best to stop Leo being elected Pope, but he was prepared now to broker a deal, linking it with the needs of another of his clients, Albrecht von Hohenzollern of Brandenburg, newly consecrated Archbishop of Mainz. Albrecht, already Archbishop of Magdeburg and Administrator of the diocese of Halberstadt nearby, was an extreme example of the European noblemen who regarded the Church as an asset to be exploited for their family, in his case the great German dynasty of the Hohenzollern. He was determined to use his very considerable talents to continue the Hohenzollerns’ steady accumulation of power. They already controlled one of the seven votes of the Imperial Electors, since Albrecht’s brother was Elector as Margrave of Brandenburg, but now in 1514 an ecclesiastical Electorate, the Archbishopric of Mainz far away to the southwest, fell vacant. Albrecht acted decisively to secure his own election to this highly attractive see, which carried with it the office of Imperial Chancellor and also made him primate of Germany, but he was not prepared to give up his other bishoprics while taking on Mainz. Even by the acquisitive standards of Europe’s clergy-cum-noblemen, this was an unusual ambition, which required big money to pay for dispensations from Rome, quite apart from the very large routine fees involved in becoming Archbishop of Mainz. Hence the deal, the public face of which was the bull Sacrosanctis, this was followed up in 1518 with a cardinal’s hat for the Archbishop. Albrecht would promote the Pope’s indulgence in co-operation with a financial understanding worked out by the Fuggers. The faithful would benefit from the indulgences they bought: Albrecht would become an Elector as well as an Archbishop twice over, and St Peter’s would be completed.

To understand why this did not prove to be the case requires an explanation of the indulgence system. It depends on linking together a number of assumptions about sin and the afterlife, each of which individually makes considerable sense. First is the assumption which works very effectively in ordinary society, that any wrong requires an act of restitution to the injured party. So God demands an action on the part of a sinner to prove repentance for a sin. Second is the idea that Christ’s virtues or merits are infinite since he is part of the Godhead, and therefore they are more than adequate for the purpose of saving the finite world from Adam’s sin. Additional to his spare merits are the merits of the saints, headed by Christ’s mother Mary: clearly these are worthy merits in the sight of God, since the saints are known to be in heaven. This combined ‘treasury of merit’ is therefore available to assist in the work of a faithful Christian’s repentance. Since the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, it would be criminal cruelty on his part not to dispense such a treasury to anxious Christians on earth. The treasury of merit can then be granted to the faithful to shorten the time spent doing penance in Purgatory: that grant is an indulgence (5). All these ideas were drawn together in a bull of Pope Clement VI, Unigenitus, in 1343, by which time the Pope was seeking to rationalize a system of indulgence grants which was already well-established. It was only natural for pious Christians to show gratitude for such an act of charity on the Church’s part. Eventually their thank-offerings became effectively a payment for the indulgence, even although all indulgences including that sponsored by Albrecht were very careful to lay down proper conditions for use, particularly instructions to the purchasers to go to confession, and also, in a specialized form of welfare relief, offered free indulgences for the destitute. In 1476, a very considerable extension of the system’s potential occurred when the theologian Raimund Peraudi argued that indulgences were available to help the souls of people already dead and presumed to be in Purgatory, as well as living people who sought and received an indulgence; a papal Bull followed to implement this suggestion. With that the system was complete, and ready to have its disastrous effect on Martin Luther’s volcanic temper.

Luther was not the first theologian to express unease about what had happened to the original worthy aims of the indulgence system. Fifteenth-century Dutch leaders of the Devotio Moderna, Johann van Wesel and Wessel Gansfort, had condemned abuses of indulgences, as had highly respectable scholars in that bastion of orthodoxy, the Sorbonne in Paris; so did Thomas Wittenbach, the teacher of the future reformer Huldrych Zwingli at Basel University. Moreover, after 1515 there were many besides theologians who objected to the indulgence campaign launched by Sacrosanctis. The Elector Friedrich was furious and banned the campaign from his territories, not only because no Wettin could be pleased at seeing the Hohenzollern get their hands on a second Electorate, but also because Sacrosanctis suspended all other indulgences while it was being proclaimed, and that suspension drastically curtailed the revenue projections for his own beloved relic collection in Wittenberg. Humanist scholars and serious-minded folk generally were horrified at the exceptionally vulgar emotional blackmail of the campaign, which was run by Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, who turned a gift for preaching into a flair for a catchy commercial phrase. "Won’t you part with even a farthing to buy this letter? It won’t bring you money but rather a divine and immortal soul, whole and secure in the Kingdom of Heaven." The Augustinians sneered at their traditional rivals the Dominicans for being caught up in such a debasement of true religion. There was therefore a ready audience for anyone who cared to speak out against what was happening.


Following the devastation of the 14th century and first half of the 15th century, Europe finds itself entering a period of rapid growth and development, leading to social, religious, economic and cultural ferment.

Printing and the spread of reading fundamentally change religious practices and brings into question the practices of the church. Humanism proves integral to this process.

Martin Luther becomes an Augustinian Monk and reaches a prominent scholarly position. He finds himself worried about the developments within the church. The Bull Sacrosanctis is published.


(1) Communion under both kinds in Christianity is the reception under both "species" (i.e., both the consecrated bread and wine) of the Eucharist. There are numerous different theological concepts which are rather important to understand at least on a surface level for the Reformation to be understood. The degree to which God is directly present and whether the species literally become the flesh and blood of Christ, it only happens on a metaphysical level or if is an act of remembrance all are fundamental definitional differences between different Christian denominations. Part of these discussions included how often the ritual should be practiced and who should be permitted to participate. There is a more detailed explanation of what exactly Mass/Communion is in footnote 5.

(2) The Renaissance Papacy was a period of papal history between the Western Schism and the Protestant Reformation. From the election of Pope Martin V of the Council of Konstanz in 1417 to the Reformation, Western Christianity was largely free from schism as well as significant disputed papal claimants. There were many important divisions over the direction of the religion, but these were resolved through the then-settled procedures of the papal conclave. The popes of this period were a reflection of the College of Cardinals that elected them. The College was dominated by cardinal-nephews (relatives of the popes that elevated them), crown-cardinals (representatives of the Catholic monarchies of Europe), and members of the powerful Italian families. There were two popes each from the House of Borgia, House of della Rovere, and the House of Medici during this period. The wealthy popes and cardinals increasingly patronized Renaissance art and architecture, rebuilding the landmarks of Rome from the ground up. The Papal States began to resemble a modern nation-state during this period, and the papacy took an increasingly active role in European wars and diplomacy. Popes were more frequently called upon to arbitrate disputes between competing colonial powers than to resolve complicated theological disputes. Contemporaries viewed Renaissance Rome as a city of expense-account whores and political graft, where everything and everyone had a price, where nothing and nobody could be trusted. The popes themselves seemed to set the tone. For example, Leo X was said to have remarked: "Let us enjoy the papacy, since God has given it to us." Several of these popes took mistresses, fathered children, and engaged in intrigue or even murder. Infamously, Alexander VI had four acknowledged children, including Cesare Borgia and Lucrezia Borgia.

(3) Laypeople crowded in on their clergy, demanding to know as much as possible about their Saviour and his Mother, who is not served especially well by the biblical record – even her mother’s name has to be supplied from other sources. The clergy did their best to fill the gap by their preaching, with the aid of much edifying legend which fleshed out the biblical narratives, but they also encouraged ordinary people to use their imagination privately within the framework of controlled prayer. The dominant style of piety in the fifteenth century, which helped the laity to do this, was an intense, introspective and creatively imaginative mode of reaching out to God known as the ‘modern devotion’ (Devotio Moderna). The great characteristic of the Devotio was that, as with the activity of pilgrimage, laity as well as clergy, women as well as men, could aspire to the heights and depths of experience within it. Its earliest great name, the fourteenth-century Dutch theologian Geert Groote, was never ordained beyond the order of deacon; after spending some time in a Carthusian monastery near Arnhem, he went on to conduct a roving ministry of preaching in the Netherlands and to found his own informal community of friends in his native Deventer. After Groote’s death this group did take on the character of a formal religious order, the Brethren of the Common Life, spread widely through central Europe and enrolled members of the caliber of the mystical writer Thomas à Kempis, the philosopher and theologian Gabriel Biel and the future Pope Adrian VI. However, the Devotio Moderna was never a purely clerical movement; even the formally organized Brethren discouraged members from becoming ordained clergy, and they put their houses of Sisters and some of their own communities under the control of local urban corporations rather than the Church authorities. Notably married couples and of course their children might be involved on an equal basis in this deeply devotional lifestyle. The Devotio ethos was diffused widely among the serious-minded. Its promise was that laity could aspire to the high personal standards that had previously been thought more easily attainable by the clergy: a programme of practical action and organization of one’s thoughts and life that was summed up in the title of Kempis’s famous devotional treatise The Imitation of Christ.

(4) Augustine is one of the most important building blocks behind Luther's and there have been entire books written on this topic. I don't think I can really do it justice but if this stuff interests you then I would really recommend getting a better understanding of it. It helped me understand northern European culture quite a bit and really explained a number of underlying religious and cultural quirks I hadn't noticed before.

(5) The particular power of the Mass/Eucharist in the medieval West comes from its association with a central idea in the Western Church: this most powerful form of public liturgical prayer may be concentrated and directed to steer individuals through the perils of death to God’s bliss in the afterlife. Already by the ninth century, western church buildings (unlike those in the east) were being designed or adapted for a large number of altars so that priests could say as many Masses as possible for the sake of dead benefactors, or for benefactors with an eye on their coming death – the more Masses the better. By the twelfth century, western Christians were taking further this idea of intercession for the dead in the Mass; they developed a more sophisticated geography of the afterlife than was presented in their biblical foundation documents. The New Testament picture of life after death is of a stark choice: heaven or hell. Humanity’s general experience is that such finality ill-matches the grimy mixture of good and bad which makes up most human life. It was natural therefore for creative Christian thinkers to speculate about some middle state, in which those whom God loved would have a chance to perfect the hard slog towards holiness that they had begun so imperfectly in their brief earthly life. Although the first thoughts along these lines came from eastern Greek-speakers in Alexandria, the idea blossomed in the West, and this place of purging in wise fire, with its promise of an eventual entrance to heaven, was by the twelfth century given a name – Purgatory. Further refining of the system added a ‘Limbus infantium’ for infants who had not been baptized but who had no actual sins to send them to hell, and a ‘limbus Patrum’ for the Old Testament patriarchs who had had the misfortune to die before the coming in flesh of Jesus Christ, but these two states of limbo were subordinate to what had become a threefold scheme of the afterlife.

Prelude Three: The Reformation
We are almost there! This is the last of the preludes and we should start getting into the actual timeline with the next update. This one goes into a lot of detail surrounding the different reformers who started emerging during the first eight years of the reformation and gets us ever closer to a good starting point. I hope that people have been able to make it through these preludes, they can be a bit dense, but they should really help everyone understand the world and where everything is before we start getting into how things diverge. The first update should come out on the 1st of January in the new year, so I want to wish you all a happy new year! I hope you enjoy!

The Reformation

Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms

Martin Luther spoke out on 31 October 1517. That day, he publicly advertised his intention of setting up an academic disputation on the subject of indulgences by tacking to the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg a copy of ninety-five statements or theses to be disputed. He gathered together the conclusions of his lectures and his objections to the Tetzel scandal in crisp Latin, which attentive students in the Faculty had heard often before. The culminating two statements of the whole ninety-five summed up Luther’s tormented inner experience, yet they might be taken as a simple and unexceptional statement of Christian struggles towards God: "Christians should be exhorted to seek earnestly to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, hells" and "let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace." Luther’s low-key understanding of what he was doing was hardly surprising, because the ninety-five theses themselves could hardly be considered a call to revolution. They still assumed the existence of Purgatory, works of merit and the value of penance to a priest, even if they were couched in the sharp terms appropriate to points intended to provoke formal scholastic debate. However, Luther went to the extent of enclosing his acid little theses about the indulgence system in a protest letter, written in the most courtly terms on 31 October to the local Archbishop – none other than Albrecht of Brandenburg. By doing so, Luther made his challenge a public matter. Albrecht did his duty and forwarded the theses to the Holy Father in Rome. Meanwhile, printed copies of them circulated in Germany in both Latin and German and sparked a pamphlet war among German theologians; Dominicans naturally rushed to defend their colleague Tetzel against attack.

It was not the first time that the new medium of print had provoked a general debate, way beyond those who could actually read the pamphlets and books involved: that had happened over the previous decade, when European authorities launched an ambitious publicity campaign to raise a new continent-wide crusade against the Turks. However, what the Luther furor now demonstrated was that there was an independent public opinion, and the printing presses which fueled it could not be controlled by the existing hierarchies of Church nor Commonwealth. It was difficult for Pope Leo to feel much interest in what appeared to be a familiar story of Dominicans and Augustinians squabbling. Italian politics had plenty to occupy him in 1517, after the murderous success of his campaign against his enemies among the Cardinals, and his capture of the rich little city of Urbino in a sordid dynastic war on behalf of his nephew Lorenzo de’ Medici. If in more principled moments he took a broader view as the leader of Christendom, the appalling situation in the East would take precedence: Cyprus was under acute threat from the Turks after the fall of Egypt and Syria, yet Venice and France seemed more interested in settling scores with the Emperor and Spain than heeding strident papal calls for a new crusade. Accordingly, papal reaction was to instruct the German Augustinians to sort out this annoying matter themselves in their three-yearly meeting in Heidelberg in April 1518, while Rome got on with more pressing business.

Among brothers, Luther found a courteous audience, as well as meeting unexpected and gratifying public recognition and approval as he travelled to and from Heidelberg. Here he was able to talk less about the minor issue of indulgences and more about his general propositions on grace, and in consequence he produced less confrontation and more dignity. Luther’s devout and learned audience and disputants would recognize here some of the more solemn and contemplative themes of later medieval theology, themes which they would have found in the writings of German mystics, or would sense for themselves as they knelt in silence before one of the many crucifixes in their churches and studies. There was at least one Dominican observer present, Martin Bucer, who himself had a great future as a reformer, and who was entranced by what he heard Luther saying and went on to make God’s love his watchword much more than did Luther himself. However, Tetzel and his angry fellow Dominicans in Germany wanted a result, not more theology, and at the same time as the Heidelberg meeting, Tetzel issued another set of theses that highlighted the theme of obedience to the Pope’s authority. Luther wanted to talk about grace; his opponents wanted to talk about authority. That chasm of purposes explains how an argument about a side-alley of medieval soteriology (1) – indulgences – escalated into the division of Europe.

Throughout 1518 Luther’s opponents relentlessly called on him to be obedient to Rome, and the incendiary idea of conciliarism constantly hovered around their diatribes. A veteran Dominican papal theologian and opponent of conciliarist thought, Silvestro Mazzolini of Prierio, was commissioned to write against the ninety-five theses. He saw a familiar conciliarist enemy in Luther, and he discussed the infallibility of Church authority at such length that it made Luther much more inclined to wonder whether the Church might indeed be fallible. At the end of October 1518 came a decisive meeting in Augsburg between Luther and the great Thomist (2) scholar Cardinal Cajetan. This could have been a further opportunity for compromise, because the summons to meet the Cardinal modified Luther’s previous summons to Rome in May on charges that he had shown himself heretical in questioning the authority of the Pope. Friedrich the Wise negotiated this concession on the strength of his crucial position in the imminent election of a Holy Roman Emperor, seizing on the useful coincidence that Cajetan happened to be present in Germany on a mission to the Imperial Diet to plead for Leo X’s crusading project. Moreover, in less fraught circumstances, the little Italian friar would have been the ideal partner in a proper discussion of the indulgence question: immediately after the appearance of Luther’s ninety-five theses, he had turned his formidable intelligence to an intensive study of indulgences, and his conclusions, published later at great length, were typical of his brusquely independent thinking. While defending the existence of indulgences, he took a realistic view of their historical origins, and he downplayed both the theology of merit and the proposition that the Church could be in control of measuring out lengths of penance in Purgatory. However, the Cardinal was also a Dominican and the Pope’s representative, and he was not going to stand impertinence from an obscure German Augustinian lecturer. Impertinence was what he heard in response to his command for obedience to the Church. Luther was wise to leave Augsburg hastily after several unhappy meetings with Cajetan: he was in a state of deep disappointment, and now convinced that Thomists like the Cardinal had formed a powerful conspiracy with pagan Aristotle against the truth.

In June 1519 Luther arrived in Wittenberg’s rival university of Leipzig for a debate which he hoped would vindicate or at least clarify his position. Enlivened by partisan crowds of students and faculty, it took place in the atmosphere of festive adolescent aggression customary in large-scale encounters between universities committed to detesting each other. The guest speaker and Luther’s chief opponent was central Europe’s leading theologian, Johann Eck of the Bavarian university of Ingolstadt, who had turned from a courteous academic correspondent of Luther into one of his most effective enemies, remorselessly pursuing the theme of obedience to papal authority. This continued to be Eck’s strategy at Leipzig, and in debating terms it was brilliantly successful. He pushed Luther on from uncompromising but perfectly safe affirmations of conciliarism, such as the statement that Christ, not the Pope, was head of the Church, into dangerous discussion of the rights and wrongs of the Hussite Church. Infuriated by his opponent, Luther made an honest but fatal comment: whatever opinions of the Hussites were heretical, ‘I am sure on this, that many of Hus’ beliefs were completely evangelical and Christian’. This was to say that the Council of Konstanz, that golden moment in conciliarist development, had burned a man whom Luther was willing to commend. No attempt by Luther to move the argument in the debate from the Hussites to the equally anti-papal but far more respectable Greek Church could undo the damage. He had been defined as an enemy of the whole western Church. Less than two years earlier, nothing could have been further from his mind.

The year 1520 saw Luther condemned for heresy by a papal Bull, Exsurge Domine, and it climaxed in early December when he burned that bull at the gates of Wittenberg, along with works by Eck and volumes of canon law, which were the foundation of papal administration in the Church. This was the symbolic culmination of a year in which he had sealed his break with the past in three key writings, none of them long enough to wear out the reader. At a time when he was pouring out a torrent of occasional pamphlets, preaching and debating, they represented an astonishing creative achievement, a harnessing of the fury which he now felt at the rejection of the good news and urgent advice he had offered the Holy Father. All three books showed how far the acute conflict of 1519– 20 with the authorities in the Church had pushed him to think new thoughts. To be delivered so many hammer-blows by the institution which he had regarded as his mother was to liberate his imagination and give him the chance to look afresh at the Church which he saw in the New Testament. First, the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation was addressed in German to those in charge of decision-making in the Empire, and to the newly elected Emperor. It was the most popular of all three books, because it developed familiar anti-papal thoughts, often expressed over previous centuries, including the suggestion made at particularly heated moments in the conflicts between Pope and Emperor, that the Pope, far from being God’s representative on earth, was an impostor put in place by the devil: Antichrist. Luther had first voiced this thought for himself in a private letter not long after his traumatic meeting with Cajetan. Second, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, written in Latin for the clergy; in this comparatively short work lie some of the most significant strands in shaping and also in disrupting the later Reformation. The title would of course have reminded the well-informed of its earlier use in relation to the papacy’s fourteenth-century move to Avignon, but the implication was much more profound. Developing his theme of a clerical confidence trick, Luther directed the clergy’s attention to the sacraments which they administered, and offered a redefinition of a truly scriptural sacrament which drastically reduced the seven major sacraments recognized in the medieval West to three: Baptism, Eucharist and Penance. The third great work in this sequence, The Freedom of a Christian, took a different, less militant tone. It addressed the obvious question that has always perplexed those who take a grace-alone view of salvation: if human good works or merits are worthless in the sight of God and have no influence on a destiny to heaven or hell, what is the point of being good – or, perhaps more pressingly, what is the point of not being bad? Some might say that there was no point in morality at all – this was the problem of ‘antinomianism’ which continued to haunt the Protestant Reformation (3).

Charles V, elected in summer 1519 against all rival candidates to the huge relief of the Habsburg family, was then not out of his teens, but he was already king of Aragon and Castile and their overseas possessions and Duke of Burgundy: now, therefore, he ruled the largest empire that the Christian West had ever experienced. A serious-minded young man, whose sense of destiny as Christendom’s leader was not diminished by his advisers, he was anxious not to jeopardize the unity of the dominion entrusted to him, but he was also anxious to do what God wanted. Eventually setting aside papal protests, he heeded Friedrich the Wise and decided to give Luther a formal hearing within the Empire at the first available meeting of its Diet, at Worms in April 1521. Luther arrived after a triumphal tour across Germany. Facing the Emperor, he acknowledged the long list of books assembled in the room as his own. Ordered to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question ‘will you then recant?’, he asked for a day’s grace to make his answer. This was the turning-point on which his life depended: would he return to being the best monk in Germany, or go forward into an unformed future, guided only by what he had found in the Bible? Luther’s answer the following day was no single word but a careful and dignified speech. His books were of various sorts, some of which were indeed ‘polemic against the papacy’, which reflected ‘the experience and the complaint of all men’: ‘If then, I revoke these books, all I shall achieve is to add strength to tyranny, and open not the windows but the doors to this monstrous godlessness, for a wider and freer range than it has ever dared before.’ He spelled out to the Emperor that without a conviction from ‘scripture or plain reason for I believe neither in Pope nor councils alone’, he could recant nothing. Charles, likewise taking a night to gather his thoughts, behaved more honorably than had his predecessor Sigismund and the Council of Konstanz to Jan Hus: he honored Luther’s safe-conduct, while issuing an edict condemning Luther as a heretic. After a few days the newly criminalized monk left for Wittenberg. Friedrich had made provision to keep him safe; once Luther was within Saxon territory, a staged kidnapping carried the marked man out of public view. Installed in the Wartburg, a Wettin stronghold on the wooded massif high above the city of Eisenach, familiar to him from his childhood, Luther vanished for ten months from an astonished world. When he reappeared in March 1522, it was in a desperate effort to put bounds on the revolution he had provoked.


Huldrych Zwingli, Leader of the Swiss Reformation​

The papal machine had failed to give Luther a proper hearing; moreover, the bishops and abbots of Germany, notably Luther’s own archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg, had also failed to heed his prophetic words. So Luther had gone on to appeal from Church to Commonwealth (4). The supreme secular authority under God, the Emperor Charles V, had in his turn rejected him at Worms. Charles was in fact responsible for creating the first martyrs of the Reformation, when his government in the Low Countries reacted with extraordinary severity to the reforming preaching of Luther’s fellow Augustinians at Antwerp: in 1523 the Augustinian monastery buildings there, which were only ten years old, were razed to the ground, and two monks, Hendrik Voes and Johannes van den Esschen, were burned at the stake. Other European rulers like Henry VIII of England, the authorities in Venice and the Spanish governments in Naples and Castile all dutifully burned Luther’s books just as the Pope wished in spring 1521, even before the Emperor issued his formal condemnation at Worms. Prompted by the most impressive of his bishops, John Fisher of Rochester, Henry VIII went further, commissioning a team of leading English theologians to help him write a defense of traditional theology, The Assertion of the Seven Sacraments, which he published in 1521. It was a remarkably effective critique of Luther which earned the King the Pope’s gratitude and the title ‘Defender of the Faith’. Two possible power-bases for the revolution did emerge outside the Empire and beyond German-speaking lands, but neither fulfilled their early promise. Bohemian Hussites, who happened to attend the Leipzig Disputation in 1519, were surprised and gratified to hear what Luther said about Hus, and provided him with fruitful contacts with the leading Hussite clergy in Prague. However, the Hussite Church proved to be divided between those who saw Luther as the external ally who had been missing for a century and conservative forces who were alarmed at his radicalism and sought a deal with Rome; the pro-Luther faction was roundly defeated in Czech political struggles during 1525. Second, in German lands far to the south in Switzerland, came stirrings of something different. An independent leader of revolution emerged, who found backing from a great city with virtually no allegiance to the Emperor, and who himself felt no allegiance to Luther: that leader was Huldrych Zwingli, and the city Zürich.

Zwingli came from the same level of society as Luther. His family, prosperous farmers from eastern Switzerland, similarly sent their brightest child to Basel, Bern and Vienna for the best education available. Unlike Hans Luther, though, they managed to stop their boy from entering a cloister, in this case that of the Bern Dominicans. Instead, after a wide grounding in both humanist and scholastic learning, he returned to eastern Switzerland to become a parish priest at Glarus; he also accompanied Glarus men as an army chaplain on campaigns, when in the customary Swiss style they hired out their services as soldiers to the great powers of the day. In his abruptly truncated public career Zwingli was never to know the detachment from everyday pastoral concerns which was possible for the Wittenberg university lecturer – he managed to master Greek and some Hebrew, not at university but while carrying out his parish duties – and his vision of Christianity was enmeshed in a deliberate fashion in everyday concerns, as Luther’s was not. This was not just a matter of circumstances: Zwingli met Erasmus in Basel and became a thoroughgoing admirer, in contrast to Luther’s growing coolness to the great scholar. He grew up in a Switzerland of independent-minded cantons and communities, who had pooled their energies enough to inflict a shattering defeat on Habsburg power in 1499; they felt a pride in their achievement, which bred optimism and combined with a widespread enthusiasm for humanism among the educated and prosperous. It was not surprising coming from such self-confident, self-reliant communities that Zwingli shared in Erasmus’s belief that God intended Christianity to be an engine of change and improvement in human society; he also echoed Erasmus’s passionate diatribes against war, having experienced its horrors at first hand alongside Swiss mercenary troops, and he warmed to Erasmus’s distinctive theological emphasis on the Spirit as a key to understanding God’s relationship to humanity. Above all, he was electrified when in 1516 he was able to read Erasmus’s New Testament and began comparing the Church of his own day with the Church of Paul and the Apostles. What, by comparison, did Zwingli owe to Luther? Nothing, he himself insisted, claiming that he turned to Christ and to Scripture in 1516, before there was any public hint of Luther’s protest. Zwingli had naturally read Augustine for himself and, like the other humanists who had encountered Augustine, he could have found the same radical pessimism about humanity’s capacity for salvation without Luther pointing it out to him (5).

Zwingli’s path to revolution was curiously roundabout. Like many ambitious medieval clergy, he became a pluralist in 1516, keeping his Glarus parish but spending his time ministering to pilgrims at a famous Swiss Marian shrine at Einsiedeln. In 1518, the year after Luther’s indulgence protest, he added an honorary papal chaplaincy to a papal pension which he was already receiving, tokens of Rome’s thanks for his efforts to stop Swiss soldiers serving the Pope’s enemy the King of France. At the end of 1518, a post became vacant in the wealthy collegiate church of the Grossmünster in Zürich. After the Grossmünster canons had decided that Zwingli’s talents outweighed his shamefaced and penitent admission that he had broken his vows of celibacy with a young woman at Einsiedeln, he moved to this most powerful of Swiss cities, where he would spend much of his life. Zwingli’s post was once more pastoral: in theory he was a mere assistant, the people’s priest or Leutpriester in subordination to the canons of the Grossmünster, but in fact his job was a crucial contact with the people of the city who had come to treat the great church as their own.

Straight away on his arrival in 1519 he announced that he would begin systematically preaching through the Gospel of Matthew, brutally ignoring the complicated liturgical cycle of readings from the Bible which the Church laid down. The Book of Acts followed, taking him from the life of Christ to the subsequent founding of the first Christian congregations, and his preaching no doubt intensified for him the sense of how different the Church seemed to be in his own time. Gradually through 1520 Zwingli’s close relationship with his enthusiastic urban congregation began to fuse with his own convictions of the need for church reform, and with the news of disruption in Germany, although there is no evidence that he was reading any of Luther’s major works published that year. Late in 1520 he quietly ceased to draw his papal pension; equally without fuss, he was beginning to make powerful friends in the city council, and in 1521, despite increasing worries from conservative canons of the church, he was appointed a canon, thus making him a citizen of Zürich. It was at a time when the Pope had infuriated much of Switzerland by making alliance with the Habsburgs, their traditional enemy: the battle of Bicocca which resulted in the following year caused the deaths of 3,000 Swiss mercenaries, and against the background of everything that was happening to the north in Germany, the old Church’s reputation collapsed. Authorities in Switzerland were not going to kowtow to the Habsburgs by publishing Charles V’s edict of Worms against Luther, yet neither did they wish to make any positive endorsement of a troublemaker far away in north Germany. Tensions in Zürich must now find a breaking-point.

It was a sausage that proved to be the rallying-cry for the Swiss Reformation. Early in 1522, on the first Sunday in the penitential season of Lent, a Zürich printer, Christoph Froschauer, sat down with a suspiciously biblical tally of twelve friends or thereabouts, cut up two sausages, and distributed them to his guests. Zwingli sat out the sausage, alone among the company, but when the row became public, as was surely intended, he first devoted one of his Sunday sermons to showing why it was unnecessary to obey the traditional Church’s order not to eat meat in Lent, and then published what he had preached. For Zwingli, it was a matter of Christian freedom – but there was a crucial difference from the theology presented in Luther’s Freedom of a Christian. Luther made a sharp contrast between Law and Gospel, so sharp that on occasion he was prepared to say that God had destroyed Jerusalem in ancient times as a divine judgement on the Jewish Law. Zwingli’s point in his sermon was that there was no Lenten commandment in the Gospel; it was a human command introduced by the Church, which might or might not be observed, but which obscured the real laws of God in the Gospel if it was made compulsory. He called the Bible ‘the Divine Law’; the Law represented the will of God. So right from this very first pronouncement, which openly identified Zwingli with the developing revolution, he was proclaiming the difference of Zürich’s Reformation from the paradoxical message of the Wittenberg reformer.

Following this event, Zwingli and other humanist friends petitioned the bishop on 2 July to abolish the requirement of celibacy on the clergy. Two weeks later the petition was reprinted for the public in German as Eine freundliche Bitte und Ermahnung an die Eidgenossen, "A Friendly Petition and Admonition to the Confederates". The issue was not just an abstract problem for Zwingli, as he had secretly married a widow, Anna Reinhard, earlier in the year. Their cohabitation was well-known and their public wedding took place on 2 April 1524, three months before the birth of their first child. As the petition was addressed to the secular authorities, the bishop responded at the same level by notifying the Zurich government to maintain the ecclesiastical order. Other Swiss clergymen joined in Zwingli's cause which encouraged him to make his first major statement of faith, Apologeticus Archeteles "The First and Last Word". He defended himself against charges of inciting unrest and heresy. He denied the ecclesiastical hierarchy any right to judge on matters of church order because of its corrupted state. The events of 1522 brought no clarification on the issues. Not only did the unrest between Zurich and the bishop continue, tensions were growing among Zurich's Confederation partners in the Swiss Diet. On 22 December, the Diet recommended that its members prohibit the new teachings, a strong indictment directed at Zurich. The city council felt obliged to take the initiative and find its own solution.

On 3 January 1523, the Zurich city council invited the clergy of the city and outlying region to a meeting to allow the factions to present their opinions. The bishop was invited to attend or to send a representative. The council would render a decision on who would be allowed to continue to proclaim their views. This meeting, the first Zurich disputation, took place on 29 January 1523. The meeting attracted a large crowd of approximately six hundred participants. The bishop sent a delegation led by his vicar general, Johannes Fabri. Zwingli summarized his position in the Schlussreden, "Concluding Statements or the Sixty-seven Articles". Fabri, who had not envisaged an academic disputation in the manner Zwingli had prepared for, was forbidden to discuss high theology before laymen, and simply insisted on the necessity of the ecclesiastical authority. The decision of the council was that Zwingli would be allowed to continue his preaching and that all other preachers should teach only in accordance with Scripture.

In September 1523, Leo Jud, Zwingli's closest friend and colleague and pastor of St. Peterskirche, publicly called for the removal of statues of saints and other icons. This led to demonstrations and iconoclastic activities. The city council decided to work out the matter of images in a second disputation. The essence of the mass and its sacrificial character was also included as a subject of discussion. Supporters of the mass claimed that the eucharist was a true sacrifice, while Zwingli claimed that it was a commemorative meal. As in the first disputation, an invitation was sent out to the Zurich clergy and the bishop of Constance. This time, however, the lay people of Zurich, the dioceses of Chur and Basel, the University of Basel, and the twelve members of the Confederation were also invited. About nine hundred people attended this meeting, but neither the bishop nor the Confederation sent representatives. The disputation started on 26 October 1523 and lasted two days. Zwingli again took the lead in the disputation. His opponent was a canon, Konrad Hofmann, who had initially supported Zwingli's election. Also taking part was a group of young men demanding a much faster pace of reformation, who among other things pleaded for replacing infant baptism with adult baptism. This group was led by Conrad Grebel, one of the initiators of the Anabaptist movement. During the first three days of dispute, although the controversy of images and the mass were discussed, the arguments led to the question of whether the city council or the ecclesiastical government had the authority to decide on these issues. At this point, Konrad Schmid, a priest from Aargau and follower of Zwingli, made a pragmatic suggestion. As images were not yet considered to be valueless by everyone, he suggested that pastors preach on this subject under threat of punishment. He believed the opinions of the people would gradually change and the voluntary removal of images would follow. Hence, Schmid rejected the radicals and their iconoclasm, but supported Zwingli's position. In November the council passed ordinances in support of Schmid's motion. Zwingli wrote a booklet on the evangelical duties of a minister, Kurze, christliche Einleitung, "Short Christian Introduction", and the council sent it out to the clergy and the members of the Confederation.


Phillip Melanchthon, Prominent Reformist Theologian​

The tangled question of what authority had the right to further the Reformation had not been solved during 1521, and the situation in Wittenberg posed the question in ever more acute form; Luther’s most important allies in the university in his absence had tried to steer events forward, without his guidance. One was a brilliant but very young man, Philipp Melanchthon, who in 1518 had been appointed professor of Greek in the university aged only twenty-one, and had taken the opportunity to turn his surname Schwartzerd, ‘Black-earth’, into Greek. He deeply admired his older colleague, and with a natural tidy-mindedness which Luther consistently failed to exhibit, he began reducing the chaos of theological insights which had poured from Luther’s pen since 1517 into some sort of shape for people to appreciate as a whole. The result, the Loci Communes or "Common Places", a topically arranged textbook, was published in 1521, and it was to have a long life in expanded and altered form as a central text of the Reformed Faith. Andreas von Bodenstein of Karlstadt, as he was commonly known, Melanchthon’s senior in years and university office but not necessarily in maturity, was a minor nobleman and a man of impatient temperament and sudden enthusiasms. Karlstadt likewise saw himself as Luther’s best interpreter, but in a very different way: instead of clarifying the message, he increased the disorder. During autumn 1521 he tried to put into effect ideas which were undoubtedly present in Luther’s writings by preaching against compulsory clerical celibacy and the ritual of the Mass. He turned the priesthood of all believers into excited praise of the Christian wisdom of ordinary people; on Christmas Day he presided at a Eucharist in a common gown, rather than priest’s vestments, and he gave both bread and wine to the people. The following day the middle-aged academic got engaged to a fifteen-year-old girl.

Over the next month this logical, or at least predictable, progress in Reformation attracted a number of other people to Wittenberg from elsewhere who were enthusiastic to push the various strands of Luther’s revolutionary message still further. Some of them felt, just as Luther did, that they had the spirit of prophecy, yet they did not, like him, simply deliver a message which they thought to have found in the Bible, but they claimed to be receiving new revelations directly from God. Most were from the large Saxon town of Zwickau, which had not been far behind Wittenberg in officially adopting the Reformation, and they were soon known as the Zwickau Prophets. Semi-literate as they were, their charisma impressed thoughtful young Melanchthon: ‘for various reasons it seemed as though the Spirit might be moving them’, he wrote rather lamely to the Elector Friedrich, two days after Christmas. Some of the new arrivals wanted to be more radical than Luther about the Eucharist; while he had scorned the miracle of transubstantiation, they now scorned any miracle at all, and said that bread and wine were symbols, aids to memory in recalling the unique sacrifice of Christ, and could not in any sense become the body and blood of God. Karlstadt was struck favorably by this line of argument. Equally he listened seriously when the prophets fastened on Luther’s insistence on the importance of faith; they consequently pointed out that while every example of baptism in the New Testament involved a confession of faith, it was impossible for small children to exhibit such faith; therefore they should not be allowed baptism. This was very difficult for Luther, for it was both logical and pointed up a real problem in his insistence on making Scripture the touchstone for the essential Christian message. Luther was determined to maintain infant baptism, yet it was clear that the New Testament contained not a single example of it. This was a problem which was not going to be solved simply by his later dispersal of the Zwickau Prophets.

The final straw came when Karlstadt pushed further an implication of one recommendation in Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility. Luther had been infuriated by the brand-new Marian cult of 1519 that had been as big an Empire-wide sensation as his own troubles that year – the miracles of the ‘Beautiful Mary of Regensburg’, who was attributed with healing an anti-Semitic demolition worker. Accordingly Luther had urged the nobility to see all centers of pilgrimage ‘levelled’, making the shrine of the Regensburg Mary the climax of his list. It was a small step from advocating destruction of the ‘devilish deceit’ of sacred places to Karlstadt saying publicly that all sacred images were examples of devilish deceit and should be destroyed. Accordingly, around the end of January 1522, the people of Wittenberg wrecked various specimens of religious art in their churches. The Elector Friedrich was furious: his beloved town and university were in turmoil, and his cousin Duke Georg was enjoying being proved right about the reformers. Luther must return from the Wartburg to sort out the situation. So he did, significantly wearing his monk’s gown once more, preaching a series of Lenten sermons which were studiously moderate but firm expressions of the need for restraint and order, and summarily ejecting the Zwickau prophets from town – he contemptuously called them Schwärmer, "fanatics". Karlstadt, increasingly at odds with his former hero, was gradually frozen out of the university and within a couple of years he had severed his links with Wittenberg, romantically casting aside his senior academic’s gown and proclaiming his commitment to popular religion by dressing as a peasant. By contrast, Luther would never again stir far from Wittenberg – his outlawed status throughout Charles’s Empire in any case made that difficult. His return to the town in March 1522 represented a moment in his career almost as significant as 31 October 1517. He had now seen the effect of letting the idea of Gospel freedom have its head without careful direction. He must now concentrate on creating a shape for what – despite his intentions and his first expectation of ready reforming action from the Pope in Rome – looked more and more like the structure of a Church. To begin with, this meant choosing which logical paths Luther would take from his earlier writings, and which he would eschew – for virtually everything that had happened in his absence had some good precedent in his own publications.

There was not much he could do about the introduction of clerical marriage, which proved very popular with the clergy. However, on other matters, Luther set up fences against change. On infant baptism, he was immovable. This was a matter of great importance, which straight away made a fundamental choice for the future of the Reformation. Back in the fourth century, the mainstream Christian Church had allied with the Roman imperial power after sudden and unprecedented favor from the Emperor Constantine I, and during the following century it had assumed a monopoly position among the religions of the Empire, establishing the union of religion, culture and society that we label Christendom. Fundamental to this was the principle that all members of society were also members of the Christian Church, and their membership was sealed by their baptism. The Zwickau Prophets threatened the notion of Christendom by rejecting infant baptism, and Luther was as determined to uphold Christendom as was his enemy the Pope. So infants must be baptized, whatever the price in terms of justifying the practice from scripture. In this Luther was followed by all the mainstream reformers - with Zwingli eventually equating it to the Jewish Covenant with god symbolized by circumcision, baptism would now solidify the direct covenant between god and his people. But on other subjects, Luther struck a more conservative note than any other major reformer. His deep personal devotion to the Eucharist meant that he went on passionately defending the notion that the body and blood of Christ could be physically or corporeally present in the bread and wine on the eucharistic table: in his favorite simile, they were present as heat fills a piece of iron once fire has heated it up, and there is nothing more physical than the sensation of holding a red-hot poker. Above all, on the matter of images, the issue that had finally brought his recall to Wittenberg, he directly contradicted Karlstadt, and straight away he published those sections of his 1522 Lenten sermons that dealt with that question. Having already given thought to the problem of sacred art, Luther decided that there was no problem. Once the most obviously absurd images had been removed in an orderly fashion, there was nothing wrong with sacred art in church; indeed, to destroy it meant that it had some power, and in fact it had none, other than to be a witness to the beauty of God’s creation and a reminder of the biblical story. What could be wrong with pictures of God’s mother or of Christ hanging on the cross? Luther used biblical arguments to justify his position: Moses, he pointed out, had made a brazen serpent, which had only been destroyed by a later king of Judah, Hezekiah, when it had been misused in Israel’s worship. Paul the Apostle had gone to Athens and found many images, but rather than setting about them with violence, he had made a thoughtful speech to try to persuade the Athenians not to worship them. In later clashes with Karlstadt, he produced a lasting formula which conveyed the usefulness of images: ‘zum Ansehen, zum Zeugnis, zum Gedächtnis, zum Zeicheri ’: "for recognition, for witness, for commemoration, for a sign". By 1525, he no longer felt the need to enlarge on these points, much to the anger and consternation of most other major reformers.


The Swiss Anabaptists break with Zwingli​

A political and social confrontation loomed in Zürich. As early as 1522 it became evident that Zwingli was on a path of reform preaching when he began to question or criticize such Catholic practices as tithes, the mass, and even infant baptism. Zwingli had gathered a group of reform-minded men around him, with whom he studied classical literature and the scriptures. However, some of these young men began to feel that Zwingli was not moving fast enough in his reform. The division between Zwingli and his more radical disciples became apparent in an October 1523 disputation held in Zurich. When the discussion of the mass was about to be ended without making any actual change in practice, Conrad Grebel stood up and asked "what should be done about the mass?" Zwingli responded by saying the council would make that decision. At this point, Simon Stumpf, a radical priest from Hongg, answered saying, "The decision has already been made by the Spirit of God.": This incident illustrated clearly that Zwingli and his more radical disciples had different expectations. To Zwingli, the reforms would only go as fast as the city Council allowed them. To the radicals, the council had no right to make that decision, but rather the Bible was the final authority of church reform. Feeling frustrated, some of them began to meet on their own for Bible study. As early as 1523, William Reublin began to preach against infant baptism in villages surrounding Zurich, encouraging parents to not baptize their children. Seeking fellowship with other reform-minded people, the radical group wrote letters to Martin Luther, Andreas Karlstadt, and Thomas Müntzer while Felix Manz began to publish some of Karlstadt's writings in Zurich in late 1524.

The radicals were not anxious to avoid it, for they were becoming increasingly annoyed by what they saw as Zwingli’s backsliding, and once more there was a precedent in the symbolic direct action which had been so important to Zwingli himself in 1522: Froschauer’s sausage-eating party. Accordingly, in January 1525, a group of enthusiasts in the city baptized each other, some in public and some in private, and some laypeople among them demonstrated the priesthood of all believers by themselves breaking bread and drinking wine. The new reformed establishment, well past its days of making ostentatious gestures with sausages, had to respond: now a third disputation was held, and declared to be a victory for the forces of order. The dissident ultra-Zwinglians were given a hostile nickname which reflected the most threatening thing that they had done: they were called ‘Anabaptists’, meaning "rebaptizers". In a tragic aftermath, legislation of 1526 led to four of them being solemnly drowned in the River Limmat, and radical enthusiasm in the canton of Zürich subsided as quickly as it had begun. Even though only four martyrs ever died in Zürich, this Erasmian, Zwinglian and reformed community had thereby committed itself to a policy of coercing and punishing fellow reformers whose crime was to be too radical. Yet Zürich was not the first reforming community to do this; terrible events of 1525 set the precedent (6).

The Reformation throughout Europe was about to turn from popular carnival to something more structured, less dangerous, and more dour. Luther’s stand against Rome aroused huge popular enthusiasm in the Empire and in German-speaking lands. A seemingly endless variety of individual acts of revolt against the old Church fed off his phenomenal volume of words rushing off the printing presses in both German and Latin. There were 390 editions of various of Luther’s writings published in Germany in 1523 alone, and it has been calculated that beyond what he himself had written, around three million copies of related pamphlets, Flugschriften, or flysheets, mostly illustrated, were printed in German by 1525; Wittenberg’s puny economy now boomed solely because of the sudden growth in its printing industry. Print could take the Reformation to anyone who was prepared to hear a pamphlet being read out or listen to someone explain the meaning of a printed picture. At the beginning of the sixteenth century everyone that mattered in the Western Church was crying out for reformation. However, the cry went even further than the elites, and very few people who looked for reformation like this had any idea until Luther came along that the Pope was part of a conspiracy to stop the coming reform. Yet for much of Europe after 1517, the prophet of the Last Days turned out to be Luther; he thought so himself. Many decided to listen to his message that the Pope was the problem, not the solution.

Luther’s theme was not just the negative exposure of a con-trick. His proclamation of Christian liberty was particularly fruitful, and it was easy to relate to his attacks on the institutional structure of the Church. The rich variety of the old system of devotion might be a burden both financially and emotionally, with its endless inducements to lavish money on sacred objects or pious practices, and its requirements of regular confession of sin to a priest. Laypeople were flattered at being told that they had been liberated from clerical deception to think for themselves; Zürich had shown the way with its disputations on theology authorized by the city council. Other great German cities like Hamburg followed Zürich’s example and held disputations when they introduced Reformation; but it was not just the authorities who felt entitled to exercise this new privilege of making decisions about salvation. Local communities seized what they wanted out of Luther’s message, and they added their own grievances and enthusiasms to the turmoil, sometimes ending up with an officially sponsored change in religion, sometimes in a popular uproar. Very many decided that liberty meant that they were free not to pay exactions like tithes to church institutions, particularly abbeys or chantry colleges, from which they drew little direct benefit. That merged with heated rhetoric against clergy generally, which Luther would find difficult to repudiate since he had supplied most of it in and after 1520; clergy were accused of Totenfresserei, feeding on the dead, with their cultivation of chantries and endowments for soul-prayers, and of depriving living widows, children and the poor of the means of survival. Predictably, despite his own fiery temperament and dramatically brave personal stands against authority, Luther was horrified at the thought of spontaneous movements of the people which lacked the control of God’s properly chosen representatives. In spring 1522 he had made emphatically clear that he was not going to accept rival prophetic voices when he had expelled the Zwickau Prophets from Wittenberg and snubbed Andreas Karlstadt’s enthusiasm for the godly decisions of the people. Yet his own feelings remained confused, as became clear once more when his bête noire, Duke Georg of Saxony, sponsored a new saint in 1523, a five-centuries-dead bishop of Meissen called Benno. Luther wrote a vicious pamphlet against this aggressively traditionalist move by his arch-enemy, and had only himself to blame when in 1524 a cheerful crowd at Buchholz in Electoral Saxony enacted a parody of St Benno’s new cult using the bones of horses and cattle.

Still not a single reigning prince had declared positively for the reform by 1525. Worse, the support which Luther had gained from knights of the Empire, led by Franz Sickingen, became a disastrous liability by the end of 1522 when their attempt at turning the renewal movement into an armed assault on churchmen with territorial jurisdictions was crushed by an alliance of alarmed princes, and Sickingen was killed. His most brilliant associate, the humanist poet turned reforming propagandist Ulrich von Hutten, was left a penniless fugitive and a few months later died in Zürich of syphilis, a widely known scandal which did nothing to promote the evangelical cause. Thereafter, two contradictory impulses ran through Luther’s thinking on authority, and he never really resolved them. On the one hand, he wanted desperately to secure the support of the princes, and on the other, he was concerned to make sure that godly reformation was not threatened by unsympathetic princes. This contradiction was played out against the background of his continuing commitment to the idea of Christendom and would eventually lead to disaster (7).


Martin Luther finds himself condemned by both Imperial and Ecclesiastical leadership and turns his back firmly on any hope of reforming the church from within.

Huldrych Zwingli emerges as an independent leader of the Reformation, leading efforts in the Swiss Confederacy from Zürich.

Martin Luther struggles with radical reformers who bring his thoughts to logical but dangerous conclusions, forcing Luther to move against them.

The Reformation turns ever more radical as major reformers such as Zwingli and Luther try to guide their followers. Violent repression follows when this proves unsuccessful.


(1) Soteriology is the study of "Salvation. In Christianity salvation is the saving of the soul from sin and its consequences. It may also be called "deliverance" or "redemption" from sin and its effects. Variant views on salvation are among the main lines dividing the various Christian denominations, being a point of disagreement between Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as within Protestantism, notably in the OTL Calvinist–Arminian debate. These lines include conflicting definitions of depravity, predestination, atonement, and most pointedly, justification. According to Christian belief, salvation is made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which in the context of salvation is referred to as the "atonement". Christian soteriology ranges from exclusive salvation: to universal reconciliation concepts. While some of the differences are as widespread as Christianity itself, the overwhelming majority agrees that salvation is made possible only by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross and being resurrected from death. This can get very complicated so I tried to keep this within relevant spheres as much as possible when it comes up in the TL.

(2) Thomism is the philosophical school that arose as a legacy of the work and thought of Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), philosopher, theologian, and Doctor of the Church. In philosophy, Aquinas' disputed questions and commentaries on Aristotle are perhaps his most well-known works. In theology, his Summa Theologica is one of the most influential documents in medieval theology and continues to be the central point of reference for the philosophy and theology of the Catholic Church. In the 1914 encyclical Doctoris Angelici Pope Pius X cautioned that the teachings of the Church cannot be understood without the basic philosophical underpinnings of Aquinas' major theses. Thomas Aquinas believed that truth is to be accepted no matter where it is found. His doctrines draw from Greek, Roman, Jewish, philosophers. Specifically, he was a realist (i.e., he, unlike the skeptics, believed that the world can be known as it is). He largely followed Aristotelian terminology and metaphysics, and wrote comprehensive commentaries on Aristotle, often affirming Aristotle's views with independent arguments. Aquinas respectfully referred to Aristotle simply as "the Philosopher". He also adhered to some neoplatonic principles, for example that "it is absolutely true that there is first something which is essentially being and essentially good, which we call God, ... [and that] everything can be called good and a being, inasmuch as it participates in it by way of a certain assimilation..."

(3) In Christianity, an antinomian is one who takes the principle of salvation by faith and divine grace to the point of asserting that the saved are not bound to follow the Law of Moses. The distinction between antinomian and other Christian views on moral law is that antinomians believe that obedience to the law is motivated by an internal principle flowing from belief rather than from any external compulsion.

(4) Commonwealth is used here to denote the secular/laity bound part of medieval and renaissance life. Princes, merchant and peasants are all part of this category. It consists of everything beyond the Church itself.

(5) There is a lot of debate regarding exactly how independent Zwingli's reformation was from the Lutheran reformation, worsened by the acrimonious relations which developed between the two. I won't go into all of this now, but the relations between various reformers can be a quite interesting topic of research.

(6) 1524-1525 saw the eruption of the German Peasants' War which devastated Germany and proved incredibly important in the development of Protestantism and the various branches of reformed Christianity. It will be the focus of a couple of updates and will cause immense butterflies to the timeline.

(7) Martin Luther's contradictory theology can get quite challenging at times, and when reading of his role in worsening the divides between the various branches of the reformation he can become particularly frustrating. But at the same time he is a fascinating, powerful and influential figure who is probably one of the most influential religious thinkers in history.
Good update; like how you set up the background for this, @Zulfurium. If this TL is every bit as good as The Dead Live (BTW, hopefully there will be an update on that; just concentrate on this (1)), then it'll be a good TL...

Just waiting for the first part...

Looking forward to the TL, BTW...

(1) Once you get things settled with regards to the TL, why not alternate between updates for both TLs (unless, of course, you get too busy)?
Here's to hoping Protestantism spreads further to France and Bohemia (maybe more)

The reformation is going to go in a very different direction, with a very big divergence in Update two which should send everything off the rails of OTL.

That said, Reformed beliefs of various sorts and other both spiritualist and internal-reform beliefs are going to reach into every corner of Europe, though whether they win out is a different question.
Update One: An Interruption at Pavia
Hello everyone, we have now made out way through the various preludes and are now about to embark on the first step of this new journey. I am not quite certain what the update rate will be just yet or how steady it will be, but the first nine updates are already written and the tenth is on its way - so there should be enough to tide you over for a while. But enough of that, I now present the first update of Their Cross to Bear - An Interruption at Pavia! I hope you enjoy, comments, questions and critiques are more than welcome.

An Interruption at Pavia

The Siege of Pavia

The mission of Charles de Lannoy’s 24,000-strong relief force at Pavia, concentrated at Casa de Levrieri, was to open a supply line to the 9,000-man garrison under Antonio de Leyva, Prince of Ascoli. Time was running out for de Leyva; the Landsknechts inside the city were annoyed by the infrequent pay they were receiving, so, Lannoy and his lieutenants would need to accomplish their mission in a short period of time. Since they had arrived in October, the French had shifted their forces stationed around the city. By February 3 they were arrayed in five different positions—Francis commanded 10,000 troops in the northwest quadrant of Mirabello Park farthest from the action, Flourance commanded 5,000 at Torre del Gallo, D’Alencon commanded 4,000 at San Lanfranco, and Montmorency commanded 3,000 in the Five Abbeys. A small force of 1,500 was located to the south in Borgo Ticino to make sure that no entry or exit was made from that direction. If the Imperialists were to attack any French position in force, it was unclear whether the other units would be able to render assistance to each other in time. About a week after the arrival of the relief force, Charles de Bourbon led a night raid on San Paolo, one of the five abbeys on the opposite side of the Vernavola from the Imperialist encampment. The attack was beaten back, but another was attempted two nights later. This time Bourbon focused his attack on the Toretta gate at the southern entrance to the park. His large force temporarily captured a French siege battery and inflicted 400 casualties on the Swiss before it was driven off in a counterattack led by Robert de la Marck, Seigneur de Flourance and heir to the Duke of Bouillon. The French subsequently withdrew the battery to Mirabello Castle, which was serving as Francis’s headquarters at the time. Meanwhile, De Leyva launched his own sortie in the direction of San Lanfranco, west of the city, in an effort to keep the French off balance. With little or no funds to pay the Imperialist Landsknechts in Pavia or in the field, Lannoy convened a council of war on the 21st February to discuss how to break through to the beleaguered garrison. “In three days, four at the most, we must make contact with the garrison inside the town, or all is lost,” he told the council. Unaware that they actually outnumbered the French, the Imperialist commanders did not plot a major attack aimed at dislodging the enemy from Pavia. Instead, they planned a raid similar to the ones Bourbon had conducted, only on a much larger scale.

The plan the council came up with consisted of a raiding party composed entirely of arquebusiers that would gain access to the park at night from the north, through a breach made by engineers. Once inside the park, they would take Mirabello Castle by force and, when that objective was secure, move quickly to make contact with the garrison inside the city. The main army would follow the arquebusiers and pin down any French forces that tried to disrupt the raid. While the strike force’s primary objective was establishing contact with the garrison, the Imperialist high command also hoped that the assault on Mirabello Castle would result either in the capture of Francis or the withdrawal of French forces from the park. Capturing Francis would be difficult since he had recently relocated his headquarters from Mirabello Castle to the northwest corner of the park in the vicinity of Porta Repentina. The plan called for the 1,000 Imperialists remaining behind at Casa de Levrieri to fire three salvos at dawn as a signal to the Pavia garrison to sally forth into the park and link up with the raiders. The Imperialists decided to breach the wall surrounding the park from the north side rather than storm one of the gates because it would allow for a greater element of surprise. On the night of the 19th, Lannoy sent the first of several patrols over the wall in an effort to determine the best place for a breach to be attempted. The patrols got bolder with each successive night, and on the 22nd of February they reached the southernmost area, a large wood opposite the castle. At that moment, they were spied by a French infantry patrol that attacked and defeated the reconnaissance party, thereby capturing several of its members while killing the rest and learning that the Imperials were planning an attack (1).

King Francis was roused from his sleep on the morning of the 23rd and informed of the likelihood of an Imperial attack, ordered the walls of the park further reinforced. During the day, the French strengthened their positions along the northern wall significantly, drawing on the Duke of Alencon's force, and ignited several skirmishes and cannon duels in the process, in the process clearly alerting the Imperial command that their planned gambit had been discovered. Charles de Lannoy insisted on going through with the plan, but by this point Fernando d’Avalos, the Marquess of Pescara had determined that the effort would likely fail. Word that their commander was planning to launch them against prepared positions spread rapidly amongst Frundsberg's Landsknecht force, and from them to the rest of the army. Thus, when orders came down from the command tent the army refused to march. Stumped at their opposition to his orders, Lannoy found himself increasingly outraged at his army's intransigence. Lannoy was eventually able to launch a frontal assault on Flourance's positions, at the Casa della Terra in the central parts of the western wall of the park. Launching 3,000 men under Pescara at the wall on the evening of the 23rd, the Imperials were successful in driving the French from their positions but soon found themselves under attack from Flourance's force. Pescara succeeded in mauling this force but began pulling out immediately, the forces under Francis having roused themselves and begun marching to relieve Flourance. The French would take another 1,000 casualties in the fighting at the Casa della Terra, but Lannoy was forced to accept that the raid had not done enough damage to accomplish its goal. By the morning of the 24th, as the effects of the raid become clear, Lannoy was forced to resort to withdrawing from Pavia in good order, abandoning the Pavian garrison and De Levya to their fate (2).

While the Siege of Pavia limped onward, the Imperial army found itself forced to retreat to Piacenza where acrimony and blame engulfed the Imperial command. Charles de Lannoy was eventually forced from command of the army, particularly as news continued to arrive from Pavia. Within Pavia, Antonio de Levya found himself in ever more dire straits. With the Imperial relief army forced into retreat the Landsknecht garrison became ever more unmanageable. French assaults grew more pointed without the threat to their rear and by the end of the month the situation had become dire. De Levya tried to keep up morale but with the retreat it had become a question of time before he would find himself forced to surrender. Francis would offer generous terms of surrender on the 3rd of March which were accepted the following day, with Antonio de Levya and his force handing over their arms and surrendering the city in return were allowed to leave Pavia unmolested (3). Francis entered Pavia on the 5th of March 1525 in triumph while the Spanish garrison surrendered their positions and slowly made their way east out of city gates, marching for Piacenza. A sizable part of De Levya's force, some 5,000 of them in fact, agreed to sign up with Francis and would swiftly recover their arms as a result, this time fighting for the French. The arrival of Antonio de Levya in Piacenza would bring the leadership crisis to a head, with Charles de Lannoy finding himself forced from command of the army by the combined will of Pescara, Bourbon, Frundsberg and de Levya. Charles de Bourbon would take up command of the army for a short time, with Pescara, Frundsberg and de Levya as his lieutenants while Lannoy returned to Naples where he would lead the opposition to the Duke of Albany's assault (4). However, Charles de Bourbon’s army wouldn’t remain together for more than a month.


Landsknechts fighting in the Imperial Army
John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany continued his advance following his successful defeat of an Imperial force at Fiorezuola, marching southward into Tuscany, passing close to Florence where he received further reinforcements and supplies from the Florentine government standing in as representatives for the young Ippolito de' Medici and continued his southward advance. He ran into representatives from the French-aligned Orsini near Perugia, gaining their support in return for supporting them against their rivals, the Colonna. With the tide turning firmly in favor of the French and their allies, Cardinal Pompeo Colonna found himself forced to take to the field, fleeing Rome for more secure positions at his villa at Palestrina (5). From Tivoli the Cardinal was able to coordinate resistance to the invading French army, martialing his family's supporters and taking up personal command of the resulting force. The Colonna army and the French force clashed for the first time in late February near the town of Orvieto, with Colonna successfully mauling the French vanguard before being driven into retreat by the larger French force. They clashed again at Vitterbo, where Colonna successfully lured a regiment of Orsini cavalry into the marshy lands south of the town and was able to place his arquebusiers in strong defensive positions so that they could pour shots into the flanks of the force. The Duke of Albany found himself forced to halt his advance for a week and attempt to break the Colonna army, but before this could happen the Colonna retreated - the result of a lack of supplies caused by the difficulties involved in getting the supply wagons through the marshes. Pulling back to the outskirts of Rome, the Colonna found the gates of the city barred to them and the walls manned by Orsini and Medici forces. The Colonna found itself increasingly splintered and weakening, men deserting or succumbing to exhaustion, and eventually collapsed from the harrying forces sent forward by the Duke of Albany. Pompeo Colonna and much of his family fled south to Naples where they took refuge and prepared to resist the French invasion (6).

In Piacenza it was determined that Charles de Lannoy, having been removed from command of the combined Imperial army, would march south with a force of 5,000 to prevent the Duke of Albany's invasion of Naples while the Imperial army under Charles de Bourbon would abandon the resistive and poorly fortified town of Piacenza for the more central and protected city of Cremona to the east. Charles de Lannoy left almost immediately, sending off dispatches to Emperor Charles to plead his case and throwing the blame at the feet of Charles de Bourbon and Pescara, while rushing southward. He began secret negotiations with Francesco Maria della Rovere, the Duke of Urbino, while rushing past his force - eventually securing della Rovere's support for the Imperials and the handover of the coastal towns of Pesaro and Fano which would in time allow passage from Lombardy to Naples by sea - a factor which would come to play an important role in the continued conflict (7). Lannoy crossed from Urbino to Perugia, arriving to Albany's rear, and embarked on a southern march nearly mirroring Albany's own southern march. Lannoy was able to swell his force significantly at Spoleto, Rieti and Avezzano before the Duke of Albany learned of his presence. Albany swelled his forces from among the many condottieri in Rome and launched himself southward, hoping to beat Lannoy to the Neapolitan border.

While Lannoy marched southward, the combined Imperial leadership sent dispatches to Emperor Charles laying the blame for Pavia at Lannoy's feet and tried to explain why they had removed him from command. In the meanwhile, having secured themselves at Cremona, the Imperial army launched an offensive at Lodi - catching the French by surprise and retaking the town in preparation for a wider attack against Milan. King Francis reacted rapidly to these developments, having already dispatched Jean de la Palice and the Seigneur de Flourance southward with nearly 10,000 men to reinforce Albany, he sent his brother-in-law Charles d'Alencon with a force to reinforce the Governor of Milan, Louis II de la Trémoille, while he personally martialed further forces from the Swiss and received further reinforcements from France. The landscape between Lodi, Pavia and Milan quickly turned into a massive battlefield with skirmishes fought on a daily basis. The Imperial army eventually found itself ordered into position and marched towards Milan. The French forces under d'Alencon would counterattack, resulting in the Battle of Landriano. Neither side would prove particularly aggressive at Landriano, resulting in desultory clashes between cavalry detachments and cannon duels across the open fields. Charles de Bourbon eventually ordered an assault by the left wing of the army, commanded by de Levya, but they found themselves forced to retreat when de la Trémoille arrived north of the battlefield, boosting the numbers under the French to 25,000 - 5,000 more than were available to the Imperials. Bourbon was forced to retreat once more, returning to Lodi before abandoning the town once more for Cremona, having come to the same conclusion as Lannoy the year before (8).


Charles de Lannoy, Imperial Viceroy of Naples
On returning to Cremona, the Imperial army found itself beset by disastrous news from across the Alps. Germany was in flames and an army was invading Wurttemberg from the west, commanded by the former duke Ulrich, who was inflaming the peasant population and exploiting the chaos to reclaim his duchy from Emperor Charles. Georg Frundsberg was ordered to bring his army back across the Alps to help end the revolt while Pescara was ordered south to Naples and Bourbon and de Levya were ordered to do everything in their power to slow the French advance until the situation in Germany could be dealt with. Thus, Frundsberg's 12,000 men set off northward for Austria while Bourbon and de Levya began fortifying as many locations as possible (9). Fernando d'Avalos, Marquess of Pescara martialed a force of 1,000 cavalrymen and set off cross-country, raiding Veneto on his way south to Urbino, wherefrom he would reach Pesaro and take ship with his men for Naples. Charles de Bourbon would base himself out of the fortress city of Mantua while de Levya remained at Cremona, both retaining around 3,000 men in excess of their respective garrisons. These two forces would continually raid French supply lines and disrupt French attempts at consolidating their gains in the region. As Frundsberg's forces marched into Austria the Landsknechts who made up the force began deserting, running off to join in the peasants revolts which they had been detailed to defeat, thus by the time Frundsberg made it Tyrol he had lost almost half his force to desertion. These men would go on to bolster the ranks of the peasant bands in Austria, Tyrol and Bavaria (10).

Having received reinforcements from France numbering some 6,000, Francis was quick to detail his brother-in-law the Duke of Alencon and the young Count of Vaudémont, Louis de Lorraine, to lead the efforts in chipping away at Imperial bastions across northern Italy while he personally led some 14,000 men south to support the Duke of Albany and his other lieutenants in the conquest of Naples. As he passed through Florence, he was joined by Ippolito and Alessandro de' Medici and steadily made his way towards Rome. He moved swiftly against Siena, crushing the opponents of the pro-Medici Noveschi Party and placing a powerful French garrison within the city much to the displeasure of Pope Clement himself (11). Francis would arrive before the gates of Rome on the 16th of June 1525 to wild jubilation from the Roman mob, energized by the defeat of the Colonna faction within the city. It was while in Rome, negotiating terms with Pope Clement, that news would arrive of the Battle of Cassino which had brought the French advance to a standstill. The Battle of Cassino was fought between the forces under Charles de Lannoy and the Duke of Albany and came about as a result of the two forces' race southward. Having arrived at Avezzano and Froissone nearly simultaneously the two forces had run into each other at the crossroads at Cassino, near the Neapolitan border on the 10th of June 1525. Having arrived at Cassino an hour before the Imperials, the Duke of Albany had been caught by surprise when his marching column had come under sudden attack by Imperial outriders. He had quickly martialed his vanguard and rear guards, preventing a collapse in the center, but quickly found that his army had become bogged down in brutal hand-to-hand fighting while arquebusiers on either side blasted into the central morass with little regard for friend or foe. The Duke of Albany had led a charge into the central swirl of conflict but was wounded three times and was carried from the battlefield as his army began to retreat, only for Charles de Lannoy to launch into pursuit. It was at this moment of triumph that Charles de Lannoy's life came to an end. Having rushed forward across the rocky terrain, his horse stumbled and threw him, ending any plans for pursuit as he was carried to the surgeons. Charles de Lannoy, 1st Prince of Sulmona, Viceroy of Naples and one-time commander of the Imperial armies passed away during the night of the 11th, command being taken up by the recently arrived Pompeo Colonna (12).

Fernando d'Avalos landed at Pescara on the 15th of June, raising forces from his personal domains and the surrounding region, before learning of the death of Charles de Lannoy. He immediately set out to meet the forces assembled, but learned three days into his march of the Second Battle of Cassino. Having driven back the Duke of Albany, Pompeo Colonna had hoped to be able to fortify positions around the town and to hold off the French for long enough to draw up forces from Sicily and eventually Spain, where requests for reinforcements from Italy had prompted a significant transfer of forces from Navarre. What Pompeo had not planned for was the arrival of the Seigneur de Flourance who was able to take up command from the Duke of Albany immediately and launched the combined forces down the road at Cassino. Fierce fighting resulted, centered primarily along a recently dug trench across the Via Latina into Cassino, with the Spanish arquebusiers able to fire volleys into the advancing Swiss pikes with impunity until they were swept away by a bold charge led by the young Georges d'Amboise, only son of Charles d'Amboise - one-time French governor of Milan, who would see his star rise for the brave act (13). With the central roadway captured, Pompeo found himself forced to give ground, eventually abandoning the battlefield - leaving behind a sizable part of the Spanish army in Naples. As they retreated south towards Naples they shed men by the dozens and morale reached rock bottom. It was this bedraggled, demoralized and weakened army which the Marquess of Pescara met at Caserta. Cardinal Colonna immediately handed over command to Pescara, having lost the faith of the army commanders. Pescara would take over the military defense of Naples while Cardinal Colonna took up the Viceroyship of Naples until he could either be confirmed in the position or the Emperor appointed someone else. Thus, by early July 1525 Fernando d'Avalos, Marquess of Pescara found himself in command of a force numbering some 12,000 in total, facing a combined 40,000 men under Francis, Albany, Flourance, Montmorency and de la Palice, all of whom were bearing down on the ragged Neapolitans (14).


The Siege of Pavia ends in a French victory while the Imperial relief force are forced to abandon their plans to save the city.

French and Spanish commanders rush southward in a race to get to Naples first.

The Imperial command group split up, Frundsberg moving to Germany and Pescara to Naples while Bourbon and de Levya remain behind. The Battles of Cassino lead to the death of Charles de Lannoy and send the Spanish into retreat. Pescara takes up command of the Spanish army.


(1) This is the PoD for this Timeline. IOTL the reconnaissance party was attacked and a couple of its members were captured, but the majority made it to safety and informed the imperial command of the open woods in the area and the potential for an attack in the area. Without learning of these conditions and with the French forewarned, the Imperial position suddenly becomes much worse.

(2) The Battle of Pavia was an extraordinary victory which really required absolute surprise and knowledge that the forests around the Castle of Mirabella were open for it to succeed. It was an incredible gamble thought up by one of the best Spanish commanders of the period but without surprise or knowledge of the lay of the land, the Imperials simply aren't going to win a victory like they did IOTL. I hope that this result seems plausible. The effects of a butterflied Battle of Pavia are going to be enormous and I really look forward to exploring them in full. There are so many people who died as a result of the Battle of Pavia that it is actually quite incredible. I think that comparing it to Agincourt in terms of the damage done to the French nobility wouldn't be an exaggeration, it was probably worse in some ways. While some of these people are likely to perish anyway, they can now play a role in the TL.

(3) Francis is trying to come across as a gracious victor here, working to improve his standing with the north Italian cities. By offering such generous terms he is able to largely defuse the army opposing him and at the same time is able to show that he can be a benevolent overlord by not giving over Pavia to a sack.

(4) IOTL The Battle of Pavia forced the Duke of Albany to turn back from his goal of Naples, here he is able to continue his advance. Charles de Lannoy really comes across as a rather mediocre leader gets blamed for the failures at Pavia ITTL. When word reaches them of the actual numbers and condition of the French army at Pavia - this arrives with de Levya - Lannoy finds himself the sacrificial lamb put out to slaughter. He returns to his post as Viceroy of Naples but has been given a grievous blow to his prestige which he has to find a way of alleviating.

(5) I don't have a completely clear timeline on exactly where Pompeo Colonna was during and in the aftermath of the Battle of Pavia. He was in Brussels trying to negotiate a settlement between Francis and Charles in 1523, but seems to have left for Italy at some point after Francis' invasion of Italy. I am assuming that he arrived at Rome in time to counter the Duke of Albany's advance. Pompeo is the last surviving Colonna of his generation, his brother and cousin having died respectively in 1520 and in 1524. Until then they had absolutely dominated the Spanish leadership in Italy.

(6) IOTL the Duke of Albany failed in his attempted invasion of Naples mostly due to a lack of supplies and support in the region. This time around he is able to get support from the Medici Pope and the Orsini due to the news that Pavia had fallen into French hands. The Medici were always more disposed towards the French than the Spanish and usually only supported the Spanish when they were forced to or when the French became too overbearing.

(7) Francesco Maria della Rovere was the nephew of Pope Julius II and had gained the Duchy of Urbino and Lordship of Pesaro during his reign but lost both of these to Lorenzo II de' Medici when Pope Leo X, who happened to be Lorenzo's uncle, excommunicated della Rovere. Francesco Maria was able to retake Urbino after Lorenzo's death and became captain-general of Venice's forces in the region from 1523-1525 but was increasingly marginalized by the Medici Pope Clement VII. Here della Rovere betrays the French, Venetians and Medici in an effort to get back at them all. He was able to see which way things were going and hopes that by supporting the Spanish he will be able to gain a better position in the long run.

(8) The fighting in Lombardy has generally turned against the imperials by this point in time, with the threat to Naples and the larger French force proving too much for them to be really successful. The reason they don't just bunker down is that they need to prove that the removal of Lannoy was the right call and as such they are actively searching for a chance to defeat the French. Lodi had been abandoned by Lannoy the previous year due to its antique fortifications and poor defenses, both facts which still hold true here.

(9) IOTL Frundsberg marched north across the Alps with the arm that had just won the Battle of Pavia. ITTL the war in Germany is at least as dire as it was IOTL, and actually worse in many ways, and as a result the forces under Frundsberg are even more vital for the suppression of the revolt. This abandoning of Lombardy is painful but the conflict in Germany is considered existential and as such they are forced to weigh the two against each other. Lombardy can be reconquered, lose Germany and you won't have the forces to reconquer anything. The victory at Pavia came at precisely the right time IOTL for the Habsburgs to march their army north. Here they have been delayed quite a bit, have lost some men and do not have the morale booster of having won one of the greatest victories of the age.

(10) IOTL the soldiers marching north under Frundsberg experienced severe desertion rates, here without a victory to tide them over they find themselves marching back into the mountains they left through less than half a year earlier leaving defeat and disaster south of the Alps. That just isn't something you can just ignore. They as a result face even worse desertion rates this time around. It is down to the professionalism and charisma of Georg Frundsberg that an army makes it through the Alps at all.

(11) The Noveschi Party were driven into exile by the local Sienese in the aftermath of Pavia IOTL and the Spanish were the ones to bring order and place garrisons. Here the pro-Medici Noveschi Party stay in power but are forced to accept French support in putting down the rebellious populace. This allows Francis to leave a garrison behind, securing that Siena will remain pro-French no matter what happens.

(12) The death of Charles de Lannoy solves a great many problems long-term on the Imperial side, but also weakens them in the short term as we will see in the next section. Pompeo Colonna, to me at least, comes across as a mediocre commander but a gifted administrator and intriguer.

(13) Georges d'Amboise is one of many young nobles who died in the park at Pavia, here he is able to live on an continue his family's tradition for competence in Italy on behalf of the French. The Amboise family, both Georges' father Charles who was both Admiral and Marshal of France, as well as his grand-uncle Cardinal Georges d'Amboise, were central figures in the pre-Francis French administrations in Italy.

(14) Fernando d'Avalos, the Marquess of Pescara is probably one of the best Spanish generals of his generation but what follows will determine if he can cement that legacy. He was the OTL mastermind of the Battle of Pavia, but without those accolades this time around people are somewhat more skeptical of him.
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Also, unless my memory is faulty, otl Francis was captured at Pavia, and forced to send two of his sons-Francis and Henri-to serve as hostages. Also, I believe he had been forced to marry Eleanor of Austria, Charles' sister.

TTL, his two sons won't be hostages, and I think it possible the marriage won't happen either, and those two changes might have enormous repercussions years down the line.

So, possibly a different second marriage for Francis I, very different relationships with his two oldest sons, and the very distinct possibility that the son, Francis, might have lived to become King. Being a royal hostage had apparently scarred him emotionally...

A quote from Wikipedia on him...
" On 15 March 1526, the exchange took place at the border between Spain and France. The eight-year-old Dauphin and his younger brother Henry spent the next three years as captives of Charles V, a period that scarred them for life. The Dauphin's "somber, solitary tastes" and his preference for dressing in black (like a Spaniard) were attributed to the time he spent in captivity in Madrid. He also became bookish, preferring reading to soldiering.

It's also highly likely that Henri was also negatively affected by this too...
Also, unless my memory is faulty, otl Francis was captured at Pavia, and forced to send two of his sons-Francis and Henri-to serve as hostages. Also, I believe he had been forced to marry Eleanor of Austria, Charles' sister.

TTL, his two sons won't be hostages, and I think it possible the marriage won't happen either, and those two changes might have enormous repercussions years down the line.

So, possibly a different second marriage for Francis I, very different relationships with his two oldest sons, and the very distinct possibility that the son, Francis, might have lived to become King. Being a royal hostage had apparently scarred him emotionally...

A quote from Wikipedia on him...
" On 15 March 1526, the exchange took place at the border between Spain and France. The eight-year-old Dauphin and his younger brother Henry spent the next three years as captives of Charles V, a period that scarred them for life. The Dauphin's "somber, solitary tastes" and his preference for dressing in black (like a Spaniard) were attributed to the time he spent in captivity in Madrid. He also became bookish, preferring reading to soldiering.

It's also highly likely that Henri was also negatively affected by this too...

You are right about all of those, but you are missing a dozen other effects of the Battle of Pavia. I have honestly been stunned by quite how many different ways it influenced the course of human history. Francis and Henri will be both more mature, healthier and put together than OTL but the really big effects are going to be on the Imperial side of the fence.
This looks super interesting, and you're right that the butterflies for Pavia are enormous and really anything can happen at this point.
You are right about all of those, but you are missing a dozen other effects of the Battle of Pavia. I have honestly been stunned by quite how many different ways it influenced the course of human history. Francis and Henri will be both more mature, healthier and put together than OTL but the really big effects are going to be on the Imperial side of the fence.

Sadly, I know more about French History of this time than of the HRE...
Sadly, I know more about French History of this time than of the HRE...

French History is incredibly fascinating and one of my favorite topics, and my personal knowledge of the HRE prior to 1500 is also spotty at best, but with the reformation and power struggles between the Habsburgs and their subordinates it makes for a very compelling tale. Personally I am always utterly amazed at how successful Charles V was IOTL and how even with all of these successes he ended up absolutely drained of vitality. He is one of my favorite Holy Roman Emperors and cuts a quite fascinating contrast to men like Francis I, Henry VIII and Süleiman the Magnificent.
Update Two: Ulrich the Peasant
Hello everyone, this is a big update which really shakes up the board and sends everything careening in new directions. The focus for this update is the German Peasants' War which broke out in late 1524 and escalated into 1525, it was a defining moment of the period and shook things up immensely. There are a lot of butterflies from the lack of a Battle of Pavia which start hitting now and which start shifting things a lot. I can't wait to see what you think. I really hope you enjoy!

Ulrich the Peasant

Ulrich von Württemberg, Claimant Duke of Württemberg​

The year 1524 opened inauspiciously for the scientifically-minded: a conjunction of planets in Pisces suggested a terrible deluge to come. This had been much anticipated all over Europe over the previous few years, and triggered some 160 gloomy new tracts and almanacs. Although the weather was indeed obligingly bad in 1524, including a disastrous hailstorm in July, affecting most of Germany, the actual weather conditions were probably less significant than the widespread panic and dread caused beforehand by the astrological predictions, which only added to the febrile mood of European society, already sent into turmoil by popular Reformation and more than half a century of expectation of the Last Days. Encouraged by this unstable combination, social turbulence boiled over into the so-called "German Peasants’ War", Europe’s most massive and widespread popular uprising up till this point in history. Trouble started in summer 1524 in south-west Germany, which had known similar risings for more than two centuries, concerned with much the same unresolved issues: landlords’ efforts to impose financial and legal burdens on their tenant farmers, their Bauern. There were certain traditional understandings in such disturbances: the Bauer leaders of the disruption were generally the wealthy rural elite of their communities, the sort of responsible, self-reliant families from whom Luther and Zwingli and so many other clergy had come. Equally, there were well-established ways of negotiating some sort of deal before matters went too far, ranging from mediation by the princes and cities of the Empire to legislation in its variety of courts, right up to the central Reichskammergericht which the Emperor had established in 1495 (1).

The Reformation, however, injected an extra element of instability; all sides found it more difficult to play by the rules, particularly given the new excitement and bitterness against established authority generated in the years leading up to 1524. The tithe disputes, proliferating from the beginning of the 1520s, were infused with a new self-righteousness on the part of the protesters. Many landlords in renewed dispute in 1524–5 were rich monasteries, collegiate churches or cathedrals; this made the rhetoric of the Reformation a useful extra weapon for the protesters, but it was also a rhetoric much less in the control of village notables. For this reason, the stakes were fatally raised. Landlords were more defensive and intransigent than before; village leaders lost face when they failed to produce results in negotiations, and consequently more extreme spirits rushed in to take their place. Clashes flared all through the regions fringing the north of the Alps, and then in early 1525 trouble moved northwards in a broad band right across the Empire from Alsace to the borders of Bohemia. The Austrian lands to the east of the Alps, inspired by the exceptional leadership of Michael Gaismayr in the Tyrol, represented a new phase. Far to the east in Hungary, miners went on strike, furious at debasement of the kingdom’s coinage, but also inspired by preachers of religious reform. Hundreds of miles to the north, peasants in the Teutonic Knights’ territories in the kingdom of Poland rose in rebellion. Jews were among the victims of the uprisings, for they were traditionally seen as in league with the princes and the Church who protected them, part of the conspiracy to undermine peasant prosperity. Even where full-scale rebellion did not break out in northern Europe, crowds went on gleefully smashing religious images. The authorities in the reformed cities of Switzerland managed to contain violence within bounds much more effectively than elsewhere, but they watched their demonstrative radical inhabitants with increasing alarm, fearing greater trouble, and they became convinced that a coercive response was needed: hence Zürich’s drownings of Anabaptists in the Limmat (1).

During the 1524 harvest, in Stühlingen, south of the Black Forest, the Countess of Lupfen ordered serfs to collect snail shells for use as thread spools after a series of difficult harvests. Within days, 1,200 peasants had gathered, created a list of grievances, elected officers, and raised a banner. Within a few weeks most of southwestern Germany was in open revolt. The uprising stretched from the Black Forest, along the Rhine river, to Lake Constance, into the Swabian highlands, along the upper Danube river, and into Bavaria and the Tyrol. On the 6th of March 1525, some 50 representatives of the Upper Swabian Peasants Haufen, their name for individual peasant bands of widely varying sizes, —the Baltringer Haufen, the Allgäuer Haufen, and the Lake Constance Haufen - also known as the Seehaufen —met in Memmingen to agree a common cause against the Swabian League. One day later, after difficult negotiations, they proclaimed the establishment of the Christian Association, an Upper Swabian Peasants' Confederation. The peasants met again on 15 and 20 March in Memmingen and, after some additional deliberation, adopted the Twelve Articles and the Federal Order, the Bundesordnung. Their banner, the Bundschuh, a laced boot, served as the emblem of their agreement. The Twelve Articles were printed over 25,000 times in the next two months, and quickly spread throughout Germany, an example of how advances in printing came to the aid of the rebels. The Twelve Articles demanded the right for communities to elect and depose clergymen and demanded the utilization of the great tithe for public purposes after subtraction of a reasonable pastor's salary. The great tithe was assessed by the Catholic Church against the peasant's wheat crop and the peasant's vine crops and often amounted to more than 10% of the peasant's income. The Twelve Articles also demanded the abolition of the "small tithe" which was assessed against the peasant's other crops. Other demands of the Twelve Articles included the abolition of serfdom, death tolls, and the exclusion from fishing and hunting rights; restoration of the forests, pastures, and privileges withdrawn from the community and individual peasants by the nobility; and a restriction on excessive statute labor, taxes and rents. Finally, the Twelve Articles demanded an end to arbitrary justice and administration. Any hopes of crushing these uprisings before they spread farther were ended by the fact that the Imperial armies had crossed the Alps in 1524, leaving the Habsburgs with limited forces with which to counter the revolt (2).

Exploiting this chaotic situation was Ulrich von Württemberg, one-time Duke of Württemberg and perennial troublemaker for the Empire. Ulrich was born on the 8th of February 1487, with his mother dying in childbirth. His father, Henry, Count of Württemberg, was mentally deranged, likely as a result of his three-year imprisonment by Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy, and as a result was banished to Hohenurach Castle in the County of Urach, leaving Ulrich's only guardian to die when the boy was only nine years of age. He served the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in the war over the succession to the duchy of Bavaria-Landshut in 1504, receiving some additions to Württemberg as a reward; he accompanied Maximilian on his unfinished journey to Rome in 1508; and he marched with the imperial army into France in 1513. Meanwhile, in Württemberg Ulrich had become very unpopular. His extravagance had led to a large accumulation of debt, and his subjects were irritated by his oppressive methods of raising money. In 1514 an uprising under the name of Poor Conrad broke out, and was only suppressed after Ulrich had made important concessions to the estates in return for financial aid. The duke's relations with the Swabian League, an association of cities, principalities and knights primarily based in the stem duchy of Swabia, moreover, were very bad, and trouble soon came from another quarter also. In 1511 Ulrich had married Sabina, a daughter of Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria, and niece of the emperor Maximilian. The marriage was a very unhappy one, and having formed an affection for the wife of a knight named Hans von Hutten, a kinsman of Ulrich von Hutten, the duke killed Hans in 1515 during an altercation. Hutten's friends now joined the other elements of discontent. Fleeing from her husband, Sabina won the support of the emperor and of her brother William IV, Duke of Bavaria, and Ulrich was twice placed under the imperial ban. After the death of Maximilian in January 1519 the Swabian League interfered in the struggle, and Ulrich was driven from Württemberg, which was afterwards sold by the league to Emperor Charles V. Ulrich passed some time in Switzerland, France and Germany, occupied with brigand exploits and in service under Francis I of France; but he never lost sight of the possibility of recovering Württemberg and about 1523 he announced his conversion to the reformed faith. His opportunity came with the outbreak of the German Peasants' War. Posing as the friend of the lower orders and signing himself "Ulrich the Peasant", his former oppressions were forgotten and his return was anticipated with joy. Collecting men and money, mainly in France and Switzerland, he invaded Württemberg in February 1525, causing intense disruptions to the planned Habsburg response to the Peasants' War(3). Phillip von Hesse, Landgrave of Hesse was friendly with Ulrich and supported his reinstatement alongside many other protestant nobles, but even he found Ulrich's pandering to the rebels worrying.

In the spring of 1525 the revolt spread to Alsace and Lorraine. Under banners which proclaimed support for the holy Gospel, the word of God, and divine justice, the peasant bands seized Saverne, residence of the Bishop of Strasbourg, and set up their headquarters in the nearby abbey of Maursmünster. The Duke of Lorraine and his family were swift to act, martialing forces under the Duke, Antoine de Lorraine, and his younger brother Claude de Guise. The violence and swiftness of the campaign was terrifying. Saverne was invested by the Catholics on 15 May 1525; the following day peasant relief force was defeated at Lupstein and a second band marching over from the Palatinate met the same fate at Neuwiller. The besieged peasants surrendered on 16 May and marched out unarmed under a white flag of surrender, but in consequence of a dispute between nearby mercenaries and the peasants a fight broke out, leading to a mass slaughter of the peasants. In this action alone 18,000 were slain. On his triumphal return to Nancy, the duke defeated another peasant band at Scherwiller on 20 May. During the battle, Catholic hearts were emboldened by a number of miraculous visions. Guise was himself bathed in rays of sunlight, a halo, which, with his shining sword, made him appear, so it was said, as an ‘angel exterminator’. Following the campaign the brothers published an account which presented their deeds as a crusade undertaken by Christian knights. Since the first crusades God had chosen the House of Lorraine to defend the Catholic Church. Antoine and his brothers were fulfilling their historic mission; the peasants, having revolted against divinely instituted order, were compared to the Philistines. Propaganda was required to justify the scale of the blood-letting, for tales of the slaughter of women and children were soon current in Germany and the duke compared to Herod by Reformers. And there was suspicion that the ‘crusade’ had more to do with extension of political control over the fractured lordships of Alsace. Among those who agreed that the House of Lorraine was divinely inspired, however, were the Alsatian Jews, who feared lynching at the hands of the peasants. This would ultimately strengthen the hand of the Lorraine family and their cadet branches and provide a springboard with which the family would reach previously unimagined heights (4).


Peasants assault Ludwig V von Wittelsbach of the Palatine​

The period from the Signing of the Twelve Articles in early March until the end of the month had seen peasant bands rise around Lake Constance, in Upper Swabia, Franconia, Würzburg and the Neckar Valley. The Allgäu peasants of Upper Swabia captured the Kempten Abbey, plundering the abbey and moving on the town, which they captured before joining with other peasants from nearby Leipheim to capture the Imperial City of Ulm. A band of five companies, and approximately 25 citizens of Leipheim, assumed positions west of the town. League reconnaissance reported to the Truchsess that the peasants were well-armed. They had cannons with powder and shot and they numbered 3,000–4,000. They took an advantageous position on the east bank of the Biber. On the left stood a wood, and on their right, a stream and marshland; behind them, they had erected a wagon fortress, and they were armed with arquebuses and some light artillery pieces. Georg III Truchsess von Waldburg-Ziel (5), the only major commander available to the Imperial forces in the region, negotiated while he continued to move his troops into advantageous positions. Keeping the bulk of his army facing Leipheim, he dispatched detachments of horse from Hesse and Ulm across the Danube to Elchingen. The detached troops encountered a separate group of 1,200 peasants engaged in local requisitions, and entered into combat, dispersing them and taking 250 prisoners. At the same time, the Truchsess broke off his negotiations, and received a volley of fire from the main group of peasants. He dispatched a guard of light horse and a small group of foot soldiers against the fortified peasant position. This was followed by his main force; when the peasants saw the size of his main force—his entire force was 1,500 horse, 7,000 foot, and 18 field guns—they began an orderly retreat. Of the 4,000 or so peasants who had manned the fortified position, 2,000 were able to reach the town of Leipheim itself, taking their wounded with them in carts. Others sought to escape across the Danube, and 400 drowned there. The Truchsess' horse units cut down an additional 500. This was the first important battle of the war.

The defeat of the Leipheim Haufen would create breathing space for the Imperial forces to act against Ulrich von Württemberg, who had marched into his Duchy to wild acclaim, merging his force with the peasant Haufen of the region and in the process swelling his army massively. With the Truchsess perched to his south-east, Ulrich was swift to embark on a propaganda campaign, promising to accept all the demands laid out in the Twelve Articles. News of this noble endorsement for the Twelve Articles swept across Germany like wildfire provoking the further spread of the peasant rising, reaching into Thüringia and touching the borders of the Electorate of Saxony, where the Elector Friedrich lay dying - cursing the perfidy of monks and peasants alike. Truchsess moved against the nearby Bodensee Haufen and the remnants of the Allgäu Haufen, defeating them decisively at the Battle of Ravensburg on the 9th of April, having caught the bands by surprise as they laid siege to the town and successfully panicked them. The Truchsess' cavalry tore a bloody ruin through the peasants while the increasingly hardened infantry tore into the fleeing peasants with wild abandon. By the end of the day more than 8,000 lay dead on the field. It was in the aftermath of this bloody battle that news arrived of the twin Weisenberg and Neustadt Massacres. The peasants of Odenwald had already taken the Cistercian Monastery at Schöntal, and were joined by peasant bands from Limpurg, near Schwäbisch Hall, and Hohenlohe. A large band of peasants from the Neckar valley, under the leadership of Jack Rohrbach, joined them and from Neckarsulm, this expanded band, called the "Bright Band", marched to the town of Weinsberg, where the Count of Helfenstein (6), then the Austrian Governor of Württemberg, was present.

Here, the peasants achieved a major victory. The peasants assaulted and captured the castle of Weinsberg after learning of Ulrich von Württemberg's acceptance of the Twelve Articles; most of the castle's own soldiers being on duty in Italy, and as a result had little protection of its own. Having taken the count as their prisoner, the peasants took their revenge a step further: They forced him, and approximately 70 other nobles who had taken refuge with him, to run the gauntlet of pikes, a popular form of execution among the landsknechts. Rohrbach ordered the band's piper to play during the running of the gauntlet. This was too much for many of the peasant leaders of other bands; they repudiated Rohrbach's actions. He was deposed and replaced by a knight, Götz von Berlichingen, who was subsequently elected as supreme commander of the band. At the end of April, the band marched to Amorbach, joined on the way by some radical Odenwald peasants out for Berlichingen's blood. Berlichingen had been involved in the suppression of the Poor Conrad uprising 10 years earlier, and these peasants sought vengeance. In the course of their march, they burned down the Wildenburg castle, a contravention of the Articles of War to which the band had agreed (7).

The Neustad Massacre came about when Ludwig V, Elector Palatine suddenly found himself and his retinue surrounded by a band of 8,000 peasants in early April. In a bid to defuse the situation, well aware that he did not have the forces needed to defend himself, Ludwig decided to invite the leaders of the peasantry into Neustadt to negotiate terms, with plans to acquiesce to whatever they required - he could always repudiate the terms once the rebels dispersed. However, after the peasant leaders had entered Neustad the band began to feel restless. The peasant leaders had decided to leave behind one of their more volatile lieutenants, worried that his participation in the negotiations might enflame the issues further, but had not prepared for what would happen if the meeting went late. When the negotiations dragged on over the specifics of the deal, the Elector offered to send a messenger to the surrounding band to let them know that their leaders would be late in returning and calming any worries, but when the messenger arrived it had the opposite effect. The lieutenant immediately claimed that their leaders had been taken hostage and ordered the band to assault Neustadt. The guards were caught by surprise and overcome by the sudden assault, which was followed by a general massacre of the populace. Ludwig V was killed while trying to escape Neustadt and the lieutenant found himself blamed for the disaster and removed from his position (8).

The massacres at Weinsberg and Neustad proved too much for Luther; these were the deeds that drew his ire in Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants in which he castigated peasants for unspeakable crimes, not only for the murder of the nobles at Weinsberg, but also for the impertinence of their revolt. Martin Luther’s response to the two years of mayhem consisted of a grim and categorical endorsement of the revenge meted out by God’s magistrates on earth. In April 1525 he had published An Admonition to Peace, directed at peasants and rulers alike, but only a month later, as the peasant armies advanced into Saxony amid the still spreading breakdown of law and order, he republished his tract with a furious appendix, entitled Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants. The text of Romans 13:1 sounded a tocsin throughout his biting prose, and it was given a murderous edge that did not appear in Paul’s original text: ‘Let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel.’ Even at the time, respectable folk who were no rebels found Luther’s words repellent. The Mayor of Zwickau, who had plenty of experience of popular tumult at first hand, wrote to one of his town colleagues that he could not regard the pamphlet as a theological work, calling as it did ‘for the private and public murder of the peasants’. ‘Is the devil, and those who do this, to be our Lord God?’, he asked with despairing sarcasm. Luther the champion of the ordinary Christian had been transformed into an apologist for official savagery, for two reasons: his deep disappointment at the untrammeled course of evangelical Reformation, and his uneasy and unspoken knowledge that without his Reformation the events of 1524– 5 would never have happened. His own ideas had fueled the fire. It suited him at the time and would suit varied interest-groups afterwards to portray the Peasants’ War as the work of radical fanatics, alien to the true spirit of the Reformations of the mainstream leaders. It is true that very many leaders of radical groups in later years did first spring to prominence in 1524– 5: one could point to Balthasar Hubmaier, Jakob Hutter, Melchior Rinck, Hans Hut, Hans Denck. Yet they were radicalized by the experience of the 1525 defeat rather than shaping the peasants’ proceedings with their radicalism (9).

Two weeks after the publishing of his apppendix, Luther left to tour southern Electoral Saxony in an effort to enliven the guards holding back the "Robbing and Murdering Hordes". News of the Battles of Ravensburg and Leipheim caused outrage among the peasantry of Thüringia and Saxony, resulting in the emergence of rebels in the region. With the Elector on his deathbed, it was left to his brother, Johann von Wettin to take up command while his rival and cousin Georg von Wettin, the Duke of Saxony martialed forces to repel the oncoming peasant armies. It was for these reasons that Martin Luther was in the small town of Saalfeld where he worked to strengthen the nerve of the forces assembling to fight against the peasants. While there he engaged in fierce denunciations of the revolt and entreated the soldiers to butcher the peasant hordes, once again returning the text of Romans 13:1. It was this harangue which convinced one of the listeners to act, engaging in the first act of assassination of the Reformation. This soldier came from Zwickau and had listened to the entreaties of the Prophets of Zwickau with ecstatic fervor, when Luther drove them from the town he was left devastated. He joined the town guard soon after and was in time dispatched to the gathering army. As he listened to Luther call for the murder of those he admired, the soldier found that he had heard enough. Drawing a dagger he fell on the man who had instigated it all with ferocity, stabbing him half a dozen times before his comrades dragged him from the wounded reformer, who in a rage cut the assassin to pieces. Martin Luther was taken to the town hall in Saalfeld and a doctor was called for but Martin Luther, Instigator of the Reformation, would breathe his last before the man could arrive to attend him. Reportedly his last words were "What travails God gives us" (10). Martin Luther's assassination sent shockwaves through Europe and left much in the air. Previously skeptical Lutherans who had decided to stay out of the conflict were mobilized while those already involved found themselves enflamed with rage at the action. Among Catholics, particularly outside of Germany, it lead to wild celebration as the news spread while others bemoaned the loss of a great man. Martin Luther's legacy would prove decidedly mixed and his life would find itself examined time and time again as people tried to understand what drove the man who overthrew the Catholic Church and provoked a popular rising like no other. In the immediate aftermath of Luther's death, Protestants like the exiled King Christian II of Denmark and the newly ascended Elector Palatine, Friedrich II von Wittelsbach exploded with outrage and a renewed deadly determination to suppress the revolts.


Georg III Truchsess von Waldburg-Zeil​

From February till May, Ulrich worked to consolidate his grip on Württemberg and began negotiating with the various Haufen which had emerged in the region. Freiburg, which was a Habsburg territory, had considerable trouble raising enough conscripts to fight the peasants, and when the city did manage to put a column together and marched out to meet them, the peasants simply melted into the forest. After the refusal by the Margrave of Baden-Durlach, Ernst I von Zähringen, to accept the 12 Articles, peasants attacked abbeys in the Black Forest. It was the band around Freiburg, under the command of Hans Müller, who Ulrich initially began negotiations with - offering support in capturing the minor territory and thereby removed another Habsburg controlled area to his rear. This led to the dispatching of a group of Imperial Knights and around 500 of Ulrich's mercenaries to serve under Hans Müller, resulting in the speedy capture of Freiburg. Margrave Ernest moved against this smaller force with everything he could bring to bear against Freiburg - resulting in the Battle of Emmendingen where he was caught by surprise when peasants warned Müller of the Badener force advancing on his position. Hans Müller and the Swiss mercenaries blocked the route to Freiburg, presenting an impenetrable wall of pikes, whereupon the lighter armed peasants attacked the flanks of the Badener force and overran their positions. In the chaos that followed Ernest and his eldest son were pulled from their horses and butchered, leaving the Margraviate to Ernest's young second son Bernhard - aged only eight years of age and in the tender care of his uncles the Margraves of Baden-Baden and Baden-Sponheim (11).

Ernest's brothers quickly roused themselves marched against Hans Müller and his army. Ulrich, in the meanwhile, also moved eastward, strengthening his grip on the region - most importantly securing Stuttgart and its environs. During May, Ulrich found himself inundated by outraged nobles from across the Empire who blamed him for the excesses which occurred during the month. The Weinsberg Massacre, occurring just north of Stuttgart, and the murder of the governor of Württemberg left many convinced that Ulrich had ordered the assault. This perception was worsened significantly when the Bright Band marched south to join with Ulrich's forces around Stuttgart. While Ulrich loudly tried to distance himself from the massacre, he was unable to deny the benefits of bringing the band into his force (12). News of Weinsberg and Ulrich von Württemberg's culpability in the death of Ernest von Zähringen significantly strengthened the Truchsess' hand in his efforts to bring the Bavarian Wittelsbach Dukes, Ludwig V and Wilhelm IV, and their ally the Archbishop of Salzburg to bear against Ulrich. The two dukes and the archbishop were joined by Truchcess in marching into southern Bavaria, just west of Salzburg near Rosenheim, where the four successfully cornered the region's peasant band and crushed them - resulting in more than 10,000 dead on the field. This reopened the route to Austria where Archduke Ferdinand von Habsburg had personally led a force in suppressing rebelling miners near Linz and revolting peasants in the Tyrol, where he was joined by Georg Frundsberg and his 6,000 men.

Frundsberg's arrival in the Tyrol brought vital veteran reinforcements to an overstretched Habsburg force and allowed the Habsburgs to finally field a force large enough to tackle Ulrich von Württemberg head on. Marching west from Linz with a force numbering around 12,000, half of them made up of Frundsberg's veterans, Archduke Ferdinand met up with the two Wittelsbach dukes, the Truchsess and the Archbishop of Salzburg at Munich. Here they successfully combined their forces, numbering almost 22,000 by the time they set out for Stuttgart with the intension of crushing all peasant opposition before them and to bring Ulrich to justice (13). Ulrich von Württemberg in the meanwhile began mustering his own forces, numbering some 8,000 mercenaries and almost 35,000 peasants from a vast conglomeration of Peasant Haufen from across Swabia (14). It was as he was setting out from Stuttgart in a bid to meet and defeat the advancing Habsburg army that he learned of the defeat experienced by Hans Müller to the west. The Battle of Neubulach saw the Haufen and mercenaries serving under Hans Müller attacked and destroyed in detail by the combined armies of the Margraves of Baden, leaving almost 200 Swiss to surrender and more than 5,000 peasants butchered in the field, amongst them Hans Müller himself, while another 5,000 scattered into the Black Forest. This news greatly disheartened Ulrich, who found himself in a race against time before he would find himself trapped between the Badener and Habsburg armies advancing on his position.

The first clash between the Württemberg and Habsburg armies occurred south of Ulm at Ehingen, on the Danube, when the Truchsess forced the ford in the face of fierce peasant resistance. More than a thousand peasants were killed in the fighting, with almost twice that driven into retreat, opening a path across the Danube to the Habsburgs who crossed over the river on the 13th of June. Skirmishes ensued over the next three days around Mehrstetten as the two armies neared each other, largely in the Habsburgs favor before the main armies closed to within a day's march of each other near the town of Münsingen. Basing themselves out of the small village of Böttingen east of Münsingen, the Habsburgs arrayed themselves along the hill on which Böttingen was located while to the west Ulrich based himself out of Münsingen.

The battle began with a cannonade, with the Habsburgs swiftly emerging ascendant due to their larger and more professional artillery train. This forced Ulrich to launch his army up the Böttingen hill, straight into the teeth of the veteran Landsknechts under Frundsberg, while he launched his cavalry in a wide assault on the right, hoping to engulf the flank and rear of the Habsburgs. As more and more peasants made their way up the hill, the slopes increasingly turned to mud from the blood and offal. This pushed the peasants towards the wings where less experienced Imperial levies had been martialed, steadily driving them backwards. It was at this point that Ulrich sent in his Swiss mercenaries against the center, leaving the Habsburg positions in peril. The cavalry charge was stymied by the Dukes of Bavaria, who found themselves mired in intense fighting against Ulrich's cavalry, while Truchsess launched a cavalry charge into the right wing of the advancing peasant army. This meant that there were few reserves left available when Ulrich committed his mercenaries, forcing Ferdinand to take to the field in person - wading into the central melee and laying about himself with wild abandon. Truchsess' assault began to create panic on the Württemberger left, with the peasants splintering under the fierce charges. Ulrich launched a countercharge against Truchsess, forcing a stalemate on the left. The central grind in the center continued unabated, with Ferdinand eventually ordering Frundsberg to advance, hoping to exploit the muddy slope and higher positioning to drive the Swiss back. This push of pike occurred in the third hour of the melee and succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, splintering and breaking the Swiss formation and sending hundreds of men tumbling down the incline. However, this charge had pulled the Landsknechts out of formation, forcing them to resort to their massive Zweihander swords and a more open and disordered formation. It was in this chaotic phase of the fighting that Ferdinand was lost, unbeknownst to anyone else in the field. Ulrich suddenly found himself engulfed by a panicked wave of fleeing peasants, having broken during the central push of pike, and Ulrich was struck from his horse. Word quickly began to spread amongst the Württembergers that Ulrich had fallen, resulting in a general collapse of morale. The tired Habsburg forces summoned the last remnants of their strength and launched themselves in pursuit, riding down Swiss mercenary, Swabian knight and peasants alike - butchering any they came across. Tens of thousands were lost, leaving their corpses to fertilize the fields and valleys of the region alike (15).

Archduke Ferdinand von Habsburg was discovered amongst the corpses on Böttingen Hill three days after the battle, on the 18th of June, having stumbled in the charge down the hill and been crushed in the press. His body was washed and cleaned, eventually being conducted to Vienna where he would be buried in the Habsburg family crypts with great honor (16). In the aftermath of the Battle of Böttingberg, the Truchsess, having been given command of the Habsburg forces while Frundsberg conducted Ferdinand's return to Vienna, launched a bloody purge of the region. Villages suspected of supporting the haufen found themselves attacked and brutalized, while surviving leaders rebel commanders, amongst others the gravely wounded Ulrich von Württemberg, found themselves tried and executed without mercy. Ulrich's trail was significant in that it would see even his own family disown him. His decision to sign the Twelve Articles under the name "Ulrich the Peasant" and public conversion were used to justify his burning at the stake as a heretic. Dozens of other haufen leaders would suffer a similar fate while hundreds more found themselves summarily executed. The horrific carnage at Böttingberg would be immortalized in song and art over the next half dozen years as a symbol of nobility's victory over the base (17) and was considered by many to be the end of the southern half of the Great Peasants' War, the following months being taken up with minor skirmishes and massacres by Truchsess. In the meantime, to the north, a cross-devotional league of princes banded together at the same time to put down the rebellious Franconia, Thüringian, Rhineland and Saxon peasants who terrorized the nobility of the region.


Coat of Arms of the Swabian League
Thomas Müntzer was the most prominent radical reforming preacher who supported the demands of the peasantry, including political and legal rights. Müntzer’s theology had been developed against a background of social upheaval and widespread religious doubt, and his call for a new world order fused with the political and social demands of the peasantry. In the final weeks of 1524 and the beginning of 1525, Müntzer travelled into south-west Germany, where the peasant armies were gathering; here he would have had contact with some of their leaders, and it is argued that he also influenced the formulation of their demands. He spent several weeks in the Klettgau area, and there is some evidence to suggest that he helped the peasants to formulate their grievances. While the famous Twelve Articles of the Swabian peasants were not composed by Müntzer, at least one important supporting document, the Constitutional Draft, may well have originated with him. Returning to Saxony and Thuringia in early 1525, he assisted in the organization of the various rebel groups there. The peasant uprisings in Thüringia, East Hesse and Saxony began later than those in Swabia and Franconia. Two bands from Allstedt and Mühlhausen combined to form an "Eternal Alliance with God" under the leadership of Heinrich Pfeiffer and Thomas Müntzer. The band could count on the direct support within a ten-mile radius to begin with but its influence reached much further afield, into Franconia and Saxony. A further group known as the Werra Band formed south of the Eisenach under the command of Hans Sippel. These were among the most revolutionary bands in Germany with the Werra Band focusing on Hesse while the Mülhausen band marched towards Saxony (18).

Landgrave Philip von Hesse found himself extremely focused on the course of events in southern and western Germany with his old friend Ulrich von Württemberg allying with the peasants while the Elector Palatine was butchered by his own subjects. Thus, when Philip martialed his forces it was to counter the rebels who were spreading rapidly up the Rhine. Joining Philip was the exiled King Christian II von Oldenburg, claimant to the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish thrones, as well as Friedrich II von Wittelsbach, the newly ascended Elector Palatine who was determined to avenge the death of his brother Ludwig. Christian II would be the man who took up leadership of the war for the northern half of the German Peasants' War, setting out from the Low Countries with what forces could be spared, having left behind his wife Isabella von Habsburg and three children (19). On going into exile, Christian and Isabella had set out to travel across Germany in an attempt to gain support for Christian's restoration to the throne, Isabella negotiating with her brothers the Emperor Charles and Archduke Ferdinand while accompanying her husband on his travels. They visited Saxony in 1523 and Berlin in 1524, during which Isabella and Christian became interested in the teachings of Luther and the goals of the emerging reformation. In 1524, while visiting Nürnberg, she received communion to the outrage of her brothers who were determined that she hide her views out of political necessity. In the spring of 1525, as Germany erupted in flames, Isabella caught a serious illness which forced her to remain behind when Christian set out. This illness would last through the summer before she slowly recovered, being brought to her aunt, the Regent of the Low Countries, Margaret von Habsburg of Austria, the former Duchess of Savoy, at her court at Mechelen. Isabella would convalesce at Mechelen while her children were cared for by Margeret, recovering by early 1526 (20).

Christian was met by Friedrich and Philip at Limburg, wherefrom they launched their collective force of 15,000 south towards Mainz. At Mainz, the Archbishop joined the force in person for the march south. They eventually ran into a massive peasant army around Heppenheim which they demolished over the course of a week, leaving more than 20,000 dead in the field and the surrounding villages pillaged and burned in retaliation. While Friedrich and Archbishop Albrecht remained behind to crush the remnants of the revolt with 5,000 men, Christian and Philip set out eastward in an effort to crush the Werra Band which had marched into Hesse in May. The two forces eventually ran headlong into each other at Alsfeld where the Werra Band was utterly broken and scattered by fierce charges before marching towards Saxony where events had taken a turn for the worse (21).

In the meanwhile, at the beginning of May Duke Georg von Wettin of Saxony had attempted to pull together an army at Leipzig but his recruitment officers failed miserable. The duke had to take on mercenaries at short notice from Dresden, Pirma, Meissen, Hain and Chemnitz, Oschatz and Röchlitz but even so his force compromised no more than 800 horse and 1,000 foot. Georg had pinned his hopes on other princes but was only able to gain support from the Elector of Brandenburg, who offered a contingent of some 2,000 men. Duke Georg advanced in the early hours of the 15th of May to a position just outside Frankenhausen, leaving around 1,000 cavalry and 2,500 foot to face more than 8,000 peasants. The peasant band formed up in a wagon fort with hook-guns and light artillery on a hill near the town of Hausberg, bombarding the advancing Saxons with their artillery. Georg dismissed any thought of negotiation and launched a frontal assault on the wagon fort, expecting the peasants to break like they had on so many other occasions during the conflict. The Saxons charged up the hill into an intense barrage of grapple, cannon and gun fire. The intensity of the artillery fire broke up the Saxon assault whereupon the peasants under Heinrich Pfeiffer charged out of the wagon fort, tearing into the Saxons with wild abandon. Duke Georg charged into the melee with the cavalry contingent, laying about himself with his sword and ripping into the peasants, but soon found himself the target of a hail of gun shot. Blown from his horse, Georg von Wettin was killed when a peasant soldier stuck a dagger in his eye. Georg's army collapsed soon after, the mercenaries giving it up for a bad job, and fled. In the aftermath of the Battle of Frankhausen, Thomas Müntzer and Heinrich Pfeiffer's peasant band grew rapidly in strength, drawing on the North Thüringian peasantry, threatening western Saxony from north to south (22). Luther's tract against Against the Theiving and Murdering Hordes was published the same day as the Battle of Frankenhausen, and it was partly due to the defeat at Frankenhausen that Luther travelled to Saalfeld where he eventually met his doom. In the meanwhile, Elector Johann von Wettin martialed what forces were available to him and prayed that Christian II and Phillip von Hesse would arrive in time to save him.


The German Peasants' War erupts across southern and central Germany. Ulrich von Württemberg exploits and increases the chaos by invading Swabia with an army of mercenaries. Revolts in Alsace are put down with extreme prejudice by the Lorraine family.

The Truchsess takes up command for the Habsburgs and crushes revolts where possible, avoiding battle with Ulrich. The Neustad and Weinsberg Massacres horrify Germany and provoke Luther to denounce the rebels. Martin Luther is assassinated by a radical reformed soldier in Saalfeld.

Ulrich supports rebels against the Margraves of Baden, leading to the death of Ernest of Baden while he martials his forces. Truchsess supports the Bavarians against rebels before being joined by Ferdinand von Habsburg. The Battle of Böttingberg results in the capture and execution of Ulrich von Württemberg and the death in battle of Archduke Ferdinand von Habsburg.

In Hesse, Thüringia and Saxony Thomas Müntzer emerges as a central leader. While peasant revolts in Hesse and along the Rhine are crushed, Müntzer and his followers prove victorious at Frankenhausen, resulting the death of Duke Georg von Wettin of Saxony. Forces opposed to Müntzer move to counter his success soon after.


(1) This is all basically from OTL. The German Peasants' War is an interesting instance of popular insurrection run amok. It would take until the French Revolution of 1789 before similar numbers would find themselves mobilizing in opposition to a state regime. At the time it was an unparalleled slaughter which utterly horrified the nobility and turned elites across Europe firmly against these more populist forms of the reformation. It was in the aftermath of the German Peasants' War that you saw the first major nobles begin converting, starting with the Duke of Prussia, and the institution of the princely churches which would dominate Lutheranism. It would take nearly thirty years before similar popular religious zeal gripped the populace again IOTL, leading to the various Reformed Churches of Calvin and his compatriots. A similar dynamic will play out ITTL, though with significant differences in exactly what the various protestant churches end up looking like.

(2) This is all OTL. The German peasants of the conflict were split into various Haufen - basically armed bands - and varied greatly in size from a few dozen to several tens of thousands. These Twelve Articles were not followed by all the Haufen, but served quite well as a single collective document. The peasants who joined the Haufen came from a range of different backgrounds but experienced a general lack of discipline and access to proper armaments, with the result that when proper force could be brought to bear they had a difficult time opposing it.

(3) Everything up till this point is basically OTL. Ulrich's army was made up largely of Swiss Mercenaries payed for by King Francis, thus following his capture at Pavia IOTL, Ulrich's army disintegrated as the various mercenaries left his service. ITTL Francis is still in the field and continues to pay for Ulrich's army, thus allowing him to properly take advantage of the chaos caused by the German Peasants' War. His decision to sign as "Ulrich the Peasant" is all OTL and caused quite a bit of acrimony, but because his army collapsed he never quite went as far as cooperating with the Peasants. ITTL the situation is somewhat different.

(4) This is all OTL. The Lorraine family and their cadet branches were descended from the Angevin branch of the Valois, begun by Louis I d'Anjou, son of Jean II le Bon Valois who reigned in the mid-14th century, and the House of Lorraine through the Vaudémont branch of that family. They held claims to the Kingdoms of Naples and Jerusalem as well as to the Latin Empire of Constantinople and had a long tradition for crusading actions. They were one of the oldest and most prestigious dynasties in Europe and boasted an impressive pedigree. This caused them quite a bit of trouble both IOTL and ITTL because they proved difficult to handle for the Kings of France. Louis XII was reluctant to take any of them with him during his multiple invasions of Italy because his claim to Naples was worse than theirs, while Francis was fastidious about keeping the men of the House of Lorraine outside of southern Italy.

(5) Georg III Truchsess von Waldburg-Zeil was a member of the House of Waldburg, which would receive through him in 1525 the hereditary title of Truchsess (Seneschal, or Steward, in English) of the Holy Roman Empire and the right to put it in their family name. He had served Duke Ulrich von Württemberg since 1508 and helped him crush the Poor Conrad rebellion. In 1516 he fought for Bavaria alongside Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor in Italy against France and their allies. In the next years he was in the service of the Swabian League and chased his former employer, Ulrich von Württemberg out of Württemberg. In 1525 he succeeded his cousin Wilhelm as governor of Württemberg. Both would eventually receive the hereditary title "Reichserbtruchsess" from the hands of Emperor Charles V on 27 July 1526 in Toledo. Georg became infamous IOTL as Bauernjörg for his harsh and pitiless actions against the rebellious peasants in the German Peasants' War. When the German peasants revolted in 1525, most Imperial troops were fighting in Italy. Georg von Waldburg could only recruit 4,000 unreliable Landsknechts and could do nothing more than to negotiate with the peasants. But IOTL after the victory against France in the Battle of Pavia, many war veterans returned to Southern Germany and were enlisted by Waldburg.

(6) Louis von Helfenstein, the Count of Helfenstein, was married to Margaret von Helfenstein, a bastard daughter of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. This makes Louis von Helfenstein the Emperor's uncle-by-marriage and as such his murder is of extreme consequence. Margaret was captured by the Peasants and IOTL eventually liberated by the princes.

(7) This is all OTL. The Weinsberg Massacre is a clear example of the double-sided nature of the atrocities committed by both sides during the conflict and shocked Europe for its excesses.

(8) This Massacre is from TTL and probably constitutes a second minor PoD rather than a butterfly. Ludwig V was surrounded by a band of peasants 8,000 strong IOTL and decided to negotiate with them. IOTL he acquiesced to all their demands and the peasants dispersed, here they leave behind one of the more troublesome peasant leaders and he overreacts. This is the first significant noble beyond the Count of Helfenstein to die in the struggle, importantly this is an Elector which causes even further outrage and turns the Palatinate and Hesse firmly against the peasants.

(9) Martin Luther really reached a nadir in popularity at around this point in time with the princes convinced that Luther was a radical while the peasants were left feeling deeply betrayed by Luther's calls for their murder. This is really going to come back to bite him ITTL and has several immediate effects which result in one of the first major butterflies of the TL.

(10) Martin Luther actually undertook this trip IOTL as well, inspecting defensive works and raising morale. Here, with the slightly more acrimonious tenor caused by the Neustadt Massacre he is a bit more vicious in his attacks and provokes one of the soldiers listening. Martin Luther's death in 1525 is of course an immense butterfly and will fundamentally change the course of the Reformation. His death at this point in time, at his lowest point in popularity with both nobility and peasantry, leads to a fundamental shift in peoples' understanding of the reformation and a wish to distance themselves from his preaching in some cases.

(11) Ernest von Zähringen was the founder of the Ernestine line of Baden Margraves while his older brother Bernhard founded the Bernardine line IOTL. The middle brother, Phillip, died IOTL without issue - the resultant lands being split between his brothers. Here Ernest predeceases his brother and leaves his young son (who also succeeded him IOTL) in the care of his uncles who are quick to take up the regency.

(12) IOTL Ulrich loudly denounced the peasant haufens the moment his army collapsed into disarray. Here the situation is more troublesome for him - with the Habsburgs massing to the east he can't turn away more hands willing to fight. This means a tacit acceptance of the Weinsberg Massacre and largely discredits him with the rest of the German nobility. In Italy, Francis finds himself months behind on the news regarding events in Germany and as such makes no move to break relations with Ulrich. This leaves Francis open to accusations of supporting the overthrow of the nobility and radical reformism, an accusation which can prove particularly damaging under the right circumstances no matter how ludicrous.

(13) IOTL Truchsess did not need to hold back for fear of being overcome by Ulrich, and as such was able to rush from one band haufen to another, crushing them one by one. IOTL Ferdinand remained in Austria to put down the rebels there, while the Bavarian dukes and the Archbishop of Salzburg eventually mustered the forces required to crush the Bavarian peasant haufen. IOTL the Bavarian peasants were actually among the last haufen in the region to be put down, but here Ulrich's presence forces Truchsess to prioritize martialing a larger force and leads to Habsburg support in Bavaria.

(14) While these numbers are massive, particularly the peasant numbers are not out of reach. Ulrich is able to gather together almost all of the peasant bands in the region and give them some proper military training. The mercenaries are largely payed for by Ulrich's various backers - most importantly the King of France - but he also received funds secretly from a conglomeration of family relations and protestant allies in northern Germany, all of whom come to regret this decision. The Habsburg army consists of 6,000 veteran landsknechts under Frundsberg, around an equal number of Austrian knights, mercenaries and levies brought by Ferdinand - based on his OTL forces - with 4,000 under Truchsess and the Bavarians and Salzburg providing 6,000 men as well. The presence of a large artillery train is thanks to Ferdinand bringing with him the Austrian cannons which were being prepared for service in Italy.

(15) The vast majority of the losses come from the large peasant force but most of the swiss mercenaries are also butchered out of hand. Most of these mercenaries come from the north-western Swiss cantons, particularly Basel and Berne. These losses damage those cantons significantly, but they remain strong enough to at least partially maintain the balance of power in the Swiss Alps.

(16) This is yet another major butterfly and is primarily caused by Ulrich von Württemberg's continued campaign in Swabia. IOTL Ferdinand remained in Austria putting down numerous revolts across the region, but here the leadership role played by Ulrich and his challenge of Habsburg control over Württemberg forced the 22-year old Archduke to intervene directly. His death is an immense blow to Charles and the Empire as a whole. It was Ferdinand's marriage to Anna of Bohemia-Hungary who ensured the Habsburg-Jagiellon alliance and at this point his death leaves Charles as the only remaining male Habsburg alive. This raises the profile of his sisters and their children significantly and means that Charles simply does not have any time to wait before he marries. This closes down the possibility of his planned for match to Mary Tudor and means he has to look elsewhere at a critical point in time. IOTL the abandoning of his betrothal to Mary Tudor was a significant part of what turned Henry VIII against the Empire and in favor of the French during the League of Cognac.

(17) The treatment of the populace in Swabia and particularly in Württemberg is particularly harsh, even worse than in OTL. It is used, at least in part, by the Habsburgs to strengthen their grip on the region. Many of the knights who joined Ulrich are killed out of hand and find their families dispossessed, with better known and loyal Austrians and Tyrolese nobles receiving quite a large part of the land which opens up. The rest of the lands are kept by the Habsburgs and placed under loyal managers, providing an immensely profitable source of income to the family in time.

(18) This is all basically OTL.

(19) This is one of the major divergences provoked by Ludwig V's death at Neustad. The elevated nature of Ludwig's position and his close ties with most of the nobility in the region, coupled to the increased numbers of peasants rising up following Neustad, all mean that the upper Rhine becomes a primary theatre of the conflict and the focus of a large coalition. Importantly this brings Christian II to prominence in Germany, allowing him to build friendly relations with several key players in the Empire, but it also serves to draw Phillip von Hesse and Albrecht von Hohenzollern westward and away from the conflict with Müntzer in Saxony with devastating consequences.

(20) Isabella von Habsburg's death in early 1526 IOTL was a devastating blow to Christian II and his children's position in the Empire. Following her death they were basically exiled to a minor town in what is today central Belgium. Her survival is vital because it allows her to continue advocating for her husband and children as well as allowing her to play an active part in the Habsburg family venture. She is noted both for her Reformism, which ITTL will undergo quite a number of changes following Luther's death, and for both her beauty and intellect. Both her daughters were considered among the greatest beauties of their generation and particularly Christina was considered one of the most formidable women of the period. This in a field contested by Roxelana, Catherine de' Medici, Queens Elizabeth and Mary as well as a host of others.

(21) These victories largely end the threat to Hesse and western Germany as a whole, bringing immense prestige to both Christian II and Phillip of Hesse.

(22) Without the forces provided by Albrecht and Phillip IOTL and without the skilled leadership of Phillip von Hesse which was available IOTL, the Saxon forces at Frankenhausen experience disaster. There are numerous effects of this. Importantly this leaves Georg's son Johann to succeed and strengthens the power of Georg's brother Heinrich significantly. This is also what actually creates the opening which led to Luther's death. We are now entering the final stage of the German Peasants' War, with Saxony at the mercy of Thomas Müntzer and Heinrich Pfeiffer while Christian and Phillip race to the rescue.
Good update, @Zulfurium. Yeah, there is going to be a very different Europe and world after these events, methinks...

Interested in how and waiting for more, of course...
Huh, I would have thought killing off both Martin Luther and Emperor Ferdinand would have had a bit more of a response :p

Seriously, what do people think? What effects do you guys think it will have/should have?

I would love some comments so I can see if I am hitting the right notes, what should get more coverage, what less etc.