Schmalkaldic League (English: /ʃmɔːlˈkɔːldɪk/); was a
defensive military alliance of Lutheran princes within the Holy Roman
Empire during the mid-16th century. Although originally started for
religious motives soon after the start of the Reformation, its members
eventually intended for the League to replace the
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire as
their source of political allegiance. While it was not the first
alliance of its kind, unlike previous formations, such as the League
of Torgau, the
Schmalkaldic League had a substantial military to
defend its political and religious interests. It received its name
from the town of Schmalkalden, which is located in modern Thuringia.
1 Origins and members
3 The Schmalkaldic War
7 External links
Origins and members
Portrait of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse
The League was officially established on 27 February 1531, by
Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, and John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony,
the two most powerful Protestant rulers at the time. It originated
as a defensive religious alliance, with the members pledging to defend
each other should their territories be attacked by Charles V, the Holy
Roman Emperor. At the insistence of the Elector of Saxony, membership
was conditional on agreement to the Lutheran
Augsburg or Tetrapolitan
Confessions. This solidified the dominance of
Lutheranism in Germany
to the exclusion of Zwinglianism, which had had some adherents.
The League quickly became more of a territorial political movement, as
breaking from the Catholic Church offered significant economic
advantages. In December, 1535, the league admitted anyone who would
subscribe to the
Augsburg Confession, thus Anhalt, Württemberg,
Pomerania, as well as the free imperial cities of Augsburg, Frankfurt
am Main, and the
Free Imperial City of Kempten
Free Imperial City of Kempten joined the alliance.
John Frederick I of
Saxony by Lucas Cranach the Younger.
Starting in 1535, Francis I of France, while vigorously persecuting
Protestants at home, nevertheless supported the Protestant princes in
their struggle against their common foe. This tactical support ended
in 1544 with the signing of the Peace of Crépy, whereby the French
king, who was fighting the Emperor in Italy, pledged to stop backing
the Protestant princes and the League in Germany. Following on the
peace with France, the Emperor signed a truce with the Ottoman Empire,
allied with Francis, which was to free even more Hapsburg resources
for a final confrontation with the League.
In 1538, the
Schmalkaldic League allied with newly-reformed Denmark.
In 1539 the League acquired Brandenburg, which was under the
leadership of Joachim II Hector, Elector of Brandenburg. In 1545
the League gained the allegiance of the Electoral Palatinate, under
the control of Frederick III, Elector Palatine. In 1544 Denmark and
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire signed the Treaty of Speyer, which stated that
during the reign of Christian III, Denmark would maintain a peaceful
foreign policy towards the Holy Roman Empire.
The members of the League agreed to provide 10,000 infantry and 2,000
cavalry for their mutual protection. They rarely provoked Charles
directly, but confiscated Church land, expelled bishops and Catholic
princes, and helped spread
Lutheranism throughout northern Germany.
Martin Luther planned to present to the League the Smalcald Articles,
a stricter Protestant confession, during a meeting in 1537. Luther
attended the critical meeting in 1537, but spent most of his time
suffering from kidney stones. The rulers and princes even met in the
home where Luther was staying. Though Luther was asked to prepare the
articles of faith that came to be known as the Schmalcald Articles,
they were not formally adopted at the time of the meeting, though
later they were incorporated into the Lutheran Confessions, in the
Book of Concord, of 1580, in German, and in Latin translation, in the
official Latin edition of the Book of Concord, the Leipzig edition of
For fifteen years the League was able to exist without opposition,
because Charles was busy fighting wars with France and the Ottoman
Ottoman–Habsburg wars lasted from 1526 until 1571. In
1535 Charles led the Conquest of Tunis (1535). Francis I of France, in
an effort to limit the power of the Habsburgs, allied with Suleiman
the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire, forming a Franco-Ottoman
Italian War of 1536–38
Italian War of 1536–38 between France and the Holy
Roman Empire ended in 1538 with the Truce of Nice. The final war
during this period Charles fought against France, the Italian War of
1542–46, ended with inconclusive results and the Treaty of
The Schmalkaldic War
Main article: Schmalkaldic War
Charles V, enthroned over his defeated enemies (from left): Suleiman
the Magnificent, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the Duke of Cleves, the
Landgrave of Hesse, and the Duke of Saxony. Giulio Clovio, mid-16th
After Charles made peace with Francis, he focused on suppressing
Protestant resistance within his empire. From 1546 to 1547, in what is
known as the Schmalkaldic War, Charles and his allies fought the
League over the territories of Ernestine
Saxony and Albertine Saxony.
Although the League's military forces may have been superior, its
leaders were incompetent and unable to agree on any definitive battle
plans. Despite the fact that Pope Paul III withdrew his troops
from the Imperial forces and halved his subsidy, on 24 April 1547, the
imperial forces gathered by Charles routed the League's forces at the
Battle of Mühlberg, capturing many leaders, including, most notably,
Johann Frederick the Magnanimous. Philip of Hesse tried to negotiate
but the Emperor refused and he surrendered in May. In theory this
meant that the residents of thirty different cities were returned to
Catholicism but in fact this was not the case. This battle
effectively won the war for Charles; only two cities continued to
resist. Many of the princes and key reformers, such as Martin Bucer,
fled to England, where they directly influenced the English
In 1548 the victorious Charles forced the
Schmalkaldic League to agree
to the terms set forth in the
Augsburg Interim. However, by the 1550s,
Protestantism had established itself too firmly within Central Europe
to be ended by brute force. A small Protestant victory in 1552 forced
Charles, weary from three decades of war, to sign the Peace of Passau,
which granted some freedoms to Protestants and ended all of Charles'
hopes of religious unity within his empire. Three years later, the
Lutheranism official status within the Holy
Roman Empire and let princes choose the official religion within the
domains they controlled, the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio.
^ Merriman, p. 110.
^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Smalkaldic League". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
^ Kagan. The Western Heritage, p. 360
^ Benedict, Philip (2002). Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social
History of Calvinism. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 46.
^ Acton, et al. The Cambridge Modern History, p. 233.
^ Smith, Henry Preserved. The Age of the Reformation. p. 119.
^ Smith, Henry Preserved. The Age of the Reformation. pp. 120–121.
^ Wilde, Robert. The Schmalkaldic League, Part 1: Introduction and
^ a b Smith, Henry Preserved. The Age of the Reformation. p. 121.
^ Smith, Henry Preserved. The Age of the Reformation. p. 127.
^ Carroll, Warren. "A History of Christendom," Vol.IV., p.199-200.
^ Merriman, John. A History of Modern Europe, Volume One, p. 110.
Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg; Ernest Alfred Benians; Adolphus
William Ward; George Walter Prothero (1904). The Cambridge Modern
History. New York: Macmillan.
Kagan, Donald; Ozment, Steven; Turner, Frank M. (2002). The Western
Heritage: Since 1300 (Eighth ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.
Merriman, John (1996). A History of Modern Europe, Volume One: From
the Renaissance to the Age of Napoleon (First ed.). New York: W. W.
Norton. ISBN 0-393-96888-X.
Palmer, R. R.; Colton, Joel (1994). A History of the Modern World
(Eighth ed.). McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-040826-2.
Smith, Henry Preserved (1920). The Age of the Reformation. New York:
Tracy, James D. (2002). Charles V: Impresario of War. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 0-521-81431-6.
Wikisource has the text of the 1913
Catholic Encyclopedia article
Schmalkaldic League (1530/1 – 1547) at about.com
Schmalkaldic War – World History at KMLA
"Schmalkaldic League". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
(in German) Schmalkaldischer Bund