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Italy and the Counter-Reformation

Judith Hook describes how, during the sixteenth century gifted churchmen in Italy tried, against crosscurrents of foreign influence, to heal the divisions of Christianity

As it has been understood, the movement popularly known as the Counter-Reformation should, more properly, be referred to as the Catholic Reformation. We recognize it as a movement that began long before Luther revolted against the Catholic Church and a movement which had its origins in precisely the same dissatisfaction with the state of the Church as was felt by Luther. We also recognize that both the Catholic and the Protestant Reformations were closely bound up with politics and often dependent on the political systems of sixteenth-century Europe.

So far as Italy is concerned, the fact that the country was dominated by the Spaniards was crucial; for it determined the whole character of the Catholic Reformation throughout Italy and, indeed, throughout Europe. Spanish control over Italy was finally settled in the great European peace treaty of Cateau-Cambresis of 1559. This peace left most of Italy in Spanish hands -Sardinia, Naples, Sicily, Milan and the Stato dei Presidi directly ruled from Spain. The Presidi were the six coastal towns in Tuscany retained by Philip II when he sold Siena to Cosimo, Duke of Florence. They were to prove effective pledges for Cosimo’s good behaviour. Theoretically in 1558 the administration of all these provinces had been centralized by the setting up in Spain of the Council of Italy; but, in practice, all the Spanish provinces in Italy continued to be governed quite separately and the Council of Italy became primarily a judicial body - the supreme court of appeal from Italy.

Those parts of Italy not ruled directly from Spain were all incapable of independent action, even the Church State and Venice. Genoa was economically dependent upon Spain; Savoy was partially garrisoned by Spanish troops, and Mantua and Ferrara were Spanish-dominated to such an extent that one can almost cease to think of them as independent states.

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