The Diet of Augsburg

The meetings of the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire were held on 2 February 1555.

Saxon chancellor Christian Beyer proclaiming the Augsburg Confession in the presence of Emperor Charles V, 1530.

The imperial diet, or conference, which assembled in the Bavarian city of Augsburg that February marked a significant stage in the history of both the Reformation and Germany. The Holy Roman Empire was being torn to pieces by the mutual antagonism, intolerance and incomprehension of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. The situation was complicated by political manoeuvring between the German princes and between them and the Emperor, and by the interventions of the French. The Emperor Charles V was a devoted and dutiful Catholic and the term Protestant dated from 1529, when the Lutheran princes in Germany protested against his attempt to subject them to the authority of the pope. The rulers of Saxony, Wurtemberg, Hesse, Brandenburg and Prussia  were Protestants and two-thirds of the German cities accepted the Reformation in one form or another. In 1552 Maurice of Saxony led an armed assault on the Emperor, with French support, and peace negotiations at Passau that summer produced calls from both Catholics and Protestants for a sensible settlement.

The Emperor could not bring himself openly to accept the religious division of Europe. He stayed away from the diet at Augsburg, but he gave his brother Ferdinand (the future Emperor Ferdinand I) authority to settle matters. The Peace of Augsburg was eventually promulgated on September 25th. It provided that until the Catholic-Lutheran rift was healed, the Empire’s member states were not to make war on each other for religious motives. Meantime, the religion of each state was to be decided by its prince (or in the famous Latin phrase, Cuius regio, eius religio). If the prince’s subjects did not like his choice, they were free to sell up and migrate elsewhere. No form of Protestantism other than Lutheranism was to be tolerated. Calvinists, Anabaptists and Mennonites were excluded.

There were all sorts of complications, exceptions and loop-holes, and the details of the agreement satisfied nobody completely, but the desire for a settlement was so strong on all sides that the Peace of Augsburg was to keep the Empire free of civil war for fifty years. Charles V accepted it with the utmost reluctance and abdicated the following year. The settlement acknowledged the Catholic-Lutheran schism as a fact of life. At the same time, the political splintering of Germany could not be concealed, and G.R. Elton said that the Augsburg settlement ‘set the scene for three hundred years of German history in a backwater’.