Why did religious war break out in the Holy Roman Empire in the 1540s and in the rest of Europe in the second half of the sixteenth century? To what extent were these wars tied to political struggles as well as tensions over religious doctrine?
The Holy Roman Empire formed in the Middle Ages in Central Europe. It consisted of a number of provinces of mixed ethnicities. By 962, the largest of these regions was the Empire of Germany. While the Holy Roman Empire encompassed many ethnic groups, it had one recognized religion. That religion was that of Catholicism. Leadership was controlled by seven regions. Thus, the bond between state and the church was very cozy.
In 1517, Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church by putting forth his 95 theses, which protested many of the empire’s religious practices. This led to unrest among the common people. They no longer wanted their religious preferences to be dictated by the current rulers. They were not content to have their only understanding of the bible to be issued to them through religious leaders. Especially since most times those rulers and religious leaders were focused on their own welfare and not the welfare of the common citizens. Many times the church, with its immense wealth, was guilty of buying protection from the armies of the monarchs.
This unrest between the Lutherans and the Catholics led to much civil unrest. This is not surprising since it is difficult to maintain loyalty to a leader who has different religious views than your own. Moreover, the broadening of religious views soon reached the monarchy. The leaders, as they changed, were no longer available to protect hierarchy of the Catholic church. Soon the leaders of the seven regions found themselves at odds with one another on many issues. It is these difference of opinions, and lifestyles, that led to a series of wars in the second half of the sixteenth century.