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The Imperial Diet Proclaims the “Religious Peace of Augsburg”: September 25, 1555

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations, Part I.

Charles V’s last years were spent trying to break the power of the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant German princes while protecting the eastern borders of the empire against the Turks. In 1544, he was forced to grant religious rights to the Protestant princes in return for their aid against Suleiman. In 1546, however, the emperor opened a war against the Schmalkaldic League. Over the next year, he conquered southern Germany and then moved into Saxony. In 1547 he imprisoned Philip of Hesse, one of the most powerful Lutheran princes.

Charles had humbled the Protestant princes, but they were still powerful. In 1551 the new king of France, Henry II, made a new alliance with the German Protestant princes. The following year, King Henry invaded territories in the western part of the empire. Though Charles signed a treaty with the Protestant princes, for the next three years, three of them waged a war of plunder in Germany. Finally, in 1554, a tired Charles left the reins of the empire to his brother Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria.

Charles V, Roman emperor and king of Spain as Charles I
Charles V, Roman emperor and king of Spain as Charles I

To bring peace to divided Germany, Ferdinand called a meeting of the Imperial Diet at Augsburg. On September 25, 1555, the diet proclaimed the “Religious Peace of Augsburg.” The peace laid down the principle cuius regio, eius religio (“whose region, his religion”), meaning that every prince was to decide what religion—Catholic or Lutheran—his lands would follow. Those who were not willing to accept their sovereign’s religion could sell their property and leave the state. Those who remained had to follow the religion chosen by their lord.

Charles never officially ratified the peace, nor did the pope, but it was followed throughout Germany. The Peace of Augsburg made the religious division of Germany permanent. All hope of reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics was ended.

In 1556 Charles, exhausted from overwork and disappointed by his failure to preserve the unity of Christendom or the peace of his empire, abdicated, giving the imperial title to his brother Ferdinand and the crown of Spain to his son, Philip II. Charles retired to the monastery of Yuste (St. Just) in Spain. Surrounded by works of art and music, for which he had a great love, and living a life of study, Charles died peacefully in 1558 at the age of 58.

Music Charles V May Have Heard

In 1555, the Franco-Flemish composer, Orlando de Lasso, published his first book of madrigals. Here are performances of two of his madrigals, “Matona, Mia Cara” (“Matona, My Beloved”) and “Ich Liebe Dich” (“I Love Thee”).

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