The Protest at Speyer, Germany.

John, Elector of Saxony, reads the Protest to the Diet at Speyers.

There was but one piece of business to be transacted at the Diet of Speyer - the Council of the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V,  when it convened in 1529. Very simply the Emperor wished to repeal the Edict of Toleration issued at Speyer in 1526  that allowed  the free exercise of religion until a General Council was called.  As a requirement by the Emperor it was a simple enough task that should not have taken long to agree. It was in practice a cataclysmic proposal  and subsequent events gave rise to the term `Protestant` and `Protestantism` - named after the defining protest against the resolution.

.At the heart of the issue was an intent to enforce the Edict of Worms (25 May 1521) that had called for extirpation of heretics - meaning in Germany, Lutheranism. Specifically it banned Martin Luther and his literature, and made it a crime to give him food and shelter ( similar to the Scottish `intercommuning` provisions in later years). The Papal Numcio had the edict extended  to include the killing of Luther  to be lawful  - without due process of law. At the time this had caused Prince Frederick, the Emperor`s brother, to  intervene and take Luther to Wartburg Castle for safety. It was there that Luther began his translation of the Bible into German.

In the Spring of 1526 Charles V was in Spain and heading towards Rome for his coronation as Emperor when there was a breakdown in relations between him and  Pope Clement VII . The Pope had visions of restoring the medieval glory of the papacy and was seeking to create an Italian state with himself as its temporal ruler. To this end he had entered into a League at Cognac, in France, with  some European rulers to constrain the all consuming power of the Emperor**. In Germany itself he Peasants` War had devastated the land and brought the religious divide between the various states and the free towns into sharp focus. Political necessity forced Charles to seek the support of the Lutherans as he prepared to fight the Pope and his confederate kings.  Thus the Edict of Worms was temporarily suspended at the Diet of Speyer in 1526 and an Edict of Toleration issued to bridge the gap until further consideration could be given. This of itself was a groundbreaking precedent as it was the first legal act that permitted Lutheranism to exist - at least until a General Council decided otherwise; moreover it was a legal blow at the supremacy and infallibility of Rome. The decision ran :

"As to religion and the Edict of Worms, in the meanwhile till a General or National Council  can be had, all so shall behave themselves  in their several provinces  as that they may  be able to render  an account of their doings both to God and the Emperor.."

This was interpreted as meaning that every state  was free to act  in religion  upon its own judgment.

Wylie in his History of Protestantism describes it as:

 "..the dawn of toleration  in matters of conscience  to nations; the same right  had still to be extended to individuals. A mighty boon had been won. Campaigns  have been fought for  less blessings: the Reformers  had obtained this without unsheathing a single sword."

This then was the background to the convening of the Diet at Speyer in 1529 and why the requirement of the Emperor to reactivate the Edict of Worms caused so much consternation.

Diet of Speyer 1529.

While it was clear that the Edict of Toleration was a temporary expedient, in the meantime the nascent Lutheran Church had progressed by leaps and bounds and now had structure and organisation. The divide between Catholics and the Lutherans had crystalised  into a constitutional and legal debate that if unresolved, would lead to civil war. At issue was the independence of the individual states who had the right to regulate their internal affairs, including religion. A central diktat by a Catholic majority in the Diet would usurp those rights and destroy the unity of Germany.

A compromise was arrived at that sought to maintain the status quo - they would neither enforce or abolish the Edict of 1526. But cunningly the Catholic majority in the Diet ring fenced the Reformation until future consideration of the matter. Meanwhile the Popish hierarchy should be reinstated; the mass permitted; and that no one should be allowed to abjure  Popery  and embrace Lutheranism till such time as a Council had met and framed a general arrangement.

On 18 April 1529 the Lutheran princes led by the Elector John of Saxony, and Philip of Hesse, were told by King Frederick that the matter was decided and they must submit and that was the end of the matter. The princes retired to consider a reply while the impatient King Frederick departed not waiting for their response. The following day, 19 April 1529 John of Saxony read a Declaration to the Diet "Protesting"  at the decision. This was renewed  at the last sitting of the Diet on 24 April and was subscribed by  John, Elector of Saxony, Philip Landgrave of Hesse; George Margrave of Brandenburg; Ernest and Francis Dukes of Luneburg; and the Count of Anhalt. Joined with the Princes were several of the chief cities  including Strasbourg, Nuremburg, Ulm, Constance, Rentlingen, Windsheim, Lindau, Kempten, Memmingen, Nordlingen, Heilbronn, Isny, St Gall, and Weissenburg. From that day forward the Reformers were called Protestants.

** Charles V (1500-1558)  was born at Ghent , the elder son of Philip, son of the Emperor Maxmillian and Joanna daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. In 1506 Charles inherited the Netherlands. In 1516 he became King of Spain and some possessions in Italy. In 1519 he inherited the  Austrian Duchies and chosen Emperor in 1520. In 1525 he had defeated France and was ruling over more land than any other European king.

The Pope was especially jealous of Spanish power in Italy. Charles possessed Naples and victory at Pavia ratified his control over France, this gave him a foothold in Lombardy which hemmed in the Papacy . Clement VI negotiated a `Holy League` to resist Charles, joining with England, Louisa of Savoy on behalf of France (her son Francis I being a prisoner), Venice , Milan and the Republic of Florence. The conniving came to no good and ended in the sacking of Rome in 1529, and the imprisonment of the Pope for a while.

In all his strength, power and glory  Charles returned to Germany and convened a Diet at Augsburg where it was his intention to personally attend, and ensure that his will concerning the  Edict of Worms was followed. The outcome was the Augsburg Confession.

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