Peace of Augsburg

The Peace of Augsburg brought an end to the first religious war of the Reformation era between Catholics and Lutherans and laid the foundation for the spread of Lutheranism in Northern Europe.

Summary of Event

The Truce of Passau, Passau, Truce of (1552) which ended the Wars of the Schmalkaldic League in August of 1552, specified the speedy summoning of a diet to settle religious issues on a basis more favorable to the Lutherans Lutheranism;Germany than the Augsburg Interim Augsburg Interim (1548) of 1548. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and chief advocate of the Catholic position in Germany, wrote to his brother Archduke Ferdinand that, because of illness and problems in the Netherlands, he would not attend the diet. Augsburg, Peace of (1555)
Philip the Magnanimous
Charles V (1500-1558)
Melanchthon, Philipp
Ferdinand I (1503-1564)
Joachim II
Maximilian II
Rudolf II
Frederick III (1515- 1576)
Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor)
Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Emperor)
August (elector of Saxony)
Joachim II
Maurice, duke of Saxony
Melanchthon, Philipp
Maximilian II (Holy Roman Emperor)
Rudolf II (Holy Roman Emperor)
Frederick III (elector of the Palatinate)

Ferdinand was given full authority, although he was not to act in the name of the emperor, but in his own name as “king of the Romans,” heir designate to the imperial throne. It is generally believed that Charles recognized the need for some kind of accommodation with the Lutherans, but could not bring himself to grant it.

The diet called for in 1552 did not meet until 1555 because the emperor was loath to make concessions, Ferdinand was engaged in a war with the Turks in his Hungarian kingdom, and the military truce agreed on at Passau in 1552 was slow in being accepted by the German princes.

The Diet of Augsburg, one of the most important in German history, finally convened in February, 1555, with Ferdinand presiding. Most of the major princes were represented by delegates. Some of the leading Lutherans, including Philip the Magnanimous of Hesse, the elector August of Saxony, and the elector Joachim of Brandenburg, held a separate meeting at Naumburg. August was the brother of Maurice, the duke of Saxony, who had successfully gained control of the Saxon electoral dignity but had been killed in battle against the Turks in 1553. Joachim even proposed accepting the Interim of 1548 as a basis for a religious settlement, but eventually they determined to adhere to Philipp Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession (1530) Augsburg Confession (1530) , a foundational Lutheran document that summarizes Luther’s teachings, and to oppose any religious settlement by majority vote. On this basis, parity and perpetual peace were established between the “members of the old faith” and the “members of the Augsburg Confession,” and a compromise settlement could be adopted.

The parties to the Peace of Augsburg were the Catholics Catholicism;Germany and the Lutherans, those Protestants who had accepted the Augsburg Confession drawn up by Melanchthon at the Diet of Augsburg of 1530 in an unsuccessful attempt to achieve theological agreement with the Catholics. Sacramentarians (the Zwinglians and the Calvinists) and sectarians (the Anabaptists) were not included in the peace, at least in part because they had no political support in 1555. Both the Catholics and the Lutherans accepted this compromise peace only reluctantly, because in 1555 neither could impose its own version of eternal truth on the other. Each expected that, in the future, religious unity would be restored. Toleration of religious differences was seen as a practical necessity, not a desirable good.

In the years to come, German lawyers evolved the principle cuius regio, eius religio (literally, whose rule, his the religion) to summarize the most important provision of the document, that which gave the ruler of each territory the right to determine its official religion. In some principalities, this decision was reached autocratically by the ruler, in others by the ruler in conjunction with his provincial diet. In many principalities, a practical, though unofficial, toleration prevailed.


When he succeeded his brother as Holy Roman Emperor in 1556, Ferdinand respected his secret promise to the Lutherans, largely out of a desire for peace. In 1555, the Lutherans claimed the overwhelming majority of the population of the empire and most of its secular princes. The Catholicism of the imperial house and the presence of three archbishops among the seven electors, however, gave the Catholics approximately equal strength.

Ferdinand’s son Maximilian II described himself as “neither a Papist nor a Lutheran but a Christian,” but remained formally a Catholic at his father’s wish. During his reign as emperor from 1564 to 1576, and that of his son Rudolf II from 1576 to 1612, religious toleration continued to be practiced by the imperial court. During the later sixteenth century, however, Catholicism began to revive. Rudolf gave full encouragement to the Jesuits in their missionary and educational activities, as did some other princes, notably the dukes of Bavaria. In both Catholic and Lutheran territories where tolerance had previously existed, religious uniformity was now imposed. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Protestants were probably still in the majority but their status had diminished. Most of southern and western Germany was then firmly Catholic, while northern and eastern Germany became entirely Protestant.

The easygoing policies of the emperors after 1555 permitted many ecclesiastical principalities and a significant amount of Church property to pass from Catholic to Protestant hands during the later sixteenth century, in violation of the terms of the Peace of Augsburg. As the strength of the Catholic party revived during these same years, this situation became less and less acceptable to them.

The religious and political situation in Germany was further complicated by the spread of the Reformed Church Reformed Church;Germany (Zwinglianism and Calvinism), although it was illegal. In 1559, Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate, a Calvinist, Protestanism;Germany came to power in that important territory, giving the Reformed Church its first significant political support. Except for a short break under Frederick’s son Ludwig from 1576 to 1583, it remained the official religion of the Palatinate until 1685. Bitter quarrels broke out across Germany between the Lutherans and Calvinists. In 1580, the Lutherans, at the insistence of August of Saxony, issued the Formula of Concord, Concord, Formula of (1580) which defined their own position with respect to the Calvinists.

As the seventeenth century dawned, the provisions of the Peace of Augsburg were less satisfactory than they had appeared fifty years earlier. The problems of the control of ecclesiastical principalities and properties, and the spread of the Reformed Church were difficulties that had to be settled by force in the Thirty Years’ War.

Further Reading

  • Bobbitt, Philip. The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History. New York: Knopf, 2002. Discusses the Peace of Augsburg, explains its effects upon history, and compares it to other major peace treaties and agreements. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • Evans, Malcolm D. Religious Liberty and International Law in Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Traces the principles of religious liberty in international law back to the Peace of Augsburg. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • Evans, R. J. W. Rudolf II and His World: A Study in Intellectual History, 1576-1612. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997. A reprinted work with corrections. Especially important for the policies of the emperors Maximilian II and Rudolf II.
  • Grimm, Harold J. The Reformation Era, 1500-1650. 2d ed. New York: Macmillan, 1973. An excellent, balanced account of the entire Reformation period, including the Catholic weakness in 1555 and subsequent revival.
  • Holborn, Hajo. The Reformation. Vol. 1 in A History of Modern Germany. 1959. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. Still the best overall history of Germany in English for this period, and a standard source.
  • Janssen, Johannes. History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages. Vols. 6-8. Translated by A. M. Christie. 1903. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1966. Provides a detailed, pro-Catholic account of the Diet of Augsburg and the application of the peace.
  • Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996. A convenient up-to-date survey of the entire Reformation era.
  • Ranke, Leopold von. History of the Reformation in Germany. Translated by Sarah Austin. Reprint. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1966. A classic German source written from a pro-Protestant perspective, balancing Janssen’s work.

Oct. 31, 1517: Luther Posts His Ninety-five Theses

1523: Gustav I Vasa Becomes King of Sweden

Feb. 27, 1531: Formation of the Schmalkaldic League

Mar., 1536: Calvin Publishes Institutes of the Christian Religion

1555-1556: Charles V Abdicates

1576-1612: Reign of Rudolf II