Protestant Union

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Member states of the Protestant Union (purple) in the Holy Roman Empire, c. 1610 The Protestant Union within the Holy Roman Empire (c. 1610).svg
Member states of the Protestant Union (purple) in the Holy Roman Empire, c. 1610
Many Protestant rulers were not members of the Union, most notably the Elector of Saxony. Religious fragmentation in Central Europe on the eve of the Thirty Years' War in 1618. HolyRomanEmpire 1618.png
Many Protestant rulers were not members of the Union, most notably the Elector of Saxony. Religious fragmentation in Central Europe on the eve of the Thirty Years' War in 1618.

The Protestant Union (German : Protestantische Union), also known as the Evangelical Union, Union of Auhausen, German Union or the Protestant Action Party, was a coalition of Protestant German states. It was formed on May 14, 1608 by Frederick IV, Elector Palatine in order to defend the rights, land and safety of each member. It included both Calvinist and Lutheran states, and dissolved in 1621.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Frederick IV, Elector Palatine Elector Palatine

Frederick IV, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, only surviving son of Louis VI, Elector Palatine and Elisabeth of Hesse, called "Frederick the Righteous".


The union was formed following two events. Firstly, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and Bavarian Duke Maximilian I reestablished Catholicism in Donauwörth in 1607. Secondly, by 1608, a majority of the Imperial Diet had decided that the renewal of the 1555 Peace of Augsburg should be conditional upon the restoration of all church land appropriated since 1552. The Protestant princes met in Auhausen, and formed a coalition of Protestant states under the leadership of Frederick IV on May 14, 1608. In response, the Catholic League organized the following year, headed by Duke Maximilian. [1]

Holy Roman Emperor emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The title was, almost without interruption, held in conjunction with title of King of Germany throughout the 12th to 18th centuries.

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor Austrian king

Rudolf II was Holy Roman Emperor (1576–1612), King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia (1575–1608/1611) and Archduke of Austria (1576–1608). He was a member of the House of Habsburg.

Duchy of Bavaria Former duchy in Germany

The Duchy of Bavaria was a frontier region in the southeastern part of the Merovingian kingdom from the sixth through the eighth century. It was settled by Bavarian tribes and ruled by dukes (duces) under Frankish overlordship. A new duchy was created from this area during the decline of the Carolingian Empire in the late ninth century. It became one of the stem duchies of the East Frankish realm which evolved as the Kingdom of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.

Members of the Protestant Union included the Palatinate, Neuburg, Württemberg, Baden-Durlach, Ansbach, Bayreuth, Anhalt, Zweibrücken, Oettingen, Hesse-Kassel, Brandenburg, and the free cities of Ulm, Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Rothenburg, Windsheim, Schweinfurt, Weissenburg, Nördlingen, Schwäbisch Hall, Heilbronn, Memmingen, Kempten, Landau, Worms, Speyer, Aalen and Giengen. [2]

Electoral Palatinate historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire

The County Palatine of the Rhine, later the Electorate of the Palatinate or simply Electoral Palatinate, was a territory in the Holy Roman Empire administered by the Count Palatine of the Rhine. Its rulers served as prince-electors (Kurfürsten) from time immemorial, were noted as such in a papal letter of 1261, and were confirmed as electors by the Golden Bull of 1356.


Palatinate-Neuburg was a territory of the Holy Roman Empire, founded in 1505 by a branch of the House of Wittelsbach. Its capital was Neuburg an der Donau. Its area was about 2,750 km², with a population of some 100,000.

Duchy of Württemberg former German state (1495-1806)

The Duchy of Württemberg was a duchy located in the south-western part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a member of the Holy Roman Empire from 1495 to 1806. The dukedom's long survival for nearly four centuries was mainly due to its size, being larger than its immediate neighbors. During the Protestant Reformation, Württemberg faced great pressure from the Holy Roman Empire to remain a member. Württemberg resisted repeated French invasions in the 17th and 18th centuries. Württemberg was directly in the path of French and Austrian armies who were engaged in the long rivalry between the House of Bourbon and the House of Habsburg. In 1803, Napoleon raised the duchy to be the Electorate of Württemberg of the Holy Roman Empire. On 1 January 1806, the last Elector assumed the title of King of Württemberg. Later this year, on 6 August 1806, the last Emperor, Francis II, abolished the Holy Roman Empire.

However, the Protestant Union was weakened from the start by the non-participation of several powerful German Protestant rulers, notably the Elector of Saxony. The Union was also beset by internal strife between its Lutheran and Calvinist members. [3]

In 1619, Frederick V of the Palatinate accepted the crown of Bohemia in opposition to Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. On July 3, 1620, the Protestant Union signed the Treaty of Ulm (German : Ulmer Vertrag), declaring neutrality and declining to support Frederick V. [4] In January 1621, Ferdinand II imposed an imperial ban upon Frederick V and moved his right to elect an emperor to Maximilian. Electoral Palatinate also lost the Upper Palatinate to Bavaria. The Protestant Union met in Heilbronn in February and formally protested Ferdinand's actions. He ignored this complaint and ordered the Protestant Union to disband its army. The members of the union complied with Ferdinand's demand under the Mainz accord in May, and on May 14, 1621, it was formally dissolved. [5]

Bohemia Historical land in Czech Republic

Bohemia is the westernmost and largest historical region of the Czech lands in the present-day Czech Republic. In a broader meaning, Bohemia sometimes refers to the entire Czech territory, including Moravia and Czech Silesia, especially in a historical context, such as the Lands of the Bohemian Crown ruled by Bohemian kings.

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor Archduke of Austria, 1619 to 1637 Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia

Ferdinand II, a member of the House of Habsburg, was Holy Roman Emperor (1619–1637), King of Bohemia, and King of Hungary (1618–1637). He was the son of Archduke Charles II of Inner Austria, and Maria of Bavaria. In 1590, his parents, who were devout Catholics, sent him to study at the Jesuits' college in Ingolstadt, because they wanted to isolate him from the Lutheran nobles. In the same year, he inherited Inner Austria—Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and smaller provinces—from his father. Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, who was the head of the Habsburg family, appointed regents to administer Inner Austria on behalf of the minor Ferdinand.

The imperial ban was a form of outlawry in the Holy Roman Empire. At different times, it could be declared by the Holy Roman Emperor, by the Imperial Diet, or by courts like the League of the Holy Court (Vehmgericht) or the Reichskammergericht.

A new separate union without connection to this one emerged twelve years later, the Heilbronn League. It allied some Protestant states in western, central and southern Germany, and fought against the Holy Roman Emperor under the guidance of Sweden and France, which were at the same time parties to that league.

Heilbronn League

The Heilbronn League was an alliance between Sweden, France, and the Protestant princes in western Germany against the Catholic League during the Thirty Years' War. The treaty forming the League was signed at Heilbronn in Germany on 23 April 1633.

Guidelines of the Protestant Union

Document establishing the Protestant Union signed 14 May, 1608, now in Bavarian State Archive (Bayerische Hauptstaatsarchiv) Urkunde protestantische Union.jpg
Document establishing the Protestant Union signed 14 May, 1608, now in Bavarian State Archive (Bayerische Hauptstaatsarchiv)

Intending to strengthen the security provided by the Peace of Augsburg, Protestants formed the union in 1608. Its leaders created guidelines and agreements to live by as follows:

  1. Each member shall keep in good faith with the order and their heirs, land and people, and no one shall enter into any other alliance.
  2. Each member of the union should keep a secret correspondence effectively to inform each other of all dangerous and offensive affairs which may threaten each other's heirs, land and people, and to this purpose each will keep in good contact with one another.
  3. Whenever important matters arise that concern the well-being of the union, the members of the union will help each other with faithful advice in order to uphold each and every one as much as possible.
  4. The wish of the union in matters concerning the liberties and high jurisdictions of the German Electors and Estates should be presented and pressed at subsequent Imperial and Imperial Circle assemblies, and not merely left to secret correspondence with each other.
  5. The union shall not affect our disagreement on several points of religion, but that notwithstanding these, we have agreed to support each other. No member is to allow an attack on any other in books or through the pulpit, nor give cause for any breach of the peace, while at the same time leaving untouched the theologian's rights of disputation to affirm the word of God.
  6. If one of the members of the union is attacked, the remaining members of the union shall immediately come to his aid with all the resources of the union. [6]


In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg was signed by Charles V and Lutheran princes. This treaty allowed Roman Catholic and Lutheran princes the right to decide which freedom their respective state would be under, but gave no such protection to Calvinist princes. In 1608, Protestant princes formed the alliance known as Protestant Union. The next year, the Catholic League was created. In 1610, the Union intervened in the War of the Jülich Succession. [7] In 1618, the Thirty Years' War began with the outbreak of the Bohemian Revolt. Frederick V, Elector Palatine, accepted the crown of Bohemia the following year. The Union declared its neutrality in the conflict between Frederick and the Catholic League in the 1620 Treaty of Ulm. The Union dissolved the next year.

See also


  1. Anderson 1999 , pp. 14–15; Wilson 2010 , p. 12.
  2. Ward 1905 , p. 725; Schönstädt 1978 , p. 305.
  3. Anderson 1999, pp. 135, 215.
  4. Wedgwood 1938, pp. 98–99, 110–11.
  5. Wedgwood 1938, pp. 133–34.
  6. Hofmann n.d.
  7. Anderson 1999, p. 82.

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Further reading