History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Ferdinand I and Maximilian II

Charles's younger brother Ferdinand succeeded him as Emperor. He was already King of Austria. During his brother's reign too he had been chosen King of the Romans, and had acted as Regent in the Emperor's long absence from Germany.

Ferdinand was lively and kindly, and altogether very different from his cold and scheming brother. Yet he too was a Spaniard, born and brought up in Spain. But after Ferdinand came to live in Austria he began to lose his Spanish ways. He took a real interest in the people he had to rule over. He learned to speak German, and began to live as a German noble. And so he won the love of the German people.

Like Charles, Ferdinand was a firm Catholic. But to begin with he had a fierce quarrel with the Pope. The Pope declared that Charles V had no right to give up the crown without first asking his leave, and that Ferdinand had no right to take it. So the Pope declared that he would only acknowledge Ferdinand as Emperor if he would refuse to keep the Treaty of Augsburg. Ferdinand, however, knew the strength of the Protestants. So he would do nothing to make them angry, but tried his best to make peace between the two parties.

Ferdinand's reign was not a long one, and it was of no great importance in German history. He died in 1564, and his son Maximilian was at once chosen Emperor. Maximilian looked so kindly upon the Protestant religion, that many people expected that he would himself turn Protestant. But he did not. He left the German Protestants quite free to worship God their own way, but he did not raise a finger to help other Protestants who were fighting for a like freedom.

And at this time a bitter warfare was going on in a land which had but lately been part of the Empire.

When Charles V abdicated you remember that gave the Netherlands to his son Philip. He is known as Philip II of Spain, and was both a tyrant and a bigoted Catholic. It was quite unnatural that the Netherlands should belong to Spain. The country really belonged to the Empire. And Germany's longest river, the Rhine, flowed to the sea through the Netherlands. But the Emperor's power was so great that one dared question his deed. The Netherlands were Protestant, but Philip was determined that there should be no Protestants in his kingdom. The Dutch were just as determined never to give up their religion, so there began in Holland one of the most bitter persecutions, and one of the most gallant struggles for liberty in all history.

And while Holland was splendidly struggling for freedom, Protestant Germany, under an Emperor who was himself almost a Protestant, looked on. Again and again the Dutch asked the Emperor for aid, again and again it was refused. At length, after years of fighting, Holland won its liberty. It became a free state, independent alike of Spain or of the Empire. To Germany this was a great loss. For Holland was a rich country, its people were industrious, its trade and manufactures flourished, its ships were famous upon every sea. All that was now lost to the Empire, and Germany's great river now reaches the sea by way of a foreign land.

Although Maximilian was himself almost a Protestant he had married his cousin Maria, the daughter of Charles V. She was a firm Catholic, and she brought up her children also as Catholics, and two of her daughters married the fiercest persecutors of the heretics. For one married Philip II of Spain, another Charles IX of France. It was under Charles IX that the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew took place, of which you will read in French history. When Maximilian heard of it he was filled with grief. "Would God," he said, "that my son-in-law had asked my advice. I should have advised him faithfully as a father, so that he should never have been persuaded to this shameful deed."

But Maximilian took no care to save his own people from a like fate. He gave them freedom while he lived, but made no laws to protect them after his death. He died in 1576. With him all freedom of conscience in Germany was buried for many a long day.