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The Empire and Its Reformation – Lazarus von Schwendi’s Advice to Emperor Maximilian II (1574)

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For the aforementioned reasons, only the worst can be expected, since it would remain in the present state and condition, in which minds and consciences cannot be assured and satisfied. And if the ruler does not take measure in good time, then the prevailing conditions will cause even more disorder and violence, as well as a great danger to the entire commonwealth and the state of religion.

And what will follow is analogous to what often happens during floods against which one has not taken precautions (when one, rather, has built [on the floodplains]), namely, that the floods break through, do much damage, and ruin and destroy everything in their path.

[Schwendi again presses for a policy of tolerance.]

By these means, Your Majesty would inspire a positive attitude and build trust among the Germans, who nearly all cry out and hope for such tolerance and exhibit their impartial, peace-loving nature; and all those, whether of high or low estate, who adhere to the reformed religion, whether secretly or openly, who (as stated above) by far and without comparison make up the majority of the Empire, will be utterly delighted by this and will fully and wholeheartedly approve of and be loyal to Your Majesty and therefore to Your Majesty’s government and authority, and obedience [to latter] will be strengthened all the more.

[The emperor should take no notice of the opponents of such a policy for several reasons, which Schwendi briefly explains. It will contribute to the calming down of both confessional parties. On the basis of an authority strengthened in such a way, the “toleration of both religions” could be established at an Imperial Diet; the circumstances were favorable, only distrust of Imperial policies has previously prevented such a solution. Other approaches would only lead to “rebellion and internecine strife.” Such an agreement at the Imperial level would make it more difficult for foreign states to interfere in German matters.

Again, the danger of an interregnum is invoked. If he were to consider how well he himself would have been able to rule without the guidelines of the Religious Peace of Augsburg, then the emperor would not fail to recognize the difficulties his successor would face without a peaceful settlement in the Empire. With the continuation of religious division, Schwendi points out, the emperor’s sons and successors might well lack that understanding of religious matters that predestined their father to advocate a policy of reconciliation. He reminds [the emperor] that even the powerful Charles V could not successfully assert his authority in the Empire, and this was to be feared with regard to the present emperor’s successors, too.]

In addition, Your Majesty would have to expect danger, desertion, and rebellion among your own subjects (unless you act differently and allow them freedom of religion). And if you should rely on Catholics or clerics and foreign rulers and seek help from them and instigate internal conflicts or allow them to continue, this would light the fire, and misery and hardship (which, as stated above, should and may be avoided through Your Majesty’s fatherly intervention) will follow in our Fatherland.

And, in this case, the danger and difficulties raised and reported above will take place, for, in the end, religious reform cannot be overcome or dampened by force.

In addition, what would be the worst [possible outcome] and greater than any other danger, is that Your Majesty’s successors would be attacked, made war upon, and devoured by the Turks and [quite] possibly by other enemies, who will not waste such an advantage.

[Schwendi warns of the consequences for the house of Habsburg, should it lose the Imperial crown.

He emphasizes that a policy of religious toleration is a matter of conscience. The fate of the Fatherland hangs upon the care that the emperor exercises in this matter.]

And if Your Majesty does not do this with all seriousness and zeal, you can be sure that God will cause punishment to fall on you and your successors and that the Fatherland you share will wretchedly pay the price for your guilt and will cry out against Your Majesty throughout all eternity.

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