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Protestant Resistance – The Schmalkaldic League (1531/35)

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B. The Constitution of the Schmalkaldic League, December 23, 1535

We, John Frederick, by the grace of God duke of Saxony, archmarshal and elector of the Holy Roman Empire, landgrave of Thuringia, and margrave of Meissen, both for ourselves and as guardian for the high-born prince, Lord John Ernest, also duke of Saxony, etc., and our dear brother; we, Philip, Ernest, and Francis, brothers and cousins, dukes of Brunswick and Lüneburg; we, Philip, landgrave of Hesse, count of Katzenelnbogen, Dietz, Ziegenhain, and Nidda; we, Wolfgang, prince of Anhalt, count of Askania, and lord of Bernburg; we, Gebhard and Albert, brothers, counts, and lords of Mansfeld; and we, the mayors, councilors, magistrates, and envoys, also the communes, of the these southern, Saxon, and northern cities – Strasbourg, Constance, Ulm, Esslingen, Reutlingen, Memmingen, Lindau, Biberach [an der Riß], Isny, Lübeck, Magdeburg, Bremen, Brunswick, Goslar, Einbeck, and Göttingen – affirm and proclaim to everyone:

Whereas, we have formed and established a Christian brotherly League for sufficient, Christian and good reasons, chiefly, however, to the praise and due honor of God Almighty and to the support and spread of His holy Word and Gospel, also that we may remain obedient members of the Holy Empire. Further, so that our subjects, whom God has commanded us to rule and protect in a Christian fashion, may, with God's grace, be protected from unjust, illegal coercion and injury and hold to what is good, Christian, honorable, just and necessary for their souls. Therefore, we have in God's name united in a Christian and brotherly League, on the terms and under the conditions contained in the treaty of alliance. Having subsequently deliberated further on the problem of defending ourselves and our subjects in a Christian and just manner, we have found highly necessary and good that in these troubling times of rapid change and great difficulties, we should establish a constitution (2) for defense and repulsion, which should remain in force as long as the Christian League we have formed, and in the manner that the treaty of alliance records. We have also made the [supply of] aid and force effective and well constituted, to the best of our ability – may God the Almighty grant us grace. Therefore, we have unanimously agreed, committed, and obliged ourselves to these articles, and we do this in the Almighty's name, deliberately according to this document, as follows for ourselves and our successors.

[1.] To begin with and first of all, this constitution shall have no other purpose, form, or intent than to provide defense and repulsion [of attack] and to keep ourselves and our subjects and related persons free of unjust violence. By this, we mean cases where, on account of the Christian, just, and correct cause – as defined in our treaty of Christian alliance – we are attacked, invaded, conquered, or in any other way injured, but only for this cause and no other.

[2.] Second, if any party to this League suffers attack or conquest or any other injury for the sake of this cause, upon which the League rests, and in consequence of which he believes the other parties are obliged to give him advice or aid, he can report this, at any time, to the ruling commander for the half-year in which the incident or damage occurs. If the ruling commander and the injured estate may hope to settle the matter through written approaches, envoys, or in other, similar ways, he shall attempt to do that by himself or with the advice and support of the other commander and at the expense of all the estates. If, however, the matter develops in such a way that an assembly of all estates is necessary, the commander for that half-year shall notify and report to the estates and summon them to a convenient meeting place, where they or their envoys should appear. When the allied estates assemble or send envoys, whether once or more times, they shall discuss whether the incident is covered by the treaty. Then the opinions of all the allied estates or their envoys shall be heard, for God often informs the last of that which He holds back from the first, and they shall strive in a manner of friendship and good will to reach a unanimous agreement.

(2) “Verfassung,” the normal term for the political and military structure of a sworn alliance or league dedicated to defensive, peace-keeping, and other purposes. It is also used for “constitution” in the modern sense. The best defense, as the saying goes, was often a good offense – trans.

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