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The Counterreformation in Inner Austria (1579-80)

Under the terms of Emperor Ferdinand I’s will, the hereditary Habsburg lands were partitioned among his sons: the archduchy (Upper and Lower Austria); Inner Austria (the duchies of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola), and Outer Austria (Tyrol, Vorarlberg and the lands of German southwest). While Outer Austria remained firmly Catholic, years of more or less forced toleration in the other lands had brought large numbers of nobles – and, under their protection, many burghers – over to the Lutheran version of the new faith. This advance yielded its greatest fruits under the rule of Emperor Maximilian II (b. 1527, r. 1564-76), whose many concessions of privileges to the nobles testified to both the attraction of the new faith and the emperor's political difficulties. In the Austria lands, religious privilege was first and foremost a form of noble privilege, guaranteed by pacts between rulers and the noble-dominated provincial estates.

In Inner Austria, where the project of Counterreformation achieved its earliest Austrian successes, it enjoyed strong support from the Bavarian court at Munich. It began in the 1570s under Archduke Charles II (b. 1540, r. 1564-90), in whose reign converged external support from three sources: the ducal regime of Bavaria (Charles married a Bavarian princess), the Society of Jesus (established at Graz in 1573), and the papacy (a papal nuncio was established at Graz in 1580). This work yielded its major returns under Archduke Ferdinand (b. 1578, r. 1596-1637), Charles's son and later (as Ferdinand II) Holy Roman emperor.

The chief political key to the Austrian Counterreformations was enforcing the undeniable right of the Habsburg princes, based on the Religious Peace of Augsburg, to compel their subjects to conform to the official religion or emigrate. These two documents illustrate how, with Bavarian support, Archduke Charles began to undermine the existing concession, which he himself had made in 1572, of religious liberty to the Protestant nobility, and particularly the (illegal) extension of this concession by the nobles to burghers and others. Once this extension was disrupted, the business of restoring Catholicism could begin. The first document (A) relates the decisions of a conference held on October 14, 1579, at Munich, where Charles and his brother, Ferdinand of Tyrol and Outer Austria, met with Duke William V (1548-1626, r. 1579-97) of Bavaria. Their talks dealt with two principal subjects: how to undermine the concession of religious toleration made in 1572, and how to begin the process of restoring the three duchies to the Catholic faith. The preparations, they agreed, needed to have Tyrolean and Bavarian support, and papal pressure had to be exerted on the bishops. They also pointed to the campaign of Counterreformation already underway in Upper and Lower Austria. More than a year later, on December 10, 1580, Archduke Charles issued a Counterreformation ordinance (B), in which he condemned both Protestant infringements upon his authority and polemics against the Catholic faith. Henceforth, only the official faith would be tolerated, and all secularized ecclesiastical properties had to be restored to their rightful owners. This act started the campaign that would break the institutional and social back of Protestantism in Inner Austria.

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(A) Decisions of the Munich Conference on Inner Austria (October 14, 1579)

Resolutions of the Munich Conference between Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, Regent of Tyrol and the Forelands; Duke Wilhelm V. of Bavaria; and Archduke Karl of Austria on the Recatholicization of Inner Austria, October 14, 1579.

[Recommendations for the subversion of the Inner Austrian Religious Concession of 1572 and measures to initiate the recatholicization of Inner Austria.]

[ . . . ]

First of all, that the concessions (1) made cannot and must not remain [in place] as they are, but that the direst necessity requires that these concessions be annulled and rescinded at the earliest opportunity, albeit not publicly through formal repeal (which would be difficult for Your Princely Graces for many reasons), but with moderation and according to a plan, that is, indirectly, outside the territorial parliament, and not in so many words, but in actual fact and this, not precipitately, but gradually and step by step. Thus be it understood:

That Your Princely Graces not allow the two noble estates (2), any disobedience in political matters, nor the usurpation of Your Princely Graces’ sovereignty and privileges by establishing and organizing print shops and the like, but earnestly employ all ways and means (as will be described hereafter) to put an end to such things as far as is possible.

That in addition to this nothing shall be permitted or allowed that is contrary to the abovementioned concessions as they are rightly understood as, for example, cities and market towns turning to their, the two estates' sectarian preachers, both in the four privileged cities of Graz, Judenburg, Klagenfurt, and Laibach (3) and in other places more generally, because the exercise of the Protestant religion in accordance with the Augsburg Confession applies only to the two [noble] estates and their subjects.

That the arrogance of the shameless public denunciation of Your Princely Grace’s religion from the open pulpit, likewise marrying, baptizing children, and other usurpations of clerical rights, including their likewise arrogated, illegitimate, alleged clerical ordination and the construction of new sectarian churches, as well as any other inappropriate things shall be resolutely prohibited.

In which case, there is no doubt that [those affected] will strongly resist and will not want to take any oath of obedience. In response, Your Princely Graces can reply in such a way that they, the two estates, [are trying] to extend and exceed Your Princely Graces’ well-meant concessions contrary to the clear letter of the law to suit themselves, and that under this guise [they] are attempting not only to oppress the Catholic faith, but also to withhold the obedience they owe.

This totally inappropriate and utterly unbearable extension reflects the rebellious and discontented preachers and their inflammatory teaching. Your Princely Graces must expect, by contrast, very different behavior on the part of the two noble estates on account of their nature and noble descent. It is expected that the two estates themselves shall, with the best of will, move against this creeping, dangerous evil and no longer simply observe or tolerate the preachers' actions. Instead, under pain of Your Princely Graces’ gravest displeasure and punishment, they must order their rebellious preachers to depart from each and every one of Your Princely Graces’ cities and market towns and forbid them to set foot again in such places.

Because there is, again, no doubt that this measure will meet with equally strong opposition, and that [those affected] will be even less likely to want to be obedient than they earlier were, Your Princely Graces will have all the more reason to object to this and particularly to press for religious peace, availing Yourselves of it no less than other Imperial princes do, and to take measures against the insubordinate subjects (4). By such gradual steps the concessions mentioned above will silently and indirectly be absorbed, quashed, and revoked. Furthermore, Your Princely Graces may not with reason and truth be accused of failing to keep Your word, but rather the opposite. The fact is that they [the Protestant nobles] have violated the agreement. Given the manner of this revocation, any further intervention of Imperial and princely counselors would be entirely unnecessary.

(1) On February 9, 1578, Archduke Charles II had conceded rights of religious toleration to the territorial parliament's two upper estates – magnates and knights – and also to the towns and marketplaces of Inner Austria. Only adherents of the Confession of Augsburg (i.e., Lutherans) might enjoy these rights – trans.
(2) The territorial estates typically had separate chambers for untitled and titled (magnates) nobles – trans.
(3) Ljubljana, capital of the duchy of Carniola (and now of the Republic of Slovenia) – trans.
(4) A reference to the ius reformandi accorded to secular rulers since 1555 by the Religious Peace of Augsburg – trans.

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