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Tag Archives: Wittenberg

Kings Compete for Power with Nobles and the Church


Henry Tudor was a patient young man, who waited and watched while civil war raged in England and quarreling lords fought to see who would be king. He waited safely in France, biding his time until his spies told him the hour had come to strike. Then from northern France he crossed the English Channel with 2000 soldiers. Ahead of Henry and his soldiers had gone his agents, who sought to weaken the position of England’s King, Richard III. Henry’s agents had plotted secretly with some of Richard’s supporters, lords who led small armies of their own. That was why when the battle was fought at Bosworth Field, England, in 1485, first one group and then another broke from King Richard’s ranks and joined Henry Tudor’s forces. Screaming “Treason, treason!” King Richard III hurled himself into the thick of the fray. He wanted to kill young Henry Tudor, but King Richard himself was struck down. As the King’s armour clad body crashed heavily to the ground, the light golden crown that fitted over his helmet rolled under a nearby hawthorn bush. When the battle was over, a soldier picked up the crown and placed it on Henry Tudor’s helmet. For over a hundred years, Henry Tudor (who became King Henry VII) and his descendants ruled England. There had been kings in England for centuries, but powerful feudal nobles had often refused to accept their authority. Moreover, for 30 years before Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth, England had been engaged in a disastrous war between two branches of the royal family. But though Henry Tudor and his descendants met with op position, they steadily increased their powers. As a result, England became a unified and prosperous country. We learn how strong monarchies, or kingdoms, developed in Europe during the later Middle …

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Defender of the Faith 1521 – 1603

Henry VIII

OF ALL THE RULERS OF EUROPE, none was more eager to please the pope, more anxious to prove himself a loyal son of the Church, than Henry VIII, the handsome young monarch of England. Henry was one of the first to offer his soldiers when the pope formed a Holy League to fight the Turks (and to frighten off the French kings, who had developed the unfortunate habit of invading Italy every few years). Henry never actually sent the troops. To show that he meant well, he wrote a strongly worded book about the duties that men owed the pope and the treachery of Lutherans who dated to question the leader of the Church. “What serpent so villainous,” he wrote, “as he who calls the pope’s authority tyrannous?” It was a most impressive and learned book and no wonder. Much of it was the work of Henry’s scholarly friend Thomas More. When it was published in 1521, the pope rewarded the king by giving him the title “Defender of the Faith.” Henry was delighted with his new title, though not surprised. After all, he was used to being the best at everything he did. He wrote music which the palace musicians insisted was exactly the thing to play at court. He amazed his poets with the excellence of his verses, danced more skillfully than the most light-footed of his courtiers, killed more deer and wild beats than the best of his huntsmen and thought deeper thoughts than the philosophers in his universities — or so his courtiers said. It did not occur to him that people praised him merely because he was the king. Indeed, his one problem was to make use of his many talents when it took so much time to rule his kingdom. He did the best …

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Preachers of Reform 1518-1564


IN 1518, AN INDULGENCE PEDDLER, a priest from France, made his way through one of the twisting Alpine passes that led into Switzerland. He carried with him a supply of bright banners, an impressive-looking copy of Pope Leo’s Declaration of Indulgences and of course, a collecting box. The French priest’s hopes were high, for the little Swiss merchant towns were rich. He did indeed do well at first and his collecting box began to grow heavy with pieces of gold. Then he came to the town of Zurich. As he began to set up his banners, a town official stopped him. “No indulgences here,” the official said. “I come in the name of Pope Leo and the Holy Church,” the Frenchman replied. “And I,” said the official, “speak for the town council of Zurich and the People’s Priest of our Cathedral who has told us that these indulgences you peddle are no good.” When the Frenchman began to protest, the official said he would have him driven out of town if he didn’t leave peacefully. The Frenchman rolled up his bright banners and went on his way. The Swiss, he knew‚ had always been too independent and now, with this People’s Priest, whoever he was, they seemed to have found another Martin Luther. Actually, nothing so annoyed the People’s Priest of Zurich as being called the “other Luther.” Ulrich Zwingli said that his ideas were his own and that he had come upon them long before Luther began to make a stir in Wittenberg. As a young parish priest‚ fresh from the university, Zwingli had studied Greek and Hebrew in order to read the Bible and other early church writings in their original languages. Three times he had gone to Italy, as chaplain to the rugged Swiss soldiers who were …

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The Monk from Wittenberg 1505-1546

ON A SULTRY JULY DAY IN 1505, a young law student, Martin Luther, was walking along a country road in Germany when a summer storm blew up. The air grew heavy and black clouds filled the sky. Before Luther could take shelter, thunder began to crash. A bolt of lightning struck the road almost at his feet. Thrown to the ground, he lay shaking, not certain whether he was alive or dead. “Help me, Saint Anne,” he cried, “help me and I will become a monk.” After a moment, Luther’s trembling stopped. He stood up, found that he was not hurt and continued his walk toward Erfurt, the town in which he attended the university. He did not forget his promise to Saint Anne. He spent a week or so thinking and making plans. Then he told his professors that he could come no more to their classes. He sold his books, bade farewell to his friends and went to the monastery of the Augustinian friars and said that it was his wish to become a monk. When Martin’s father, old Hans Luther, heard what his son had done, he was puzzled and angry. Hans had worked hard all of his life. Though his ancestors had been peasant farmers, he had managed to set himself up in a little business. But he was far from rich; he had scrimped and saved to send his son to school and to the university. He had long looked forward to the time when Martin would be a lawyer, a man of standing who would make his parents proud and earn the money to care for them in their old age. Now those plans were ruined. As a monk, Martin would never win fame or riches. Hans was furious and he wrote to Martin …

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