Germany in the early modern period

The German-speaking states in the early modern period (1500–1800) were divided politically and religiously. They all suffered greatly in the Thirty Years War (1618–1648). Catholic Austria and Lutheran Prussia were the major players.

Holy Roman Empire 1648
The Empire after the Peace of Westphalia, 1648

The 16th century

The Empire in 1705, map "L’Empire d’Allemagne" from Nicolas de Fer

The Holy Roman Empire was dominated by the House of Habsburg throughout the Early Modern period.

German Renaissance

The German Renaissance, part of the Northern Renaissance, was a cultural and artistic movement that spread among German thinkers in the 15th and 16th centuries, which originated with the Italian Renaissance in Italy. This was a result of German artists who had traveled to Italy to learn more and become inspired by the Renaissance movement. Many areas of the arts and sciences were influenced, notably by the spread of humanism to the various German states and principalities. There were many advances made in the development of new techniques in the fields of architecture, the arts, and the sciences. This also marked the time within Germany of a rise of power, independent city states, and spread of Franciscan humanism.

German Reformation

The German Reformation initiated by Martin Luther led to the German Peasants' War in 1524-1525. Luther, along with his colleague Philipp Melanchthon, emphasized this point in his plea for the Reformation at the Imperial Diet of 1529 amid charges of heresy, but the edict by the Diet of Worms (1521) prohibited all innovations. Meanwhile, in these efforts to retain the guise of a Catholic reformer as opposed to a heretical revolutionary, and to appeal to German princes with his religious condemnation of the peasant revolts backed up by the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, Luther's growing conservatism would provoke more radical reformers. At a religious conference with the Zwinglians in 1529, Melanchthon joined with Luther in opposing a union with Zwingli. With the protestation of the Lutheran princes at the Diet of Speyer (1529) and rejection of the Lutheran "Augsburg Confession" at Augsburg (1530), a separate Lutheran church finally emerged. In Northern Europe, Luther appealed to the growing national consciousness of the German states because he denounced the Pope for involvement in politics as well as religion. Moreover, he backed the nobility, which was now justified to crush the Great Peasant Revolt of 1525 and to confiscate church property by Luther's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. This explains the attraction of some territorial princes to Lutheranism. However, the Elector of Brandenburg, Joachim I, blamed Lutheranism for the revolt and so did others. In Brandenburg, it was only under his successor Joachim II that Lutheranism was established, and the old religion was not formally extinct in Brandenburg until the death of the last Catholic bishop there, Georg von Blumenthal, who was Bishop of Lebus and sovereign Prince-Bishop of Ratzeburg. Although Charles V fought the Reformation, it is no coincidence either that the reign of his nationalistic predecessor Maximilian I saw the beginning of the Reformation. While the centralized states of western Europe had reached accords with the Vatican permitting them to draw on the rich property of the church for government expenditures, enabling them to form state churches that were greatly autonomous of Rome, similar moves on behalf of the Empire were unsuccessful so long as princes and prince bishops fought reforms to drop the pretension of the secular universal empire.

The printing press and literacy

The Reformation and printing press combined to mark a major breakthrough in the spread of literacy. From 1517 onward religious pamphlets flooded Germany and much of Europe. By 1530, over 10,000 publications are known, with a total of ten million copies. The Reformation was thus a media revolution. Luther strengthened his attacks on Rome by depicting a "good" against "bad" church. From there, it became clear that print could be used for propaganda in the Reformation for particular agendas. Reformist writers used pre-Reformation styles, clichés, and stereotypes and changed items as needed for their own purposes.[1]

Illustrations in the newly translated Bible and in many tracts popularized Luther's ideas. Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), the great painter patronized by the electors of Wittenberg, was a close friend of Luther, and illustrated Luther's theology for a popular audience. He dramatized Luther's views on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, while remaining mindful of Luther's careful distinctions about proper and improper uses of visual imagery.[2]

Baroque period and Thirty Years' War

The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) was a religious war principally fought in Germany, where it involved most of the European powers.[3][4] The conflict began between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, but gradually developed into a general, political war involving most of Europe.[5] The Thirty Years' War was a continuation of the France-Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence, and in turn led to further warfare between France and the Habsburg powers.

The major impact of the Thirty Years' War, fought mostly by mercenary armies, was the extensive destruction of entire regions, denuded by the foraging armies. Episodes of famine and disease significantly decreased the populace of the German states and the Low Countries and Italy, while bankrupting most of the combatant powers. Some of the quarrels that provoked the war went unresolved for a much longer time. The Thirty Years' War was ended with the Treaty of Münster, a part of the wider Peace of Westphalia.[6]

The Baroque period (1600 to 1720) was one of the most fertile times in German literature. Many writers reflected the horrible experiences of the Thirty Years' War, in poetry and prose. Grimmelshausen's adventures of the young and naïve Simplicissimus, in the eponymous book Simplicius Simplicissimus, became the most famous novel of the Baroque period. Andreas Gryphius and Daniel Caspar von Lohenstein wrote German language tragedies, or Trauerspiele, often on Classical themes and frequently quite violent. Erotic, religious and occasional poetry appeared in both German and Latin.

Rise of Prussia and the end of the Holy Roman Empire

The 18th century history of Germany sees the ascendancy of the Kingdom of Prussia and the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars which lead to the final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.


When Emperor Charles VI failed to produce a male heir, he bequeathed lands to his daughter Maria Theresa by the "Pragmatic sanction" of 1713." After his death in 1740 the Prussian king Frederick the Great attacked Austria and invaded Silesia in the First Silesian War (1740 – 1742). Austria lost and in the Treaty of Berlin (1742) Prussia acquired nearly all of Silesia. Prussia's victory weakened Austria's prestige and Maria Theresa, and gave Prussia an effective equality with Austria within the Holy Roman Empire" for the next century.[7][8]

French Revolutionary Wars and final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire

From 1792 onwards, revolutionary France was at war with various parts of the Empire intermittently. The German Mediatisation was the series of mediatisations and secularisations that occurred in 1795–1814, during the latter part of the era of the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic Era.

Mediatisation was the process of annexing the lands of one sovereign monarchy to another, often leaving the annexed some rights. Secularisation was the redistribution to secular states of the secular lands held by an ecclesiastical ruler such as a bishop or an abbot.

The Empire was formally dissolved on 6 August 1806 when the last Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (from 1804, Emperor Francis I of Austria) abdicated, following a military defeat by the French under Napoleon (see Treaty of Pressburg). Napoleon reorganized much of the Empire into the Confederation of the Rhine, a French satellite. Francis' House of Habsburg-Lorraine survived the demise of the Empire, continuing to reign as Emperors of Austria and Kings of Hungary until the Habsburg empire's final dissolution in 1918 in the aftermath of World War I.

The Napoleonic Confederation of the Rhine was replaced by a new union, the German Confederation, in 1815, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It lasted until 1866 when Prussia founded the North German Confederation, a forerunner of the German Empire which united the German-speaking territories outside of Austria and Switzerland under Prussian leadership in 1871. This later served as the predecessor-state of modern Germany.

Science and philosophy

List of emperors

Early Modern Holy Roman Emperors:


  1. ^ Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther (1994)
  2. ^ Christoph Weimer, "Luther and Cranach on Justification in Word and Image." Lutheran Quarterly 2004 18(4): 387-405. ISSN 0024-7499
  3. ^ "The Thirty-Years-War". Western New England College. Archived from the original on 1999-10-09. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  4. ^ "Thirty Years War  —". Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  5. ^ "Thirty Years' War". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  6. ^ Richard W. Rahn (2006-12-21). "Avoiding a Thirty Years War". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-05-25.
  7. ^ Reed Browning, "New Views on the Silesian Wars," Journal of Military History, Apr 2005, Vol. 69#2 pp 521-534
  8. ^ Christopher Clark, The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2006) pp 190-201

Further reading

  • Hughes, Michael. Early Modern Germany, 1477-1806 (1992) excerpt
  • Robisheaux, Thomas. Rural Society and the Search for Order in Early Modern Germany (2002)
  • Sabean, David. Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany (1988)
  • Smith, Helmut Walser, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Modern German History (2011), 862 pp; 35 essays by specialists; Germany since 1760 excerpt
  • Strauss, Gerald, ed. Pre-reformation Germany (1972) 452pp
  • Wilson, Peter H. The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy (2009)
  • Wunder, Heide. He Is the Sun, She Is the Moon: Women in Early Modern Germany (1998)


  • Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1978) excerpt and text search
  • Dickens, A. G. Martin Luther and the Reformation (1969), basic introduction by leading scholar
  • Gawthrop, Richard, and Gerald Strauss. "Protestantism and literacy in early modern Germany," Past & Present, 1984 #104 pp 31–55 online
  • Junghans, Helmar. Martin Luther: Exploring His Life and Times, 1483–1546. (book plus CD ROM) (1998)
  • Karant-Nunn, Susan C. The Reformation of Feeling: Shaping the Religious Emotions in Early Modern Germany (2012)
  • Midelfort, H. C. Erik. Witchcraft, Madness, Society, and Religion in Early Modern Germany: A Ship of Fools (2013)
  • Ranke, Leopold von. History of the Reformation in Germany (1847) 792 pp; by Germany's foremost scholar complete text online free
  • Smith, Preserved. The Life and Letters of Martin Luther. (1911) complete edition online free


  • Brady, Thomas A. "From Revolution to the Long Reformation: Writings in English on the German Reformation, 1970-2005," Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 2009, Vol. 100, pp 48–64, in English
  • von Friedeburg, Robert. "Dickens, the German Reformation, and the issue of nation and fatherland in early modern German history," Historical Research, Feb 2004, Vol. 77 Issue 195, p79-97
  • Wilson, Peter H. "Historiographical Reviews: Still a Monstrosity? Some Reflections on Early Modern German Statehood," Historical Journal, June 2006, Vol. 49#2 pp 565–576 doi:10.1017/S0018246X06005334

See also

Baltringer Haufen

The Baltringer Haufen (also spelled Baltringer Haufe, German for Baltringen Band, Baltringen Troop or Baltringen Mob) was prominent among several armed groups of peasants and craftsmen during the German Peasants' War of 1524–1525. The name derived from the small Upper Swabian village of Baltringen, which lies approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) south of Ulm in the district of Biberach, Germany. In the early modern period the term Haufe(n) (literally: heap) denoted a lightly organised military formation particularly with regard to Landsknecht regiments.

Burghart Schmidt (historian)

Burghart Schmidt (born March 1, 1962, Hamburg) is a German historian. Vice-President of the University of Montpellier III.

Catherine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Duchess of Saxe-Lauenburg

Catherine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1488 – 29 June 1563, Neuhaus upon Elbe) was a member of the house of Welf and a Princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and by marriage Duchess of Saxe-Lauenburg.


Frammersbach is a market community in the Main-Spessart district in the Regierungsbezirk of Lower Franconia (Unterfranken) in Bavaria, Germany. In the early modern period, people from Frammersbach achieved international renown as drivers of wagons on the most important trans-European trade routes. Today, Frammersbach has a population of around 4,500.

Outline of German expressions in English

The following outline is presented as an overview of and topical guide to German expressions in English:

A German expression in English is a German loanword, term, phrase, or quotation incorporated into the English language. A loanword is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language without translation. It is distinguished from a calque, or loan translation, where a meaning or idiom from another language is translated into existing words or roots of the host language. Some of the expressions are relatively common (e.g. hamburger), but most are comparatively rare. In many cases the loanword has assumed a meaning substantially different from its German forebear.

English and German both are West Germanic languages, though their relationship has been obscured by the lexical influence of Old Norse and Norman French (as a consequence of the Norman conquest of England in 1066) on English as well as the High German consonant shift. In recent years, however, many English words have been borrowed directly from German. Typically, English spellings of German loanwords suppress any umlauts (the superscript, double-dot diacritic in Ä, Ö, Ü, ä, ö and ü) of the original word or replace the umlaut letters with Ae, Oe, Ue, ae, oe, ue, respectively (as is done commonly in German speaking countries when the umlaut is not available; the origin of the umlaut was a superscript E).

German words have been incorporated into English usage for many reasons:

German cultural artifacts, especially foods, have spread to English-speaking nations and often are identified either by their original German names or by German-sounding English names

Developments and discoveries in German-speaking nations in science, scholarship, and classical music have led to German words for new concepts, which have been adopted into English: for example the words doppelgänger and angst in psychology.

Discussion of German history and culture requires some German words.

Some German words are used in English narrative to identify that the subject expressed is in German, e.g. Frau, Reich.As languages, English and German descend from the common ancestor language West Germanic and further back to Proto-Germanic; because of this, some English words are essentially identical to their German lexical counterparts, either in spelling (Hand, Sand, Finger) or pronunciation ("fish" = Fisch, "mouse" = Maus), or both (Arm, Ring); these are excluded from this list.

German common nouns fully adopted into English are in general not initially capitalised, and the German letter "ß" is generally changed to "ss".

Upper Harz Water Regale

The Upper Harz Water Regale (German: Oberharzer Wasserregal) is a system of dams, reservoirs, ditches and other structures, much of which was built from the 16th to 19th centuries to divert and store the water that drove the water wheels of the mines in the Upper Harz region of Germany. The term regale, here, refers to the granting of royal privileges or rights (droit de régale) in this case to permit the use of water for mining operations in the Harz mountains of Germany.

The Upper Harz Water Regale is one of the largest and most important historic mining water management systems in the world. The facilities developed for the generation of water power have been placed under protection since 1978 as cultural monuments. The majority are still used, albeit nowadays their purpose is primarily to support rural conservation (the preservation of a historic cultural landscape), nature conservation, tourism and swimming. From a water management perspective, several of the reservoirs still play a role in flood protection and the supply of drinking water. On 31 July 2010 the Regale was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site affiliated with the Mines of Rammelsberg and the Historic Town of Goslar.The water system covers an area of roughly 200 square kilometres (77 sq mi) within the Lower Saxon part of the Harz, the majority of structures being found in the vicinity of Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Hahnenklee, Sankt Andreasberg, Buntenbock, Wildemann, Lautenthal, Schulenberg, Altenau and Torfhaus.

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