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Negotiation and Power: The Failure of the Reformation in Schwäbisch Gmünd c.1500-80

Martin Christ[1], Department of History, University of Warwick



Christopher Close has recently introduced the idea of a 'Negotiated Reformation' into the historiography of sixteenth-century change (Close, 2009: 1-19) and applied it to imperial free cities of the Holy Roman Empire. This article aims to extend Close's concept of inter-town communications to a city, Schwäbisch Gmünd, which remained Catholic throughout the early modern period. Other key developments and reasons for the failure of the Reformation in Schwäbisch Gmünd will also be discussed, most notably the role of the town council and the use of armed forces. The council managed to stay in power regardless of a predominantly Lutheran population, a popular and able priest, Andreas Althamer, and an alternative political body, the Gemeindeausschuß. This article argues that the communication with the Swabian League and other Catholic towns was a very important reason for the failure of the Reformation and that although Lutherans also communicated with their supporters, it was ultimately the Catholics who instrumentalised long-standing communication networks most successfully. A 'negotiated non-Reformation' of Schwäbisch Gmünd can therefore be identified.

Keywords: Negotiated Reformation, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Imperial Free City, Andreas Althamer, Swabian League, Failed Reformation


Introduction and Historiographical Overview

When the Dominican monk Johann Fabri travelled through Germany in 1555 the only two imperial free cities which remained Catholic, he claimed, were Wimpfen and Schwäbisch Gmünd (Ehmer, 1978: 46). While this is an underestimate and, in fact, something like 15 imperial free cities stayed Catholic, it is true nonetheless that of the 65 imperial free cities, 50 had been reformed (Moeller, 1972: 41).

A Catholic imperial free city thus appears worthy of investigation. Larger imperial free cities (e.g. Cologne) and cities directly linked to the Emperor (e.g. Rottweil) have been subject of historical investigation. In Cologne's case the 'university was the most powerful interest group' (Scribner, 1987: 229) and it was due to the relatively weak guilds and strong council and university as well as surrounding Catholic princes that it remained Catholic (Scribner, 1987: 225-34). In Rottweil's case the resident imperial court has been identified as the defining factor for the survival of Catholicism. The court brought with it significant financial and political gains (Dixon, 2002: 109). As in Cologne's case, Rottweil was also surrounded by Catholic princes (Dixon, 2002: 109). In Schwäbisch Gmünd there was neither a university, nor largely Catholic surroundings which makes this case study even more interesting and significant for the understanding of the Reformation in imperial free cities.

The density of imperial free cities in the area east of Stuttgart, where Schwäbisch Gmünd is located, was exceptionally high. Aalen, Bopfingen, Giengen, Reutlingen, Esslingen, Schwäbisch Hall and Ulm (all of which turned evangelical at some point) are within a radius of approximately 70 km. Schwäbisch Gmünd was highly involved in the urban communication networks between those and other imperial free cities as well as other external bodies, such as the Swabian League. Both the urban communication networks and the Peasants' War were hugely important for the failure of the Reformation. Schwäbisch Gmünd also casts doubt on Peter Blickle's paradigm of a Communal Reformation (Blickle, 1987: 110-17). Rather than a replacement of popular movements by a 'Princely Reformation' after the Peasants' War, the process here was diametrically opposed: the bloodshed of the rebellion enabled the ruling Catholic elites to impose their beliefs rather than Reformed ideas. In line with most historical analysis, this article finds that after 1525 elites, in this case Catholic, became more dominant in opposing the Reformation.

The three main explanations for the Reformation's success amongst imperial free cities ('from below', 'from above', communal) have been criticised recently, especially by Christopher Close. In his Negotiated Reformation (2009) he argues that the far-reaching communication networks between imperial free cities have to be taken into account in order to understand the nature of the Reformation there. Close argues for a 'religious negotiation within a regional framework' (Close, 2009: 261). In his monograph, he primarily focuses on Augsburg and its influence on Kaufbeuren and Donauwörth. This article aims to extend Close's argument of a negotiated Reformation to an imperial free city where the Reformation was not successful. Close points out that associations of towns, like the Schmalkaldic League, the Swabian League and the Three Cities' League, played a crucial role in the collective politics, and therefore the Reformation, of those towns subject only to the Emperor. Catholic Schwäbisch Gmünd is no exception to this. The Swabian League played an important part in the suppression of Lutherans[2] in Schwäbisch Gmünd and was frequently called upon for help. These communication networks were most effective when the council convinced more powerful, external bodies to intervene with armed forces or threaten to do so. In most cases, however, such intervention would only take place when the communication channels were utilised. When the Swabian League condemned the actions of peasants in the mid-1520s, there was a very real threat of armed intervention involved. Equally, soldiers supplied by the imperial free city of Essligen used to suppress Lutherans in Schwäbisch Gmünd were essential for the Catholics eventual success. The concept of power can also be understood as the power held by the elites, specifically the Catholic town council. This article will analyse both the communication networks highlighted by Close as well as the power held by elites, which were frequently linked to military intervention or a threat thereof.

There were three distinct points where the connections among the different parties were extremely important for the failure of the Reformation. First, in 1524, peasants who surrounded Schwäbisch Gmünd were only persuaded to leave after a written condemnation and threat of armed intervention by the Swabian League. Secondly, in 1525, the Swabian League and imperial free city of Esslingen were able to supply Schwäbisch Gmünd with troops which eventually helped to suppress Lutheran stirrings. Lastly, in 1554, the Catholic priest called for help and surrounding Catholic cities responded, enabling the city government to carry on suppressing Lutherans. This article also covers the period after the Peace of Augsburg, as it aims to detect broader 'processes', as defined by Thomas Brady Jr. (Brady, 1998: 35). Later on in the 1570s and early 1580s, both Catholics and Lutherans from Schwäbisch Gmünd called on their supporters. This led to a temporary stalemate, but eventual success for the Catholics.

The richest primary evidence for these events derives from Fasciculus Actorum (hereinafter: F. A.). This collection of documents was probably assembled in 1738 by a registrar from Schwäbisch Gmünd (Wagner, 1879). It contains a total of 126 documents which were written between 1525 and 1635. There is also a supplement of further sources compiled by the priest Emil Wagner in 1856 (F. A. Beilage). Besides those two main sources there are others such as decrees of the council (Ratsdekreta) and tax records of the year 1525. Due to restrictions in time and funding not all of these sources could be fully utilised. However, a clear picture emerged from the sources which were used. The numbers which are given to each document in the F.A. and F.A. Beilage will be used in this article to identify them exactly.

A number of chapters in books on the history of Schwäbisch Gmünd deal with the Reformation period. Most of them are by Catholic priests (Rint, 1802; Wagner, 1891). Although written by clerics, those works are surprisingly unbiased. Historians also recognised the importance of the Reformation in the town's development and the Lutheran stirrings featured prominently in all chronicles of the town (Grimm, 1866) as well as literature on the churches of the town (Kissling 2004; Mangold, 1985). More recent writings derive from Herrmann Ehmer (1976, 1978, 1979) and Eberhard Naujoks (a very short sketch in Obrigkeitsgedanke, Zunftverfassung und Reformation, 1958). The most extensive assessment is Ehmer's chapter in the large city history published in 1984 (Ehmer, 1984: 185-231). His view of the early Reformation as an almost completely urban event (Ehmer, 1984: 185), however, is no longer in line with current research. A re-assessment, drawing on new conceptual frameworks such as those by Blickle and Close, thus seems to be timely to gain a better understanding of what happened in Schwäbisch Gmünd during a period of high religious tension.


The Failure of the Reformation in Schwäbisch Gmünd

Paradoxically, the history of the Reformation in Schwäbisch Gmünd is not very different from many other imperial free cities, except for the fact that the town remained Catholic in the end. The major source of Lutheran preaching was provided by the priest Andreas Althamer. He attempted to introduce the Reformation in Schwäbisch Gmünd after being in contact with humanists and other reformers, such as Konrad Sam from Ulm (Ehmer, 1978: 53). Such humanist influences were crucial for the development and spread of the Reformation in many other parts of Germany as well (Moeller, 1972: 19-41). In 1524, after initial struggles with the city council (Stadtrat), its members eventually agreed to let him preach in a Lutheran manner in 1525. The religious movement took on political overtones at this stage. A second, Lutheran communal body (Gemeindeausschuß) was set up as an alternative to the old Catholic elite. However, the latter never ceased to be extremely powerful and with the help of other Catholic cities in Swabia managed to restore Catholicism in the end. Lutheran movements resurfaced later and were only fully defeated in the 1580s.

In German research, two main reasons are given to explain as to why Schwäbisch Gmünd remained Catholic. The first was the combination of religious and political motives during the reform initiatives (Naujoks, 1958). The city council equated Reformation with Revolution. On the one hand, the town oligarchs and mayor feared for their political survival because they saw the blacksmiths who led the Reformation as contenders for power in the town. This involvement of guilds is not surprising and attracted the attention of previous historians (Moeller, 1987: 26; Dixon, 2002: 102). On the other hand, the serious problems with the peasant uprisings throughout Swabia and other parts of the Empire meant that Reformation was associated with pillaging, looting and a challenge to the established order. Although the pro-Lutheran citizens rejected the violence of the peasants from the very beginning, in many councillors' minds, Reformation was still closely linked to peasant violence if not utter chaos. This has also been subject of much historical debate (Blickle, 2004). The unification of peasants and towns, which Peter Blickle argues was hard to prevent (Blickle, 2004: 173), never took place in Schwäbisch Gmünd's case. The socio-economic agenda often linked to the uprisings made it even more difficult for the councillors to accept any of the peasants' demands (Moeller, 1987; Blickle, 1987). The sources also do not record any significant interaction of the councillors with humanist ideas which made it even less likely for the town council to accept Lutheranism. Although a humanist background would not necessarily have resulted in Lutheranism, it would have made it more likely. This meant that Catholic councillors only gave ground when there was no other choice, as in 1525 when the strength of the opposition necessitated concessions to Althamer and his followers. Enderle's assessment that 'the Catholicism of an imperial free city was almost exclusively based on the decisions of political elites' (Enderle, 1990: 393) is thus applicable in Schwäbisch Gmünd's case.

The second reason for Catholic dominance (Ehmer, 1984) was the presence of up to 200 soldiers (Knechte) supplied by the Swabian League and the neighbouring city of Esslingen. Esslingen only turned Lutheran in 1526 and was thus willing to supply military support at this stage. The troops were initially called into the town to help against the looting peasants surrounding the town in 1524/25. Once victorious, however, the soldiers remained in the town and were used by the council and the mayor to suppress Lutheran stirrings. This enabled them to stay in control and keep the town Catholic regardless of a Protestant majority. The assessment that 'the decision to adopt Lutheran reforms and to develop Lutheran institutions […] corresponded directly with the attitude of the council vis-á-vis the Reformation'[3] (Enderle, 1990: 380), which was found to be true for Überlingen, might have to be modified in Schwäbisch Gmünd's case because the opinions of the council did not correspond to those of the majority. But the Reform initiatives certainly lacked an 'institutional focal point' (Scribner, 1976: 235) which was one of the reasons for the failure. Such a focal point could have been provided by the council, as was the case in Aalen (Bauer, 1983) or by a university, like in Cologne' s case (Scribner, 1987: 229). Although the peasants surrounding Schwäbisch Gmünd were inspired by Lutheran teachings and a potential resource for the Lutherans within the city walls, their presence resulted in Catholic dominance instead. It is previously neglected links with external bodies, and even the Emperor, which this essay will now focus on to identify additional reasons for the failure of the Reformation in this imperial free city.


The First Rising of the Peasants

It was in early 1525 that the Peasants' War spread to villages around Schwäbisch Gmünd. Inspired by the Twelve Articles, peasants started to rebel against their landlords (Zwölf Artikel und Bundesordnung der Bauern, 1525). Although some historians see their agenda as mainly conservative (Ehmer, 1979) rather than revolutionary, they nonetheless threatened the established order. The peasants around the town, who styled themselves Gemeiner Heller Haufen [Commoners' Army from Schwäbisch Hall] also called on surrounding cities to join them in their camp at Iggingen. They offered 'unsern freuntlichen gruss und alles gute in Cristo und evangelischen bruderlichen liebe' [friendly greetings and wishing you well in Christ and evangelical brotherly love][4] (F.A. 7), however, they threatened to take 'Leib, Ehre und Gut' [life, honour and property] (F. A. 7) of those who refused to join them. In late March, the size of the Haufen reached a remarkable 2,000 men (Ehmer, 1979: 97).

Neighbouring Schorndorf informed Stuttgart of the troubles around Schwäbisch Gmünd as early as March 1525 (in a letter which is now in the Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart). This highlights the close links between imperial free cities and the regional capital. Gmünd's council replied only a day after Schorndorf's report claiming that hardly anyone from Schwäbisch Gmünd was involved in the peasant force (F. A. 10). This pledge of allegiance to Catholicism was necessary because it is likely that if not for the council's assurance of obedience, the Swabian League would have intervened. Regardless of the great fragmentation in the ranks of the Swabian League (Close, 2009: 57-61), one can therefore conclude that the League still held a position of great authority. It was, in fact, only the lack of armed forces that prevented the Swabian League's intervention in Schwäbisch Gmünd (Ehmer, 1984: 195). The hospital master (Spitalmeister) eventually persuaded the peasants to go home. But even here, the pressure of the Swabian League played a key role. The League sent a mandate to Schwäbisch Gmünd condemning the peasants and what they did (F.A. 9). The day after the Spitalmeister confronted the peasants with this mandate and a condemnation from the town council (council decree of 1525) they decided to return to their villages. As we do not have sources which tell us about the exact motives of the peasants for leaving, one can only speculate how important the condemnation of the Swabian League was. It seems likely that the military power of the Swabian League was an important factor in their eventual decision to abandon their cause. What we know for sure is that the peasants were in a big hurry. The request from the peasants to the inhabitants of the city to join them was written in half-sentences and they wrote 'ylends fur und fur' [hurrying more and more] (F.A. Beilagen 4) which proves that they were extremely nervous. This nervousness and the hurry they were in is likely to have resulted from fear of armed intervention. As pointed out in Horst Carl's Der Schwäbische Bund (2000), the Swabian League would attempt to solve conflicts by negotiation but if necessary they were also willing to use force.


The Second Rising of the Peasants and Involvement of the Swabian League

Despite the suppression of the peasant rebels, the Lutherans gradually took control of the town. During the Easter night 1525, Lutherans looted the Dominican monastery and an alternative administrative body was set up. This Gemeindeausschuß was led by pro-Reformation individuals. A particularly prominent role was played by the blacksmiths of the town (Ehmer, 1979: 85). In the early days of the Reform initiatives, services were even held in their guild house (Dixon, 2002: 102). The Lutherans took political control and forced the old government to accept the Lutheran Althamer as preacher. It was exactly at this point that Schwäbisch Gmünd came closest to becoming fully Lutheran. All pre-conditions were fulfilled: there was a Lutheran majority in the town, a willing, popular and able preacher served in Schwäbisch Gmünd and even political leadership existed in the form of the Gemeindeausschuß. However, the key problem was that neither the members of the old, established town oligarchy nor the mayor had ever been won over to the Lutheran cause. This would lead to the eventual defeat of the Lutherans.

Figure 1: The Truchseß von Waldburg whose help was requested by the Swabian League to defeat the peasants

Figure 1: The Truchseß von Waldburg whose help was requested by the Swabian League to defeat the peasants. Coloured drawing by Hans Burgkmaier the Elder c. 1526, taken from Hoher Adel - Schöne Kunst (2006), p. 23. [Reproduced with kind permission of the Kunstsammlungen der Fürsten zu Waldburg-Wolfegg]

The peasants rebelled for a second time in mid-April 1525 and this time they were not as easily appeased. The Truchseß von Waldburg (see Figure 1), a prominent noble knight, was in the area at this time and asked to intervene because the Swabian League feared that if the peasants would conquer Esslingen, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Schwäbisch Hall and other free cities would fall prey to them as well. The peasants burnt the monasteries in Adelberg and Lorch (see Figure 2) and thus the fear of the Swabian League that chaos would ensue seemed justified (Notiz zu den Unruhen in Schwäbisch Gmünd 1525, unknown author). But it was not only the League which was concerned. Both the Lutheran Gemeindeausschuß and the Catholic council (which was still theoretically in power) worried about the violence and chaos. The peasants sent a letter to the council of Schwäbisch Gmünd demanding that they 'help to establish and preserve the Gospel' and 'enforce the Twelve Articles' (F.A. Beilage 7). Similar to their last rising they also threatened to punish the city. The Gemeindeausschuß (and not the Catholic Rat) answered a day after and congratulated the peasants on their piety but argued that the town had to pursue its own interests and thus could not help (F.A. Beilage 8). After further demands by the peasants to at least pass though the city and a further rejection by the mayor, it seemed like there was a stalemate between town and peasants.

Figure 2: The monastery of Lorch which was looted by the peasants resulting in further tensions with the town council

Figure 2: The monastery of Lorch which was looted by the peasants resulting in further tensions with the town council [Reproduced with kind permission of the Stauferkloster Lorch]

A message was now sent to the Swabian League's headquarters in Ulm. This act ignored a request by the peasants not to contact the League because its members, the peasants claimed, were 'nit gemeß' [not moderate] (F.A. 1). This, again, shows that the peasants were afraid of the Swabian League and highlights that the written condemnation earlier is highly likely to have been a key factor in the dissolution of the Gemeiner Heller Haufen. One of the reasons the town rejected the collaboration with the peasants was its allegiance to the Swabian League. The burghers explicitly said so in their answer to the peasants (F.A. 2). After the Truchseß von Waldburg defeated an army of peasants around Esslingen, the ones around Schwäbisch Gmünd also abandoned their cause and went back home.

Besides the allegiance to the Swabian League, however, there was also a very tangible result of the inter-town communications. Because the town council (Stadtrat) was theoretically still in power (although without any real political say) they were able to ask the Swabian League for 100 soldiers (Knechte). In addition, the Rat also asked the imperial free city of Esslingen to pay for them if necessary and to send some themselves. Esslingen sent 50 Knechte who were under the control of the council which enabled the Catholic minority to re-gain control. Town bills of the year 1525 reveal that Schwäbisch Gmünd paid soldiers during this period and also after the peasants were defeated. The council was now able to challenge the power of the Gemeindeausschuß and eventually restored everything to its pre-Reformation state.

Esslingen and the Swabian League were crucial at this point. They provided 200 soldiers for the town (we know this, again, through town accounts from 1525). The soldiers were, it seems, initially sent to fight off the peasants but were then used by the council to gain back power. It is thus not surprising that the council asked the Knechte to stay in town for longer once they were supposed to leave by claiming the peasants were acting suspiciously still (Schwäbisch Gmünd council decrees from 1520-47, p.87). The peasants were crushed and it seems the only reason the Ra anted the soldiers to stay for longer was to keep complete control of the city itself.

Althamer also made use of communication networks. He asked the imperial free cities of Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl and Nuremberg for help regarding his catechism for Schwäbisch Gmünd in 1525. The sources here are sketchy but answers from Nördlingen and Nuremberg as well as reponses from the priests in Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen have survived. All of them gave Althamer general advice and encouragement for his Lutheran project (Ehmer, 1978). Unfortunately, Althamer never completed his catechism for Schwäbisch Gmünd, so we cannot see the influence other preachers might have had.[5] Once the Catholic council resumed power in 1525, Althamer was banned from the town and nearly jailed. He went to other Reformation centres (Wittenberg, Augsburg, Nuremberg) and eventually managed to reform the town of Ansbach, where he died in 1539 (Ehmer, 1978).

Figure 3: Andreas Althamer, the Lutheran preacher at Schwäbisch-Gmünd

Figure 3: Andreas Althamer, the Lutheran preacher at Schwäbisch-Gmünd (artist unknown, copper plate engraving, made around 1550) [Reproduced with kind permission of the Bibliothek des Evangelischen Predigerseminars, Lutherstadt Wittenberg]


Siege of the Schmalkaldic League and Eventual Defeat of the Lutherans

After the army of the Schmalkaldic League had failed to obtain a decisive victory against Charles V's soldiers near Giengen they retreated further south in 1546. On their way they travelled past Schwäbisch Gmünd, which was still Catholic and thus easy prey for the relatively large Protestant forces. After a short siege the Schmalkaldic League conquered and looted the town in November 1546 (Goldstainer, 1549/ 50). The town council was also forced to accept the Augsburg Confession and denounce the Pope. Inter-town networks were instrumentalised again and a request for preachers went out to Nuremberg. But just as in 1525, there was not enough time to fully establish a Lutheran Church. The Emperor deployed some of his forces, which were based in Schwäbisch Hall (approximately 50km away) to re-take Schwäbisch Gmünd and the council had to swear allegiance to Emperor and Pope once more (Ehmer, 1978: 222).

As late as 1554 the Catholic priest of Schwäbisch Gmünd, Jakob Spindler, complained about the multiplicity of religious beliefs especially about the many who did not receive the sacraments (Ehmer, 1984). It is therefore likely that Schwäbisch Gmünd still had a significant Lutheran minority at this point. Had Charles V not intervened as quickly, the Lutheran community might well have been resurrected in 1546. It was again an outside influence, in this case the speed of the Emperor's army, which meant that Schwäbisch Gmünd stayed Catholic.

With the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, imperial free cities could choose their religion freely and even chose to accept two confessions. Until the 1570s, Schwäbisch Gmünd remained mostly Catholic but with a significant Lutheran minority and an evangelically leaning pastor named Schreppel. But the city forbade Schreppel to preach and Lutherans were restricted to outside churches (Auslauf) and private worship in the 1550s. It seems that the council decided to ban Schreppel from preaching as a positioning exercise just before the Peace of Augsburg.

Lutherans and Catholics lived peacefully together until the years 1573/74 (Wagner, 1893), at least in the sense that Catholic priests also performed important sacraments such as baptism for Lutherans. In 1573, the new priest Jakob Mayer, however, rejected the baptism of infants whose mothers were not Catholic. The importance for both Catholics and Lutherans of outside forces can be shown once more in the ensuing struggle between the two parties.

The council thus contacted the bishop of Augsburg, who first recommended leniency but then advised the council to instruct Lutherans to convert to Catholicism and, if they refused, to punish them (Ehmer, 1984). A decree by the council consequently ordered Lutherans to convert to Catholicism by St. Michael's Day (29thSeptember) 1574 or to leave the town. 15 Lutherans then wrote a petition (Bittschrift) dated 25 May 1574 to the Catholic city council (the Rat) assuring their allegiance to the council, while at the same time refusing to convert. They finished with a threat: if the council would stick to its policy, the Lutherans would call on other imperial free cities for help. The petition was rejected by the council without further explanation. Unlike other imperial free cities, there was no 'interplay of magisterial, clerical, and popular designs for a Christian Church' (Abray, 1985: 224); instead the council at this stage was set on keeping the town Catholic by any means necessary.

But the Lutherans of Schwäbisch Gmünd had by then already requested help from outside. On 23 October 1574, a delegation of the Duke of Württemberg arrived in the town. They demanded, in the name of Philip of Hesse and three princes of the Palatinate, to allow Lutherans to practice their religion or at least let them go elsewhere to worship. The answer of the council, however, was negative and it seemed like they were still willing to expel Lutherans from their city. Now it seemed that the allies of the Lutherans in Schwäbisch Gmünd were determined to gain concessions. Numerous missions and letters were sent from Lutheran supporters to the council and one of them warned that the 'Ausschaffung' [expelling] of the Lutherans in Schwäbisch Gmünd could, in turn, result in Catholics being expelled from predominantly Protestant areas (Ehmer, 1984). There was even a threat of armed intervention by the evangelical princes (Ehmer, 1984).

In the meantime, the Catholic council exchanged letters and negotiated with all its supporters: the bishop of Augsburg, the Duke of Bavaria and the Emperor himself. Even a letter from Pope Gregory XIII encouraged the council to remain steadfast. The matter had been brought to papal attention by a member of the Collegium Germanicum from Schwäbisch Gmünd (F.A. 87). Although there were no concrete results of these negotiations, it is remarkable how closely interlinked the key Catholic players were and how much they conferred with each other to reach a unified stance against Lutheranism. Prominent evangelical rulers eventually also called upon the Emperor to intervene in favour of the Lutherans with reference to the peace of 1555. A letter by Emperor Maximilian dating from 20 February 1576, however, called upon both parties to stop fighting and asked them to respect the religious peace (F.A. 92). This is a clear turn away from the early policies of Charles V.

The Imperial request, however, only had limited success. The Catholic council, still afraid of armed intervention by evangelical sympathisers, now suppressed the Lutherans in more subtle ways: those taking an oath of allegiance (Bürgereid) also had to prove they were Catholic, anyone who wanted to work for the council also had to swear an oath of allegiance to Catholicism and members of the council had to hold a rosary in their hands at all official occasions (Ehmer, 1984). Further efforts such as the visitation of the bishop of Augsburg (1588) or the practice of the priest Johann Schroth (1582), who would only wed Catholics, led to eventual Catholic success. When the wealthy merchant Sebastian Terzago wanted to marry without the Catholic creed and was refused permission, he wrote to Ulm and other imperial free cities (Terzago' s Bittschrift to Ulm). This would be the last time that other evangelical free cities were involved in the religious struggles, because although Schwäbisch Gmünd and the troubles of the Lutherans were discussed at the Imperial Assembly (Reichstag) there was no tangible outcome. It was now possible for the council to imprison Terzago by accusing him of conspiring against town and Emperor. Terzago was only released after signing an apology and recanting his previous views. The last influential advocate of Lutheranism in Schwäbisch Gmünd had now been silenced.



This article finds that Close's concept of a 'Negotiated Reformation' (Close, 2009: 1-19) is also applicable to a Catholic imperial free city. The communication networks between Schwäbisch Gmünd and the Swabian League in particular proved to be crucial for instrumentalising armed forces for political gains. The relationship between negotiation and power, manifested through armed intervention, should be investigated for other imperial free cities in more detail. Blickle's paradigm of the Peasants' War as the point at which evangelical forces take control over a town, however, certainly does not seem to apply in this particular case (Blickle, 1987). Due to the communication networks the rebellion of 1525 led to the strengthening of the town oligarchies' position. As in the case of other imperial free cities which remained Catholic, the council's strong position was extremely important for the town's religion. As in the case of Cologne, 'the gospel could find no institutional footing' (Scribner, 1987: 240). However while the guilds in Cologne were relatively weak (Scribner, 1987), the important blacksmith guilds in Schwäbisch Gmünd openly supported the Lutherans without having a decisive impact. Schwäbisch Gmünd also proves that it was not necessary for a Catholic town to be surrounded by other Catholic princes to retain its religion.

In his Geschichte der Reformation, Thomas Kaufmann argues that success of the Reformation in the imperial cities depended upon the combined labours of both commoners and the city council (Kaufmann, 2009: 420). In Schwäbisch Gmünd, the reform initiatives 'from above' never occurred. We can only speculate why the members of the council and the mayor were never won over to the Lutheran cause. One factor was certainly their fear of the overweening power of the blacksmiths and other guilds, groups that were instrumental in the Reformation movement. The lack of engagement with humanist ideas might also have plaid a part. A further concern was the fear that Reformation meant Revolution. They saw this view justified by both the rioting peasants as well as the violence of the Easter night of 1525, when townspeople had looted the monastery.

All those factors were strong reasons for the council to remain Catholic but without the communication networks with surrounding towns and the Swabian League it is very likely that the Reformation would have occurred. The use of force and threat thereof, which could be utilised thanks to requests for help to the Swabian League and surrounding cities, meant eventual Catholic victory. Due to the support from Esslingen and the Swabian League, the council had the means to suppress Lutheran stirrings. Further correspondences between council and the bishop of Augsburg, even the Pope, meant a strengthening of the position and probably beliefs of the council and mayor. The evangelical princes tried to intervene on behalf of the Lutherans in 1573/74 but because the council was not willing to concede anything, all efforts by the princes were ultimately fruitless. Schwäbisch Gmünd would remain a stronghold of Catholicism within a Lutheran region for decades to come.




First and foremost I would like to thank Professor Beat Kümin of the University of Warwick for all the help, support and guidance he provided throughout the project.

I would also like to thank Dr Klaus-Jürgen Herrmann of the Stadtarchiv Schwäbisch Gmünd for his advice on sources. In addition, I owe thanks to the staff of the Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart, and the Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart and its branch in Ludwigsburg.

This research was made possible through the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme of the University of Warwick and additional funding by the Department of History.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1: The Truchseß von Waldburg whose help was requested by the Swabian League to defeat the peasants. Coloured drawing by Hans Burgkmaier the Elder c. 1526, taken from Hoher Adel - Schöne Kunst (2006), p. 23. [Reproduced with kind permission of the Kunstsammlungen der Fürsten zu Waldburg-Wolfegg]

Figure 2: The monastery of Lorch which was looted by the peasants resulting in further tensions with the town council [Reproduced with kind permission of the Stauferkloster Lorch]

Figure 3: Andreas Althamer, the Lutheran preacher at Schwäbisch-Gmünd (artist unknown, copper plate engraving, made around 1550; taken from the Wittenberg library) [Reproduced with kind permission of the Bibliothek des Evangelischen Predigerseminars, Lutherstadt Wittenberg]



[1] Martin Christ studies History at the University of Warwick and will graduate this summer. He is due to start an MA in Early Modern History at the University of St. Andrews in September.

[2] The description 'Lutheran' (rather than Reformed, Protestant or evangelical) will be used for the non-Catholics of Schwäbisch Gmünd because Andreas Althamer, who led the reform initiatives, explicitly described himself as a follower of Luther. Given the influence of other theologians (like Zwingli or Bucer) on neighbouring imperial free cities, the adjective 'evangelical' (deriving from the German evangelisch) will be used to describe them.

[3] This translation of the German original can be found in Close, 2009: 4.

[4] All direct quotes from F. A. are translated by the author.

[5] The most important work Althamer wrote for Schwäbisch Gmünd was his Von dem hochwirtigen Sacrament [of the highly important sacrament] (1526) which he also sent to the Schwäbisch Gmünd city council. It aimed to justify his own marriage.



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StAL B 177 S Bü 177: Fasciculus Actorum über die 126 Original- und andere authentische Urkunden und Beilagen deren in des hl. Röm. Reichs Stadt Schwäbisch Gmünd von 1525 bis 1635 angedauerte lutherische Religionstroublen [Fasciculus Actorum on the 126 original and authentic documents and supplements thereof on the Lutheran stirrings from 1525 to 1635 in the Holy Roman imperial free city Schwäbisch Gmünd]. Zusammengetragen 1738, probably collected by Jakob Dudeum (referred to as F. A. throughout the article)

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To cite this paper please use the following details: Christ, M. (2012), 'Negotiation and Power: The Failure of the Reformation in Schwäbisch Gmünd c.1500-80', Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 5, Issue 1, Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at