The Decline Of The Holy Roman Empire

3239 words - 13 pages

The Holy Roman Empire was an empire in central Europe consisting of many territories and ethnicities. Once very powerful, the empire’s authority slowly decreased over centuries and by the Middle Ages the emperor was little more than a figurehead, allowing princes to govern smaller sections of the empire. Though the various ruling princes owed loyalty to the emperor, they were also granted a degree of independence and privileges. The emperor, an elected monarch, needed the allegiance of the princes and other aristocracy to support him, in turn giving them power or money. This tenuous allegiance between powers was greatly strained in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as religious reform dominated Europe and religious tensions divided the empire. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the empire’s power significantly declined because of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation split the empire’s states into Protestant and Catholic divisions, straining the peace between territories. Though the relationship between the princes and the emperor had already been tenuous, the princes, seeing the religious divisions, sensed weakness in the empire and further challenged imperial authority. The Holy Roman emperors battled Protestant princes in Germany into the seventeenth century, where tensions were still high from the Reformation and wars of religion – initially contained to the German territories – began to include other territories and states. As more European states joined the conflict, the Holy Roman Empire continued to deteriorate. From the early sixteenth to the mid seventeenth century, the Holy Roman Empire’s power declined greatly because of its internal religious rifts, conflicts (in particular the Thirty Years War, which would significantly weaken the empire), clashes with powers outside the empire – like the French and the Ottoman Turks - and the conflict of princes and dynasty that plagued the empire during the period.
On October 31, 1517, when monk Martin Luther nailed The 95 Theses to the door of a cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany, he had no idea that he was sparking the Protestant Reformation (Greengrass 44-45). These 95 theses consisted of Luther’s complaints and disagreements with and regarding the Catholic Church, particularly on the use of indulgences – a “remission of temporal penalties for sin” sold to individuals seeking salvation (Greengrass 6, 44). The indulgences were claimed to lessen the time an individual’s soul spent in purgatory, commissioned by the Pope of the time, Leo X, and in collaboration with various bishops and archbishops (Linder 22). When Luther nailed his theses to the door, they quickly spread, spurning uproar. First, the theses were sent to Archbishop Albrecht, the superior of an indulgence-selling monk that parishioners of Luther had come into contact with. Then, the document (originally published in Latin) was translated to German and spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Luther verbalized...

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