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Diets of Speyer

Speyer (Spires) on the Rhine in Bavaria was host to four meetings of the Diet, or parliament, of the Holy Roman Empire during the Reformation period. In each case religious and politico-military considerations became intertwined. Emperor Charles V wanted support of the princes of Germany in his struggle against the Frankish-Ottoman alliance, and he wanted suppression of Lutheranism as required by the Edict of Worms. Some leading princes (e.g., Frederick of Saxony) would not grant both, however. As Lutherans, they demanded relaxation of religious suppression as a price for military support. Some Catholic princes supported the Lutherans because they wanted a greater degree of freedom from imperial control. So at Speyer in 1526 the emperor was forced to accept the resolution of the diet: “Each one [prince] is to rule and act as he hopes to answer to God and his Imperial majesty.” This opened the way for the spread of Lutheranism.

In 1529 Charles felt strong enough to demand that the diet of that year rescind the 1526 decision and ordered the rulers of Germany to enforce the Edict of Worms. Most complied but several, joined by fourteen free cities, drew up a strong protest to the emperor. Signatories came to be known as “Protestants,” and all who eventually left the Catholic Church were given the same name. The military situation continued to be grave, and Charles needed the aid of Lutheran princes. At the third diet of Speyer in 1542, to get help against the Turks, and at the fourth in 1544, to get help against the French, he made concessions. Though he later tried to crush the Protestants by military force, he ultimately had to grant recognition to Lutheranism at the Peace of Augsburg* in 1555.