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Philip of Hesse

1504-1567. Landgrave of Hesse. The ablest of Luther's princely supporters, he was born at Marburg, his father dying when he was five. Following quarrels during his minority he assumed power in 1519. He soon proved himself a shrewd ruler and asserted his authority. He first met Luther in 1521 at the Diet of Worms,* but only after his marriage to Christina of Saxony in 1524 did he embrace Protestantism and encourage the Reformation in his state. He defended his new principles at the Diet of Speyer* (1526) and founded the University of Marburg in 1527. Suspecting that a League of Catholic princes was forming against him, he joined Saxony, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, and Uln in a secret understanding in 1529. About this time he became acquainted with Zwingli* and invited the Swiss Reformer to visit Germany to promote the unity of the Lutheran and Reformed churches.

In 1530 he formed with the elector of Saxony the Smalcald League* of Protestant powers for protection against the emperor. At first war with the empire was staved off by diplomacy, but fighting broke out in 1534, and the League was strengthened by the Concord of Wittenberg* in 1536. But the two Protestant confessions failed to agree, and this, together with Philip's bigamous marriage to Margarethe von der Saale in 1540, shattered the prospects of the League's political triumph throughout Germany. For a time Philip deserted his allies and made peace with the emperor, but within a few years he became aware once again of the dangers confronting Protestantism and formed a revived League which lead to the Smalcald War of 1546-47. Military defeat ensued, and Philip threw himself on the emperor's mercy in the interests of his state. Between 1547 and 1552 he was an imperial prisoner and was compelled to assent to the imposition of the Interim on Hesse, permitting Roman Catholic practices. On his release he renewed his efforts to bring about Lutheran-Calvinist unity, while at the same time he worked for a great Protestant federation and gave aid to the Huguenots.* Just before his death he gave a permanent organization to the Hessian Church by the great agenda of 1566-67.