Swedish bishops were very wealthy and most of then came from the leading Swedish families. Like the rest of western Europe pre-Luther they supported a system that allowed them the opportunities to abuse their position. In 1500 Danish kings ruled Sweden and they upheld the power and rights of the Catholic Church. After the death of Sten Sture, a national rebellion took place against Denmark led by Gustavus Vasa.

In June 1523, Vasa was proclaimed king by the Estates of Nobles. However, his war had been costly and to recoup his losses, he decided to attack the wealth of the established church. He faced one main problem. With the exception of Stockholm, which had trading links with the north of Germany, Lutheranism had made no real inroads into Sweden and the majority of the people were loyal to the Catholic Church. Hence there was no obvious lever to get at the Catholic Church’s wealth.

In 1527 at the Diet of Vasteras the bishops refused to have a public debate with those who wanted reform. They knew that their wealth was an obvious target to attack and there would be royal approval to do so. The bishops appealed to Rome for help but the sheer distance involved meant that help was impossible. Vasa threatened to abdicate over the issue and no-one was willing to tolerate the threat of civil war breaking out again or allowing Denmark the chance to re-assert her authority again. Vasa won the day and the Diet gave way and agreed to hand over the “surplus wealth” of the church to the crown. No restrictions on the preaching of God were also introduced. Vasa was willing to tolerate the Catholic Church and the Protestants. His clash was purely with Rome for financial and political reasons – who ruled Sweden, him or the nobles ?

The two key reformers in Sweden were Olaf and Laurentius Petri. Both these men had studied at Wittenburg and were influenced by Luther and Melanchthon.

In 1526, Olaf had written the New Testament in Swedish. This allowed the Swedish people to actually read and understand it. In 1531, Laurentius was appointed Archbishop of Uppsala. In 1536, a synod at Uppsala decided that there should be no more masses in Latin. Olaf drew up a Swedish communion service. Clerical celibacy was abolished and ministers had to “preach the word of God.” By 1539, Lutheranism was firmly planned in Sweden. However, the Petri brothers wanted freedom from the crown as well as Rome. This obviously brought them into conflict with Vasa and they lost as a result of Vasa’s status as being the creator of Sweden.

In 1539, Olaf was arrested and sentenced to death. He was not executed but it acted as an example to others that Vasa was not willing to lose control of the church. Those who opposed Vasa were frightened into silence.

In 1544 at the Diet of Vasteras the results of the Reformation were formally adopted on behalf of the Swedish people. The Vasa family was made the hereditary monarch as opposed to elective. A systematic opposition to the Catholic Church was introduced and up to his death in 1560, Vasa kept a close ‘eye’ on the church. At his death, Protestantism was popular and this was helped by the publication of the Swedish Bible in 1541 by the Petri brothers. Laurentius became the accepted head of the church on the death of Olaf in 1552 and remained so until his death in 1572.

In 1572, the king was given the power to appoint bishops but he could only pick those who had been forwarded by the church and senior laity. This meant that after Vasa’s death, the church was effectively self-governing which was in sharp contrast to what was happening in north Germany. The doctrine of the Swedish Protestant Church was simple – “commitment to pure words of God.”

The Netherlands

The cities of the Netherlands had warmly welcomed the Renaissance. The cities were filled with educated men who were skilled in such areas as trade and their influence on how to conduct trade spread throughout Europe. Erasmus lived in Louvain where his preaching, regardless of its ambiguities, found ready listeners. The extensive printing works ensured that the writings of Luther were available. However, Charles V was determined that the Netherlands would not fall into the hands of the Protestants – he was king of Spain and the Netherlands were part of the Spanish Empire. In January 1521, all Lutheran books in the Netherlands were ordered to be confiscated and the Edict of Worms was duly enforced. The clamp down forced Erasmus to leave for Basle in 1521 as the Netherlands had become too repressive. Charles V even thought about introducing a form of the Spanish Inquisition in the Netherlands. There was huge opposition to this in the Netherlands but a local version was introduced in 1522. A lay person was appointed Inquisitor-General which received Papal approval in 1523. However, this form of an Inquisition could never be free for either Papal or royal influence as Charles insisted that all sentences be approved by him of his council.

In July 1523, two Protestants were burned in Brussels. In 1529 and 1531, orders were issued proclaiming death for Lutherans, those who sheltered them, those who spread their writings and those who publicly discussed matters of faith.

However, none of this removed Protestantism from the Netherlands. How could it ? City magistrates were sympathetic to Luther and Charles had to transfer power their power to the provincial tribunals that were easier to influence. However, this was only done after 1550 thus allowing the edicts of 1529 and 1531 to be effectively ignored.

The Netherlands was a trading state and many foreigners came and went. It proved as impossible here as in north Germany to stop the flow of ideas in and out of the region. Her nearest trading partner was in fact northern Germany. How could Charles V ban trade with Germany ? The Netherlands was a very rich source of money for Spain so it would have created major problems for Spain which Charles could not afford. At this time Spain’s economy was very fragile so any ban would have had a direct and serious impact on Spain. Also such a ban would have provoked serious unrest in both the Netherlands and Germany.

The Protestants in the Netherlands were forced to go underground to survive and they became very committed and radical but like Saxony they had to rely on the state for support and its lack of organisation at a local level meant that it remained a personal belief rather than one that was systematically spread.

Italy and Spain

Luther made little inroads into either region. The crusading element in Spain gave the Catholic Church a boost as did the reforms to the Church by Ximenes which had removed the obvious abuses in the Spanish church. A group called the “Illuminists” seemed a greater threat. They believed that through the cultivation of mystical ecstasy they could attain direct communion with God. They did not believe in good works and in 1525 they were condemned by the Spanish Inquisition.

From 1525 to 1558 the Inquisition only dealt with less than 100 cases of Lutheranism in Spain and over 50% of these cases involved foreigners. Philip II saw himself as the saviour of the Catholic Church and he fully encouraged orthodoxy. In 1558, the Inquisition uncovered a Protestant cell in Seville and in the same year the importation of books was banned. All books printed in Spain had to be approved by the government. In 1559 no students were allowed to travel and study abroad and in the same year a new Index of banned books was printed. Spain cut herself off from Europe’s intellectual life in an effort to maintain orthodoxy.

In Italy Lutheranism depended on individuals such as Juan de Valdes, Bernard Ochino and Peter the Martyr. Peter Paul Vergerio was the Papal nuncio to the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. By 1541, he was beginning to question the Catholic faith and in 1549 he became a Lutheran and fled to Germany.

In 1542, the Papal Inquisition was established. Rulers who refused to conform found themselves facing the Inquisition which was a powerful and feared threat but only to the lesser Italian states which could be overwhelmed by the might of the Papal states. Such a threat had little impact on the likes of Bavaria. However, the regions in both north and south Italy were staunchly Catholic. The one exception was Venice where certain individuals questioned the pope though not necessarily for religious reasons. But essentially Italy as an complete unit was Catholic and the Lutheran faith made no impact.


France is probably the most complicated country to assess as Luther was used primarily by the king, Francis I, as a lever to assert his authority over a governmental body that he viewed as a rival – the Parlément de Paris.

Francis was a catholic and France was a catholic nation. So why was Lutheranism not quashed the moment it entered France? Francis was an educated man who had already started to question what exactly was meant by the word “heresy”. But by far his biggest problem was his constant battle with the Sorbonne and the Parlément on who actually had the power in Paris.

Both these institutions had historic rights of power and by the time of Francis they considered these powers as a partner to monarchical power. Such a sentiment was not shared by the autocratic Francis. There is no evidence that both the Sorbonne or the Parlément were disloyal to the king but they both clung jealously to the power that they believed was theirs. Francis used the influx of Protestantism to his advantage in an effort to undermine the power of both institutions.

Since the Concordat of Bologna was signed in 1516 between France and the Vatican, the French king had been given the right to appoint the 700 most senior church positions in France itself. Therefore the king appointed men that he knew would support him. The Concordat had been opposed by both the Sorbonne and the Parlément but the arrest of the most vocal critics soon dispelled any opposition. The influence of these selected churchmen in the localities where they were placed cannot be underestimated. The population of France was primarily rural and such areas were extremely conservative and religion dominated peoples lives. If the local bishop educated the people that they should support the king in all matters then it is likely that they would do this as a knee-jerk reaction. That could only dilute any influence the Sorbonne and the Parlément had on society.

In 1525, Francis was captured in the Battle of Pavia and held captive for a year by Charles V. This was a time when the Parlément and the Sorbonne could re-assert their power and they established a special commission to hunt out “heretics”. When Francis was released he found that he was in need of money and he ordered that the Catholic Church should re-organise itself and he appointed Antoine Duprat to start this. Such was the weakness of  Francis at this time that he got nowhere in this venture. In 1529, Parlément again moved against the Lutherans but at this time the Calvinists looked a more dangerous opponent. Feeling threatened by them, Francis worked with the Parlément and in 1535 he banned the publication of all new books unless there was specific government agreement.

In 1538, Francis and Charles V agreed to hunt out heresy and in 1540 he gave Parlément the power to do just this. In 1542, the Sorbonne issued its own Index and in 1544 Francis renewed his commitment to hunting out heresy and when he was succeeded by his son, Henry II, in 1547, the hunt became more intensive as Henry was a staunch catholic. By 1551 the Jesuits were in France and established a college in Paris.

For all this the Protestant movement as a whole made progress in France but it was primarily the Calvinists who succeeded as Luther had never made plans on how to organise his church whereas Calvin had done just that. As such, any successful moves against the Protestants was against the  Lutherans. Ironically, during the time of Henry II, the lawyers in the Parlément argued that the death penalty should not be used in issues regarding religion and they urged Henry II to move in a cautious manner. Those lawyers who spoke out were arrested. In 1559 the Protestant cause in France received an unexpected and welcomed respite.