A Century of Repression, Revolt and Reformation Print

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Shortly after Martin Luther was born, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, Grenada, fell, and the liberation of the Iberian Peninsula was complete. Then Christopher Columbus, sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean, discovered the Americas, the New World. While South Western Europe was celebrating its freedom after 8 centuries of oppression and occupation under Islam, South Eastern Europe was facing the relentless onslaughts of invasion by the Turks. Since the fall of the greatest city in the world at that time, Constantinople, to the Turks, in 1453, with the massacre of all the Christians in that city, the Turks had been an ever-present threat to Christendom, as Europe was then known.


Machiavelli06The Renaissance

Threatened from the East by a relentless Islamic Jihad, Europe was suffering from the internal corruption of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a time of material advance and spiritual decline. It led to the rise of absolutism and the loss of the individual rights and representative governments which Christian principles had developed throughout the Middle Ages. Renaissance rulers, epitomised by Machiavelli, rationalized despotism. Machiavelli advised rulers to be careful to maintain public relations through patronage of the arts and conspicuous charities, in order to create popularity, and to mask their hold on power.


doctors-in-ancient-rome-1170x780A Return to Paganism

Although Ancient Rome had practiced human sacrifices, slavery, infanticide, persecuted Christians and fed martyrs to wild beasts, Renaissance scholars began to hail the pagans as wiser and their times as superior to the Christian. This Renaissance trend to turn towards the graves of Rome and Greece was not progress but a regression to a pagan past, a rejection of the Christian faith.


While Renaissance Italians revived the pagan writings and customs of Ancient Greece and Rome, and unearthed their statues, paintings and plays, immorality flourished and degeneracy accelerated. Along with the physical and intellectual exhumations, the ancient intellectual and spiritual diseases that had led both Rome and Greece to self-destruction came to infect life in Europe.


Literature became shallow and imitative. Absurd ancient theories about “Humours” were resuscitated at the expense of medical research. Everyone’s municipal freedoms and individual rights were lost as Humanists extolled the tyrannical Roman laws, which tyrants were quick to adopt.


The impact of glorifying a licentious past was absolutely devastating upon the morals and behaviour of Southern Europe. The despairing conclusion of Renaissance Humanism was that life is meaningless. To escape from this intellectual cul-de-sac, many began to plunge into the blind fortune of astrology and magic. Many people who had lost their belief in sin, and in rejecting the idea of eternal life, desperately sought for earthly fame and fortune.


Paganism deepened as the Renaissance extended. From the 14th to the 16th Centuries, many cities in Southern Europe appointed official astrologers. Universities had official stargazers. Even Popes relied on Horoscopes.


Episcopal-Consecration-of-Bishop-Detail-CROPCorruption Challenged

With almost any position in the Catholic church open to the highest bidder, church positions became dominated by corrupt, money-grabbing Humanists who ruthlessly persecuted genuine believers.


Martin Luther, a brilliant lawyer and theologian visited Rome in 1510. Luther was shocked at the corruption and degeneracy of Rome: “Everything is permitted in Rome, except to be an honest man.”


To finance the Pope’s extravagant living and the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Catholic church was selling “dispensations” that allowed purchasers to break Church rules, to eat meat on fast days, to marry a close relative, to commit adultery and so on. In addition, the Catholic church sold “indulgences”, which could only be cashed in Heaven - to which they claimed to hold the keys. These Heavenly credits could be balanced against one’s sins committed on earth.


These earthly and spiritual pardons were being sold by a Dominican monk, John Tetzel, in Saxony, when Dr. Martin Luther, now a professor at Wittenberg University, wrote 95 Theses in protest. Luther argued that only God could forgive sins, it was better to help the poor than to buy indulgences, and truly repentant people do not desire to avoid punishment, but rather seek it.


Luther’s challenge was in Latin, but some enterprising printer translated it into German and began to print and sell copies of it. Soon the 95 Theses were available in French, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, and Italian. Soon Luther’s dramatic challenge against the unBiblical corruption of indulgences was being read in the market places and palaces of Europe. Even the Pope was handed a copy to read.


68443Luther Take on the Holy Roman Empire

Between 1517 and 1520, 300,000 copies of Luther’s writings were sold throughout Europe. It was the first time in history that a revolutionary idea had impacted a continent through a mass medium. Translators, printers, journalists and itinerant salesmen worked together to challenge the entire social and ecclesiastical system of the Catholic church and the Holy Roman Empire.


At about the same time that Cortez was entering Mexico, and encountering Montezuma and the bloodthirsty Aztec Empire, Luther was challenging the Holy Roman Empire in Europe.


In 1520, the Pope issued Luther with a Bull – an ultimatum to submit and recant or be excommunicated. Luther’s response was to burn the Papal bull in public, and then to write three booklets challenging foundational teachings of the Pope. Luther’s booklets: “An Appeal To the Christian Nobility”; “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” and “The Freedom of a Christian” created a sensation. Printing presses ran around the clock, turning out new editions. Luther rejected the right of the Vatican to interfere with the princes. He also recommended a national church and the expulsion of all papal representatives.


He taught that faith alone, and not good works, makes man righteous. Good works follow from faith. “The tree bears fruit, the fruit does not bear the tree.” Luther taught that we could not only receive forgiveness for our sins, but victory over the power of sin, over our own carnal nature, by God’s grace alone. By the end of 1520, Luther was proclaiming the Pope “Anti-Christ”.


Excommunicated by the Pope, all that stood between Luther and death at the hands of the Emperor was the protection of the Elector of Saxony. Prince Fredrick was reported to have said: “There is much in the Bible about Christ, but not much about Rome.”


Prince Fredrick of Saxony was one of the most senior and influential electors in Germany. He had been a serious contender for the position of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles V was Emperor of Germany, King of Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, and the Netherlands. His ships were sailing around the globe, his vast armies dominated all of Europe. However, Charles V, could not ignore the authority of Prince Fredrick, because Germany was still largely feudal and the Emperor’s power was not absolute. The German people still enjoyed many of the rights and powers, which the Renaissance had elsewhere swept away. Only recently crowned Emperor, and just 21 years old, Charles V had to be seen to respect the authority of the Electors who had only just crowned him. Prince Fredrick extracted a guarantee of safe conduct for Luther from the Emperor.


51Captive to the Word of God

Summoned to Worms, on 18 April 1521, Martin Luther stood firm before the Emperor, 6 Princes, 24 Dukes, 30 Archbishops and Bishops and 7 Ambassadors. The young Emperor sat on a raised dais, surrounded by men in gleaming armour, mitered Archbishops and splendidly dressed nobles.


Luther was denied any opportunity to debate or defend his doctrines. He was asked two questions, first: to confirm that the publications on the table were his, and the second: whether he would recant, admit that his writings were all heretical, and reject them.


Confirming that the books, booklets and leaflets were his writings, Luther pointed out that they were of different types, including basic Christian doctrine, which were accepted Christian truths – he could not recant Scriptural truth. Other of his works exposed the corrupt living, scandalous abuses and evils of the popes. If he were to reject these writings he would be as a “cloak that covers evil.” At this, the Emperor leaned forward and shouted: “No!” Luther continued that other of his works were against private individuals who had attacked his work and attempted to defend popery. He confessed that, in these, he had written too harshly.


The court demanded that Luther recant all his writings. Pressed again, in Latin, if he would recant, Luther answered in German: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture or clear reasoning that I am in error – for Popes and Councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. Amen.”


Luther’s courageous and historic speech before the assembled might and authority of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic church shook the world.



Furious, Charles V wanted Luther burned as a heretic. Prince Fredrick insisted that he honour his guarantee of safe conduct. Luther was allowed to leave, but the Emperor, and four Electors, signed a statement declaring Luther an outlaw. Prince Fredrick of Saxony, and the Elector of the Palatinate, refused to sign.



While frantic efforts were made to arrest Luther, Prince Fredrick secretly arranged for his kidnapping and spiriting away to be hidden as Jonker Jorg (Knight George) in the Wartburg Castle.


There, in disguise, in seclusion, Luther began a Bible translation Blitzkrieg and by the next year, 1522, the German New Testament was on sale for only a week’s wages.



Back in Wittenberg, Luther’s colleagues, Philipp Melancthon (a 21 year old professor of Greek) and Andreas Bodenstein Carlstadt (a 30 year old professor of Philosophy and Theology) continued the work of Reformation in Luther’s absence. Carlstadt took Luther’s intellectual rebellion and turned it into a religious revolution. He whipped up the crowds to destroy statues, shrines and all religious artefacts as idols that needed to be destroyed.


When Luther heard of this, he was shocked. Luther taught that people should not take the law into their own hands. Everything should be done decently and in order. And eliminating idolatry in our hearts comes before eradicating images in the churches.


bishop-st-gregory-orthodox-iconostasisThe Problem with Images

Images were a central means of communicating basic Gospel truths in the Middle Ages. As very few of the population could read and write, Bible stories were depicted through stain glass windows, statues and pictures. During the Middle Ages, it began to be accepted that Christians would not only learn the faith through these visual representations, but should also express the faith through reverencing these. An entire devotional system was developed, and an industry involving carpenters, painters, goldsmiths, silversmiths and other artisans built their livelihoods around providing images for the church. The Reformation, with its rejection of such idolatry, posed an economic threat to many of these people.


The Reformation Spreads

Luther was far and away the most popular author in Europe. His writings outsold all others in Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England and Germany.


Priests and nuns poured from the church and rushed towards marriage.  Princes were converted to the Reformation. The new Pope, Adrian VI, elected in 1521 upon the death of Leo X, demanded Luther’s arrest. The Prince of Saxony refused to co-operate.


The Peasants Revolt

Radical opportunists, such as Thomas Munzer, used this intellectual and spiritual upheaval to try to launch a political revolution. By the end of 1524, 30,000 armed peasants had risen up and began looting castles and monasteries, pillaging churches, kidnapping nobles, demanding ransoms and committing widespread arson and mass murder.


Horrified, Luther issued a pamphlet in 1524: “Against The Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants.” He not only disassociated from these bandits and revolutionaries, but he applied Biblical principles as to the duty of the princes to use the sword to protect the law abiding, and to punish the lawbreakers. The princes responded decisively against this anarchy and lawlessness. Munzer and 5,000 of his followers were wiped out by the knights. Another 20,000 rebellious peasants were killed in Alsace.


The greatest loss of life during this peasant’s rebellion occurred in Austria. Charles V’s younger brother, Ferdinand, crushed the rebellion - with 130,000 peasants being killed in battle, or by execution. The peasant’s revolt had been disastrous. Hundreds of castles and monasteries had been ruined. Hundreds of towns were depopulated and impoverished. Over 50,000 homeless wandered across the countryside, or hid in the forests. There were many widows and orphans. Because many of the rebels had destroyed the charters that recorded the municipal rights and feudal dues, new charters, many far more demanding, were drawn up.  Censorship laws were enforced all over Europe.


bishop-st-gregory-orthodox-iconostasisTurkish Invasion

Then, in 1526, the Muslim Turks attacked Hungary. Suleiman, the Magnificent, overwhelmed the small Hungarian army of 30,000 with his 300,000 invading Turks. King Louis II of Hungary was killed and the capital, Buda (what is today Budapest) was captured and looted by the Turks. The Turkish invaders drove off over 200,000 Hungarian Christians into Islamic slavery.


Rome is Sacked

The next year, 1527, Emperor Charles V led his army to capture Rome, the richest city in Europe. The corruption and meddling of the Pope had outraged even ardent Catholic Charles V. Now his army sacked Rome itself. The Pope was held for an immense ransom. Throughout Europe this was seen as the Judgment of God upon a debauched city and a corrupt church.


Repression in the Netherlands

The Catholic Inquisition in the Netherlands demanded that all hold to and believe the doctrines of the Holy Roman Catholic church. “Men and women who disobey this command shall be punished as disturbers of public order. Women who have fallen into heresy shall be burned alive. Men, if they recant, shall lose their heads. If they continue obstinate, they shall be burned at the stake. The Inquisition is to enquire into the private opinions of every person, of whatever degree. Law officers of all kinds shall assist the Inquisition at their peril. Those who know where heretics are concealed, shall denounce them, or they shall suffer as heretics themselves.” Under this edict, in the Netherlands alone, over 50,000 Protestants were killed.


Zurich-Reformation-Huldrych-ZwingliZwingli’s Reformation

In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli had launched a parallel Reformation starting with the expository preaching of the Gospel of Matthew, 1 January 1519, in Grossmunster in Zurich. The City Council supported Zwingli’s Reforms. All Zurich clergymen were ordered to preach only from the Scripture. The Bible became the basis for all law. The Council abolished the mass. All religious images, statues, relics and ornaments were removed from churches. Monks, nuns and priests were permitted to marry. Soon other Swiss cantons were embracing the Reformation.


In 1529, a Protestant missionary from Zurich was burned at the stake for preaching the Gospel in the Catholic canton of Schwyz. Zurich stopped all trade with Schwyz in protest. The Catholic Cantons declared war. At the Battle of Kappel, October 1531, 8,000 Catholic soldiers overwhelmed the 1,500 Protestants. Zurich Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, died in this battle and was killed by a Catholic captain when he refused to call upon the Virgin Mary.


jacques-lefevre-detaplesRepression in France

At the beginning of the 16th Century, France was the largest and richest nation in Europe. France had a population of 16 million at a time when Spain had 7 million and England had 3 million. Paris was the largest city in Europe with a population of 300,000.


Luther’s books poured into France. French Reformer, Jacques le Fevre, published a French translation of the New Testament in 1523, and the next year of the Psalms. He was denounced as a “heretic.”


King Francis I ordered vigorous persecution to stamp out the Protestant Faith in his realm. Protestants were branded, their hands and noses amputated, red-hot irons were applied to the head. Many were burned alive.


At the same time as Francis I was ordering mutilations and tortures on Protestants, his sister, Marguerite, was herself praying with Reformer Farel, and protecting Protestants.


The Outlaw, John Calvin

Brilliant young law student, John Calvin, was converted to the Protestant Faith, and started to call for a purified Christianity, stressing salvation through grace. He wrote a treatise on life after death, and another on Christian Doctrine. Calvin was arrested twice, and after a number of life-threatening escapes, Calvin was declared an outlaw and he was on the run from the authorities.


By 1536, he had produced “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” a theological masterpiece, systematically expounding the Biblical Faith, conduct and devotion of the Protestant Faith.


0000000652LFarel Wins Geneva to the Reformation

When French Protestant preacher, Guillaume Farel, first came to Geneva it was a very immoral city. Geneva had a prostitute’s quarter, priests living with concubines, and a corrupt bishop. Farel first came to Geneva in October 1532. Farel was a missionary from Bern, the strongest Protestant canton in Switzerland. Farel had played a leading role in bringing about the triumph of the Reformation in Bern, Neuchatel, and several other towns. He had also won over the Waldenses to embrace the principles of the Reformation. Farrell’s fiery preaching and unbeatable logic in debate with the Catholics won the city. As hundreds of Genevans were won to Christ, Farel seized the Cathedral of St. Peter and on 21 May 1536, the General Assembly of citizens voted in favour of the Reformation and made the Protestant Faith the official religion of Geneva.


Calvin’s Call to Geneva

With Geneva in revolt against its bishop and against the Duke of Savoy, Farel knew that his eloquence and evangelistic zeal was not sufficient to disciple this distracted city. It was at that opportune time that a local war compelled Calvin to divert through Geneva. He had planned to spend only one night in Geneva. When Farel heard that this famous French scholar and author was passing through, he hurried to recruit him. Calvin’s mind was set on his studies, but Farel would have none of that. He threatened that God would curse his studies if he refused to aid the church in Geneva at this critical time. Visibly shaken, and struck with terror, Calvin reluctantly agreed to serve in Geneva. Calvin began his ministry in the Church of St. Peter by preaching through the Epistles of St. Paul.


Turbulent Times

King Francis I of France shocked all of Christendom by making an alliance with the Turks in his war against Charles V. His political and military gamble failed, he was defeated and died bankrupt and disgraced, in 1547. The deaths of both France I and Henry VIII in the same year, 1547, emphasized the turbulence of that time when Luther, Zwingli, Farel and Tyndale had contended with the Popes and Charles V, Henry VIII and Francis I for the heart, mind and soul of Christendom.


The Protestant Faith swept across Europe flourishing in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, England and Scotland.



Scottish Reformer, George Wishart, was burned at the stake in Scotland. The Archbishop responsible for his execution, Cardinal David Beaton, was brutally assassinated in revenge. Protestants captured the Castle of St. Andrews. They were joined by John Knox, besieged by a French fleet, captured and condemned to the galleys.


Reformation in England

When King Henry VIII of England died, his 9 year old son, a dedicated Protestant, Edward VI, became king. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer initiated sweeping Reforms. All paintings and images were removed from churches. The mass was abolished and replaced with communion. The English language replaced Latin in worship services. The English “Book of Common Prayer” was introduced. Priests received permission to marry. Stone altars were demolished and replaced by tables. Protestant books and pamphlets flooded England.


Calvin’s Geneva

Guided by John Calvin’s Biblical preaching and systematic teaching, Geneva became the hub of the Reformation. Refugees fleeing persecution found sanctuary in Geneva. Calvin’s writings produced the greatest concentration of printers and publishing firms in the world.


Calvin established an Academy that taught Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Theology. Graduates of Geneva’s Academy carried the Reformed teachings into France, Holland, England and Scotland.


Edward VI

King Edward VI of England intervened to secure the release of the Protestants of St. Andrews, including John Knox, from the galleys of France, in a prisoner exchange. Knox was appointed a royal chaplain and helped Archbishop Cranmer in producing “The Book of Common Prayer.”


Then the young Protestant King Edward became seriously ill, suffering from measles, small pox and tuberculosis. Rumours that he had been poisoned by a Catholic assassin abounded.


BRIDGEMAN BAL 72630Lady Jane Grey

Fears for the future of the Reformation in England at the imminent death of King Edward VI caused the Regent, the Duke of Northumberland, to persuade the King to alter the Laws of Succession to bypass his Catholic sister, Mary, and crown Lady Jane Grey as Queen. In the end Edward’s death came swiftly, as the Catholic forces mustered to place Mary Tudor on the throne of England. Jane was Queen for only 9 days when the forces of Mary arrested and imprisoned her in the Tower of London. Pressured by her cousin, Mary, to renounce her Protestant Faith and embrace Catholicism, 16 year old Lady Jane courageously remained steadfast, and was beheaded as a result.


Bloody Mary

Queen Mary married the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, Prince Philip of Spain. Philip arrived with a huge fleet of ships and a vast Spanish entourage to dominate the English court. Cardinal Reginald Pole was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. England was formally returned to Catholicism, and the most prominent Protestant bishops, including Hooper, Ridley, Latimer and (the previous Archbishop) Cranmer, were burned at the stake, followed by hundreds of other prominent Protestant leaders. With every execution resistance to Catholicism spread and commitment to the Reformation doctrines deepened.


The End of Charles V

As Charles V abdicated in 1556, Mary’s husband Philip became King Philip II. Soon English troops and Calvary were being sent to the Netherlands to help crush the widespread Protestant revolt.


From the perspective of the Holy Roman Empire, the year 1558 was disastrous. Charles V, (the Emperor who Martin Luther had defied with his “my conscience is captive to the Word of God…Here I stand…” speech), died in agony, 21 September 1558. Charles V had condemned over 30,000 Protestants to torturous executions during his reign.


NTI PNW 1175953Reversal of Fortunes

Shortly after that, on 17 November 1558, “Blood Mary” died of fever. Twelve hours later her Cardinal Pole, Archbishop of Canterbury, died of the same fever in Lambeth Palace.


1559 began with the Protestants on the march, and with the Catholic cause in defeat and retreat. Emperor Charles V was now dead. His sister, Mary, the former Regent of the Netherlands had also died. Mary of Lorraine, Regent of Scotland, was out of power, and on the run. “Bloody Mary’s” Counter Reformation in England had been counterproductive, instead of returning England to Catholicism, she had only succeeded in entrenching the vast majority of Englishmen in their commitment to the Reformation. On 15 January 1559, Protestant Elizabeth Tudor was crowned Queen of England.


Knox Takes Scotland by Storm

On 2 May 1559, John Knox returned from exile to Scotland. His fiery sermon against idolatry galvanized the Scottish into immediate action. Altars were demolished. Images, statutes and crucifixes were removed from churches. The Scottish Lords of the Congregation worked together with the English to force all French troops to leave Scottish soil. The Scottish Parliament instructed Knox to draw up a Confession of Faith, which was adopted into law.


In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published. Before it was replaced by the King James Version (1611) over 140 editions of the Geneva Bible were published.


Mary Queen of Scots

The attempt to return Scotland to Catholicism by the return of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in 1561, put the Reformation in jeopardy. Mary Stuart was heir to England’s throne if Elizabeth died. Numerous Catholic assassination attempts and intrigues to replace Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots underlined the peril to the cause of Reformation and freedom in England itself.


Mary Queen of Scots’ immorality and intrigues outraged the population of Scotland. John Knox’s courageous confrontations of Mary and the scandal caused by her complicity in the murder of her husband, and marrying of his murderer, finally led to her being forced to abdicate in 1567. Her infant son was crowned James VI of Scotland (he later became James I of England). Knox preached at James VI’s coronation.


Catholic Cruelty in Holland

Meanwhile, while the Reformation was triumphing in Britain, it was under relentless attack on the continent of Europe. Charles V’s son, Philip II, was determined to crush the flourishing Protestant Faith in Holland. In 1566, Philip issued a proclamation requiring all his subjects to accept the decrees made by the Council of Trent. All who would not comply with these demands were to be delivered to the Inquisitors.


In 1567, Philip sent in his Spanish troops, led by the cruel Duke of Alva. Alva set up the Council of Blood which had 8,000 Dutch Protestants executed. Another 30,000 had their property confiscated. In 1568, the Inquisition condemned all the inhabitants of the Netherlands – 3 million men, women and children – to death as “heretics.”


William-I-Prince-of-Orange-1533--1584William Prince of Orange

William the Silent, Prince of Orange, became the leader of the persecuted Dutch Protestants. William and his Dutch soldiers fought valiantly, despite overwhelming odds. Their greatest strength was their skilled navy, which, although they were vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Spanish, triumphed over the Spanish time and again.


In 1579, the 7 Northern provinces joined to form the United Provinces of the Netherlands. In 1581, the United Provinces declared the Netherlands to be independent of Spain. In 1584, the Dutch suffered a severe blow when a Spanish agent assassinated Prince William – the Father of Dutch Liberties. The Dutch Protestants continued to fight for their freedom until 1648 when their independence from Spain was finally secured.


The Muslim Threat

It was not as though Europe’s only threat was from treacherous tyrants, just the year before the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France, Europe faced a most desperate attack from the Muslim Turks. In 1571, the Turkish Empire stretched from the Ukraine to Hungary to Egypt and Persia, from North Africa to the Caspian Sea. Turkish warships attacked Christian shipping from all along North Africa. Turkish pirates pillaged and looted the coasts of Europe capturing Christians as slaves as far afield as England and Ireland.


The Fall of Cyprus

In 1571, Cyprus fell to the Turks. 5,000 Greek and Italian Christians killed 30,000 Turkish attackers in their fierce resistance. Only after all supplies were exhausted and guarantees of safe conduct were offered, did the garrison finally surrender. But the Turks treacherously had all the Venetian prisoners executed, and the rest of the Christians shipped to Constantinople as slaves. The courageous Christian General, Bragadino, had his nose and ears cut off, his teeth broken and was whipped daily until 17 August, when he was flayed alive in the city square. The Turks laid waste to the island of Corfu and massed their fleets to attack Europe.


The Battle of Lepanto

The European forces were led by Don John of Austria, half-brother of Philip II. The Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571 was one of the most critical naval battles in history. The Christian forces, with 208 warships were outnumbered by the larger Turkish fleet of 230. The Christian forces closed in for the fight in hand to hand combat with the enemy. Spanish infantry flowed onto the Turkish vessels and, in ferocious hand-to-hand combat, overwhelmed the Turks. The Turkish losses were estimated at over 30,000 dead and wounded and 15,000 prisoners. On their side, the Christians had lost 10 galleys, 8,000 men killed and 21,000 wounded.


Lepanto was one of the great turning points in history. It ended the fear of the Turks that had threatened to overwhelm all of Europe. It stopped the Turkish advance. Church bells tolled throughout Europe as many prayers of thanksgiving were offered by millions of grateful Europeans. As historian, Otto Scott, observed: “Only God could have saved so divided a Europe against so determined and savage, rich and heavily armed a foe. After Lepanto the Turk remained a menace, but not an unconquerable one.”


Massacres in France

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre horrified Protestants worldwide and entrenched the conviction that the Catholic church was treacherous and that any guarantees given by them or treaties signed would not be honoured. Up to 30,000 Protestants were massacred throughout France, including the leader of the French Huguenots, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. The massacre was ordered by King Charles IX under the influence of his mother Catherine de Medici.


360The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, 24 August 1572, began at 3 in the morning. The first to be murdered was the aristocratic Admiral Coligny. Henry of Guise supervised the attack. His men burst into Coligny’s home, stabbed the Admiral and threw him out of the window. As Coligny landed at Guise’s feet, Henry of Guise spat on the body, and then told his men to spread the word that the king commanded the death of all Huguenots: “Kill them all! Kill them all!”


Horrible slaughter and mutilations followed. Approximately 5,000 Protestants were murdered in Paris alone. The Spanish Ambassador wrote: “As I write, they are killing them all, they are stripping them naked…sparing not even the children. Blessed be God!” Similar massacres occurred in Lyon, Dijon, Tours, Rouen, Troyes, and Toulouse. A total of 30,000 Protestants were murdered on St. Bartholomew’s Day throughout France.


When the news reached Rome, the Cardinal of Lorraine gave the bearer of this news a thousand crowns. Gregory XIII and his Cardinals attended a solemn high mass of thanksgiving. The Pope ordered a special medal to be struck commemorating the massacre with the words “Pontifex Colbni Necent Probat” (The Pope approves the killing of Coligny).


Resistance Stiffens

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre permanently altered Protestant thinking. Calvinists turned from previously accepting the divine right of kings to questioning the entire institution of the monarchy. The Catholic cause, already stained by “Bloody Mary’s” persecutions in England, and the Duke of Alva’s slaughter in the Netherlands, was now indelibly identified with the most bestial persecutions, tyranny and treachery.


Two months later, the Calvinists launched an offensive that lasted nearly a year. At its conclusion, Charles IX was forced to sign another treaty guaranteeing freedom of worship in France. English gold and practical support boosted the Protestant resistance in the Netherlands and Scotland.


Jesuit assassins and conspirators arrived in England to arrange for the overthrow of Elizabeth I, and her replacement with Mary Stuart. An army bearing papal banners invaded Ireland. In 1583, a Catholic plot involving English noblemen and a Spanish plan for invasion was uncovered. The Spanish Ambassador was expelled from England. As long as Mary Stuart remained alive she presented a clear and present danger to the life of Elizabeth, and the survival of the Protestant Faith and freedom in England. Mary Stuart represented Spain, the vast Catholic international and the Guises of France. Parliament placed Mary Stuart on trial at Fotheringay Castle. Despite attempts by Elizabeth to stop the proceedings, Mary Stuart was sentenced to death and executed 12 May 1587.


Spanish Armada fireshipsThe Spanish Armada

Philip II, who had recently conquered Portugal, now began to prepare for an invasion of England. This was while France was torn by civil war with three armies in the field, one led by the giggling transvestite with a whitened face, Henry III, the other by Henry Duke of Guise, and the third by Henry of Navarre, a Protestant.


King Philip of Spain then launched what the Spaniards called, the “Invincible Armada.” The world had never before seen such a powerful fleet. Having recently defeated the Turkish fleet, the tiny English navy was not perceived to be any significant obstacle to the Spanish invasion and conquest of England. Philip looked forward to the destruction of the Protestants and the restoration of Catholicism in England. With the English support severed, it would be easy for him to finally crush the rebellion in the Netherlands.


However, while churches throughout England held extraordinary prayer meetings, a storm wrecked the Spanish plans. The Duke of Parma’s invasion barges from Holland were not able to be used, and the English tactics of setting fire ships amongst the huge Spanish galleons, created confusion. Courageous action by English seamen and continuing storms decimated and broke up the Spanish Armada. Dutch support also helped the English defeat the Spanish Armada. Most of what was left of Philip’s fleet was devastated by more storms on the coast of Scotland and Ireland. Only a miserable remnant of the once proud Armada limped back into the ports of Spain. 51 Spanish ships and 20,000 men had been lost. The English navy had not even lost one ship!


The greatest superpower of Europe at that time had suffered a crippling blow. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 marked a great watershed in history. It signalled the decline of Spain and the rise of England. Commemorative medals were struck with the inscriptions: “God blew and they were scattered!” and “Man proposes, God disposes.”


The Rise of Protestant Naval Powers

Before 1588, the world powers were Spain and Portugal. These Roman Catholic empires dominated the seas and the overseas possessions of Europe. Only after the English defeated the Spanish Armada did the possibility arise of Protestant missionaries crossing the seas. As the Dutch and British grew in military and naval strength, they were able to challenge the Catholic dominance of the seas and the new continents. Foreign missions now became a distinct possibility.


The Defeat of Spain and the Triumph of the Reformation

Had the Armada succeeded, recent history would be unrecognizable. In the 16th Century, Spain led the Catholic cause; England the Protestant. All of Europe feared Spain. It had defeated all its adversaries, even the Turk. The Catholic nations of Europe had every expectation that Spain would succeed in crushing Protestantism by conquering England and Holland. When the Armada failed, the mystique of Spanish invincibility was destroyed. With the defeat of Catholic Spain the Vatican cause floundered. If “Bloody Mary” had undermined the Catholic credibility, the defeat of the Spanish Armada eradicated every hope that the Reformation in England could be reversed.


The extraordinary energies that had been released by the rediscovery of the Bible in the common tongue, had led to the most extraordinary spiritual revival in history, freed the Christians of Northern Europe from the decadence of the Renaissance paganism and led to the greatest birth of freedom and scientific discoveries in history.


The 16th Century was the Greatest Century of Reformation.

Dr. Peter Hamond

Reformation Society 

P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725

Cape Town South Africa 

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This article is adapted from a chapter of The Greatest Century of Reformation, by Dr. Peter Hammond. It is available from Christian Liberty Books, PO Box 358, Howard Place 7450, Cape Town, South Africa, tel: 021-689-7478, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  and website: www.christianlibertybooks.co.za.


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