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Edict of Restitution

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The Edict of Restitution was a document enforced by the Catholic Emperor which aimed to discriminate against Protestants at the height of the Thirty Years War


Since 1627, the southern German Catholics had been petioning the Emperor to take advantage of recent victories in The Thirty Years War and restore Catholic lands usurped by Protestants since the Peace of Augsburg. A piecemeal re-Catholicisation had taken place in the lands taken from the Protestants since the beginning of the war. Ferdinand, who was stirred on by Jesuits in his court convincing him of the rightness of his actions, was willing to formalize these gains. The result was the Edict of Restitution. This brief document purported to do no more than enforce the terms of the Peace of Augsburg, however, the interpretation of that document by both sides angered the Protestant powers of the Empire.

The Edict

According to Catholics, the right of a ruler to alter his religion and with it the religion of his subjects (cuius regio eius religio) had one exception. If the ruler was a bishop or other ecclesiastical type and altered his religion his office was to become forfeit, and therefore must be replaced by a Catholic. The Roman Church was to be restored to all lands taken from her since the Peace of Passau in 1552 or Peace of Augsburg in 1555 (depending of the form of land tenure). Imperial commissioners were appointed to establish the ownership of the lands at the relevant date. These commissioners tended to be churchmen interested in the outcome, Catholic zealots or both. The exception to the cuius regio eius religio principle previously recognized permitting the practice of Lutheranism in Catholic states if the religion had been practiced prior to the Peace of Augsburg was to be rescinded. The Edict would result in the transfer of vast lands in Protestant Northern Germany. Ferdinand and Maximillian were able to bestow rich bishoprics upon the ecclesiastical members of their dynasties. The triumph of Wallenstein’s armies and Ferdinand’s Counter-reformation policy were to have dire consequences for both.


Naturally, the Protestant Princes, faced with dispossession of all of the Church lands they had arrogated to themselves over the last three-quarters of a century, vehemently opposed the Edict. Even the normally passive Johan Georg of Saxony declared his opposition to the Emperor. He proposed to convene a meeting of the Protestant Princes in Leipzig, the so-called Leipzig Colloquy. The Catholic victors also set to quarrelling among themselves. The Emperor had granted his eccleiastical son Archduke Leopold William, the Bishoprics of Halberstadt and Magdeburg. But he also wished to grant him Hildesheim and Bremen. However, Maximilian wished to dispose of these to his own eccleiastical relatives, notably his brother, the Elector of Cologne.


The edict of Restitution did little but foster more unrest in the Holy Roman Empire during the war, and its removal was a key ambition of the Protestant delegates at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.