Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg

by Frederick the Great

A New Translation by Levi Bookin


It appears that, from the time of Joachim 2nd, the bad practice of awarding surnames to princes was abandoned. That of his father was so unsuccessful that it had become a nickname rather than a description. The flattery of courtiers, having exhausted the comparisons of antiquity, turned decidedly away from it; and it is to be believed that the vanity of princes lost nothing thereby.

As we have said, Joachim 2nd inherited the Electorate from his father. In 1539, he embraced the doctrine of Luther. The circumstances which gave rise to this change are not known; that he did so is certain, and that his courtiers and the Bishop of Brandenburg followed his example.

A new religion, which appeared suddenly in the world, which divided Europe, which changed the nature of possessions, and which gave rise to new political combinations, merits that we should give some attention to its progress and, above all, that we should examine by what advantages it produced sudden conversions in the greatest states.

In the year 1400 in Bohemia, John Huss started to preach his new doctrine which was, in fact, that of the Vaudois and of Wycliffe, to which he had adhered. Huss was burnt at the Council of Constance. His so-called martyrdom added to the zeal of his disciples, the Bohemians, who were too crude to enter into the sophisticated disputes of the theologians, and only embraced this new sect because of a spirit of independence and of mutiny, in accordance with the character of this nation. These new converts shook off the papal yoke and used the liberty of their consciences to cover the crime of their revolt. As long as a certain Ziska was their chief, this party was redoubtable. Ziska gained several victories over the troops of Wenceslas and Ottocarus, kings of Bohemia, but, after his death, the Hussites were mainly driven out of the kingdom and we do not find that John Huss's doctrine made any progress outside Bohemia.

Ignorance had arrived at its peak in the 14th and 15th century; the clergy were not even taught enough to be pedants. The relaxation of traditions and the licentious life of the monks meant that Europe had no alternative but to demand the reform of so much abuse. Even the popes abused their power to a point which was quite intolerable. Leo 10th started a trade in indulgences throughout Christendom to amass the sums he needed to build the Basilica of St. Peter at Rome. It is rumored that this pope made a present to his sister Cibo, of the proceeds of those which were to be sold in Saxony.

This source of casual revenue was leased out. These bizarre farmers, wanting to enrich themselves, chose monks and such mendicants to amass the greatest sums; part of which was dissipated in scandalous disorders by the commissioners of these indulgences. An inquisitor named Tetzel and some Dominicans, who had acquitted themselves badly in this commission, gave rise to the reform. Staupitz, the Vicar-general of the Austin friars, whose order had been in possession of this trade, ordered one of his monks, named Luther, to preach against the indulgences. Since the year 1516, Luther had already attacked the schoolmen; he now arose with the greatest force against this abuse. He advanced some other doubtful propositions, which he maintained and supported by new arguments. He was eventually excommunicated by the pope in 1520. Having tasted the pleasure of expressing his feelings without constraint; he now gave himself up to it without bounds. He renounced the [monastic] habit; and married Catherine of Bora in 1525, encouraging priests and monks by his example to return to the rights of nature and of reason. If he brought round citizens of the country, he also brought about his inheritance, bringing many princes over to his party, for whom the spoils of ecclesiastical possessions were sweet bait. The Elector of Saxony was the first to embrace his new sect. The new religion was received in the Palatinate, Hesse, Hanover, Brandenburg, and Swabia; in part of Austria, of Bohemia, and of Hungary; in the whole of Silesia, and in the North. Its dogmas are so well-known that I do not believe that I need to relate them here.

Not long afterwards, in 1533, Calvin appeared in France. A German Lutheran by the name of Wolmar, with whom he made acquaintance at Bourges, impressed Calvin with his beliefs. Despite the protection that Marguerite of Navarre gave to this new dogma, Calvin was forced to leave France on several occasions. Poitiers was the place where he made the most proselytes. This missionary, who believed he knew the spirit of his nation, imagined that it could be persuaded by songs rather than by arguments and he composed, it is said, a comic song, of which the refrain was: "Oh monks! Oh monks! You must get married!" This met with astounding success. Calvin retired to Basel, where he had his Institutions printed. He subsequently converted the Duchess of Ferrara, daughter of Louis 12th. In 1536, he succeeded in aligning the city of Geneva with his beliefs; and he had Michel Servet burned, who was his enemy. From being persecuted he became a persecutor. The reformed religion, now persecuted, now tolerated in France, often served as a pretext for bloody wars which often seemed likely to overturn that kingdom.

Pope Leo 10th had given Henry 8th, King of England, the title of Defender of the Faith, because of a publication he had written against Luther. After Henry became enamored of Anne Boleyn, he was unable to persuade the Pope to dissolve his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and therefore dissolved it himself´┐Żby his own authority. Clement VII, who succeeded Leo 10th, unwisely excommunicated [Henry]; and in the year 1533 he shook off the papal yoke, making himself pope at London, and cleared the way himself for the new religion which was established after him in England.

If one wants to reduce the causes of the progress of the Reformation to simple principles, it will be seen that, in Germany it was the work of gain; in England that of love, and in France that of novelty or perhaps a song. One need not believe that John Huss, Luther, or Calvin were of superior genius; it is with the leaders of sects as with ambassadors: mediocre spirits are often more successful than the best, if the conditions that they offer are advantageous.

The centuries of ignorance were ruled by fanatics and reformers. It seems that the human spirit will eventually be sated with disputes and of controversies. The theologians and the metaphysicians on the benches of schools should be allowed their disputes; and since in the Protestant countries the clerics have nothing more to lose, the leaders of the new sects will have almost nothing to gain.

The Elector Joachim 2nd acquired, by communion in two kinds, the bishoprics of Brandenburg, of Havelberg and of Lebus, which he incorporated in the Mark.

He did not join the union that the Protestant princes made at Smalkald in 1535; and he maintained the peace in the Electorate, while Saxony and neighboring countries were desolated by war. The war of religion started in 1546, and ended with the Peace of Passau and of Augsburg.

The Emperor Charles 5th had put himself at the head of the Catholics; the illustrious and unfortunate John-Frederick, Elector of Saxony, and Philip the Magnanimous, Landgrave of Hesse, were the chiefs of the Protestants. The Emperor defeated them in Saxony, near Muehlberg. He and Cardinal Granville used a base stratagem to deceive the landgrave of Hesse. By an equivocal phrase in a safe-conduct, Charles 5th considered himself authorized to put the landgrave in prison, where he passed a great part of his life. The Elector Joachim, who had been the guarantor of this safe-conduct, was so outraged at this breach of faith that, in his anger, he drew his sword against the Duke of Alba; but they were separated. John-Frederick of Saxony was deposed and the Emperor gave this Electorate to Prince Maurice, who was of the Albertine line. Joachim 2nd however, Elector of Brandenburg, did not conform with this Interim, which the Emperor had caused to be published.

The electors of Saxony and of Brandenburg were charged by the Emperor with the task of laying siege to Magdeburg, and the city surrendered after a defense of fourteen months. The capitulation was arranged with such delicacy, that it was with difficulty that the Emperor confirmed it. On the decease of the Archbishop of Magdeburg, the canons elected in his place Frederick, Bishop of Havelberg, second son of the Elector Joachim; and after his death, the Elector had sufficient influence to cause the election of his third son, Sigismund, who was a Protestant.

This elector built the fortress of Spandau in 1555. The engineer who built it was called Chiaramela. They must have been extremely deprived of all sorts of arts in those times, to have recourse to foreigners for the least things. But how could one defend a place, if one not did not know what strength meant? At the same time, the Margrave John, the Elector's brother, worked on Kuestrin. It might be that it was a fashion to fortify places; the Emperor Charles 5th had given examples at Ghent, Antwerp, and Milan. If they had had a clear idea of the use that might be made of them, there would have been engineers.

In 1569, Joachim 2nd obtained from his brother-in-law, Sigismund-Augustus, King of Poland, the right to succeed Albert-Frederick of Brandenburg, Duke of Prussia, in the event that he died without heirs; and bound himself to assist Poland with a certain number of troops in the event that it were attacked. The reign of this elector was mild and peaceful. He has been accused of pushing liberality to the point of prodigality.

He died in 1571.

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