The general persecutions in Germany were principally occasioned by the doctrines and ministry of Martin Luther. Indeed, the pope was so terrified at the success of that courageous reformer, that he determined to engage the emperor, Charles the Fifth, at any rate, in the scheme to attempt their extirpation.
To this end;
1. He gave the emperor two hundred thousand crowns in ready money.
2. He promised to maintain twelve thousand foot, and five thousand horse, for the space of six months, or during a campaign.
3. He allowed the emperor to receive one-half the revenues of the clergy of the empire during the war.
4. He permitted the emperor to pledge the abbey lands for five hundred thousand crowns, to assist in carrying on hostilities against the protestants.
Thus prompted and supported, the emperor undertook the extirpation of the protestants, against whom, indeed, he was particularly enraged himself; and, for this purpose, a formidable army was raised in Germany, Spain and Italy.
The protestant princes, in the mean time, formed a powerful confederacy, in order to repel the impending blow. A great army was raised, and the command given to the elector of Saxony, and the landgrave of Hesse. The imperial forces were commanded by the emperor of Germany in person, and the eyes of all Europe were turned on the event of the war.
At length the armies met, and a desperate engagement ensued, in which the protestants were defeated, and the elector of Saxony, and landgrave of Hesse, both taken prisoners. This fatal blow was succeeded by a horrid persecution, the severities of which were such, that exile might be deemed a mild fate, and concealment in a dismal wood pass for happiness. In such times a cave is a palace, a rock a bed of down, and wild roots delicacies.
Those who were taken experienced the most cruel tortures the infernal imaginations could invent; and, by their constancy evinced that a real christian can surmount every difficulty, and despise ever danger to acquire a crown of martyrdom.
Henry Voes and John Esch, being apprehended as protestants, were brought to examination; when Voes, answering for himself and the other, gave the following answers to some questions asked by a priest, who examined them by order of the magistracy.
Priest. Were you not both, some years ago, Augustine friars?
Priest. How came you to quit the bosom of the church of Rome?
Voes. On account of her abominations.
Priest. In what do you believe?
Voes. In the Old and New Testaments.
Priest. Do you believe in the writings of the fathers, and the decrees of the councils?
Voes. Yes, if they agree with Scripture.
Priest. Did not Martin Luther seduce you both?
Voes. He seduced us even in the very same manner as Christ seduced the apostles; that is, he made us sensible of the frailty of our bodies, and the value of our souls.
This examination was sufficient; they were both condemned to the flames, and soon after, suffered with that manly fortitude which becomes christians, when they receive a crown of martyrdom.
Henry Sutphen, an eloquent and pious preacher, was taken out of his bed in the middle of the night, and compelled to walk barefoot a considerable way, so that his feet were terribly cut. He desired a horse, but his conductors said, in derision, A horse for a heretic! no no, heretics may go barefoot. When he arrived at the place of his destination, he was condemned to be burnt; but, during the execution, many indignities were offered him, as those who attended not content with what he suffered in the flames, cut and slashed him in a most terrible manner.
Many were murdered at Halle; Middleburg being taken by storm all the protestants were put to the sword, and great numbers were burned at Vienna.
An officer being sent to put a minister to death, pretended, when he came to the clergyman’s house, that his intentions were only to pay him a visit. The minister, not suspecting the intended cruelty, entertained his supposed guest in a very cordial manner. As soon as dinner was over, the officer said to some of his attendants, “Take this clergyman, and hang him.” The attendants themselves were so shocked, after the civility they had seen, that they hesitated to perform the commands of their master; and the minister said, “Think what a sting will remain on your conscience, for thus violating the laws of hospitality.” The officer, however, insisted upon being obeyed, and the attendants, with reluctance, performed the execrable office of executioners.
Peter Spengler, a pious divine, of the town of Schalet, was thrown into the river, and drowned. Before he was taken to the banks of the stream which was to become his grave, they led him to the market-place, that his crimes might be proclaimed; which were, not going to mass, not making confession, and not believing in transubstantiation. After this ceremony was over, he made a most excellent discourse to the people, and concluded with a kind of hymn, of a very edifying nature.
A protestant gentleman being ordered to lose his head for not renouncing his religion, went cheerfully to the place of execution. A friar came to him, and said these words in a low tone of voice, “As you have a great reluctance publicly to abjure your faith, whisper your confession in my ear, and I will absolve your sins.” To this the gentleman loudly replied, “Trouble me not, friar, I have confessed my sins to God, and obtained absolution through the merits of Jesus Christ.” Then turning to the executioner, he said, “Let me not be pestered with these men, but perform your duty.” On which his head was struck off at a single blow.
Wolfgang Scuch, and John Huglin, two worthy ministers, were burned, as was Leonard Keyser, a student of the university of Wertembergh; and George Carpenter, a Bavarian, was hanged for refusing to recant protestantism.
The persecutions in Germany having subsided many years, again broke out in 1630, on account of the war between the emperor and the king of Sweden, for the latter was a protestant prince, and consequently the protestants of Germany espoused his cause, which greatly exasperated the emperor against them.
The imperialists having laid siege to the town of Passewalk, (which was defended by the Swedes) took it by storm, and committed the most horrid cruelties on the occasion. They pulled down the churches, burnt the houses, pillaged the properties, massacred the ministers, put the garrison to the sword, hanged the townsmen, ravished the women, smothered the children, &c. &c.
A most bloody tragedy was transacted at Magdeburg, in the year 1631. The generals Tilly and Pappenheim, having taken that protestant city by storm, upwards of 20,000 persons, without distinction of rank, sex, or age, were slain during the carnage, and 6,000 were drowned in attempting to escape over the river Elbe. After this fury had subsided, the remaining inhabitants were stripped naked, severely scourged, had their ears cropped, and being yoked together like oxen were turned adrift.
The town of Hoxter was taken by the popish army, and all the inhabitants as well as the garrison, were put to the sword; when the houses being set on fire, the bodies were consumed in the flames.
At Griphenburg, when the imperial forces prevailed, they shut up the senators in the senate-chamber, and surrounding it by lighted straw suffocated them.
Franhendal surrendered upon articles of capitulation, yet the inhabitants were as cruelly used as at other places, and at Heidelburg, many were shut up in prison and starved.
The cruelties used by the imperial troops, under count Tilly in Saxony, are thus enumerated.
Half strangling, and recovering the persons again repeatedly. Rolling sharp wheels over the fingers and toes. Pinching the thumbs in a vice. Forcing the most filthy things down the throat, by which many were choked. Tying cords round the head so tight that the blood gushed out of the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Fastening burning matches to the fingers, toes, ears, arms, legs, and even tongue. Putting powder in the mouth and setting fire to it, by which the head was shattered to pieces. Tying bags of powder to all parts of the body, by which the person was blown up. Drawing cords backwards and forwards through the fleshy parts. Making incisions with bodkins and knives in the skin. Running wires through the nose, ears, lips, &c. Hanging protestants up by the legs, with their heads over a fire, by which they were smoked dried. Hanging up by one arm till it was dislocated. Hanging upon hooks by the ribs. Forcing people to drink till they burst. Baking many in hot ovens. Fixing weights to the feet, and drawing up several with pulleys. Hanging, stifling, roasting, stabbing, frying, racking, ravishing, ripping open, breaking the bones, rasping off the flesh, tearing with wild horses, drowning, strangling, burning, broiling, crucifying, immuring, poisoning, cutting off tongues, nose, ears, &c. sawing off the limbs, hacking to pieces, and drawing by the heels through the streets.
The enormous cruelties will be a perpetual stain on the memory of count Tilly, who not only permitted, but even commanded the troops to put them in practice. Wherever he came, the most horrid barbarities, and cruel depredations ensued: famine and conflagration marked his progress: for he destroyed all the provisions he could not take with him, and burnt all the towns before he left them; so that the full result of his conquests were murder, poverty, and desolation.
An aged and pious divine they stripped naked, tied him on his back upon a table, and fastened a large fierce cat upon his belly. They then pricked and tormented the cat in such a manner, that the creature with rage tore his belly open, and knawed his bowels.
Another minister, and his family, were seized by these inhuman monsters; when they ravished his wife and daughter before his face; stuck his infant son upon the point of a lance, and then surrounding him with his whole library of books, they set fire to them, and he was consumed in the midst of the flames.
In Hesse-Cassel some of the troops entered an hospital, in which were principally mad women, when stripping all the poor wretches naked, they made them run about the streets for their diversion, and then put them all to death.
In Pomerania, some of the imperial troops entering a small town, seized upon all the young women, and girls of upwards of ten years, and then placing their parents in a circle, they ordered them to sing psalms, while they ravished their children, or else they swore they would cut them to pieces afterward. They then took all the married women who had young children, and threatened, if they did not consent to the gratification of their lusts, to burn their children before their faces in a large fire, which they had kindled for that purpose.
A band of count Tilly’s soldiers meeting a company of merchants belonging to Basil, who were returning from the great market of Strasburg, they attempted to surround them: all escaped, however, but ten, leaving their properties behind. The ten who were taken begged hard for their lives; but the soldiers murdered them saying, You must die because you are heretics, and have got no money.
The same soldiers met with two countesses, who, together with some young ladies, the daughters of one of them, were taking an airing in a landau. The soldiers spared their lives, but treated them with the greatest indecency, and having stripped them all stark naked, bade the coachman drive on.
By means and mediation of Great Britain, peace was at length restored to Germany, and the protestants remained unmolested for several years, till some new disturbances broke out in the Palatinate which were thus occasioned.
The great church of the Holy Ghost, at Heidelburg, had, for many years, been shared equally by the protestants and Roman catholics in this manner: the protestants performed divine service in the nave or body of the church; and the Roman catholics celebrated mass in the choir. Though this had been the custom time immemorial, the elector Palatinate, at length, took it into his head not to suffer it any longer, declaring, that as Heidelburg was the place of his residence, and the church of the Holy Ghost the cathedral of his principal city, divine service ought to be performed only according to the rites of the church of which he was a member. He then forbade the protestants to enter the church, and put the papists in possession of the whole.
The aggrieved people applied to the protestant powers for redress, which so much exasperated the elector, that he suppressed the Heidelburg catechism. The protestant powers, however, unanimously agreed to demand satisfaction, as the elector, by this conduct, had broke an article of the treaty of Westphalia; and the courts of Great Britain, Prussia, Holland, &c., sent deputies to the elector, to represent the injustice of his proceedings, and to threaten, unless he changed his behaviour to the protestants in the Palatinate, that they would treat their Roman catholic subjects with the greatest severity. Many violent disputes took place between the Protestant powers and those of the elector, and these were greatly augmented by the following incident; the coach of the Dutch minister standing before the door of the resident sent by the prince of Hesse, the host was by chance carrying to a sick person; the coachman took not the least notice, which those who attended the host observing, pulled him from his box, and compelled him to kneel: this violence to the domestic of a public minister, was highly resented by all the protestant deputies; and still more to heighten these differences, the protestants presented to the deputies three additional articles of complaint.
1. That military executions were ordered against all protestant shoemakers who should refuse to contribute to the masses of St. Crispin.
2. That the protestants were forbid to work on popish holydays even in harvest time, under very heavy penalties, which occasioned great inconveniences, and considerably prejudiced public business.
3. That several protestant ministers had been dispossessed of their churches, under pretence of their having been originally founded and built by Roman Catholics.
The protestant deputies, at length became so serious, as to intimate to the elector, that force of arms should compel him to do the justice he denied to their representations. This menace brought him to reason, as he well knew the impossibility of carrying on a war against the powerful states who threatened him. He, therefore, agreed, that the body of the church of the Holy Ghost should be restored to the protestants. He restored the Heidelburg catechism, put the protestant ministers again in possession of the churches of which they had been dispossessed, allowed the protestants to work on popish holydays, and, ordered, that no person should be molested for not kneeling when the host passed by.
These things he did through fear; but to show his resentment to his protestant subjects, in other circumstances where protestant states had no right to interfere, he totally abandoned Heidelburg, removing all the courts of justice to Manheim, which was entirely inhabited by Roman catholics. He likewise built a new palace there, making it his place of residence; and, being followed by the Roman catholics of Heidelburg, Manheim became a flourishing place.
In the mean time the protestants of Heidelburg sunk into poverty and many of them became so distressed, as to quit their native country, and seek an asylum in protestant states. A great number of these coming into England, in the time of queen Anne, were cordially received there, and met with a most humane assistance, both by public and private donations.
In 1732, above 30,000 protestants were, contrary to the treaty of Westphalia, driven from the archbishopric of Saltzburg. They went away to the depth of winter, with scarce clothes to cover them, and without provisions, not having permission to take any thing with them. The cause of these poor people not being publicly espoused by such states as could obtain them redress, they emigrated to various protestant countries, and settled in places where they could enjoy the free exercise of their religion, without hurting their consciences, and live free from the trammels of popish superstition, and the chains of papal tyranny.
An Account of the Persecutions in the Netherlands.
The light of the gospel having successfully spread over the Netherlands, the pope instigated the emperor to commence a persecution against the protestants; when many thousand fell martyrs to superstitious malice and barbarous bigotry, among whom the most remarkable were the following:
Wendelinuta, a pious protestant widow, was apprehended on account of her religion, when several monks, unsuccessfully, endeavoured to persuade her to recant. As they could not prevail, a Roman catholic lady of her acquaintance desired to be admitted to the dungeon in which she was confined, and promised to exert herself strenuously towards inducing the prisoner to abjure the reformed religion. When she was admitted to the dungeon, she did her utmost to perform the task she had undertaken; but finding her endeavours ineffectual, she said, Dear Wendelinuta, if you will not embrace our faith, at least keep the things which you profess secret within your own bosom, and strive to prolong your life. To which the widow replied, Madam you know not what you say; for with the heart we believe to righteousness, but with the tongue confession is made unto salvation. As she positively refused to recant, her goods were confiscated, and she was condemned to be burnt. At the place of execution a monk held a cross to her, and bade her kiss and worship God. To which she answered, “I worship no wooden god, but the eternal God who is in heaven.” She was then executed, but through the before-mentioned Roman catholic lady, the favour was granted, that she should be strangled before fire was put to the fagots.
Two protestant clergymen were burnt at Colen; a tradesman of Antwerp, named Nicholas, was tied up in a sack, thrown into the river, and drowned; and Pistorius, a learned student, was carried to the market of a Dutch village in a fool’s coat, and committed to the flames.
Sixteen protestants having received sentence to be beheaded, a protestant minister was ordered to attend the execution. This gentleman performed the function of his office with great propriety, exhorted them to repentance, and gave them comfort in the mercies of their Redeemer. As soon as the sixteen were beheaded, the magistrate cried out to the executioner, “There is another stroke remaining yet; you must behead the minister; he can never die at a better time than with such excellent precepts in his mouth, and such laudable examples before him.” He was accordingly beheaded, though even many of the Roman catholics themselves reprobated this piece of treacherous and unnecessary cruelty.
George Scherter, a minister of Saltzburg, was apprehended and committed to prison for instructing his flock in the knowledge of the gospel. While he was in confinement he wrote a confession of his faith; soon after which he was condemned, first to be beheaded, and afterward to be burnt to ashes. In his way to the place of execution he said to the spectators, “That you may know I die a true christian, I will give you a sign.” This was indeed verified in a most singular manner; for after his head was cut off, the body lying a short space of time with the belly to the ground, it suddenly turned upon the back, when the right foot crossed over the left, as did also the right arm over the left: and in this manner it remained till it was committed to the flames.
In Louviana, a learned man, named Percinal, was murdered in prison; and Justus Insparg was beheaded, for having Luther’s sermons in his possession.
Giles Tilleman, a cutler of Brussels, was a man of great humanity and piety. Among others he was apprehended as a protestant, and many endeavours were made by the monks to persuade him to recant. He had once, by accident, a fair opportunity of escaping from prison and being asked why he did not avail himself of it, he replied, “I would not do the keepers so much injury, as they must have answered for my absence, had I gone away.” When he was sentenced to be burnt, he fervently thanked God for granting him an opportunity, by martyrdom, to glorify his name. Perceiving, at the place of execution, a great quantity of fagots, he desired the principal part of them might be given to the poor, saying, a small quantity will suffice to consume me. The executioner offered to strangle him before the fire was lighted, but he would not consent, telling him that he defied the flames and, indeed, he gave up the ghost with such composure amidst them that he hardly seemed sensible of their effects.
In the year 1543 and 1544, the persecution was carried on throughout all Flanders, in a most violent and cruel manner. Some were condemned to perpetual imprisonment, others to perpetual banishment but most were put to death either by hanging, drowning, immuring, burning, the rack, or burying alive.
John de Boscane, a zealous protestant, was apprehended on account of his faith, in the city of Antwerp. On his trial, he steadfastly professed himself to be of the reformed religion, which occasioned his immediate condemnation. The magistrate, however, was afraid to put him to death publicly, as he was popular through his great generosity, and almost universally beloved for his inoffensive life, and exemplary piety. A private execution being determined on, an order was given to drown him in prison. The executioner, accordingly, put him in a large tub; but Boscane struggling, and getting his head above the water, the executioner stabbed him with a dagger in several places, till he expired.
John de Buisons, another protestant, was, about the same time, secretly apprehended, and privately executed at Antwerp. The number of protestants being great in that city, and the prisoner much respected, the magistrates feared an insurrection, and for that reason ordered him to be beheaded in prison.
A. D. 1568, three persons were apprehended in Antwerp, named Scoblant, Hues, and Coomans. During their confinement they behaved with great fortitude and cheerfulness, confessing that the hand of God appeared in what had befallen them, and bowing down before the throne of his providence. In an epistle to some worthy protestants, they express themselves in the following words; Since it is the will of the Almighty that we should suffer for his name, and be persecuted for the sake of his gospel, we patiently submit, and are joyful upon the occasion; though the flesh may rebel against the spirit, and hearken to the council of the old serpent, yet the truths of the gospel shall prevent such advice from being taken, and Christ shall bruise the serpent’s head. We are not comfortless to confinement, for we have faith; we fear not affliction, for we have hope; and we forgive our enemies, for we have charity. Be not under apprehensions for us, we are happy in confinement through the promises of God, glory in our bonds, and exult in being thought worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. We desire not to be released, but to be blessed with fortitude, we ask not liberty, but the power of perseverance; and wish for no change in our condition, but that which places a crown of martyrdom upon our heads.
Scoblant was first brought to his trial; when, persisting in the profession of his faith, he received sentence of death. On his return to prison, he earnestly requested the jailer not to permit any friar to come near him; saying, “They can do me no good, but may greatly disturb me. I hope my salvation is already sealed in heaven, and that the blood of Christ, in which I firmly put my trust, hath washed me from my iniquities. I am now going to throw off this mantle of clay, to be clad in robes of eternal glory, by whose celestial brightness I shall be freed from all errors. I hope I may be the last martyr to papal tyranny, and the blood already spilt found sufficient to quench the thirst of popish cruelty; that the church of Christ may have rest here, as his servants will hereafter.” On the day of execution, he took a pathetic leave of his fellow-prisoners. At the stake he fervently said the Lord’s Prayer, and sung the fortieth psalm; then commending his soul to God, he was burnt alive.
Hues, soon after, died in prison; upon which occasion Coomans wrote thus to his friends, “I am now deprived of my friends and companions; Scoblant is martyred, and Hues dead, by the visitation of the Lord; yet I am not alone, I have with me the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; he is my comfort, and shall be my reward. Pray unto God to strengthen me to the end, as I expect every hour to be freed from this tenement of clay.”
On his trial he freely confessed himself of the reformed religion, answered with a manly fortitude to every charge against him, and proved the scriptural part of his answers from the gospel. The judge told him the only alternatives were, recantation or death; and concluded by saying, “Will you die for the faith you profess?” To which Coomans replied, “I am not only willing to die, but to suffer the most excruciating torments for it; after which my soul shall receive its confirmation from God himself, in the midst of eternal glory.” Being condemned, he went cheerfully to the place of execution, and died with the most manly fortitude, and christian resignation.
William Nassau fell a sacrifice to treachery, being assassinated in the fifty-first year of his age, by Beltazar Gerard, a native of Franche Compte, in the province of Burgundy. This murderer, in hopes of a reward here and hereafter, for killing an enemy to the king of Spain and an enemy to the catholic religion, undertook to destroy the prince of Orange. Having procured fire arms, he watched him as he passed through the great hall of his palace to dinner, and demanded a passport. The princess of Orange, observing that the assassin spoke with a hollow and confused voice, asked who he was? saying, she did not like his countenance. The prince answered, it was one that demanded a passport, which he should presently have.
Nothing farther passed before dinner, but on the return of the prince and princess through the same hall, after dinner was over, the assassin, standing concealed as much as possible by one of the pillars, fired at the prince, the balls entering at the left side, and passing through the right, wounding in their passage the stomach and vital parts. On receiving the wounds, the prince only said, Lord, have mercy upon my soul, and upon these poor people, and then expired immediately.
The lamentations throughout the United Provinces were general, on account of the death of the prince of Orange; and the assassin who was immediately taken, received sentence to be put to death in the most exemplary manner, yet such was his enthusiasm, or folly that when his flesh was torn by red-hot pincers, he coolly said, If I was at liberty, I would commit such an action over again.
The prince of Orange’s funeral was the grandest ever seen in the Low Countries, and perhaps the sorrow for his death the most sincere, as he left behind him the character he honestly deserved, viz. that of Father of his people.
To conclude, multitudes were murdered in different parts of Flanders; in the city of Valence, in particular, fifty-seven of the principal inhabitants were butchered in one day, for refusing to embrace the Romish superstition; and great numbers were suffered to languish in confinement, till they perished through the inclemency of their dungeons.