Cities were the main driving force of the Reformation in Germany(TM) " explain whether you agree or disagree (15 marks)

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Alexandra Reeves

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‘Cities were the main driving force of the Reformation in Germany’ – explain whether you agree or disagree (15 marks)

There were many factors contributing to why Lutheranism spread in Germany. One of the main reasons is that Luther’s message was flexible and therefore had a broad appeal.  Other features that acted as a driving force of the Reformation in Germany are the use of the vernacular, Martin Luther’s message itself and Charles V.  However, the towns and cities can be seen as the main driving force as vast amounts of people heard of the Reformation and Luther’s ideas in a short period of time.  The cities were the main driving force most notably from 1521 to 1525. 51 out of 65 imperial cities became Lutheran however, the main driving force was taken over by the Princes after 1547 e.g. the Battle of Muhlberg.

The cities played a major role in the spreading of the Reformation as a large and disproportionately high number of literate people could be found in them, among whom the method could be spread.  The urban population was more likely to understand the more advanced points of Luther’s theology. The cities were also the Humanist centres of learning, as this is who originally Luther had wanted his teachings to be aimed at ( e.g. as the 95 thesis were first originally written in Latin).  Although not all were able to understand the minutiae of ‘the Priesthood of all Believers’, many were able to grasp the concept of the anti-clerical message that accompanied it.  The cities also inhabited the universities, where the word of God could be translated, therefore many scholars where living in the cities and could help spread the Lutheran ideas.  The cities also contained the printing presses where the pamphlets, Lutheran rhymes and the Bible in the vernacular could be printed. For example a copy of the 95 Thesis reached Thomas More in London in only three weeks). Pamphlets played a huge role in educating the literate and rhymes were often an easier way for the Lutheran message to be conveyed by for the less educated.  Such pamphlets included ‘Of the Liberty of a Christian Man’.  The towns and cities also housed the woodcuts, images and illustrations which accompanied the written word.  This, in effect, helped to make the message of Lutheranism ever clearer for all types of people.  Many cities such as Hamburg, was situated on internal and external trade routes.  This allowed the message to be spread acutely among the merchant classes.  

As a result of the towns and cities, Lutheranism was able to spread to all classes of the population, from the illiterate; to the highly educated theologians.  Large numbers of Luther’s supporters were consequently found in the cities and consequently the German Reformation took off in the cities between 1521 and 1525.  The people of Germany hence provided the pressure of the local authority to embrace the reform.  By 1550, a total of 50 out of 65 imperial cities were conforming to the new faith.  By 1525, Erfurt, Magdeburg, Nuremberg and Bremen had adhered to the reform and by 1534 Ausburg and Strasburg joined too.  Thus proving that the cities and down were the main reason for the spread of Lutheranism as so many major German cities converted.  However, not all German cities converted, many were fearful of the Emperor and fearful of loss of trade so many did reform back to Catholicism. As a result of this, there were other factors that contributed to the spread of the Reformation, especially in 1525.

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However, due to the flexibility of Luther’s message, supporters came from different backgrounds; ranging from the peasants to the imperial knights, indicating that the broadened appeal of the message played a major role in suiting all people.  Luther promptly tailored his message to agree with differing audiences.  For example the ‘Priesthood of all Believers’ appealed amongst the peasants whereas the criticisms of papal taxation attracted Germans. By making his ideas appeal to both ends of the population spectrum, Luther was able to gain a larger audience as possible.  Therefore the suppleness of his message can be viewed as ...

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