Reichsreform and Reformation in Nuremberg: 1517-1533
Blackburn, Sadie Gwin
Master of Arts
In any analysis of the role played by Nuremberg in the Reformation in Germany from 1517 to 1533, one intriguing question confounds the understanding. Why would a city that had been a leader in the cause of Lutheran Reform refuse to join the Schmalkaldic League of the Protestant Estates when the Protestant Cause was fighting for its life in the Empire? Some historians regard Nuremberg's Reform as so conservative that it was hardly even Lutheran; others see her course as vacillating or aloof according to the interests of the trade of the city, with religious motives always subservient to those economic needs. The best answer thus far to the question in the historical literature on the subject in English is given in Hans Baron's excellent article, "Religion and Politics in the German Imperial Cities During the Reformation." His answer to the question of Nuremberg was not quite satisfying, but the direction of his thought toward a study of the imperial cities in an effort to make sense of the actions taken in Nuremberg during this period proved to be the key to a deeper insight, not only into Nuremberg's motives, but also into the events of the Reformation as a whole in Germany. The first task was to come to an understanding of what it meant to be an imperial city in the Holy Roman Empire in the early sixteenth century. It became obvious that though there was a certain common denominator as to legal status within the Empire, there were vast individual differences among the cities in internal structure and internal sources of power. An examination of Nuremberg's history revealed a very clear-cut internal structure of government, set up and maintained by a group of merchant families, wealthy through international trade and industry, whose control over the city was well-nigh complete. The men of the City Council diagnosed the problems, decided on solutions, and implemented the decisions once made. The next task was to identify these men, understand their thinking, their values, and their motives. These men were not only wealthy and skilled in business and trade, they were well-educated and well-informed. They had operated on an international scale for centuries, and were reasonably adept in the contemporary methods of diplomacy. Not even the Emperor Charles himself surpassed the German merchants in global planning. Therefore, the fact that such men would first lead the Lutheran Reform, then withdraw from it in every way except theologically, posed a truly bewildering problem. After an extensive examination of the events of the period and their sequence, it seems more than probable that the behavior of Nuremberg was determined by the circumstance that some of the south German cities, led by Nuremberg, had adopted a double policy of Reichsreform and Reformation. The effort to establish a strong national government by reestablishment of the hereditary monarchy supported by the economic power of the cities appeared at first to be totally compatible with the establishment of a national church, reformed according to Lutheran principles. The fact that the unfolding of history eventually prevented the achievement of these goals does not detract in the least from the fact that they were both worthy and possible of attainment when Nuremberg adopted them. Nuremberg's struggle to accomplish the great task which she set for herself contains in the telling much of the drama of the Reformation in Europe in the sixteenth century.