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The year started with the excommunication of Martin Luther from the Church of Rome. The Lutheran faction spread through Germany, a war was brewing with nearby France and English support was being sought by both sides. By autumn, England and Germany had formed a powerful alliance against the French.
On 3 January 1521, a papal bull of excommunication was issued against the Augustinian monk and ardent church reformer, Martin Luther. It was a little over three years since Luther had nailed a placard to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg in Germany on which he had written his '95 Theses' attacking the Catholic system of Indulgences, and particularly their 'sale' to help fund the rebuilding of St Peter's in Rome. Luther's original aim was simply to purify the Catholic church and return to the fundamental truths of Christianity. But by 1521 his name was synonymous with the opposition to papal authority. And most of his native Germany was behind him.
Luther's excommunication was triggered by three books that he had published in 1520. These 'Reformation Treatises' calling for the reform of the church were considered heretical: in June 1520, Luther was given two months to recant or face excommunication. He did not recant.
Three weeks after the bull of excommunication was issued, the 21-year-old Catholic Charles V-King of Spain, and Holy Roman Emperor opened his first 'Diet' (imperial council) at Worms in Germany. He summoned Luther to the Diet, giving him the chance to defend his doctrines or to withdraw what he had written. The Emperor offered Luther safe conduct to the city, and the monk made a triumphant entry. On April 18, Luther appeared before the Diet. He acknowledged that he had written the condemned books, but refused to withdraw a word: 'Unless I am proved wrong by Scriptures or by evident reason . . . I cannot retract and I will not retract. To go against the conscience is not safe, and is not right. God help me. Amen.' As he left the hall, he raised his hand high above his head in a symbolic gesture of defiance.
The diet had not been the-confrontation that Luther had hoped for. He had expected that King Charles would have collected 50 doctors of divinity to refute him in argument. But all they said was: 'Are these books yours?' Yes."Will you recant?' No."Then get out!'
Since the Emperor had given Luther safe conduct to the Diet, he was allowed to leave freely. But the following months he was outlawed from the Empire. Luther's patron, the Elector Frederick of Saxony, came to his aid at this point: he had him ‘Kidnapped’ on his way home to Wittenberg and hid him in the Saxon Castle of Wartburg until the spring of 1522. Here Luther let his hair grow and lived disguised as a minor nobleman 'Knight George'; he continued to write his religious tracts, and began his translation of the New Testament into German.
Luther's condemnation at Worms strengthened rather than weakened the spread of his beliefs. The secular rulers of Germany drew great advantage from the religious revolt. They looked on the efforts of Charles V to restrain Luther as an infringement of their own freedom, and insisted that they, not the Emperor, had the right to choose the religion of their states. They saw a chance to put an end to the power of the Church in their territories and to stop the flow of gold to Rome.
In several parts of Saxony, monks and nuns abandoned their monasteries, while in Wittenberg the townspeople over-threw altars and smashed images in churches.
Even as far away as England, Luther was gathering a small following in the academic world of Oxford and Cambridge. But King Henry VIII refuted Luther, and Pope Leo X rewarded him for his loyalty with the title of 'Defender of the Faith'.
1521 also saw the start of the war between Germany and France. Competition between the two countries for England's support was high, but Charles V had the advantage. His aunt, Catherine of Aragon, was married to Henry VIII. On 25 August, Henry and Charles formed their alliance against France. England had the winter to prepare for war.
Writer – Marshall Cavendish