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Fri, 07 Sep 2012 11:51:53 EDT by admin, 113222 views
University of California, Riverside
History paper by Michels, Georg (all papers)
Why the Counter-Reformation Failed in Seventeenth-Century Hungary
The paper examines the concerted efforts of Hungarian magnates, Catholic hierarchs, and the Habsburg court to convert a predominantly Protestant society to the Catholic faith. The focus will be on the conversion campaigns of the 1660s and 1670s that culminated in the systematic confiscation of churches, the closure of congregational schools, and the mass expulsion of the Protestant clergy. I will argue that these campaigns failed for four principal reasons: the resilience of the county nobility, the resistance of peasants and townsmen, the mass defection of Protestant soldiers, and the proximity of the Ottoman border. This unique combination of resistance and border location distinguishes the Hungarian case from other Habsburg territories (such as Austria, Bohemia, and Silesia) and neighboring Poland. In the final analysis, Hungarian Protestantism would probably not have survived without the Ottomans who provided refuge and protection to persecuted communities. What England was for Dutch Protestants during the sixteenth century the Ottoman Empire became for Hungarian Lutherans and Calvinists during the seventeenth century: a safe-haven from which military invasions were launched to overthrow Habsburg power and restore the Protestant faith.
My paper takes issue with the current state of research on the Hungarian Counter-Reformation, particularly with recent contributions by Antal Molnar and Istvan G. Toth. Most importantly, I think that historians have insufficiently addressed the violent overtones of the Hungarian Counter-Reformation and its traumatic impact on local society. While undoubtedly achieving great successes on the surface--large territories without Protestant clergy, the establishment of Catholic parishes, and mass conversions—these achievements were only temporary. They quickly evaporated in the face of local resistance and rebel incursions from Ottoman territory. Rather than relying on the reports and letters of Catholic missionaries—the mainstay of recent interpretations—or Protestant martyrologies and polemics—the basis of Protestant historiography--I draw on previously unstudied documentary records from the Austrian State and Hungarian National Archives. These records reveal the Hungarian Counter-Reformation as an unmitigated failure that deeply alienated society and crucially contributed to large-scale popular revolts well into the eighteenth century.
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Brief Professional Bio:
Georg B. Michels is Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside and currently working on a book about the impact of the Habsburg Counter-Reformation on late seventeenth-century Hungarian society. His recent articles include “The 1672 Kuruc Uprising: A National or Religious Revolt?” Hungarian Studies Review, Vol. XXXIX, Nos. 1-2 (2012): 1-20; “Ready to Secede to the Ottoman Empire: Habsburg Hungary after the Vasvar Treaty (1664-1674),” E-Journal of the American Hungarian Educators Association, Vol. 4 (Fall 2012), pp. 1-11; and
a forthcoming study in Történelmi Szemle (published by the Institute of History, Hungarian Academy of Sciences) critically reexamining the expulsion of the Protestant clergy from Hungary during the early 1670s. Michels’ interest in Hungary and the early modern Habsburg Empire emerged from his studies on religion, society, and revolt in early modern Russia and the discovery of significant similarities between Russian and Hungarian popular resistance against a centralizing imperial power. Trained as a Russian historian and Slavic linguist at the University of Göttingen (Germany), UCLA, and Harvard (Ph.D. 1991) he has written At War with the Church: Religion and Dissent in Seventeenth Century Russia (Stanford, 1999) and co-edited Russia’s Dissident Old Believers (1650-1950) (Minneapolis, 2009).