This era has also left deep marks on our region. In the Thirty Years’ War, the castles Drachenfels and Löwenburg were destroyed, in the Cologne War even before Castle Godesburg on the left bank of the Rhine in Bonn. We cannot discuss the early modern period without mentionning Dr. Johann Weyer and the persecutions of witches.
Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptist
At the beginning, the Protestant Reformation had only little resonance in the catholic Rhineland. Yet, archbishop Hermann von Wied of Cologne saw that reforms were necessary and urgent, and eventually he called theologians of the Reformation into his lands. Emperor Charles V fiercely fought reformation, but the wars in Europe and against the Turks kept him away for years.
In the second half of the 16th century, we find Lutheran, Anabaptist and Calvinist parishes in our region. The Anabaptists, however, were persecuted.
Thirty Years’ War
The defenestration of Prague on 23 May 1618 was followed by a terrible war. Soon it was no longer about a religious war within Germany, but about domination in Europe. These were terrible years. Fighting, plundering and pillaging took place everywhere. In 1632/33 the castles on the Drachenfels and Löwenburg were conquered and destroyed.
Absolutism and Wars of Succession
Most villages on the right side of the Rhine belonged to the Duchy of Berg, which was connected to the Duchy of Jülich on the left side of the Rhine. For a long time the capital was Düsseldorf. Since the end of the 17th century, the Duke of Berg was also Elector of the Palatinate. The small town of Königswinter with the castles Drachenfels and Wolkenburg belongs to the archdiocese of Cologne, the archbishop resided in Bonn.
Both rulers in the Rhineland, were repeatedly drawn into the wars of succession of the powerful.
The witch trials are a dark chapter from the early modern times until the middle of the 18th century. In the territories of the Archbishops of Cologne and the Counts of Berg, hundreds of people were arrested for being witches or sorcerers, tortured and sentenced to death on a stake.
In 1486 the Dominican Heinrich Kramer published his book Malleus Maleficarum (“Hexenhammer in German, hammer of the witches), in which he legitimized the persecution of witches. Martin Luther, too, thought that some people made a pact with the devil and received magic powers to do a lot of damage. Therefore they had to be persecuted. “You must not allow the sorceress to live”, as written in the Old Testament. John Calvin was also determined to persecute and execute witches. The peak of the wave of persecution is between 1550 and 1650, estimates speak of 40,000-60,000 executions.
One the courageous fighters again the witch trials was Dr. Johannes Weyer (1515/15-1588), the personal physician of our tolerant sovereign Duke Wilhelm V. von Berg. Under the protection of the duke, he wrote his book “Vom Blendwerk der Dämonen” (Of the deception of demons) in 1563, in which he protested against the cruel witch trials.
Years later, the Jesuit priest Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld fought against the witch hunts. He had been father confessor to countless women and had accompanied them on their way to the stakes. And yet, he had no other way to help than to decry again and again the cruelties in his writings. All the time, he risked to be accused and burned himself.
A look beyond the Rhineland
During the time of religious division in Germany, the House of Tudor reigned in England. King Henry VIII (1509 to 1547) broke with the Catholic Churce in Rome. His fourth wife Anne of Cleves wus Duke William’s sister.
In 1607, English settlers founded Jamestown in Virginia, in 1620, the Pilgrim fathers sailed to North America. Decades later, the colonies were growing. Pennsylvania, named after its founder William Penn, was one of the them. Twice Penn came to Germany, to promote settling in his colony. In 1683, 13 Quaker and Mennonite families from Krefeld around Franz Daniel Pastorius, the “Original 13” sailed on the “Concord” to North America. Other European powers built up colonial empires as well, and soon the European wars over succession were fought out in the colonies too. (French and Indian War 1754-1763).