If a sprint had been better than a marathon

Dynastie, Region, Konfession: Die Hochstifte des Heiligen Römischen Reiches Deutscher Nation zwischen Dynastisierung und
Konfessionalisierung (1448–1648). 3 vols. Norbert Haag.
Reformation History Studies and Texts 166. Münster: Aschendorff, 2018.
2,240 pp. €239.00. ISBN 978-340211595-4. [TOC]

Reviewed by: Klaus Graf RWTH Aachen University, Germany. In: Sixteenth Century Journal 51 (2020), S. 1124-1125

There were more than thirty territories (Hochstifte) of the Holy Roman Empire German Nation ruled politically by a prince-bishop. In 1995, Eike Wolgast published a monograph on these bishoprics and the Reformation, and now Norbert Haag, director of the archive of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Württemberg in Stuttgart, deals much more comprehensively with the history of these institutions. In seventeen chapters, he chronologically treats the period from the Concordat of Vienna (1448) to the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1648).

The book, which shares his topic with other recent studies on the Germania Sacra (see, for example, Weltliche Herrschaft in geistlicher Hand: Die Germania Sacra im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert [Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017]), is more than an erudite handbook of the confessional conflicts of the sixteenth century in Germany. Haag provides, for example, a broad discussion of the “take-off” of Catholic confessionalization. The author argues that research has paid too much attention to the state and has neglected noble and princely dynasties, who increasingly
controlled and exploited the prince bishoprics. Although he does not explicitly define his concept of “dynasticization,” it is clear that it concerned not only the occupation of the episcopal seats by members of the leading dynasties (most successful was the Catholic house of Wittelsbach), but also the control of these ecclesiastical states by those dynasties.

The political role of the prince-bishops in the decades of the Reformation was modest. In the consolidated Catholic dioceses, there a few important personalities such as Julius Echter, bishop of Würzburg from 1573 to 1617, have loomed large (commemorated by several publications in 2017). He was, however, less impressive as a politician in the context of the Reich, but within his territory he was very important because of his consistent counter-reformatory activities. Haag presents these processes in well-researched detail.

Methodologically, the author follows the tried and true paths of political history, discussing the interests of the actors in negotiations that he describes extensively. He enriches his account with a most useful consideration of communicative processes; however, he neglects to mention this aspect in his long summary (1847–89). From the perspective of regional identity, it is a pity that he does not follow through on his promise in the introduction (7–10) to work with Peter Moraw’s division of the Reich into political regions.

I have no serious quarrel with the interpretations and conclusions of the book, but the author does not make it easy for scholars to read this much-too-long
[p. 1125]
work. He almost never writes vividly. English-speaking readers will not be the only ones to regret his long sentences with too many foreign words. And many things are in the footnotes that belong in the main text. On 883 the main text is only one line. Overviews and maps of the principal bishoprics are missing (this lack was also a feature of the Wolgast book, as noted by the reviewer in SCJ [1996]: 926). Usually the author follows one leading source per chapter, but as a result the text becomes bloated. In direct stylistic comparison with Wolgast, Haag comes off considerably worse.

Given the scope of the subject, it is reasonable that the author relied almost exclusively on secondary literature (just under two thousand titles compared to only three pages of references to primary sources). Despite the huge scale, however, there are significant gaps; to name but one German language title: Bettina Braun, Princeps et episcopus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), was not listed. It is also hardly acceptable that the author has consulted so few works in the English language. Although Thomas A. Brady published some important work on the topic in the years after 2000, the most recent title by him in the bibliography is dated 1995. English-speaking readers might find it easier to read Haags’s book if they read Brady’s essay first: “The Holy Roman Empire’s Bishops on the Eve of the Reformation,” in Continuity and Change: The Harvest of Late-Medieval and Reformation History: Essays Presented to Heiko A. Oberman (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 20–47. Haag does not even mention Brady’s standard work, German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400–1650 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

The author deserves sincere gratitude for his great diligence. But one has to spend almost a whole working week for a thorough reading and for me the question remains open whether a sprint through a shorter work might have been preferable to the marathon presented here.


Bettina Braun’s review:


Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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