Lutheranism suffers from a bad case of amnesia whenever it attempts to think of its early history and later development beyond the confines of Germany and Scandinavia. In many ways the cause for this was established at Worms in 1521 when Martin Luther made his defiant refusal to recant before the head of the House of Habsburg, Charles V, who was then the current Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire: which was not Holy, nor Roman and hardly an Empire. From that moment on the die was cast for an ongoing conflict and struggle between this major ruling noble House in Europe and the movement that history would later call the Lutheran Reformation.

It began there at Worms in 1521 and the last official act of repression, persecution and oppression of Lutheranism and its followers on their territories carried out by the Habsburgs occurred over three hundred years later in Austria’s idyllic picturesque Zillerthall valley in the Tyrol in 1831 when over one hundred miners and their families were expelled from their homeland for their adherence to the Lutheran faith and sent into exile, and forced to leave their children under the age of twelve behind because they refused to recant their faith: which none of them did.

The attempt to eradicate Lutheranism that began with Charles V at Worms would be continued and carried on by all of his successors in the vast territories that then made up their domains stretching from Spain into Central Europe, modern day Belgium, northern Italy, Sicily, the Austrian hereditary lands, Bohemia and Moravia. But never content with what they had, the House of Habsburg was always intent on increasing and expanding their realm, their power, their wealth and prestige. While other noble Houses of Europe increased their territory by war and conquest, “Happy Austria” as one historian put it, “married well.” The Habsburgs became experts in the fine art of bedroom diplomacy: the first known advocates of make love not war.

And a case in point was Charles V’s young teenaged sister Maria the once and future Queen of Hungary.

Maria was born in 1505 in Brussels in the Spanish Netherlands and unlike the rest of her siblings she resembled their father Philip the Fair who was the only handsome Habsburg known to history. Orphaned at an early age she and her brother Ferdinand were raised by their Aunt the Arch Duchess Margareta of Austria and lived in Vienna and as a result were spared an upbringing subject to the rigid protocols and the militant Catholicism of the Spanish Court. But more importantly under her aunt’s tutelage she was exposed to what was called the “new learning” and by the age of sixteen she had become an avid reader of Erasmus of Rotterdam and other Humanists and was already familiar with Luther’s early writings and teachings and was very much drawn to them.

But now at the age of sixteen she was being called upon to fulfill her role to enhance the fortunes and aspirations of the House of Habsburg. At the Imperial Diet in Vienna in

1515 her grandfather Maximilian had arranged for her marriage to Louis the future King of Hungary along with the marriage of her brother Ferdinand to Louis’ sister Anna. This was the latest Habsburg strategy to position themselves for the possible future takeover of the Hungarian throne.

Hungary found itself isolated militarily while being confronted by the increasing menace of the Ottoman Turks who had overrun and conquered the Balkans on Hungary’s southern frontier. Hungary was now all that stood between them and their overall objective: the conquest of central and western Europe. The threat of an imminent invasion had intensified ever since Suleiman the Magnificent’s ascension to the throne in Constantinople just the year before. Hungary was without any allies except for the verbal encouragement of the Papacy but preferred to have the military support of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire instead and therefore was eager to sign on the dotted line.

Young Princess Maria was simply a pawn in the chess game of Habsburg diplomacy that would change the history and destiny of Hungary and achieve Habsburg ambitions and designs for a Habsburg Monarchy in south-eastern Europe that would one day be known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Maria first met Louis on their wedding day on January 13, 1522. He was a year younger than his bride. They were two total strangers and it was a case of love at first sight! Not even Habsburg diplomacy was immune to the vagaries of romantic love after all!

From the moment they were married the chroniclers of the time inform us that they were inseparable. They were simply teenagers in love and all that implies. They were totally absorbed with one another. And nothing else seemed to matter. The royal court was aghast if not scandalized. There had never been anything like it. Their open displays of love and affection were beyond the pale and standards of the Royal Court in Buda.

As a result, the affairs of state were left in the hands of the Regent, George Margrave of Brandenburg who had been appointed by Louis’ father. The young King’s education had been left in his hands and as a convinced Lutheran the Regent had already introduced Louis to the writings and teachings of Martin Luther and now the young Queen joined him in his studies and shared his convictions. They began to explore ways to introduce some of the reforms that Luther advocated and installed an avowed Lutheran as their court chaplain to the consternation and indignation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. They even began to carry on correspondence with Luther about theological issues and concerns and how to implement church reforms in Hungary. In every sense of the term, they became soul mates and all of this simply bound them more closely to one another.

On January 13

th, 1524 on the second anniversary of their marriage, Louis presented Maria with the Domain of Mosonmagyarovar, properties which every Queen of Hungary had received as part of her marriage settlement since Stephen, the first Christian King of Hungary, had provided it for Gisela of Passau his Bavarian bride. These vast estates straddled the borders of modern day Austria and Slovakia and included nearly all of Moson County in Hungary as well as a major portion of the state of Burgenland in present day Austria: rich fertile agricultural lands, moorlands and pasturage for livestock along the banks of the Danube River in an area inhabited by people known as the Heidebauern.

The Heidebauern were the descendants of Bavarian and Franconian peasants that the Emperor Charlemagne had settled on his eastern frontier in the Tenth Century to provision the garrisons and fortresses established there to protect the eastern approaches into his Empire. There was also a major town with a fortress and castle on the Domain that Mary often visited when Louis was occupied with affairs of state now that he was older and had reached his majority and much of that was focussed on the growing threat of an invasion by the Turks.

For her part Queen Maria took a greater interest in her estate and her subjects. She became concerned when she learned that many of the parishes were without priests while there were priests living openly with concubines and lived rather dissolute lives. Discussing the matter with Louis she wrote to Luther requesting that he send students from Wittenberg to serve her people but noting that they would have to work clandestinely not to arouse the ire and suspicion of the Roman Catholic officials. Whether and when the first students arrived is unknown because shortly afterwards Louis faced the Turks at the Battle of Mohacs on August 29, 1526 and lost both his life and the battle and Hungary fell into the hands of the Turks who would occupy Hungary for the next one hundred and fifty years. One third of the population was massacred, one third carried off and sold in the slave markets of Constantinople and one third fled into the hills and forests or into Western Hungary which lay beyond the control of the Turks an area which happened to incorporate Queen Maria’s Domain where she found refuge in her fortress of Mosonmagyarovar and mourned the loss of her husband.

The young queen was devastated and unconsolable by her loss but it was during these grief-stricken months after his death that she received Martin Luther’s latest publication “Four Comforting Psalms” from her sister-in-law Anna married to her brother Ferdinand now King of Austria. Martin Luther dedicated this publication to Queen Maria. In the opening paragraph of his dedication Luther writes:

“At the suggestion of some pious people, most gracious Queen, I had intended to dedicate these four Psalms to you to urge that your Royal Majesty cheerfully and joyfully persevere in your encouragement of the Holy Word of God in Hungary…”

These words would become life changing for Queen Maria, “…cheerfully and joyfully persevere in your encouragement of the Holy Word of God in Hungary.” She now moved beyond her grief and found a focus and direction for her life. She wrote to Luther and asked him to send students to serve the abandoned parishes throughout her Domain because all of the priests had fled in fear of the Turks. She also provided the financial

support for them while she assisted other young men to enable them to go to Wittenberg to study with Luther and return to Hungary to further the work in their homeland.

There was turmoil throughout the land as the Turks roamed at will and destroyed and despoiled the countryside and continued to carry off its people or put them to the sword. That was also true of Queen Maria’s Domain and her brother asked her to flee to his territory to prevent her being taken hostage and she had to abandon her people who then faced the terrible onslaught of one Turkish raid after another. Most of the young pastors she had recruited from Wittenberg were killed but a steady stream of new recruits were already serving her subjects and expanding their work beyond her Domain while she waited in nearby Pressburg on the Danube…which is present day Bratislava…hoping to soon return to her Domain and Hungary.

She would later refer to this period as her exile, which provided her with an opportunity to continue her studies and reading now that the Reformation was advancing all across Europe. She became very much involved in the growing Lutheran movement in the city itself and provided encouragement and leadership. Pressburg would become a citadel of Lutheranism in the following centuries ahead as a result of her efforts. Her brother Ferdinand, now King of Austria encouraged her in this pursuit because the matter of Lutheranism would become a major issue at the forthcoming Diet of Augsburg in April of 1530. Maria agreed to accompany him to the Diet as his religious adviser. Their older brother Charles V would be in charge of the Diet and it was her hope that she could somehow convince her brothers not to take action against Luther and those who supported his views.

Queen Maria was there on June 25, 1530 when a small group of men: an Elector, six noblemen of various ranks, and the mayors and councilmen of two royal free cities: Nuremberg and Reutlingen put forward their confession of faith in response to the demand of the Emperor that they return to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church. She later commented that what impressed her the most was the fact that they were all laymen and not a theologian among them. They stood together in an assembly that numbered in the hundreds and when her brother Charles demanded that they renounce their heresy they remained defiant and unwavering and deep in her heart she knew that they had spoken for her as well. She had been a witness to the birth of the Church of the Augsburg Confession and spent all of her efforts in the following days to move her brother Ferdinand from a position of hostility to one of understanding if not acceptance.

Her brother Charles took her aside later and warned her that she was placing herself in danger by her association with the teachings of Luther. He informed her that it was only because of his position as Emperor that he had been able to thwart the intentions of the Inquisition in Spain to launch an official investigation into her questionable religious beliefs and put her on trial for having strayed from the Roman Catholic faith and would have to face the consequences that would necessarily follow.

In light of her brother’s warning Queen Maria struggled with how to respond in light of his suggestion that she become his viceroy in Brussels with the understanding that she would sever all of her relationships and contacts that would connect her with her

“unfortunate” beliefs as he put it. This was the only way she would be able to maintain her ownership of her Domain in Hungary and protect the work that she had begun there. It was under those circumstances that she accepted her brother’s offer and became an exemplary ruler while maintaining clandestine contacts and provided financial support to ensure the ongoing ministry of the students from Wittenberg in the villages on her Domain and appointed fortress commanders who were members of the nobility of Lower Austria that had all gone over to the Reformation and protected them. She was never allowed to visit her Domain again and died in Brussels in the Spring of 1558.

In the next two centuries which followed, the Lutherans of Hungary experienced the full force of the Counter Reformation resulting in the confiscation of 700 of their churches, the exiling of hundreds of pastors and teachers while others were sold as galley slaves in Naples. This was followed by the Decade of Sorrows when all official Lutheran church life disappeared as a result of the use of military force on the part of various Habsburg emperors. Then the last “great persecution” as it was known during the reign of the Empress Maria Theresia in the 18th Century was followed by the Edict of Toleration promulgated by her renegade son Joseph II in 1784 that granted certain freedoms and rights to Protestants in his realm that resulted in the overnight emergence of hundreds of former underground congregations throughout all of Hungary, Transylvania, Slovakia, Austria, Bohemia and Slovenia and to his surprise even in Vienna itself.

Among them were numerous congregations on the former Domain of Queen Maria that had survived for the last century as household assemblies. There were other Heidebauern who had left the Domain and established new communities in areas from which the Turks had been expelled and formed illegal congregations under the leadership of one of their own, both men and women, who were called a Levite Lehrer who taught the children to read and write, the Scriptures and Luther’s Small Catechism and preached at their assemblies while publicly in the guise of just another peasant farmer during the day.

One of these emergent congregations was located in Pusztavam in Feher County that consisted of Heidebauern refugees from Queen Maria’s Domain. In their Church Chronicle it is noted that the last Levite Lehrer who had secretly served the congregation up until the Edict of Toleration came into effect there, had been Johann Georg Mossberger. One of his direct descendants was Elisabeth Mossberger who was my great grandmother and that is perhaps the reason why my mother always said that somewhere on my bottom I am stamped “Made in Wittenberg” with thanks to Queen Maria of Hungary, the Habsburg princess who made my presence among you possible this morning. And thanks be to God.

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