Short History of Pomerania: Content
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The Croy-Tapestry: Gift of Ernst von Croy to the University of Greifswald

5. The Era of Reformation and Wars of Religion (1500-1657)

Toward the end of his reign, Bogislaw X was steering the ship of state with a rather weak hand, and conducted his personal life without self-discipline. Robbery, homicide, and murder again became widespread in his territories, especially in the east. Marauding knights practiced their misdeeds, and many noble families, such as the Puttkamer, the Kleist, and the Manteuffel, became infamous. The restoration of law and justice was accomplished by Bogislaw's sons. After Bogislaw X's death, his two sons succeeded him together. In 1526, the king of Poland enfeoffed them with the territories of Buetow and Lauenburg as hereditary fiefs. In the Treaty of Grimnitz in 1529, the Elector of Brandenburg, Joachim I, finally and permanently renounced his claims to the feudal overlordship of Pomerania, but maintained his right of succession in case the House of the Griffin should become extinct in the male line. In 1530, at the Diet of Augsburg, Emperor Charles V bestowed upon the two Pomeranian dukes in common their territory as a immediate imperial dukedom. (An immediate territory was one held directly from the Holy Roman Emperor, with no intervening feudal overlords).

The immediate imperial territory of Pomerania was again divided in 1532 and 1541. In the course of these divisions, the Oder River was taken as the border, or line of separation. The two resulting partial duchies were named Pomerania-Wolgast and Pomerania-Stettin. These were not in any way identical with the territories bearing the same names that had been created by the division of the land in 1295, and should not be confused with them. After the 16th-century divisions, it gradually became customary to speak of "Vorpommern" (literally "Pomerania in Front" or "Nearer" Pomerania) for the land west of the Oder River and "Hinterpommern" (literally "Pomerania in Back" or "Farther" or "Hither" Pomerania) for the land east of the Oder River. This remained until the bitter ending in 1945, or until today. After these divisions of the territory (in 1532 and 1541) there continued to be a unified administration for the time being. Two separate administrations were first erected in 1569. (This terminology was not unique to Pomerania - see the contemporary Duchy of Mansfeld, which came to be divided into Mansfeld-Vorderort, Mansfeld-Mittelort, and Mansfeld-Hinterort).

Bogislaw X had taken a neutral and undecided position in regard to the powerful new spiritual movement of the time, the Reformation that was coming from Wittenberg. In 1522, he partially secularized the possessions of the abandoned monastery of Belbuck. One of his two successors, Duke Barnim IX, had met Luther when he was a student in Wittenberg in 1519. He became an enthusiastic support of the Reformation. Additionally, he was a friend of the fine arts - he was himself a woodcarver - but he was inclined toward luxurious display and frequently ran into financial difficulties. The most important and most clever advisor of Barnim IX, his brother, and his nephew, was Jobst von Dewitz (ca. 1491 - 1542), who had studied law at the University of Bologna in Italy, probably from 1519 to 1522, and had taken the degree of "Doctor of Both Laws" (i.e., the civil law of the secular administration and the canon law that governed the church). Dewitz was a humanist (a follower of the revived study of the ancient Greek and Roman classics). Since his meeting with Luther in Wittenberg in 1523, he had supported the new religious teachings. These had had some impact on Pomerania since 1520, but it took much more than a decade for them to become dominant in all of Pomerania. In 1531, the administration permitted the "free preaching of the Gospel." Protestant sermons had been delivered even earlier, for example in 1521 in Pyritz and in 1522 in Stralsund, which had already led to unrest in many places in Pomerania.

The number of supporters of the new confession ["confession" in this sense was used in the 16th and 17th century as a word to describe the different religious denominations within Christianity] increased. However, it was not until a meeting of the Estates [the Pomeranian parliament] at Treptow on the Rega that the Lutheran version of the Christian faith was finally introduced by the "Kercken Ordenige des gantzen Pamerlandes" (Ecclesiastical Ordinance for All Pomerania). It was the work of the reformer of Pomerania: Johannes Bugenhagen (1465-1556). He came from Wollin and had been ordained as a priest in 1509. Since 1517, when he became a teacher in the monastery school at Belbuck, he had been writing a history of Pomerania at the request of Duke Bogislaw X. This book was the well-known "Pomerania" (printed at Stettin in 1901; reprinted in 1966). In 1523, Bugenhagen, who called himself "the Pomeranian" or "the Pomeranian doctor [of theology; Th.D.]," became the pastor of the municipal church in Wittenberg; in 1535, he became a professor at the university there. Since about 1527, he had served as Luther's confessor [the custom of private confession continued to exist in 16th century Lutheran churches]. He translated Luther's [High German] version of the Bible into Low German [the language used in the northern coastal regions]. He is not only the creator of the Pomeranian Ecclesiastical Ordinance, but also of those adopted in Brunswick, Hamburg, Luebeck, Denmark, Holstein, Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel, and Hildesheim. An ecclesiastical visitation [inspection] was carried out in Pomerania under the direction of Bugenhagen and Dewitz, which resulted in secularization of monastic and ecclesiastical properties. In 1539, the University of Greifswald, which had sunk unto miserable conditions, was reopened with a new faculty; in addition to Bugenhagen, Dewitz was significantly involved in this. Classical Latin secondary schools were established in Stettin (1543), Stralsund (1560), Greifswald (1561), Stargard (1633), and Neustettin (1640). (In regard to the word Estates, since the publication of Felix Carstens's Princes and Parliaments in Germany, English-speaking historians have adopted the convention of using Estates-with-a-capital-E to describe the legislative and parliamentary institutions of early modern Germany, while retaining estates-with-a-small-e to describe holdings in real property.)

The formal closing statement of the territorial diet [meeting of the Pomeranian parliament or legislature] on December 7, 1539, confirmed the decision at Treptow on the Rega. Pomerania, with the exception of the independent ecclesiastical foundation at Kammin, had become a Lutheran territory within the Holy Roman Empire. This was again shown clearly by the Treaty of Passau in 1552 and in the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. The provisions of this last document were, in addition, for the first time in 1612 summed up by the University of Greifswald professor Joachim Stephani in the formula, "cuius regio, eius religio" (whoever the ruler is, it's his religion), according to which the religious denomination of a secular ruler determined that of his subjects. In 1556, the Diocese of Kammin was secularized and turned into an appanage for a cadet line of the ducal family, which, to be sure, came close to being an additional division of the territory. All of Pomerania was from then on a Lutheran territory within the German (Holy Roman) Empire. At about the same time as the Reformation, another development occured that was of comparable significance for Pomerania. After the catastrophes of the mid-15th century, the population began to increase again toward the end, and the prices paid for agricultural products gradually increased as well. This circumstance, combined with the numerous abandoned farms, led the nobility, which was in part impoverished, to move in the direction of expanding demesne cultivation. Not only the directly cultivated land of the nobility, but also that belonging to the ecclesiastical institutions and the cities, was systematically expanded. From the beginning of the 16th century onward, the majority of the peasant farmers, who up to that time had been free men (who leased their farm land from the feudal owners and paying a set rent for its use), were gradually turned into serfs bound to the soil who owed increasing labor services to the lord on whose land they lived. Land that had been leased as peasant farms was turned into demesne land. The feudal landowner was also the administrator of the law court on his estates and the possessor of local police powers over his tenants.

In 1559, a territorial visitation [inspection carried out by ducal officials] in Pomerania-Stettin initiated a process of "peasant subordination" which was regulated and legitimated by the "Peasant- and Shepherds- Ordinance" of Duke Philipp II in 1616. The duke had been obliged to bend to the interests of and pressure exerted by the Pomeranian nobility. The conditions under which peasants had rights to their holdings were made much worse, and eventually reduced to only a usage right. Farmers could be driven from their farms. By means of this development, Pomerania changed from a typical land occupied by free farmers in the early 16th century to a territory that had a thin layer of owners of large estates and a very large number of dependant tenantry. This situation continued to exist into the 20th century. Nonetheless, it should not be overlooked that many lords of these feudal estates took excellent care of their dependants, out of a sense of patriarchal responsibility.

Among the last dukes, Bogislaw XIII and Philipp II deserve special mention. The former studied at the University of Greifswald, became honorary rector in 1569, and in 1569 was given the districts of Barth and Neuenkamp as his appanage. After 1592, he served as regent in Pomerania-Wolgast; finally, in 1603, he became duke of Pomerania-Stettin. Because of his opposition to the proud city of Stralsund, in 1587 he founded the city of Franzburg on the location of the former monastery of Neuenkamp. He intended that it should become a patrician republic on the model of Venice and overtake the power and prestige of Stralsund, but it only turned into another small town. Much more important was the printing press that he founded in 1588 in Barth. The magnificent Low German "Barth Bible" was printed here. His son, Philipp II (1573-1616) was both intellectually gifted and well educated; he certainly had the best artistic taste of any Pomeranian duke. He had the exterior west wing of the palace in Stettin built, and founded an art collection there. He also commissioned the making of the silver tablets later known as the Ruegenwald silver altar. From 1617 onward, he wrote books about gun sights in his own handwriting. In the same year he bought the "Pomeranian treasure chest," and in 1618 the Rostock mathematician Eilhard Lubin prepared the famous map of Pomerania for him.

After the death of Philipp II's brother Franz (1577-1620), he was succeeded by his brother Bogislaw XIV (1580-1637), a sickly, weak prince, the last of the Griffin House. He had been Bishop of Kammin since 1623; in 1625 he inherited the lands of the last Duke of Pomerania-Wolgast and again united all of Pomerania in one hand. The self-interest of the Estates, however, at first led to insistence that the separate administrations in Stettin and Wolgast be maintained.

Since 1618, the Thirty Years War had been raging in the German [Holy Roman] Empire, the heart of Europe. At first, Pomerania was spared. The dukes maintained their former policy of neutrality firmly, but did not have the power to enforce it successfully. In 1627, in the Capitulation of Franzburg, Bogislaw XIV had to agree to allow ten regiments, or 22,000 men, of Wallenstein's troops to be quartered within the duchy. Thereby, the duchy became a scene of war. In 1626, Wallenstein's army unsuccessfully besieged Stralsund, which was garrisoned by Swedish troops. In the spring of 1630, the Swedes occupied Ruegen; on July 6 of the same year, King Gustavus II Adolphus (1594-1632, ruling since 1611) landed near Peenemuende on the island of Usedom with an invading army of more than 12,000 men and intervened in the war on the side of the Protestant party. Thereafter, Sweden was de facto the lord over Pomerania, even if there was a formal treaty of alliance between the weak duke and the mighty, powerful, northern king, the "Lion from the Land of Midnight." In 1627, a privy council was established for the administration of all of Pomerania.

In 1633, the Estates confirmed the Treaty of Grimnitz (1629) and thereby confirmed the right of the Elector of Brandenburg to inherit Pomerania. The duke had a stroke the same year and became, for all practical purposes, incapable of governing. Therefore, the privy council drafted a constitution which was approved by the territorial estates and published on November 19, 1632. In accordance with the governmental constitution, an administrative commit consisting of a regent, a president, and seven councilors took the place of the duke in the leadership of the land. They were forced to abdicate in 1636. When it became clear that Bogislaw would die without heirs, in 1634 he gave the entire properties of the Eldena Monastery District, 14,000 hectares, to the territorial university of Greifswald. This fortune proved to be such a blessing for the institution of higher education that until 1674 it was able to exist without any state subsidy. Duke Bogislaw XIV died on March 10, 1637, by which the family of the Griffin became extinct in the male line. It had not been a great dynasty, but had brought forth several very diligent administrators. Most of them, however, were self-satisfied and lacking in political vision, passive, and weak. They were often in conflict with one another, and many succumbed to all-too-earthly vices.

According to the law that had been established on the basis of the Treaty of Grimnitz, after the death of Bogislaw XIV, the Hohenzollern Electors of Brandenburg (who were also Dukes of Prussia, etc.) should have stepped into the position of the Griffin House. However, Sweden, which for all practical purposes was in possession of Pomerania, did not want to accept this. The Protestant princes of the Holy Roman Empire indicated to the Elector of Brandenburg that, in the interest of the Protestant cause in the Empire, he should retire in favor of the Swedes. All of Pomerania had suffered terribly under the furies of the Thirty Years War, and had lost two thirds of its population. The children's song concerning the "burned down Pomerania" appeared at that time.

(Maikaefer, flieg! Der Vater ist im Krieg. Die Mutter ist im Pommerland; Pommerland ist abgebrannt! Maikaefer flieg! Fly, ladybug; your father is in the war; your mother is in Pomerania; Pomerania is burned down; Fly, ladybug.)

The Peace of Osnabrueck of 1646, which was incorporated into the Peace of Westphalia [1648], determined that western Pomerania (Vorpommern), with Ruegen, Stettin, Gartz, the mouth of the Oder River, Usedom, and Wollin, in addition to a strip along the right bank of the Oder with Damm, Gollnow, and Greifenhagen, should come to the Crown of Sweden, which would also assume the position (seat and voice) of the Pomeranian dukes as an Imperial Estate and take part in the Imperial Diets and in the Imperial Circle [military administrative district] of Upper Saxony. The King of Sweden was thereafter also Duke of Pomerania. The Electorate of Brandenburg under Friedrich Wilhelm, the Great Elector (ruled from 1640-1666) received the remaining part of eastern Pomerania (Hinterpommern) and the episcopal lands of the Diocese of Kammin. Lauenburg and Buetow, held as fiefs from the King of Poland, has escheated to Poland in 1637 upon the death of the last member of the Griffin House, but later in 1647 were again granted as hereditary fiefs to Pomerania, i.e. to Brandenburg.

Next Chapter: 6. Pomerania under Prussian and Swedish Rule (1648-1815)