166 taking refuge with Protestant princes, but the latter proved so unreceptive to a step of this magnitude that the seriousness of the plan was not put to the test.25 In the end, Maximilian became disillusioned with the internal disunity of German Protestantism and attentive to the constraints of imperial rulership. To assuage his father, he took an oath to remain within the Catholic Church in 1562.26 By the time he acceded to the imperial throne two years later, any inclination toward outright conversion had passed, even if he continued to question Catholic dogma and criticize the curia’s in?lexibility toward reform. During the ?irst diet of Maximilian’s regency in 1564, the Protestant estates of Lower Austria invoked his father’s intention to resolve the religious con?lict and requested toleration of the pure and true religion of the Augsburg Confession.27 Maximilian responded in the evasive manner of his predecessor, triggering an increasingly irritated exchange that continued for several years. By 1568, however, the emperor had begun to reconsider his stance. The war against the Turks proceeded costly and ineffectually, and the imperial court had amassed substantial debts. In the Netherlands, the coercive confessional policies of his cousin Philip had provoked open rebellion, whereas France and Poland-Lithuania were experimenting with limited tolerance for religious dissenters. Maximilian’s relationship with Spain and the curia was strained, as these two most rigid proponents of Catholic orthodoxy proved more generous with uninvited advice and admonitions than with ?inancial and military assistance. The Protestant estates grasped the opportunity. They declared their willingness to assume Maximilian’s debts to the amount of 2.5 million ?lorins, but indicated that they expected palpable religious concessions in turn. In view of his ?inancial calamities and the increasing elusiveness of religious rapprochement, Maximilian granted the landed aristocrats of the archduchy the freedom to practice Lutheranism on their estates and in the towns and villages subject to them.28 In the wording of the assurance of 1571, which con?irmed and speci?ied the concessions, members of the noble estates were entitled to use the Augsburg Confession “for themselves and their households on their estates and in their palaces and houses (but not inside our own cities and towns); in the countryside and in their patrimonial churches, for their subjects as well”.29 This marked a breakthrough in the legal status of Austrian Lutherans, but it did not establish their unrestricted freedom of worship. Not only were there enough quali?ications and imprecisions to leave ample room for con?licting interpretation. In a step that 25 Fichtner: Emperor Maximilian II, 42. 26 Ibid., 44. 27 For the prehistory of the religious concession of 1568, see Bibl: ‘Die Vorgeschichte’, 400- 431. 28 There were separate but corresponding decrees for the estates of Lower and Upper Austria. The latter had to provide a substantial ?inancial contribution as well. 29 Bibl: ‘Die Vorgeschichte’,429.
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