Background to the Reformation

Martin Luther was a German monk. He thought that the Catholic Church had too much power and was corrupt. In 1517 he wrote a document called the Ninety-five theses and nailed it on to the door of his local church.

The start of the Protestant Church

Luther set up a new, Protestant Church – the Lutheran Church. One of the differences between Protestants and Catholics is the way they view bread and wine during religious services. Catholics believe that the bread and wine actually turns into the body and blood of Christ. Protestants believe it stays bread and wine and only represents Christ.

Luther also translated the Bible into German so more people could read and understand it.

The Reformation spread to Europe

Luther's ideas spread and were developed further. The Reformation in Europe led to revolution, war and persecution.

Map of Europe showing areas of Protestant and Catholic conflictThe predominant religions in European countries from the time of the Reformation in the 16th century
  • A stricter form of Protestantism called Calvinism became popular with the Dutch.
  • In Scotland, Calvinism was called Presbyterianism.
  • There were other, even more strict, versions of Protestantism. In England, very strict Protestants were called Puritans.
  • There were wars of religion in France.
  • First Spain and then France went to war against the Dutch Protestants.
  • In Germany, Protestant and Catholic states fought the Thirty Years War (1618-48).
  • In Spain, the kings used the Inquisition to torture and burn Protestants.