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Only three years before the League was established, Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (d. 1651), who was afterwards its leading spirit, declared against the formation of a confederacy of the Catholic states of the empire in Germany, proposed by the spiritual electors. Soon after, however, in 1607, he emphasized the need of such a confederacy, "in order that each may know how far he may rely on the others." There is indeed nothing more natural than the drawing together in times of discord of those who think alike. Besides, the Protestant "Union" was inaugurated in May, 1608.

Early in 1608 Duke Maximilian started negotiations with the spiritual electors and some of the Catholic states of the empire, with a view to the formation of a union of the Catholic states. On 5 May, 1608, there was a conference on this question in the Imperial Diet at Ratisbon, which amounted, however, only to an exchange of ideas. Two months later (5 July), we find the spiritual electors assembled at Andernach at the invitation of the Archbishop of Mainz. This assembly was really held to consider the question of the imperial succession, but the proposed League was also discussed, and a tendency was manifested in favour of the confederacy suggested by Maximilian. Opinions were even expressed as to the size of the confederate military forces to be raised. Maximilian, who took the most active part at the Andernach conference, afterwards sought among the neighbouring princes members for the proposed League. Salzburg showed disapproval; Würzburg's bishop was not much more encouraging, but the Bishops of Augsburg, Passau, and Ratisbon concurred. Until the end of January, 1609, however, the negotiations flagged. About this time Maximilian won over the Catholic states of Swabia to his project, and on 5 July the representatives of Augsburg, Constance, Passau, Ratisbon, and Würzburg assembled at Munich. Salzburg was not invited this time, and Eichstädt still hesitated. Here on 10 July, 1609, the participating states concluded an alliance "for the defence of the Catholic religion and peace within the Empire." The confederates might not make war on each other; their disputes must be decided either by arbitration within the confederacy, or by the laws of the Empire; should one member be attacked, the League must resort to arms, or, if prevented from doing this, must take legal steps. Duke Maximilian was to be the president of the confederacy, and the Bishops of Augsburg, Passau, and Würzburg his councillors. The League was to continue for nine years.

The foundation of the confederacy was at last laid but a substantial structure was certainly not erected at Munich. This was not the fault of Maximilian, but of the states, which, always cautious and dilatory could not be spurred to take decisive action. On 18 June, 1609, even before the Munich Diet, the Electors of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier had exchanged opinions through their envoys as to the personnel of the League and the size of the confederate army, for which they proposed 20,000 men. They had also considered the making of Maximilian president of the alliance, and on 30 August they announced their adhesion to the Munich agreement, provided that Maximilian accepted the Elector of Mainz as co-president. As the arch-chancellor of the Empire, the latter enjoyed great prestige, and was in a position to exercise great influence; consequently, his support could scarcely be termed anything less than essential to the League. Indeed, in conformity with his wishes, the emperor was informed of the foundation and aims of the confederacy. As to its precise object, the members themselves were not quite clear. Maximilian, therefore, urged the convocation of a general meeting of the confederates to remove all misunderstandings. The first was held on 10 Feb., 1610, at Würzburg. Except Austria and Salzburg, all the important Catholic states and a great number of the smaller ones sent representatives. The organization of the coalition, the raising of a confederate army, the apportionment of the contributions to the alliance, and the enlistment of foreign mercenaries, were the questions under discussion. The confederacy received the official name, Defensiv- oder Schirmvereinigung . Only after this can one really speak of a Catholic League. The foreign help on which they principally counted seemed already assured. The pope and the King of Spain, who had been informed by Maximilian of his plan through the medium of Zuniga, the Spanish ambassador at Prague, were both favourably disposed towards the undertaking.

But the success of the League depended primarily on the effective co-operation of the members themselves. This broke down when it came to the collection of contributions. In the case of very many of the members, their contribution was, in the words of Maximilian, nothing but a "poor prayer." Up to April, 1610 not a single member had paid his quota, although at that very moment, the dispute concerning the Jülich succession, and the threatening of the Rhenish principalities by the troops of the Union, urgently required a League ready for war. Disgusted with the indifference of the members, which narrowness of means on the part of a few could not excuse, Maximilian threatened to resign the presidentship. His threat at once achieved this, that Spain, which had made the giving of a subsidy dependent on Austria's enrolment in the League, waived this condition, and the pope promised a further contribution in 1611. The conduct of the Union in the Jülich disptute and the warlike operations of the Union army in Alsace, seemed to make a battle between League and Union inevitable. But the internal affairs of the League were to become still more critcal. In the year 1613 the exertions of Cardinal Klesl at an assembly of the confederates in Ratisbon (where the Imperial Diet was also sitting), against the wishes of Duke Maximilian but very much in accordance with the wishes of the Elector of Mainz, succeeded in bringing about the enrolment, of Austria in the League. The assembly now appointed no less than three war-directors: Duke Maximilian, and Archdukes Albert and Maximilian of Austria. The object of the League was now declared "eine christlich rechtmässige Defension." The division of leadership did not conduce to increasing the League's power, while, by Austria's accession, it became entangled in her difficulties, already very threatening in her hereditary domains.

Duke Maximilian, who attached great importance to the League's fitness for war, showed his disapproval of the Ratisbon resolutions by refusing to accept them and later resigned his post as president, when Archduke Maximilian, of Austria, the third director, protested against the inclusion of the Bishop of Augsburg, and the Provost of Ellwangen in the Bavarian Directory, and was supported in his protest by Mainz and Trier. On 27 May, 1617, he formed a separate league for nine years with Bamberg, Eichstädt, Würzburg, and the Provost of Ellwangen. But the position in Bohemia as in Lower and Upper Austria, gradually became so critical, that King Matthias at the end of 1618 strove hard with Mainz for the restoration of the League. A meeting of several of the eccliasiastical states met the emperor's wishes in that, at Oberwesel (Jan., 1619), they decided to reconstruct the League, but on its original basis. It was in future to have only two groups: the Rhenish under the presidency of Mainz, and the Oberland under Bavaria, the treasury and the military command were to be considered as separate. Maximilian might only lead the whole of the troops, when he had to appear in the Rhenish district. After Maximilian had made sure that Austria would not again claim the privilege of appointing a third director, he summoned the Oberland states to Munich, where on 31 May the Oberland group came again into life. The Rhenish group was already re-established at Oberwesel. The two groups bound themselves to render mutual help for six years.

The Kingdom of Bohemia, in a state of insurrection from 1618, deprived Ferdinand II of the Bohemian crown, and gave it to Elector Palatine Frederick V (26-27 Aug., 1619) Ferdinand's sole hope of recovering his lands now lay in drastic action. On the way to Frankfort on the day of the imperial election he had already consulted personally with Maximilian of Bavaria on the projected warlike preparations. After the election Ferdinand conferred with the spiritual electors at Frankfort concerning the support of the League. With the formation of a confederate army the serious activity of the League began. The critical time, which Maximilian's clear vision had foreseen, and for which, with characteristic energy, he had been long making provision, made him the undisputed leader of Catholic Germany. On 8 Oct., 1619, Ferdinand and Maximilian came to an agreement at Munich over the support of the League, and the separate support of Bavaria. The latter supplied 7000 men to the confederate army, whose strength was fixed at an assembly at Würzburg in Dec., 1619, as 21,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry.

In July, 1620, the League army totalled about 30,000 men, to which the Protestant Union could only oppose about 10,000. This superiority at once helped the League to a diplomatic victory over the Union, with which an agreement was come to, whereby, during the war in Austria and Bohemia, hostilities betwecn the parties of both alliances in Germany should cease. Bavaria and the League had thus their whole military forces free to support the emperor. On 3 July the arrangement had been made with the Union; on 24 July Tilly had already begun his march into Upper Austria. That there was no decisive battle till 8 November was due to the over-cautious and procrastinating imperial field-marshal, Buquoy. Even before Prague he was still averse to a battle. That one was fought was due to Maximilian and Tilly. With the victory of the combined confederate and imperial armies over the Bohemians at Prague the first stage of the League's activity during the Thirty Years War ended. Its subsequent history is closely involved in that of the Thirty Years War. The strength of the League principally lay in Maximilian's personality and in the resources of his excellently administered country. But for Maximilian the League at the beginning of the Thirty Years War would probably have been just as disorganized a body as its opponent, the Union.

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