First, as William Cavanaugh so powerfully argues in his Myth of Religious Violence, when we take a closer look at the 16th and 17th century wars of religion we find that differences between Catholics and Protestants, and Protestants and other Protestants, were secondary to the aims of the emerging nation-states and various political and dynastic intrigues. Simply put, the main cause of these wars was political, not religious.
How can that be? If religious differences were the main cause of these bloody conflicts, Cavanaugh maintains, then we would expect to find that they were invariably fought along neat denominational lines. What we actually find is Catholic emperors attacking popes, Catholic French kings attacking Catholic emperors, Protestant kings and princes siding with Catholic kings against other Protestants, Lutheran and Catholic kings uniting against Catholic emperors, Protestant Huguenot nobles and Catholic nobles in France uniting against both Catholic and Protestant Huguenot commoners who likewise united against the nobles, Protestant and Catholic nobles in France uniting against their Catholic king, Protestants rejecting the Protestant Union (the coalition of German Protestant states) even while some Catholics were siding with it, Lutheran princes adamantly supporting the rights of a Catholic emperor, Catholic France supporting Protestant princes in Germany, the Dutch Calvinists helping the Catholic king to repress uprisings of French Calvinists, a Lutheran leading the Catholic imperial army, and mercenaries of every religious stripe selling themselves to the highest Catholic or Protestant bidder.Share
And that is only a very quick overview of the examples provided, at great length, by Cavanaugh. A careful, unbiased study of the so-called religious wars yields the rather surprising result that they were not religious wars. They were political wars that both ignored religious differences when the more important political aims demanded either cooperation with religious opponents or antagonism to those sharing the same religious beliefs, and used religious differences when they would serve political purposes. (Read more.)