John III
John III
King of Bohemia & Duke of Luxembourg
Reign 12th March, 1502 - 9th September, 1536
Predecessor Sigismund II
Successor Wenceslaus V
King of Hungary
Reign 12th March, 1502 - 9th September, 1536
Predecessor Sigismund II
Successor Wenceslaus III
Margrave of Brandenburg
Reign 12th March, 1502 - 9th September, 1536
Predecessor Sigismund II
Successor Wenceslaus II
Holy Roman Emperor (as John I)
Reign 12th March, 1502 - 9th September, 1536
Predecessor Sigismund II
Successor Albert
Born 4th July, 1473
Died 9th September, 1536
Spouse Bianca of Milan

Catherine of Wessex
Ana Jakšić

Issue Wenceslaus II


House Luxembourg-Limburg
Father John II
Mother Eleanor of Foix

The reign of John III is considered by many to mark the absolute high point of the medieval Luxembourg realm. He was successful in however by the close of his reign he and the empire under his rule became overwhelmed with endless military action and by religious fraction.

Born in 1473, the fourth child of Sigismund II of Luxembourg and Eleanor of Foix, John was brought up in Prague with finest tutors the expansive Luxembourg lands could provide. He was heir to Bohemia, Hungary, Brandenburg, Luxembourg along with various woolly claims to Naples and other Italian lands, and from 1493 heir to very much disputed Kingdom of Anglia.

And while his father directed war, the Empire and diplomatic machinations spanning the continent, John was given the Kingdom of Hungary, or at least the newly restored title of Voivode of Transylvania, to hone his skills as a ruler. His father had slipped into depression following the massive Anglian victory at Lens in 1497 and John found himself more drawn to the western edge of the empire to manage affairs there, being granted the Duchy of Luxembourg in 1499. He soon had the military situation under his control, much helped by the incompetence of the Danish king Eric IX but French involvement made the war a slow grind which sucked money out of John's treasury relentlessly.

In 1517 the new king of Denmark Christopher II finally bowed to the inevitable and renounced his claim on the Anglian throne. The Danish treasury had been emptied and revolts were beginning to consume his lands. John's funds were hardly more secure but the closure of one front (and the effective recovery of Brandenburg and parts of Northern Germany) shored up his position. The Anglian Witenage had proclaimed him the rightful king and under the regency of William of Norfolk had come to accept the loss of the Low Countries as the price for peace. John however would never travel to be crowned in Lincoln; war still continued against France and Bavaria and a friar by the name of Martin Luther had just posted his 91 Theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral.

While fighting continued in Germany and Holland it fell to William of Norfolk to bring a real end to the war. In 1523 he took a massive Anglian force to the gates of Paris, forcing France to make peace. Bavaria, rocked by peasant revolt and war between its various independent duchies, had already made it clear it could not continue the fight. The Treaty of Cleaves would be the high point of John's reign. The signatories acknowledged John's annexation of Anglia's territory of Flanders and Hainault. Added to this France was forced to sign away its claim to Champagne whilst Bavaria-Landshut gave up Holland in return for a free hand in uniting Bavaria properly under its aegis. Both of these territories would be seized following the deaths of their incumbents in the later years of the 1520s. After 200 years of having Luxembourg as the family's sole western outpost, John had firmly grabbed a massive territorial settlement which would underpin the later development of the 'United Netherlands'.

As the dust settled on the treaty John realised he faced considerable opposition. While Kalmar, Bavaria and France had been dealt with during the war there were more states utterly opposed to John's ambitions of domination. Saxony, Austria and Hannover seized on the fact John now controlled two electorates in direct contravention of Emperor Olaf's reforms. At the Imperial Diet of 1523 in Frankfurt they demanded he remove the electorate from Flanders and bestow it upon another state. He refused and they declared war. The 'Electoral War' was half-heartedly pursued and soon confessional differences drove a wedge between Austria and its allies. Almost as a recognition that his realms were too numerous anyway he divested himself of Anglia ensuring a smooth succession by arranging the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth to the regent William of Norfolk, allowing William to succeed him. And as a dowry he handed the couple the Duchy of Fryslân which had become vacant in 1520.


Martin Luther

Uriel of Hesse, the half-brother of Philip I of Hesse, had secured a formidable series of bishoprics under his rule. In 1512 at the age of 23 he had secured a massive loan from German bankers and greased the wheels of his election as Archbishop of Magdeburg and followed this with the purchase of Halberstadt and finally Mainz. Of course this took a large amount of money to complete and to pay off his loans Uriel approved the sale of indulgences within his territories, half of the proceeds going to the papacy. The sight of monks selling indulgences, effectively allowing people to buy their way out of purgatory, disgusted many, including Luther, and would lead directly to the nailing of his 91 Theses to Wittenberg cathedral.

Copies of the 91 Theses were printed from December 1517 and spread rapidly thanks to the printing press and much of Europe had had the chance to read them by March 1518, eastern Leifian nations by midsummer. Attempts by the church hierarchy to dampen Luther's teachings failed as he and his followers completely rejected papal authority though it would take almost three years for the judgment of excommunication to be hung over him.

John initially dismissed Luther and his complaints as a minor dispute between monks but the repercussions were soon obvious. In 1521 he offered Luther protection to attend the Diet of Worms where the points of the theses would be debated. There Luther was denounced as a heretic and current church practices were reaffirmed. Expecting Luther to be arrested he was virtually kidnapped by Hanover whose rulers were sympathetic to him and, in relative security, Luther could continue to write and promote reform. War was stirring. Initial conflict was driven by the peasantry of Germany and was furiously quashed by the lords, whose positions and wealth the rebels threatened, between 1522 and 1524. In this John allowed the states to get on with their own defence, he after all was still fighting his own wars in the Low Countries and Italia. Those princes finding success against the peasants, like Philip I of Hesse would be richly rewarded. However it soon turned out they only opposed reform from the masses upward and were perfectly happy to convert to Luther's teachings; either through genuine belief or political expediency.

Further Diets in Spires in 1526 and 1529 attempted to deal with the populist movement. The diet of 1526, presided over by John, called for tolerance within the empire, a stance that harked back to the agreements with the Hussites a century before, and a hypocritical one at that considering he had authorized the burning of unrepentant preachers in Flanders only the previous year. Although nothing formal was ever produced the Lutheran-leading princes took the agreements made to mean they could practice whichever form of Christianity they wished. The rulers of Hesse and Saxony were soon openly promoting Lutheran ideas in their states. The 1529 diet meanwhile was presided over by John's son Wenceslaus who was more confrontational than his father and sought a more rounded condemnation. Indeed both the excommunication of the Lutherans and the Imperial Ban was reaffirmed at the end of the diet. This resulted in a formal 'Protest' by the Lutheran lords and they were soon organising an armed league to protect their interests as well as colluding with Luther to set up an established church outside of Rome's authority.

Within his own lands the Reformation spread rapidly in the Low Countries, possibly helped by a rejection of Luxembourg rule (which tended to extract as much tax as it could), the initial failure against French attacks in the Italian-related conflicts and possibly as result of local upheavals as the old ruling families lost their lands and influences. In Bohemia it picked up adherents amongst the Hussites whose own proto-reformation had so convulsed the Empire in the previous century. Hungary however seemed impervious to Lutheranism and stood steadfastly to John's side, even if its attentions were straying as ever across the Adriatic.


While north of the Alps attentions were turning to religious matters, in Italia the First Mantuan War (1518) saw Milan claiming the small marquisate when its ruling family ran out of heirs and, predictably this move was opposed by Venice and the Papacy. With one eye on Aragon John marched the Hungarian 'Black Legion', fresh from causing chaos in Bavaria into the Italian peninsula and reduced Mantua on Milan's behalf. He did not march it back however and allowed it to pursue mercenary activities up and down the peninsula, a perfect position for when the time came to put long-term plans into action.

In this John was merely reverting to the old cherished Luxembourg dream of recapturing Naples. His Hungarian nobles, being largely untroubled by the struggle for Anglia, had been champing at the bit for almost a decade to restart operations there and were finally granted their wish when John appeased Pope Marinus III enough through pursuing a hard line against the Lutherans for the excommunication of James IV beginning the Second Mantuan War (1524-1530). Now free to do what they wished the Black Legion began a march on Naples however John knew he would be opposed in this unilateral action. Aragon predictably came to Naples' aid and John IV of Aragon had recently concluded an alliance with the humiliated John IV of France, and Duke Jaime III of Aquitaine too.

The Black Legion, one of Europe's finest military machines, was soon in a desperate war of attrition with Aragon's Italian forces whilst the Italian states lined up on either side to deny the passage of the grand royal armies, wage war against each other and spend fortunes on mercenary companies who clashed in ever bloodier engagements. In the Low Countries France and Aragon made headway into Flanders knowing full well Anglia was too poor now to lift a finger in their ally's defense. And further south Burgundy resumed its age-old feud with Arles opening the door for a land invasion of Italia from the west. Assured, for once, that Aragon was not about to land an invasion force on his doorstep James IV took the Neapolitan army to Rome itself in mid-1525 whereupon Marinus III fled and was captured by the Modenese army. Forced to rescind the excommunication Marinus promptly died on his way back to Rome allowing James IV, now in control of Rome and its environs, to promote his own favoured cardinal to the Papal throne. The same year saw a considerable sea battle between Aragon and Genoa; Genoa's victory would allow it to seize Corsica and would result in Aragon relying on moving its army on land for the rest of the war, a stricture it was not used to. Luxembourg-aligned Arles was in no shape to resist Aragon, France and Burgundy and sued for peace much to John's dismay.

Battle of Zenevredo (1526)

The Emperor himself led a massive Bohemian-German army through Venetian territory to Mantua in early 1526 where the Neapolitan, French and Aragonese armies lay in wait. The Battle of Zenevredo was a close-run thing with both sides losing half of their 20,000 strong forces. The Imperial army was low on supplies too but gambling on a quick win John proved victorious. At the subsequent Battle of Pavia he even captured John IV of France, ending French involvement and although French forces had proved effective in Flanders it reinforced the new balance of power in the Low Countries.

For the rest of the war John's forces met Neapolitan and Aragonese forces multiple times around the increasingly devastated city of Mantua which lent its name to the war which ironically it had almost nothing to do with. Eventually the temporary destruction of Aragon's forward bases in the peninsula was good enough for John and peace was signed. Though Modena would go bankrupt in 1534 allowing Aragon back in.

The conduct of the war obsessed John, distracting him and his considerable forces when Germany possibly needed him most. Instead of using his own forces to crush the Reformation in its earliest stages he left the job to the smaller catholic nations, and faced against some of the most formidable military minds of the age they made a hash of it. It was no wonder that the Protestant princes soon were in open defiance of both Emperor and Pope.

John's Italian troubles did not end in Manuta however. In 1533 Isabella of Naples died, suddenly leaving the succession wide open. Aragon of course argued it had the best claim but James IV's tortured diplomacy during the Second Mantuan War left Sicily and France legally sure of their claims too. And of course Hungary was hardly going to allow this to be a straight fight between Paris and Barcelona. John felt he had little option but to dive into another war which would last, on and off until 1576.

Obsessed by the art of war John collected arms and especially cherished suits of armour. His patronage of several guilds elevated armour almost to an art form and his favoured gift to his nobles and lucky foreign princes would be an extremely expensive, state of the art, suit from one of his forges.


John died in 1536 at the age of 63. He had only one surviving legitimate son, Wenceslaus, who would succeed him in all territories. He fathered several illegitimate children however, most of whom were employed as regional governors or were fast-tracked into high-ranking church positions, such as Jobst who would become Archbishop of Trier in 1543.

Opposed equally by the Lutheran and Catholic electorates (for either being too harsh or not harsh enough), Wenceslaus would not receive the Imperial crown and it would remain out of Luxembourg hands for another 150 years.

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