Alternative History
Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk.jpg

Martin Luther was a German theologian and church reformer who was the foremost Reformation figure from 1517 until his execution in 1521.

Pre-Reformation Life

Born in the small town of Eisleben in 1483 to an upcoming family, Luther would go on to attend formal education with the intention of becoming a lawyer. Deciding against his father’s wishes that he wanted to pursue philosophy, Martin Luther eventually decided to become a monk in 1505.

Luther’s spiritual journey began bumpily, as he regretted his decision to enter the monastery. Martin Luther would end up studying on the faculty at the newly-established University of Wittenberg. He would end up as the local Augustinian vicar for Saxony and Thuringia by 1515.


The arrival of Johann Tetzel, a papal commissioner for indulgences, in 1516, to Luther’s area of oversight led him to write his famous Ninety-five Theses, which were posted on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle church on All Saints’ Eve, 1517. The Theses would then later be translated into German from the original Latin, and were published widely across the Holy Roman Empire.

As Luther’s works grew more widespread and widely-read, he developed a following including Thomas Müntzer, Andreas Karlstadt, and Philip Melancthon - three men who would eventually take up the mantle of Restoration. In addition, the Catholic Church under Pope Leo X began to challenge him. Notable was the disputation between Luther and Karlstadt on the one side and Johann Eck on the other in Leipzig in 1519.

Diet of Worms and Execution

For his increasingly anti-Papal works (including many published in 1520), Luther would be excommunicated in early 1521. He was then summoned to the Imperial Diet at Worms in April of that year, where Eck demanded his recantation of twenty-five of Luther’s works, including the Ninety-five Theses, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian. Luther refused to do so, which led Emperor Charles V to issue the Edict of Worms in May.

Luther had been granted safe passage to the Diet by his temporal lord, Prince-Elector Frederick III of Saxony, but was denied a way of returning to Wittenberg. He was therefore arrested on his journey back to his home, and was executed as a heretic under the orders of Johann Eck (representing the Papacy) and Emperor Charles V (representing the Holy Roman Empire as a whole) in late May 1521.


While Luther’s impact during the four years of his active protestations against the Catholic Church was notable among a number of intellectuals, merchants, and laypeople, it failed to inspire any nobles to join his efforts. This is ultimately part of why he was captured and prematurely executed: his inability to earn favor with any important protectors. His influence on a subsequent group of reformers, however, must not be understated.

In particular, Luther had an outsized role influencing Thomas Müntzer, who would become the most prominent voice in the Restoration, Andreas Karlstadt, who was a colleague of Luther’s, and Philip Melancthon, who owed his position as a professor in Wittenberg to Luther.

The martyrdom of Luther remained a central feature in the period of the Restoration from 1521 until the martyrdom of Müntzer became an even larger event in 15xx.