The century following the Protestant Revolution was a gruesome one in Europe. Catholics and Protestants were constantly at odds. People were disemboweled, hung, and burned for practicing their chosen religion.
This is also a significant stopping point in both World History and US History I courses. In World History, the religious wars of the time period were pivotal in the development of the modern state system. In US History, the violence contributed to a desire to leave Europe and start life anew in the colonies. This lesson would be terrific for either course.
This lesson plan leads students through an exploration of the extent of the atrocities committed in this time period. It makes use of visual prompts to encourage discussion and imagination. It also tasks students with writing a creative story – bridging the gap between Social Studies and Language Arts.
Anticipatory Set – The Opener
At the beginning of class, show the first five minutes of the movie Elizabeth (starring Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth). In this early clip, a group of three Protestants are burned at the stake in then-Catholic England.
This gruesome scene should be a good introduction to the topic. Have students note their reactions in their notebooks and briefly discuss them aloud.
If you do not have access to the movie, you could ask the students to spend several minutes answering the question – “Would you die for your religion?” Discuss the responses briefly.
After discussing responses to the movie, introduce the topic for the day. This should be a short (five minute) overview of the situation in Europe.
Begin with the Protestant Reformation. In every part of Europe, either Catholics or Protestants have taken charge. The minority group generally faces the threat of violence – like the Protestants burned in the film clip.
Why do they commit this violence? One reason is that religious “heretics” were viewed as terrorists and threats. There were incidents to confirm this suspicion – such as the Gunpowder Plot in England, 1605 (when Guy Fawkes and his Catholic comrades planned to blow up King James and both houses of Parliament). Any reference will do, but students may be vaguely familiar with this due to the movie V for Vendetta.
To segue into the day’s activity, have students view several contemporary pictures of acts of religious violence. The Library of Congress has a nice collection of appropriate images – follow the first reference link in the sidebar to see them.
The pictures titled “Execution of Mennonites,” “A Jesuit Disemboweled,” and “Persecution of Catholics by Huguenots” are particularly interesting.
If your students have access to computers in the classroom, you could direct them to the website and have them browse through all of the pictures. If not, copy three or four pictures on to a handout and give it to the students.
Examine several pictures together with the students. Discuss what is being done to the person that is being tortured. What is disembowelment? Why is a person disemboweled? Identify which group is persecuting which in each of the pictures.
Once the class has examined several pictures together (5 to 10 minutes), direct the students to their task for the day. They should choose one of the pictures and write a background story for it.
This should be a creative story. Students may wish to write about how a person was caught and brought in to be tortured. A student may write a first person account of a battle or a torture taking place. The student has a lot of freedom, as long as the story is based on the picture and history.
Tailor the length requirement of the assignment to your students’ abilities. Two to three paragraphs should be sufficient. More advanced students could be required to concoct a more elaborate story and write a two or three pages.
Have several students report on their stories. What are they writing about? Why did they choose that?
For homework, students should complete their stories.
Extensions and Modifications
For students with limited writing or English proficiency, you could have them draw a comic strip instead of writing a story.
As part of their homework, you could have students revise their story and type up a final draft.
You could collaborate with your students’ English teacher and have the students peer edit and revise their stories in English class.
You could extend the lesson into a project. Instead of just writing a story, students create a museum exhibit about religious violence. They would include pictures, real quotation and research, and their creative stories.