Thirty Years’ War

From New World Encyclopedia
(Redirected from Thirty Years' War)
Map of Europe in 1648, after the Peace of Westphalia. The gray area represents small German states within the Holy Roman Empire

The Thirty Years' War was fought between 1618 and 1648, principally on the territory of today's Germany, and involved most of the major European continental powers. Although it was ostensibly a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, the rivalry between the Habsburg dynasty and other powers was a more central motive, as shown by the fact that Catholic France under the de facto rule of Cardinal Richelieu supported the Protestant side in order to weaken the Habsburgs, thereby furthering France's position as the pre-eminent European power. This increased the France-Habsburg rivalry which led later to direct war between France and Spain. The major impact of the Thirty Years' War, in which mercenary armies were extensively used, was the devastation of entire regions scavenged bare by the foraging armies. Episodes of widespread famine and disease (a starving body has little resistance to illnesses) devastated the population of the German states and, to a lesser extent, the Low Countries and Italy, while bankrupting many of the powers involved. The war may have lasted for 30 years, but the conflicts that triggered it continued unresolved for a much longer time. The war ended with the Treaty of Münster, a part of the wider Peace of Westphalia.

During the war, Germany's population was reduced by 30 percent on average; in the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas an estimated two thirds of the population died. Germany’s male population was reduced by almost half. The population of the Czech lands declined by a third. The Swedish armies alone destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns. The edicts agreed upon during the signing of the Peace of Westphalia were instrumental in laying the foundations for what are even today considered the basic tenets of the sovereign nation-state. in addition to establishing fixed territorial boundaries for many of the countries involved in the ordeal, the Peace of Westphalia changed the relationship of subjects to their rulers. In earlier times, people had tended to have overlapping political and religious loyalties. Now, it was agreed that the citizenry of a respective nation were subjected first and foremost to the laws and whims of their own respective government rather than to those of neighboring powers, be they religious or secular. As a result of this religiously sanctioned conflict, some began to advocate that no religion should enjoy a privileged relationship with the state but that apart from allowing citizens their religious liberty, religion ought to be a matter for each individual's conscience.

Origins of the War

The Peace of Augsburg (1555), signed by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, confirmed the result of the 1526 Diet of Speyer and ended the violence between the Lutherans and the Catholics in Germany.

It stated that:

  • German princes (numbering 225) could choose the religion (Lutheranism or Catholicism) of their realms according to their conscience (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio).
  • Lutherans living in an ecclesiastical state (under the control of a bishop) could continue to practice their faith.
  • Lutherans could keep the territory that they had captured from the Catholic Church since the Peace of Passau in 1552.
  • The ecclesiastical leaders of the Catholic Church (bishops) that had converted to Lutheranism were required to give up their territories (the principle called reservatum ecclesiasticum).
  • Those occupying a state that had officially chosen either Protestantism or Catholicism could not practice a religion differing from that of the state.

Although the Peace created a temporary end to hostilities, it did not solve the underlying basis of the religious conflict. Both parties interpreted it at their convenience, the Lutherans in particular considering it only a momentary agreement. In addition, Calvinism spread quickly throughout Germany in the years that followed, adding a third major faith to the region, but its position was not supported in any way by the Augsburg terms, which permitted only Catholicism and Lutheranism.

Political and economic tensions developed among many of the nations of Europe in the early 17th century as the Age of Discovery had opened access to New World resources, and new theories such as Mercantilism, Colonialism and Imperialism took hold amongst political elites, whilst the early stirrings of nationalism began to take hold in this era.

  • Spain was interested in the German states because it held the territories of the Spanish Netherlands on the western border of the German states and states within Italy which connected by land through the Spanish Road. The Dutch revolted against the Spanish domination during the 1560s, leading to a protracted war of independence that led to a truce only in 1609.
  • France was threatened by two surrounding Habsburg states (Spain and the Holy Roman Empire), and was eager to exert its power against the weaker German states; this dynastic concern overtook religious ones and led to Catholic France's participation on the otherwise Protestant side of the war.
  • Sweden and Denmark were interested in gaining control over northern German states bordering the Baltic Sea.

The Holy Roman Empire, encompassing present-day Germany and portions of neighbouring lands, was a fragmented collection of independent states with the Holy Roman Emperor as head of a confederation of princes. One of these, the Austrian House of Habsburg (including also Bohemia and Hungary), was a major European power, ruling over some eight million subjects. The Empire also contained several regional powers, such as Bavaria, Electoral Saxony, the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Palatinate, Hesse, the Archbishopric of Trier and Württemberg (containing from 500,000 to one million inhabitants). A vast number of minor independent duchies, free cities, abbeys, bishoprics, and petty lords (whose authority sometimes extended to no more than a single village) rounded out the Empire. Apart from Austria and perhaps Bavaria, none of those entities was capable of national-level politics; alliances between family-related states were common, due partly to the frequent practice of splitting a lord's inheritance among the various sons.

Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. He urged the Council of Trent to approve Communion in Both kinds for German and Bohemian Catholics.

Religious tensions remained strong throughout the second half of the 16th century. The Peace of Augsburg began to unravel as some converted bishops refused to give up their bishoprics, and as certain Catholic rulers in Spain and Eastern Europe sought to restore the power of Catholicism in the region. This was evident from the Cologne War (1582–83 onwards), a conflict initiated when the prince-archbishop of the city converted to Calvinism. Being an imperial elector, this could have produced a Protestant majority in the College that elected the Holy Roman Emperor – a position that had always been held by a Catholic. In the Cologne War, Spanish troops expelled the prince-archbishop and replaced him with Ernst of Bavaria, a Catholic. After this success, the Catholics regained pace, and the principle of cuius regio eius religio began to be exerted more strictly in Bavaria, Würzburg and other states. This forced Lutheran residents to choose between conversion or exile. Lutherans also witnessed the defection of the lords of Palatinate (1560), Nassau (1578), Hesse-Kassel (1603) and Brandenburg (1613) to the new Calvinist faith. Thus at the beginning of the 17th century the Rhine lands and those south to the Danube were largely Catholic, while Lutherans predominated in the north, and Calvinists dominated in certain other areas, such as west-central Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. However, minorities of each creed existed almost everywhere. In some lordships and cities the number of Calvinists, Catholics, and Lutherans were approximately equal.

Much to the consternation of their Spanish ruling cousins, the Habsburg emperors who followed Charles V (especially Ferdinand I and Maximilian II, but also Rudolf II, and his successor Matthias) were supportive of their subjects' religious choices. These rulers avoided religious wars within the empire by allowing the different Christian faiths to spread without coercion. This angered those who sought religious uniformity. Meanwhile, Sweden and Denmark, both Lutheran kingdoms, sought to assist the Protestant cause in the Empire, and also wanted to gain political and economic influence there as well.

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. His firm Catholicism was the proximate cause of the war.
Frederick V, Elector Palatine as King of Bohemia, painted by Gerrit von Honthorst in 1634, two years after the subject's death.

Religious tensions broke into violence in the German free city of Donauwörth in 1606. There, the Lutheran majority barred the Catholic residents of the Swabian town from holding a procession, which provoked a riot. This prompted foreign intervention by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1573–1651) on behalf of the Catholics. After the violence ceased, Calvinists in Germany (who remained a minority) felt the most threatened. They banded together and formed the League of Evangelical Union in 1608, under the leadership of the Palatine elector Frederick IV (1583–1610), (whose son, Frederick V, married Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of James I of England). Incidentally, the Prince-Elector had control of the Rhenish Palatinate, a state along the Rhine that Spain sought to acquire. The establishment of the League prompted the Catholics into banding together to form the Catholic League in 1609, under the leadership of the Duke Maximilian.

By 1617 it was apparent that Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, would die without an heir, with his lands going to his nearest male relative, his cousin Ferdinand of Styria. Ferdinand became King of Bohemia and Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor in 1619 when Matthias died. Ferdinand, having been educated by the Jesuits, was a staunch Catholic who wanted to impose religious uniformity on his lands. This made him highly unpopular in primarily Hussite Bohemia. The rejection of Ferdinand, who had been elected Bohemian Crown Prince in 1617, triggered the Thirty Years' War in 1618 when his representatives were defenestrated in Prague. The War can be divided into four major phases:


The Bohemian Revolt

Period: 1618–1625 rawr

Without descendants Emperor Matthias sought to assure an orderly transition during his lifetime by having his dynastic heir (the fiercely Catholic, Ferdinand of Styria, later Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor) elected to the separate royal thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. Some of the Protestant leaders of Bohemia feared they would be losing the religious rights granted to them by Emperor Rudolf II in his letter of majesty. They preferred the Protestant Frederick V, elector of the Palatinate (successor of Frederick IV, the creator of the League of Evangelical Union). However, other Protestants supported the position taken by the Catholics and so in 1617 Ferdinand was duly elected by the Bohemian Estates to become the Crown Prince, and automatically upon the death of Matthias, the next King of Bohemia. The king-elect then sent two Catholic councilors (Wilhelm Slavata von Chlum und Koschumberg and Jaroslav Borsita von Martinitz) as his representatives to Hradčany castle in Prague in May 1618. Ferdinand had wanted them to administer the government in his absence. According to legend, the Bohemian Hussites suddenly seized them, subjected them to a mock trial, and threw them out of the palace window, which was some 50 feet off the ground. Remarkably, they survived unharmed. The Catholic version of the story claims that angels appeared and carried them to safety, while the Protestant version says that they landed in a pile of manure, which saved their lives.

This event, known as the Second Defenestration of Prague, is what started the Bohemian Revolt. Soon afterward the Bohemian conflict spread through all of Greater Bohemia, which was effectively Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia and Moravia. Moravia was already embroiled in a conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The religious conflict eventually spread across the whole continent of Europe, involving France, Sweden, and a number of other countries.

Had the Bohemian rebellion remained a local conflict, the war could have been over in fewer than thirty months. However, the death of Emperor Matthias emboldened the rebellious Protestant leaders, who had been on the verge of a settlement. The weaknesses of both Ferdinand (now officially on the throne after the death of Emperor Matthias) and of the Bohemians themselves led to the spread of the war to western Germany. Ferdinand was compelled to call on his nephew, King Philip IV of Spain, for assistance.

The Bohemians, desperate for allies against the Emperor, applied to be admitted into the Protestant Union, which was led by their original candidate for the Bohemian throne, the Calvinist Frederick V, Elector Palatine. The Bohemians hinted that Frederick would become King of Bohemia if he allowed them to join the Union and come under its protection. However, similar offers were made by other members of the Bohemian Estates to the Duke of Savoy, the Elector of Saxony, and the Prince of Transylvania. The Austrians, who seemed to have intercepted every letter leaving Prague, made these duplicities public. This unraveled much of the support for the Bohemians, particularly in the court of Saxony.

The rebellion initially favoured the Bohemians. They were joined in the revolt by much of Upper Austria, whose nobility was then chiefly Lutheran and Calvinist. Lower Austria revolted soon after and in 1619, Count Thurn led an army to the walls of Vienna itself. In the east, the Protestant Prince of Transylvania led a spirited campaign into Hungary with the support of the Ottoman Sultan. The Emperor, who had been preoccupied with the Uzkok War, hurried to reform an army to stop the Bohemians and their allies from entirely overwhelming his country. Count Bucquoy, the commander of the Imperial army, defeated the forces of the Protestant Union led by Count Mansfeld at the Battle of Sablat, on 10 June 1619. This cut off Count Thurn's communications with Prague, and he was forced to abandon his siege of Vienna. The Battle of Sablat also cost the Protestants an important ally—Savoy, long an opponent of Habsburg expansion. Savoy had already sent considerable sums of money to the Protestants and even sent troops to garrison fortresses in the Rhineland. The capture of Mansfeld's field chancery revealed the Savoyards' plot and they were forced to bow out of the war.

In spite of Sablat, Count Thurn's army continued to exist as an effective force, and Mansfeld managed to reform his army further north in Bohemia. The Estates of Upper and Lower Austria, still in revolt, signed an alliance with the Bohemians in early August. On August 17 1619 Ferdinand was officially deposed as King of Bohemia and was replaced by the Palatine Elector Frederick V. In Hungary, even though the Bohemians had reneged on their offer of their crown, the Transylvanians continued to make surprising progress. They succeeded in driving the Emperor's armies from that country by 1620.

Johan Tzerclaes, Count of Tilly, commander of the Bavarian and Imperial armies.

The Spanish sent an army from Brussels under Ambrosio Spinola and the dashing Nelson Antonio Fernandez III to support the Emperor. In addition, the Spanish ambassador to Vienna, Don Iñigo Vélez de Oñate, persuaded Protestant Saxony to intervene against Bohemia in exchange for control over Lusatia. The Saxons invaded, and the Spanish army in the west prevented the Protestant Union's forces from assisting. Onate conspired to transfer the electoral title from the Palatinate to the Duke of Bavaria in exchange for his support and that of the Catholic League. Under the command of General Tilly, the Catholic League's army (which included René Descartes in its ranks) pacified Upper Austria, while the Emperor's forces pacified Lower Austria. The two armies united and moved north into Bohemia. Ferdinand II decisively defeated Frederick V at the Battle of White Mountain, near Prague, on 8 November 1620. In addition to becoming Catholic, Bohemia would remain in Habsburg hands for nearly three hundred years.

This defeat led to the dissolution of the League of Evangelical Union and the loss of Frederick V's holdings. Frederick was outlawed from the Holy Roman Empire and his territories, the Rhenish Palatinate, were given to Catholic nobles. His title of elector of the Palatinate was given to his distant cousin Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. Frederick, now landless, made himself a prominent exile abroad and tried to curry support for his cause in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden.

This was a serious blow to Protestant ambitions in the region. As the rebellion collapsed, the widespread confiscations of property and suppression of the Bohemian nobility ensured that the country would return to the Catholic side after more than two centuries of Hussite and other religious dissent. The Spanish, seeking to outflank the Dutch in preparation for renewal of the Eighty Years' War, took Frederick's lands, the Rhine Palatinate. The first phase of the war in eastern Germany ended December 31 1621, when the Prince of Transylvania and the Emperor signed the Peace of Nikolsburg, which gave Transylvania a number of territories in Royal Hungary.

Some historians regard the period from 1621–1625 as a distinct portion of the Thirty Years' War, calling it the "Palatinate phase." With the catastrophic defeat of the Protestant army at White Mountain and the departure of the Prince of Transylvania, greater Bohemia was pacified. However, the war in the Palatinate continued. This phase of the war consisted of much smaller battles, mostly sieges conducted by the Spanish army. Mannheim and Heidelberg fell in 1622, and Frankenthal was taken in 1623, leaving the Palatinate in the hands of the Spanish.

The remnants of the Protestant armies, led by Mansfeld and Christian of Brunswick, fled to Holland. Although their arrival did help to lift the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, the Dutch could not provide permanent shelter for them. They were paid off and sent to occupy neighboring East Friesland. Mansfeld remained in Holland, but Christian wandered off to "assist" his kin in the Lower Saxon Circle, attracting the attentions of Tilly. With the news that Mansfeld would not be supporting him, Christian's army began a steady retreat toward the safety of the Dutch border. On August 6, 1623, Tilly's more disciplined army caught up with them 10 miles short of the Dutch border. The battle that ensued was known as the Battle of Stadtlohn. In this battle Tilly decisively defeated Christian, wiping out over four-fifths of his army, which had been some 15,000 strong. After this catastrophe, Frederick V, already in exile in The Hague, and under growing pressure from his father-in-law James I to end his involvement in the war, was forced to abandon any hope of launching further campaigns. The Protestant rebellion had been crushed.

King Christian IV of Denmark. General of the Lutheran army.

Danish intervention

Period: 1625–1629

Peace in the Empire was short-lived, however, as conflict resumed at the initiation of Denmark. Danish involvement began when Christian IV of Denmark, a Lutheran who was also the Duke of Holstein, helped the Lutheran rulers of neighboring Lower Saxony by leading an army against the Holy Roman Empire. Denmark had feared that its sovereignty as a Protestant nation was threatened by the recent Catholic successes. Christian IV had also profited greatly from his policies in northern Germany. For instance, in 1621 Hamburg had been forced to accept Danish sovereignty and Christian's second son was made bishop of Bremen. Christian IV had obtained for his kingdom a level of stability and wealth that was virtually unmatched elsewhere in Europe. This stability and wealth was paid for by tolls on the Oresund and also by extensive war reparations from Sweden. Denmark's cause was aided by France which, together with England, had agreed to help subsidize the war. Christian had himself appointed war leader of the Lower Saxon Circle and raised a mercenary army of 20,000 men.

Catholic general Albrecht von Wallenstein.

To fight him, Ferdinand II employed the military help of Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian nobleman who had made himself rich from the confiscated estates of his countrymen. Wallenstein pledged his army, which numbered between 30,000 and 100,000 soldiers, to Ferdinand II in return for the right to plunder the captured territories. Christian, who knew nothing of Wallenstein's forces when he invaded, was forced to retire before the combined forces of Wallenstein and Tilly. Christian's poor luck was with him again when all of the allies he thought he had were forced aside: England was weak and internally divided, France was in the midst of a civil war, Sweden was at war with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and neither Brandenburg nor Saxony were interested in changes to the tenuous peace in eastern Germany. Wallenstein defeated Mansfeld's army at the Battle of Dessau Bridge (1626) and General Tilly defeated the Danes at the Battle of Lutter (1626). Mansfeld died some months later of illness, in Dalmatia, exhausted and ashamed that this one battle had cost him half his army.

Wallenstein's army marched north, occupying Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and ultimately Jutland itself. However, he was unable to take the Danish capital on the island of Zealand. Wallenstein lacked a fleet, and neither the Hanseatic ports nor the Poles would allow an Imperial fleet to be built on the Baltic coast. He then laid siege to Stralsund, the only belligerent Baltic port with the facilities to build a large fleet. However, the cost of continuing the war was exorbitant compared to what could possibly be gained from conquering the rest of Denmark, and so Wallenstein decided to make peace.

Negotiations were concluded with the Treaty of Lübeck in 1629, which stated that Christian IV could keep his control over Denmark if he would abandon his support for the Protestant German states. Thus, in the following two years more land was subjugated by the Catholic powers.

At this point, the Catholic League persuaded Ferdinand II to take back the Lutheran holdings that were, according to the Peace of Augsburg, rightfully the possession of the Catholic Church. Enumerated in the Edict of Restitution (1629), these possessions included two Archbishoprics, sixteen bishoprics, and hundreds of monasteries. The same year, Mansfeld and Gabriel Bethlen, the first officers of the Protestant cause, died. Only the port of Stralsund continued to hold out against Wallenstein and the Emperor.

Swedish intervention

Gustavus II Adolphus at the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)
Period: 1630–1635

Some within Ferdinand II's court distrusted Wallenstein, believing that he sought to join forces with the German Princes and thus gain influence over the Emperor. Ferdinand II dismissed Wallenstein in 1630. He was to later recall him after the Swedes, led by King Gustaf II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus), had invaded the Empire with success.

Gustavus Adolphus, like Christian IV before him, came to aid the German Lutherans, to forestall Catholic aggression against their homeland, and to obtain economic influence in the German states around the Baltic Sea. In addition, Gustavus was concerned about the growing power of the Holy Roman Empire. Like Christian IV, Gustavus Adolphus was subsidized by Cardinal Richelieu, the Chief Minister of Louis XIII of France, and by the Dutch. From 1630–1634, Swedish-led armies drove the Catholic forces back and regained much of the occupied Protestant lands.

A model of a section of a pike and shot formation from the Thirty Years' War on display at the Army Museum in Stockholm.
The victory of Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631).

After dismissing Wallenstein in 1630, Ferdinand II became dependent on the Catholic League. France and Bavaria signed the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau (1631), but this was rendered irrelevant by Swedish attacks against Bavaria. At the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631), Gustavus Adolphus's forces defeated the Catholic League led by General Tilly. A year later they met again in another Protestant victory, this time accompanied by the death of Tilly. The upper hand had now switched from the league to the union, led by Sweden. In 1630, Sweden had paid at least 2,368,022 daler for its army at 42,000 men. In 1632, it paid only one-fifth of that (476,439 daler) for an army more than three times as large (149,000 men). This was possible due to economic aid from France, and the recruitment of prisoners (mainly from Breitenfeld) into the Swedish army.

With Tilly dead, Ferdinand II returned to the aid of Wallenstein and his large army. Wallenstein marched up to the south, threatening Gustavus Adolphus's supply chain. Gustavus Adolphus knew that Wallenstein was waiting for the attack and was prepared, but found no other option. Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus clashed in the Battle of Lützen (1632), where the Swedes prevailed, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed. In 1634 the Protestant forces, lacking his leadership, were defeated at the First Battle of Nördlingen.

Ferdinand II's suspicion of Wallenstein resumed in 1633, when Wallenstein attempted to arbitrate the differences between the Catholic and Protestant sides. Ferdinand II may have feared that Wallenstein would switch sides, and arranged for his arrest after removing him from command. One of Wallenstein's soldiers, Captain Devereux, killed him when he attempted to contact the Swedes in the town hall of Eger (Cheb) on February 25, 1634.

After that, the two sides met for negotiations, producing the Peace of Prague (1635), which entailed the following:

  • A delay in the enforcement of the Edict of Restitution for 40 years and allowing Protestant rulers to retain secularized bishoprics held by them in 1627. This protected the Lutheran rulers of northeastern Germany, but not those of the south and west (whose lands had been occupied by the Imperial or League armies prior to 1627)
  • Union of the army of the Emperor and the armies of the German states into a single army of the Holy Roman Empire (although Johann Georg of Saxony and Maximillian of Bavaria kept, as a practical matter, independent command of their forces, now nominally components of the "Imperial" army).
  • The forbidding of German princes from establishing alliances amongst themselves or with foreign powers.
  • The granting of amnesty to any ruler who had taken up arms against the Emperor after the arrival of the Swedes in 1630.

This treaty failed to satisfy France, however, because of the renewed strength it granted the Habsburgs. France then entered the conflict, beginning the final period of the Thirty Years' War.

French intervention

The Battle of Lens, 1648.

Period: 1636–1648

France, though a largely Catholic country, was a rival of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, and now entered the war on the Protestant side. Cardinal Richelieu, the Chief Minister of King Louis XIII of France, felt that the Habsburgs were still too powerful, since they held a number of territories on France's eastern border, including portions of the Netherlands.

Although a Catholic clergyman himself, Cardinal Richelieu allied France with the Protestants.

France therefore allied itself with the Dutch and the Swedes. Spain, in retaliation, invaded French territory. The Imperial general Johann von Werth and Spanish commander Cardinal Ferdinand Habsburg ravaged the French provinces of Champagne and Burgundy and even threatened Paris in 1636 before being repulsed by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Bernhard's victory in the Battle of Compiègne pushed the Habsburg armies back towards the borders of France. Widespread fighting ensued, with neither side gaining an advantage. In 1642, Cardinal Richelieu died. A year later, Louis XIII died, leaving his five-year-old son Louis XIV on the throne. His chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, began to work for peace.

In 1645, the Swedish marshal Lennart Torstensson defeated the Imperial army at the Battle of Jankau near Prague, and Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé defeated the Bavarian army in the Second Battle of Nördlingen. The last talented commander of the Catholics, Baron Franz von Mercy, died in the battle.

On March 14 1647 Bavaria, Cologne, France and Sweden signed the Truce of Ulm. In 1648 the Swedes (commanded by Marshal Carl Gustaf Wrangel) and the French (led by Turenne and Conde) defeated the Imperial army at the Battle of Zusmarshausen and Lens. These results left only the Imperial territories of Austria safely in Habsburg hands.

The Peace of Westphalia

French General Louis II de Bourbon, 4th Prince de Condé, Duc d'Enghien, The Great Condé defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Rocroi in 1643, which led to negotiations. At them were Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Swedes, the Portuguese and representatives of the Pope. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was the result.

Casualties and disease

Moncourt (chapelle), last vestige of a village.

The devastation caused by the war has long been a subject of controversy among historians. Estimates of civilian casualties of up to thirty percent of the population of Germany are now treated with caution. The mortality rate was perhaps closer to 15 to 20 percent, with deaths due to armed conflict, famine and disease. Much of the destruction of civilian lives and property was caused by the cruelty and greed of mercenary soldiers. It is certain that the war caused serious dislocation to both the economy and population of central Europe, but may have done no more than seriously exacerbate changes that had begun earlier.

Pestilence of several kinds raged among combatants and civilians in Germany and surrounding lands from 1618 to 1648. Many features of the war spread disease. These included troop movements, the influx of soldiers from foreign countries, and the shifting locations of battle fronts. In addition, the displacement of civilian populations and the overcrowding of refugees into cities led to both disease and famine. Information about numerous epidemics is generally found in local chronicles, such as parish registers and tax records, that are often incomplete and may be exaggerated. The chronicles do show that epidemic disease was not a condition exclusive to war time, but was present in many parts of Germany for several decades prior to 1618.

However, when the Danish and imperial armies met in Saxony and Thuringia during 1625 and 1626, disease and infection in local communities increased. Local chronicles repeatedly referred to "head disease," "Hungarian disease," and a "spotted" disease identified as typhus. After the Mantuan War, between France and the Habsburgs in Italy, the northern half of the Italian peninsula was in the throes of a bubonic plague epidemic (see Italian Plague of 1629–1631). During the unsuccessful siege of Nuremberg, in 1632, civilians and soldiers in both the Swedish and imperial armies succumbed to typhus and scurvy. Two years later, as the imperial army pursued the defeated Swedes into southwest Germany, deaths from epidemics were high along the Rhine River. Bubonic plague continued to be a factor in the war. Beginning in 1634, Dresden, Munich, and smaller German communities such as Oberammergau recorded large number of plague casualties. In the last decades of the war, both typhus and dysentery had become endemic in Germany.

Political consequences

One result of the war was the division of Germany divided among many territories—all of which, despite their membership in the Empire, had de facto sovereignty. This significantly hampered the power of the Holy Roman Empire and decentralized German power. It has been speculated that this weakness was a long-term underlying cause of later militant German Romantic nationalism.

The Thirty Years' War rearranged the previous structure of power. The conflict made Spain's military and political decline visible. While Spain was preoccupied with fighting in France, Portugal—which had been under personal union with Spain for 60 years (since 1580)—acclaimed John IV of Braganza as king in 1640, and the House of Braganza became the new dynasty of Portugal. Meanwhile, Spain was finally forced to accept the independence of the Dutch Republic in 1648, ending the Eighty Years' War. With Spain weakening, France became the dominant power in Europe, an outcome confirmed by its victory in the subsequent Franco-Spanish War.

The defeat of Spain and imperial forces also marked the decline of Habsburg power and allowed the emergence of Bourbon dominance.

From 1643–45, during the last years of the Thirty Years' War, Sweden and Denmark fought the Torstenson War. The result of that conflict and the conclusion of the great European war at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 helped establish post-war Sweden as a force in Europe.

The edicts agreed upon during the signing of the Peace of Westphalia were instrumental in laying the foundations for what are even today considered the basic tenets of the sovereign nation-state. Aside from establishing fixed territorial boundaries for many of the countries involved in the ordeal (as well as for the newer ones created afterwards), the Peace of Westphalia changed the relationship of subjects to their rulers. In earlier times, people had tended to have overlapping political and religious loyalties. Now, it was agreed that the citizenry of a respective nation were subjected first and foremost to the laws and whims of their own respective government rather than to those of neighboring powers, be they religious or secular.

The war had a few other, more subtle consequences:

  • The Thirty Years' War marked the last major religious war in mainland Europe, ending large-scale religious bloodshed in 1648. There were other religious conflicts in the years to come, but no great wars.
  • The destruction caused by mercenary soldiers defied description (see Schwedentrunk). The war did much to end the age of mercenaries that had begun with the first landsknechts, and ushered in the age of well-disciplined national armies.

Religious consequences

The war's length and the extent of the bloodshed it caused gave impetus to modern notions of the separation of Church and state, and of religious liberty as each person's right to follow the dictates of their conscience in religious matters. Many of the men and women who migrated to North America were anxious that their new society would not repeat the mistakes of the old world, where membership of a state or established church was often regarded as a necessary condition of good citizenship or of holding civil office.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Åberg, A. "The Swedish army from Lützen to Narva." In Sweden’s Age of Greatness, 1632-1718, edited by Michael Roberts. New York: Macmillan, 1973.
  • Benecke, Gerhard. Germany in the Thirty Years War. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978.
  • Czech Republic. The Thirty Years' War. The Thirty Years' War.
  • Gindely, Antonín. History of the Thirty Years' War. New York: Putnam, 1884. History of the Thirty Years' War Retrieved December 14, 2007.
  • Gutmann, Myron P. "The Origins of the Thirty Years' War." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18, no. 4 (Spring, 1988): 749–770.
  • History Learning Site. Population. Population Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  • Kamen, Henry. "The Economic and Social Consequences of the Thirty Years' War." Past and Present no. 39 (April 1968): 44–61.
  • Kennedy, Paul M. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Random House, 1988. ASIN B00EKYHI8Y
  • Langer, Herbert. The Thirty Year's War. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1980. ASIN B000RAZP6M
  • Murdoch, Steve. Scotland and the Thirty Years' War, 1618-1648. Brill, 2001. ISBN 9004120866
  • Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years' War. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1997. ISBN 978-0415128834
  • Polišenský, J.V. "The Thirty Years' War." Past and Present no. 6 (November 1954): 31–43.
  • Polišenský, J.V. "The Thirty Years' War and the Crises and Revolutions of Seventeenth-Century Europe." Past and Present, no. 39 (April 1968): 34–43.
  • Prinzing, Friedrich. Epidemics Resulting from Wars. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1916. Reprint edition, BiblioBazaar, 2009. ISBN 978-1117294636
  • Roberts, Michael. 2 Vols. Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden, 1611-1632. New York: Longmans, 1953, 1958.
  • Snell, Melissa. Germany - The Thirty Years' War - The Peace of Westphalia. from Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  • Ward, A. W., (ed.). The Cambridge Modern History, vol 4: The Thirty Years War 1902. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  • Wedgwood, C.V., and Paul Kennedy, Thirty Years War. New York: The New York Review of Books, Inc., 2005. ISBN 1590171462

External links

All links retrieved April 30, 2023.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.