Topics: EUROPE - Europe 1619-1648: Thirty Years' War

Europe 1619-1648: Thirty Years' War

THE THIRTY YEARS' WAR (1619-1648).

“The Thirty Years' War, of which Gustavus Adolphus was the greatest hero, was the result of those religious agitations which the ideas of Luther produced. It was the struggle to secure religious liberty,--a warfare between Catholic and Protestant Germany. It differed from the Huguenot contest in this,--that the Protestants of France took up arms against their king to extort religious privileges; whereas the Protestants of Germany were marshaled by independent princes against other independent princes of a different religion, who sought to suppress Protestantism. In this warfare between Catholic and Protestant States, there were great political entanglements and issues that affected the balance of power in Europe. Hence the Thirty Years' War was political as well as religious. It was not purely a religious war like the crusades, although religious ideas gave rise to it. Nor was it an insurrection of the people against their rulers to secure religious rights, so much as a contest between Catholic and Protestant princes to secure the recognition of their religious opinions in their respective States.

“The Emperor of Germany in the time of Luther was Charles V.,--the most powerful potentate of Europe, and, moreover, a bigoted Catholic. On his abdication,--one of the most extraordinary events in history,--the German dominions were given to his brother Ferdinand; Spain and the Low Countries were bestowed on his son Philip. Ferdinand had already been elected King of the Romans. There was a close alliance between these princes of the House of Austria to suppress Protestantism in Europe. The new Austrian emperor was not, indeed, so formidable as his father had been, but was still one of the greatest monarchs of Europe; and so powerful was the House of Austria that it excited the jealousy of the other European powers. It was to prevent the dangerous ascendency of Austria that Henry IV. of France raised a great army with a view of invading Germany, but was assassinated before he could carry his scheme into execution. He had armed France to secure what is called the "balance of power;" and it was with the view of securing this balance of power that Cardinal Richelieu, though a prince of the Church, took the side of the Protestants in the Thirty Years' War. This famous contest may therefore be regarded as a civil war, dividing the German nations; as a religious war, to establish freedom of belief; and as a war to prevent the ascendency of Austria, in which a great part of Europe was involved.

“The beginning of the contest, however, was the result of religious agitation. The ideas of Luther created universal discussion. Discussion led to animosities. All Germany was in a ferment; and the agitation was not confined to those States which accepted the Reformation, but to Catholic States also. The Catholic princes resolved to crush the Reformation, first in their own dominions, and afterwards in the other States of Germany. Hence, a bloody persecution of the Protestants took place in all Catholic States. Their sufferings were unendurable. For a while they submitted to the cruel lash, but at last they resolved to defend the right of worshipping God according to their consciences. They armed themselves, for death seemed preferable to religious despotism. For more than fifty years after the death of Luther, Germany was the scene of commotions ending in a fiery persecution. At that time Germany was in advance of the rest of Europe in wealth and intelligence; the Protestants especially were kindled to an enthusiasm, pertaining to theological questions, which we in these times can but feebly realize; and the Germans were doubtless the most earnest and religious people in Europe. In those days there was neither religious indifference nor skepticism nor rationalism. The faith of the people was simple, and they were resolved to maintain it at any cost. But there were religious parties and asperities, even among the Protestants. The Lutherans would not unite with the Calvinists, and the Calvinists would not accede to the demands of the Lutherans.

“After a series of struggles with the Catholics, the Lutherans succeeded, by the treaty of Augsburg (1555), in securing toleration; and this toleration lasted during the reigns of Ferdinand I. and Maximilian II. Indeed, Germany enjoyed tranquility until the reign of Matthias, in 1612. This usurping emperor, who had delivered Germany from the Turks, abolished in his dominions the Protestant religion, so far as edicts and persecution could deprive the Protestants of their religious liberties. Matthias died in 1619, and was succeeded by Ferdinand II., a bigoted prince, who had been educated by the Jesuits. This emperor was an inveterate enemy of the Protestants. He forbade their meetings, deprived them even of civil privileges, pulled down their churches and schools, erected scaffolds in every village, appointed only Catholic magistrates, and inflicted unsparing cruelties on all who seceded from the Catholic Church.”

Source: Beacon Lights of History, Volume 08 by John Lord.


1648, Oct. 24

TREATIES OF WESTPHALIA, signed at Münster and Osnabruck. Negotiations from 1643 to 1648. Imperial ambassadors, Count Maximilian Trautmanssdorf and Dr. Volmar. French, Count d'Avaux and Count Servien. Swedish, Count Oxenstierna, son of the chancellor, and Baron Salvius. France and Sweden, against the will of the emperor, secured the participation of the states of the empire in the negotiations. Political consequences: The German states (about 250) were recognized as sovereign; thus the Holy Roman Empire as an effective political institution ended and the influence of the Habsburgs declined. France, emerging as the dominant European power, acquired sovereignty over the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun; control of Alsace, though title left ambiguous and Strasbourg retained membership in the empire; and the city of Breisach. Sweden gained West Pomerania, including Stettin and the island of Rügen; the archbishopric (but not the city) of Bremen; the bishopric of Veden; Wismar; the island of Pöl; and a large financial indemnity. The Swiss Confederation and the Netherlands were explicitly recognized as independent states. Territorial compensation also went to Brandenburg and Mecklenburg. Religious consequences: Territorial rulers continued to determine the religion of their subjects, but Calvinism was officially recognized and rulers could allow full toleration; peoples were allowed to emigrate to states of their own confessions. Protestant and Catholic states were to be in complete equality in imperial affairs, future disputes to be resolved by compromise. ECONOMIC and SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES: The wars took 8 million lives and population remained at 8 million, where it was in 1618. Although armies were small (by 20th-century standards), they caused terrible destruction agriculturally and commercially. The diversity of growth and decline within the empire before 1618 makes generalizations about the wars' effects dangerous. Certainly, “the Thirty Years' War started a general decline that had not previously existed; at worst, it replaced prosperity with disaster,” according to T.K. Rabb. The Treaties of Westphalia were guaranteed by France and Sweden. (See European Diplomacy and Wars, 1648–1795)”

Source: The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. 2001, by Houghton Mifflin Company


Europe 1619-1648: Thirty Years' War
Cardinal Richelieu, by Philippe de Champaigne (1637)