2.2 The Thirty Years’ War
The Thirty Years’ War began in 1618 as a German Civil War, partly religious, partly political and soon involved nearly all of Europe. The peace of Augsburg (1555) allowed the German Princes to remain Catholic or opt for Lutheranism. This made Germany a CheckerBoard of states adhering to one or the other faith. The spread of Calvinism and the success of the Catholic Counter Reformation upset the unstable balance.
The Catholic Princes were opposed to the Emperor. The Protestant rulers were divided among themselves between Lutheranism and Calvinism, and many of them were at odds for purely political reasons. Any quarrel among any of the Princes, or between one of them and the emperor, was bound to feed upon heated antagonism and involved them all.
A dispute in Bohemia precipitated the conflict. The Catholic King Ferdinand violated the "Letter of Majesty." This resulted in the revolt of the Czechs in Bohemia. Thus began a war that lasted 30 years. The ensuing conflict came to be known as "The Bohemian Period" (1618-1625) or the Thirty Years’ War. The Protestants elected Frederic as King of Bohemia. Later with the help of the Emperor, the Protestant forces were defeated. Their properties were snatched and distributed among the Catholics. So Protestantism largely disappeared in Bohemia.
The Danish period of the War (1625-1629) started when King Christian V of Denmark launched his forces against those of the Emperor and rallied other Protestant princes to this banner. England and Holland helped him financially. It was chiefly a struggle of Protestantism against Catholicism though also of lesser powers against the Emperor. They were defeated and badly beaten. In 1629, the Emperor imposed a peace on Denmark.
The Swedish period of the War was from 1630 to 1635. France helped Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. The Dutch likewise lent him financial and moral support. In the ensuing Swedish attack on Germany, the troops of Gustavus proved a worthy match of the imperial army. However, he was killed in battle and in 1635, peace was declared.
The period from 1635 to 1648 is the French period of
the Thirty Years’ War. Richelieu formed an alliance with the Swedish
and a few German princes in 1635 against the Hapsburg dynasty. At
first the French only employed defensive strategies. When the Hapsburg
invasion at Corbie was controlled, it enabled the French to take
the offensive into Germany and prolong the war for another decade.
The religious loyalists disappeared and both the Catholics and the
Protestants took sides or remained neutral according to political
considerations. Denmark Protestants even attacked the Swedish
Protestants. In 1640, the Portuguese Catholics threw off the Spanish
yoke when Spain was involved in a major war with Germany, Italy
and the Netherlands. In the last year of the war, abortive revolutionary
movements broke out in Catholic Sicily against the Spanish King
and in France against Jules Mazarin, the French politician who had
As the war dragged on diplomats from all over Europe assembled in Duchy of Westphalia and engaged in the first general peace conference in European History. The treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648. Territories were given to Sweden, France and Bavaria. Switzerland was formally declared separated from the Empire.
The treaty not only brought an end to the Thirty Years’ War but also destroyed Germany. Germany was rendered economically bankrupt and politically dismembered, divided into about 350 big and small states. German princes were made free in internal and external affairs. They arranged and looked after their own army, judiciary and law. The emperor was simply to be an acting officer for distributing ordinary posts. He was confined to Austria only and had nothing to do with Germany in the future.
This treaty is an epoch-making treaty in European History. It is the dividing date between two great epochs, the age of Religious wars and the new epoch of political uprisings. It gave birth to a number of international problems, which decided the future course of the history of Europe. The downfall of the Holy Roman Empire made Germany and France compete in gaining control over the Province of Rhine. Prussia came into prominence. Austria decided to capture Danube and clashed with Russia, while Sweden controlled the Baltic. Holland became powerful and rivaled the English in trade and commerce. Thus the Thirty Years’ War helped in giving a democratic set-up to Europe.