The Thirty Years War
The Protestant Reformation brought about almost 150 years of religious conflict in Western Europe, despite efforts to ease tensions, such as the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. In the late sixteenth century, the Catholic Hapsburgs tried to create a new Holy Roman Empire by gaining political and religious control in the north, over the Germans and the Dutch. This led to wars of religion and conquest concluding with the Thirty Years War (1618–1648).

From 1618 through 1625, the conflict was largely a German civil war, with  Protestant German states fighting the Austrian Hapsburgs, their German Catholic allies, and Catholic Spain. While issues of political control were involved in the fighting, they centered on questions of religion. The Catholic forces were the winners in this stage of the fighting.

Even with Denmark’s intervention in 1625, the fighting was still mainly over religious issues. Denmark was a Protestant state, and in four years of fighting, was unable to defeat the Catholic armies.

In 1630, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden entered the war. At this point, the motives for fighting were shifting. True, the Swedes were proud Lutherans, determined to defeat the Catholic forces. But another kingdom, that of France, was providing the Swedes with financial support. And France was a Catholic country, practically governed by a Catholic cardinal, Richelieu, who as chief minister of Louis XIII made most important political decisions.

What was going on? The last thing France wanted was to be surrounded by the Hapsburgs. A Catholic victory in Germany would lead to just that. So the French gave money to the Swedes, secretly at first. But by 1639, the French were directly involved in the fighting. This marked a turning point in European politics, away from wars of religion, towards wars of political expediency or conquest.

The fighting brought robbery, rape, murder, starvation, and disease to Germany’s land and its people, as the reading on page 399 of your textbook illustrates. This is an excerpt from a seventeenth century novel written by a survivor of the Thirty Years' War. While Grimmelshausen’s account is fiction, he was alive and present during the fighting. And his account agrees with the reports of other eyewitnesses in memoirs and newspapers.

The war finally ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Austria was defeated, and its hopes for control over a Catholic Europe came to nothing. The Peace of Westphalia set the religious and political boundaries for Europe for the next two centuries.

Peace of Westphalia
There are four points to remember about the Peace of Westphalia. In terms of religion, Europe was now made up of a Protestant north and a Catholic south, an orientation that still exists today. The right of German kingdoms to determine their religion was reestablished, but this did not extend to individuals.

The Peace of Westphalia established the dominant political kingdoms in Europe. Catholic France and Protestant England emerged as the two most powerful European states. Austria-Hungary dominated central Europe. While Spain was still powerful, it was fading fast.  

Third, as a result of the wars of the seventeenth century, economic, trading, and financial power shifted from the Mediterranean to northern Europe (from England to Russia). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Dutch and English created vast commercial empires. Holland also became the banking center of Europe.

Finally, the Thirty Years' War consolidated the power of national monarchical states as the dominant political systems in Europe, with the exception of the German and Italian states. These monarchical systems developed characteristics unique to each state. But in general, two systems emerged: the constitutional monarchy, as seen in England, and absolutist, as seen in France.