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
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.