Spanish Netherlands

The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648

A.) The Situation leading to the War

Emperor Charles V. had striven hard to reconcile the German Protestant community and the Roman Curia; the unwillingness of both the Council of Trent and the German Protestants to make major concessions had lead to a confrontation of both camps; the Schmalkaldic War, as an attempt to pressure the Protestant camp into taking a more conciliatory attitude, was of only temporary success and was counteracted by Duke-Elector Maurice's Expedition against Innsbruck in 1552, resulting in the Religious Peace of Augsburg, regarded by Germany's protestant princes as a guarantee of their territorial creed, by the Emperor as a document forced upon him under humiliating conditions.
Neither the Council of Trent nor the Papal Curia were willing to accept the Religious Peace of Augsburg; Counterreformation agitation tried to undermine it. The Cologne Stift Feud of 1583 provided an opportunity; Emperor Rudolf II. sided with counter-bishop Ernst of Bavaria. Emperor Rudolf II. (1575-1612) clearly supported the Counterreformation; Germany's protestants, in 1583 reluctant to support Cologne Archbishop Truchsess von Waldburg, were concerned. The case of the free Imperial city of Donauwörth, which was occupied by Bavarian troops in 1607 (and the Counterreformation enforced) without the Emperor taking action, caused the protestant princes to form the PROTESTANT UNION (1608). In 1609 the CATHOLIC LEAGUE was formed. Emperor Rudolf, as King of Bohemia, cancelled the religious toleration protestants enjoyed in Bohemia (1609). Thus the stage was prepared for a showdown.

B.) The Spark that ignited the War

In 1618 the Bohemian Estates deposed Emperor Matthias (as King of Bohemia) in the Defenestration of Prague. They went on to establish a Bohemian nobles' republic following the model of Poland-Lithuania and elected Frederick Count Palatinate King of Bohemia. However, Bohemia held one of the seven electorates within the Holy Roman Empire; to accept the loss of Bohemia, for the House of Habsburg, would also jeopardize her hold on the Imperial crown (for among the 7 electors, three were protestant princes - Brandenburg, Saxony, Palatinate; Bohemia would be the fourth).

C.1) The War in 1618-1625

Emperor Matthias died in 1619, and, despite a protestant majority in the council of electors, Ferdinand of Habsburg was elected his successor. That year, Bethlen Gabor, Ban (duke) of Transylvania, took up arms against the Emperor, in the cause of Hungary's protestants. Emperor Ferdinand, lacking the funds to raise a force against Bohemia, borrowed from Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, giving him Upper Austria as a pawn; where the Counterreformation now was implemented forcefully. A Bavarian-Imperial army under Johan Tzerclaes Tilly then defeated the Bohemians in the Battle of the White Mountain 1620 and restored Bohemia to Habsburg rule; here, also, the Counterreformation was introduced, as in the Upper Palatinate, territory of the Winter King (Frederick Count Palatinate) adjacent to both Bohemia and Bavaria. The Imperial side now offered a peace treaty an the basis of the status quo; it was not accepted by Frederick Count Palatinate. In turn, Emperor Ferdinand cancelled the electoral vote the Golden Bull had provided to the Count Palatine, and awarded it to Duke Maximilian of Bavaria and his successors.
In the Low Countries, the 12 Years Truce expired in 1621, and hostilities resumed, Spain planning another offensive. Duke Christian of Braunschweig (Brunswick) led a force of 10,000 men into the Rhineland (1621), taking on smaller Catholic territories, then to the Princebishopric of Paderborn (1622), was defeated in the Battle of Hoechst 1622, then on into Low Countries, where he defeated a Spanish force under Cordova at Fleury (1622). The Count Palatinate was occupied by Tilly (1622). Another protestant force lead by the Count of Mansfeld arrived in the Low Countries, breaking the Spanish siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, then moving into the Stift Münster and on to East Frisia (1623). In the Battle of Stadtlohn (Aug. 1623), a Bavarian army under Tilly defeated Christian of Braunschweig. Christian disbanded his force and went to England; soon after, Count Mansfeld also arrived there.
Duke-Elector Johann Georg of Saxony was formally granted Upper and Lower Lusatia, as a reward for his cooperation in the action against Bohemia (1623). Albrecht Eusebius von Wallenstein raised an army, reducing the Emperor's dependence on Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. The Dutch Republic, England and France, where Cardinal Richelieu became prime minister in 1624, subsidized the protestant side. In the Lower Palatinate, the Counterreformation was implemented. In England, Mansfeld recruited a new force of 15,000 men and in 1625 landed his force to Zeeland (Dutch Republic). However, King James I. wanted the subsidies exclusively used for the recovery of the Lower Palatinate.

C.2.) The Danish Phase, 1625-1629

Germany's Protestant Union invited both Kings Christian IV. of Denmark and Gustavus II. Adolphus of Sweden to enter the war; Christian IV. accepted and was given command (and considerable subsidies). War was resolved upon in May 1625, in April 1626 Mansfeld was defeated in the Battle of Dessau, in August 1626 Christian's Danish Army in the Battle of Lutter am Barenberge. Mansfeld, in an attempt to link up with a force lead by Transylvanian Ban Bethlen Gabor, moved to Silesia, pursued by Wallenstein's force. Without another major encounter, Bethlen Gabor signed peace 1626 (Treaty of Pressburg, modern Bratislava). In 1627, Tilly and Wallenstein moved north, pushing the Danish force back and occupying protestant territories allied to Christian - Mecklenburg, Holstein, even Jutland. Christian withdrew his army to the Danish islands. In 1629 Denmark signed the humiliating Peace of Lübeck. Emperor Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution, ordering the restitution of (Catholic) church property secularized since 1555.
Since 1627, the Hanseatic city of Stralsund withstood the siege by Wallenstein's force (Wallenstein had himself made Duke of nearby Mecklenburg). the Hanseatic cities outside of Pomerania, hitherto taking a neutral stand, felt threatened by Wallenstein's hold on Mecklenburg and supported the besieged city. The Swedes occupied the island of Rügen.

C.3.) The Swedish Phase, 1630-1635

Gustavus II. Adolphus signed the Peace of Altmark (1629), terminating the Swedish-Polish War, thus freeing his forces for a campaign in Germany. The Diet of Regensburg rejected Spain's call for military assistance against the Dutch Republic; Wallenstein came under severe criticism, even from the Catholic princes, and was dismissed as Imperial commander. He had supported his army by living off the occupied territory, with devastating economic and demographic consequences.
In June 1630 Gustavus II. Adolphus landed a Swedish army in Pomerania; from there, he ousted Wallenstein from Mecklenburg (Sept. 1630). The (Lutheran) city of Magdeburg, under threat of re-Catholization (Edict of Restitution) allied herself with Sweden. She suffered siege by the forces of Tilly and was sacked May 1631, the Bavarian army then committing a massacre among the protestant inhabitants. In the Battle of Breitenfeld (Aug. 1631), Gustavus Adoplhus defeated Tilly, then establishing his headquarters at Mainz. France, which subsidized the Swedish army since the Treaty of Bärwalde 1631, offered her protectorate to those cities and princes who applied - a tempting offer, as any Swedish occupation meant, the occupied city/territory had to feed the occupying force.
Wallenstein was recalled and retook Bohemia, temporarily held by the Saxons. The Swedes laid siege to Nürnberg, but drew her forces off when Wallenstein moved north; in the Battle of LÜtzen 1632 the Swedes defeated Wallenstein - and lost their king.
Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna acted as regent for Gustavus' 5 year old daughter Christina. He formed the League of Heilbronn, in order to regulate relations between the Swedes and the protestant princes, cities of southwestern Germany (1633). It became difficult to raise the necessary sums to pay the Swedish army, and a mutiny was the consequence. Simultaneously, Wallenstein was dismissed a second time, and, when refusing to disband his force and contemplating to switch sides, assassinated. In 1634 the Spanish interfered in southern central Germany, inflicting a rare defeat on the Swedes in the Battle of Nördlingen.

C.4) The Franco-Swedish Phase, 1635-1648

The Battle of Nördlingen, temporarily, turned the tide in favour of the Emperor. The territories the rulers of which made up the League of Heilbronn were occupied; Saxony signed the Peace of Pirna with the Emperor, and was confirmed in the possession of Lusatia. The peace foresaw the cancellation of the Edict of Restitution of 1629 and was intended to be acceded by Germany's other princes; most of them did. When Spanish troops occupied Trier and took the Princebishop hostage (who earlier had accepted French protection), France declared war on Spain.
With France and Sweden facing a Holy Roman Empire almost united in her will for peace, Poland displayed her force off Swedish strongholds; Sweden gave in and returned the Swedish-held ports of Elbing, Memel and Pillau in the Treaty of Stuhmsdorf, avoiding the brief Swedish-Polish War of 1635 to escalate. The French expanded the territory they held in the Alsace, threatening Spanish supply lines.
In 1636 the Swedes were victorious over the saxons in the Battle of Wittstock, In 1637 Emperor Ferdinand II. died and was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand III. (who already in 1636 had been elected King, to ensure Habsburg succession). The Swedes came under severe pressure, General Baner, with difficulty, retreated to Pomerania. Bernhard of Sachsen-Weimar laid siege to the Austrian fortress of Breisach, located on the upper Rhine in Vorderösterreich, which surrendered in Dec. 1638 and decided the war on the upper Rhine. With replenished troops, Swedish General Baner took the offensive, while Winter King Frederick V.'s successor, Karl Ludwig, suffered a crushing defeat in the Battle of Hochfeld. The Swedish army carried the war from one region into another, in May 1639 appearing off Prague, their itinerary less dictated by the desire for conquest than by ravaging the countryside to feed her (growing) army. Baner died in 1641 and was replaced by General Lennart Torstensson, who invaded Moravia. In France, Cardinal Richelieu had died in 1642, succeeded as pm by Cardinal Mazarin. Peace negotiations began in Münster and Osnabrück in 1643. The negotiations made the presence of Swedish troops in Germany less necessary, and General Torstensson was called to campaign against Denmark ( Swedish-Danish War. In the Battle of Rocroi 1643 (Low Countries), the French defeated the Spanish.
In 1644 the Hungarians rose in revolt, lead by Transylvanian Ban Stephen Rakoszy, who concluded a peace and then rose again in 1645. The Bavarians (Gen. Mercy) suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the French in the Second Battle of Nördlingen 1645; Bavaria, exhausted, began negotiating for a separate peace. Saxony signed a truce with the Swedes 1646. In 1646-1647 the French and Swedes occupied Munich; when the Peace of Westphalia was concluded in 1648, Torstensson marched a Swedish army on Vienna.

D) The Treaty of Westphalia, 1648

Germany's Princes repeatedly were close to a peace, so in 1635, when the religious situation of 1627 was agreed upon as to be 'frozen'. In the last decade of the war, foreign interest kept the war going; both France and Sweden had not suffered aby damage at home and could afford to continue a war economically fought at the expense of Germans.
The Treaty of Westphalia fixed 1624 as the 'normal year', except fot the Habsburg territories and the Upper Palatinate. Sweden acquired Hither Pomerania with Rügen, the city of Wismar, the Stifts Bremen and Verden. France acquired the Habsburg territories in the Alsace. Brandenburg acquired Further Pomerania, Saxony acquired Halberstadt and Magdeburg - temporarily, to be handed over to Brandenburg on the death of Duke Johann Georg II. (1680).
The independence of the Dutch Republic and of Switzerland were recognized. France refused to sign a peace treaty with Spain; the French-Spanish War continued until 1659.

E) Legacy

The Thirty Years War changed the strategy of warfare, Sweden becoming the most accomplished land power of her time. The problem lay with the financing of an army; here France and the Dutch Republic were at an advantage compared to the Swedes.
France and Sweden had gained a foothold in the Holy Roman Empire; in the later 17th century, France, benefiting from disunity among Germany's territorial lords and the weakness of Spain, again and again tried to expand at the expense of German territories.
The position of territorial princes within the Empire was strengthened; practically they were recognized as heads of independent states, with the Empire as a suprastructure.
Economically and demographically, Germany had suffered, the loss in life equalizing that of the black death in the mid-14th century. The Duke-Elector of Brandenburg, Friedrich Wilhelm, drew the conclusion that a standing army was required to prevent such a disaster from repeating itself; here lies the root of Prussian-German militarism.

Wer war wer im 30-jährigen Krieg ? (Who was who in the 30 years' war), by Klaus Koniarek, detailed biographies in German
The Thirty Years War, from Wikipedia
The Thirty Years War, by Chris Atkinson (detailed, but has a problem with spelling names)
The Thirty Years War, from Catholic Encyclopedia
The Thirty Years War, from History of Protestantism y James A. Wylie (1878), very extensive
History of the Thirty Years War, by Friedrich von Schiller, from Project Gutenberg (a long narrative, written 1791-1793; Schiller was a novelist)
The Thirty Years War, from Library of Congress, Country Studies : Germany
Museum des Dreissigjährigen Krieges, Wittstock/Dosse, site posted by Univ. Potsdam (30 Years War Museum homepage, in German)
The Thirty Years War, from Fredrika Bremergymnasiet, essays, biographies, strong on Sweden
The Thirty Years War : Sweden, from Mikael Andersson
Ausstellung Westfälischer Friede 1648 (Exhibition Treaty of Westphalia), from Landesverband Westfalen-Lippe, German-language timeline
Konfessionelles Zeitalter und Drei©¬igjähriger Krieg (Era of Confessions and 30 Years War), from Einführung in die Frühneuzeitliche Geschichte (Introduction in Early Modern History), course at Univ. Münster, in German
The Thirty Years War, from History Learning Site, many subfiles
DOCUMENTS Treaty of Westphalia - between Emperor and France, from Treaties Collection (Oct.24th 1648)
Map of Germany 1618, from Gardiner's Atlas of English History, 1892
Eine gedruckte Berliner Zeitung aus dem Jahr 1626 (a printed Berlin newspaper of 1626), from Homepage Thomas Gloning, Univ. Marburg, in German
Medal : Accession of Frederik III. of Denmark to Peace of Westphalia, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Medal : Victory in the Battle of Breitenfeld, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Medal : Gustavus Adolphus' Victory in the Battle of Breitenfeld, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss
Medal : Death of Gustavus Adolphus, 1634, from Medal Web, Collection Benjamin Weiss

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 18th 2004

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