The Thirty Years War

A.) Causes for the War

The REFORMATION and the stance the established Catholic church took toward it had divided Europe (without the Orthodox/Muslim areas) in two hostile camps. There was the protestant side, comprising of the DUTCH REPUBLIC, of SWITZERLAND, of some of Germany's duchies, counties etc., foremost SAXONY, BRANDENBURG, the PALATINATE, WÜRTTEMBERG, HANNOVER, HESSEN-KASSEL, and the Scandinavian kingdoms - DENMARK, NORWAY, SWEDEN. On the other side there were the Catholic countries respectively powers, foremost SPAIN, the EMPEROR with his power base in AUSTRIA, POLAND, the PAPAL STATE and the other Italian states. FRANCE also was Catholic, but because it was surrounded by Habsburg lands - Spain, the Spanish Netherlands and the Franche Comte (Burgundy), it pursued a foreign policy regardless of their religious belief.
The Catholic Church had begun the COUNTERREFORMATION, an attempt to make the reformation undone and win back people to Catholicism. As the PEACE OF AUGSBURG had stated the principle "CUIUS REGIO EIUS RELIGIO" (in whose state you live, that monarch's religion you must have), they attempted to convert the king or duke and have him force his religion on his people. In some regions, protestants had been persecuted, tortured by the INQUISITION and burnt at the stake, a treatment that was one of the causes of the DUTCH REVOLT. France had suffered under the 4 HUGUENOT WARS.
Since 1356, Germany's Emperor was elected by the council of the 7 ELECTORS - the archbishops of Cologne, Mainz and Trier, by the dukes of Brandenburg, Saxony, the count Palatinate and by the King of Bohemia. Since 1438, the Emperors exclusively had been elected from the Habsburg family. By 1600, the count Palatinate and the dukes of Brandenburg and Saxony were protestant. The ratio thus was 3 protestant electors as opposed to 4 catholic electors (the archbishops were Catholics by definition, and the Emperor himself was King of Bohemia). Then, in 1618, the protestant burghers of Prague went to the Hradshin (royal palace), overpowered the guards, grasped the king's representatives and threw them out of the window (DEFENESTRATION OF PRAGUE). It was a protestant coup d'etat, the estates of Bohemia deposed their king and elected Frederick Count Palatinate their new king.
EMPEROR MATTHIAS not only had lost one of his most important titles and sources of revenue. The deciding 4th vote in the council of electors had turned protestant. A protestant majority meant that the next Emperor would not be of the house of Habsburg, and this the Emperor could not accept.

B.) The Early Phase

The Emperor was rich in titles and poor in money. In those days it was not common for countries to have standing armies; armies were raised whenever needed and disbanded immediately after the war. Soldiers signed up for anybody who would pay them. Here lay the source of trouble - the Emperor's finances did not allow him to raise an army. The Duchy of Bavaria, one of the Empire's larger territories, was well-organized and the duke, a devoted Catholic, could supply what the Emperor needed. A Bavarian army lead by general TILLY invaded Bohemia, defeated the Bohemians and restored the territory to the Habsburgs (1619). King Frederick Count Palatinate, the WINTER KING, fled the country.
In the Netherlands, a 12 year truce signed in 1609 expired in 1621, and the Dutch war of independence, begun in 1568, continued. By this time, the Dutch Republic was well-established. However, Spain's infantry was still formidable, and on their way to the Netherlands they devastated the Palatinate. The Winter King had to flee again, this time to England.
The Emperor was aware that his success in Bohemia was borrowed, that Duke Maximilian of Bavaria expected to be richly rewarded. What he needed was an army of his own to balance Maximilian's influence. An enterprising nobleman, ALBRECHT EUSEBIUS VON WALLENSTEIN, rose to the situation. He had made a fortune by buying up estates in Bohemis - the rebellious protestant Bohemian noblemen had been executed, their estates auctioned off - and with his fortune he raised an army. Wallenstein pursued the motto that war must finance war. The army was to be fed and paid for by the country occupied, protestant countries that is. The protestant territories of Germany felt threatened, desparately looking for a leader who might bring relief. In 1625 King Christian of Denmark entered the war, taking the lead on the protestant side. Wallenstein defeated him, chased his army into Hungary and back into Denmark. Wallenstein's success was complete. The Emperor made him Duke of Mecklenburg and General of the Baltic Sea (1629).

C.) The Swedes and the Later War

Wallenstein on the shores of the Baltic Sea was too much for Swedish King GUSTAVUS II. ADOLPHUS to take. In 1630, he landed with a Swedish army in Pommerania. The French, eager to reduce Habsburg's power, paid SUBSIDIES to the Swedes to bolster their military strength. The Swedes, with a very efficient military training, proved superior on the battlefield. Gustav Adolf expelled the Catholic forces out of Northeast Germany and then moved into Central Germany, establishing his headquarters at Mainz and assuming the title PROTECTOR GERMANIAE. The Swedish army, fed and paid for by the occupied territories, hired new soldiers and grew. Gustavus II. Adolphus fell in 1632 in the BATTLE OF LÜTZEN. His death was a mere accident. The Swedes remained superior on the battlefield, a singular defeat in the BATTLE OF NÖRDLINGEN 1635 not changing this. Sweden, however, was a poor and underdeveloped country. In the late 1630es and 1640es, the war continued without leading to a decision. Habsburg diplomacy succeeded in having the Duke of Saxony switching sides (in return for the county of Lusatia). French diplomacy, on the other hand, made Bavaria, having experienced both Habsburg ingratitude and Swedish occupation, turn to an alliance with France. Peace negotiations were taken up in the cities of MÜNSTER and OSNABRÜCK, and in 1648 the PEACE OF WESTPHALIA was concluded, ending 30 years of war in Germany and 80 years of war in the Netherlands.

D.) The Consequences

Switzerland and the Netherlands gained their independence. Foreign powers - Denmark (Wildeshausen), Sweden (Hither Pomerania, Wismar, Stift Bremen, Stift Verden), France (parts of the Alsace) gained territories located within the Empire. The position of protestantism in northern Germany and in Wuerttemberg was stabilized, as was the Catholic majority in the council of electors. The Emperors would continue to be chosen from the Habsburg family, until the Empire was dissolved in 1806. The Habsburgs had fastened their grip on their territories. The power of the Bohemian Estates was broken once and for all.
The great powers all had gained in the war; it was small and some medium size territories which had lost. And it was Germany's population which had lost, being reduced by 30 % on average, in the territory of Brandenburg the losses had amounted to half, in some areas to a an estimated two thirds of the population. The Dukes of Brandenburg-Prussia were to learn the lesson : only with a strong army could the repetition of such a fate be avoided.

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
Thirty Years War, a concise description of the war
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
DOCUMENTS Treaty of Westphalia, from Tufts University, or from the Avalon Project at Yale Law School
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

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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