Peace of Westphalia

Orfeas Katsoulis | Aug 24, 2023

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The Thirty Years' War or the First Thirty Years' War was a series of wars during the reigns of Matthias II, Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III (1618-1648), covering all the Habsburg crown lands and a large part of Central Europe. Also known as the world war of the 17th century, it was one of the most destructive conflicts, affecting all the powers of Europe. It is estimated that 8-11 million people lost their lives during the war. Only the Napoleonic Wars and, later still, the First and Second World Wars and the inter-war period (i.e. the Second Thirty Years' War) caused more devastation on the continent.

Although the clashes were often defined as a religious war between Catholics and Protestants, the main fault lines of the war were between the strengthening imperial power within the German-Roman Empire and the electorates opposed to absolutism, while the Habsburgs and the Bourbon dynasty vied for European hegemony. The Thirty Years War perpetuated the political and territorial divisions of the German-Roman Empire for centuries. While until the War of the Spanish Succession the Kingdom of France had become the strongest military power in Europe, by the second half of the 17th century Sweden had become the dominant power in the Baltic. The peace treaty of Westphalia at the end of the war can be seen as the birth of modern diplomacy, which sought a balance of power in Europe.

The war resulted in significant material and demographic losses, with 60-70% of some German territories (Brandenburg, Pomerania, Württemberg) depopulated. All this can be explained by the way the armies of the time were financed and supplied, and by the spirit of 'war feeds on itself' (bellum se ipsum alet)(wd) (a saying attributed to Cato the Elder), which placed an enormous burden on the civilian population. One of the long-term results of the Thirty Years' War was that the cost of the growing number of mercenary armies forced the administrative and financial changes that led to the creation of absolutist regimes and peacetime regular armies throughout Europe. The tactical changes that war brought and the creation of larger armies contributed to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, which had failed to make a revolution in warfare, at the end of the 17th century.

The period between 1914 and 1945 has been described by some as the "Second Thirty Years War". As early as 1946, Charles de Gaulle declared. Sigmund Neumann, writing about this theory in his book, argues that, like the first Thirty Years' War, the great war of the early 20th century is the result of a series of smaller conflicts.

The political reasons for the outbreak of war

The conflict between the Habsburg dynasty, which sought to impose absolutism, and the nobility contributed significantly to the outbreak of war. The position of the Habsburgs and the ability of the Orders to assert their interests were demonstrated by the Order's agitation in the hereditary provinces during and after the Fifteen Years' War, the Bocskai rebellion in Hungary in 1604-1606 and the forced abdication of Emperor Rudolf II in 1608. A further problem for the Habsburgs was that the orders of several of their countries could form alliances or confederations, as the Hungarian, Upper and Lower Austrian and Moravian orders did in 1608, and it was not by chance that a plan for a Hungarian-Czech order collaboration emerged between 1618 and 1621. The Habsburg Empire was made vulnerable by the fact that it depended on the orders for tax contributions (while the Viennese treasury was accumulating millions of Rhenish forints in debt every year at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries).

In addition to the above, the German-Roman Empire also faced France in 1617 over the succession of Mantua. With the end of the Wars of Religion and the consolidation of royal power, the French were able to mobilise greater military and economic power, while continuing to aim to weaken the Habsburgs. In keeping with their 16th-century links, the French forged alliances with the Protestant German princes and the Turks, with the interests of the state as the guiding principle of their policy. It has been suggested that King Henry IV was only prevented from campaigning in Germany by his assassination in 1610.

Religious reasons

In the German-Roman Empire, Protestants formed the Protestant Union in 1608, and in 1609 the Catholic League was formed in response, but the Habsburg monarch was excluded. The fact that the Reformed denomination did not enjoy the same recognition as the Augustinian confession of faith and that the Catholic electorates were also opposed to the excessive strengthening of the Habsburgs caused further controversy.

The advance of the Reformation in the Habsburg Empire slowed down considerably in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, partly due to the destruction of Austrian and Moravian territories by Turkish-Tatar troops and Bocskai's Protestant Hajdú. Within the lands of the Czech crown, Protestantism was much stronger than in the more experienced hereditary provinces, some say because of the Hussite traditions of the 15th century.

In contrast to some earlier Habsburgs, such as Nicholas II, who was tolerant of Lutherans, or Matthias Habsburg, who was interested in settling religious conflicts, Ferdinand II, like Rudolf II, was a proponent of violent recatriation. Ferdinand's election as Emperor in 1619 would have been unthinkable without the support of the Imperial Assembly of the German-Roman Empire, but even after his coronation he continued his Catholicising plans, and in the already traditionally Protestant Czech Republic, Hungary and parts of the German-Roman Empire, his policies were increasingly the subject of a gun-slinging mood.

The military conflict of the war began in Prague in 1618, when the Czech orders, led by Count Thurn, rebelled against Ferdinand II's anti-Protestant policies and threw three imperial advisers out of the windows of Prague Castle (the second defenestration). In Prague, the orders formed a council of 30 members, whose main tasks included drafting a new constitution, electing a new king and defending the country against the emperor. They then invited to the Czech throne a member of the Protestant Union, V. Frederick Elector of Phalz. For the war to take on truly European proportions, all that was needed was for the Netherlands to form an alliance with Frederick of Phalese and attack Spanish Low Countries in 1621, and for Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania to weaken the Habsburgs' Hungarian and Czech positions with several campaigns.

The Czech, Moravian and Silesian orders were briefly joined by the Protestant orders of Upper and Lower Austria, so the advancing Czech forces threatened Vienna directly. Fortunately for Ferdinand, however, the anti-Hapsburg forces did not coordinate their operations, his father-in-law, King James I of England, did not line up behind Frederick, the Protestant Union was only willing to defend his estates in Pfalz, not his Czech throne, and the Ottomans made Bethlen's support conditional on the surrender of Vác, otherwise they would not support his plans for reunification. Ferdinand began to recruit mercenaries and in 1619 formed an alliance with the Bavarian Prince Michael I and Spain. He had family ties with both countries, so it was not difficult to reach an agreement with them. He could count on the full strength of the Catholic League, then led by Count Tilly.

The Catholic League and the imperial army established order in Upper and Lower Austria, respectively, and the two forces then merged and marched into Bohemia, joining the Italian mercenary troops already present, and then marched under Prague. The forces of the Czech, Moravian and Silesian Orders, reinforced by German and Hungarian mercenaries, were destroyed by the imperial troops under Tilly at the Battle of White Mountain on 8 November 1620. The Protestant Union was thus dissolved, and V. However, the war was not over, as battles continued on the western front in Frederick's Phalz territories.

In the same year, in parallel with the events in Bohemia, Spanish troops attacked Lower Palatinate, and by 1621 Upper Palatinate had fallen into foreign, Bavarian hands. In 1622, the last major town in Palatinate fell to Spain, and a year later, at the Battle of Stadtlohn, Tilly destroyed the last of Count Frederick V's forces. In 1623, he granted Upper Palatinate to the Bavarian Prince Michael I, an ally of Emperor Ferdinand II, and at the same time made Bavaria an electorate of Bavaria instead of the Palatinate of the Rhine.

The war was slowly winding down, and Bohemia had to resign itself to becoming a perpetual province, losing its independence, and Ferdinand of course made sure that there was adequate counter-reformation. The only country that Ferdinand did not manage to get rid of was Transylvania: in the Treaty of Nikolsburg, Bethlen confirmed the privileges of the Transylvanian orders and avoided counter-reformation.

Ferdinand, who had in the meantime been elected Holy Roman Emperor, did not rejoice in his victory for long. The Dutch-Spanish conflict in the west of Europe had not yet ended, and Denmark, being a Protestant kingdom, was also concerned about its interests and King Christian IV's desire to restore the former glory of his empire. (The legal basis for interfering in the affairs of the German-Roman Empire was that Christian IV was the owner of a German duchy, Holstein, bordering Denmark.) In 1626, Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania, joined this alliance and launched the siege of Ferdinand II's empire in the east.

At the head of the imperial troops this time was Count Albrecht von Wallenstein, who made a treaty with Ferdinand, who was dependent on the Spaniards and the Catholic League for his army: the landowner of Bohemia recruited and equipped a mercenary army of 40,000 at his own expense in exchange for sole command of the army and adequate financial compensation. Wallenstein defeated the 12,000-strong Protestant army led by Ernst von Mansfeld near Dessau on the main route to Silesia, and then, in pursuit of Mansfeld's ragged army, he invaded Hungary, where he faced Gábor Bethlen's hordes, but failed to force the Transylvanian prince into a decisive battle. Bethlen's campaign achieved what he wanted: to secure further concessions for Transylvania. Wallenstein finally defeated the troops of Christian IV at the Battle of Lutter in 1626, and forced Denmark to sign the Peace of Lübeck in 1629.

As a sign of the Habsburgs' growing power, Emperor Ferdinand II soon appointed Wallenstein Admiral of the East and North Seas. In the wake of this great victory, Ferdinand II issued the Edictum Restitutionis (1629) in his lands. This Restitution Decree declared that Protestant estates acquired since the Peace of Augsburg (1555) should be returned to their original Catholic owners, and that from the date of the decree not only secular princes but also ecclesiastical dignitaries could restore religious unity to their estates. This provoked huge opposition throughout the empire, even among Catholic princes. It soon became the cause of the wars that followed.

The Edictum Restitutionis was protested against most strongly by Saxony and Westphalia, and in their vehement protests they found suitable allies in Sweden and France. France, in keeping with its traditional anti-Habsburg policy, both provided financial support to the German Protestants and, through its diplomacy, brokered peace in 1629 between the Poles (a potential ally of the Habsburgs) and the Swedes, who had seized most of the Polish and Prussian ports and were attacking them, so that the Swedish forces could be turned against the Habsburgs. Sweden's King Gustavus Adolphus II landed in Pomerania in the summer of 1630 under the powerful banner of protecting the Protestants and hoping to consolidate and extend the less booming Swedish rule of the Baltic.

In the meantime, Ferdinand II had been abandoned by all his supporters because of the edict, and Ferdinand had to divorce Wallenstein. However, there were no more imperial commanders able to hold off the Swedish army occupying Mecklenburg, which was joined by the Saxon (John George I) and Brandenburg elector (William George). In 1631, the Swedish and Saxon armies defeated Tilly's troops at the Battle of Brechenfeld. Soon after Mainz fell, in 1632 Gustavus Adolphus attacked Bavaria and Prague was temporarily occupied by Saxon troops. In the wake of these defeats, Ferdinand reappointed Wallenstein as commander-in-chief. At the Battle of Lützen (16 November 1632), the Swedish troops defeated the imperial forces led by Wallenstein with heavy losses. It was in this battle that the Swedish Emperor, who was represented in the battles by Chancellor Axel Gustafsson Oxenstierna, lost his life. In 1633, he initiated the formation of the Heilbronn League, a group of Protestant German princes and Sweden. The army was led by Bernat Weimar. Oxenstierna and Bernat Weimari were not compatible and, more importantly, the German princes were keen to make peace after the Emperor's power had been broken, so that they could be free of the Swedes. However, Wallenstein II, who had achieved success in Swedish-occupied Silesia in 1633 and had been negotiating secretly with the Swedes, was assassinated by Ferdinand II.

In 1634, the imperial army recaptured Regensburg and defeated the army of Bernat Weimar with Spanish support at the great Battle of Nördlingen (6 September 1634). The Battle of Nördlingen had the important effect of bringing peace to the Protestant princes of northern Germany, who were already more afraid of the Swedes than of the Emperor. But the Emperor now had to give up much more than he could have done in 1629, or even in 1631, to secure his power and the tranquillity of his empire. In the Peace of Prague (30 May 1635), he recognised Protestant rights and abolished the Edictum Restitutionis. This dissolved the League. However, the peace could not be lasting, as France had not yet got what it wanted, namely the Spanish provinces, and Sweden had not settled its affairs with the Emperor.

The final phase of the war began with the French declaration of war. Cardinal Richelieu's country was left alone and was forced to act on its own. His declaration of war was addressed to Spain, one of the Habsburg countries, and the French, who had been financially supporting the Swedes, entered the war openly. Some French troops had already taken Lorraine and several Alsatian castles in 1633. In 1635, French troops invaded northern Italy, southern Germany and the Rhine region. In 1637, Ferdinand II died in Vienna, raising serious hopes of a final peace. Nevertheless, fighting continued. Swedish and French diplomacy, which had found each other in the meantime, forged an alliance, and in the same year Swedish troops appeared in Saxony. The Swedish army, led by Lennart Torstenson, invaded Silesia in 1642 and defeated the imperial army led by Piccolomini and Archduke Lipót at Breitenfeld on 2 November 1642, consolidating its position in Saxony.

From 1642, Cardinal Mazarin succeeded Richelieu, who continued the foreign policy of his predecessor. On 19 May 1643, the French troops led by young Louis de Condé, Duke of Enghien, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Spanish troops at Rocroi in the Ardennes, in the wake of which a separatist uprising broke out in Portugal and Catalonia. With this defeat, the Spanish military supremacy on the mainland was broken, and the Portuguese orders subsequently became independent with English help. On 16 November 1643, the Treaty of Guelph was signed, under which France, Sweden and Transylvania joined forces against the Emperor. In 1644, the French armies led by the Dukes of Turenne and Condé overran southern Germany, while the Transylvanian Prince George I of Rákóczi led a campaign against northern Hungary.

With the Swedish advance threatening Bohemia, the Habsburgs allied themselves with the Danes. The Franco-Habsburg and Swedish-Danish conflicts at this time made it clear that it was not a religious war, but a political and power conflict. The Swedes, however, defeated the Danish fleet and invaded the Jutland peninsula and the Danish-controlled German territory of Holstein. In 1645, the French defeated the Bavarian army, while Torstenson, returning from the Danish border, pushed into Moravia and Lower Austria. In parallel, Naples revolted against Spanish rule, and French troops under Prince Condé again defeated the Spanish, led by Archduke Lipót, at Lens in 1648.

Then, in France, the parliament, the nobility and the entire French bourgeoisie demanded an end to the war, and the Fronde noble resistance movement began, which caused many internal political complications. Both camps wanted peace. The exhaustion and diplomatic isolation of the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs became evident. The last operation of the war took place in the same place where it had begun: in 1648, a Swedish army laid siege to Prague, but the defenders and the local population defended the city.

After the death of Gábor Bethlen, his second wife, Katalin of Brandenburg, reigned for a year (1629-1630), whom the prince appointed as his successor in his will. The Transylvanian orders, however, were hostile to her and soon deposed her. György I. Rákóczi (1630-1648) became Prince of Transylvania, whose reign brought peace and prosperity. In 1631 he agreed with King Ferdinand II of Hungary to keep the peace. He greatly increased his private property and the holdings of the treasury, and settled his internal opposition by means of confiscation suits.

In 1643, after a long wait, he joined the Swedish-French alliance and entered the Thirty Years' War in defence of Protestant religious freedom. On 5 May 1644, the Transylvanian troops under the command of János Kemény defeated the imperialists at Drégelypalánk. In the meantime, Prince Rákóczi had captured Kassa in his campaign in northern Hungary. In 1645, the Transylvanian armies invaded Moravia and on 28 May they joined Torstenson's Swedish forces near Brno. The Transylvanians, however, sought a settlement and made peace with Ferdinand III at Linz in 1645.

The Peace of Linz is a peace treaty between Prince George Rákóczi I of Transylvania and King Ferdinand III of Hungary, the documents of which were exchanged between the ambassadors of the two parties in Linz on 16 December 1645. In many points, the peace repeated the passages of the Treaty of Nikolsburg of 1621-1622. Like Bethlen, Rákóczi received the seven counties of Hungary (Szatmár, Szabolcs, Bereg, Ugocsa, Zemplén, Abaúj, Borsod), as well as the castles of Tokaj, Regéc, Tarcal and Ecsed for the rest of his life. At the same time, the counties of Szabolcs and Szatmár could be inherited by his sons for life. For all these reasons, the prince vowed to break his alliance with the French and the Swedes, to withdraw his army to these counties and Transylvania, and to stop interfering in the affairs of the kingdom. In addition, the peace guaranteed the Hungarian orders the free exercise of religion and the convening of a Diet within three months.

The treaties of the Peace of Westphalia were concluded in 1648 in several parts. The Habsburgs signed the peace treaties with the Dutch and the Swedes in Osnabrück and with the French and the Protestant princes of the empire in Münster. They recognised the secession and independence of the United Provinces of the Netherlands and Switzerland from the German-Roman Empire. Sweden gained the German coast of the Baltic Sea, France received Alsace and was confirmed in possession of Metz and Verdun. Brandenburg and Bavaria also gained territory. However, the peace treaties guaranteed free navigation on the Rhine, prohibiting any party from obstructing shipping or imposing new taxes. Under the terms of the Treaty of Osnabrück, 1624 became the standard year for the settlement of religious matters: the Peace of Augsburg now also covered the Reformed. After Palatinate had been deprived of its electorate status in 1623, Bavaria became the 'eighth electorate' after the conclusion of the peace treaty.

The princes of the empire were given the right to conduct their own foreign policy (ius foederationis), leaving the empire as a collection of hundreds of independent states. However, the emperor's foreign policy decisions and legislation were subject to the approval of the imperial assembly, where the more than 200 permanent members would have to vote unanimously; the imperial assembly was thus rendered indecisive. The fragmentation of the German-Roman Empire was further reinforced. Spain's position as a great power was eliminated, and the political centre of gravity of the Habsburg dynasty shifted towards the Central Danube Basin. However, the Habsburg dynasty did not suffer a total defeat; it abolished the rule of law in the Austrian and Czech provinces, which created the opportunity for the establishment of absolutism.

1648 has become a symbolic year in the continent's historical memory. The civilisational effects of the huge diplomatic effort and the quest for peace on a European scale did not materialise until much later. Peace not only brought a long war to an end, but also paved the way for a new Europe of independent states.

Hungarian historiography has rarely emphasised that Transylvania's independent statehood was recognised in 1648. The Principality of Transylvania was included in the peace treaties as an ally of the French and the Swedes, and Transylvania was regarded as a sovereign country and a stabilising power in the region.

During the war, which resulted in huge sacrifices, the German-Roman Empire lost 25 or even 40% of its population, according to conflicting estimates. The German states were only able to recover from this demographic loss by the 18th century (immigration was also a factor in this increase: the settlement of Swiss in Bavaria and Huguenots in Brandenburg). The peace of Westphalia also guaranteed the states of the empire an independent foreign policy. In so doing, the German-Roman emperors lost what was by then a nominal political hegemony in Europe. The cities of the Empire lost their dominant role.

Some areas of northern Germany came under Swedish and Danish rule for long periods. The Swedish rule of Pomerania allowed the Swedes to invade German and Polish territories; Pomerania, Bremen and Verden were under the rule of the leading Baltic power, the Kingdom of Sweden, until the Great Northern War. Two German duchies, Schleswig and Holstein, had been in a personal union with the Kingdom of Denmark since 1460, and were only regained in 1864 during the Prussian-Austrian-Danish War.

One of the long-term consequences of the war was that France gained the status of a great power and began to fight for European hegemony. In the divided German-Roman Empire, French influence gained ground: in 1658, Cardinal Mazarin created the League of the Rhine, also known as the League of the Rhine, to support French interests, with 50 Dukes of the Rhine and the Archdiocese of Mainz as members. The king became the leader of a strong pro-French party in the Polish-Lithuanian Union, which enabled the French to support the anti-Hapsburg religious movement in Hungary in the 1670s.

Although Spain suffered several defeats during the war, it was able to hold its positions in the southern Mediterranean. The Franco-Spanish War continued after the 1648 peace treaty with the Austrian Habsburgs until 1659. In 1648, the Spanish had to recognise the independence of the Netherlands, and Portugal became a sovereign state, ending six decades of Spanish-Portuguese personal union. As a result, the Kingdom of Spain lost its position as a great power for good, and France launched a series of attacks on its possessions in Burgundy and the Spanish Low Countries in the second half of the 17th century.

Hungary's role in the Thirty Years' War was not on the Western fronts, the Hungarian military remained on its own territory. The imperial army was reluctant to use Hungarian troops in the fighting in Germany or Denmark because the Hungarian population in the early 17th century was largely Protestant and, as the war had a strong religious character and the Protestants had suffered many hardships under the Catholic Habsburg ruler, and were also very dissatisfied with the poorly paid endowment of the end-time army, it would have been risky to deploy Protestant Hungarians against Protestant Czech, German, Swedish or Danish forces. However, it is also a fact that during the campaigns of the Transylvanian princes, the majority of Hungarians, for purely nationalistic reasons, switched to their side. Incidentally, some of the Habsburg fears about the conversion of the Hungarian Protestant lords were unfounded, as a great many of the lordly families owned estates in Bohemia and Moravia, which provided them with a significant source of income (whose income exceeded that of the Hungarian estates), so they did not risk losing them when the Czech revolt broke out, and the defeat at White Mountain and the subsequent reprisals, the establishment of what was popularly known as 'Czech establishment' absolutism, deterred them outright.

During the first years of the war, troops were recruited from Hungary several times, which played a significant role in the Czech-Palatinate War, but after 1623 the imperial command judged the Hungarians too inclined to defect to Bethlen, so far fewer Hungarians were kept in arms and later employed in the battles against the Danes, Swedes, Saxons, German princes and the French. In some major battles, such as the Battle of Brechenfeld in 1631, a significant number of Hungarian units took part, but during the war the imperial army used more Cossack, Croatian and Polish cavalry. The Croatian presence may have been more stable and reliable because, as Catholics, they had been more loyal to the Habsburgs than the Hungarians since the 16th century and would come in handy for the Habsburgs in later times.

The former imperial commander-in-chief, Heinrich von Dampierre, knew and appreciated the valour of the Hungarians. Ironically, he was killed by Hungarian weapons. Dampierre was fond of using Hungarian soldiers, especially cavalrymen.


  1. Peace of Westphalia
  2. Harmincéves háború
  3. Háborúban Spanyolország ellen 1625–1630, Franciaország ellen 1627–29). Angolok harcoltak holland, dán és svéd szolgálatban Németországban.
  4. Háborúban Spanyolország ellen 1625–30, Franciaország ellen 1627–29. Skót kalózok elfoglalták Új-Skóciát és Québecet. Skótok harcoltak holland, dán és svéd szolgálatban Németországban.
  5. Az Orosz Birodalom támogatta Svédországot a Lengyel–Litván Unió unió ellen a „szmolenszki háborúban”.
  6. Ervin Liptai: Military history of Hungary, Zrínyi Military Publisher, 1985. ISBN 9633263379
  7. G. Parker: Der Dreißigjährige Krieg. 1991, S. 173.
  8. a b Peter H. Wilson: Europe's Tragedy: A History of the Thirty Years War. Penguin Books, London 2009, ISBN 978-0-7139-9592-3. S. 790.
  9. P. H. Wilson: Europe’s Tragedy. A History of the Thirty Years War. 2009, S. 787.
  10. 30-jähriger Krieg: Berühmter „Galgenbaum“ ist anders zu deuten - WELT. Abgerufen am 9. Januar 2023.
  11. Vgl. etwa Georg Schmidt: Die Reiter der Apokalypse. Geschichte des Dreißigjährigen Krieges. München 2018, S. 672 ff.
  12. 1625-1629. Alineado con las potencias católicas durante 1643-1645 (Guerra de Torstenson)
  13. En Guerra con Francia. 6000 ingleses también lucharon bajo Charles Morgan en las campañas danesas. Estos se extrajeron en gran parte de la brigada inglesa de cuatro regimientos que tenían su base en la República Holandesa.
  14. Большинство членов Евангелической унии в период её существования в войне не участвовали. Некоторые члены Евангелической унии вступили в войну или продолжили в ней участвовать после её распада.
  15. 1 2 Официально соблюдала нейтралитет.

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