Westphalia, Peace of (1648)

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WESTPHALIA, PEACE OF (1648). The Treaties of Münster and Osnabrück, which ended the Thirty Years' War, are known collectively as the Peace of Westphalia. The main obstacles to a general peace in Germany after 1635 were the ambitions of France and Sweden and changing military fortunes. Sweden wanted territorial and financial compensation while France, under the cardinals (Richelieu to 1642, Mazarin thereafter), envisaged something altogether more ambitious that involved a considerable reduction in both Spanish and Austrian Habsburg power. In addition, matters were complicated by the individual ambitions of various German princes and separate negotiations between the Spanish and the Dutch. Ultimately, 176 plenipotentiaries representing 196 rulers attended the peace negotiations.

Despite these problems, talks began in 1643 at Münster and Osnabrück, the two cities specified for negotiations by the Franco-Swedish Treaty of 1641. France, Spain, and the other Catholic participants were based at Münster, Sweden and her allies at Osnabrück. Although Emperor Ferdinand III (ruled 16371657) initially delayed negotiations, the collapse of his military position in 1645 forced him to undertake serious discussions in 1646. However, that a settlement was not reached until the autumn of 1648 was largely due to Mazarin rather than the emperor. In fact, the war only really came to an end at that time because of France's inability to carry it on.


With so many participants and so many conflicting interests, it is hard to discern any pattern of negotiation, but the aims of the major participants can be identified. The emperor clearly wanted a full and final peace settlement. Because his situation was desperate, he was prepared to make far-reaching religious and territorial concessions if necessary. Mazarin's wish for a universal peace was scuttled by the collapse of negotiations with Spain in 1646. The Spanish preferred to work out a deal with the Dutch (achieved in January 1647, ratified at Münster in January 1648) and keep fighting. As far as Germany was concerned, France wanted to destroy the emperor's influence by strengthening the autonomy of the individual princes and by replacing the existing imperial institutions with a French-led federation. However, these plans were unpopular with the German princes, who valued the Holy Roman Empire and preferred an emperor limited in authority to dominance by France and Sweden. Count Maximilian von Trauttsmannsdorf, the imperial envoy, had little difficulty in resisting these French demands. French demands for most of Alsace and parts of Lorraine, on the other hand, were quite modest because France mainly wanted Spanish territory. Mazarin was able to obtain Habsburg domains in Alsace in return for 1.2 million thalers in a deal with the emperor in September 1646.

The Swedes were prepared to compromise because Queen Christina was eager for a quick settlement. In any event her erstwhile allies, the French, did not want to see Sweden become too powerful. Accordingly, Mazarin decided to build up Brandenburg as a counterweight to Swedish power, and in February 1647 the Swedish envoys were persuaded to agree to a partition of Pomerania with the elector. Trauttmannsdorf was able to exploit this tension between the allies in other ways, too. For instance, Sweden demanded religious toleration within the Habsburg lands, for the Bohemians in particular. Knowing that the French had little sympathy for Bohemian Protestants, and would not support Sweden on this issue, the emperor resisted this demand quite firmly.

As far as religion was concerned, matters of territory and allegiance had been addressed in the Peace of Prague and at the Diet of Regensburg, but the status of Calvinism and secularized lands still had to be resolved. Although the delegates were divided according to confessional lines, even within the same denomination there was no agreement. However, because the Protestants proved to be more united overall, the final agreement on religious issues reached in March 1648 was more favorable to them.

Final agreement was postponed because Mazarin, unnerved by Spain's deal with the Dutch (which he had tried to sabotage), decided to increase French demands. This rekindled the war, though with the onset of civil unrest in France in the summer of 1648 (the Fronde), Mazarin reluctantly changed his tune and by August was convinced of "our need to make peace at the earliest opportunity." Consequently, he dropped his extra demands and agreed to a settlement (though the emperor did agree not to aid his Spanish cousin).


The Peace of Westphalia was signed simultaneously at Münster and Osnabrück on 24 October 1648 and consisted of 128 clauses. The main parts can be summarized as follows:

  1. The principle of cuius regio, eius religio ('whoever rules the territory determines the religion') was reaffirmed, but construed to relate only to public life.
  2. Calvinism was finally recognized within the Confession of Augsburg and, except within the Bavarian and Austrian lands (including Bohemia), Protestant retention of all land secularized before 1624 was guaranteed.
  3. In matters of religion there were to be no majority decisions made by the diet. Instead, disputes were to be settled only by compromise.
  4. To all intents and purposes, the separate states of the Holy Roman Empire were recognized as sovereign members of the diet, free to control their own affairs independently of each other and of the emperor.
  5. Maximilian of Bavaria (15731651) retained his electoral title and the Upper Palatinate.
  6. A new electoral title was created for Karl Ludwig (16171680), the son of the former elector palatine, on his restoration to the Lower Palatinate.
  7. John George of Saxony, a leading German Protestant prince who had supported Ferdinand, was confirmed in his acquisition of Lusatia (a region of eastern Germany and southwest Poland).
  8. Frederick William of Brandenburg (16201688) acquired Cammin, Minden, and Halberstadt, along with the succession to Magdeburg.
  9. The emperor's claim to hereditary rights in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia was established. The Habsburg Sundgau was surrendered to France.
  10. The Peace of Westphalia confirmed Swedish control of the river mouths of the Oder, the Elbe, and Weservirtually the entire German coast-lineby the occupation of western Pomerania, Stettin, Stralsund, Wismar, the dioceses of Bremen and Verden, and the islands of Rügen, Usedom, and Wollin. Sweden was also paid an indemnity of 5 million thalers.
  11. France acquired Habsburg territory and other jurisdictions in Alsace. Other acquisitions included Pinerolo in Savoy and Breisach and Philippsburg on the right bank of the Rhine.
  12. The United Provinces of the Netherlands (Dutch Republic) were declared independent of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire (Switzerland was also acknowledged as independent of the empire).
  13. No prince of the empire, not even the emperor, could ally with the Spanish monarchy.


An overall assessment is not easy to make. By and large the treaties defused those problems largely responsible for the war. Although confessional loyalties remained important, the age of religious wars was over in Germany. The religious settlement proved to be realistic and lasting, though the pope, Innocent X (reigned 16441655), was unambiguous in his condemnation. Whether or not this was the "last religious war," as some claim, and whether or not religion ceased to be so important in political and international affairs after this war, are moot points.

As far as the political settlement is concerned, the peace was remarkably conservative and legalistic. It was intended more as a restatement of old rights than as anything new. Much that had been a matter of fact or common practice, such as the autonomy of the princes, was now de jure (legal). Of course, that is not to say there were no innovationsthe creation of an eighth electorate was new, the first extension of the number of imperial electors since 1356but established custom and legal rights were usually preferred.

Within the empire, Saxony, Bavaria, and Brandenburg had all grown in size and importance. The tendency was toward fully sovereign independent states. However, these larger states were still not a match for the emperor, who among other things retained the prestige of precedence. Ferdinand III undoubtedly lost powerfor instance, he lost the right to levy taxes outside his homelands and to declare war without the consent of the dietbut he remained the foremost prince in Germany. Moreover, many of the smaller states were too small to exploit the rights and liberties they had been granted; they preferred the security of the Holy Roman Empire. They relied on the emperor and were happy to seek his protection, particularly now that he could not be a predator. For these reasons Franco-Swedish attempts to destroy imperial institutions had been resisted. After 1648 the imperial bureaucracy became more cumbersome and made Habsburg control less practical; however, recent research is beginning to question the idea that Westphalia fixed the empire's constitution in its final form. It is now thought to have been more adaptable to change, and, in fact, imperial policy continued to be decided by the emperor.

The emperor himself was now very much strengthened within his hereditary territories: both religious and political opposition in Bohemia and Austria had been crushed and the hereditary lands were now ruled as a single unit. Accordingly, the emperor was in a far better position than he had held in 1618. Of course, compared with the dizzy heights of 1629 there had been reversesFerdinand III had undoubtedly lost the last part of the warbut he managed to retain some of his father's early successes. Given his dire military situation at the end, the final settlement was not completely unfavorable to him; he had, in fact, gotten off quite lightly. The failure of many Habsburg objectives during the war, together with the (allegedly) improved position of the princes following the Westphalian settlement, used to be taken as evidence for the general decline in imperial power and as an explanation for the emperor's apparent growing concentration on purely dynastic interests. However, scholars are beginning to call this reasoning into question, although this debate has just started. The Holy Roman Empire was far from moribund after 1648. It not only survived but revived during the long reign of Leopold I (ruled 16581705).

Despite huge expenditures and much effort, France had achieved little. Mazarin failed to reduce the power of the emperor significantly, and he failed to increase French influence in Germany to any degree. Some historians gloss over this by suggesting that Mazarin laid the foundations for future success by obtaining territory with ill-defined jurisdictions over adjacent lands. Still others praise him for excluding Spain from the settlement, but this was not the case, because Spain had not wanted to be part of the treaty anyway. Mazarin himself was clearly disappointed with the peace; he wanted the war to continue. The real reason for the hurried nature of the settlement was the collapse of governmental authority and the outbreak of civil disorder in France itself, events for which Mazarin must, to some extent, take the blame. As far as Sweden was concerned, Queen Christina's desire for a quick settlement did undoubtedly lessen her country's chances of a satisfactory outcome, but compared with, say, Swedish aims in 1630 or the difficult times between 1634 and 1638, the outcome was highly satisfactory. Sweden was now more secure, although it could be argued that Christina had simply extended her responsibilities and given herself more problems The Peace of Westphalia created a loose framework for religious and political coexistence in Germany that stood the test of time remarkably well, though after 1648 Germany was further away than ever from economic and political unity (if that was a desirable, or even desired, outcome). Clearly, whether or not the Thirty Years' War retarded German development is itself a moot point. Political divisions were perpetuated and, religiously, Germany was divided roughly into a Protestant north and a Catholic south (although Münster and Cologne in the north and Württemberg in the south were major exceptions). In the process Protestantism had survived and the Counter-Reformation had been checked.

The Peace of Westphalia was actually innovative in many ways. It was the first pan-European peace congress, and there was a genuine attempt to resolve a multitude of disputes in the hope that there would be a general settlement and lasting peace. Most experts believe it was a success.

See also Austria ; Bohemia ; Catholic League (France) ; Christina (Sweden) ; Dutch Republic ; Ferdinand III (Holy Roman Empire) ; France ; Frederick William (Brandenburg) ; Fronde ; Habsburg Dynasty ; Holy Roman Empire ; Leopold I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Mazarin, Jules ; Palatinate ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal ; Spain ; Sweden ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) ; Tilly, Johann Tserclaes of ; Wallenstein, A. W. E. von .


Asch, Ronald G. The Thirty Years' War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 16181648. New York and London, 1997. An up-to-date survey of the war of manageable length that keeps the focus on Germany. See Chapter 5 for the peace.

Croxton, Derek. Peacemaking in Early Modern Europe: Cardinal Mazarin and the Congress of Westphalia, 16431648. Selinsgrove, Pa., and London, 1999. This restores Mazarin to a central role.

Croxton, Derek, and Anuschka Tischer. The Peace of Westphalia: A Historical Dictionary. Westport, Conn., 2002. This has over 300 detailed entries.

Darby, Graham. The Thirty Years' War. London, 2001. A concise introduction to the conflict; a good place to start. See Chapter 6.

Parker, Geoffrey, ed. The Thirty Years' War. 2nd ed. London and New York, 1997. Currently the definitive work on the war, with a full set of notes and a comprehensive bibliography that lists all the essential works in German. For Westphalia, see especially the bibliographical essay, pp. 266268.

Symcox, G., ed. War, Diplomacy, and Imperialism, 16181763. New York, 1973. The terms of the peace are summarized in English on pp. 3962.

Graham Darby

Westphalia, Peace of

views updated May 29 2018


The general settlement comprising the two treaties ending the thirty years' war, signed Oct. 24, 1648. Throughout the many-sided conflict that had engaged nearly all the powers of Western Europe from Sweden to Spain, several efforts were made to establish peace. At Hamburg and Ratisbon in 163738, and again at Vienna and Hamburg in 164041, preliminary negotiations had been started. The Hamburg meetings of 1641 finally resulted in the summoning of a peace congress. It was not until after Rocroy (1643), that the Hapsburgs and their allies opened negotiations with the Swedes at Osnabrück and with the Dutch and French at Münster. Peace was not to be declared. however, until both meetings arrived at agreements. Exhausted by war, alarmed by the rising power of France and by the changes wrought in the balance of power, the remaining belligerents joined the major powers in the arranging of the negotiations. The choice of two different sites for the peace talks was dictated by the unusual dynastic, constitutional, religious, and national problems that had to be discussed. Hence, the negotiations were not only involved but often awkward and prolonged. States like Venice and Portugal that were not engaged in the fighting had to be consulted because the decisions of the negotiators impinged on their national interests. For the five years during which the peace conversations continued, hostilities were maintained, thereby prolonging the horror of war and influencing the bargaining of the negotiators. The imperial emissaries were Count Trauttmansdorf and Dr. Volmar, while France was represented by Count d'Avaux and Count Servien. Count John Oxenstierna, son of the Swedish chancellor, and Baron John Salvius guarded Swedish interests. Fabio Chigi, later Alexander VII, spoke for the papacy while numerous diplomats represented other powers.

The political, territorial, and religious provisions of the treaties arranged the following: (1) Sweden received western Pomerania and secured control of the mouths of the Weser, Elbe, and Oder Rivers. The archbishopric of Bremen (but not the city), the bishopric of Verden, the city of Wismar, and an indemnity of 5,000,000 Reichstalers were granted to the Swedes. (2) France retained the bishoprics and cities of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Pignerol, Breisach, Upper and Lower Alsace including 10 imperial cities (but not Strasbourg) were acquired by France also. (3) The United Provinces and Switzerland, formerly dependencies of the Empire, acquired full sovereignty. (4) Brandenburg, beginning her significant expansion, gained eastern Pomerania and the bishoprics of Minden, Kammin, and Halberstadt as secular principalities, and was promised the archbishopric of Magdeburg after the death of its administrator. As a result of these and other minor changes, the Emperor Ferdinand III lost jurisdiction over 40,000 square miles of territory.

Politically, a general amnesty returned affairs to the conditions that had prevailed in 1618; the Bavarian retention of the electorate (granted in 1623) and the creation of a new electorate for the Palatinate were accomplished also. The religious settlement extended the provisions of the Peace of augsburg to the Calvinists and guaranteed Protestant and Catholic states equality within the Empire. The imperial Edict of restitution (1629) was superseded and January 1, 1624, was selected as the date for determining proprietorship of ecclesiastical lands and religious practice. The imperial court (Reichskammergericht) was restored also with an equal number of Protestant and Catholic judges. Pope Innocent X denounced a number of the religious provisions and the papacy never formally lifted its condemnation. Although France and Spain continued their struggle until 1659, the Peace of Westphalia did restore peace to the Empire. Divided into 300 states and principalities the Empire survived until its dissolution by Napoleon in 1806. It remains an open question as to whether the Empire was politically effective in the wake of the Peace of Westphalia. Some have seen it as dangerously unstable, disunited and racked by petty rivalries. More recently, though, some scholars have stressed its efficiency as a confederation that ruled and kept the peace in a large, ethnically and religiously diverse portion of Central Europe.

Bibliography: c. v. wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (New Haven 1939). c. j. friedrich, The Age of the Baroque, 16101660 (New York 1952). f. a. six, ed., Der Westfälische Friede von 1648 (3d ed. Berlin 1942) text. f. c. dahlmann and g. waitz, Quellenkunde der deutschen Geschichte (9th ed. Leipzig 1932) 667707. g. benecke, Society and Politics in Germany, 15001750 (London 1974). k. bussmann and h. schilling, eds., 1648, War and Peace in Europe (Münster 1999). r. konrad, Der westfälische Frieden (Opladen 1999). Book of Confessions (Knoxville TN 2000).

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Westphalia, Peace of

views updated May 18 2018

Westphalia, Peace of (1648) Series of treaties among the states involved in the Thirty Years' War. In 1642, peace negotiations began in the cities of Westphalia, leading to the final settlement. In Germany, the peace established the virtual autonomy of the German states, which diminished the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor. The peace also established the ascendancy of France, the power of Sweden in n Europe, and the decline of Spain.

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