Thirty Years' War (1618–1648)
THIRTY YEARS' WAR (1618–1648)
THIRTY YEARS' WAR (1618–1648). The Thirty Years' War was one of the greatest and longest armed contests of the early modern period. Some historians have argued that it was a series of separate wars that happened to overlap in time and space rather than one coherent sequence of military campaigns in which a clearly defined set of issues was at stake throughout. If one looks at the Thirty Years' War in a European context, there is some truth in this argument. However, in central Europe, in particular in the Holy Roman Empire, the military and political events of the thirty years between the defenestration of Prague in May 1618 and the signing of the Westphalian peace treaties in October 1648 formed one continuous conflict and were in fact already perceived as such by most contemporaries.
THE CAUSES OF THE WAR
For the outbreak of the war the deepening crisis of the Holy Roman Empire was of crucial importance. The crisis had a constitutional and political as well as a religious dimension. The emperor's prerogatives had never been clearly defined; a ruler who knew how to exploit his considerable informal powers of patronage could enjoy a great deal of authority, but a weak monarch could easily be reduced to a mere figurehead. This was very much Rudolf II's (ruled 1576–1612) fate during the last decade of his reign. The aging emperor, who was increasingly mentally unstable, was distrusted by both Catholics and Protestants. Moreover, he had managed to antagonize his own family. The power vacuum created by the collapse of his authority enabled ambitious princes such as Maximilian I, the duke of Bavaria, or Frederick V, the elector palatine, to pursue their own agenda. Their attempts to exploit the simmering religious conflict in Germany, which found its expression in the foundation of the Protestant Union, led by the Palatinate, in 1608 and the Catholic League (Liga), led by Bavaria, in 1609, were bound to undermine peace and stability. Germany had in the past been largely spared the horrors of religious warfare, thanks to the Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555). However, many problems had been left unresolved in 1555, such as the status of the ecclesiastical principalities that were ruled by Protestant prince-bishops, and of ecclesiastical property confiscated and secularized after 1555. The status of the Calvinists, who almost all Catholics and many Lutherans wanted to exclude from the benefits of the peace settlement as heretics, was also controversial. Initially the Imperial Chamber Court (Reichskammergericht) —one of the two highest law courts in Germany—had managed to settle disputes between the religious antagonists, but from the 1580s onward it became increasingly paralyzed, and the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) equally failed to provide a forum for compromise. The confessionalization of politics, culture, and society in the later sixteenth century had in fact created a climate of all-pervasive distrust that made such a compromise almost impossible. The enthusiastic adherents of both Counter-Reformation Catholicism and the eschatological worldview that most Calvinists and some Lutherans subscribed to saw the outbreak of armed conflict in the long run as both inevitable and even to some extent desirable.
However, whereas such mental attitudes were an important ingredient in the generally belligerent atmosphere that formed a crucial precondition for the outbreak of hostilities, their more immediate cause was the confrontation between the emperor and the Estates of Bohemia and its neighboring principalities, in particular Moravia and Upper Austria. Whereas Emperor Matthias (ruled 1612–1619) and his advisers wanted to recover the ground that had been lost by the Catholic Church and the ruling dynasty alike in the preceding years of domestic crisis, the Protestant opposition emphasized the elective character of the monarchy in Bohemia and its subjection to the control of the Estates. They vigorously defended the privileges of the Protestant Church that had been confirmed and extended during the last years of Rudolf II's reign. Reacting to the relentless Counter-Reformation offensive, which had, by a combination of missionary activity, generous imperial patronage for converts, and brute force already been successful in Styria, Carinthia, and elsewhere, they decided to kill the emperor's governors in Prague in the spring of 1618 by throwing them out of the windows of the imperial palace during a meeting of the Estates. The governors miraculously survived this defenestration, but armed conflict had now become unavoidable. Soon both sides tried to find allies both in Germany and in Europe. In Spain the fall of the duke of Lerma as royal favorite in 1618 marked the victory of those factions at court that favored a more assertive and warlike policy in central Europe, whereas at the same time in the Netherlands the adherents of rigid Calvinism and of an aggressively anti-Spanish policy gained the upper hand in 1618–1619 during and after the Synod of Dort (Dordrecht). Thus a renewal of the twelve-year truce between Spain and the Netherlands that had been signed in 1609 became unlikely at the very moment when the Bohemian Estates rose against the Habsburgs. A war in Bohemia and Germany was therefore bound to become part of a wider European conflict sooner or later.
THE FIRST DECADE OF THE WAR
In August 1619 the Estates of Bohemia deposed Ferdinand II, who had officially succeeded Emperor Matthias as king of Bohemia in March, and elected Frederick V, elector palatine, the leader of the Calvinists in Germany, in his stead. However, Frederick's rule was short lived. In November 1620 his army suffered a crushing defeat in the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague against the emperor's army, which had been reinforced by troops from the Bavarian-led Catholic League and by Spanish regiments. Whereas the Catholic League had decided to support Ferdinand, the Protestant Union preferred to stay neutral and was soon dissolved. In fact, some Protestant rulers, in particular John George of Saxony, openly supported the emperor. The fact that Ferdinand had managed to have himself elected emperor in the summer of 1619 gave him an authority that few German rulers dared to challenge openly for the time being. The next years were marked by an almost unbroken series of Catholic victories in central Europe. The Palatinate was occupied by Bavarian and Spanish troops in 1622, the palatine electoral dignity was transferred to Maximilian of Bavaria, and the army of the Catholic League led by Count Johann Tserclaes of Tilly threatened to dismantle the remaining Protestant strongholds in northern Germany. The troops of the Dutch Republic were too busy defending their own country to intervene in Germany. In fact, the important Dutch fortress of Breda had to surrender in 1625 to Spanish troops, a victory immortalized by Velázquez in his famous painting, La rendición de Breda (1634–1635; The surrender of Breda). However, King Christian IV of Denmark, who was also, as duke of Holstein, a prince of the empire and who hoped to acquire various prince-bishoprics in northern Germany for members of his family, decided to stop Tilly's advance in 1625. Hoping for financial and military support from the Netherlands and England—Charles I of England was the exiled elector palatine's brother-in-law—he mobilized the Imperial Circle (Reichskreis) of Lower Saxony for the Protestant cause. However, he had not anticipated that the emperor would raise an army of his own (counting initially 30,000 soldiers and growing fast), commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian nobleman and the greatest military entrepreneur of his age. Christian's troops were routed at Lutter am Barenberge (1626). Christian's ally Charles I of England was equally unsuccessful in his fight at sea against Spain, and France, which might have given support to the opponents of the Habsburgs, was paralyzed by a Protestant revolt during the years 1625–1628, in which England became involved in 1627. Thus Ferdinand II was able to crush his enemies. Christian had to withdraw from the conflict and signed the Peace of Lübeck in 1629, giving up his claims to several prince-bishoprics in northern Germany but retaining Holstein and Schleswig. However, Ferdinand failed to exploit his success adequately. His allies in Germany, in particular Maximilian of Bavaria, were, in fact, increasingly apprehensive about the predominance of Habsburg power and the close cooperation between Ferdinand II and Spain. Moreover, they resented the arrogant and ruthless behavior of Ferdinand's commander-in-chief, Wallenstein, who had imposed enormous financial burdens on friend and foe alike, raising contributions for his 100,000-man army almost everywhere in Germany. Wallenstein had to resign in 1630 under pressure from Maximilian of Bavaria and other princes. Ferdinand tried to rebuild a united Catholic front in 1629 by passing the Edict of Restitution, which was designed to give all ecclesiastical property secularized since 1552/1555 back to the Roman Catholic Church. The potential consequences for Protestantism were disastrous. Protestantism was not outlawed but was likely to be reduced to the status of a barely tolerated and marginalized religious community in Germany.
FROM CATHOLIC AND HABSBURG TRIUMPH TO ABORTIVE COMPROMISE, 1629–1635
At this stage, however, the Habsburg ascendancy in Europe, successfully reasserted in the early 1620s, was seriously challenged by France and Sweden. In 1628 La Rochelle, the stronghold of the French Huguenots, had been taken by a royal army led by Louis XIII and the prime minister, Cardinal Richelieu, in person. France was now free to intervene in central Europe. Initially, however, French troops confronted Spain only in Italy (the War of the Mantuan Succession, 1628–1631). Here they defied Spanish attempts to occupy the Duchy of Mantua after the main line of the native dynasty, the Gonzaga, had died out in 1628. The emperor had sent troops to northern Italy to help Spain, but withdrew these troops in late 1630. The troops were now badly needed in Germany itself, where Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden landed his army on the coast of Pomerania in July 1630. Sweden felt threatened by plans to build an imperial fleet in the Baltic and by Habsburg support for its old enemy Poland. Moreover, the fight for Protestantism was an essential part of the claim to legitimacy of the Swedish dynasty, the Vasas, which had won the crown in the 1590s by ousting the older, Catholic branch of the family, which continued to rule in Poland.
The Edict of Restitution had antagonized even those Protestants who had preferred to stay neutral or had in fact supported the emperor for most of the 1620s. Their last doubts were dispelled when Magdeburg, a town of great symbolic importance to Protestants (it had resisted a long siege by Catholic armies in the late 1540s) was besieged by Tilly, taken by assault, sacked, and set on fire in May 1631. Brandenburg and Saxony now joined the king of Sweden in the fight against the Catholic forces. Having lost the battle of Breitenfeld in Saxony in September 1631, Tilly retreated to southern Germany and was decisively beaten at Rain am Lech in April 1632. Even Munich was now briefly occupied by Swedish troops, and an army from Saxony evicted the imperial garrisons from Silesia and Bohemia. In despair Ferdinand II decided to recall Wallenstein to reorganize his army. In the battle of Lützen in November 1632, Gustavus Adolphus won a last victory against Wallenstein but died in action. Sweden, however, maintained its superiority for a further two years. In 1634 Spain sent a fresh army to Germany across the Alps under the command of one of Philip IV's brothers, the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand. In February Wallenstein, who was reluctant to cooperate with Spain and was suspected of treasonous dealings with the enemy, was assassinated in Eger on the emperor's orders. Together with the future Emperor Ferdinand III, the Cardinal Infante inflicted a crushing defeat on the Swedes at Nördlingen in southern Germany in September. As far as Germany was concerned, Nördlingen might have been the end of the war. Ferdinand II did not repeat the mistakes he had made in 1629 by pursuing an Ultra-Catholic policy. Instead he reached a compromise with the moderate and essentially loyal Lutherans led by Saxony. The Peace of Prague (1635) did not revoke the Edict of Restitution, but suspended it for forty years. The position of Protestantism in northern and eastern Germany was now reasonably safe once more. However, no satisfactory settlement was reached in the Palatinate, in Hesse, or, for the time being, in Württemberg. In constitutional terms the emperor's authority had been considerably strengthened. He was now officially commander-in-chief of all armed forces in the empire. The Catholic League was dissolved, and only Saxony and Bavaria continued, with the emperor's permission, to maintain armies, which remained semi-independent. This change in the constitutional balance, however, was silently resented by many German princes and duly revised in 1648. In any case the Peace of Prague was deficient because it had failed to make provision for buying off the Swedes, who still maintained troops in many parts of Germany—in particular in the north—with territorial or financial concessions. In fact, the settlement of 1635 proved abortive, as it was rejected by both Sweden and France.
THE LAST PHASE OF THE WAR AND THE ROAD TO SETTLEMENT
France was now faced by the prospect of a Spanish offensive supported by the emperor's army against the garrisons it had placed beyond its frontiers, in Lorraine, Alsace, and along the upper Rhine and Moselle rivers in the preceding years. In answer to an attack on the prince-bishop of Trier, who had become a French ally and client in 1632, Louis XIII declared war on Spain in May 1635. With the emperor's own declaration of war on France in March 1636, the war in Germany had, it seemed, finally fused with the all-European conflict between Spain and its enemies, which had already decisively influenced events in the empire in the past. Whereas French financial subsidies helped Sweden gradually recover from the defeat of Nördlingen, Spanish resources became increasingly inadequate to finance the worldwide war effort of the monarchy in the early 1640s. Spain suffered important naval defeats against the Dutch off the English coast in 1639 (Battle of the Downs) and near Recife in Brazil in 1640. Moreover, in 1640 both Catalonia and Portugal revolted against Castilian rule in an attempt to shake off the fiscal and political burden imposed on them by warfare. Spain did not recognize Portugal's independence until 1668 and managed to reconquer Catalonia in the 1650s. Nevertheless, it was no longer able to launch major offensive operations in central Europe. Emperor Ferdinand III (ruled 1637–1657), reluctantly supported by the majority of the German princes, was now virtually on his own in his fight against both France (which had committed a major army to operations in southern Germany) and Sweden. Nevertheless, the war dragged on for another eight years.
The logistics of warfare in a country that had been utterly devastated by continuous fighting and lacked the most essential provisions proved a major obstacle to large-scale offensive operations. For this reason, victories won in battles could rarely be fully exploited. Moreover, a war between Denmark and Sweden (1643–1645) gave the emperor's army time to recover after the devastating defeat it had suffered in the second battle of Breitenfeld in November 1642. However, in March 1645 the Swedes beat the imperial army decisively at Jankov in Bohemia. Although Ferdinand III was able to buy off Sweden's ally Transylvania, which had once more, as in the 1620s, intervened in the war (supported halfheartedly by the sultan), by territorial and religious concessions in Hungary, he was now forced to come to terms with his opponents. His allies in Germany became increasingly restless and either withdrew from active participation in warfare altogether or insisted on ending the war. Reluctantly the emperor entered into negotiations with Sweden in Osnabrück and with France in neighboring Münster in autumn 1645. Against his wishes, the German princes and Estates were allowed to participate in the peace conference, sending their own envoys to Westphalia. Partly because Ferdinand hesitated to abandon his old ally Spain, it was nevertheless three years before a settlement was reached. Peace between France and Spain proved elusive. So when the peace treaties were signed at Münster and Osnabrück on 24 October 1648, the Franco-Spanish conflict was deliberately excluded from the settlement. The treaties, known as the Peace of Westphalia, therefore failed to provide the basis for a truly European peace. The complicated legal arrangements that dealt with the various constitutional and religious problems of the Holy Roman Empire, on the other hand, proved remarkably long-lasting and stable, being invoked right up to the end of the empire in 1806.
THE NATURE AND IMPACT OF WARFARE
Most countries—the Dutch Republic, which benefited from a flourishing economy in the midst of military conflict, was probably one of the few exceptions—waged war between 1618 and 1648 with financial resources that were grossly inadequate. Some countries such as Sweden nevertheless managed to finance their armies for long periods of time primarily out of contributions raised in areas under military occupation. Others tried, with limited success, to rely on taxation. France, for example, managed to double its income from domestic revenues in the 1630s and early 1640s. However, the enormous fiscal pressure provoked a series of popular revolts in France that prevented further increases in taxation and finally led to bankruptcy and civil war in 1648–1652. Most participants in the war entrusted the raising and maintaining of troops at least to some extent to military entrepreneurs who had their own sources of income and credit, thereby complementing the insufficient resources of the state. These entrepreneurs hoped to recoup their investments and to make a profit by extorting payments, not to mention downright plunder and confiscation, from occupied provinces. The hardship this involved for the civilian population was considerable. France, however, which was reluctant to rely on military entrepreneurs because of the dangerous domestic implications of such a system, was hardly more successful in asking noblemen to pay for the units under their command partly out of their own pockets without giving them, in compensation, full legal ownership of their regiments. Spain initially had a fairly sophisticated state-controlled system of organizing and financing warfare, but gradually more and more responsibilities such as the recruitment of soldiers were delegated to local magnates and urban corporations, and thereby decentralized. This phenomenon may be seen as a wider-ranging process of administrative refeudalization, as some historians have argued.
The often chaotic way in which armies were recruited and financed was at least in part responsible for the widespread lack of discipline among soldiers often remarked upon by contemporaries. Although some of the accounts of wartime atrocities, such as most or all tales of cannibalism, for example, have to be dismissed as unreliable, the excesses soldiers regularly committed when dealing with the local population in friendly as much as in enemy provinces were sufficient to severely disrupt civilian life. Combined with the rapid spread of infectious diseases among soldiers and civilians alike and the partial breakdown of trade, commerce, and agriculture, these effects of warfare had serious demographic consequences. This was true in particular for the Holy Roman Empire but to a lesser extent also for some areas of northern Italy and of France. In the empire population figures were reduced by at least 25 percent and possibly by up to 35 to 40 percent (about 6 million) during the course of the war. Some regions in northeastern Germany such as Pomerania and parts of Brandenburg, but also Württemberg in the southwest, had hardly more than a third of their prewar population in 1648. It took Germany almost a hundred years to recover demographically from the war. Nevertheless, older accounts that have seen the war, and also the Peace of Westphalia, as responsible for a general decline of the Holy Roman Empire and the German states no longer command widespread assent. Not only did the empire survive as a political and legal system providing reasonably effective protection and security to its members, but the rise of the Habsburg Monarchy after 1648, for example, and the flourishing baroque culture of many German courts in the later seventeenth century, show that in some areas at least the war had brought about changes that stimulated rather than stunted new growth once peace had been regained.
See also Augsburg, Religious Peace of (1555) ; Bohemia ; Dort, Synod of ; Dutch Republic ; Ferdinand II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Ferdinand III (Holy Roman Empire) ; France ; Gustavus II Adolphus (Sweden) ; Habsburg Dynasty ; Habsburg Territories ; Holy Roman Empire ; La Rochelle ; Louis XIII (France) ; Mantuan Succession, War of the (1627–1631) ; Military ; Netherlands, Southern ; Palatinate ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean du Plessis, cardinal ; Rudolf II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Saxony ; Spain ; Sweden ; Tilly, Johann Tserclaes of ; Wallenstein, A. W. E. von ; Westphalia, Peace of (1648) .
Briefe und Akten zur Geschichte des Dreißigjährigen Krieges, Neue Folge, Die Politik Maximilians von Baiern und seiner Verbündeten 1618–1651. Part I, vol. I and II, edited by G. Franz and A. Duch; Part II, vol. I–X, edited by W. Goetz, D. Albrecht and K. Bierther. Leipzig, Munich, and Vienna, 1907–1997. Important edition of sources based mainly on the records of the Bavarian state archive in Munich; latest volumes so far deal with Peace of Prague (1635).
Documenta Bohemica Bellum Tricennale Illustrantia. Edited by J. Kocí et al. 7 vols. Prague, 1971–1981. Sources from archives in the Czech Republic.
Germany in the Thirty Years' War. Edited by Gerhard Benecke. London, 1978. Brief selection of sources in English.
Asch, Ronald G. The Thirty Years' War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 1618–1648. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 1997. Concise survey, concentrates on central Europe without neglecting the role Spain and France played in the war.
Bireley, Robert, S. J. Religion and Politics in the Age of the Counterreformation: Emperor Ferdinand II, William Lamormaini, S. J., and the Formation of Imperial Policy. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1981. Excellent on the influence of court chaplains and on Counter-Reformation policy in general.
Burkhardt, Johannes. Der Dreißigjährige Krieg. Frankfurt am Main, 1992. Stimulating and well-argued account by a leading German scholar. Particularly good on propaganda and contemporary pamphlets. Occasionally somewhat idiosyncratic and fanciful in its assessment of the international situation.
Bußmann, Klaus, and Heinz Schilling, eds. 1648: War and Peace in Europe. 3 vols. Münster/Osnabrück 1998. Important exhibition catalogue and two comprehensive volumes of essays covering almost all relevant topics, particularly rich on cultural history.
Elliott, John H. The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline. New Haven and London, 1986. Majestic biography of the leading Spanish statesman of the age.
Israel, Jonathan I. The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World 1606–1661. Oxford, 1982. Important work by one of the leading experts on Dutch early modern history.
Langer, Herbert. The Thirty Years' War. New York, 1980. Good on the social history of warfare.
Parker, Geoffrey, et al. The Thirty Years' War. 2nd ed. London and New York, 1997. Standard account in English, in which a number of scholars have cooperated; sees the war very much as an all-European conflict.
Parrott, David. Richelieu's Army: War, Government and Society in France, 1624–1642. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2001. Detailed study of French military organization which shows how ill prepared France was for the confrontation with Spain.
Redlich, Fritz. The German Military Enterpriser and his Work Force: A Study in European Economic and Social History. 2 vols. Wiesbaden, 1964–1965. Unrivaled account of the social and economic aspects of warfare and of recruitment in this period.
Stier, Bernhard, and Wolfgang von Hippel. "War, Economy and Society." In Germany: A New Social and Economic History. Vol. 2, 1630–1800, edited by Sheilagh Ogilvie, pp. 233–262. London, 1996. Good survey of the impact of the war and the slow recovery after 1648, incorporating a great deal of recent research.
Ronald G. Asch
Thirty Years' War
THIRTY YEARS' WAR
The series of protracted religious-dynastic wars that afflicted the Holy Roman Empire and most western European states from 1618 to 1648. The Thirty Years' War had complex and diverse origins but religion was perhaps the most important, and religious motivation was an integral part of the political, economic, and dynastic policies that formed and reshaped the course of Europe in the 17th century. Frederick V, Ferdinand II, and Gustavus II Adolphus were political leaders with dynastic ambitions, but religious principles also played a decisive part in the role that these men filled during the wars. This confluence and concurrence of many motivations persisted throughout the conflict, and if the conclusion of the struggle primarily reflected political and dynastic interests, religion and its consequences were everpresent and influential at the Peace of westphalia in 1648.
The years following the Peace of augsburg (1555), which had established the principle of "cujus regio, ejus religio," guaranteeing the Lutheran and Catholic confessions throughout the Empire, also witnessed the rise of Calvinist influence and strength, especially in the Palatinate and Brandenburg. Seeking privileges and rights enjoyed by Catholics and Lutherans, the Calvinists clashed with a rising tide of Catholic reaction. The Austrian Hapsburgs, encouraged by Jesuits, Capuchins, and Spanish zeal, fostered a militant policy of religious conquest and conversion. In this Catholic reformation, the Catholic League of Princes organized by Maximilian I of Bavaria in 1609 played a formidable part. Alarmed by growing Calvinist strength, Maximilian tried to rally the Catholic princes and to inspire the weak, ineffectual Emperor Rudolph II (1576–1612) to oppose the designs of the Protestant Union organized by Christian of Anhalt and Frederick IV of the Palatinate in 1608. The decade from 1608 to 1618 provided a crystallization of attitudes that ended in war.
The Bohemian War (1618–23). The death of Rudolph and the inability of his brother and successor, Matthias, raised the question of succession in the imperial lands. The childless Emperors had chosen their zealous and militant cousin Ferdinand of Styria as their heir. An ardent Catholic, Ferdinand was unacceptable to many Protestants, especially those of Bohemia. Despite their lukewarm pledge in 1617 recognizing Ferdinand's right of succession, the Bohemians searched for a new candidate, and discovered him in the ruler of the Palatinate, Frederick V (1610–32), son-in-law of James I of England, and a leader of the Protestant Union. In 1618, when the Bohemian estates accused the imperial government of violating their sovereign rights and privileges, they forcibly ejected the imperial emissaries by the defenestration of Prague, thereby proclaiming their rebellion against Hapsburg rule. Frederick was offered the crown of Bohemia by the provisional government. Ambition and religious commitment led Frederick to accept election and along with Count Matthew of Thurn and Ernst von Mansfeld, the new King took command of the Bohemian armies. The dying Matthias (1612–19) permitted Maximilian of Bavaria and the Catholic League to defend the cause of monarchical legitimacy and Catholic orthodoxy.
In 1619, Ferdinand II (1619–37) ascended the imperial throne and joined the League in an all-out war against the Bohemians. The Protestant Union, annoyed at Frederick's illegal acceptance of the Bohemian crown and divided between Lutheran and Calvinist factions, did not aid the Bohemian rebels. Frederick, left only with poorly paid, disorderly troops, saw his army and ambitions crushed by an army led by Count Johann Tilly and Duke Maximilian at White Mountain, Nov. 8, 1620. The brief reign of "the winter king" came to an end. While Frederick vainly sought aid at European courts, Bohemia underwent sweeping changes and reforms. Death sentences, imprisonment, and confiscation of land eradicated rebel opposition and weakened Protestant strength. The Jesuits were given charge of the education of the Bohemian nobility and of the task of converting Bohemia to Rome. The Palatinate fared little better. The electoral dignity and the Upper Palatinate were granted to Maximilian of Bavaria (1623). Personal aggrandizement became a fixed part of the religious and constitutional struggle which had spread to adjoining territories with the renewal of the war between the United Provinces and Spain.
The Danish War (1625–29). The Twelve Years' Truce (1609), which had brought a halt to Dutch-Spanish hostilities, expired in 1621. Colonial rivalry in the East Indies, added to religious and national differences, contributed to the war's renewal and continuance until 1648. Since the similar religious and dynastic interests of the Austrian and Spanish Hapsburgs encouraged cooperation and coordination between the two powers, the Dutch naturally turned to Protestant Germany for support in an effort to resist the Hapsburg offensive. The Bohemian
defeat, however, forced the anti-Hapsburg German diplomats to look more to Scandinavia than to Holland for aid. Christian IV (1588–1648), the Danish King, and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1611–32) were the likeliest sources of assistance. Gustavus, engaged in a Polish war, could do little, but Christian, a prince of the Empire by virtue of his ducal title to Holstein, did intervene. Politically inspired but backed by the religious sentiments of his people, Christian accused the Emperor of unconstitutional acts against the Elector-Palatine. Using this as a pretext, Danish armies entered the Empire. Opposing them were Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland, an imperial general who led a personal army of 24,000 men, and Count Tilly, the League general. The Danish armies were defeated by Wallenstein at Dessau and by Tilly at Lutter in 1626. Wallenstein proceeded to occupy most of Denmark thereby forcing Christian to sue for peace. After the prolonged siege of Stralsund and several months of negotiations, Christian signed the peace of Lübeck (May 22, 1629) by which he renounced all claims to German territory and surrendered his legal membership in the lower Saxon district of the Empire, yet managed to avoid an indemnity and to retain Jutland, Schleswig, and Holstein. The terms, arranged by Wallenstein and approved by Ferdinand II, were mild and considerate largely because there was a new threat to Hapsburg hegemony. Gustavus Adolphus, "the lion from the north," was looking toward the Empire, and his appearance was to change the course of the war.
Swedish Intervention (1630–35). The victory of Hapsburg arms inspired Ferdinand II to issue his Edict of restitution (1629). This comprehensive religious settlement not only represented the height of Catholic reaction but it also inspired further Protestant resistance to Vienna. Many Protestant princes joined the struggle and appealed to Sweden for help. Fearing imperial designs on the Baltic and its trade, Gustavus Adolphus, a remarkable monarch and brilliant soldier, concluded a treaty with Poland at Altmark in 1629 and the following year led his army into Germany. Aided by the able statesmanship of his chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, Gustavus rallied the Protestant princes and inspired a counteroffensive against the imperialists. In this he was aided by the Emperor's dismissal of Wallenstein from the imperial service. Fearful of his general's growing power and personal ambitions, Ferdinand relieved the duke of his command. With Wallenstein's removal, Ferdinand was left with an army inferior to that of the Swedes in leadership and morale. Within a year, the Swedish forces conquered Pomerania, won cooperation from George William, the previously aloof Elector of Brandenburg, and overcame the suspicions of some of the Protestant leaders who saw little difference between a Swedish absolutist and an Austrian one. Gustavus's motives are not completely clear. His personal ambitions were strong; his religious convictions, sincere; and his political aspiration, genuine.
Gustavus, aided by a large French subsidy obtained from Cardinal richelieu by the treaty of Bärwalde (1631), marched to relieve the city of Magdeburg, then besieged by Tilly, but not before the place was destroyed (May 1631) in one of the worst holocausts of a war full of horrors. King Gustavus, supported by the Saxons, engaged Tilly's army at Breitenfeld (Sept. 7, 1631), routing the Catholic forces. The King's tactical deployment of cavalry, light artillery, and superior infantry gave him a spectacular victory. Instead of marching on Vienna, the Swedes conquered Bamberg, the Upper Palatinate, Mainz, and Würzburg in rapid succession. At the same time, Gustavus advanced his political plan for a general union of the Protestant states with Sweden. The proposal was not well received. The princes feared the political consequences of such a union for their autonomy. Moreover, Richelieu looked with disfavor on a strong Protestant confederation across the Rhine. Gustavus also announced his peace terms asking for Swedish Pomerania, an imperial title, revocation of the Edict of Restitution, and a general redistribution of Hapsburg territory. Wallenstein, who had been restored by Ferdinand in an effort to halt the Swedish advance, rejected the terms, and instead, invaded Saxony in the hope of weakening the Protestant alliance. Gustavus pursued him and both armies joined battle at Lützen near Leipzig, on Nov. 6, 1632. The imperialists were routed again but Gustavus lay dead on the battlefield.
His chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, continued the war but with little success. Even the murder of the scheming Wallenstein, apparently with imperial approval (1634), failed to turn the war to the Swedish advantage. The overwhelming defeat of the Swedes and German Protestants at Nordlingen in September 1634 permitted the Hapsburgs to press their campaigns with greater zeal and advantage. Southern Germany was reconquered, forcing the Protestant princes to conclude a separate peace at Prague in 1635. This agreement reached by Saxon and Austrian diplomats revised the Edict of Restitution enforcing changes in ecclesiastical reservations as of Nov. 12, 1627. It also provided for an army for the entire Empire as well as for the removal of foreign forces. The peace was an effort to obtain the support of all the German princes for the ancient constitution and to unite them against foreign influences. Many German states subscribed to the treaty; a few, fearful of Swedish or French retaliation, declined to do so.
The Swedish-French War (1635–48). Cardinal Richelieu, alarmed at the peace of Prague, finally declared war on the Austrian Hapsburgs and Spain. Despite Richelieu's subsidies, the Swedes never regained the initiative even after the succession of Emperor Ferdinand III (1637–57). The war continued for 13 years, during which time an internal revolt was transformed into an international conflict. French armies under Marshal Henri, Vicomte de Turenne and Louis II de Bourbon, Duke d'Enghien, invaded Spanish territory and crossed into Germany. Despite the French success at Rocroy (1643) and preliminary overtures toward peace, the war dragged on. These years marked probably the most destructive period of the struggle. Plundering armies and ravaging mercenaries leveled German cities and destroyed the countryside. Atrocities and epidemics compounded the miserable lot of the homeless and starving peasantry. Five years of negotiations finally brought the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, although France and Spain continued their war until the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.
The Thirty Years' War left behind it a trail of destruction and death. Bohemia, Saxony, Thuringia, and Württemberg were devastated. Cities, towns, and villages were burned and plundered; some of them disappeared. The Empire was depopulated; the German states were fragmented and divided. Religious life was demoralized and political institutions badly weakened. Germany ceased for some time to play an important role in the affairs of Europe. Religious ideals had been overwhelmed by reasons of state. The conclusion of the Thirty Years' War marked the last of the great religious conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From this point onward plans to re-establish the universal world of medieval Christiandom—a world ruled spiritually by the Pope and temporarily by a Christian Emperor and princes— were to seem unrealizable and archaic. Instead a modern Europe, divided into and governed by sovereign, territorial states emerged in the years following 1648.
Bibliography: f. c. dahlmann and g. waitz, Quellenkunde der deutschen Geschichte, ed. h. haering, 2 v. (9th ed. Leipzig 1931–32). g. franz, Bücherkunde zur deutschen Geschichte (Munich 1951). m. ritter, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Gegenreformation und des Dreissigjährigen Krieges, 3 v. (Stuttgart 1889–1908). a. t. anderson, Sweden in the Baltic, 1612–1630: A Study in the Politics of Expansion under King Gustav Adolphus and Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna (Doctoral diss. unpub. Univ. of Calif.1947). m. roberts, Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden, 1611–1632, 2 v. (New York 1953–58). h. holborn, The Reformation, v.1. of A History of Modern Germany (New York 1959–). g. franz, Der Dreissigjährige Krieg und das deutsche Volk (2d ed. Jena 1943). g. pagÈs, La Guerre de Trente Ans (Paris 1939). P. Geyl, The Netherlands Divided, tr. s. t. bindoff (London 1936). d. ogg, Europe in the Seventeenth Century (6th ed. London 1954). d. albrecht, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65); suppl., Das Zweite-Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 3:570–572. h. hauser, La Prépondérance espagnole, 1559–1660 (Paris 1933). b. chudoba, Spain and the Empire, 1519–1643 (Chicago 1952). c. v. wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (New Haven 1939). r. g. asch, The Thirty Years' War (New York 1997). g. franz, Der Dreissigjährige Krieg und das deutsche Volk (Stuttgart 1979). j. v. polisensky, The Thirty Years' War, r. evans, Trans. (Berkeley 1971). h. u. rudolph, Der Dreissigjährige Krieg (Darmstadt 1977). g. schormann, Der Dreissigjährige Krieg (Göttingen 1985).
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Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War
An international conflict taking place in northern Europe from 1618 to 1648. The war was fought between Catholics and Protestants and also drew in the national armies of France, Sweden, Spain, Denmark, and the Habsburg dynasty that ruled the Holy Roman Empire. The roots of the conflict lay in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The Reformation, strongly opposed by the Catholic Habsburgs, brought religious persecution and civil war to Germany. By the Peace of Augsburg, concluded in 1555, each German prince was free to choose the religious faith—either Lutheranism or Catholicism—to be followed in his own realm.
Religious conflict continued despite the Peace of Augsburg, complicated by the territorial ambitions of the nations surrounding Germany, then a patchwork of small and autonomous duchies, kingdoms, counties, margravates, and city-states. Sweden and Denmark, kingdoms to the north, were seeking new territory in northern Germany, while France was opposing Habsburg power in Germany and the Low Countries. Open warfare between Catholics and Protestants broke out in Swabia, a region of southwestern Germany, in the early 1600s. Protestant Calvinists formed the League of Evangelical Union, while Catholics gathered their forces into the Catholic League.
In 1619, Ferdinand of Styria became Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor. His dedication to Catholicism and determination to stamp out Protestantism prompted a revolt in Prague, the capital of Bohemia. Two of the emperor's representatives were attacked and thrown out of a window after a trial, an act that sparked a general revolt against Ferdinand's authority in Bohemia and Hungary. To quell the rebellion, Ferdinand asked for help from his nephew, King Philip IV of Spain. Although Vienna, the Habsburg capital, came under siege by a Protestant army, Ferdinand won a victory against the Protestant Union at the Battle of Sablat in 1619. The Protestants of Bohemia responded by declaring Ferdinand deposed as their king and replacing him with Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate.
Spain then sent armies from Flanders to come to the emperor's assistance. Spanish armies marauded through the Protestant cities of western Germany, then joined up with the emperor to put down the rebellion in Austria. At the Battle of White Mountain on November 8, 1620, Ferdinand defeated the Protestant armies under Frederick V, a victory that permanently returned Bohemia to Habsburg control. Spanish armies then captured Mannheim, Heidelberg, and many other cities, executing or driving out their Protestant leaders.
The king of Denmark then came to the rescue of the Protestants by gathering a mercenary army, allying himself with England and France, and invading Germany. The Danes suffered two defeats at the Battle of Dessau Bridge in April 1626 and the Battle of Lutter in August 1626. By the Treaty of Lubeck in 1629, the Danes gave up their alliance with the Protestants and the Danish king was allowed to keep his throne. The Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus then intervened, fearing the growing Habsburg power in northern Germany. A brilliant military tactician, this king won several important battles, including the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631. The Swedes won again at the Battle of Lutzen, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed in the battle.
The Peace of Prague of 1635 temporarily ended the fighting and granted a truce to the Protestant opponents of the emperor. After this, France entered the war on the Protestant side against the Habsburgs. Catholic Spain invaded France in retaliation. The war caused massive damage and heavy casualties on both sides, and after more battles in Bohemia and southern Germany the Truce of Ulm was signed in 1647. The Peace of Westphalia followed in the next year. Over the three decades of war, Germany was ravaged by fighting, pillaging, and widespread disease and famine. The nation would remain fragmented and weak for more than two centuries. Spain began a long decline that left it one of the weakest nations in Europe, and the republics of the Low Countries permanently broke away from Spanish control. Habsburg authority was also weakened in central Europe, while France, which saw little fighting, emerged as Europe's dominant power.
See Also: Habsburg dynasty; Reformation, Protestant
Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) was an extended conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor* and the princes* of individual territories within the empire. It began as a struggle over the crown of Bohemia but eventually developed into a political and religious war that raged over much of central Europe and involved most of the major powers of Europe. The war also marked the political end of the Renaissance.
Progress of the War. The central issue of the war was sovereignty*. Who had ultimate authority in the states that made up the Holy Roman Empire—the emperor or the prince of each state? The war had its roots in a religious and political crisis in Bohemia, where an angry mob of Protestant nobles tossed two ministers of the Catholic King Ferdinand out of Prague Castle. From there, the conflict gradually expanded, playing itself out in several stages. The first phase, which ended in 1621, saw the Protestant nobles defeated. During the next two phases, which lasted until 1629, the Holy Roman Emperor strengthened his control over the German states.
From 1629 to 1632 the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus turned the tide in favor of the Protestants. However, his death at the battle of Lützen in 1632 caused Sweden's German allies to abandon the fight. A brief peace was signed at Prague in 1635, but soon after the French entered the conflict. The French minister Cardinal Richelieu hoped to use the war to attack and weaken his Spanish and Austrian enemies. The final phase of the war lasted until 1648, by which time exhaustion had set in and everyone wanted to end the fighting.
Several factors drove the participants of the war, including religious differences, the rights of sovereign states, and defense of traditional systems. In addition, many international interests became entangled in the war. This combination of factors meant that victory in one area of the war might have unexpected consequences in another. As a result, military victories did not prove decisive. The conflict was finally settled at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield. The Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648.
Aftermath of the War. The Thirty Years' War was bitterly fought and terribly destructive. Its impact left deep and lasting scars on both political leaders and the public. A strong feeling that no clear winner had emerged from this devastating event helped promote a more peaceful mood after the war.
Several trends that had begun in the 1500s accelerated as a result of the Thirty Years' War. The conflict between the emperor and the rulers of individual states helped define the nature of sovereign state authority. At first the war strengthened ties between church and state, but the long period of indecisive warfare ultimately weakened those links. In addition, the war marked the end of a long period of economic expansion and prosperity. Finally, the war was concluded by a peace treaty that set the model for international relations in the post-Renaissance era. Because of these developments, many historians regard 1648 as a dividing line that marks the beginning of modern Europe.
- * Holy Roman Emperor
ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806
- * prince
Renaissance term for the ruler of an independent state
- * sovereignty
supreme power or authority
Thirty Years War
Thirty Years War
J. A. Cannon