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Thirty Years' War

The Thirty Years' War was a conflict fought between the years 1618 and 1648, principally in the central European territory of the Holy Roman Empire, but also involving most of the major continental powers. It occurred for a number of reasons, although it was from its outset a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics. The Defenestration of Prague, although relatively trivial in itself, was to become a defining moment. The self-preservation of the Habsburg dynasty was also a central motive.

Table of contents
1 Origins of the war
2 Bohemian Revolt
3 Danish Intervention
4 Swedish Intervention
5 French Intervention
6 The Peace of Westphalia
7 Consequences
8 List of Battles in the Thirty Years' War
9 Related Articles
10 External links

Origins of the war

The Peace of Augsburg (1555) confirmed the result of the first Diet of Speyer and ended the violence between the Lutherans in Germany and the Catholics.

It stated that

Political and economic tensions grew among many of the powerful nations of Europe in the early 17th century. Spain was interested in the German states, because Philip II of Spain was a Habsburg and had the territories surrounding German states' western border; France was interested in the German states, because it wanted to quell the growing power of the Habsburgs since they surrounded France's eastern border; Sweden and Denmark were interested in the northern German states bordering the Baltic Sea for economic reasons.

Religious tensions were growing throughout the second half of the 16th Century as well. The Peace of Augsburg was unravelling throughout the second half of the century (since converted bishops did not give up their bishoprics); Calvinism was spreading throughout Germany, which added yet another religion to the region; the Catholics of eastern Europe (Poland and Austrian Habsburgs) were trying to restore the power of Catholicism. The Habsburgs were only interested in extending their power, so they sometimes were prepared to work with the Protestants, which made tensions greater. Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor and his successor Matthias did not aggressively champion Catholicism since they were more interested in furthering the power and holdings of the Habsburgs. They were also very tolerant, which allowed the different religions to spread, creating more tension. Sweden and Denmark (who wanted control in German states on the Baltic Sea) were both mostly comprised of Lutherans.

These tensions broke into violence in the German town of Donauworth, which was comprised of Catholics and a majority of Lutherans. The Catholics wanted to hold a procession in town and the Lutherans would not allow it, so a violent riot broke out in 1606. This prompted Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1573-1651) to intervene on behalf of the Catholics. After the violence ceased, the Calvinists in Germany (who were still in their infancy and quite a minority) felt the most threatened, so they banded together in the League of Evangelical Union (created in 1608) under the leadership of Frederick IV (1583-1610), the elector of Palatinate (before Frederick V husband of Elizabeth the daughter of James I of England). He had control of the Rhenish Palatinate, one of the very states that Spain wanted to get along the Rhine River. This provoked the Catholics to band together in the Catholic League (created in 1609) under the leadership of Duke Maximilian.

The Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Matthias died without a biological heir in 1617, but he had selected his cousin Ferdinand of Styria as his heir, who became King of Bohemia and Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor. Ferdinand was a staunch Catholic who had been educated by the Jesuits, and he wanted to restore Catholicism, and was therefore unpopular in mainly Calvinist Bohemia.

The King of Bohemia was an elected office, so the Bohemians chose as their preferred leader Frederick V elector of the Palatinate (successor of Frederick IV the creator of the League of Evangelical Union). When Ferdinand II sent representatives to one of the palaces in Bohemia to make way for his arrival and kingship, the Bohemian Calvinists took them and threw them out of a palace window (and they survived by landing on a pile of manure). This event, known as the Defenestration of Prague, began the Bohemian Revolt between Ferdinand II and Frederick V and was the spark of the Thirty Years' War, which had can be divided into four major periods: the Bohemian Revolt, Danish intervention, Swedish intervention, and the French intervention.

Bohemian Revolt

Period: 1618-1625

The election of the Catholic zealot Ferdinand, Archduke of Styria, as King of Bohemia caused the Bohemian Protestants to fear for their religious freedom, and in May 1618, at Hradcany castle, two Catholic councillors (Martinitz and Slavata) were thrown from the castle windows. Soon the Bohemian conflict erupted in the entirety of Greater Bohemia, effectively Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia and Moravia, which was already riven by conflict between Catholics and Protestants. This confrontation was to find many facets and mirrors across the continent of Europe with the involvement of France, Sweden, inter alia.

Had the Bohemian rebellion remained a purely Eastern European affair, the Thirty Years War would have been over in fewer than thirty months. However, the weakness of both Ferdinand and of the Bohemians themselves led to the spread of the war to Western Germany. Ferdinand had been compelled to call on his cousin, King Philip IV of Spain for assistance. The Bohemians had called on the Calvinist Frederick V, Elector Palatine to be their King.

Ferdinand II fought alongside (but separately from) the Catholic League led by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, who was aided by the military help of General Tilly. The Catholic League and Ferdinand II defeated Frederick V at the Battle of White Mountain, near Prague in 1620. That defeat caused the falling apart of the League of Evangelical Union, and the destruction of Frederick V's holdings: He was outlawed from the Holy Roman Empire, and his territories (the Rhenish Palatinate) were given to Catholic nobles; his title of elector of the Palatinate was given to Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. This caused the German Protestantism to almost collapse.

It was a serious blow to Protestant ambitions in the region. The rebellion effectively collapsed, and widespread confiscations of property and suppression of the pre-existing Bohemian nobility ensured that the country would return to the Catholic fold after more than a century of Hussite and other heresy. The Spanish, seeking to outflank the Dutch in preparation for the soon-to-be-renewed Eighty Years' War took Frederick's lands, the Rhine Palatinate. Some historians regard the period from 1621-1625, with its war about the Palatinate, as a separate phase of the Thirty Years War, calling it the Palatinate phase.

Danish Intervention

Period: 1625-1629

Christian IV of Denmark led an army against the Holy Roman Empire, fearing that Denmark's soveringty as a Protestant nation was being threatened. It also helped that the French regent Cardinal Richelieu was paying for it. The Danes were unsuccessful, and from 1629-1630, more land was subjugated by the Catholics.

The Protestants received aid from Holland, France, England, Denmark, and Sweden. The Danish Period began when Christian IV of Denmark (1577-1648) the King of Denmark, himself a Lutheran, helped the Germans by leading an army against the Holy Roman Empire, fearing that Denmark's soveringty as a Protestant nation was being threatened and because he wanted influence in the German territories along the Baltic Sea.

To fight him off, Ferdinand II employed the military help of Albert of Wallenstein (who pledged his army of between 30k and 100k soldiers to Ferdinand II for free as long as he had the right to plunder the captured territories). Albert of Wallenstein defeated the Danes at the Battle of the Bridge of Dessau (1626) and General Tilly defeated the Protestants at the Battle of Lutter (1626). This led to the Treaty of Lübeck (1629) in which Christian IV had to abandon the Protestants in order to keep his control over Denmark, and from 1629-1630, more land was subjugated by the Catholics.

The Thirty Years' War could have ended with the Danish Period, but the Catholic League persuaded Ferdinand II to take back the Lutheran holdings that were rightfully the Catholic Church's according to the Peace of Augsburg (these included 2 Archbishoprics, 16 bishoprics, and 100s of monasteries). Thus, the Edict of Restitution (1629) was made, which called for the capturing of these holdings and began the Swedish Period since the Lutherans fought back due to the severity of its demands.

There were beliefs that Albert of Wallenstein wanted to take control of the German Princes (about 360 of them) and restore the power of the Emperor over Germany (though the Emperor was to be under Albert of Wallenstein). Therefore, Ferdinand II initially dismissed Albert of Wallenstein for the next part of the Thirty Years' War.

Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle at Breitenfield (1631)

Swedish Intervention

Period: 1630-1635

The Swedes, led by Gustavus Adolphus, attacked the Empire. He landed in Germany with an army because he was a Lutheran and came to aid the German Lutherans, and because he wanted economic influence in the German states around the Baltic Sea. The Swedes also feared Catholic aggression against their Protestant country. Adolphus was subsidized by Richelieu the Chief Minister of King Louis XIII of France, and by the Dutch. From 1630-1634, they drove the Catholic forces back and regained much of the occupied Protestant lands.

Ferdinand II depended on the Catholic League since he had dismissed Albert of Wallenstein. At the Battle of Breitenfield (1631), Adolphus defeated the Catholic League led by General Tilly. A year later, they met again, and this time General Tilly was killed (1632). With General Tilly dead, Ferdinand II turned to the aid of Wallenstein and his large army.

Wallenstein and Adolphus clashed in the battle of Lützen (1632), but they came to a draw (though Adolphus was killed (1632)). In 1634 the Swedes were defeated at the battle of Nördlingen, but they continued to take part in the war to the end. In parallell to the Thirty Years' War Sweden was involved in a conflict with Denmark between 1643-1645, called the Torstenson War. The favourable outcomes of that conflict and the conclusion of the great European war at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 helped establish the position of post-war Sweden, as a great power in Europe.

After that, Albert of Wallenstein began to control the direction of the Thirty Years' War, and he called for the toleration of Protestants. Ferdinand II feared Wallenstein would switch sides, so he hired an Irish mercenary who was one of Wallenstein's soldiers to kill Wallenstein. The Irish mercenary killed Wallenstein while he camped at in the town of Eger (February 24 1643). After that, the two sides met for negotiations, and they ended the Swedish Period with the Peace of Prague (1635), which:

French Intervention


France, although a Catholic country, was a rival of the Holy Roman Empire, and now entered the war on the Protestant side. Under the command of Richelieu the Chief Minister of King Louis XIII, France continued the Thirty Years' War to its last part, the French Period. He did this for political reason since he thought that the Habsburgs were still too powerful (they were surrounding the eastern border and had influence in the Netherlands).

France allied itself with the Dutch and Sweden. Spain ravaged France's provinces of Champagne (17th) and Burgundy (17th) and even threatened Paris. Many battles ensued, but neither side could gain a clear advantage. In 1642, Cardinal Richelieu died. In 1643, Louis XIII of France died, and Louis XIV came to power at 4 years of age and appointed Cardinal Mazarin as his regent. Mazarin began to work to a restoration of peace to Europe.

The Peace of Westphalia

A French General Henri Turenne defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Rocroi in 1643, which led to negotiations. At the negotiations were Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Swedes, the Portuguese and representatives of the Pope. The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 was the result of these negotiations. The major tenets of the Peace of Westphalia were:


The devastation caused by the war has long been a subject of controversy among historians. Estimates of mass civilian casualties of up to 30% of the population of Germany are now treated with caution. It is almost certain that the war caused serious dislocation to the economy of central Europe, but may have done no more than seriously exacerbate changes in the terms of trade caused by other factors.

The immediate result of the war, however, which was to endure for around two centuries, was the enshrinement of a Germany divided among many territories, all of which, despite their continuing membership of the Empire, had de facto sovereignty. It has been speculated that this weakness was a long-term underlying cause of later German militarism.

The Thirty Years' War rearranged the previous structure of power. Spain's decadence became truly visible. While Spain was preoccupied with France during the French Period, Portugal declared itself independent (it was under Spanish control since Philip II had taken control through a weak claim for it after its king had died without an heir). The Braganza family became the new leaders of Portugal and produced King John IV of Portugal as its leader. France was now seen to be the dominating power in Europe.

List of Battles in the Thirty Years' War

Related Articles

External links