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Thirty Years' War (1618–1648)

THIRTY YEARS' WAR (16181648)

THIRTY YEARS' WAR (16181648). 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.


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 15761612) 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 Germanyhad 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 16121619) 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 16181619 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.


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 (16341635; 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 EnglandCharles I of England was the exiled elector palatine's brother-in-lawhe 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 16251628, 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.


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, 16281631). 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 Germanyin particular in the northwith territorial or financial concessions. In fact, the settlement of 1635 proved abortive, as it was rejected by both Sweden and France.


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 16371657), 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 (16431645) 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.


Most countriesthe Dutch Republic, which benefited from a flourishing economy in the midst of military conflict, was probably one of the few exceptionswaged 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 16481652. 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 (16271631) ; 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) .


Primary Sources

Briefe und Akten zur Geschichte des Dreißigjährigen Krieges, Neue Folge, Die Politik Maximilians von Baiern und seiner Verbündeten 16181651. Part I, vol. I and II, edited by G. Franz and A. Duch; Part II, vol. IX, edited by W. Goetz, D. Albrecht and K. Bierther. Leipzig, Munich, and Vienna, 19071997. 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, 19711981. 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.

Secondary Sources

Asch, Ronald G. The Thirty Years' War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 16181648. 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 16061661. 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, 16241642. 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, 19641965. 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, 16301800, edited by Sheilagh Ogilvie, pp. 233262. 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

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Thirty Years War

Thirty Years War, 1618–48, general European war fought mainly in Germany.

General Character of the War

There were many territorial, dynastic, and religious issues that figured in the outbreak and conduct of the war. The extent of religious motives is debated, but cannot be dismissed, particularly in explaining individual behavior. Throughout the war there were shifting alliances and local peace treaties. The war as a whole may be considered a struggle of German Protestant princes and foreign powers (France, Sweden, Denmark, England, the United Provinces) against the unity and power of the Holy Roman Empire as represented by the Hapsburgs, allied with the Catholic princes, and against the Hapsburgs themselves.

The war began with the resistance and eventual revolt of Protestant nobles in Bohemia, which was under Hapsburg domination, against the Catholic king Ferdinand (later Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II). It spread through Europe because of the constitutional frailty of the Holy Roman Empire, the inability of the German states to act in concert, and the ambitions of other European powers.

The Bohemian Period

The revolt began in Prague, where two royal officers were hurled from a window by Protestant members of the Bohemian diet—the so-called Defenestration of Prague (May, 1618). Ferdinand was declared deposed and the Bohemian throne was offered to Frederick V, the elector palatine. Revolt also appeared in other Hapsburg dominions, especially under Gabriel Bethlen in Transylvania. Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria, with the army of the Catholic League under Tilly, helped the imperial forces defeat the Bohemians at the White Mt. near Prague (Nov., 1620). John George of Saxony, a leading German Protestant prince, supported Ferdinand. Frederick, ever afterward called the Winter King, had lost his brief hold on Bohemia. The war continued in the Palatinate, and severe repression began in Bohemia.

The Palatinate Period

Mansfeld and Christian of Brunswick led the revolutionary forces in the Palatinate. Frederick expected aid from his father-in-law, James I of England, but got no effectual help. The Palatinate was taken by Tilly; he won at Wimpfen and Höchst (1622). Frederick's lands were confiscated by the emperor, and the Upper Palatinate and the electorate were conferred on Maximilian of Bavaria. The imperialist victory at Stadtlohn (1623) practically ended one phase of the war.

The Danish Period

The new phase saw the German war expanded into an international conflict. Christian IV of Denmark came into the fighting, principally because of his fear of the rise of Hapsburg power in N Germany; he openly avowed religious motives but hoped also to enlarge his German possessions. England and the United Provinces gave a subsidy to aid the opponents of the Hapsburgs, and England sent a few thousand soldiers. Christian IV advanced into Germany. The emperor's cause was advanced by the work of Wallenstein, who gathered an effective army and defeated Mansfeld at Dessau (1626). A little later the Danish king was soundly defeated by Tilly at Lutter.

The imperial armies swept through most of Germany. Wallenstein went into Jutland and vanquished the Danes but failed before Stralsund (1628). In 1629, Denmark, by the Treaty of Lübeck, withdrew from the war and surrendered the N German bishoprics. The Edict of Restitution (1629), issued by Ferdinand II, attempted to enforce the ecclesiastical reservation of the Peace of Augsburg and declared void Protestant titles to lands secularized after 1552; its full application would have had a disastrous effect on German Protestantism and naturally aroused the Protestant states to determined, if at first latent, hostility.

The Swedish Period

Gustavus II (Gustavus Adolphus) of Sweden now came into the war. His territorial ambitions had embroiled him in wars with Poland, and he feared that Ferdinand's maritime designs might threaten Sweden's mastery of the Baltic. Moved also by his Protestantism, he declared against the emperor and was supported by an understanding with Catholic France, then under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu. Swedish troops marched into Germany. Meanwhile, Ferdinand had been prevailed upon (1630) to dismiss Wallenstein, who had powerful enemies in the empire. Tilly now headed the imperial forces. He was able to take the city of Magdeburg while the Protestant princes hesitated to join the Swedes. Only John George of Saxony, vacillating in his support between Tilly and the Swedish king, joined Gustavus Adolphus, who offered him better terms.

The combined forces crushed Tilly at Breitenfeld (1631), thus winning N Germany. Gustavus Adolphus triumphantly advanced and Tilly was defeated and fatally wounded in the battle of the Lech (1632). Wallenstein, recalled with some pleading by the emperor, took the field. He defeated the Saxon forces and later met the Swedish forces at Lützen (Nov., 1632); there the imperialists were defeated, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed and the anti-Hapsburg troops were disorganized. Wallenstein after his great defeat remained inactive and entered into long negotiations with the enemy. Meanwhile, the able anti-imperialist general, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, stormed Regensburg (1633).

Wallenstein was murdered in 1634 by imperialist conspirators. Soon afterward the imperial forces under Gallas defeated Bernhard at Nördlingen (Feb., 1634). Germany was in economic ruin, her fields devastated and blood-soaked. There was strong feeling in Germany against the foreign soldiers that overran the land. A general desire for peace led to the Peace of Prague (1635). This agreement drastically modified the Edict of Restitution, thus helping to reconcile Catholics and Protestants. It was accepted by almost all the German princes and free cities. A united imperial army was to move against the Swedish troops in Germany. A general peace seemed to be forthcoming, but Richelieu was unwilling to see the Hapsburgs retain power.

The Franco-Swedish Period

France entered openly into the war in 1635. Oxenstierna, the Swedish chancellor, anxious to preserve Sweden's hold in Germany, supported Richelieu. The final stage of the Thirty Years War began. The war now occupied most of Europe, with fighting in the Low Countries, where the United Provinces and France opposed Spain; in Italy, where France and Spain struggled for power; in France; in Germany; in the Iberian peninsula, where Portugal revolted against, and France attacked, Spain; and in the North, where Denmark opposed Sweden.

The Austrian forces went into France and achieved some success, but this was temporary. For the most part this period of the war was disastrous for the empire. Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar and the Swedish general, Baner, were victorious in Germany. In 1636 Baner won a notable victory at Wittstock. Bernhard conducted a series of brilliant campaigns, culminating in the capture of Breisach (1638). Bernhard died in 1639, Baner in 1641. Meanwhile, Emperor Ferdinand II was succeeded by Ferdinand III (1637). In 1642 Richelieu died; his successor, Cardinal Mazarin, continued the established French policy. Germany was exhausted.

Peace negotiations were begun before 1640, but the intricate diplomacy proceeded slowly and haltingly. Meanwhile, the empire was reduced by the armies of the Swedish Torstensson, Louis II de Condé, and Turenne. Torstensson defeated the imperialists at Breitenfeld (1642), defeated Gallas after going north to subdue Danish opposition, then won a climactic victory over Hatzfeldt at Jankau (1645). Meanwhile, Condé had destroyed the flower of the Spanish infantry at Rocroi (1643); in 1645 he and Turenne (after a severe defeat) were victorious near Nördlingen. Austria had been stripped of all conquests and her enemies were at the very door of Vienna. Austria's strongest ally, Bavaria, was overrun. The Swede Wrangel and the Frenchman Turenne were carrying on a successful campaign when the long-delayed peace was obtained (see Westphalia, Peace of).

The Aftermath

The general results of the war may be said to have been a tremendous decrease in German population; devastation of German agriculture; ruin of German commerce and industry; the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire, which was a mere shell in the succeeding centuries; and the decline of Hapsburg greatness. The war ended the era of conflicts inspired by religious passion, and the Peace of Westphalia was an important step toward religious toleration. The incredible sufferings of the German peasantry were remembered for centuries. The political settlements of the peace were to the disadvantage of Germany as well as the Hapsburgs. The estrangement of N Germany from Austria, then begun, was to continue for more than two centuries.


See studies by S. R. Gardiner (1874, repr. 1968), C. R. L. Fletcher (1903, repr. 1963), C. V. Wedgwood (1962, repr. 1981), S. H. Steinberg (1966), G. Pages (tr. 1970), J. V. Polisensky (tr. 1971), G. Parker (1988), and P. H. Wilson (2009). Many of the songs and writings of the Thirty Years War have been collected.

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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 faitheither Lutheranism or Catholicismto 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

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"Thirty Years' War." The Renaissance. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Thirty Years War

Thirty Years War. The war, from 1618 to 1648, was primarily a conflict between the Habsburgs and their Spanish allies against France, Sweden, and the Dutch. There were two reasons why England might be drawn into it. The casus belli was the decision by the Bohemians to defy the Habsburgs and offer their throne to Frederick of the Palatinate, who was married to Elizabeth, daughter of James I. Secondly, there was a religious element to the war which, despite France's opposition to the Habsburgs, was seen by many protestants as a catholic crusade. England took little part in the conflict and for the last ten years was preoccupied with her own troubles. James resisted pressure to intervene, partly because Parliament's enthusiasm for war was not matched by enthusiasm for supply, partly because he was seeking a Spanish marriage for his son Charles. After the breakdown of the negotiations, Charles demanded war with Spain: the expedition of 1625 was a fiasco. He then compounded his difficulties by becoming involved in war with France as well, a masterpiece of incompetence, which meant that he was now fighting both sides. The expedition in 1627 to relieve La Rochelle was no more successful than that of 1625. Luckily, Charles's relations with Parliament were so bad that he was obliged to make peace with both countries and leave them to fight it out without English assistance. The conflict was concluded by the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, by which time Charles was a prisoner awaiting trial.

J. A. Cannon

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"Thirty Years War." The Oxford Companion to British History. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Thirty Years War

Thirty Years' War (1618–48) Conflict fought mainly in Germany, arising out of religious differences and developing into a struggle for power in Europe. It began with a Protestant revolt in Bohemia against the Habsburg Emperor, Ferdinand II. Both sides sought allies and the war spread to much of Europe. The Habsburg generals Tilly and Wallenstein registered early victories and drove the Protestant champion, Christian IV of Denmark, out of the war (1629). A greater champion appeared in Gustavus II (Adolphus) of Sweden, who waged a series of victorious campaigns before being killed in 1632. In 1635, France, fearing Habsburg dominance, declared war on Habsburg Spain. Negotiations for peace were not successful until the Peace of Westphalia was concluded in 1648. War between France and Spain continued until the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659), and other associated conflicts continued for several years. The chief loser in the war, apart from the German peasants, was Emperor Ferdinand III, who lost control of Germany. Sweden was established as the dominant state in n Europe, while France replaced Spain as the greatest power in Europe.

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