Thirty Years' War
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The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) was one of the most
destructive conflicts in European history. The war was
fought primarily (though not exclusively) in Germany and
at various points involved most of the countries of
Europe. Naval warfare also reached overseas and shaped
the colonial formation of future nations.
The origins of the conflict and goals of the participants were complex and no one cause can accurately be described as the main reason for the fighting. Initially the war was fought largely as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, although disputes over the internal politics and balance of power within the Empire played a significant part. Gradually the war developed into a more general conflict involving most of the European powers. In this general phase the war became more a continuation of the Bourbon-Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence, and in turn led to further warfare between France and the Habsburg powers, and less specifically about religion.
A major impact of the Thirty Years' War was the extensive destruction of entire regions, denuded by the foraging armies. Episodes of famine and disease significantly decreased the populace of the German states and the Low Countries and Italy, while bankrupting most of the combatant powers. While the regiments within each army were not strictly mercenary in that they were not guns for hire that changed sides from battle to battle, the individual soldiers that made up the regiments for the most part probably were. The problem of discipline was made more difficult still by the ad hoc nature of 17th century military financing. Armies were expected to be largely self-funding from contributions from the local regions: in other words, whatever they could take. This encouraged a form of lawlessness that imposed often severe hardship on inhabitants of the occupied territory. Some of the quarrels that provoked the war went unresolved for a much longer time. The Thirty Years' War was ended with the Treaty of Münster, a part of the wider Peace of Westphalia.
The Recruitment of Troops
Origins of the war
The Peace of Augsburg (1555), signed by Charles V,
Holy Roman Emperor, confirmed the result of the 1526
Diet of Speyer, ending war between German Lutherans and
The Peace of Augsburg stated that:
Rulers of the 225 German states could choose the religion (Lutheranism or Catholicism) of their realms according to their consciences, and compel their subjects to follow that faith (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio).
Lutherans living in a prince-bishopric (a state ruled by a Catholic bishop) could continue to practice their faith.
Lutherans could keep the territory that they had captured from the Catholic Church since the Peace of Passau in 1552.
Those prince-bishops who had converted to Lutheranism were required to give up their territories (the principle called reservatum ecclesiasticum).
Although the Peace of Augsburg created a temporary end to hostilities, it did not solve the underlying religious conflict. In addition, Calvinism spread quickly throughout Germany in the years that followed. This added a third major faith to the region, but its position was not recognized in any way by the Augsburg terms, to which only Catholicism and Lutheranism were a party.The rulers of the nations neighboring the Holy Roman Empire also contributed to the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War:
Spain was interested in the German states because it
held the territories of the Spanish Netherlands on the
western border of the Empire and states within Italy
which were connected by land through the Spanish Road.
The Dutch revolted against the Spanish domination during
the 1560s, leading to a protracted war of independence
that led to a truce only in 1609.
France was nearly surrounded by territory controlled by the two Habsburg states (Spain and the Holy Roman Empire), and was eager to exert its power against the weaker German states; this dynastic concern overtook religious ones and led to Catholic France's participation on the otherwise Protestant side of the war.
Sweden and Denmark were interested in gaining control over northern German states bordering the Baltic Sea.
The Holy Roman Empire was a fragmented collection of largely independent states. The position of Holy Roman Emperor was mainly titular, but the emperors, from the House of Habsburg, also directly ruled a large portion of Imperial territory (the Archduchy of Austria, as well as Bohemia and Hungary). The Austrian domain was thus a major European power in its own right, ruling over some eight million subjects. The Empire also contained several regional powers, such as Bavaria, Electoral Saxony, the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Palatinate, Hesse, the Archbishopric of Trier and Württemberg (containing from 500,000 to one million inhabitants). A vast number of minor independent duchies, free cities, abbeys, prince-bishoprics, and petty lordships (whose authority sometimes extended to no more than a single village) rounded out the Empire. Apart from Austria and perhaps Bavaria, none of those entities was capable of national-level politics; alliances between family-related states were common, due partly to the frequent practice of splitting a lord's inheritance among the various sons.
Religious tensions remained strong throughout the
second half of the 16th century. The Peace of Augsburg
began to unravel as some converted bishops refused to
give up their bishoprics, and as certain Habsburg and
other Catholic rulers of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain
sought to restore the power of Catholicism in the
region. This was evident from the Cologne War (1583-88),
a conflict initiated when the prince-archbishop of the
city, Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg, converted to
Calvinism. As he was an imperial elector, this could
have produced a Protestant majority in the College that
elected the Holy Roman Emperor – a position that had
always been held by a Catholic.
In the Cologne War, Spanish troops expelled the former prince-archbishop and replaced him with Ernst of Bavaria, a Roman Catholic. After this success, the Catholics regained pace, and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio began to be exerted more strictly in Bavaria, Würzburg and other states. This forced Lutheran residents to choose between conversion or exile. Lutherans also witnessed the defection of the lords of the Palatinate (1560), Nassau (1578), Hesse-Kassel (1603) and Brandenburg (1613) to the new Calvinist faith. Thus at the beginning of the 17th century the Rhine lands and those south to the Danube were largely Catholic, while Lutherans predominated in the north, and Calvinists dominated in certain other areas, such as west-central Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. However, minorities of each creed existed almost everywhere. In some lordships and cities the number of Calvinists, Catholics, and Lutherans were approximately equal.
Dying soldiers by the roadside
Much to the consternation of their Spanish ruling cousins, the Habsburg emperors who followed Charles V (especially Ferdinand I and Maximilian II, but also Rudolf II, and his successor Matthias) were content for the princes of the Empire to choose their own religious policies. These rulers avoided religious wars within the empire by allowing the different Christian faiths to spread without coercion. This angered those who sought religious uniformity. Meanwhile, Sweden and Denmark, both Lutheran kingdoms, sought to assist the Protestant cause in the Empire, and also wanted to gain political and economic influence there as well.
Religious tensions broke into violence in the German free city of Donauwörth in 1606. There, the Lutheran majority barred the Catholic residents of the Swabian town from holding a procession, which provoked a riot. This prompted foreign intervention by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1573–1651) on behalf of the Catholics. After the violence ceased, Calvinists in Germany (who remained a minority) felt the most threatened. They banded together and formed the League of Evangelical Union in 1608, under the leadership of the Palatine Prince-Elector Frederick IV (1583–1610), (whose son, Frederick V, married Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of James I of England). The establishment of the League prompted the Catholics into banding together to form the Catholic League in 1609, under the leadership of Duke Maximilian.
By 1617 it was
apparent that Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor and King of
Bohemia, would die without an heir, with his lands going
to his nearest male relative, his cousin Archduke
Ferdinand II of Austria, heir-apparent and Crown Prince
Ferdinand, having been educated by the Jesuits, was a staunch Catholic who wanted to impose religious uniformity on his lands. This made him highly unpopular in Protestant (primarily Hussite) Bohemia. The population's sentiments notwithstanding, the added insult of the nobility's rejection of Ferdinand, who had been elected Bohemian Crown Prince in 1617, triggered the Thirty Years' War in 1618 when his representatives were thrown out of a window into a pile of horse manure. The so-called Defenestration of Prague provoked open revolt in Bohemia which had powerful foreign allies. Ferdinand was quite upset by this calculated insult, but his intolerant policies in his own lands had left him in a weak position. The Habsburg cause in the next couple of years would seem to suffer unrecoverable reverses. The Protestant cause seemed to wax toward a quick overall victory.
The war can be divided into four major phases: The Bohemian Revolt, the Danish intervention, the Swedish intervention and the French intervention.
The Bohemian Revolt
Without heirs, Emperor Matthias sought to assure an
orderly transition during his lifetime by having his
dynastic heir (the fiercely Catholic Ferdinand of Styria,
later Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor) elected to the
separate royal thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. Some
of the Protestant leaders of Bohemia feared they would
be losing the religious rights granted to them by
Emperor Rudolf II in his letter of majesty. They
preferred the Protestant Frederick V, elector of the
Palatinate (successor of Frederick IV, the creator of
the League of Evangelical Union). However, other
Protestants supported the stance taken by the
Catholics, and in 1617, Ferdinand was duly elected
by the Bohemian estates to become the Crown Prince, and
automatically upon the death of Matthias, the next King
The king-elect then sent two Catholic councillors (Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice) as his representatives to Hradčany castle in Prague in May 1618. Ferdinand had wanted them to administer the government in his absence. According to legend, the Bohemian Hussites suddenly seized them, subjected them to a mock trial, and threw them out of the palace window, which was some 50 feet off the ground. Remarkably, they survived unharmed; they landed in a pile of manure, which saved their lives. This event, known as the (Second) Defenestration of Prague, started the Bohemian Revolt. Soon afterward the Bohemian conflict spread through all of Greater Bohemia, which was effectively Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia and Moravia. Moravia was already embroiled in a conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The religious conflict eventually spread across the whole continent of Europe, involving France, Sweden, and a number of other countries.
Had the Bohemian rebellion remained a local conflict, the war could have been over in fewer than thirty months. However, the death of Emperor Matthias emboldened the rebellious Protestant leaders, who had been on the verge of a settlement. The weaknesses of both Ferdinand (now officially on the throne after the death of Emperor Matthias) and of the Bohemians themselves led to the spread of the war to western Germany. Ferdinand was compelled to call on his nephew, King Philip IV of Spain, for assistance.
The Bohemians, desperate for allies against the
Emperor, applied to be admitted into the Protestant
Union, which was led by their original candidate for the
Bohemian throne, the Calvinist Frederick V, Elector
Palatine. The Bohemians hinted that Frederick would
become King of Bohemia if he allowed them to join the
Union and come under its protection. However, similar
offers were made by other members of the Bohemian
Estates to the Duke of Savoy, the Elector of Saxony, and
the Prince of Transylvania. The Austrians, who seemed to
have intercepted every letter leaving Prague, made these
duplicities public. This unraveled much of the
support for the Bohemians, particularly in the court of
Saxony. The rebellion initially favoured the Bohemians.
They were joined in the revolt by much of Upper Austria,
whose nobility was then chiefly Lutheran and Calvinist.
Lower Austria revolted soon after and in 1619, Count
Thurn led an army to the walls of Vienna itself.
In the east, the Protestant Prince of Transylvania
Bethlen Gabor led a spirited campaign into Hungary with
the support of the Ottoman Sultan, Osman II. Fearful of
the Catholic policies of Ferdinand II, Bethlen Gabor
requested a protectorate by Osman, so that "the Ottoman
Empire became the one and only ally of great-power
status which the rebellious Bohemian states could muster
after they had shaken off Habsburg rule and had elected
Frederick V as a Protestant king".
Ambassadors were exchanged, with Heinrich Bitter visiting Istambul in January 1620, and Mehmed Aga visiting Prague in July 1620. The Ottomans offered a force of 60,000 cavalry to Frederick and plans were made for an invasion of Poland with 400,000 troops in exchange for the payment of an annual tribute to the Sultan. These negotiations triggered the Polish–Ottoman War of 1620-21. The Ottomans defeated the Poles, which were supporting the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years' War, at the Battle of Cecora in September-October 1620, but were not able to further intervene efficiently before the Bohemian defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620.
The Emperor, who had been preoccupied with the Uzkok War, hurried to reform an army to stop the Bohemians and their allies from entirely overwhelming his country. Count Bucquoy, the commander of the Imperial army, defeated the forces of the Protestant Union led by Count Mansfeld at the Battle of Sablat, on 10 June 1619. This cut off Count Thurn's communications with Prague, and he was forced to abandon his siege of Vienna. The Battle of Sablat also cost the Protestants an important ally — Savoy, long an opponent of Habsburg expansion. Savoy had already sent considerable sums of money to the Protestants and even troops to garrison fortresses in the Rhineland. The capture of Mansfeld's field chancery revealed the Savoyards' involvement and they were forced to bow out of the war.
In spite of Sablat, Count Thurn's army continued to exist as an effective force, and Mansfeld managed to reform his army further north in Bohemia. The Estates of Upper and Lower Austria, still in revolt, signed an alliance with the Bohemians in early August. On 17 August 1619 Ferdinand was officially deposed as King of Bohemia and was replaced by the Palatine Elector Frederick V. In Hungary, even though the Bohemians had reneged on their offer of their crown, the Transylvanians continued to make surprising progress. They succeeded in driving the Emperor's armies from that country by 1620.
Scene of pillage
The Spanish sent an army from Brussels under Ambrogio
Spinola to support the Emperor. In addition, the Spanish
ambassador to Vienna, Don Íñigo Vélez de Oñate,
persuaded Protestant Saxony to intervene against Bohemia
in exchange for control over Lusatia. The Saxons
invaded, and the Spanish army in the west prevented the
Protestant Union's forces from assisting. Oñate
conspired to transfer the electoral title from the
Palatinate to the Duke of Bavaria in exchange for his
support and that of the Catholic League.
Under the command of General Tilly, the Catholic League's army (which included René Descartes in its ranks) pacified Upper Austria, while the Emperor's forces pacified Lower Austria. The two armies united and moved north into Bohemia. Ferdinand II decisively defeated Frederick V at the Battle of White Mountain, near Prague, on 8 November 1620. In addition to becoming Catholic, Bohemia would remain in Habsburg hands for nearly three hundred years. This defeat led to the dissolution of the League of Evangelical Union and the loss of Frederick V's holdings. Frederick 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 his distant cousin Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. Frederick, now landless, made himself a prominent exile abroad and tried to curry support for his cause in Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark.
The peasants avenge themselves
This was a serious blow to Protestant ambitions in
the region. As the rebellion collapsed, the widespread
confiscation of property and suppression of the Bohemian
nobility ensured that the country would return to the
Catholic side after more than two centuries of Hussite
and other religious dissent. The Spanish, seeking to
outflank the Dutch in preparation for renewal of the
Eighty Years' War, took Frederick's lands, the Rhine
Palatinate. The first phase of the war in eastern
Germany ended 31 December 1621, when the Prince of
Transylvania and the Emperor signed the Peace of
Nikolsburg, which gave Transylvania a number of
territories in Royal Hungary.
Some historians regard the period from 1621–1625 as a distinct portion of the Thirty Years' War, calling it the "Palatinate phase". With the catastrophic defeat of the Protestant army at White Mountain and the departure of the Prince of Transylvania, greater Bohemia was pacified. However, the war in the Palatinate continued: Famous mercenary leaders - such as, particularly, Count Ernst von Mansfeld - helped Frederick V to defend his countries, the Upper and the Rhine Palatinate. This phase of the war consisted of much smaller battles, mostly sieges conducted by the Spanish army. Mannheim and Heidelberg fell in 1622, and Frankenthal was taken two years later, thus leaving the Palatinate in the hands of the Spanish.
The remnants of the Protestant armies, led by Count Ernst von Mansfeld and Duke Christian of Brunswick, withdraw into Dutch service. Although their arrival in the Netherlands did help to lift the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom (October 1622), the Dutch could not provide permanent shelter for them. They were paid off and sent to occupy neighboring East Friesland. Mansfeld remained in the Dutch Republic, but Christian wandered off to "assist" his kin in the Lower Saxon Circle, attracting the attentions of Tilly. With the news that Mansfeld would not be supporting him, Christian's army began a steady retreat toward the safety of the Dutch border. On 6 August 1623, Tilly's more disciplined army caught up with them 10 miles short of the Dutch border. The battle that ensued was known as the Battle of Stadtlohn. In this battle Tilly decisively defeated Christian, wiping out over four-fifths of his army, which had been some 15,000 strong. After this catastrophe, Frederick V, already in exile in The Hague, and under growing pressure from his father-in-law James I to end his involvement in the war, was forced to abandon any hope of launching further campaigns. The Protestant rebellion had been crushed.
Plundering a large farmhouse
Huguenot rebellions (1620-1628)
In France, the Protestant Huguenots, mainly located
in southwestern France, revolted against the central
Royal power of the French government. The uprising
followed the death of Henry IV, who, himself originally
a Huguenot before converting to Catholicism, had
protected Protestant throught the Edict of Nantes. The
new ruler however, Louis XIII, under the regency of his
Italian Catholic mother Marie de' Medici, became more
intolerant of the Protestant religion. The Huguenots
tried to respond by defending themselves, establishing
independent political and military structures,
establishing diplomatic contacts with foreign powers,
and openly revolting against central power. The Huguenot
rebellions came after two decades of internal peace
under Henry IV, following the intermittent French Wars
of Religion of 1562–1598. The rebellion led to major
military encounters, which ended in defeat for the
Huguenots: the Siege of Montauban, the Naval battle of
Saint-Martin-de-Ré on 27 October 1622, the Capture of Ré
island in 1625, and the Siege of La Rochelle in
1627-1628 which became an International conflict with
the involvement of England in the Anglo-French War
(1627-1629). After this defeat, England disinvolved
itself from European affairs to the dismay of Protestant
forces on the continent.
The Firing squad
Peace in the Empire was short-lived, however, as conflict resumed at the initiation of Denmark. Danish involvement began when Christian IV of Denmark, a Lutheran who was also the Duke of Holstein, a duchy within the Holy Roman Empire, helped the Lutheran rulers of neighbouring Lower Saxony by leading an army against the Imperial forces. Denmark had feared that its sovereignty as a Protestant nation was threatened by the recent Catholic successes. Christian IV had also profited greatly from his policies in northern Germany. For instance, in 1621, Hamburg had been forced to accept Danish sovereignty and Christian's second son was made bishop of Bremen. Christian IV had obtained for his kingdom a level of stability and wealth that was virtually unmatched elsewhere in Europe. This stability and wealth was paid for by tolls on the Oresund and also by extensive war reparations from Sweden. Denmark's cause was aided by France which, together with England, had agreed to help subsidize the war. Christian had himself appointed war leader of the Lower Saxon Circle and raised an army of 20,000 mercenaries and a national army 15,000 strong.
To fight him, Ferdinand II employed the military help
of Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian nobleman who had
made himself rich from the confiscated estates of his
countrymen. Wallenstein pledged his army, which
numbered between 30,000 and 100,000 soldiers, to
Ferdinand II in return for the right to plunder the
captured territories. Christian, who knew nothing of
Wallenstein's forces when he invaded, was forced to
retire before the combined forces of Wallenstein and
Tilly. Christian's poor luck was with him again when all
of the allies he thought he had were forced aside:
England was weak and internally divided, France was in
the midst of a civil war, Sweden was at war with the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and neither Brandenburg
nor Saxony were interested in changes to the tenuous
peace in eastern Germany. Wallenstein defeated
Mansfeld's army at the Battle of Dessau Bridge (1626)
and General Tilly defeated the Danes at the Battle of
Lutter (1626). Mansfeld died some months later of
illness, apparently tuberculosis, in Dalmatia.
Wallenstein's army marched north, occupying Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and ultimately Jutland itself. However, he was unable to take the Danish capital on the island of Zealand. Wallenstein lacked a fleet, and neither the Hanseatic ports nor the Poles would allow an Imperial fleet to be built on the Baltic coast. He then laid siege to Stralsund, the only belligerent Baltic port with the facilities to build a large fleet. However, the cost of continuing the war was exorbitant compared to what could possibly be gained from conquering the rest of Denmark, and so Wallenstein decided to make peace.
Negotiations were concluded with the Treaty of Lübeck in 1629, which stated that Christian IV could keep his control over Denmark if he would abandon his support for the Protestant German states. Thus, in the following two years more land was subjugated by the Catholic powers. At this point, the Catholic League persuaded Ferdinand II to take back the Lutheran holdings that were, according to the Peace of Augsburg, rightfully the possession of the Catholic Church. Enumerated in the Edict of Restitution (1629), these possessions included two Archbishoprics, sixteen bishoprics, and hundreds of monasteries. The same year, Gabriel Bethlen, the Calvinist Prince of Transylvania, died. Only the port of Stralsund continued to hold out against Wallenstein and the Emperor.
Destruction of a convent
Some within Ferdinand II's court did not trust
Wallenstein, believing that he sought to join forces
with the German Princes and thus gain influence over the
Emperor. Ferdinand II dismissed Wallenstein in 1630. He
was to later recall him after the Swedes, led by King
Gustaf II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus), had invaded the
Holy Roman Empire with success and turned the tables on
the Catholics. His contributions made Sweden the
continental leader of Protestantism until the Swedish
Empire collapsed in 1721.
Gustavus Adolphus, like Christian IV before him, came to aid the German Lutherans, to forestall Catholic aggression against their homeland, and to obtain economic influence in the German states around the Baltic Sea. In addition, Gustavus was concerned about the growing power of the Holy Roman Empire. No one knows the exact reason for Gustavus to enter the war and this has been widely argued. Like Christian IV, Gustavus Adolphus was subsidized by Cardinal Richelieu, the Chief Minister of Louis XIII of France, and by the Dutch. From 1630 to 1634, Swedish-led armies drove the Catholic forces back, regaining much of the lost Protestant territory. During his campaign he managed to conquer half of the Imperial kingdoms.
Swedish forces entered the Holy Roman Empire via the Duchy of Pomerania, which served as the Swedish bridgehead since the Treaty of Stettin (1630). After dismissing Wallenstein in 1630, Ferdinand II became dependent on the Catholic League. France and Bavaria signed the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau (1631), but this was rendered irrelevant by Swedish attacks against Bavaria. At the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631), Gustavus Adolphus's forces defeated the Catholic League led by General Tilly. A year later they met again in another Protestant victory, this time accompanied by the death of Tilly. The upper hand had now switched from the league to the union, led by Sweden. In 1630, Sweden had paid at least 2,368,022 daler for its army of 42,000 men. In 1632, it contributed only one-fifth of that (476,439 daler) towards the cost of an army more than three times as large (149,000 men). This was possible due to subsidies from France, and the recruitment of prisoners (most of them taken at the Battle of Breitenfeld) into the Swedish army. The majority of mercenaries recruited by Gustavus II Adolphus were German but Scottish mercenaries were also common. With Tilly dead, Ferdinand II returned to the aid of Wallenstein and his large army. Wallenstein marched up to the south, threatening Gustavus Adolphus's supply chain. Gustavus Adolphus knew that Wallenstein was waiting for the attack and was prepared, but found no other option. Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus clashed in the Battle of Lützen (1632), where the Swedes prevailed, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed. In 1634 the Protestant forces, lacking his leadership, were defeated at the First Battle of Nördlingen.
Ferdinand II's suspicion of Wallenstein resumed in 1633, when Wallenstein attempted to arbitrate the differences between the Catholic and Protestant sides. Ferdinand II may have feared that Wallenstein would switch sides, and arranged for his arrest after removing him from command. One of Wallenstein's soldiers, Captain Devereux, killed him when he attempted to contact the Swedes in the town hall of Eger (Cheb) on 25 February 1634.
After that, the two sides met for negotiations, producing the Peace of Prague (1635), which entailed a delay in the enforcement of the Edict of Restitution for 40 years and allowed Protestant rulers to retain secularized bishoprics held by them in 1627. This protected the Lutheran rulers of northeastern Germany, but not those of the south and west (whose lands had been occupied by the Imperial or League armies prior to 1627). The treaty also provided for the union of the army of the Emperor and the armies of the German states into a single army of the Holy Roman Empire (although Johann Georg of Saxony and Maximillian of Bavaria kept, as a practical matter, independent command of their forces, now nominally components of the "Imperial" army). Finally, German princes were forbidden from establishing alliances amongst themselves or with foreign powers, and amnesty was granted to any ruler who had taken up arms against the Emperor after the arrival of the Swedes in 1630.
This treaty failed to satisfy France, however,
because of the renewed strength it granted the
Habsburgs. France then entered the conflict, beginning
the final period of the Thirty Years' War.
Plundering and burning a village
France, although overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, was a
rival of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. Cardinal
Richelieu, the Chief Minister of King Louis XIII of
France, felt that the Habsburgs were too powerful, since
they held a number of territories on France's eastern
border, including portions of the Netherlands. Richelieu
had already begun intervening indirectly in the war in
January 1631, when the French diplomat Hercules de
Charnace signed the Treaty of Bärwalde with Gustavus
Adolphus, by which France agreed to support the Swedes
with 1,000,000 livres each year in return for a Swedish
promise to maintain an army in Germany against the
Habsburgs. The treaty also stipulated that Sweden would
not conclude a peace with the Holy Roman Emperor without
first receiving France's approval.
After the Swedish rout at Nördlingen in September 1634 and the Peace of Prague in 1635, as Sweden's ability to continue the war alone appeared doubtful, Richelieu made the decision to enter into direct war against the Habsburgs. France declared war on Spain in May 1635 and the Holy Roman Empire in August 1636, opening offensives against the Habsburgs in Germany and the Low Countries.
French military efforts met with disaster, and the Spanish counter-attacked, invading French territory. The Imperial general Johann von Werth and Spanish commander Cardinal Ferdinand Habsburg ravaged the French provinces of Champagne, Burgundy and Picardy, and even threatened Paris in 1636 before being repulsed by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Bernhard's victory in the Battle of Compiègne pushed the Habsburg armies back towards the borders of France. Widespread fighting ensued, with neither side gaining an advantage. In 1642, Cardinal Richelieu died. A year later, Louis XIII died, leaving his five-year-old son Louis XIV on the throne. His chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, facing the domestic crisis of the Fronde beginning in 1645, began working to end the war.
In 1645, the Swedish marshal Lennart Torstenson defeated the Imperial army at the Battle of Jankau near Prague, and Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé defeated the Bavarian army in the Second Battle of Nördlingen. The last Catholic commander of note, Baron Franz von Mercy, died in the battle.
On 14 March 1647 Bavaria, Cologne, France and Sweden signed the Truce of Ulm. In 1648 the Swedes (commanded by Marshal Carl Gustaf Wrangel) and the French (led by Turenne and Condé) defeated the Imperial army at the Battle of Zusmarshausen and Lens. These results left only the Imperial territories of Austria safely in Habsburg hands.
Attack on a coach
The Peace of Westphalia
Casualties and disease
So great was the devastation brought about by the war
that estimates put the reduction of population in the
German states at about 15% to 30%. Some regions
were affected much more than others. For example,
the Württemberg lost three-quarters of its population
during the war. In the territory of Brandenburg, the
losses had amounted to half, while in some areas an
estimated two-thirds of the population died. The
male population of the German states was reduced by
almost half. The population of the Czech lands
declined by a third due to war, disease, famine and the
expulsion of Protestant Czechs. Much of the
destruction of civilian lives and property was caused by
the cruelty and greed of mercenary soldiers, many of
whom were rich commanders and poor soldiers. The
Swedish armies alone may have destroyed up to 2,000
castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany,
one-third of all German towns. The war caused serious
dislocations to both the economies and populations of
central Europe, but may have done no more than seriously
exacerbate changes that had begun earlier.
Pestilence of several kinds raged among combatants and civilians in Germany and surrounding lands from 1618 to 1648. Many features of the war spread disease. These included troop movements, the influx of soldiers from foreign countries, and the shifting locations of battle fronts. In addition, the displacement of civilian populations and the overcrowding of refugees into cities led to both disease and famine. Information about numerous epidemics is generally found in local chronicles, such as parish registers and tax records, that are often incomplete and may be exaggerated. The chronicles do show that epidemic disease was not a condition exclusive to war time, but was present in many parts of Germany for several decades prior to 1618.
However, when the Danish and imperial armies met in Saxony and Thuringia during 1625 and 1626, disease and infection in local communities increased. Local chronicles repeatedly referred to "head disease", "Hungarian disease", and a "spotted" disease identified as typhus. After the Mantuan War, between France and the Habsburgs in Italy, the northern half of the Italian peninsula was in the throes of a bubonic plague epidemic. During the unsuccessful siege of Nuremberg, in 1632, civilians and soldiers in both the Swedish and imperial armies succumbed to typhus and scurvy. Two years later, as the imperial army pursued the defeated Swedes into southwest Germany, deaths from epidemics were high along the Rhine River. Bubonic plague continued to be a factor in the war. Beginning in 1634, Dresden, Munich, and smaller German communities such as Oberammergau recorded large numbers of plague casualties. In the last decades of the war, both typhus and dysentery had become endemic in Germany.
Discovery of the criminal soldiers
One result of the war was the balkanization of
Germany into many territories — all of which, despite
their membership in the Empire, won de facto
sovereignty. This limited the power of the Holy Roman
Empire and decentralized German power.
The Thirty Years' War rearranged the European power structure. The conflict made Spain's military and political decline visible. While Spain was fighting in France, Portugal — which had been under personal union with Spain for 60 years — acclaimed John IV of Braganza as king in 1640, and the House of Braganza became the new dynasty of Portugal, for further information). Meanwhile, Spain was forced to accept the independence of the Dutch Republic in 1648, ending the Eighty Years' War. With Spain weakened, France started to replace Spain as the dominant European power, an outcome confirmed by its victories in the subsequent Franco-Spanish War, War of Devolution and Franco-Dutch War and by the late 1600s, Bourbon France under the leadership of Louis XIV had surpassed Habsburg Spain in influence.
From 1643–45, during the last years of the Thirty Years' War, Sweden and Denmark fought the Torstenson War. The result of that conflict and the conclusion of the great European war at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 helped establish post-war Sweden as a force in Europe.
The edicts agreed upon during the signing of the Peace of Westphalia were instrumental in laying the foundations for what are even today considered the basic tenets of the sovereign nation-state. Aside from establishing fixed territorial boundaries for many of the countries involved in the ordeal (as well as for the newer ones created afterwards), the Peace of Westphalia changed the relationship of subjects to their rulers. In earlier times, people had tended to have overlapping political and religious loyalties. Now, it was agreed that the citizenry of a respective nation were subjected first and foremost to the laws and whims of their own respective government rather than to those of neighboring powers, be they religious or secular.
The war also has a few more subtle consequences. The Thirty Years' War marked the last major religious war in mainland Europe, ending the large-scale religious bloodshed accompanying the Reformation, in 1648. There were other religious conflicts in the years to come, but no great wars. Also, the destruction caused by mercenary soldiers defied description. The war did much to end the age of mercenaries that had begun with the first Landsknechts, and ushered in the age of well-disciplined national armies.
The war also had consequences abroad, as the European powers extended their fight via naval power to overseas colonies. In 1630, a Dutch fleet of 70 ships had taken the rich sugar-exporting areas of Pernambuco, Brazil from the Spanish. Their expulsion from Brazil by the Portuguese and Brazilians in 1654 was a formative event of Brazilian national identity. Fighting also took place in Africa and Asia.