53 Thirty Years’ War


To some this was primarily a religious war in defense of one of the three faiths involved. The Calvinists fought for recognition as co-equals with Lutheranism and Catholicism. For most rulers it was a political struggle; for the Habsburgs it was a struggle to retain some measure of control over the various political-units in Germany and to keep some semblance of empire. It was also a civil waramong jealous territorial princes and a dynastic struggle among ruling families such as the Wittelbachs in Bavaria. It was a predatory war fought by mercenary generals for fame, power and booty. Finally, it was an international war for territorial and economic gains, including efforts of Dutch, – Spaniards, Swedes, Bohemians and French.

STAGES OF THE WAR (Named for Habsburg opponents in each period)


Frederick V of the Palatinate became a Calvinist Bohemian king and fought Habsburg Ferdinand II, but he got poor support and lasted only one winter. Ferdinand occupied and completely subdued all of Bohemia, outlawed the Czech language and replaced the elective kingship by the hereditary rule of the Habsburgs. The remarkable achievements of the Bohemian Baron von Wallenstein during the war years are detailed in subsequent paragraphs and the CZECHOSLOVAKIA section of this chapter.


Christian IV of Denmark responded to Franco-English pressure and invaded lower Saxony, but was eventually defeated by both General Tilly and General Wallenstein, of the Catholic imperialist forces. In fact, by 1630 imperial and Catholic power had reached its greatest mark and the German princes, Catholic and Protestant alike, began to worry about their own rights and powers.


After Sweden’s Gustavus Adolphus finished his Polish War, in which he obtained the Lithuanian coast and bases in Prussia, he swung around and into Germany, probably for both religious and territorial reasons. After defeating Tilly near Leipzig, Gustavus, who spoke fluent German (learned from his mother), became a German hero and Protestant forces flocked to his side. The Swedes moved far into south Germany and even occupied Munich. In 1632, in a battle with Wallenstein, now restored to power again by the Habsburgs, Gustavus Adolphus was killed while leading his victorious forces. Swedish power was at once dimmed by the disappearance of this forceful king-general and his minister, Oxenstierna, could not carry the field much longer. Furthermore, after Wallenstein was murdered by some of his own sub-generals, the Catholic forces again became more active and forced the Swedes out of southern Germany. Then Saxony made a separate peace with Errperor Ferdinand III, in the Peace of Prague (1635). The terms again gave much power to the emperor, and although accepted unwillingly by most of the German princes, France could not acquiesce in this increase in imperial power.

Map taken from Reference 97


So, in 1635 France declared war on Spain and Austria, and began full scale war in the Pyrenees, in the north against the Spanish Netherlands and in the east against Spanish and Austrian possessions in Germany. In the long run Swedish-French power prevailed almost everywhere and Germany was thoroughly exhausted. Debates about peace drug on in Westphalia for 4 yearswhile armies continued to fight, with the final peace concluded in 1648.


The war left the basic Habsburg Empire intact but destitute. Only the territorial lords seemed to get a clear-cut victory. Prussia emerged as a strong state and Bavaria gained territory and retained the Upper Palatinate. While most German cities were ruined, Hamburg actually prospered by taking over the previous function of Antwerp as a center of refuge for all exiles, after the latter city had fallen to the Spaniards. (Ref. 213) No religious freedom remained in the Habsburg hereditary lands. France and Spain remained at war for another 11 years after the treaty, but France, along with Sweden, reaped the most important benefits. Toul, Metz and Verdun were all given to France, along with other valuable cities and territories in Alsace which gave a bridgehead whereby France could move forces into Germany at will. Sweden got western Pomerania, Stettin and many harbors, keeping good control over northern Germany. Holland and the Swiss Cantons were permanently free.

Following the Treaty of Westphalia the histories of Germany and Austria definitely diverge, with various German states remaining definitely independent, although soon to be dominated by Prussia. The Habsburgs confined their interests and power to the soon to be formed Austrio-Hungarian Empire. The war had cut the population of Germany from 20,000,000 to 13,500,000 and there was a dearth of men. At the Congress of Franconia in Nuremberg in 1650 a resolution was adopted that every man should be allowed two wives and every male should be so reminded from the pulpits. Taxes were imposed upon unmarried women. By 1700 equality of the sexes had been restored and there were again 20,000,000 Germans.

The many Jews in Germany led a precarious existence in this century. In Frankfort in 1614 a Christian crowd forced entry into a ghetto and after a night of plunder and destruction, compelled 1,380 Jews to leave the city. In general the higher classes of people and clergy were tolerant, but the lower clergy and masses were easily stirred to a frenzy of hate. After the Thirty Years Warpersecution lessened and the Jewish settlements expanded rapidly.

The second half of the 17th century after the Treaty of Westphalia presents an entirely new picture in Central Europe and we shall now examine that situation in more detail.


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