** war and social upheaval : the Thirty Years War

War and Social Upheaval: The Thirty Years War (1618-48)

Figure 1.--Here we have one of Teniers' paintings, "Members of Antwerp Town Council and Masters of the Armaments Guild", dated 1643, located at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. We are not sure what is going on, but the drumer seems to be marshalling troops and there is fighting going on in the background. This would have been during the 30 Years War.

The Thirty Years War was the most bloody and destructive war ever fought in Europe until the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. It was not as the name suggests one single war lasting 30 years, but rather a series of related wars fought over that period. The War began in Germany (Holy Roman Empire) and gradually spread to much of the rest of Europe. It was actually a series of wars involving most European countries, but fought primarily in Germany. The war was exceedingly brutal, in part because of the religious passions of the Reformation. The struggle was between Catholic and Protestant princes aided by non-German coregilionalists. While initially a religious war, the fighting was complicated by dynastic rivalries and the desire of the Sweeds and French to curb the power of the German Holy Roman Empire dominated by the Hapsburgs. The War devestated Germany. It is believed that about 6 million civilians, mostly Germans, perished in the conflict. More Germans died in this War han in either World war I or II.

The Protestant Reformation (1519)

The Protestan Revolution was the religious struggle during the 16th and 17th century which began as an effort to reform the Catholic Church and ended with the splintering of the Western Christendom into the Catholic and Protestant churches. Combined with the Renaissance which preceeded it, the reformatuin marked the end of the Medieval world and the beginning of a modern world view. The French Revolution which followed the Reformation in the 18th century marked the beginning of our modern age. Conditions developing in Medieval Europe laid the groundwork for the Reformation. The Reformation began when a German monk, Martin Luthur nailed his 95 Thesis on the church door in ??? (1517). Luthur was offended by the papal sale of indulgences by which the Renaissance popes were fiancing the splendid new church of St. Peters in Rome. Luthur's concern with indulgences were soon mixed with a complex mix of doctrinal, political, economic, and cultural issues that would take Ruropean Church anfd temporal leaders nearly two centuries to partially resolve and several devestating wars, especially the 30 Years War in Germany. Western Christendom would be left permanently split and even the Cathloic Church profoundly changed. Changes in man's view og himself and the Church were to also affect his view relative to the state and many in Europe began to question royal absolutism and divinr right monarchy, a process keading to the French Revolution.

Peace of Augsburg (1555)

Emperor Charles V's efforts to stamp out thReformation and Protestantism in Germany failed. It was clear that military force had failed and a negotiated settlement was the only possible way of ending the fighting (early 1550s). The result was the Peace of Augsburg (155). It was a victory for the German princes andcweakened the authority of the Emperor. The Treaty recognized both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in Germany. It was left to each prince within the Empire to decide the religion to be practiced by his people. It was not a recognition of religious tolerance, but it was the first step as the pope and Roman Catholcism no longer dominated Western Christianity. Subjects who were not of the ruler's faith were to be allowed to move and take their property with them. Disputes which would inevitaly arise between the two religions were to be settled in court. Because both Catholic and Protestant forces were strong in Germany and religion a still powerful force, Peace was a continued step toward particularism preventing the formation of a nation state at a time when other nationalities (Denmark, England, France, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden) were forming strong, centralized states. This was a development of enormous importance, as Germany located at the center of Europw was potentially the nost powerful European nation. Not only were the German princes strengthened, but the Protestant princes in particular obtained several important nenefits. They obtained the extensive Church lands in their realms. The lands did not go to the new Lutheran Church, but to the princes. And their authority was strngrthened because they became the head of the estanlished church. Catholic princes benefitted because the Catholic Church began to offer greater support to continue resisting the spread of Protestantism. Thus the Peace did not settke the religious issue. It was rather a truce between two armed camps. It did, nhowever, permit Protestantism to become established in northern Germany. Ans Protesrantism in northern Germany shielded the spread of Protestantism in Scandanavia. This mean that when a showdown came it portened to be a dreadful struggle between two poweful groups of states, a struggle which would mix both nationalism and religion.

The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire (sacrum romanum imperium) was the political entity that ruled over a large area of central Europe centering on Germany for almost a milenium (962-1806). Germany was potentially the most powerful country in Europe, but as a result of conflicts with the papacy and the particular interests of German princes/nobels, Germany did not emerge as a unified monarchy. Rather the Holy Roman Empire was a loose collection of several states under an Emperor with only limited authority. The Holy Roman Empire originated with the coronation of German King Otto as emperor (962). It survived until Francis II under pressure from Napoleon renounced the imperial title (1806). It was the medieval German state it was ruled by several dynasties before the Emperor becoming dominated by the Hapsburgs. The Holy Roman Empire of the German nation became the effective organization of Germany after the Investiture Controversy. It was not, however, an exclusively German political unit. The Empire included over time the Burgundian inheritance (the Carolingian "middle kingdom") and parts of Italy and the Netherlands, which were not German in any ethnic or linguistic sense. Nor were national loyalties and sensibilities nearly as important in Medieval Europe as would be the case in the 19th century after the French Revolution. Certainly Germany was the nucleus of the Empire. The emperors were Germans and might hve built a powerful empire in central Europe that could have dominated Europe. This did not occur although the Hapsburgs came close to it. Instead the possession of non-German possessions served to involve the Empire in foreign quarrels which drained its resources and exacerbated domestic differences. These problems would come to fruition in the Reformation.

The Hapsburgs

Although a first a minor German nobel family, the Hapburgs came to dominate the Empire and the imperial election. Over time the Hapsburg patrimony gradually grew, but it was diverse collection of many often unconnected lands. The traditional Hapsburg lands Upper and Lower Austria. Over time they acquired Bohemia together with Moravia and Silesia, the lesser part of Hungary which had not been conquered by the Turks, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, the Tyrol, and the provinces bordering on Germany. These territories were divided among three branches of the family, the main line, the Styrian, and that of Tyrol-Vorarlberg. The main line the greater part of these territories. These many unconnected lands consisted of many provincial estates overseen by nobles who were in constant tension with the ruling the Hapsburg headed by the Emperor. As many nobles especially in Bohemia adopted Protestantism in the 16th cenbtury, this created a new level of tension as they desired to introduce the new religion on their estates. The struggle of the nobility against the dynasty reached the breaking point during the reign of Rudolph II. The nobility actively consorted with the Protestant party. The Hungarian nobles revolted, aided by the ruler of Transylvania (1604). The Hungarians nobels rebelled again with Turkish assistance (1607). Rudolph transfered the government of Hungary, Austria, and Moravia to his brother Matthias to ease the situation (1608). Rudolf maintained his rights as King of Bohemia and avoided conflict by granting an Imperial Charter (Majest�tsbrief) which conved religious liberty not only to the nobles and their dependents in Bohemia but also to those living on rown lands. (1609). The Hapsburg in the 16th century also ruled Spain which was the most poweful country in Europe. Beginning with Philip II (1556-98) the Spanish Habsburgs became the champions of Catholicism in Europe. Having prevented Protestantism from establishing in Spain with the Inquisition. Thus Spain untroubled with internat religious opposition was free to assist other Catholic princes. The Hapsburgs were the principal rivals to France for European. The Spanish Hapsburgs in the early 17th century attempted to convince the Austrian Hapsburgs to take a more aggressive stance against Protestantism. King Philip IV (1621-65) was especially interested in incouring action against the Potestants. The Austrian Hapburgs were to preoccupied with other matters to confront consitutional or religious issues within the Empire. This changed with Ferdinand II who hadwatched the Imperial authority steadily erode.

The Catholic Counter Reformation

The Catholic revival in Europe gained momentum during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The Council of Trent (1545-63) was the 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic church was held at Trent in northern Italy. It was the principal effort of the Catholic church to respond to the Protestant Reformation and was the basis of the Counter-Reformation. The Council was delayed because of concerns of Emperor Charles V and French King Francis I. The council met during threeseparate periods (1545-47, 1551-52, 1562-63) under three different popes (Paul III, Julius III, Pius IV). The Council refused any concessions to the Protestants. All of the major theological issues which Protestantism had challenged were confirmed by the Council: seven sacraments, transubstantiation, purgatory, the necessity of the priesthood, and justification by works as well as by faith. Clerical celibacy and monasticism were continued, and the efficacy of relics, indulgences, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the saints were all masintained. The Council also declared tradition as coequal to Scripture as a source of spiritual knowledge and insisted that the Church had the sole right to interpret the Bible. The Council did adopt reforms to end the abuses within the church that had played a major role in causing the Reformation. The Catholic movement following the Council of Trent involved only Catholic theologians and a few princes had taken part. Later a much wider movement developed with clergy and laity and was characterized by an more fervent religious spirit. Rather than gradually seeking accomodation, Catholics were becoming less tolerant of Protestantim. Ptotestants were also intolerant, but the force of religous fervor in the early 17h century sems to have been strongest with the Catholic party.

The Dutch War of Independene (1568-1648)

Spain and the northern provinces of the Netherlands negotiated a 12-year truce (1609-21). Spain was preparing a new offensive against the Dutch when the truce ended. The problem for Spain was how to support military operations in the low countries. The rise of a Dutch navy made it difficult to send troops and provisions by sea. Reach the Dutch by land was also difficult. France stood between Spain and the Netherlands. And the French were not about to permit Spanish troops to pass through their country. It suited French purposes at the time to have an independent Netherlands even though they were Protestant. Thus the Spanish would have to send their forces along a circuitous route from Spain to Italy by sea and then through the Alpine passes to the the Rhine River Valley. The Rhine than led to the Dutch. This was a very difficult march for any body of troops and needed equipment and supplies, especially given the nature of roads at the time. The key to the route was the Rhineland. This was a contested area. The Spanish hoped to acquire Alsace which Ferdinand had promissed for supporting his imperial candidacy.

Comparable Developments

The Thirty Years War stands out in European history because of the duration of the War and the devation resulting from it. The War is, however, comparable to developments in several other European countries, escpecially the English Civil War (1643-49) and the French Fronde War (1649-55). These conflicts involved the Catholic (or Catholic-oriented) monarch trying to establish control over an increaingly Protestant nobility. Each of the Wars had sharply differing outcomes. England emerged united from the Civil War, but dominated by the Protestant nobels and rich merchants through Parliament. France emerged even more centralized with an absolute nominlly Catholic monarchy. Neither the Catholic or Protestant party in Germany was sufficently powerful to gain an absolute victory. [Wells, p. 686.] This left the country divided religiously and politically and in ruins when the fighting finally ended. One reason that the fighting proved inconclusive in Germany, was the involvement of many non-Germans: Bohemia, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, and other countries and states.

Ferdinand II (1619-1637)

Historians vary on the causes of the Thirt Years War. Here a central figure was Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II. Neither Rudolf or Matthias (1612-19) had sons. The ruling dynasty chose Ferdinand, the head of the Styrian Hapsburg branch. He had restored Catholicism in Styria. The Hapsburgs managed to persuade the Bohemians to accept Ferdinand as their future king, (1617). The Hungarians also accepted Ferdinand (1618), but before they did the Bohemians rvolted. they prevailed upon the Hungarians to elect him king. Before this (May, 1618) the Bohemians revolted. Some historians stress his desire establish real authority for the emperor within the Empire. The Imperial authority had been impaied by the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and had declined even further in the ensuing years. Other historians stress Ferdinand's reaction to foreign encroachments because of the weakness of Imperial authority. Ferdinand also wanted to reestablishing Catholicism as the sole religion of his reunified Empire. The Spanish crown had been separated by Charles V, by the Spanish monarchs were still Hapsburgs with Catholic religious fervor and a desire to retake the northern Netherlands and defeat Protestantism. Ferdinand would need allies to achieve his goals. He could could count on his Spanish Hapsburg cousins to confront Protestants. He could also count on support from the papacy and the Counter-Reformation. Here the situation was complicatd. The German Catholic princes were anxious to destroy Protestantism. They were not, however, interested in supporting constitutional changes within the Empire that would weaken their authority and independence.

Foreign Interests in Germany

There were major impediments in any attempt by Ferdinand to achieve his goals. He not only had to contend with German Protestants. Surounding Catholic and Protestant powers had interests in what happned in the Empire. Many of these countries were actively interfearing within the Empire.
Spain: Spain during its 12-year truce with the Dutch attempted to improve its position in the Rhineland knowing that bases would be needed to renew the war. France: France was actively interfearing in Imperial affairs by signing treaies with German princes (mostly Protetant) attempting to expand their autonomy from the emperor. France had no desire to see a truly unified Germany. King Henry IV of France was murdered (1610) just as he was to intervene in a succesion issue within the mpire. France was also concerned with the family relationhip betwen Ausrian and Spanish Hapsburgs. Nor did France desire Spain to take Alsace, other Rhineland provinces, and the Netherlands. This looked like an effort by Spain to suround France.
Poland: Poland had interests both within the Empire and in Sweden. Poland had played an important role in saving Vienna from the Turks. Poland was also strongly Catholic and opposed tothe growth of Potestantism in nothern Germany. A further coplication was that King Sigismund of Poland had a claim to the Swedish throne. With an Imperial army to support him, Sigismund constituted a serious threat to Gustavus and Swedish Protestants.
Denmark: Denmark had both rligious and territorial interests in the Empire Scandinavia (Dnmark and Sweden) as now thoroughly Protestant. Denmark was thus concerned with any move by the emperor againt German Protestants. Denmark also desired to obtain contol over the dioceses of Northern Germany that had become Protestant,. Denmark was also interestd in establishing control over the mouth of the Elbe River.
Sweden: Sweden was a country of substantial military potential. Sweden would not look kindly on the supression of their fellow Lutherans. King Gustavus Adolphus also had strong territorial cocerns. Gustavus was unprepared to allow the Emperor reimpose Catholcism in norther Germany or gain control of the Baltic ports. Swedish or German Protestant control of the Baltic ports guaranteed Swedish security. The Swedes for their part had dreams of turning the Baltic into a Swedish lake. As it was the Swedish economy was highly dependant on commerce with the southern Baltic ports. Much of the royal income came from Baltic commerce. The religious issue was also important. Not only because Protestantism in Sweden was threatened, but because Gustavus Adolphus and other Swedes were disturbed about the tales of actions against Protestants in Germany.
England: England had intrests in the Empire. As a Protestant country, the English were not anxious to seem Germany domiated by the Catholics. James I of England was the father-in-law of Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate who had married Princess Elizabeth. Frederick led the Protestant party at an early phase of the War.

Economic Conditions

Some historians report that economic conditions in the second half of the 16th century began to decline in Germany. I'm not sure if this was the case or if so what was the cause. The reported economic decline had reportedly by the eatly 17th century increased the number of men interested in being soldiers or engaging in brigandry. Also nobels apparently began taking advantage of the lack of order and central to control to persue peronal feuds. This reportedly added to the disorders and pillage that accompanied the Thirty Years War.

Bohemian Revolt (1618)

The Thirty Years War began in Bohemia, part of the Holy Roman Empire. Most of the inhabitants of Bohemia were Lutheran, Calvinist, or members of one of the Hussite sects, but the Catholic minority with Habsburg support was growing. The mostly Protestant Bohemian nobles were opposed to the encroachment by the Catholic Habsburgs. Fearing what Ferdinand would do when he came to power, the Bohemian nobels staged a revolt against Imperial officials (May 23, 1618). The Bohemian nobels threw two imperial officials out of a window in the palace at Prague. Although they fell 70 feet, they survived . The Catholics claimed this was because the Virgin Mary interceeded. The Protestants maintain they lnded in a dung heep. It says lot about the 17th century that an imperial palace had a dung heep under the windows. This action meant civil war within the Empire. The Bohemian rebels rapidly seized control of Bohemia. Transylvania provided assistance. The Bohemian nobels were led by Count von Thurn. They claimed that the charter granted by Rudolph was being violated. Ferdinand was not yet ready for war. After Matthias died (March, 1619) the Hungarians and Moraviams joined the revolt. Thurn led an army on Vienna (June 1619). Ferdinand refused to be intimdated and Thurn withdrew. Ferdinand went to Frankfort where he was elected emperor (August 28). The Bohemians refused to be placated. The Bohemian nobels elected the Calvinist Elector Frederick of the Palatinate their king (August 26). He had married Elizabeth of Bohemia, the daughter of England's James I. The Bohemians marched on the Emperor in Vienna. The revolt gained adheremts. The population in Lower Austria joined the revolt. Bethlen Gabor, Prince of Transylvania,formed an aliance with the Bohemians. Ferdinand was still illprepared, but discension developed in the Protestant ranks. Aid from the northern Protestan princes never came. Ferdinand was still not prepared. He did not have the forces for a major war. Bohemia was, however, essential to Hapsburg power. Bohemia was a wealthy province, providing fully half the imperial revenue. Without Bohemia, Ferdinand and the Hapsburgs would no longer be a major European power. Not only that, but Bohemia held one of the seven electoral votes of the Holy Roman Empire. Three of those electors were now Protestant princes. If Bohemia was lost to the Hapsburgs, the Protestants could elect a Protestant emperor or at the least certainly not elect a Habsburg.

Bohemia Supressed (1623)

Ferdinand needed assiance to regain Bohmia. He found it in Bavaria and Spain. Bavaria: Bohemia borders on Bavaria. Thus devlopments there were of great concern to Duke Maximilian (1597-1651). Maximillian was a youthful prince in firm control of Bavaria. He organized a Catholic League and had an army under a competent commander. Ferdinand offered Maximilian the not only Frederick's upper Palatinate, but also his title of elector. On the Maximilian who had the largest army in the empire dispatched forces (October 1619). Maximilian army terrified the Protestant party. They had formed the Union (1609), but disbanded it. Spain: Frederick also had title to provinces in the Rhineland. Ferdinand offered these to Spain which would be useful in their effort to retake the northern Netherlands. Other assistance: Other asistsnce was received from the Protestant Elector of Saxony and Poland. Ferdinand's forces backed by Bavaria , Spain, and his other allies were able to defeat Frederick and reconquer Bohemia. Ferdinand then marched into Bohemia supported by Austrian troops and dfeated the Bohemians in the battle of the White Mountain, near Prague. The Elector Frederick was deposed and forced to flee. He became known as the "Winter King" and Elizabeth the Winter Queen" because of their brief reign. Transylvania proved more difficult to deal with and the war continued on and off until 1626. Ferdinand and his Catholic allies completely occupied Frederick's hereditary possessions both in Bohemia and the Rhineland (1623). The Catholic religion and Ferdinand's imperial authority were restored. The elective Bohemian monarchy was remade into an hereditary Habsburg province. This meant that Ferdinand and the Catholic League was in firm control of southern Germany for the first time since the Reformation.


Italy was divided into various principalities. As a resilt, it was constanly being invaded by the major powers. Spain with its naval power controlled the south. The Papacy controlled Rome and central Italy. Northern Italy domianted by Savoy was primarily contested by France and Austria, both Catholic powers. Here the Papacy usually allied with the Hapsburgs was concerned about Hpasburg designed on central Italy. While the Thirty Years War was primarily fought in Germany, Itlay became a major issue because of the Spansh Road. Italy was divided into various principalities. As a result, it was constanly being invaded by the major powers (France, Germany, Ottoman Empire, and Spain). Spain with its naval power controlled the south. The Papacy controlled Rome and central Italy. Northern Italy domianted by Savoy was contested by France and the Hapsburg (Austria and Spain), both Catholic powers. Here the Papacy usually allied with the Hapsburgs was concerned about Hapssburg designed on central Italy. While the Thirty Years War was primarily fought in Germany, Itay became an issue becaise of the Spanish Road. This was an important Dpnih military supply/trade route (1567–1620) streaching from Northern Italy to the Low Countries. And was thus important to the Spanish during the Dutch War of Independence. The route crossed through relatively neutral territory and became Soain's preferred military route. Soldiers were able to march the 1,000 km (620 mi) route from Milan to Flanders about 23 km (14 mi) a day. Maitime transport was of course much faster, but was less secure, exposed as it was to rough seas and enemy attacks as was the fate of the 'invincible' Spanish Armada (1588). The Spanish used the route extensively, sending some 123,000 men compared to only 17,600 by sea (1567-1620). While this largely ceased after the supression of the Bohemian revoly, it set off a major struggle between France snd Spain over northern Italy. This was a continuation of the centuries-long condlict between France and the Habsburgs. Rhe french were especially concerned anout the their South-Western provinces, with a tradition of autonomy from central authority. Spain was the dominant power in Italy, but needed control of the north to operate the Spanish Road. Conflicts between Spain and France in northern Italy occurred in the 1620s and finally broke out into the Franco-Spanish War (1635). The primary importance of the battles in Italy betwwn the French and Spanish is that it diverted Spanish military forces from the central struggle in Germany.

Protestant Northern Germany

The Protestant princes of northern Germany were concerned by developments in the south. They had not answered calls from the Bohemian Protestabnts for support. Even so, they were concerned for good reason that Ferdinnd and the Catholic League would next move north. Fortunatekly for them, the French although Cztholic had effectively closed down the Spanish Road. Even so they faced Catholic military forces that Ferdinznd was determine to use to stamp out Protestantism and unify Germany which he came very close to accomplishing.


Johann Tserclaes, Count von Tilly, was Emperor Maximilian's field commander. Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria, with the army of the Catholic League under Tilly, played a key role in in the victory of the Imperial forces in Bohemia at the White Mountain near Prague (November 1620). John George of Saxony, a leading German Protestant prince, came to the support of Ferdinand (the Winter King) who lost control of Bohemia. The Emperor began a campaihn of repressing the Protestants in Bohemia. The War then shifted to the the Palatinate. Mansfeld and Christian of Brunswick led the Protestant revolutionary forces in the Palatinate. Frederick expected assistance from his father-in-law, James I of England, but James provided no real assistance. As aesult, Tilly and the Catholic forces seized control of the Palatinate. He gained important victories at Wimpfen and Höchst (1622). The Emperor confiscated Frederick's lands. The Emperor rewarded Maximilian of Bavaria with the Upper Palatinate and the electorate. Tilly's victory at Stadtlohn (1623) practically ended one phase of the war leaving the Emperor and the Catholic party in control of much of Germany.

Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583-1634)

The Bohemian nobelman Albrecht von Wallenstein was to play a central role in the Thirty Years War. Wallenstein was born into a Lutheran family, but unlike many in the 17th century, religion was not a central concern. He quickly converted to Catholicism and cast his future with the Empire. He was an emensely wealthy man. He married a rich widow who died leaving her estate which with wise management he substanbtially expanded his holdings. He eventually controlled perhaps a quarter of Bohemia. After the death of his his first wife he married the daughter of one of Ferdinand's important councillors. His emense wealth gave him the ability to raise a substantial army. He made Ferdinnd an offer that he could not refuse. Emperor Ferdinand while he had regained Bohemia, still had neither destroyed Protestantism or unified Germany. For these objectives he would need his own Imperial Army. Allies would be needed, but as the potential allies had their own agendas, he needed his own Imperial forces. Wallenstein's offer was alluring. Wallenstein would raise, train, and provision a 50,000 man army. Ferdinand would only have to pay their wages. This was a much larger army than Ferdinand could field with his own resources alone. There was a danger in putting so much confidence and authority in one man, otherwise he would remain dependant on Spain and Bavaria. Wallenstein not only fielded an impressive army, but he proved to be a brilliant field commander. Commanding the Imperial forces with he Bavarian allies, Wallenstein defeated the Danish Army and occupied much of northern Germany. Ferdinand rewarded Wallenstein with the Baltic Duchy of Mecklenburg. The former duke had sided with the Danes. Developments in France caused those two countries to withdraw their financial support. It looked like Ferdinand had won the War abd a great victory for both the Imperial power and the Catholic party (1626).

Danish Intervention (1625-29)

Hapsburg control of northern Germany was seen as a threat by King Christian IV of Denmark. Neighboring countries, both Protestant and Catholic, also viewed developments in southern Germany with alarm. Catholic France moved to cut Spanish supply route through the Alps--the Spanish Road. The Danes with financial assistance (from the Dutch, English, and French) came to the support of the northern German princes with an army of 30,000 men. The King strongly avowed religious motives, but was hopful of not only supporting the northern German princes, but of enlarging his own German possessions. England and the United Provinces provided financial aid to those oposing the Hapsburgs and the Catholic party. England even committed several thousand soldiers. Ferdinand authorized Albrecht von Wallenstein, military governor of Prague, to raise an imperial army of 25,000 men (Spring 1625). Christian IV moved the Danish Army into Germany. The Emperor was ably supported by Wallenstein, who defeated Mansfeld's mercinary Protestant army at Dessau (1626). This was followed by Tilly's defeat of Christian at Lutter. The Imperial armies were then anle to sweep through almost all of Germany with little opposition. Wallenstein even entered Jutland and defeated the Danes there, but suffered a defeat at Stralsund (1628). Denmark agreed to the Treaty of Lübeck (1629). The Danes withdrew from the War and surrendered the Norther German bishoprics. Emperor Ferdinand II issued the Edict of Restitution (1629). This was an attempt to enforce the ecclesiastical reservation of the Peace of Augsburg and declared void Protestant titles to lands secularized after 1552. The full application would have been disastrous for German Protesrants. Thus the Protestants were determined to resist it even though their military forces had been smashed.

Germany at a Crossroad (1627-29)

Now Ferdinand had to make a fatefull decission. He could either move to unify Germany politically or religiouly. He did not have the military force to achieve both objectives.
Political unity: Wallenstein' adviced the Emperor to use the power he had acquired to build a centralized German state like te states that had begun to form in Europe (Denmark, England, France, Spain, and Sweden). This choice had the disadvantge of alienating Maximilian and other Catholic princes who were opposed to any increase in Imperial authority at thei expense of their soverignity.
Religious unity: Bavria and the Catholic League demanded that Ferdinand move in another direction and begin to unify Germany religiously. The Catholics demanded the restoration of Church lands seized by the Protestants since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. This alternative would threaten the remaining Protestant princes, some of whom had remained neutral in thge fighting with te Danes.

Ferdinand was unsure as to which choice he should make. Finally he chose Catholicism over political unity. Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution (1629) which required the restoration of the former and very extensive ecclesiastical territories to Church authorities. Ferdinand also dismissed Wallenstein. This decission ws urged upon him by Maximillian, but Ferdinand was also concerned about the dangers of leaving the Imperail army in Wallenstein's hands. This left Ferdinand dependant on Maximilian and the Catholic League. The result proved to be two more decades ot terribly destructive war and a divided Germany for two centuries.

Swedish Intervention (1630-35)

Sweden was a major Baltic power and played a major part in the Thirty Years War. Gustavus Adolphus had been reared from early childhood to be both king an a military leader. The young prince at age 6 began accompanying the Swedish army on campaigns. The country as an early convert to Protestantism. And intervened to support the German Protestant princes. King Gustavus Adolphus landed in Germany with a well-trained professional army (July 4, 1630). He soon demonstrated his abilities as a innovative military commander, becoming known as the "Lion of the North". He placed great emphasis on mobility. Gustavus Adolphus withdrew north closer to his supply bases and supportive northern German Protestants. The King and Wllenstein clashed again, this time at Lüzen. King Gustavus Adolphus scored a great vicyory, but he was killed in the battle (May 1634). What followed was a murky interlude in European history that is intensely debated by historians. Many contemporary observers have their views colored by their religious or national beliefs. King Gustavus Adolphus's death gave the Catholic cause renewed hope. There was, however, discession within the Catholic camp, especially the rivalry between Maximilian and Wallenstein. The Imperial army even without Wallenstine forces defeated the Swedes at Nördlingen (September 1634). The Swedes were not totally destroyed, but the their force was badly crippled. This left Ferdinand in control of Germany.

Protestant Princes

After the Imperial victory at Nördlingen (1634), the Protestant princes were willing to make peace. The Protestant princes agreed to peace as long as Ferdinand repealed the the Edict of Restitution. This meant that Ferdinand could keep the gains achieved by Wallenstein before 1627 and the Swedish intervention.


Spain had risen in the 16th cenury as a European superpower, bolstered by gold and silver from its new American colonies. France was temprarily eclipsed. After the defear of the Great Armada (1588), Spanish power gradually wained but still threatened France--especially when combined with their German Hapsburg cousins. The French monarchy appears to have dreamed of seizing the imperial title for itself. France finally entered the War openly (1634), concerned about the Spain's gains in the Rhineland and the Netherlands which seemed to surround France with Hapsburgs, both German and Spanish. This changed the nature of the War making it as much a European war as a German civil war. The German states led by the Emperor and Spain now faced France, the Northern Netherlands (the Dutch), and Sweden. The religious issue had played itself out in the earlier fighting. Now national and dynastic issues come more to the fore--primarily the struggle between the Hapsburgs and the French monarchy now the Bourbons. The War continued for over 10 years, but the battles while costly were largely indecisive. The most important was the battle of Rocroi (1643). The Duke of Enghein-later (Prince of Conde) gained a substantial victory over the Spanish forces.

Peace of Westphalia (1648)

The Treaty of Westphalia essentially settled the religious issue. It was the last attempt by the Cathloic Hapsburgs to destroy Protestantism. Westphalia confirmed the predominance of Catholicism in southern Germany and of Protestantism in northern Germany. It also confirmed the principle of the Peace of Augsburg (1555) that Catholic and Lutheran princes could determine the religion adopted in their territory. Princes could also choose Calvinism. his did not mean freedom of religion, but it was a step toward it. Before the Peace of Westphalia there were other contending structures, most notably that of international religious organizations such as the Catholic Church. Religious passions subsided in Europe after the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. Waring factions did not abandon their commitment to their version of orthodoxy, but the motivation to force such orthodoxy on another state by force was larely abandoned. War was certainly not abandoned in Europe, but religion became an increasingly less important factor in the wars. This shift and the steady appearance of new Protestant denominations were undoubtedtly factors in the steady development of religious tolerartion within states, especially Protestant states. The religious issue had been a major factor in beginning the Thirty Years War.


All wars are brutal, but the Thirty Years War stood out in centuries of European War for the scale of brutality. A turning point appears to have occurred at Neubrandenburg, a town in northeastern Germany. After it looked like the German Protestants had been defeated King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden marched his army south into Germany to support the Protestant cause. Neubrandenburg was garrisoned by the Swedes, but it was retaken by Imperial-Catholic League forces (1631). Catholic forces reportedly killed much of the Swedish and Scottish garrison when they tried to surrender. Scottish soldier of fortune Robert Munro, 18th Baron of Foulis, reports that in return, the Swedes adopted a "take no prisoners" policy. They were known to kill surrendering Catholics wil the cry, "New Brandenburg!".

Germany Devestated

It is often said that civil wars and religious wars can be especially brutal. The Thirty Years War was both a civil and a religious war. It was also one of the most dreadful wars in European history. It was primarily fought in Germany and Germany was the country most affected. There are no precise figures, but historians believe about 0.3 million soldiers died in the various battles. Much larger losses were reported in the civillian population. Millions of civilians died during the War and this was at a time when populations were much smaller than is the case today. Civilian deaths occurred from a variety of reasons beyond the actual fighting. Undesciplined soldiers and desters ravaged the cities and country side. This in part was a result oif the duration of the War. The combatants eventually found it difficult to pay their soldiers, who thus increasingly turned to looting. The armies became in a sence organized brigands. One historian calls Wllenstein and Tilly as the "great plunder captains" of the Hapsburg side. [Wells, p. 687.] Soon long trails of desperate women and children became camp followers behind the different armies, providing another wave of looting after the army passed. [Wells, pp. 686-687.] Civilians in both towns and cities were robbed and brutalized. Farms were pillaged and burned. Farmers who survived the looting had no incentive to plant knowing that the crop would be looted, destroyed, or stolen before it could be stalled. Moveable assetts like livestock disppeared. A historian writes, "... the Thirty Year's War set up a tradition of looting as a legitimate operation in warfare and of ourrage as a soldier's privilege that has tainted the good name of Germany right down to the First World War of 1914." [Wells, p. 687.] (Wells wrote this before World War II when the NAZIs escalated the ravaging of conquered peoples into a new level of brutality and avarice.] The result of destroyed, abandoned or fallow farms was a decline in agricultural production leading to malnutrition and dsease. The population of the Empire was substantially reduced. Estimates vary, but estimates of a decline from 21.0 million to 13.5 million people suggest the magnitude of the disaster. Over a century passed before Germany recovered.


Rempel, Gerhard. "The Thirty-Years-War," Western New England College website, accessed January 10, 2004.

Well, H.G. The Outline of History: The Whole Story of Man (Doubleday & Company: New York, 1971), 1103p.


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Created: January 15, 2004
Last updated: 6:16 PM 2/8/2010