The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) started when Holy Roman Emperor
Ferdinand II of Bohemia tried to limit the religious activities of his
people, leading to revolt among Protestants.
The war, fought as a result of religious tensions between Protestants
and Catholics, involved Europe’s major powers: Sweden, France,
Spain, and Austria, all of which organized campaigns on German
Partly known for the massacres for which mercenary soldiers were
responsible, the war ended with several treaties, as a result of which
was the Peace of Westphalia.
The outcome redrew the religious and political map of Central
Europe, which gave way for the old consolidated Roman Catholic
Empire to create a community of sovereign states.
Roman Emperor Ferdinand II of Bohemia
3. Origin and causes
Origin and causes
This war, which changed Central Europe’s religious and political
boundaries, had its origins in the Holy Roman Empire, a massive
complex of some 1,000 separate, self-governing political entities
subject to the rule of the loose suzerainty of the Austrian Habsburgs.
A balance of power arose among the leading powers, but
throughout the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformation and the
Counter Reformation caused religious division in Germany between
Protestant and Catholic groups, both ready to pursue foreign aid to
promise legitimacy of a balance of power if there were any need to.
Holy Roman Empire
Consequently, in 1618, when Ferdinand II, successor apparent to the
throne of Bohemia, started to restrict certain religious privileges that
his people enjoyed, they instantly demanded assistance to the
Protestants in the rest of the Holy Roman Empire and to the leading
foreign Protestant nations: Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, and
Ferdinand called on the German Catholics (led by Bavaria), Spain,
and the papacy.
During the subsequent struggle, Ferdinand (made Holy Roman
Emperor in 1619) and his allies were victorious at White Mountain in
1620 outside Prague, allowing the extirpation of the Protestant faith in
in most of the Habsburg entities.
In 1621, Ferdinand, motivated by this victory, turned against
Bohemia’s Protestant followers in Germany.
In spite of assistance from Britain, Denmark, and the Dutch Republic,
they also lost; by 1629, imperial armies under Albrecht von Wallenstein
invaded much of Protestant Germany and Denmark.
Ferdinand subsequently issued the Edict of Restitution, and won back
entities of the empire that were under the jurisdiction of the Catholic
Church that was obtained and secularized by Protestant rulers.
Battle of White Mountain, 1620
5. Europe during the war
6. Protestant victory and defeat
Protestant victory and defeat
The Protestant cause could only be saved by Swedish military
King Gustavus Adolphus landed in Germany in 1630; with aid
provided by the French government and from several German
Protestant entities, he routed the Imperialists at Breitenfeld in 1631 and
forced them out of most of Germany.
The Protestant revival, meanwhile, endured until 1634, when a Spanish
army intervened and defeated the main Swedish field army at
Nördlingen, which drove the Protestants away from southern
The Habsburg victory nonetheless provoked the French, who were
afraid of being surrounded, to first declare war on Spain in 1635, and
on the Emperor in 1636.
King Gustavus Adolphus
7. Battle of Nördlingen, 1634
8. Expansion and end
Expansion and end
The war, fought in the 1620s only by German states with foreign
aid, was now a conflict among the great powers (Sweden,
France, Spain, and Austria) mostly fought on German land; for
twelve years, armies advanced while battalions (more than
five hundred altogether) conducted a “dirty war” to support
themselves and to do away with anything of likely advantage
to the enemy.
Killings, including those mentioned in the novel Simplicissimus
by Hans von Grimmelshausen, escalated as troops fought to
find proper resources.
Finally, the French victory against the Spaniards in 1643 and
the Swedes’ victory against the Imperialists at Jankau in 1645
made the Habsburgs make concessions that led to the Peace
of Westphalia, which resolved most of the remaining issues, in
The end of the war marked the official end of the Protestant
Reformation that began 131 years earlier.
Europe in 1648
9. Treaty of Westphalia, 1648
10. Important consequences
The cost was nevertheless huge.
Perhaps 20 percent of the total population of Germany died during the war, with casualties of 50 percent alongside a passageway that
ran from Pomerania in the Baltic Sea to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald).
Villages suffered more casualties than towns, even though towns and cities also dealt a deterioration in their populations, manufacture,
The Thirty Years’ War was the worst disaster to affect Germany until World War II.
In contrast, the conflict played a role in putting an end to the era of religious wars.
While religious issues remained important after 1648 (for example, in forming an alliance in the 1680s against King Louis XIV of France), no
longer did they dictate international alliances.
Those German princes, principally Calvinists who fought against Ferdinand II in the 1620s, were in large part inspired by confessional
concerns; as long as they governed the Habsburg cause, the issue of religion did as well.
11. Important consequences (cont.)
But as they were unsuccessful in obtaining a lasting settlement, the task of protecting the “Protestant cause” slowly was assumed by
Lutherans, who (if needed) were prepared to ally themselves with Catholic France and Orthodox Russia so that an alliance with the
ability to defeat the Habsburgs was possible.
Religion’s role in European politics declined after 1630.
This was possibly the biggest accomplishment of the Thirty Years’ War because it removed a significant threatening influence in
European politics, which both challenged the interior unity of many states and reversed the diplomatic balance of power established
during the Renaissance.
12. The End