Thirty Years War
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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 EmpireHoly Roman Empire,
designation for the political entity that originated at the coronation as emperor (962) of the German king Otto I and endured until the renunciation (1806) of the imperial title by Francis II.
..... Click the link for more information. as represented by the HapsburgsHapsburg
, ruling house of Austria (1282–1918). Rise to Power
The family, which can be traced to the 10th cent., originally held lands in Alsace and in NW Switzerland. Otto (d.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 IIFerdinand II,
1578–1637, Holy Roman emperor (1619–37), king of Bohemia (1617–37) and of Hungary (1618–37); successor of Holy Roman Emperor Matthias.
..... Click the link for more information. ). 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 BethlenBethlen, Gabriel
, 1580–1629, prince of Transylvania (1613–29). He was chief adviser of Stephen Bocskay and was elected prince after the assassination of Gabriel Báthory.
..... Click the link for more information. in Transylvania. Duke Maximilian IMaximilian I,
1573–1651, elector (1623–51) and duke (1597–1651) of Bavaria, one of the outstanding figures of the Thirty Years War and an ardent supporter of the Counter Reformation.
..... Click the link for more information. of Bavaria, with the army of the Catholic League under TillyTilly, Charles,
1929–2008, American sociologist, b. Lombard, Ill. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Tilly taught at the Univ. of Michigan, the New School for Social Research, and Columbia, among other institutions.
..... Click the link for more information. , helped the imperial forces defeat the Bohemians at the White Mt. near Prague (Nov., 1620). John GeorgeJohn George,
1585–1656, elector of Saxony (1611–56). A drunkard, he nonetheless ruled the leading German Protestant state during the Thirty Years War. He vacillated in his policy between support of the Holy Roman Empire against the Lutheran princes and aid to his
..... Click the link for more information. 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
MansfeldMansfeld, Peter Ernst von
, 1580?–1626, military commander in the Thirty Years War. Illegitimate son of a governor for the Hapsburgs in Luxembourg, he rendered distinguished service in the imperial forces in the Netherlands and was legitimized; by 1607 he was styling
..... Click the link for more information. and Christian of BrunswickChristian of Brunswick
or Christian of Halberstadt,
1599–1626, Protestant military leader in the Thirty Years War, titular bishop of Halberstadt (1616–23).
..... Click the link for more information. led the revolutionary forces in the PalatinatePalatinate
, Ger. Pfalz, two regions of Germany. They are related historically, but not geographically. The Rhenish or Lower Palatinate (Ger.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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 IVChristian IV,
1577–1648, king of Denmark and Norway (1588–1648), son and successor of Frederick II. After assuming (1596) personal rule from a regency, he concentrated on building the navy, industry, and commerce. He rebuilt Oslo and renamed it Christiania.
..... Click the link for more information. 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 WallensteinWallenstein or Waldstein, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von
, 1583–1634, imperial general in the Thirty Years War, b. Bohemia.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 IIGustavus II
(Gustavus Adolphus), 1594–1632, king of Sweden (1611–32), son and successor of Charles IX. Military Achievements
Gustavus's excellent education, personal endowments, and early experience in affairs of state prepared him for his crucial role
..... Click the link for more information. (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 RichelieuRichelieu, Armand Jean du Plessis, duc de
(Cardinal Richelieu) , 1585–1642, French prelate and statesman, chief minister of King Louis XIII, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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-WeimarBernhard of Saxe-Weimar
, 1604–39, Protestant general in the Thirty Years War, duke of Weimar. Under Ernst von Mansfeld and the margrave of Baden, Bernhard fought against the imperial forces in defense (1622) of the Palatinate.
..... Click the link for more information. , stormed Regensburg (1633).
Wallenstein was murdered in 1634 by imperialist conspirators. Soon afterward the imperial forces under GallasGallas, Matthias, Graf von
, 1584–1647, imperial general in the Thirty Years War. He served under Tilly, commander of the Catholic League, in Germany until 1629, and then entered Italy, helping to take Mantua (1630).
..... Click the link for more information. 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. OxenstiernaOxenstierna, Count Axel Gustafsson
, 1583–1654, Swedish statesman. Named chancellor in 1612, he was the actual administrator of Sweden because Gustavus II was continually occupied with foreign campaigns.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 MazarinMazarin, Jules
, 1602–61, French statesman, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, b. Italy. His original name was Giulio Mazarini. After serving in the papal army and diplomatic service and as nuncio at the French court (1634–36), he entered the service of France
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 TorstenssonTorstensson, Lennart
, 1603–51, Swedish general in the Thirty Years War. He was one of the generals trained by Gustavus II in the new techniques of war. As commander of the Swedish artillery at Breitenfeld (1631) and the Lech (1632), he was responsible for the success of
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 ofWestphalia, Peace of,
1648, general settlement ending the Thirty Years War. It marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire as an effective institution and inaugurated the modern European state system.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
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.