What should everyone know about peace

Thirty Years' War

Europe's balance of power before the war

On May 23, 1618, Protestant nobles storm the Castle of Prague, the seat of the King of Bohemia, and unceremoniously throw the royal governors out of the window. In this attack, the pent-up anger over the permanent restriction of religious freedom and the oppression by the Catholic rulers discharges.

An act with far-reaching consequences. Although the poor officials of the king get off lightly thanks to a heap of dung under the window, for Europe this fall leads to an extremely long and bloody war.

Because although there is actually peace in the Holy Roman Empire at this time, there are enough minor conflicts in Europe that seriously threaten this peace as a whole. A look at the balance of power in Europe before 1618 shows this.

The Kingdom of Spain, for example, is busy retaking the breakaway province of the Netherlands. To do this, the Spaniards need a supply route in the west of the Holy Roman Empire. For France, this poses a great threat, as the French government is still wrestling with the Spanish rulers for supremacy in Europe.

In the Baltic Sea region, Denmark's traditional supremacy is increasingly threatened by the up-and-coming Kingdom of Sweden.

Another trouble spot is the still smoldering denominational dispute in the empire. Since the Reformation in 1517, two denominations have faced each other: Catholics and Protestants.

First of all, the Augsburg Religious Peace of 1555 regulates the relationships between the denominations. He is also accepted by a first generation of princes. Towards the end of the 16th century, however, a second generation came to power, which interpreted its denomination very narrowly and was very ready for conflict.

The denominational controversy is getting a new dynamic, the old peace is more and more in danger. At the beginning of the 17th century there were violent disputes.

The Prague lintel

In Bohemia these clashes between Protestants and Catholic rulers escalated in the spring of 1618. Bohemia is 90 percent Protestant and the nobility wants to get rid of the unloved Catholic rule anyway.

When the Habsburg rule then reversed the religious freedom of the Protestants, which was guaranteed in the so-called majesty letter, it was the spark that sparked the war. The nobles humiliate the Bohemian King Ferdinand II, who is also the Habsburg emperor, by throwing his governors out of the window.

The loss of Bohemia would be dramatic for the emperor. The emperors have been elected by the seven electors for a long time. Since the Reformation, however, this college has been divided on a denominational level. Brandenburg, Saxony and the Rhine Palatinate belong to the Protestant party. On the Catholic side there are three clergy princes, the archbishops of Cologne, Trier and Mainz.

The decisive factor in an emperor's election is the vote of Bohemia, which has previously belonged to the Catholic party. If Bohemia became Protestant now, the next election for emperor would be lost. So the emperor has no choice but to put down the uprising in Bohemia.

However, Ferdinand II needs support because he is financially unable to wage this war. The Spaniards and Duke Maximilian of Bavaria help the emperor; in the battle of the White Mountain in 1620 they recaptured Bohemia.

The expansion of the war

The emperor's dependence on other rulers ultimately led to the war spreading to Europe. Because of course the victorious helpers make demands.

Duke Maximilian von Bayern is a radical Catholic, economically adept, and a man who thinks about power politics. He demands the Palatinate electoral dignity from the emperor, because this preserves the Catholic majority of the seven electors. This in turn means an immeasurable threat to the Protestants, who can never accept such a shift in power in the empire.

The Spanish King Philip IV demands a part of the Palatinate for his services in order to secure his supply route to the Netherlands. But France can by no means accept that the Spaniards establish themselves on their eastern border.

The situation in Europe is worsening, the Catholic camp is significantly strengthened after the Battle of White Mountain and the Protestants turn to King Christian IV of Denmark in their distress. With his immense funds he is able to wage a war against the Catholic camp. But in 1629 he was defeated and had to withdraw from the war.

This is the opportunity for Gustav Adolf of Sweden to intervene in 1630. The Swedes also wanted to prevent a strong Catholic camp, but they would never have fought alongside Denmark.

France, actually Catholic, takes the side of the Protestants for political reasons. The French king stayed actively out of the action for a long time, but supported the Protestants financially. France then intervened actively in the war in 1635.

The exploitation of the population

This war costs all the nations involved a lot of money. Since Emperor Ferdinand II suffers from a notorious lack of money, he has to find a suitable form of financing. And here Albrecht von Wallenstein comes in very handy.

When Christian IV of Denmark enters the war, the Emperor accepts Wallenstein's offer to raise an army at his own expense. Wallenstein has its own type of funding. He introduced the so-called system of contributions.

Wallenstein forces all residents of the areas through which his army passes to pay. Regardless of whether they are Catholic, Protestant, friendly to the emperor or hostile to the emperor: the population has to pay with cash.

The people are not used to such burdens. Up until this point it was customary for the warlords to bear the burdens of war. Up until now, the population had to deliver natural produce, which usually meant a great deal of stress.

Initially, the new system works. The longer the war lasts, the more brutal the exploitation becomes, especially since the other warring parties copy this system. The population is squeezed like a lemon; and if there is nothing more to be found in an area, the army must move on.

That's why the soldiers are constantly on the move. To the horror of the population, huge caravans roam the country.

The damage of war

The result of this brutal method of financing is endless suffering. The population of the Germans declined by a third and only in the 18th century did Germany return to the population level of 1618. Germany is deserted, in some regions the rural population has practically died out.

However, not all regions are equally affected. It particularly affects the regions through which the armies move, such as Northern Germany, Lower Saxony, Central Germany, the area of ​​today's Hesse and Bavaria. But there are also areas on the periphery, such as Austria or Hamburg, that are spared.

The Peace of Westphalia

Finally in 1643 envoys from the warring countries met in Münster and Osnabrück to negotiate peace. But it will be five long years before peace is finally negotiated between the many different warring parties. At first, nobody really believes in success.

The conditions are extremely unfavorable: ambassadors of the most diverse nationalities sit together, a common language has to be found and that is done via the mediators, who translate everything and then pass it on.

Meanwhile, the war continues. That means: What is being negotiated today may be wasted tomorrow because the war situation has completely changed.

In an unprecedented act, however, peace comes about. The greatest war is followed by the greatest peace, because for the first time governments have learned how to hold peace congresses. You have learned the art of peace making and resolved the European disputes. A new era of diplomacy is emerging.

As a result, the Peace of Westphalia brings the end of the war and creates an order in which the denominations in Germany can live together again. In Europe, a peace order is being created on the basis of states with equal rights. The Netherlands and Switzerland get their independence.

The position of the Habsburg emperor, on the other hand, is weakened, but he remains emperor. The power of the estates will be strengthened and Germany will have a different structure with a long durability.

Spain is losing its position of power; the winners of this war are France and Sweden. Sweden got parts of the empire in the north and France bishoprics in Lorraine. For France, peace is the basis for its later rise.