The thirty years of war Essay

Introduction

            The thirty years of war which persisted from 1618 to 1648 was the most destructive and devastating event which took place in Europe and it is of importance to the European history although pre-eminently it was internationally seen as a German war. Almost all countries of the Western Europe took place in this war. The root cause of the thirty years of war was a religious struggle which was ongoing between the catholic and the protestant. This struggle was bound up in imperial ambitions of the then house of Hapsburg. Princes were willing to trade their convictions in religious matters in exchange of political advantage. The protestant states were being supported by the catholic France from Spain and also the Holy Roman Empire. Different faiths and traditional rivalries made the war to be protracted[1].

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The thirty years of war

            In the wake of the 17th century, parity existed between different faiths of the small principalities which were making up Germany. During this period, Catholicism and protestant faiths were at par with each faith having three electors of electing the emperor. The seventh vote or the final elector was the emperor who was the king of Bohemia. Habsburg’s stability was undermined since the Protestants were the majority which led to the thirty years of the war. Initially, Hapsburgs were willing to tolerate the fact that the Protestants were the majority since the main threat was originating from Muslim ottoman Turks. Both the protestants and the Catholics were fighting together to defend the Christendom. This balance was a delicate one which saw both the Catholics and the Protestants protecting themselves from each other[2].

            Crisis began in 1617 when Matthias the then holy roman emperor wanted to place Ferdinand his heir apparent on Bohemia’s throne. This was meant to ensure that the imperial title was succeeded by the Catholics. Ferdinand was also commonly referred to as catholic zealot and he could have alienated the Protestants in bohemia especially those who were a threat of restricting his power of making religious edicts in the Bohemia. Ferdinand ignored all the entreaties of the Protestants which led to some protestant nobles to go the royal palace which was in Prague in 1618. These protestant nobles threw the advisers of the king out through a window. This defenestration of the Prague by the Protestants marked their uprising in Hungary, bohemia and even Transylvania. This was a threat to the prosecution of the war which had continued against the Dutch. The Dutch thus found allies among this protestant population which was in central parts of Europe to help them fight against the Spanish allies. However, no prince was willing to become rival king of the bohemia to oppose the constituted sovereign which was legitimate[3].

            Mathias died in 1619 which saw Ferdinand succeed him as the king. During this period, Fredrick of palatinate also agreed to become the rival king in bohemia. Palatinate was bordering Spanish Netherlands and also the catholic Bavaria which provided two more flashpoints. The catholic Spanish military troops were occupying the lower part of palatinate while the Bavarians were on the upper part of the territories of Fredrick. Dutch and English who were the champions of the cause of the Protestants did not want involvement. The German Lutherans were neutral during this period while their rivals the Calvinists were involved. This led to the crushing of the army of Fredrick in 1620 at the White Mountain which was outside the Prague. The imperial mercenary army ravaged the rebellious bohemia thoroughly which led to the forceful restoration of the catholic faith. This period between the years 1618 to 1625 was mainly dominated by the Bohemians and thus is commonly referred to as the bohemian period[4].

            Though the imperialists thought they had settled the matters, the Hapsburgs and also the Spanish were having a stranglehold on Europe. These two could have enforced their will on any truculent ruler who was found to have defied the decrees of the imperial. The princes of the Protestants began to look for allies during this period. a protestant league which was made up of some states of Germany, Holland and England decided to support France secretly. This league was led by Christian IV who was from Denmark and he led them to the attack of 1626.  The Danes were however run and ragged for a period of three years by the Bavarian and imperial armies that had increased and were led by General Albrecht von Wallenstein.

            The Danes were fighting but were not given support by their allies which led them to sue for peace in 1629. The alliance later collapsed which was seen as if the Protestants had lost their hope especially with attempts of Ferdinand to go back to state of affairs which had been in existence during the period of peace in the year 1555 in Augsburg. This state of affairs demanded the return of lands back to Catholicism which had been converted to the faith of the Protestants. The policy of edict of restitution enabled this which saw the Calvinists together with the Lutherans uniting to oppose the policy. The period between the years 1625 to 1629 marked the Danish period[5].

            After the Danish period, the Swedish period set in which lasted from the year 1630 to the year 1635. The victory of the Catholics over the Danes alarmed the Protestants in the whole region. These victories also endangered the German princes’ independence and the growth of the powers of Hapsburg was of a great concern to French. The defeat of the Danes led the catholic powers to seek a window to strike the commerce of Dutch maritime on the Baltic. This alarmed the Swedes and since they had been rescued by French from the inconclusive war with the poles, they joined in the war of 1630 which was geared by the Swedes military king who was known as Gustavus Adolphus. The imperial treasury was at this time exhausted from previous wars while the policies of Ferdinand had weakened the alliances in his empire[6].

            The war which had initially started as a conflict due to religious issues by the Germans had by now widened to become a European war which was mainly steered by political issues especially when the Protestants Sweden formed an alliance with the catholic France to fight the catholic Hapsburgs. Swedish invasion to the empire was carried out when the empire was not prepared to defend itself. The armies of the Swedes were tough and also battle hardened which led to their two victories one at Breintenfeld and the other one at Lutzen. However, Gustavus died in 1632 at the battlefield in Lutzen. During the war at Lutzen, Ferdinand II had invited Wallenstein to form an army to fight the Swedes. After the death of Gustavus, Wallenstein was in secret negotiations with France and Sweden. He was later brutally murdered by the orders of Ferdinand by the troop he was leading in 1634. Constant campaigns followed which saw the Swedes lose some of their best troops. These troops were often replaced by local freebooters who were inferior which led to the Swedish defeat in Nordlingen in 1634. The troop which was being led by horn and Bernard of Saxe was defeated several times by the army of the Spanish imperial which led to more than 14,000 military men and also their artillery. The Swedish era was concluded by the formulation of the treaty of plague in 1635 which served to strengthen the Hapsburgs while at the same time weakening the German princes’ powers[7].

            The Swedish period was followed by the French period which lasted from the year 1635 to the year 1648. French decided to intervene in war directly thus wrecking the treaty of plague. Cardinal Richelieu who was chief minister of the then king Louis XIII from France sought to weaken the power granted to Hapsburgs by the treaty. Cardinal Richelieu also sought to capture Alsace province form the governance of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also formulating a plan against the then king of Spain and also against Hapsburgs in general. During this period, there was a fluctuation in the fortunes of war in both the Franco Spanish and the German conflicts. Holy roman emperors who were being aided by Bavarian and catholic princes fought against German and the Swedes Protestants. These holy roman emperors and their alliances were defeated which enabled larger forces from French to be sent to Germany. This helped to balance tip in favor of the foes of the emperors. Ferdinand II later died in 1637 which saw his son succeeding. Peace negotiations later started in the year 1641 but little progress was made[8].

The victory of the Spanish imperials led to the elimination of the Swedes from the southern part of Germany. The Protestants last hope was in the catholic France, because they feared that the Hapsburgs hegemony could rescue them. The ascendancy over nordlingen which the Hapsburgs had gained was short lived[9].

During this period, the Spanish were economically collapsing which helped the Dutch to roll them back. The Atlantic fleet of the Spaniards was seriously destroyed by the admiral tromp of the Dutch during a battle of downs in the year 1639. This led to the declaration by Portugal of their independence in 1640.  Attempts by the Spanish to renew their offense were met with defeat by French in 1643 at Rocroi. The countries were becoming exhausted from the war which led to a desire for peace maintenance. However, no consensus was agreed on how this was to be carried out or achieved which led to the continuation of the fighting. The breakthrough to attaining peace was realized in 1648 after an eight year war between Spain and Holland came to an end. This eight year long war was meshed in the widely viewed conflict or the thirty years war. After the conclusion of the Holland Spain war, most of the combatants which were fighting also settled their long term differences. Peace agreements were all concluded by the treaty of Westphalia. The treaty of Westphalia was meant to condition or outline the political map of the whole Europe for a period of one century[10].

The Westphalia peace treaty was a compromise instead of unconditional surrender which led the rise of the European power balance. During and after the thirty year war, most of the stakeholders of the war were experiencing negative fortunes and thus none of the combatants were willing to assume that the military straits of the emperor were to continue. The Swedes and the French interests were divergent which enabled the emperor to able to switch them against each other. The Swedes wanted to be granted rights for the Protestants especially in the Hapsburgs domain and were met by French due to imperial insistence. The treaty sought to strike a balance and thus had something for all the stake holders. No one got everything but each stakeholder got something from it[11].

Land transfers were a main issue of concern to the peace treaty in the empire. Return of the land which had been given to Catholic Church following the edict restitution saw Sweden acquiring the land of eastern Pomerania. The land transfers led to the diminishing of re-establishment of the roman church especially in the northern part of Germany.

Under the treaty, French was given Alsace although its terms were ambiguous which later led to fights later. Breisach and also the right part of garrison Phillipsburg were also granted to France. French on the other hand was made to pay an indemnity to Ferdinand. Sweden on the other hand was given half o the Pomeranian and some lands in eastern parts which included the Stettin city and also the island of Rugen. Port of Wismar and also the bishoprics and verden were also given to Sweden[12].

During this period of balance of power, monetary settlements were also made which were meant to compensate for any loss of land while other monetary payments were made to assist soldiers who were long suffering from the effects of the thirty years period of war. The edict of restitutions policy was abolished thus ensuring that there were no secularizations of land to the Catholics after the peace treaty. Amnesty was also granted to all who had participated in the wars. However, this was not so in Austria. Only those persons who had rebelled after the year 1630 were to be given amnesty though they were few thus amnesty in this area was meaningless.

End of war and the subsequent division of land and monetary settlement saw the rise of the new European power balance although many amendments have been made to the Westphalia peace treaty. This treaty formed the basis of the end of war and the emergence of balance of power in Europe[13].

Conclusion

            The thirty years war in Europe forms an important part of the European history. Initially, it was a German war which was centred or revolved around the Protestants and the Catholics. Europe was being governed by the holy roman emperors who were Catholics and the Protestants were fighting for equal treatment as the Catholics. A war which began as a religious fight ended up becoming political especially with the involvement of French. The effects of this war were devastating as economy of Europe was adversely affected with very many people and dependable soldiers being killed.

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[1] Geoffrey, Parker & Simon, Adams: The Thirty Years’ War. 1997. Published by Routledge. ISBN 0415154588
[2] Manfred, Fleischer: Lutheran and Catholic Reunionists in the Age of Bismarck. 1988. Journal article of Church History, Vol. 57
[3] C. V.Wedgwood, Paul, Kennedy ; Anthony (FRW) Grafton: The Thirty Years War. 2005. Published by New York Review Books. ISBN 1590171462
[4] Henk, Wesseling: Imperialism ; the Roots of the Great War. 2005.Journal article of Daedalus, Vol. 134
[5] Mattia, Billi: The   History of International Politics. (2004). Retrieved on 23rd February 2009 from,

http://history-world.org/INTERNATIONAL%20POLITICS.htm.
[6] John P. Maarbjerg: Sweden, the First Modern State: Tilly’s Assertion, “War Makes States, and Vice Versa”. 2004. Journal article of Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 76
[7] John P. Maarbjerg: Sweden, the First Modern State: Tilly’s Assertion, “War Makes States, and Vice Versa”. 2004. Journal article of Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 76
[8] Geoffrey, Parker ; Simon, Adams: The Thirty Years’ War. 1997. Published by Routledge. ISBN 0415154588
[9] David, Parker: French ‘Absolutism’. 1997. Journal article of History Review
[10] Gerhard, Rempel: The Thirty-Years-War. Retrieved on 23rd February 2009 from,

http://mars.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc2/lectures/30yearswar.html.
[11] Lillian, Goldman: Treaty of Westphalia. 2008. Retrieved on 23rd February 2009 from,

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/westphal.asp.
[12] John P. Maarbjerg: Sweden, the First Modern State: Tilly’s Assertion, “War Makes States, and Vice Versa”. 2004. Journal article of Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 76
[13] Franco, Moretti: Modern European Literature: A Geographical Sketch. 1994.

Journal article of New Left Review, Vol. a