Free «The Thirty Years' War» Essay Sample


            The Thirty Years’ Old War was a conflict which engulfs Central Europe from 1618 to 1648. This conflict involved different jurisdictional territories, both secular and theocratic, over a period of about thirty years; hence, here derives the name - the Thirty Years’ War. The European territorial demarcation by this time had ranged from small clan divisions to theocratic parishes under the clergies, to more advanced state-like sovereignty under secular kings. All this ‘autonomous’ establishments overlapped each other in one way or another one (Gerhard, 1978). The aim of this paper is to explore the various causes of this war, identify the main protagonist and other key players in the war. Also, the various interventional efforts and truces in a due course of conflict will be highlighted. Finally, the effects on the socio- economic status of the European citizenry during the war and beyond will be spotlighted.

Pre-War Conditions in Europe, Particularly Germany

Less than one hundred years prior to the war, the authority of the Pope and the teaching of the Catholic Church was for the first time disputed and questioned. Martin Luther had led a revolt against the Roman Catholic teaching and dominance in Germany. This led to a harsh reaction from both the Emperor and the Pope against Luther and his followers. All the Catholics and Lutherans were embroiled in the conflicts over Luther’s new teachings. The conflict ended with signing Augsburg Treaty of 1555 which enforced the Diet of Worm Treaty of 1526 which had compromised the hard stand against Protestantism (Gerhard, 1978). This helped to end the war between Catholics and Lutherans. It allowed different German states’ rulers to choose their religion and to make their subjects follow those religious beliefs. It also gave Lutherans dwelling in the Catholic jurisdictions to intent their religion freely. Moreover, Lutherans were to maintain the control over the territories they had taken away from the Catholics. Augsburg Treaty helped to quell the conflict between Catholics and Lutherans but did not address the underlying hostilities between these two groups. In addition, a new religious group was gaining its root in the Holy Roman Empire – the Calvary that was not factored in Augsburg Treaty. This complicated the potential religious conflict in Germanic states (Gerhard, 1978).

            The neighbouring territories to the Empire did not help either in making the region stable. Each of the neighbours had their own selfish interests concerning the vast German territories. Spain had the interest to the west of the empire. France, on the other hand, was trying to flex a muscle of supremacy in the region, being uncomfortable with two powerful neighbours – the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. Thus, France was contemplating sabotaging the Empire by invading the weaker states of the Empire. On the north, Denmark and Sweden were uncomfortable with the powerful Empire next door and were willing to risk conquering the German states to the north near their borders (Richard, 2002).

            Though a large and powerful entity, the Empire did not have some strong and cohesive structures to make it fully sovereign. Many of the states in the Empire were independent and unique in their administration of individual affairs. This was potentially a weakness rather than strength. The emperors hailing from the house of Habsburgs also ruled over detached territories, thus, making the Empire a fragmented group of states. The examples include: the Archduchy of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Bavaria, and electoral Saxony among others (Richard, 2002). These many small territories made it unviable for them to carry on with their affairs in a state-like manner.

            Meanwhile, the Augsburg Treaty was becoming increasingly unpopular within the states and many of its provisions were no longer observed. Thus, the religious intolerance started to creep in and, as a result, religious tensions and conflicts ensued. This led to different religion affiliates competing for their supremacy. These events led to erode the gains the Lutherans had made and, in turn, the Catholics were gaining the control over many of the Empire’s states (Kelvin, 2007). Both, the empire leadership and the leader from Spain sought to preserve the strength of the Catholic faith in the whole region. Many Lutherans were either converting to Catholicism or Calvinistic faith or ran to exile for their survival. This all had led to the balkanisation of the Holy Roman Empire along religious lines. The Augsburg Austrian regions and the Rhine land were predominately Catholics, while the states bordering on Denmark and Sweden became Lutherans. Calvinists dominated the Central and Western States dividing the region into three main religious blocks. While this balkanisation could have created the cracks in the empire, it solidified the different religious blocks, each forming their region-political association for the survival (Kelvin, 2007). The Calvinists created the League of the Evangelical Union, while Catholics formed the Catholic League. The religious turmoil was, thus, a fertile ground for the full blown conflict which would give the war the religion dimension later.


Events Leading to the War

            Due to religious hostilities, slight provocations led to the war between different religious faiths. In 1609, John William, the Duke of Julich-Cleves-Berg, died. He was childless, thus, he had no heir apparent. There existed two competitive family members each claiming their inheritance to the throne. One side was led by the Duchess Anna of Prussia, a daughter to John Williams’ elder sister, against Wolfgang William, the son of John Williams’ second sister, both the Protestants. In the pretext of averting the protracted conflict over the inheritance to the throne, Rudof II, the Holy Roman leader, occupied Julich-Cleves-Berg till the Aulic Council had decided on the dispute (Steve, 2001). Meanwhile, many Protestants feared the Emperor; a religious Catholic would keep the territory under his rule to stop the Protestants from taking it. To get an upper hand in the conflict, Wolfgang Williams converted to the Catholic while Sigismund, the husband of the Duchess Anna of Perussia, converted to Calvinist. In 1614, the discussion was located in the Xanten Treaty that divided Julich-Cleves-Berg between the two rival family members.

            The Dutch revolt and the subsequent truce which was to expire in 1621 having a bearing on the events of the early years of the war. After the truce expiry, it was widely believed that Spain, a close ally of the Holy Roman Empire, would reconquer the Dutch Republic (Steve, 2001). Strategically, the only territory which was unfriendly to Spain existed the Electorate of Palatinate. Because of this geo-political strategic position, the Palatinates gained the increased importance in the region. This changed the focus that was gradually changing the religious animosity into the political and military strategy in the region. This, in turn, was a precipitation for the chaos ensued.

 The Holy Roman leader and the King of Bohemia, Mathias, was childless, and it was becoming clear that the heir-apparent to his throne would be his cousin, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Because of his educational background as a Jesuit he was favoured by Spain. Ferdinand was a stunt Catholic and desired to impose the religious uniformity throughout the Empire (Richard, 2002). As a result, he became very unpopular among the Protestants. Ferdinand, who by this time was the Prince Crown of Bohemia, was facing a lot of oppositions, even among the nobles. This would eventually lead to an open revolt in Bohemia and propagate to the Thirty Years’ War.

By the year 1617, the main opposing force in the war had taken a shape between the House of Austria, on one hand, and those who opposed it, on the other hand. The House of Austria was allied to Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors, Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III, together with the Spanish cousin Philips IV. On the other hand, during the protracted armed conflict, the House of Austria was opposed by the Danish and the Dutch people, though a formidable opposition was in the form of France and Sweden. Locally, the conflict was the German Civil War with the states which made up Germanic taking arms against or for Habsburg at different times of the war (Richard, 2002). The Thirty Years’ War may be categorised into four different stages: the Danish, the Swedish, and the French intrusion, the Bohemian revolt.

The Bohemian Revolt

The Holy Roman chief, Mathias, was at his sunset days at the throne and wanted a smooth transition to his leadership. He had his heir-apparent, Ferdinand II, elected to separate throne of Hungary and Bohemia. The Protestants in Bohemia were divided into the choice of Ferdinand II as an heir to the throne. Some felt they would lose their religious privileges presented to them by the Emperor Rudolf in 1609. This group preferred instead Fredrick V, the elector of Palatinate, a Protestant Principality. Other Protestants, however, preferred Ferdinand II. Thus, in the year 1617, the leader Ferdinand II was elected as a new Prince Crown of Bohemia and the subsequent Emperor after the death of Mathias (Kelvin, 2007). Ferdinand II chose two Catholic members to administer on his behalf in Hradcany Castle, Prague, in 1618. The two councillors would eventually be sized by a group of Protestants and thrown from the window inside the palace in the incident famous as the 2nd Defenestration in Prague. This event triggered the Revolt in Bohemia pitying the Catholics against Protestants. The conflict took a new turn by the death of the Emperor Mathias and was no longer confined within Bohemian borders alone. The conflict would spill in to the rest of the German Principalities and over to the whole of Europe.

Meanwhile, both of the warring factions, Ferdinand II and the Bohemians were weak and could provide a decisive victory to end the war. Instead both sides seeked help from outside. Ferdinand II searched the assistance from his cousin Philip IV from Spain. On the other hand, the Bohemian desperate for an upper hand in the conflict sought to join the Protestants Union triggered by their favourite heir to the King Mathias, Fredrick V, and the Elector Palatine for assistance. Fredrick was lured by being promised to be the Bohemian King after the conflict. However, the similar promises had been created by other Bohemian to the Duke of Savoy, the Prince of Transylvania, and the elector of Saxony. When this duplicity was made open, the Bohemian lost a lot of assistance they had been getting. Initially, the Bohemians were having an upper hand in the conflict. They were receiving the support from Northern parts of Austria, which was predominantly with the Lutherans and Calvinists (Gerhard, 1978).

Meanwhile, on the Eastern Borders, the Protestant Hungarian Prince in Transylvania, Gabor and Bethlen, in Hungary, led a revolt with the help of the Ottoman Sultan named as Osman II. Many of the Protestant territories feared a Catholic Ferdinand’s II rule and were seeking help from any quarter not less in the Ottomans. Thus, the Bohemians were able to free off the grip of the House of Austria and had Fredrick V, a Protestant, installed as the new Bohemian King. Fredrick V and Osman opened the diplomatic ties between them and each had some representatives in both Prague and Constantinople by 1620. Moreover, the Ottomans proposed Fredrick their military assistance in the form of 400,000 of troops’ members in the exchange for a yearly payment to the Sultan (Richard, 2002). With a solid diplomatic and military partnership, the Ottomans and Fredrick sought to invade Poland, a Holy Roman Empire sympathiser in the war, leading to the Battle of Cecora. The invasion of Poland later tilted against the Bohemians which led to their defeat together with the Ottomans in the battle of the White Mountain and the Battle of Chocim which ended the war in the Polish front.

The Protestants under the King Fredrick were losing the battle on the Austrian fronts. These led to lose another ally, the Savoy, a long-term opponent of the House of Austria during the war. Meanwhile, Spain under the General Ambrosio Spinola sent the troops from Brussels to assist the Austrian side which opposed the Bohemian revolt. Further, after the defeat of the Savoy, the Spanish persuaded the Saxony Protestants to fight against the Bohemians exchanging to have the ruling over Lusatia. The Saxony led their onslaught from the East, while the Spanish in the West crated a buffer zone to prevent any assistance from the Protestant Union forces from reaching the Bohemians. The electoral vote for Bohemia was transferred from Palatinate to Duke of Bavaria through the conspiracy with some Bohemians (Kelvin, 2007). Both the Austrian Emperor and the Catholic League’s army attacked Bohemia leading to the collapse of Fredrick’s V and Ferdinand’s II leadership took over power again in November of 1620. Bohemia became Catholic and had to remain during approximately three hundred years later. Fredrick V was outlawed in the empire and affiliates territories, and the principalities under Protestant electors were provided mainly to the Catholic nobles. Though defeated and weak, Fredrick V tried to protect his lands through the use of mercenaries but the effects had been not so severe as before.

Meanwhile, the events in France were shaping to give the war a continental status through the Huguenot rebellion. The Huguenots Protestants were revolting versus the main Royal government in Paris after the death of King Henry IV. Henry was initially a Huguenot and later converted to Catholicism, and he had defended Protestants with the help of the Edicts of Nantes. His successor, Louis XIII, was becoming increasingly intolerant of the Protestants (Richard, 2002). This made Huguenots form the military and political groupings that revolted against the central French government. They also sought the diplomatic ties with foreign countries. The revolt triggered a military conflict between the two functions with the subsequent defeat of Huguenots by the late 1620s. After quelling the Huguenot rebellion, France was the Major Catholic State with no alignment to Habsburg power and could for further be sucked in to the Thirty Years’ War against Spain.

The Danish Intervention

The Holy Roman Empire was resting to peace after the Bohemian revolt, and in Denmark, the Emperor Christian IV was growing increasingly weary of a powerful Catholic Roman Empire in the region. The Christian, the Lutheran and the Duke from Holstein, a duchy all over the Holy Roman Empire had helped Saxony Lutheran leaders in war versus the forces of the empire. The current Catholic success in the region was the cause of worry to him, and the Danish sovereignty was at stake. He had amassed the huge wealth over the years and the financing during the war was a least of his worries. To face-off Christians, Ferdinand employed the service of Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian noble, who had profited greatly during the Bohemian revolt. Wallenstein gave his army to Ferdinand which was huge returning the right to rob the territories captured (Henry, 1968). The Christian army together with hired mercenaries was no match to Wallenstein huge and experienced army of about 100.000 men. The perceived allies of Christians thought that would never come to his rescue in the battle. England had enough domestic woes while France was embroiled in the Civil war at home. Wallenstein together with the General Tilly defeated Christians in the battle Dessau Bridge and the Battle of Luta in 1626. Wallenstein pursued the Danish people further to the North occupying Mecklenburg and Jutland. The only fate which would save the capital in Dutch land from capture was because Wallenstein lacked his fleet to cross over.

Wallenstein feared a further pursues of the Danish that could attract Sweden to come for help to Denmark, and the war was becoming extremely expensive. On the other hand, Christian had got under one more failure in the fight of Walgast, prompting both to seek the cease fire. This led to the Treaty of Lubeck in 1629, which noted that Christian would keep his territories intact and that he would no longer aid the protestant course in Germany. Thus, more German territories were in the hands of Catholics, and the Protestants were rendered weaker than before.

Swedish Intervention

King Gustaf II Adolf of Sweden would be tempted to invade the Holy Roman Empire based on the same reasons as Christian. He was sympathetic with the Protestants suffering in the hands of the Catholics in the Empire. This time, Ferdinand was not so lucky, and Gustaf’s forces would end up capturing half the territories of the Holy Roman Empire in the battle that had lasted from1630 to 1634.

During this time, France had successfully crashed the Huguenots rebellion, and, thus, offered to Sweden the military help against the German Empire. Gustaf’s forces would go on and attack Bavaria despite an earlier treaty. He also made the Catholic Group Army led by Tilly defeated. In the other further confrontation with Tilly’s army, Gustaf’s army managed to kill Tilly. Gustaf’s army was large and well-financed comprising both regular and mercenaries. By this time, Ferdinard was using the Catholic League army. He opted to recall Wallenstein whom he had banished after fearing that he was growing too powerful. Gustaf and Wallenstein would clash in the Battle of Lutzen (1632), resulting in the death of Gustaf (Michael, 1958).

Later, Wallenstein would seek the cease fire with Swedes. This would rekindle Ferdinand’s suspicion on him, and eventually he was killed by one of his officers as he sorted to communicate with the Swedes in 1634. With the demise of Gustaf, the Protestant army started yielding to the Holy Roman Empire’s forces which now had been reinforced by the Spanish troops led by Cardinal-Infante Ferdinard.

By 1635, Swedish military activity had halted in the areas they had previously captured which led to the ruling Monarchs and the Protestants to cease the fire by the Peace of Prague agreement of 1635. This agreement entailed the postponement of the Restitution Edict for approximately 40 years. It also permitted the protestant rulers to keep their secular principalities kept by them by 1627. This agreement, however, did not favour all the Protestants, especially those the land of which was subjugated to Catholics before 1627. Different functional armies were to join together to form the Holy Roman imperial army and also forbidding Princes from forming the alliances within or without the Empire (Michael, 1958). This treaty would ruffle France the wrong way in that; it gave its arch enemy, the Habsburgs, more privileges. Sweden was not party to the Prague treaty, and so, when France started the issue, they joined in under the command of Johan Baner.

French Intervention

However, mainly Catholic, France was against Spain and the Holy Roman Empire since the early period of the war. France under the King Louis XIII felt a threat from the powerful Roman Empire which extended some of its territories to its Eastern land border including Netherlands. Cardinal Richelieu, the King Chief Minister, was indirectly involved into the war during the Swedish intervention when he signed the Agreement of Barwalde with the Swedes committing to help them with the military aid in the intervention. After the Swedes had been defeated by the Imperial army, Rachelieu was compelled to send the French troops to fight firstly to Spain in 1635 and later to Germany in 1636. The French were to join with the Swedes under Johan Baner, who had now regained much of his lost captured territories under the Swedes in Germany (Michael, 1958).

Meanwhile, the French armies were facing a stiff opposition from the Spanish people leading to the invasion of their territories. The Spanish under General Ferdinand overran Burgundy, Picardy, and Champagne provinces. They were repelled later by a chief named Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar who pushed the Habsburgs to the border of France. What would ensue was a long time battle with no decisive winner up to the time of Richelieu’s death in 1642. The Swedes, on their part, continued their onslaught on the Imperial forces which suffered major casualties. These events made Ferdinand III accept the negotiation with both the French and Swedes. King Louis XIII passed away in 1643 leaving his son at the age of five named Louis XIV ruling on the throne. The cleading Minister in France facing a domestic crisis was willing to sit by the negotiating table with Habsburgs. Meanwhile, the Danish willingness to rejoin the war, this time against the Swedish people, was thwarted by the Marshal Lennart Torstenson from Sweden. This would deny the Danish participation in the Westphalia peace talks later (Michael, 1958). In 1647, Bavaria, France, Cologne and Swedish people signed the Truce of Ulm. Later on, in 1648, the Battle of Prague would become the last conflict of the Thirty Years’ War. The Swedish troops captured the Castle of Prague were Prague Defenestration taking place 30 years earlier. Thus, the lands of Austria would remain the only ones in the hands of Habsburgs thereafter.

Effects of the Thirty Years’ War

The devastation visited Europe as a result of the long war was so huge both in terms of human casualties and the socio-economic aftermath. Two fifth of German states’ population was wiped out with the men’s part cut almost by half. The war left a trail of draught, famine and diseases on its path. The mercenaries for hiring soldiers looted the territories they had conquered, uprooting the economic life of such territories and many sufferings to the local inhabitants (Michael, 1958). Some of the affected territories would take hundreds of years to overcome the aftermath of war.

Properties of worth millions dollars by any standards had been destroyed. This included 2,000 castles, around 18,000 villages and about 1,500 towns in Germany by itself. The majority of the population was also dislocated from its original areas, thus, disrupting social and economic systems of communities (Fredrick, 1916).

The troop’s movement and deployment of foreign troops helped to spread the diseases across many geographical areas. Many parts of Europe had been infested with contagious diseases even before the war. The war did not make the situation better. These pestilences would claim a huge number of inhabitants of these areas. Additionally, the refugees overcrowding in to towns meant the quick disease spread and famine affliction (Fredrick, 1916).

The political effects of war were the division of Germany into smaller territories which maintained a level of independence in spite of their membership to the empire. This resulted in the weaker Holy Roman Empire. This war also weakened other states outside the German Empire. Spain lost much of its control in Portugal and Dutch land in 1648 after the war. Some of the states also had gained much power than they had before like in the case of Sweden which became a power house in Europe after the war (Fredrick, 1916).


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