Thirty Years' War

Thirty Years' War
Part of European wars of religion

Les Grandes Misères de la guerre (The Great Miseries of War) by Jacques Callot, 1632
Date23 May 1618 – 15 May 1648
(29 years, 11 months, 3 weeks, and 1 day)
LocationEurope, mainly present-day Germany

Peace of Westphalia


Anti-Habsburg States and Allies:
Sweden Sweden (from 1630)
Denmark Denmark (1625–1629)
 United Provinces
 France (from 1635)
Bohemia Bohemia (1618–1620)
The Palatinate (until 1623)
 England (1625–30)[4]
 Scotland (1625–38)[5]
Transylvania (from 1619)[6]

Supported by:
Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire

Russian Tsardom[7]

Habsburg States and Allies:
 Holy Roman Empire

Spain Spanish Empire
 Kingdom of Croatia
Denmark Denmark (1643–1645)[9]

Supported by:

Zaporizhian Cossacks
Commanders and leaders

Sweden Gustavus Adolphus 
Sweden Axel Oxenstierna
Sweden Johan Banér
Sweden Lennart Torstenson
Sweden Gustav Horn
Sweden Carl Gustaf Wrangel
Sweden Charles X Gustav
Sweden Kingdom of Scotland James Spens
Sweden Kingdom of Scotland Alexander Leslie
Sweden Kingdom of Scotland Kingdom of England James 3rd Marquis Hamilton
Kingdom of France Louis XIII of France
Kingdom of France Cardinal Richelieu
Kingdom of France Marquis de Feuquieres  
Kingdom of France Henri, Prince of Condé
Kingdom of France Duke of Gramont
Kingdom of France Gaspard III de Coligny
Kingdom of France Louis II de Bourbon
Kingdom of France Urbain de Maillé-Brézé
Kingdom of France Vicomte de Turenne
Sweden Kingdom of France Kingdom of Scotland John Hepburn
Bohemia Frederick V, Elector Palatine
Bohemia Jindřich Matyáš Thurn
Bohemia Christian I of Anhalt-Bernburg
Denmark Christian IV of Denmark
Denmark Kingdom of Scotland Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale
Electorate of Saxony Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar
Electorate of Saxony Johann Georg I of Saxony
Dutch Republic Maurice of Nassau
Dutch Republic Piet Pieterszoon Hein
Dutch Republic William of Nassau
Dutch Republic Frederik Hendrik of Orange
Dutch Republic Maarten Tromp
Dutch Republic Ernst Casimir
Dutch Republic Hendrik Casimir I
Kingdom of England Kingdom of Scotland Charles I Stuart
Kingdom of England Duke of Buckingham
Kingdom of England Sir Horace Vere
Gabriel Bethlen
Ernst von Mansfeld
Christian of Brunswick

Mikhail Borisovich Shein

Holy Roman Empire Ferdinand II
Holy Roman Empire Ferdinand III
Holy Roman Empire Albrecht von Wallenstein
Holy Roman Empire Spain Ottavio Piccolomini
Holy Roman Empire Franz von Mercy  
Holy Roman Empire Johann von Werth
Holy Roman Empire Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim  
Holy Roman Empire Raimondo Montecuccoli
Holy Roman Empire Peter Melander Graf von Holzappel  
Holy Roman Empire Spain Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria
Spain Philip III of Spain
Spain Philip IV of Spain
Spain Count-Duke of Olivares
Spain Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba
Spain Holy Roman Empire Charles de Longueval, Count of Bucquoy
Spain Ambrosio Spinola
Spain Carlos Coloma
Spain Holy Roman Empire Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly  
Spain Duke of Feria
Spain Francisco de Melo
Spain Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand
Spain Holy Roman Empire Matthias Gallas
Maximilian I of Bavaria
Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine
Sigismund III of Poland

Ivan Sirko

149,000 Swedes (1632)[10]
135,000 Danes (1625)[11]
77,000 Dutch (1629)[12]
6,000 Transylvanians

60,000 Ottoman cavalry (as support to Frederick V, Elector Palatine)
Among others, about 20,000 Hungarian and Croatian cavalry[14]
Casualties and losses
8,000,000 including civilian casualties[15]

The Thirty Years' War was a series of wars in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. It was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history.[16] It was the deadliest European religious war, resulting in eight million casualties.

Initially a war between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers. These states employed relatively large mercenary armies, and the war became less about religion and more of a continuation of the France–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence. In the 17th century, religious beliefs and practices were a much larger influence on an average European than they are today. During that era, almost everyone was vested on one side of the dispute or another, which was also closely tied to people's ethnicities and loyalties, as religious beliefs affected ideas of the legitimacy of the political status of rulers.

The war began when the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, tried to impose religious uniformity on his domains, forcing Roman Catholicism on its peoples. The northern Protestant states, angered by the violation of their rights to choose that had been granted in the Peace of Augsburg, banded together to form the Protestant Union. Ferdinand II was a devout Roman Catholic and relatively intolerant when compared to his predecessor, Rudolf II. His policies were considered strongly pro-Catholic.

These events caused widespread fears throughout northern and central Europe, and triggered the Protestant Bohemians living in the dominion of Habsburg Austria to revolt against their nominal ruler, Ferdinand II. They ousted the Habsburgs and elected Frederick V, Elector of the Rhenish Palatinate as their monarch. Frederick took the offer without the support of the union. The southern states, mainly Roman Catholic, were angered by this. Led by Bavaria, these states formed the Catholic League to expel Frederick in support of the Emperor. The Empire soon crushed this perceived rebellion in the Battle of White Mountain, but the Protestant world condemned the Emperor's action.

After the atrocities committed in Bohemia, Saxony finally gave its support to the union and decided to fight back. Sweden, at the time a major military power, soon intervened in 1630 under the great general Gustavus Adolphus and started the full-scale great war on the continent. Spain, wishing to finally crush the Dutch rebels in the Netherlands and the Dutch Republic, intervened under the pretext of helping its dynastic Habsburg ally, Austria. No longer able to tolerate the encirclement of two major Habsburg powers on its borders, Catholic France entered the coalition on the side of the Protestants in order to counter the Habsburgs.

The Thirty Years' War devastated entire regions, with famine and disease resulting in high mortality in the populations of the German and Italian states, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Southern Netherlands. Both mercenaries and soldiers in fighting armies traditionally looted or extorted tribute to get operating funds, which imposed severe hardships on the inhabitants of occupied territories. The war also bankrupted most of the combatant powers.

The Dutch Republic enjoyed contrasting fortune; it ended its revolt against Spain in 1648 and subsequently enjoyed a time of great prosperity and development, known as the Dutch Golden Age, during which it became one of the world's foremost economic and naval powers. The Thirty Years' War ended with the treaties of Osnabrück and Münster, part of the wider Peace of Westphalia. The war altered the previous political order of European powers. The rise of Bourbon France, the curtailing of Habsburg ambition, and the ascendancy of Sweden as a great power created a new balance of power on the continent, with France emerging from the war strengthened and increasingly dominant in the latter part of the 17th century.

Origins of the war

The Peace of Augsburg (1555), signed by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, confirmed the result of the Diet of Speyer (1526), ending the war between German Lutherans and Catholics, and establishing that:[17]

Although the Peace of Augsburg created a temporary end to hostilities, it did not resolve the underlying religious conflict, which was made yet more complex by the spread of Calvinism throughout Germany in the years that followed.[18] This added a third major faith to the region, but its position was not recognized in any way by the Augsburg terms, to which only Catholicism and Lutheranism were parties.[19][20]

The rulers of the nations neighboring the Holy Roman Empire also contributed to the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War:

Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia: He urged the Council of Trent to approve communion in both kinds for German and Bohemian Catholics.

The Holy Roman Empire was a fragmented collection of largely independent states. The position of the Holy Roman Emperor was mainly titular, but the emperors, from the House of Habsburg, also directly ruled a large portion of imperial territory (lands of the Archduchy of Austria and the Kingdom of Bohemia), as well as the Kingdom of Hungary. The Austrian domain was thus a major European power in its own right, ruling over some eight million subjects. Another branch of the House of Habsburg ruled over Spain and its empire, which included the Spanish Netherlands, southern Italy, the Philippines, and most of the Americas. In addition to Habsburg lands, the Holy Roman Empire contained several regional powers, such as the Duchy of Bavaria, the Electorate of Saxony, the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Electorate of the Palatinate, Landgraviate of Hesse, the Archbishopric of Trier, and the Free Imperial City of Nuremberg. A vast number of minor independent duchies, free cities, abbeys, prince-bishoprics, and petty lordships (whose authority sometimes extended to no more than a single village) rounded out the empire. Apart from Austria and perhaps Bavaria, none of those entities was capable of national-level politics; alliances between family-related states were common, due partly to the frequent practice of partible inheritance, i.e. splitting a lord's inheritance among his various sons.

Religious tensions remained strong throughout the second half of the 16th century. The Peace of Augsburg began to unravel: some converted bishops refused to give up their bishoprics, and certain Habsburg and other Catholic rulers of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain sought to restore the power of Catholicism in the region. This was evident from the Cologne War (1583–88), a conflict initiated when the prince-archbishop of the city, Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg, converted to Calvinism. As he was an imperial elector, this could have produced a Protestant majority in the College that elected the Holy Roman Emperor, a position that Catholics had always held.

In the Cologne War, Spanish troops expelled the former prince-archbishop and replaced him with Ernst of Bavaria, a Roman Catholic. After this success, the Catholics regained peace, and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio began to be exerted more strictly in Bavaria, Würzburg, and other states. This forced Lutheran residents to choose between conversion or exile. Lutherans also witnessed the defection of the lords of the Palatinate (1560), Nassau (1578), Hesse-Kassel (1603), and Brandenburg (1613) to the new Calvinist faith. Thus, at the beginning of the 17th century, the Rhine lands and those south to the Danube were largely Catholic, while Lutherans predominated in the north, and Calvinists dominated in certain other areas, such as west-central Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Minorities of each creed existed almost everywhere, however. In some lordships and cities, the numbers of Calvinists, Catholics, and Lutherans were approximately equal.

Much to the consternation of their Spanish ruling cousins, the Habsburg emperors who followed Charles V (especially Ferdinand I and Maximilian II, but also Rudolf II, and his successor Matthias) were content to allow the princes of the empire to choose their own religious policies. These rulers avoided religious wars within the empire by allowing the different Christian faiths to spread without coercion. This angered those who sought religious uniformity. Meanwhile, Sweden and Denmark, both Lutheran kingdoms, sought to assist the Protestant cause in the Empire, and wanted to gain political and economic influence there, as well.

Religious tensions broke into violence in the German free city of Donauwörth in 1606. There, the Lutheran majority barred the Catholic residents of the Swabian town from holding an annual Markus procession, which provoked a riot. This prompted foreign intervention by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1573–1651) on behalf of the Catholics. After the violence ceased, Calvinists in Germany (who remained a minority) felt the most threatened. They banded together and formed the League of Evangelical Union in 1608, under the leadership of the Elector Palatine Frederick IV (1583–1610), whose son, Frederick V, married Elizabeth Stuart, the Scottish-born daughter of King James VI of Scotland and I of England and Ireland.[21] The establishment of the league prompted the Catholics into banding together to form the Catholic League in 1609, under the leadership of Duke Maximilian.

Tensions escalated further in 1609, with the War of the Jülich Succession, which began when John William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, the ruler of the strategically important United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, died childless.[22] Two rival claimants vied for the duchy. The first was Duchess Anna of Prussia, daughter of Duke John William's eldest sister, Marie Eleonore of Cleves. Anna was married to John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg. The second was Wolfgang William, Count Palatine of Neuburg, who was the son of Duke John William's second-eldest sister, Anna of Cleves. Duchess Anna of Prussia claimed Jülich-Cleves-Berg as the heir to the senior line, while Wolfgang William, Count Palatine of Neuburg, claimed Jülich-Cleves-Berg as Duke John William's eldest male heir. Both claimants were Protestants. In 1610, to prevent war between the rival claimants, the forces of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor occupied Jülich-Cleves-Berg until the Aulic Council (Reichshofrat) resolved the dispute. However, several Protestant princes feared that the emperor, a devout Catholic, intended to keep Jülich-Cleves-Berg for himself to prevent the United Duchies falling into Protestant hands.[22] Representatives of Henry IV of France and the Dutch Republic gathered forces to invade Jülich-Cleves-Berg, but these plans were cut short by the assassination of Henry IV by the Catholic fanatic François Ravaillac.[23] Hoping to gain an advantage in the dispute, Wolfgang William converted to Catholicism; John Sigismund, though, converted to Calvinism (although Anna of Prussia stayed Lutheran).[22] The dispute was settled in 1614 with the Treaty of Xanten, by which the United Duchies were dismantled: Jülich and Berg were awarded to Wolfgang William, while John Sigismund gained Cleves, Mark, and Ravensberg.[22]

Dutch victory over the Spanish at the battle of Nieuwpoort, 1600

The background of the Dutch Revolt has also close relations to the events leading to the Thirty Years' War. It was widely known that the Twelve Years' Truce was set to expire in 1621, and throughout Europe it was recognized that at that time, Spain would attempt to reconquer the Dutch Republic. Forces under Ambrogio Spinola, 1st Marquis of the Balbases, the Genoese commander of the Spanish army, would be able to pass through friendly territories to reach the Dutch Republic. The only hostile state that stood in his way was the Electorate of the Palatinate.[24] Spinola's preferred route would take him through the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Milan, the Val Telline, around hostile Switzerland bypassing it along the north shore of Lake Constance, then through Alsace, the Archbishopric of Strasbourg, the Electorate of the Palatinate, and then finally through the Archbishopric of Trier, Jülich and Berg, and on to the Dutch Republic.[24] The Palatinate thus assumed a strategic importance in European affairs out of all proportion to its size. This explains why the Protestant James VI and I arranged for the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth Stuart to Frederick V, Elector Palatine in 1612, in spite of the social convention that a princess would only marry another royal.

By 1617, it was apparent that Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, would die without an heir, with his lands going to his nearest male relative, his cousin Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria, heir-apparent and Crown Prince of Bohemia. With the Oñate treaty, Philip III of Spain agreed to this succession.

Ferdinand, educated by the Jesuits, was a staunch Catholic who wanted to impose religious uniformity on his lands. This made him highly unpopular in Protestant (primarily Hussite) Bohemia. The population's sentiments notwithstanding, the added insult of the nobility's rejection of Ferdinand, who had been elected Bohemian Crown Prince in 1617, triggered the Thirty Years' War in 1618, when his representatives were thrown out of a window and seriously injured. The so-called Defenestration of Prague provoked open revolt in Bohemia, which had powerful foreign allies. Ferdinand was upset by this calculated insult, but his intolerant policies in his own lands had left him in a weak position. The Habsburg cause in the next few years would seem to suffer unrecoverable reverses. The Protestant cause seemed to wax toward a quick overall victory.

The war can be divided into four major phases: The Bohemian Revolt, the Danish intervention, the Swedish intervention, and the French intervention.

The Bohemian Revolt

Main article: Bohemian Revolt


A contemporary woodcut depicts the Second Defenestration of Prague (1618), which marked the beginning of the Bohemian Revolt, and therefore of the first phase of the Thirty Years' War.

Without heirs, Emperor Matthias sought to assure an orderly transition during his lifetime by having his dynastic heir (the fiercely Catholic Ferdinand of Styria, later Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor) elected to the separate royal thrones of Bohemia and Hungary.[25] Some of the Protestant leaders of Bohemia feared they would be losing the religious rights granted to them by Emperor Rudolf II in his Letter of Majesty (1609). They preferred the Protestant Frederick V, elector of the Palatinate (successor of Frederick IV, the creator of the Protestant Union).[26] However, other Protestants supported the stance taken by the Catholics,[27] and in 1617, Ferdinand was duly elected by the Bohemian Estates to become the crown prince, and automatically upon the death of Matthias, the next king of Bohemia.

The king-elect then sent two Catholic councillors (Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice) as his representatives to Prague Castle in Prague in May 1618. Ferdinand had wanted them to administer the government in his absence. On 23 May 1618, an assembly of Protestants seized them and threw them (and also secretary Philip Fabricius) out of the palace window, which was some 21 m (69 ft) off the ground. Remarkably, although injured, they survived. This event, known as the (Second) Defenestration of Prague, started the Bohemian Revolt. Soon afterward, the Bohemian conflict spread through all of the Bohemian Crown, including Bohemia, Silesia, Upper and Lower Lusatia, and Moravia. Moravia was already embroiled in a conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The religious conflict eventually spread across the whole continent of Europe, involving France, Sweden, and a number of other countries.[26]

Modern re-enactment of the Battle of White Mountain

Had the Bohemian rebellion remained a local conflict, the war could have been over in fewer than 30 months. However, the death of Emperor Matthias emboldened the rebellious Protestant leaders, who had been on the verge of a settlement. The weaknesses of both Ferdinand (now officially on the throne after the death of Emperor Matthias) and of the Bohemians themselves led to the spread of the war to western Germany. Ferdinand was compelled to call on his nephew, King Philip IV of Spain, for assistance.

The Bohemians, desperate for allies against the emperor, applied to be admitted into the Protestant Union, which was led by their original candidate for the Bohemian throne, the Calvinist Frederick V, Elector Palatine. The Bohemians hinted Frederick would become King of Bohemia if he allowed them to join the Union and come under its protection. However, similar offers were made by other members of the Bohemian Estates to the Duke of Savoy, the Elector of Saxony, and the Prince of Transylvania. The Austrians, who seemed to have intercepted every letter leaving Prague, made these duplicities public.[28] This unraveled much of the support for the Bohemians, particularly in the court of Saxony. In spite of these issues surrounding their support, the rebellion initially favoured the Bohemians. They were joined in the revolt by much of Upper Austria, whose nobility was then chiefly Lutheran and Calvinist. Lower Austria revolted soon after, and in 1619, Count Thurn led an army to the walls of Vienna itself. Moreover, within the British Isles, Frederick V's cause became seen as that of Elizabeth Stuart, described by her supporters as "The Jewell of Europe"[29] leading to a stream of tens of thousands of volunteers to her cause throughout the course of the Thirty Years' War. In the opening phase, this had an Anglo-Dutch regiment under Horace Vere head to the Palatinate, a Scots-Dutch regiment under Colonel John Seton move into Bohemia, and that to be joined by a mixed "Regiment of Brittanes" (Scots and English) led by the Scottish Catholic Sir Andrew Gray.[30] Seton's regiment was the last of the Protestant allies to leave the Bohemian theatre after tenaciously holding the town of Třeboň until 1622, and only departing once the rights of the citizens had been secured.[30]

Ottoman support

Frederick V, Elector Palatine as King of Bohemia, was painted by Gerrit von Honthorst in 1634, two years after the subject's death.

In the east, the Protestant Hungarian Prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen, led a spirited campaign into Hungary with the support of the Ottoman Sultan, Osman II. Fearful of the Catholic policies of Ferdinand II, Gabriel Bethlen requested a protectorate by Osman II, so "the Ottoman Empire became the one and only ally of great-power status which the rebellious Bohemian states could muster after they had shaken off Habsburg rule and had elected Frederick V as a Protestant king".[31] Ambassadors were exchanged, with Heinrich Bitter visiting Constantinople in January 1620, and Mehmed Aga visiting Prague in July 1620. The Ottomans offered a force of 60,000 cavalry to Frederick and plans were made for an invasion of Poland with 400,000 troops in exchange for the payment of an annual tribute to the sultan.[32] These negotiations triggered the Polish–Ottoman War of 1620–21.[33] The Ottomans defeated the Poles, who were supporting the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years' War, at the Battle of Cecora in September–October 1620,[34] but were not able to further intervene efficiently before the Bohemian defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain in November 1620.[35] Later, Poles defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Chocim and the war ended with a status quo.[36]

The emperor, who had been preoccupied with the Uskok War, hurried to muster an army to stop the Bohemians and their allies from overwhelming his country. Count Bucquoy, the commander of the Imperial army, defeated the forces of the Protestant Union led by Count Mansfeld at the Battle of Sablat, on 10 June 1619. This cut off Count Thurn's communications with Prague, and he was forced to abandon his siege of Vienna. The Battle of Sablat also cost the Protestants an important ally Savoy, long an opponent of Habsburg expansion. Savoy had already sent considerable sums of money to the Protestants and even troops to garrison fortresses in the Rhineland. The capture of Mansfeld's field chancery revealed the Savoyards' involvement, and they were forced to bow out of the war.


Contemporary painting showing the Battle of White Mountain (1620), where Imperial-Spanish forces under Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly won a decisive victory

The Spanish sent an army from Brussels under Ambrosio Spinola to support the Emperor. In addition, the Spanish ambassador to Vienna, Don Íñigo Vélez de Oñate, persuaded Protestant Saxony to intervene against Bohemia in exchange for control over Lusatia. The Saxons invaded, and the Spanish army in the west prevented the Protestant Union's forces from assisting. Oñate conspired to transfer the electoral title from the Palatinate to the Duke of Bavaria in exchange for his support and that of the Catholic League.

The Catholic League's army (which included René Descartes in its ranks as an observer) pacified Upper Austria, while Imperial forces under Johan Tzerclaes, Count of Tilly, pacified Lower Austria. The two armies united and moved north into Bohemia. Ferdinand II decisively defeated Frederick V at the Battle of White Mountain, near Prague, on 8 November 1620. In addition to becoming Catholic, Bohemia remained in Habsburg hands for nearly 300 years.

This defeat led to the dissolution of the League of Evangelical Union and the loss of Frederick V's holdings despite the tenacious defence of Trebon, Bohemia (under Colonel Seton) until 1622 and Frankenthal (under Colonel Vere) the following year.[30] Frederick was outlawed from the Holy Roman Empire, and his territories, the Rhenish Palatinate, were given to Catholic nobles. His title of elector of the Palatinate was given to his distant cousin, Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. Frederick, now landless, made himself a prominent exile abroad and tried to curry support for his cause in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

This was a serious blow to Protestant ambitions in the region. As the rebellion collapsed, the widespread confiscation of property and suppression of the Bohemian nobility ensured the country would return to the Catholic side after more than two centuries of Hussite and other religious dissent. The Spanish, seeking to outflank the Dutch in preparation for renewal of the Eighty Years' War, took Frederick's lands, the Electorate of the Palatinate. The first phase of the war in eastern Germany ended 31 December 1621, when the prince of Transylvania and the emperor signed the Peace of Nikolsburg, which gave Transylvania a number of territories in Royal Hungary.

Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, commander of the Imperial, Spanish, and Bavarian armies

Some historians regard the period from 1621 to 1625 as a distinct portion of the Thirty Years' War, calling it the "Palatinate phase". With the catastrophic defeat of the Protestant army at White Mountain and the departure of the prince of Transylvania, greater Bohemia was pacified. However, the war in the Palatinate continued: Famous mercenary leaders – such as, particularly, Count Ernst von Mansfeld[37] – helped Frederick V to defend his countries, the Upper and the Rhine Palatinate. This phase of the war consisted of much smaller battles, mostly sieges conducted by the Imperial and the Spanish armies. Mannheim and Heidelberg fell in 1622, and Frankenthal was finally transferred two years later, thus leaving the Palatinate in the hands of the Spaniards.

The remnants of the Protestant armies, led by Count Ernst von Mansfeld and Duke Christian of Brunswick, withdrew into Dutch service. Although their arrival in the Netherlands did help to lift the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom (October 1622), the Dutch could not provide permanent shelter for them. They were paid off and sent to occupy neighboring East Frisia. Mansfeld remained in the Dutch Republic, but Christian wandered off to "assist" his kin in the Lower Saxon Circle, attracting the attentions of Count Tilly. With the news that Mansfeld would not be supporting him, Christian's army began a steady retreat toward the safety of the Dutch border. On 6 August 1623, 10 miles short of the border, Tilly's more disciplined army caught up with them. In the ensuing Battle of Stadtlohn, Christian was decisively defeated, losing over four-fifths of his army, which had been some 15,000 strong. After this catastrophe, Frederick V, already in exile in The Hague, and under growing pressure from his father-in-law, James I, to end his involvement in the war, was forced to abandon any hope of launching further campaigns. The Protestant rebellion had been crushed.

Huguenot rebellions (1620–1628)

Main article: Huguenot rebellions
Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle against the Huguenots (detail of a painting by Henri Motte, 1881)

Following the Wars of Religion of 1562–1598, the Protestant Huguenots of France (mainly located in the southwestern provinces) had enjoyed two decades of internal peace under Henry IV, who was originally a Huguenot before converting to Catholicism, and had protected Protestants through the Edict of Nantes. His successor, Louis XIII, under the regency of his Italian Catholic mother, Marie de' Medici, was much less tolerant. The Huguenots responded to increasing persecution by arming themselves, forming independent political and military structures, establishing diplomatic contacts with foreign powers, and finally, openly revolting against the central power. The revolt became an international conflict with the involvement of England in the Anglo-French War (1627–29). The House of Stuart in England had been involved in attempts to secure peace in Europe (through the Spanish Match), and had intervened in the war against both Spain and France. However, defeat by the French (which indirectly led to the assassination of the English leader the Duke of Buckingham), lack of funds for war, and internal conflict between Charles I and his Parliament led to a redirection of English involvement in European affairs – much to the dismay of Protestant forces on the continent. This had the continued reliance on the Anglo-Dutch brigade as the main agency of English military participation against the Habsburgs, though regiments also fought for Sweden thereafter.[38] France remained the largest Catholic kingdom unaligned with the Habsburg powers, and would later actively wage war against Spain. The French Crown's response to the Huguenot rebellion was not so much a representation of the typical religious polarization of the Thirty Years' War, but rather of an attempt at achieving national hegemony by an absolutist monarchy.

Danish intervention (1625–1629)

Catholic General Albrecht von Wallenstein

Peace following the Imperial victory at Stadtlohn (1623) proved short-lived, with conflict resuming at the initiation of Denmark. Danish involvement, referred to as the Low Saxon War or Kejserkrigen ("the Emperor's War"),[39] began when Christian IV of Denmark, a Lutheran who also ruled as Duke of Holstein, a duchy within the Holy Roman Empire, helped the Lutheran rulers of neighbouring Lower Saxony by leading an army against the Imperial forces in 1625.[40] Denmark had feared that the recent Catholic successes threatened its sovereignty as a Protestant nation. Christian IV had also profited greatly from his policies in northern Germany. For instance, in 1621, Hamburg had been forced to accept Danish sovereignty. Denmark's King Christian IV had obtained for his kingdom a level of stability and wealth that was virtually unmatched elsewhere in Europe.[41] Denmark was funded by tolls on the Oresund and also by extensive war reparations from Sweden.[42] Denmark's cause was aided by France, which together with Charles I, had agreed to help subsidize the war, not the least because Christian was a blood uncle to both the Stuart king and his sister Elizabeth of Bohemia through their mother, Anne of Denmark. Some 13,700 Scottish soldiers were to be sent as allies to help Christian IV under the command of General Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale.[43] Moreover, some 6,000 English troops under Charles Morgan also eventually arrived to bolster the defence of Denmark, though it took longer for these to arrive than Christian hoped, not the least due to the ongoing British campaigns against France and Spain. Thus, Christian, as war-leader of the Lower Saxon Circle, entered the war with an army of only 20,000 mercenaries, some of his allies from England and Scotland and a national army 15,000 strong, leading them as Duke of Holstein rather than as King of Denmark.

Map of the Thirty Years' War

To fight Christian, Ferdinand II employed the military help of Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian nobleman who had made himself rich from the confiscated estates of his Protestant countrymen.[44] Wallenstein pledged his army, which numbered between 30,000 and 100,000 soldiers, to Ferdinand II in return for the right to plunder the captured territories. Christian, who knew nothing of Wallenstein's forces when he invaded, was forced to retire before the combined forces of Wallenstein and Tilly. Christian's mishaps continued when all of the allies he thought he had were forced aside: France was in the midst of a civil war, Sweden was at war with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and neither Brandenburg nor Saxony was interested in changes to the tenuous peace in eastern Germany. Moreover, neither of the substantial British contingents arrived in time to prevent Wallenstein defeating Mansfeld's army at the Battle of Dessau Bridge (1626) or Tilly's victory at the Battle of Lutter (1626).[45] Mansfeld died some months later of illness, apparently tuberculosis, in Dalmatia.

Wallenstein's army marched north, occupying Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and Jutland itself, but proved unable to take the Danish capital Copenhagen on the island of Zealand. Wallenstein lacked a fleet, and neither the Hanseatic ports nor the Poles would allow the building of an imperial fleet on the Baltic coast. He then laid siege to Stralsund, the only belligerent Baltic port with sufficient facilities to build a large fleet; it soon became clear, however, that the cost of continuing the war would far outweigh any gains from conquering the rest of Denmark.[46] Wallenstein feared losing his northern German gains to a Danish-Swedish alliance, while Christian IV had suffered another defeat in the Battle of Wolgast (1628); both were ready to negotiate.[47]

Negotiations concluded with the Treaty of Lübeck in 1629, which stated that Christian IV could retain control over Denmark (incl. the duchies of Sleswick and Holstein) if he would abandon his support for the Protestant German states. Thus, in the following two years, the Catholic powers subjugated more land. At this point, the Catholic League persuaded Ferdinand II to take back the Lutheran holdings that were, according to the Peace of Augsburg, rightfully the possession of the Catholic Church. Enumerated in the Edict of Restitution (1629), these possessions included two archbishoprics, 16 bishoprics, and hundreds of monasteries. In the same year, Gabriel Bethlen, the Calvinist prince of Transylvania, died. Only the port of Stralsund continued to hold out against Wallenstein and the emperor, having been bolstered by Scottish 'volunteers' who arrived from the Swedish army to support their countrymen already there in the service of Denmark. These men were led by Colonel Alexander Leslie, who became governor of the city.[48] As Colonel Robert Monro recorded:

"Sir Alexander Leslie being made Governour, he resolved for the credit of his Country-men, to make an out-fall upon the Enemy, and desirous to conferre the credit on his own Nation alone, being his first Essay in that Citie"[49]

Leslie held Stralsund until 1630, using the port as a base to capture the surrounding towns and ports to provide a secure beach-head for a full-scale Swedish landing under Gustavus Adolphus.

Swedish intervention (1630–1635)

Some within Ferdinand II's court did not trust Wallenstein, believing that he sought to join forces with the German princes and thus gain influence over the Emperor. Ferdinand II dismissed Wallenstein in 1630. He was later to recall him, after the Swedes, led by King Gustavus Adolphus, had successfully invaded the Holy Roman Empire and turned the tables on the Catholics.[50][51]

Like Christian IV before him, Gustavus Adolphus came to aid the German Lutherans, to forestall Catholic suzerainty in his back yard, and to obtain economic influence in the German states around the Baltic Sea; he was also concerned about the growing power of the Holy Roman Empire, and like Christian IV before him, was heavily subsidized by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of Louis XIII of France, and by the Dutch.[52] From 1630 to 1634, Swedish-led armies drove the Catholic forces back, regaining much of the lost Protestant territory. During his campaign, he managed to conquer half of the imperial kingdoms, making Sweden the continental leader of Protestantism until the Swedish Empire ended in 1721.

Swedish forces entered the Holy Roman Empire via the Duchy of Pomerania, which served as the Swedish bridgehead since the Treaty of Stettin (1630). After dismissing Wallenstein in 1630, Ferdinand II became dependent on the Catholic League. Gustavus Adolphus allied with France in the Treaty of Bärwalde (January 1631). France and Bavaria signed the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau (1631), but this was rendered irrelevant by Swedish attacks against Bavaria. At the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631), Gustavus Adolphus's forces defeated the Catholic League led by Tilly.[53][54] A year later, they met again in another Protestant victory, this time accompanied by the death of Tilly. The upper hand had now switched from the league to the union, led by Sweden. In 1630, Sweden had paid at least 2,368,022 daler for its army of 42,000 men. In 1632, it contributed only one-fifth of that (476,439 daler) towards the cost of an army more than three times as large (149,000 men). This was possible due to subsidies from France, and the recruitment of prisoners (most of them taken at the Battle of Breitenfeld) into the Swedish army.

Before that time, Sweden waged war with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and could not support the Protestant states properly. For that reason, the King Gustav II enlisted support of the Russian Tsar Michael I, who also fought the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in hopes of regaining Smolensk. While a separate conflict, the Smolensk War became an integral part of Thirty Years' confrontation.[55]

Scottish soldiers, identified as Donald Mackay Lord Reay's regiment, in service of Gustavus Adolphus, 1630–31

The majority of mercenaries recruited by Gustavus Adolphus were German,[56] but Scottish soldiers were also very numerous. These were composed of some 12,000 Scots already in service before the Swedes entered the war under the command of General Sir James Spens and colonels such as Sir Alexander Leslie, Sir Patrick Ruthven, and Sir John Hepburn. These were joined by a further 8,000 men under the command of James Marquis Hamilton. The total number of Scots in Swedish service by the end of the war is estimated at some 30,000 men,[57] no less than 15 of whom served with the rank of major-general or above.[58]

With Tilly dead, Ferdinand II returned to the aid of Wallenstein and his large army. Wallenstein marched up to the south, threatening Gustavus Adolphus's supply chain. Gustavus Adolphus knew that Wallenstein was waiting for the attack and was prepared, but found no other option. Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus clashed in the Battle of Lützen (1632), where the Swedes prevailed, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed.

Ferdinand II's suspicion of Wallenstein resumed in 1633, when Wallenstein attempted to arbitrate the differences between the Catholic and Protestant sides. Ferdinand II may have feared that Wallenstein would switch sides, and arranged for his arrest after removing him from command. One of Wallenstein's soldiers, Captain Devereux, killed him when he attempted to contact the Swedes in the town hall of Eger (Cheb) on 25 February 1634. The same year, the Protestant forces, lacking Gustav's leadership, were smashed at the First Battle of Nördlingen by the Spanish-Imperial forces commanded by Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand.

The Spanish relief of Breisach by the Duke of Feria in 1633

By the spring of 1635, all Swedish resistance in the south of Germany had ended. After that, the imperialist and the Protestant German sides met for negotiations, producing the Peace of Prague (1635), which entailed a delay in the enforcement of the Edict of Restitution for 40 years and allowed Protestant rulers to retain secularized bishoprics held by them in 1627. This protected the Lutheran rulers of northeastern Germany, but not those of the south and west (whose lands had been occupied by the imperial or league armies prior to 1627).

The treaty also provided for the union of the army of the emperor and the armies of the German states into a single army of the Holy Roman Empire (although John George I of Saxony and Maximillian I of Bavaria kept, as a practical matter, independent command of their forces, now nominally components of the "imperial" army). Finally, German princes were forbidden from establishing alliances amongst themselves or with foreign powers, and amnesty was granted to any ruler who had taken up arms against the emperor after the arrival of the Swedes in 1630.

This treaty failed to satisfy France, however, because of the renewed strength it granted the Habsburgs. France then entered the conflict, beginning the final period of the Thirty Years' War. Sweden did not take part in the Peace of Prague and it continued the war together with France.

Initially after the Peace of Prague, the Swedish armies were pushed back by the reinforced Imperial army north into Germany.

French intervention and continued Swedish participation (1635–1648)

The Battle of Lens, 1648

France, although Roman Catholic, was a rival of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of King Louis XIII of France, considered the Habsburgs too powerful, since they held a number of territories on France's eastern border, including portions of the Netherlands. Richelieu had already begun intervening indirectly in the war in January 1631, when the French diplomat Hercule de Charnacé signed the Treaty of Bärwalde with Gustavus Adolphus, by which France agreed to support the Swedes with 1,000,000 livres each year in return for a Swedish promise to maintain an army in Germany against the Habsburgs. The treaty also stipulated that Sweden would not conclude a peace with the Holy Roman Emperor without first receiving France's approval.

After the Swedish rout at Nördlingen in September 1634 and the Peace of Prague in 1635, in which the Protestant German princes sued for peace with the German emperor, Sweden's ability to continue the war alone appeared doubtful, and Richelieu made the decision to enter into direct war against the Habsburgs. France declared war on Spain in May 1635 and the Holy Roman Empire in August 1636, opening offensives against the Habsburgs in Germany and the Low Countries.[59] France aligned her strategy with the allied Swedes in Wismar (1636) and Hamburg (1638).

After the Peace of Prague, the Swedes reorganised the Royal Army under Johan Banér and created a new one, the Army of the Weser under the command of Alexander Leslie. The two army groups moved south from spring 1636, re-establishing alliances on the way including a revitalised one with Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel. The two Swedish armies combined and confronted the Imperials at the Battle of Wittstock. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the Swedish army won.[60] This success largely reversed many of the effects of their defeat at Nördlingen, albeit not without creating some tensions between Banér and Leslie.

Soldiers plundering a farm by Sebastian Vrancx, 1620

Emperor Ferdinand II died in 1637 and was succeeded by his son Ferdinand III, who was strongly inclined toward ending the war through negotiations. His army did, however, win an important success at the Battle of Vlotho in 1638 against a combined Swedish-English-Palatine force. This victory effectively ended the involvement of the Palatinate in the war.

French military efforts met with disaster, and the Spanish counter-attacked, invading French territory. The Imperial general Johann von Werth and Spanish commander Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain ravaged the French provinces of Champagne, Burgundy, and Picardy, and even threatened Paris in 1636. Then, the tide began to turn for the French. The Spanish army was repulsed by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Bernhard's victory in the Battle of Compiègne pushed the Habsburg armies back towards the borders of France.[61] Then, for a time, widespread fighting ensued until 1640, with neither side gaining an advantage.

However, the war reached a climax and the tide of the war turned clearly toward the French and against Spain in 1640 starting with the siege and capture of the fort at Arras.[62] (This is the battle mentioned in Edmond Rostand's play, Cyrano de Bergerac, as being the battle in which Rostand's fictional character Cyrano fought.) The French conquered Arras from the Spanish following a siege that lasted from 16 June to 9 August 1640. When Arras fell, the way was opened to the French to take all of Flanders.[63] The ensuing French campaign against the Spanish forces in Flanders culminated with a decisive French victory at Rocroi in May 1643.[64] News of these French victories provided strong encouragement to separatist movements in the Spanish province of Catalonia and in Portugal.[63] The Catalonian revolt had sprung up spontaneously in May 1640.[65] Since that time, it had been the conscious goal of Cardinal Richelieu to promote a "war by diversion" against the Spanish.[66] Richelieu wanted to create difficulties for the Spanish at home which might encourage them to withdraw from the war. To fight this war by diversion, Cardinal Richelieu had been supplying aid to the Catalonians.[64]

A landscape with travellers ambushed outside a small town, painted by Vrancx

In December 1640, the Portuguese rose up against Spanish rule and once again Richelieu supplied aid to the insurgents.[64] The war by diversion had its intended effect. Philip IV of Spain was reluctantly forced to divert his attention from the war in northern Europe to deal with his problems at home.[64] Indeed, even at this time, some of Philip's advisers, including the Count of Oñate, were recommending that Philip withdraw from overseas commitments.[64] With Trier, Alsace, and Lorraine all in French hands and the Dutch in charge of Limburg, the Channel and the North Sea, the "Spanish Road" connecting Habsburg Spain with the Habsburg possessions in the Netherlands and Austria was severed. Philip IV could no longer physically send reinforcements to the Low Countries.[64] On 4 December 1642, Cardinal Richelieu died. However, his policy of war by diversion continued to pay dividends to France. Spain was unable to resist the continuing drumbeat of French victories—Gravelines was lost to the French in 1644, followed by Hulst in 1645 and Dunkirk in 1646.[64] The Thirty Years' War would continue until 1648[67] and the conflict between France and Spain until 1659, but in the end, a new order on the continent was established. This new order was embodied in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, which finally ended the war between France and Spain.[68]

Meanwhile, an important act in the war was played out by the Swedes. After the battle of Wittstock, the Swedish army regained the initiative in the German campaign. In the Second Battle of Breitenfeld in 1642, outside Leipzig, the Swedish Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson defeated an army of the Holy Roman Empire led by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria and his deputy, Prince-General Ottavio Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi. The imperial army suffered 20,000 casualties. In addition, the Swedish army took 5,000 prisoners and seized 46 guns, at a cost to themselves of 4,000 killed or wounded. The battle enabled Sweden to occupy Saxony and impressed on Ferdinand III the need to include Sweden, and not only France, in any peace negotiations.

The Battle of Rocroi, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau

In 1643, Louis XIII died, leaving his five-year-old son Louis XIV on the throne. Mere days later, French General Louis II de Bourbon, 4th Prince de Condé, Duc d'Enghien, The Great Condé, defeated the Spanish army at the Battle of Rocroi in 1643. The same year, however, the French were defeated by the Imperial and Catholic League forces at the battle of Tuttlingen. The chief minister of Louis XIII, Cardinal Mazarin, facing the domestic crisis of the Fronde in 1645, began working to end the war.

siege of Prague 1648 engraving from "Theatri Europæi...".1663.
The Swedish siege of Prague in 1648

In 1643, Denmark made preparations to again intervene in the war, but on the imperial side (against Sweden). The Swedish marshal Lennart Torstenson expelled Danish prince Frederick from Bremen-Verden, gaining a stronghold south of Denmark and hindering Danish participation as mediators in the peace talks in Westphalia.[69] Torstensson went on to occupy Jutland, and after the Royal Swedish Navy under Carl Gustaf Wrangel inflicted a decisive defeat on the Danish Navy in the battle of Fehmern Belt in an action of 13 October 1644, forcing them to sue for peace. With Denmark out of the war, Torstenson then pursued the Imperial army under Gallas from Jutland in Denmark south to Bohemia. At the Battle of Jankau near Prague, the Swedish army defeated the Imperial army under Gallas and could occupy Bohemian lands and threaten Prague, as well as Vienna.

Europe after the Peace of Westphalia, 1648

In 1645, a French army under Turenne was almost destroyed by the Bavarians at the Battle of Herbsthausen. However, reinforced by Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, it defeated its opponent in the Second Battle of Nördlingen. The last Catholic commander of note, Baron Franz von Mercy, died in the battle.[70] However, the French army's effort on the Rhine had little result, in contrast to its string of victories in Flanders and Artois.[71] The same year, the Swedes entered Austria and besieged Vienna, but they could not take the city and had to retreat. The siege of Brünn in Bohemia proved as fruitless, as the Swedish army met with fierce resistance from the Habsburg forces. After five months, the Swedish army, severely worn out, had to withdraw.

On 14 March 1647, Bavaria, Cologne, France, and Sweden signed the Truce of Ulm. In 1648, the Swedes (commanded by Marshal Carl Gustaf Wrangel) and the French (led by Turenne and Condé) defeated the Imperial army at the Battle of Zusmarshausen and the Spanish at Lens. However, an Imperial army led by Octavio Piccolomini managed to check the Franco-Swedish army in Bavaria, though their position remained fragile. The Battle of Prague in 1648 became the last action of the Thirty Years' War. The general Hans Christoff von Königsmarck, commanding Sweden's flying column, entered the city and captured Prague Castle (where the event that triggered the war – the Defenestration of Prague – took place, 30 years before). There, they captured many valuable treasures, including the Codex Gigas, which is still today preserved in Stockholm. However, they failed to conquer the right-bank part of Prague and the old city, which resisted until the end of the war. These results left only the Imperial territories of Austria safely in Habsburg hands.

Peace of Westphalia

Main article: Peace of Westphalia

Over a four-year period, the warring parties (the Holy Roman Empire, France, and Sweden) were actively negotiating at Osnabrück and Münster in Westphalia. The end of the war was not brought about by one treaty, but instead by a group of treaties such as the Treaty of Hamburg. On 15 May 1648, the Peace of Münster was signed, ending the Thirty Years' War. Over five months later, on 24 October, the Treaties of Münster and Osnabrück were signed.[72]

Casualties and disease

Marauding soldiers, Vranx, 1647, Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin

The war ranks with the worst famines and plagues as the greatest medical catastrophe in modern European history.[73][74] Lacking good census information, historians have extrapolated the experience of well-studied regions.[75] John Theibault agrees with the conclusions in Günther Franz's Der Dreissigjährige Krieg und das Deutsche Volk (1940), that population losses were great but varied regionally (ranging as high as 50%) and says his estimates are the best available.[76] The war killed soldiers and civilians directly, caused famines, destroyed livelihoods, disrupted commerce, postponed marriages and childbirth, and forced large numbers of people to relocate. The reduction of population in the German states was typically 25% to 40%.[77] Some regions were affected much more than others.[78] For example, Württemberg lost three-quarters of its population during the war.[79] In the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas, an estimated two-thirds of the population died.[80] The male population of the German states was reduced by almost half.[81] The population of the Czech lands declined by a third due to war, disease, famine, and the expulsion of Protestant Czechs.[82][83] Much of the destruction of civilian lives and property was caused by the cruelty and greed of mercenary soldiers.[84] Villages were especially easy prey to the marauding armies. Those that survived, like the small village of Drais near Mainz, would take almost a hundred years to recover. The Swedish armies alone may have destroyed up to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages, and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns.[85]

The war caused serious dislocations to both the economies and populations of central Europe, but may have done no more than seriously exacerbate changes that had begun earlier.[86][87] Also, some historians contend that the human cost of the war may actually have improved the living standards of the survivors.[88] According to Ulrich Pfister, Germany was one of the richest countries in Europe per capita in 1500, but ranked far lower in 1600. Then, it recovered during the 1600–1660 period, in part thanks to the demographic shock of the Thirty Years' War.

A peasant begs for mercy in front of a burning farm

Pestilence of several kinds raged among combatants and civilians in Germany and surrounding lands from 1618 to 1648. Many features of the war spread disease. These included troop movements, the influx of soldiers from foreign countries, and the shifting locations of battle fronts. In addition, the displacement of civilian populations and the overcrowding of refugees into cities led to both disease and famine. Information about numerous epidemics is generally found in local chronicles, such as parish registers and tax records, that are often incomplete and may be exaggerated. The chronicles do show that epidemic disease was not a condition exclusive to war time, but was present in many parts of Germany for several decades prior to 1618.[89]

When the Imperial and Danish armies clashed in Saxony and Thuringia during 1625 and 1626, disease and infection in local communities increased. Local chronicles repeatedly referred to "head disease", "Hungarian disease", and a "spotted" disease identified as typhus. After the Mantuan War, between France and the Habsburgs in Italy, the northern half of the Italian peninsula was in the throes of a bubonic plague epidemic (Italian Plague of 1629–1631). During the unsuccessful siege of Nuremberg, in 1632, civilians and soldiers in both the Imperial and Swedish armies succumbed to typhus and scurvy. Two years later, as the Imperial army pursued the defeated Swedes into southwest Germany, deaths from epidemics were high along the Rhine River. Bubonic plague continued to be a factor in the war. Beginning in 1634, Dresden, Munich, and smaller German communities such as Oberammergau recorded large numbers of plague casualties. In the last decades of the war, both typhus and dysentery had become endemic in Germany.


A 1627 engraving of the Bamberg Malefizhaus, where suspected witches were held and interrogated

Among the other great social traumas abetted by the war was a major outbreak of witchcraft persecutions. This violent wave of witch-hunting first erupted in the territories of Franconia during the time of the Danish intervention. The hardship and turmoil the conflict had produced among the general population enabled the hysteria to spread quickly to other parts of Germany. Residents of areas that had been devastated not only by the conflict itself, but also by the numerous crop failures, famines, and epidemics that accompanied it, were quick to attribute these calamities to supernatural causes. In this tumultuous and highly volatile environment, allegations of witchcraft against neighbors and fellow citizens flourished.[90] The sheer volume of trials and executions during this time would mark the period as the peak of the European witch-hunting phenomenon.[91]

The persecutions began in the Bishopric of Würzburg, then under the leadership of Prince-Bishop Philipp Adolf von Ehrenberg. An ardent devotee of the Counter-Reformation, Ehrenberg was eager to consolidate Catholic political authority in the territories he administered.[92] Beginning in 1626, Ehrenberg staged numerous mass trials for witchcraft in which all levels of society (including the nobility and the clergy) found themselves targeted in a relentless series of purges. By 1630, 219 men, women, and children had been burned at the stake in the city of Würzburg itself, while an estimated 900 people are believed to have been put to death in the rural areas of the province.[91]

Concurrent with the events in Würzburg, Prince-Bishop Johann von Dornheim would embark upon a similar series of large-scale witch trials in the nearby territory of Bamberg. A specially designed Malefizhaus (witch house) was erected containing a torture chamber whose walls were adorned with Bible verses, in which to interrogate the accused. The Bamberg witch trials would drag on for five years and claimed between 300 and 600 lives, among them Dorothea Flock and the city's long-time Bürgermeister (mayor) Johannes Junius.[93] Meanwhile, in Upper Bavaria, 274 suspected witches were put to the torch in the Bishopric of Eichstatt in 1629, while another 50 perished in the adjacent Duchy of Palatinate-Neuburg that same year.[94]

Elsewhere, the persecutions arrived in the wake of the early Imperial military successes. The witch hunts expanded into Baden following its reconquest by Tilly, while the Imperial victory in the Palatinate opened the way for their eventual spread to the Rhineland.[91] The Rhenish electorates of Mainz and Trier both witnessed mass burnings of suspected witches during this time. In Cologne, that territory's Prince-Archbishop, Ferdinand of Bavaria, presided over a particularly infamous series of witchcraft trials that included the controversial prosecution of Katharina Henot, who was burned at the stake in 1627.[91] During this time, the witch hunts also continued their unchecked growth, as new and increased incidents of alleged witchcraft began surfacing in the territories of Westphalia.

The witch hunts reached their peak around the time of the Edict of Restitution in 1629, and much of the remaining institutional and popular enthusiasm for them faded in the aftermath of Sweden's entry into the war the following year. However, in Würzburg, the persecutions continued until the death of Ehrenberg in July, 1631.[91] The excesses of this period inspired the Jesuit scholar and poet Friedrich Spee (himself a former "witch confessor") to author his scathing legal and moral condemnation of the witch trials, the Cautio Criminalis. This influential work later was credited with bringing an end to the practice of witch-burning in some areas of Germany and its gradual abolition throughout Europe.[95]

Political consequences

Central Europe at the end of the Thirty Years' War, showing the fragmentation that resulted in decentralization

One result of the war was an increase in the autonomy of the constituent states of the empire, limiting the power of the emperor and decentralizing authority in German-speaking central Europe.

The Thirty Years' War rearranged the European power structure. The last decade of the conflict had clear signs of Spain weakening. While Spain was fighting in France, Portugal – which had been under personal union with Spain for 60 years – acclaimed John IV of Braganza as king in 1640, and the House of Braganza became the new dynasty of Portugal. Meanwhile, Spain was forced to accept the independence of the Dutch Republic in 1648, ending the Eighty Years' War. Bourbon France challenged Habsburg Spain's supremacy in the Franco-Spanish War (1635–59), gaining definitive ascendancy in the War of Devolution (1667–68), and the Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), under the leadership of Louis XIV.

For Austria and Bavaria, the result of the war was ambiguous. Bavaria was defeated, devastated, and occupied, but it gained some territory as a result of the treaty in 1648. Austria had utterly failed in reasserting its authority in the empire, but it had successfully suppressed Protestantism in its own dominions. Compared to large parts of Germany, most of its territory was not significantly devastated, and its army was stronger after the war than it was before, unlike that of most other states of the empire.[96] This, along with the shrewd diplomacy of Ferdinand III, allowed it to play an important role in the following decades and to regain some authority on the other German states to face the growing threats of the Ottoman Empire and France.

From 1643–45, during the last years of the Thirty Years' War, Sweden and Denmark fought the Torstenson War. The result of that conflict and the conclusion of the great European war at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 helped establish postwar Sweden as a major force in Europe.

England and Brandenburg-Prussia, shy participants of the conflict, finally managed to get themselves on the European stage. Although irrelevant at the time, both powers increased their strength over time, and 18th-century Europe had another political reconstruction in which they had a greater role; the episode ended with the Seven Years' War.

Reduction in population of Holy Roman Empire as a percentage

The arrangements agreed upon in the Peace of Westphalia were instrumental in laying the legal foundations of the modern sovereign nation-state. Aside from establishing fixed territorial boundaries for many of the countries involved in the ordeal (as well as for the newer ones created afterwards), the Peace of Westphalia changed the relationship of subjects to their rulers. Previously, many people had borne overlapping, sometimes conflicting political and religious allegiances. Henceforth, the inhabitants of a given state were understood to be subject first and foremost to the laws and edicts of their respective state authority, not to the claims of any other entity, be it religious or secular.

The war also had more subtle consequences. It was the last major religious war in mainland Europe, ending the large-scale religious bloodshed accompanying the Reformation, which had begun over a century before. Other religious conflicts occurred in the years to come, but no great wars.[97] Also, the depravations (such as the Schwedentrunk) and destruction caused by mercenary soldiers defied description; the resulting revulsion did much to end the age of Landsknecht mercenaries and to usher in the age of better-disciplined national armies.

Outside Europe

The war also had consequences abroad, as the European powers extended their rivalry via naval power to overseas colonies. In 1630, a Dutch fleet of 70 ships had taken the rich sugar-exporting areas of Pernambuco (Brazil) from the Portuguese, though it would lose them by 1654. Fighting also took place in Africa and Asia.

Ceylon was a case in point. The Portuguese conquered the Jaffna kingdom in the north of the island and kingdom of Kotte in the south. In the process, they caused widespread destruction, including that of the Koneswaram temple of Trincomalee in 1624 and Ketheeswaram temple, accompanied by an extensive campaign of destruction of 500 Hindu shrines, the Saraswathi Mahal Library, many Buddhist temples and libraries, and forced conversion of Hindus and Buddhists to Roman Catholicism. [98] Thus, the rivalries of the Thirty Years' War and general hostilities of the Eighty Years' War were played out here. Phillip II and III of Portugal used forts built from the destroyed temples, including Fort Fredrick in Trincomalee, and others in southern Ceylon, such as Colombo and Galle Fort, to fight sea battles with the Dutch, Danish, French, and English. This was the beginning of the island's loss of sovereignty. Later the Dutch and English succeeded the Portuguese as colonial rulers of the island.[99][100]

Involved states (chart)

Directly against Emperor
Indirectly against Emperor
Directly for Emperor
Indirectly for Emperor


Gabriel Bethlen, prince and commander of the Transylvanian armies


See also


  1. The Consequences and Effects of the Thirty Years War
  2. "The later divisions that occurred made Europe more like it is now with the Catholic areas in the south and the Lutherans farther north and more importantly, it took the central power from the Catholic Church."
  3. Helmolt, Hans Ferdinand (1903). The World's History: Western Europe to 1800. W. Heinemann. p. 573. ISBN 0-217-96566-0.
  4. At war with Spain 1625–30 (and France 1627–29): 6000 Englishmen also fought under Charles Morgan in the Danish campaigns. These were largely drawn from the English brigade of four regiments which were based in the Dutch Republic
  5. Scotland declared war and fought against Spain 1625–1630 and France 1627–1629, mostly conducting the war at sea. In addition to providing 2000 troops for the campaign against France in 1627, Scottish privateers harried French shipping and captured and occupied Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, and Quebec. The Scottish Privy Council also provided warrants for 13,700 troops for Danish service who fought under Scottish flag with a Dannerbrog in the top left corner. These were led initially by the Catholic Robert Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale and more famously by Donald Mackay Lord Reay. In 1630, 8000 more Britons, mostly Scots led by James 3rd Marquis Hamilton landed in Germany under British flag. They were explicitly called the "British army" and had been raised on warrants issued by the English and Scottish Privy councils for allied service alongside Sweden. They joined an estimated 12,000 Scots already in Swedish service commanded by General Sir James Spens, Alexander Leslie, Patrick Ruthven, and John Hepburn. The latter man led a Scottish brigade in France from 1634–1636, after which it fell under the control of the Douglas family. Throughout the entire period of the war, the Scots maintained a brigade of three regiments in Dutch service. The 1625–1638 period represents the period of greatest engagement, though Scots were active as allies in the anti-Habsburg alliance throughout the whole course of the war
  6. "into line with army of Gabriel Bethlen in 1620." Ágnes Várkonyi: Age of the Reforms, Magyar Könyvklub publisher, 1999. ISBN 963-547-070-3
  7. Russia supported Sweden against Poland-Lithuania (Smolensk War)
  8. Ervin Liptai: Military history of Hungary, Zrínyi Military Publisher, 1985. ISBN 9633263379
  9. Denmark fought Sweden and the Dutch Republic in the Torstenson War
  10. Swedish Intervention
  11. Danish Military Intervention
  12. page 54 "When the dutch army was increased to 77.000 in 1629 during the threatened Spanish invasion..."
  13. Gabriel Bethlen's army numbered 5,000 Hungarian pikemen and 1,000 German mercenary, with the anti-Habsburg Hungarian rebels numbered together approx. 35,000 men. László Markó: The Great Honors of the Hungarian State (A Magyar Állam Főméltóságai), Magyar Könyvklub 2000. ISBN 963-547-085-1
  14. László Markó: The Great Honors of the Hungarian State (A Magyar Állam Főméltóságai), Magyar Könyvklub 2000. ISBN 963-547-085-1
  15. Davis, Norman (1996). Europe, a history. Oxford University Press. p. 568. ISBN 978-0-7126-6633-6.
  16. Peter H. Wilson, Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (London: Penguin, 2010), 787
  17. "Diets of Speyer (German history) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 24 May 2008.
  18. Geoffrey Parker, The Thirty Years' War (Roultledge Pub.: London, 1997) pp. 17–18.
  19. "The Peace of Prague". Retrieved 24 May 2008.
  20. "Peace of Prague (1635) – Historic Event  — German Archive: The Peace of Prague of 30 May 1635 was a treaty between the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, and most of the Protestant states of the Empire. It effectively brought to an end the civil war aspect of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648); however, the war still carried on due to the continued intervention on German soil of Spain, Sweden, and, from mid-1635, France.". Retrieved 24 May 2008.
  21. "Frederick the Winter King. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–07". Retrieved 24 May 2008.
  22. 1 2 3 4 C. V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years' War (Penguin, 1957, 1961), p. 48.
  23. Pierre de l'Estoile, Journal pour le règne de Henri IV, Paris: Gallimard, p 84, 1960.
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