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Last updated on March 6th, 2023 at 10:13 am

The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) was the last major European conflict fueled by religious divisions and one of the most destructive wars in European history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 8 million people. The war, which began as a local conflict in Bohemia, eventually spread throughout Europe, influencing the development of the modern era.

Europe’s Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)

Europe's Thirty Years' War (1618-1648): Causes, Consequences and Significance

To understand war, it can be best understood by dividing it into four phases:

  •       Bohemian Revolt (1618–1620)
  •       Danish involvement (1625–1629)
  •       Swedish involvement (1630–1634)
  •       French involvement (1635–1648)

The Protestant Reformation had encouraged religious discontent and social unrest since 1517, which was addressed by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, establishing the policy of Cuius regio, Eius religious (“whose territory, their religion”) A ruler chose whether his territory would be Catholic or Lutheran (then the only recognized Protestant denomination).

When the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II (1. 1578–1637) became King of Bohemia in 1617, he converted his largely Protestant followers, starting the Bohemian Revolt – and Thirty Years’ War – after the Second Defenestration of Prague in May 1618 Troubled. and support for his choice of Protestant emperor Frederick V of the Palatinate (l. 1596–1632).

Frederick V’s army was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 and Protestant Denmark engaged in conflict in 1625, an event commonly referred to as the first intervention of a foreign power in war, although, in fact, Dutch Protestants were supplying Frederick V.

From 1618 Ferdinand II was supported by the army and Catholic Spain with arms and other resources. Protestant Christian IV of Denmark (r. 1588–1648) entered the war for religious reasons and to protect his commercial interests, but also because King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (r. 1611–1632) was seen as a Protestant champion. I was ready to enter the battle. , an honor Christian IV wanted for himself.

Christian IV was no match for the Imperial forces under Catholic mercenary leader Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583–1634), and in 1629 agreed to peace and withdrawal of Danish troops and Scottish mercenaries. Adolphus had supported Christian IV since 1628 but in 1630, with the resources of the Catholic Cardinal Richelieu (l. 1585–1642) of France, took the field against Wallenstein.

Richelieu supported the Protestant king against Catholic imperialist forces in the interest of maintaining a balance of power between France and neighboring territories controlled by the powerful Habsburg dynasty. After Adolphus was killed in battle in 1632, the Swedes continued fighting, supported by the French in the final and bloodiest phase of the war.

General Albrecht von Wallenstein

There was no winner because the war was ended by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (which also ended the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Netherlands), a document essentially a continuation of the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 regarding religion. Restores similar words. The results of the war included:

  •       Sovereignty of states
  •       Calvinism
  •       dutch independence
  •       Innovation in warfare
  •       Swiss independence
  •       France as a great power
  •       Fall of the Spanish empire
  •       Portuguese independence
  •      The decline of the holy roman empire

The Thirty Years’ War is recognized as the “official” end of the Protestant Reformation, as by the time it was concluded, Calvinism was accepted as a valid belief system alongside Lutheranism and Catholicism and therefore the mainstay of Protestant denominations. The period of development is considered. to end by 1648 – although this did nothing to resolve the religious conflict going forward and, according to some scholars, the Reformation continues to this day.

The battle is also understood to mark the beginning of modern warfare, as practiced by Adolphus Gustavus, and the establishment of the modern international system of the state, marking the conflict as a watershed event in the transition to the modern era.

Cause and Background

The Thirty Years’ War was caused by a number of factors including:

  • Perceived imbalance of power in the region
  • Resentment of the Habsburg dynasty and their control of commerce
  • Weakening of the power of the Holy Roman Emperor
  • Commercial interest in the area

      The Bohemian Reformation was initiated by Catholic priests and theologians seeking to return the church to the simplicity of its early years and its greatest proponent was Jan Hus (1369–1415), whose execution as a heretic led to the Hussite Ignited the wars (1419–1434). , At the Council of Basel in 1436, Bohemia was granted freedom of religion, and the Bohemian Church was permitted to conduct services according to its beliefs.

In 1517, the Catholic monk and theologian Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted his 95 theses at Wittenberg, beginning the Protestant Reformation that was carried forward in Switzerland by Huldrych Zwingli (l. 1484–1531) and then by John Calvin (l) raised. 1509–1564).

The Catholic Church met the challenge of these reformers with the introduction of the Counter-Reformation in 1545, outlawing Protestant teachings as heresy and re-establishing the Church’s position as the sole spiritual authority. Long before 1545, people began to identify strongly as either Catholic or Protestant and followed one leader or the other, creating further dissension within Protestant denominations.

Civil strife informed by religious divisions erupted with the German Peasants’ Revolt in 1524 and continued with the Knights’ Revolt and the Schmalkaldic War until the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 resolved the dispute. Among the provisions was that the ruler of the region chose the religion of his kingdom. This concept worked in theory, but if the emperor’s religion was different from that of the majority of his subjects, problems would arise.

The Bohemians had been used to practicing their faith in their own way since 1436 and wished to align with Luther (whose teachings resonated with Hus) in line with the now-orthodox Bohemian Church and to give them the religious freedom granted.

When the zealous Catholic Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, became king of Bohemia, even though he had promised religious tolerance, he was not trusted because of his past actions of persecuting Protestants elsewhere. Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria (1573–1651), also a devout Catholic, supported Ferdinand II by refusing the crown of Bohemia and supplied armed forces in defense of Ferdinand II’s claim to the throne.

Bohemian rebellion

The Bohemian Revolt began when Protestant nobles, led by Count Thurn (1567–1640), objected to legal decisions favoring Catholics, and three representatives of Ferdinand II met at Prague Castle to discuss the situation. Unhappy with the proceedings, Thurn and his allies threw the delegates out of the window in what became known as the Second Defenestration of Prague (the First Defenestration being the event that started the Hussite Wars).

All three men lived, but the event was seized on as propaganda by both factions with Catholics claiming they were caught and carried safely to earth by angels and Protestants claiming they were only saved by landing in a big pile of manure. Thurn took power and encouraged the Protestant princes in Austria and Silesia to do the same, while Frederick V hired the mercenary general Ernst von Mansfeld (1626) to lead armies in support of Thurn. Mansfeld was defeated in 1619, but by then the Protestants had withdrawn all support from Ferdinand II and offered the crown to Frederick V, who accepted.

The Catholic faction declared this act illegal as Ferdinand II was the rightful king (as well as Holy Roman Emperor) and hostilities continued until November 1620 when Catholic Imperial troops under Johann Circles, Count of Tilly (l. 1559–1632) Compensated. Maximilian, I defeated the Bohemians and Christians of Anhalt (1568–1630) under Thurn in the Battle of the White Mountains. Support for Frederick V had collapsed, and Imperial forces took Prague, ending the rebellion. Frederick V would later die of a fever from an infection in 1632.

The Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648, also known as the Dutch Revolt) between Spain and the Netherlands was followed by what was then known as the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609–1621), which led to Catholic Spain and the Protestant Netherlands Send resources to Bohemia to help their respective causes. The Bohemian Revolt then became an international conflict and tensions escalated in 1623 when Ferdinand II took lands and titles from Frederick V, ignoring the Protestant princes who were now convinced that Ferdinand II would impose Catholicism on the region. Ferdinand II was supported by the Catholic Habsburgs, who at this time controlled Spain, the Netherlands, Naples, Milan, and most of the Holy Roman Empire.eligious differences

Religious differences, and the inability to resolve them peacefully, however, were the immediate cause and were informed by three major European religious reforms:

  •       Bohemian Reformation (c. 1380–c. 1436)
  •       Protestant Reformation (1517–1648)
  •       Counter-Reformation (1545–c.1700)

 Denmark’s participation in the war

Christian IV of Denmark relied on steady trade through the Holy Roman Empire and the northern regions of the Baltic, which was now under threat, and was concerned that Ferdinand II’s actions against Frederick V led to a Catholic push north towards Denmark, He contacted his fellow Protestant nobles in Hamburg and Bremen, offering their assistance. He joined with Mansfeld in an attempt to defeat Ferdinand II’s champion Wallenstein with the support of England, the Netherlands, and, on a smaller scale, France, which at the time was dealing with its own problems.

During the war so far, both sides had difficulties supplying their troops and so the armies began to live off the land, destroying farms and killing civilians as they marched. It did not matter for what reason a village supported as Protestants and Catholics suffered equally at the hands of Wallenstein’s imperial army or Mansfeld’s rebels. Wallenstein himself was rewarded by Ferdinand II, but the money never went to the soldiers.

Christian IV, hearing of the deaths of Protestant non-combatants, entered the war as their champion but by this time the Protestant rebel forces had probably raped and murdered as many Protestant civilians as Wallenstein’s Imperial Catholic troops.

Christian IV’s main motivation was to protect his commercial interests in the region and to claim the title of Christian champion before it was taken over by Gustavus Adolphus. He met and was defeated by the Count of Tilly at the Battle of Lutter in 1626. Later, the troops and resources he was counting on from England and the Netherlands failed to materialize, and Mansfeld died of natural causes in 1626.

Christian IV, without the resources or his experienced generals, was defeated by Wallenstein in 1627 and, in 1628, appealed to Adolphus for help, which was sent. However, by 1629, Christian IV sued for peace and signed the Treaty of Lübeck, which guaranteed the protection of his interests in return for his promise to stay out of the war.

At war with Sweden

Gustavus Adolphus arrived in the region in 1630 leading approximately 20,000 troops, far fewer than those commanded by Tilly or Wallenstein, but his military innovations made up for the lack of manpower. It seems likely that Adolphus the Great was aware of advances in warfare introduced by the Czech general Jan Zizka (l.c. 1360–1424) in the Hussite Wars, including his wagon fort that could serve in both offense and defense. This versatility gave Zizka’s troops the decisive advantage of the mobile artillery for which Adolphus is most famous.

Adolphus also noted the novel tactics of Maurice of Orange (also known as Maurice of Nassau, 1567–1625, son of the general and statesman William the Silent, 1533–1584), notably controlled volley fire. and the countermarch which allowed continuous fire and improvisation while reloading.

Drawing on both of these resources, Adolphus created a cross-trained army in which each soldier could perform the duties of another: infantry could be cavalry, cavalry could be artillery, artillery could also be infantry, and each corps was supported by another. were treated with equal respect. He also introduced mobile artillery, which acted like Zizka’s wagon forts, turning offensive positions into defense, or vice versa, and moving exactly where they needed to be in quick formations. In addition to their stationary cannons, these cannons proved to be quite effective.

He forbade any looting or scavenging by his soldiers and ensured that they were well paid and fed, drawing on the resources of the French, Dutch, and his native Sweden. After consolidating his army, he defeated Tilly at the First Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631 and was victorious again at the Battle of the Lech River (Battle of the Rains) in April 1632, during which Tilly was wounded and later died. Went.

In September 1632 he was driven out by Wallenstein at the Battle of Alte West and retained his troops. The two generals met again in November 1632 at the Battle of Lützen, where Adolphus was killed, but the Swedish army won the day when Bernard of Saxe-Weimar (l. 1604–1639) commanded and rallied the troops.

Bernard then abandoned the Swedish army and Adolphus’ right-hand man Axel Oxenstierna (l. 1583–1654) took control of the Swedish army, winning another victory in 1633. Wallenstein, whose retreat from the field of Lützen had brought that victory to the Swedes, was removed from command by Ferdinand II and assassinated by his senior staff in 1634. He was replaced by Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria (l. 1609–1641), governor of the Spanish Netherlands, who had decisively defeated the Swedish–German alliance. The Battle of Nördlingen in September 1634 effectively neutralized the Swedes for the moment and caused their German allies to defect to the Imperial cause.

France’s entry into the war

With Ferdinand II now appealing directly to Spain for resources to continue the war to its conclusion, Cardinal Richelieu was forced by France to declare war on Spain and commit more resources to the conflict, Saxe- Bernard of Weimar was appointed to lead the mercenary forces.

This final phase of the war was still primarily fought in the Holy Roman Empire (which included Bohemia), and involved France, Spain, the Netherlands, England, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, and Poland–Lithuania.

After years of conflict, farms were destroyed and food became scarce, leading to famine, and many – combatants and non-combatants – died of starvation. The troops were again forced to live off the land, but there was little ground to live on and even then, no agreement could be reached and hostilities continued.

Disease ravaged the land and many citizens turned against each other, robbing and killing neighbors so they could sell something so they could eat. Animal populations, including cats and dogs, declined as rapidly as humans, while the war continued without end.

The Swedes steadily lost all those gains until 1636 when they won the Battle of Wittstock, while the French landed troops in the region to support them. In 1637, Ferdinand II died and was succeeded by his son Ferdinand III (1. 1608–1657), who had no more idea of ending the conflict than his father.

French forces continued to support the Swedish wars as well as seize victories of their own, but Imperial forces still held their ground and made their advances.

In 1641, Lennart Torstensson (1603–1651) replaced Johan Banner (1596–1641) as Swedish field marshal. Both had served under Gustavus Adolphus and Baner tried to continue his policies of forbidding soldiers to rob or pillage civilians, but even with French support, lacked the resources. And before Torstensson the Swedish army had returned to disperse the civilians.

Torstensson was able to re-supply the troops after Baner’s death and led his troops to victory by 1645. The French–Swedish alliance continued its gains through 1646 but could not manage a decisive victory that would end the war. Refusing to accept his position, Ferdinand III finally agreed to negotiations in 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia ended the war.


As noted, the conflict was primarily fought in the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, although it also included parts of modern Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and others, primarily the territory of modern Germany. The war almost completely destroyed many villages throughout the region and devastated the city of Magdeburg, which lost 20,000 of its 25,000 inhabitants and 1,700 of its 1,900 buildings and houses. The looting of villages drove refugees into the already overpopulated and disease-ridden cities, increasing the death toll.

Foreign soldiers were blamed for bringing plague and other diseases, encouraging a national resentment against other nations, which would later be exploited by the leaders of Prussia, Brandenburg, and then Germany as “others”. reminders of the atrocities committed on the Germanic population in the mobilization for subsequent conflicts. The German memory of the Thirty Years’ War, passed down from generation to generation and popularized by German writers and poets, would go on to propagandize both World War I and World War II.

Nevertheless, the Peace of Westphalia, while emphasizing the religious sovereignty of the Peace of Augsburg, established the concept of national sovereignty, which prohibited any nation from interfering with the laws governing another, eventually leading to the modern international system of governments. gave birth to Once Calvinism was recognized, freedom of religion – at least on paper – became more widespread and literacy increased as schools were established by both Protestants and Catholics, to enable a better understanding of scripture.

Despite these advances and others, it should be noted that approximately eight million people died in the war. In the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634 alone, approximately 16,000 combatants died in a single day and this is not counting non-combatants in the field. It is certain that many of those directly or indirectly involved in the war could not care less about the claims of Ferdinand II or Frederick V, but it seems likely that many, if not most, of their religious identities Heavy investments, were made linking them one way or the other.

After the annexation of the Germanic territories to the Holy Roman Empire between 1618–1648 and the death of millions of people, the religious aspect of the conflict was reflected exactly as it had already been resolved in Augsburg in 1555. The conflict was not resolved in any new way; Everyone was just tired of fighting. Nevertheless, it was not long before both Catholics and Protestants found their second wind, and religious differences would continue to fuel civil unrest further up to the present day.

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