ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War, series of European conflicts lasting from 1618 to 1648, involving most of the countries of western Europe, and fought mainly in Germany. At first the struggle was primarily based on the profound religious antagonism engendered among Germans by the events of the Protestant Reformation. Religious animosity, especially among non-German adherents of the contending Protestant and Roman Catholic factions, broadened the war and was a substantial factor in its later stages. As the struggle gained momentum, however, its direction and character were decisively influenced by various other issues, including the dynastic rivalries of ambitious German princes and the determination of certain European powers, notably Sweden and France, to curb the power of the Holy Roman Empire, then the chief political instrument of Austria and the ruling Habsburg family. The religious hatreds that flared into the Thirty Years' War had smouldered for more than half a century before 1618. In large measure, this situation had resulted from the weaknesses of the Peace of Augsburg, an agreement concluded in 1555 between the Holy Roman emperor and the Lutheran princes of Germany. The war, which was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, may be divided into four phases, usually styled and dated as follows: Palatine-Bohemian (1618-25), Danish (1625-29), Swedish (1630-35), and French (1635-48).
Palatine-Bohemian Phase
Religious tensions were seriously aggravated in Germany during the reign (1576-1612) of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Protestant churches in many parts of Germany were destroyed, restrictions were placed on the rights of Protestants to worship freely, and the emperor's officials made the Treaty of Augsburg the basis for a general resurgence of Roman Catholic power. With the establishment (1608) of the Evangelical Union, a Protestant defensive alliance of princes and cities, and of the Catholic League (1609), a similar organisation of Roman Catholics, a violent solution to the crisis became inevitable. The Bohemian section of the Evangelical Union struck the first blow. Outraged by the aggressive policies of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Bohemia, the Bohemian Protestants, a majority of the population, demanded that Ferdinand II, then king of Bohemia, intervene. The king, an ardent Roman Catholic and the Habsburg heir presumptive, ignored the Protestant appeal. On May 23, 1618, the Protestants of Prague invaded the royal palace, seized two of the king's ministers, and threw them out a window. This act, known as the Defenestration of Prague, was the beginning of a national Protestant uprising.
Under the leadership of Count Heinrich Matthias von Thurn, the Protestant forces achieved numerous initial successes, and the rebellion swiftly spread to other parts of the Habsburg dominions. For a brief period early in 1619 even Vienna, the Habsburg capital, was threatened by Evangelical Union armies. Later in 1619 the Bohemians bestowed the crown of the deposed Ferdinand on Frederick V, elector of the Palatinate. Several sections of the Evangelical Union, which consisted chiefly of Lutherans, thereupon withdrew from the struggle, because Frederick was a Calvinist. Taking advantage of Protestant dissensions—particularly a declaration of war against Bohemia by Lutheran Saxony, and a Spanish invasion of the Upper, or Bavarian, Palatinate—Ferdinand, who had become Holy Roman emperor in August 1619, quickly assumed the offensive. On November 8, 1620, a Catholic League army, commanded by the German soldier Johann Tserclaes, graf von Tilly, routed the Bohemians at Weisserberg (White Mountain), near Prague. Bloody reprisals were inflicted on the Protestants of Bohemia after this victory, and Protestantism was outlawed. Although the Evangelical Union disintegrated, Frederick and a few allies continued the struggle in the Palatinate. The Protestants defeated Tilly's army at Wiesloch in April 1622 but thereafter met with successive disasters. By the end of 1624 the Palatinate, which was awarded to Maximilian I, duke of Bavaria, had been forcibly returned to the Roman Catholic fold.
Danish Phase
The second phase of the war assumed international proportions when various German Protestant states sought foreign assistance against resurgent Catholicism. England, France, and other western European powers were alarmed at the increasing might of the Habsburgs, but France and England, then allies against Spain, refrained from immediate intervention in the war because of domestic difficulties. Christian IV, king of Denmark and Norway, however, came to the aid of the German Protestants. Christian's intervention was substantially motivated by nonreligious considerations, mainly territorial ambitions in northwestern Europe and a determination to end Habsburg control of the Danish duchy of Holstein, Germany.
Supported by Lutheran and Calvinist German princes, Christian mobilized a large army in the spring of 1625 and invaded Saxony. The Protestant expedition encountered little effective resistance until a year later. In the meantime Albrecht von Wallenstein, duke of Friedland, had created a powerful army of mercenaries and entered the service of Ferdinand II, whose only other available force was that of the Catholic League under Tilly. Wallenstein's mercenaries won their first victory at Dessau, Germany, in April 1626. On August 27, 1626, Tilly completely defeated the main body of Christian's army at Lutter am Barenberge, Germany. The combined imperial armies subsequently overran all of northern Germany, leaving numerous pillaged towns and villages in their wake. With Wallenstein in pursuit, Christian retreated (1627) into the Jutland Peninsula. Total victory for the imperial cause was signaled on March 6, 1629, when Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution. This document nullified Protestant titles to all Roman Catholic property expropriated since the Peace of Augsburg. On May 22, 1629, King Christian accepted the Treaty of Lübeck, which deprived him of numerous small holdings in Germany.
Swedish Phase
Ferdinand's successes in the second phase of the war sharpened the anti-Habsburg orientation of the French cardinal and statesman Richelieu, chief minister of King Louis XIII. Because of recurring internal crises, Richelieu was unable to intervene directly in Germany, but he made overtures to Gustav II Adolph of Sweden. A zealous Lutheran, Gustav had already received appeals from the hard-pressed North German Protestants. Because of this circumstance, as well as the promise of French support and Swedish ambitions for hegemony in the Baltic region, Gustav entered the conflict. In the summer of 1630 he landed a well-trained army on the coast of Pomerania. The rulers of Pomerania, Brandenburg, and Saxony vacillated on whether to participate in the Swedish venture, seriously delaying the start of the campaign. While Gustav marked time, Tilly, who had been given command of Wallenstein's army, laid siege to Magdeburg, Germany, which was then in a state of insurrection against the Holy Roman Empire. The imperial armies captured and sacked the city on May 20, 1631, and massacred the Protestant inhabitants. Much of the city was destroyed by fires that spread during the fighting and pillaging.
Tilly was repulsed by the Swedes on three occasions in the following summer. In the last of these battles, fought at Breitenfeld, Germany (now Leipzig), on September 17, Gustav was supported by the Saxon army (see BREITENFELD, BATTLE OF). The Saxons broke ranks and fled at the first charge, exposing Gustav's left flank and nearly costing him the battle; but he regrouped his forces and routed Tilly's troops, about 6000 of whom were killed or captured. After the Battle of Breitenfeld the Swedish army moved into southern Germany for the winter. The spring campaign brought numerous victories, notably the defeat (April 14, 1632) of Tilly, who was mortally wounded on the banks of the Lech River, and the capture of Munich, Germany. Faced with complete disaster, Ferdinand had meanwhile recalled Wallenstein to command the imperial war effort. Wallenstein, hurriedly recruiting a new army of mercenaries, invaded Saxony in the fall of 1632. The Swedish army followed and on November 16 attacked the imperial force, then entrenched at Lützen, Germany. The ensuing battle cost Gustav his life, but at the end Wallenstein's army was forced to withdraw. Bernhard, duke of Saxe-Weimar, who succeeded to Gustav's command at Lützen, overran Bavaria after this victory, but during 1633 Wallenstein struck repeated blows against the Swedish strongholds in Silesia. Toward the close of 1633 Wallenstein initiated a peace movement among leading circles of the imperial armies. Removed from his command by Ferdinand on suspicion of treason, Wallenstein then entered into peace negotiations with the Protestant leaders. His attempts to end the War aroused the enmity of his own officers, and on February 25, 1634, he was assassinated. The imperial armies inflicted a devastating defeat on Duke Bernhard at Nördlingen, Germany, on September 6, 1634. Dismayed by this catastrophe, the leaders of the Protestant coalition swiftly abandoned the struggle. The Peace of Prague (1635), which formally ended the third phase of the war, provided for certain concessions to the Saxon Lutherans, particularly basic modifications of the Edict of Restitution.
French Phase
In its final phase, the war became an imperialist conflict for hegemony in western Europe between the Habsburgs and France, which was still under the leadership of Richelieu. Religious issues were not significant in the final phase, which opened in May 1635, with France declaring war against Spain, the chief Habsburg dominion aside from Austria. France, which was allied with Sweden and various German Protestant leaders, including Duke Bernhard, was able to quickly overcome serious difficulties that developed during the first stage of the fighting. The Swedish general Johan Banér defeated a combined force of Saxons and Austrians at Wittstock, Germany, on October 4, 1636, materially damaging the Habsburg position in Germany. In 1636, Spanish invasions of French territory were repelled. The Habsburg position in Germany was further damaged by a defeat inflicted by Duke Bernhard at Rheinfelden, Germany, on March 2, 1638. After these setbacks the imperial armies were forced to surrender their European strongholds one after another. Between 1642 and 1645 the Swedish general Lennart Torstensson scored numerous triumphs, overrunning Denmark, which had become allied with the empire, and ravaging large sections of western Germany and Austria. In the west, the French, under generals Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne, and Louis II, prince de Condé, were also generally successful. Condé routed a Spanish army at Rocroi, France, on May 18, 1643. During the following November the French suffered a severe defeat at Tuttlingen, Germany, but thereafter the Habsburgs were not successful in the war, except in some minor battles.
The combined armies of Condé and Turenne badly mauled a Bavarian army at Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, in August 1644. On August 3, 1645, the French commanders defeated an Austro-Bavarian army near Nördlingen. Representatives of the empire and the anti-Habsburg coalition began peace discussions at Münster, Germany, and Osnabrück in 1645, but the negotiations, primarily a concession to the war-weary peoples of western Europe, remained fruitless for a protracted period. After central Bavaria was invaded, however, Maximilian I of Bavaria concluded, on March 14, 1647, the Truce of Ulm, with Sweden and France.
Despite these and other reverses, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III refused to capitulate. Desultory fighting continued in Germany, Luxembourg, the Low Countries, Italy, and Spain throughout the remainder of 1647. In the fall of 1647 Maximilian I reentered the war on the side of the empire. Another army of Bavarians and Austrians was defeated in May 1648. This defeat, as well as the Swedish siege of Prague, the French and Swedish siege of Munich, and an important French victory (August 20) at Lens, France, forced Ferdinand, also confronted with the threat of an assault on Vienna, to agree to the peace conditions of the victors.
Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia, signed at Münster on October 24, 1648, fundamentally influenced the subsequent history of Europe. In addition to establishing Switzerland and the Dutch Republic (the Netherlands) as independent states, the treaty gravely weakened the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburgs, ensured the emergence of France as the chief power on the Continent, and disastrously retarded the political unification of Germany. See WESTPHALIA, PEACE OF.
The economic, social, and cultural consequences of the war were vast, with Germany the principal victim. Modern estimates suggest that the total population of the Holy Roman Empire fell by between 15 and 20 percent. Villages, as opposed to fortified towns, suffered the most. Except in port cities such as Hamburg and Bremen, economic activity went into decline all across Germany. Uncertainty, fear, disruption, and brutality marked everyday life and remained a memory in German consciousness for centuries.

Return to Top

©2007-2011 ScotWars All Rights Reserved. [Disclaimer]
Site designed & compiled by....
Rab Taylor
Webmaster of PUBCAT  RomanScotland