The Thirty Years' War is the name given to the great European religious and political war which devastated Germany from 1618 to 1648. It had its origin in a first purely German and religious conflict between the Protestant princes and the Catholic house of Habsburg, sovereign of the Holy Empire, but it degenerated into a European war due to the intervention of foreign powers, mainly Sweden and France, who took advantage of this conflict to interfere in the affairs of the Empire and reduce the power of the Habsburgs, who reigned then not only over Austria, Bohemia and Hungary, but also over the greater part of Italy, Spain and the Spanish Netherlands.
Origin and course of the Thirty Years' War
The formation, in 1608, of the Evangelical Union, led by the Elector Palatine Frederick V, responded the following year to the founding of a Catholic Holy League, under the leadership of Maximilian of Bavaria. But the spark of the war was the revocation by Emperor Matthias of the Letter of Majesty of 1609, which guaranteed the religious freedoms of Bohemia. Furious, the Protestants proceeded to defenestrate Prague (May 23, 1618). When Matthias died, they refused to recognize his successor Ferdinand II and proclaimed the Elector Palatine Frederick V, the leader of the Protestants, king of Bohemia (1619). The Catholic League of Maximilian of Bavaria crushed the Protestants near Prague, at the White Mountain (November 8, 1620), and Frederick lost the Palatinate and electoral dignity in favor of Bavaria.
But, from 1625, the war widened by the intervention of the king of Denmark Christian IV alongside the Protestants; beaten by Tilly and Wallenstein, who occupied almost all of northern Germany, the Danes had to sign the Peace of Lübeck (May 1629) and renounce any interference in German affairs. But the Edict of Restitution of Ferdinand II, which forced Protestants to return all ecclesiastical property confiscated since 1552, prevented any appeasement (March 6, 1629). At the moment when the imperial and Catholic power seemed to triumph in Germany, appeared its most formidable adversary, the king of Sweden Gustavus-Adolph. Animated at the same time by feelings of Protestant solidarity and by political ambitions on the Baltic, financially supported by France of Richelieu, Gustave-Adolphe was going to carry out a lightning ride to the heart of Germany, beating the Catholics in Breitenfeld ( September 17, 1631), on the Lech (April 15, 1632), before dying in his last victory, in Lützen (November 16, 1632).
The Treaty of Westphalia
The recovery of the Imperialists, thanks to the victory of Nordlingen (September 6, 1634), forced Richelieu to intervene directly in the war, both against the Empire and against Spain, which extended hostilities in France, in the Netherlands. Bas, in Italy and Catalonia. The French first suffered setbacks, and after the capture of Corbie, the Spanish threatened Paris (1636). The military situation only began to turn around in 1638: the French armies occupied Roussillon (1642), Condé crushed the Spaniards at Rocroi (1643), and his victory at Lens (1648) opened the road to the Spanish Netherlands, while Turenne and the Swedes invaded Bavaria and Bohemia. The emperor had to resign himself to peace; the Treaties of Westphalia (1648) consecrated the decisive weakening of imperial power.
The great beneficiaries of the war were France, which had its possession of the Trois-Évêchés confirmed in Lorraine, annexed a large part of Alsace and now played a leading role in Europe; Sweden, which extended over the German shores of the Baltic Sea; the United Provinces and Switzerland, whose independence was definitively recognized. It was Germany which paid all the costs of war and peace: plunged into a political anarchy that Mazarin and Louis XIV were going to strive to maintain, religiously divided, she had suffered for thirty years the incessant exactions of the armies mercenaries and was in ruins and depopulated (about a third of its population had perished).
- The Thirty Years' War, by Henry Bogdan. Tempus, 2006.
- The Thirty Years' War, by Yves Krumenacker. Ellipses, 2008.