The Coveted Peace Called Westphalia

The Coveted Peace Called Westphalia

Sometimes they call it the first global conflict. The Thirty Years’ War brought suffering that was so great that nothing lasted for centuries before or after it.
Exactly 370 years ago, however, good news began to spread throughout Europe, and the solemn Te Deum was served in the temples out of gratitude. It was on October 24, 1648, in the German cities of Münster and Osnabrück, representatives of the European powers received and signed the coveted peace, known as the Westphalian.

Who, against whom and for what fought?

At first glance, the background to the protracted conflict was disputes between Catholics and Protestants and open religious hatred between them. Both sides seemed to represent individual European countries – while in the first case it was the so-called The Catholic League, led by the Habsburgs and their subordinate Austria, Bavaria and other southern German countries, but also strong Spain, was opposed by a coalition of mainly North German Protestant countries, Denmark, England, the Dutch provinces and the ever-strengthening Sweden, which brought this war to a new position. European power.

However, the cause of the protracted war was not only religious fanaticism, but also quite prosaic pragmatism, the desire for power and money. Why else would Catholic France, which massacred its own Protestants, ie the Huguenots during Bartholomew’s Night, oppose the Catholic Habsburgs and therefore unite with the Protestant countries?

We will begin to understand this more when we realize that the foreign policy of the Kingdom of France at the time was led by the lichen and ruthless Cardinal Richelieu. The war began quite inconspicuously – the Prague Defenestration in 1618, the Czech Estates Uprising and the Battle of White Mountain two years later. Local conflict of Czech lords against Emperor Ferdinand II. however, he eventually dragged almost the entire continent into the war.

No more exhaustion

The protracted conflict also entered areas that, at first glance, had nothing to do with it. Two anti-Habsburg uprisings of Štefan Bočkaj and Gabriel Betlen in Hungary were important side battles of the Thirty Years’ War. From the hitherto European periphery, Sweden, led by an extremely capable duke and King Gustav II, also entered the war with surprising force. Adolf. Some fighting has spread even to the North American continent. Nevertheless, at the end of each military campaign, the balance of power returned to a stalemate. After thirty long years, it was joined by the absolute economic and moral exhaustion of each of the warring parties. The war affected the civilian population in particular. It was terrorized by constant raids, sieges and looting, food requisitions, and violence of all kinds. To make matters worse, hungry and debilitated people were regularly mowed by plague epidemics. At the end of the 1740s, therefore, some areas in the Czech Republic or the German lands were almost deserted.

A useless war in the name of God

The first timid attempts at negotiations took place in 1641 in Hamburg, unsuccessfully. However, the enemy parties negotiated more than lukewarmly. They still calculated with the change of conditions on the battlefields and thus with a possibly better negotiating position. A lot of time passed before they finally agreed to meet in the Westphalian cities of Münster and Osnabrück. That is why later peace entered history as Westphalian.

After the representatives of all the opposing parties met at all in 1644, negotiations on the rules of procedure lasted for 6 months. The degree of mutual animosity was so great that they cared about every ceremony or symbolism. Only then could negotiations begin, which lasted until 1648. During them, there was constant fighting and looting.

The resulting agreement finally recognized the status quo of 1624 and established a status quo in matters of religious freedom. Only Calvinism was recognized as the third religion. At the same time , everyone accepted the principle of ” cuius regio, eius religio “, ie “whom the kingdom, the religion”. In other words, where Catholic monarchs still ruled, the position of the Roman Church was even stronger, and vice versa. Nothing fundamental has changed in the division of Europe into Catholic and Protestant parts.

The author of one of the now classic works on the Thirty Years’ War, Cecily V. Wedgwood, therefore described this conflict as “morally harmful”, “meaningless” and “unnecessary in its consequences”. And although it can be said of basically every war, in the case of this protracted conflict, it was even more true.

The Westphalian system and the careful path to reason

But the conditions on power on the old continent have changed. The Habsburgs lost their dominant position, especially in the Roman-German Empire, while the power of France and Sweden increased significantly. However, Peace introduced a completely new order into international relations and diplomacy. Concepts such as state sovereignty and the legitimacy of mutual borders emerged, which led to the emergence of an international system composed of separate entities with their own internal sovereignty, even in matters such as religious freedom. Moreover, it was no longer possible to follow God’s law, because it was its interpretation and “defense” that divided Europe and ultimately devastated it. The Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius therefore came up with the term natural law, based on the ability to deduce human reason, but also a sense of compromise. This gave birth to a new Europe of sovereign states,

The Westphalian system was gradually eroded by the industrial revolution of the 19th century, intensifying global trade and, finally, the world war, which highlighted the need for transnational players in international politics.


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