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The Peace of Westphalia is the collective name for two peace treaties signed in October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster. They ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) and Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648), and brought peace to the Holy Roman Empire, closing a calamitous period of European history that killed approximately eight million people.

Despite resulting cessation of the Thirty Years War, the Peace of Westphalia was a significant step in the decline of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, Felipe IV-III, King of Spain and Portugal, Louis XIV of France and Navarre, Christina, Queen of Sweden, Willem II, Prince of Orange, United Provinces (Netherlands), and their respective allies were among the princes of the Holy Roman Empire participated in these treaties.

The negotiation process was lengthy and complex. Talks took place in two cities, because each side wanted to meet on territory under its own control.

Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungry, Bohemia and Croatia, Archduke of Austria

The negotiations in Westphalia turned out to be difficult, beginning with a dispute over the rules of procedure. The emperor had to give in to pressure from France and Sweden and admit all imperial estates to the congress and receive the ius belli ac pacis. In addition to peace between the parties involved, the internal constitution of the empire was also newly regulated.

The Imperial Court received weekly reports on the negotiations. Even though the reports had been produced by officials, the process also proved to be an extremely busy time for the emperor, as despite all the advisers, he had to make the decisions. The study of the documents suggests, that Emperor Ferdinand III was a monarch with expertise with a sense of responsibility and the willingness to make difficult decisions.

In the course of the negotiations, Ferdinand had to reconsider his original goals according to the deteriorating military situation. His advisor Maximilian von und zu Trauttmansdorff suggested a great battle to end the war favourably.

The emperor personally took part in the campaign against the Swedes, that ended with a defeat at the Battle of Jankau on March 6, 1645. The Swedish army under Lennart Torstensson then advanced to Vienna. To raise morale in the city, the emperor circled the city in a large procession with an image of the Virgin Mary.

As the Swedish army drew closer, Ferdinand left the city. Archduke Leopold Wilhelm managed to drive off the opponents. At times Ferdinand managed to get Prince George I Rákóczi of Transylvania, an ally of France and Sweden, on his side.

In the 1645 Peace of Linz the Emperor had to guarantee the Hungarian estates the right of imperial representation and freedom of religion for the Protestants, which prevented the Counter-reformation and future Absolutist rule in Hungary.

The Habsburgs could no longer win the war without the support of the Spanish allies. Due to domestic difficulties, financial and military Spanish support for Ferdinand was completely stopped in 1645. Without foreign military funds, the imperial troops were incapable of offensive operations, which weakened Ferdinand’s position in negotiations.

Celebration of the Peace of Münster” Bartholomeus Van Der Helst – 1648

The emperor reissued the instructions for the peace talks for Trautmannsdorf, who left for Westphalia as chief negotiator. These documents were kept strictly secret and were only published in 1962. Reviews revealed, that Ferdinand surrendered numerous previous claims and was ready for greater concessions than were ultimately necessary.

A total of 109 delegations arrived to represent the belligerent states, but not all delegations were present at the same time. Two treaties were signed to end the war in the Empire: the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück.

These treaties ended the Thirty Years’ War in the Holy Roman Empire, with the Habsburgs (rulers of Austria and Spain) and their Catholic allies on one side, battling the Protestant powers (Sweden and certain Holy Roman principalities) allied with France, which was Catholic but strongly anti-Habsburg under King Louis XIV. The separate Peace of Münster ended the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the United Provinces.

The negotiators agreed to the Peace of Münster in 1648, but Willem II, Stadtholder of the United Provinces and Prince of Orange opposed acceptance of the treaty, even though it recognized the independence of the (northern) Netherlands, because it left the southern Netherlands in the hands of the Spanish monarchy. A separate peace furthermore violated the alliance with France formed in 1635. However, the States of six provinces voted to accept it.

Willem II, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of the United Provinces

Secretly, Willem II opened his own negotiations with France with the goal of extending his own territory under a more centralized government. In addition, he worked for the restoration of his exiled brother-in-law, Charles II, to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Resulting from the treaty the power asserted by Emperor Ferdinand III was stripped from him and returned to the rulers of the Imperial States. The rulers of the Imperial States could henceforth choose their own official religions. Catholics and Protestants were redefined as equal before the law, and Calvinism was given legal recognition as an official religion. The independence of the Dutch Republic, which practiced religious toleration, also provided a safe haven for European Jews.

The dual rule of pope and emperor was effectively ended at the Peace of Westphalia at the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, wherein the empire was severed from the papacy for good. The papacy played no role in the negotiations and in the eyes of Pope Innocent X, the peace destroyed the connection between pope and emperor which had held Europe together since the time of Charlemagne eight centuries prior.

The Holy See was very displeased at the settlement, with Pope Innocent X calling it “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time” in the bull Zelo Domus Dei.

Where international disputes between the rulers of Europe had previously been solved and mediated by the pope and/or emperor, the 17th century saw the true emergence of the modern system of international relations and diplomacy.

The main tenet of the Peace of Westphalia:

All parties would recognize the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which each prince had the right to determine the religion of his own state (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio). However, the ius reformandi was removed: Subjects were no longer forced to follow the conversion of their ruler. Rulers were allowed to choose Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Calvinism.

Another repercussion of the Peace of Westphalia was it gave the rulers of the many states within the Empire greater autonomy not only over religious issues but secular issues as well.

As mentioned yesterday, many states in Europe had become string nations due to the formation of a powerful centralized government. The Empire was in an opposite state. The lack of a standing army, a central treasury, weak central control of the government (that did not have a capitol) and exercised by a monarch who was elective and not hereditary all contributed to the idea that there was no unified German state. In the view of its contemporaries, the empire had regressed from a “regular” monarchy into a highly irregular one.

One of the saving graces of the Habsburg monarchy at this time was that they remained powerful within thier Crown Lands which laid both within and without the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire.