The animosity between Catholicism and Protestantism in addition to political motives ignited the Thirty Years’ War, a devastating conflict to all of Europe. Often called “the last of the religious wars”, The Thirty Years’ War began in 1618 and initially took place primarily in Germany. What was at first just a number of rebellions became a large conflict involving numerous other European countries. Luckily, before the withering states could completely wipe each other out, the Peace of Westphalia restored order. The Peace of Westphalia was not a single document, but it was in fact several treaties with the common goal of ending the conflict. (Wedgwood; Kennedy; Grafton)
Before the Thirty Years’ War, Henry IV of France assumed the throne. As he was a Huguenot, peace with the Calvinists and Catholics remained steady during his reign. However, when Ferdinand of Styria, a fervent Catholic, became king of Bohemia, Bohemian Calvinists were alarmed. They began to fear their rights as Protestants would be taken away. So when Ferdinand ascended to the role of Holy Roman Emperor two years later, Bohemian Calvinists’ took action.
In 1618 the Thirty Years’ War began when Calvinist rebels threw two Catholic royal officers out of a building into a pile of manure, approximately seventy feet from the ground. This episode is known as the “Defenestration of Prague”. This marks the beginning of the war. The rebellion soon escalated, and Ferdinand was stripped of his throne. The Bohemian Calvinist revolt extended to other Hapsburg-controlled provinces.
The initial conflict grew and soon many European countries became involved. The Danish king Christian IV, the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, John George of Saxony, Poland, France, Germany, and many other countries and leaders participated in the great conflict. However, despite all the war and crisis, countries eventually saw it best to resolve the conflict. Treaty by treaty, the Peace of Westphalia began to develop. Brandenburg and Sweden agreed to a truce, German princes followed this example, Sweden Saxony signed, Bavaria signed with Sweden and France, the United Provinces and Spain signed (ending the Revolt of the Netherlands), and others continued to do the same. (Parker; Adams)
The states within the Holy Roman Empire could not have lived without the Peace of Westphalia. After the conflict, France was established the prominent power of Europe, and the Holy Roman Empire was no longer an entity. All German states now had the liberty to decide their own religion. Although peace ended the wars, many German states were devastated.
C. V. Wedgwood, Paul Kennedy, Anthony Grafton. The Thirty Years War. New York Review Books, 2005.
Geoffrey Parker, Simon Adams. The Thirty Years' War. Routledge, 1997.