On this date in 1648, one of the most important treaty’s in European history is signed. The Treaty of Westphalia is signed, ending one the continent’s most bloody wars in its history, the Thirty Years War.
The Thirty Years War was a series of wars fought involving almost all of the main European kingdoms. It can be seen as the last of the Religious Wars that had plagued Europe for almost a century and a half. The Thirty Years War involved the Catholic powers in Europe fighting the Protestant powers. The war began in 1618 when the Holy Roman Emperor tried to impose Catholicism om Bohemia. This was resisted by the Protestant nobility and soon large areas of Europe was dragged into a religious conflict. The main battleground of the war was Germany. In the early years of the war, the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II was successful, after the Battle of White Mountain he managed to dominate much of Germany and had even occupied much of Denmark. This was viewed with concern by the Protestant powers because they feared that Catholicism could be imposed upon them if the Holy Roman Emperor was victorious. This prompted Protestant Sweden to intervene and under their monarch Gustavus Adolphus they invaded Germany. The Swedes defeated the Holy Roman Emperor in two decisive battles, but their King Gustavus Adolphus was killed. The Holy Roman Emperor received support from the Spanish and they inflicted a heavy defeat on the Protestant forces at the battle of Nordlingen (1634). However, the Protestant Forces were able to recover and eventually got the better of the Catholic armies.
France despite being a Catholic country, supported the Protestant powers after the 1630s as they wanted to weaken their rivals especially the Spanish. The Thirty Years War also contributed to the renewal of the conflicts between the Netherlands and Spain.
War weariness eventually persuaded both sides to come to the negotiating table. The final treaty changed the balance of power in Europe.
France emerged as the preeminent European power and Sweden came to dominate the Baltic. The Netherlands was granted its independence from Spain. The power of the Holy Roman Emperor was weakened and the individual states in Germany could select their own religion and had more autonomy.
One of the most important things that were decided by the Treaty was the principle of state sovereignty. The so-called Westphalian system which is the basis of the modern nation-state system.
The Thirty Years War was a tragedy for Europe and countless numbers died directly or indirectly as a result of the war. It is believed that up to half of the population of Germany perished in the conflict and it took many decades for it to recover.