VII. THE PEACE OF WESTPHALIA

Ever since 1635 the rulers and their diplomats had been extending feelers for peace. In that year Pope Urban VIII proposed a congress to discuss terms of reconciliation; negotiators met at Cologne, to no result. At Hamburg in 1641 the representatives of France, Sweden, and the Empire drew up a preliminary agreement for a double conference to meet in Westphalia in 1642: at Münster France would treat with the Empire under the mediation of the papacy and Venice; at Osnabrück, thirty miles away, France and the Empire would treat with Sweden under the mediation of Christian IV of Denmark. This antiseptic segregation was made necessary by the unwillingness of the Swedish emissaries to confer under the presidency of a papal nuncio, and the refusal of the nuncio to sit in the same room with a “heretic.”

Delays were caused by questions of safe-conducts and protocol. Torstensson’s victory at Breitenfeld spurred the Emperor to promise that his deputies would arrive by July 11, 1643. Then the French delegates dallied while France arranged an alliance with the United Provinces against Spain. The Congress of Westphalia was formally opened December 4, 1644, with 135 members, including theologians and philosophers. Even then six months were consumed in deciding in what order of precedence the delegates were to enter rooms and be seated. The French ambassador would not negotiate unless he was given the title Altesse—Highness. When the Spanish ambassador arrived he shunned the French ambassador because neither would give precedence to the other; they communicated through a third person. France refused to recognize Philip IV’s title as King of Portugal and Prince of Catalonia; Spain refused to accept Louis XIV’s title as King of Navarre. The Swedish representatives quarreled and marked time until the resolute young Queen Christina peremptorily ordered them to make peace among themselves and with the enemy. Meanwhile men were going to their death in war.

As each party’s armies were victorious or defeated, its envoys delayed or hurried negotiations; lawyers were kept busy inventing difficulties or compromises, tying or untying knots. France’s generals were striking their stride; so she insisted on having all the German princes represented at the conference, though most of them had long since made peace with the Emperor; time was asked to stop till all the electors, princes, and Imperial cities had sent their diplomats. To weaken France, Spain signed (January 7, 1648) a separate peace with the United Provinces—which had just promised France to sign no separate peace; but the Dutch could not resist the chance to acquire, by a few strokes of the pen, what they had fought for through eighty years. France retaliated by refusing to make peace with Spain; their war went on till the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659).

The Congress might have adjourned without result had not the devastation of Bavaria by Turenne, and the attack of the Swedes upon Prague (July 1648), and the defeat of the Spanish at Lens (August 2) persuaded the Emperor to sign; while the outbreak of the Fronde in France (July) impelled Mazarin to concessions that would leave him free for war at home. So, at last, the Treaty of Westphalia was concluded, at both Münster and Osnabrück, on October 24, 1648. Bloodshed went on for nine days more while the news traveled to the fronts. Humble and joyous Te Deums rose from a thousand villages and towns.

Let us admit that the negotiations had faced more complicated problems of adjustment than any peace conference before the twentieth century, and that they settled the conflicting claims as wisely as the prevailing hatreds, prides, and powers allowed. The terms of this Europe-remaking treaty must be summarized, for they condensed and produced much history.

1. Switzerland and the United Provinces won formal recognition of their independence.

2. Bavaria received the Upper (south) Palatinate, with its electoral vote.

3. The Lower (north) Palatinate, as an eighth electorate, was restored to Charles Louis, son of the dead Frederick.

4. Brandenburg acquired eastern Pomerania, the bishoprics of Minden, Halberstadt, and Cammin, and the succession to the bishopric of Magdeburg. France helped the rising dynasty of the Hohenzollerns to get these plums, with a view to raising another power against the Hapsburgs; France could not be expected to foresee that Brandenburg, become Prussia, would, under Frederick the Great, challenge France and, under Bismarck, would defeat her.

5. Sweden, chiefly through her victorious armies, but partly through French support at the congress, received the bishoprics of Bremen and Verden, the towns of Wismar and Stettin, and the territory at the mouth of the Oder. Since these were Imperial fiefs, Sweden had now a seat in the Imperial Diet; and as she already held Livonia, Esthonia, Ingria, Karelia, and Finland, she was now one of the Great Powers, mistress of the Baltic till Peter the Great.

6. The German principalities retained and confirmed their prewar liberties as against the emperors.

7. The Emperor had to be content with the acknowledgment of his royal rights in Bohemia and Hungary; so the Austro-Hungarian Empire took form as the actuality within the shell of the Holy Roman Empire. The economic back of the aging Empire was broken, partly by the reduction of population and the disruption of industry and trade through the war, but also by the passing of the great river outlets to foreign powers—of the Oder and the Elbe to Sweden and of the Rhine to the United Provinces.

8. The greatest gains went to France, whose money had financed the victorious Swedes and whose generals had forced the peace. Alsace was in effect yielded to her, with the bishoprics of Metz, Verdun, and Toul and the fortress of Breisach on the German side of the Rhine; Louis XIV was now in a position to take Franche-Comté and Lorraine at his convenience. The aim of the now dead Richelieu had been achieved—to break the power of the Hapsburgs, to extend the frontiers of France, to improve French unity and defense, and to preserve in the Empire a chaos of principalities, a conflict between princes and emperor, and an opposition between the Protestant north and the Catholic south, that would protect France from the peril of a united Germany. France had replaced Spain—the Bourbons had replaced the Hapsburgs—as the dominant force in Europe; soon Louis XIV would be equated with the sun.

The hidden victim of the war was Christianity. The Roman Church had to abandon the Edict of Restitution, to return to the property situation of 1624, and to see the princes again determining the religion of their subjects; this, however, enabled the Church to banish Protestantism from Bohemia, the land of the Hussite Reformation. The Counter Reformation was checked; for example, it was out of the question that Poland should establish Catholicism in a Protestant Sweden twice as strong as before. The papal nuncio at Münster refused to sign the treaty; Pope Innocent X declared it “null and void, accursed, and without any influence or result for the past, the present, or the future” (November 20, 1648).85 Europe ignored the protest. From that time the papacy ceased to be a major political power, and religion in Europe declined.

Some Protestants protested, too, especially those who had lost their homes in Bohemia and Austria. But all in all the treaty—fruit of a dead and a living cardinal—was a Protestant victory. Protestantism had been saved in Germany. It was weakened in the south and along the Rhine, but in the north it was stronger than before. The Reformed, or Calvinist, Church was officially recognized in the treaty. The lines of religious division established in 1648 remained essentially unchanged until, in the twentieth century, the differential birth rate began a gradual and peaceful extension of Catholicism.

But though the Reformation had been saved, it suffered, along with Catholicism, from a skepticism encouraged by the coarseness of religious polemics, the brutality of the war, and the cruelties of belief. During the holocaust thousands of “witches” were put to death. Men began to doubt creeds that preached Christ and practiced wholesale fratricide. They discovered the political and economic motives that hid under religious formulas, and they suspected their rulers of having no real faith but the lust for power—though Ferdinand II had repeatedly risked his power for the sake of his faith. Even in this darkest of modern ages an increasing number of men turned to science and philosophy for answers less incarnadined than those which the faiths had so violently sought to enforce. Galileo was dramatizing the Copernican revolution, Descartes was questioning all tradition and authority, Bruno was crying out to Europe from his agonies at the stake. The Peace of Westphalia ended the reign of theology over the European mind, and left the road obstructed but passable for the tentatives of reason.


I. In the sixteenth century Germany was divided into seven administrative “circles”:

1. Franconia, including Würzburg, Bamberg, and Bayreuth.

2. Bavaria, including Munich, Regensburg (Ratisbon), and Salzburg.

3. Swabia, including Baden, Stuttgart, Augsburg, and the duchy of Württemberg.

4. Upper Rhine, including Frankfurt am Main, Cassel, Darmstadt, Wiesbaden, the county of Nassau, the landgraviate of Hesse, the duchy of Lorraine, and part of Alsace.

5. Lower Rhine, including Westphalia, Jülich and Cleves, the Palatinate, and the archbishoprics of Cologne, Trier, and Mainz.

6. Lower Saxony, including Mecklenburg, Bremen, Magdeburg, and the duchies of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Holstein.

7. Upper Saxony, including Leipzig, Berlin, the duchy of West Pomerania, and the electorates of Saxony and Brandenburg.

II. This and the other structures marked with an asterisk in this section were destroyed or severely damaged in the Second World War.

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