War and Conflict

Renaissance and the Enlightenment

What was the Thirty Years’ War?

The Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), like the Hundred Years’ War, was actually a series of related conflicts, rather than one long campaign. The conflict in Europe began as a religious one, with hostility between Roman Catholics and Protestants; but it eventually turned political before it was ended with the Peace of Westphalia. The war had four periods: the Bohemian (1618–24), the Danish (1625–29), the Swedish (1630–34), and the Swedish-French (1635–48).

In Bohemia (part of present-day Czech Republic) the trouble began in the capital of Prague when the archbishop authorized the destruction of a Protestant church. The act angered Bohemian Protestants and those elsewhere in Europe, who believed it was their right—granted by the Peace of Augsburg (1555)—to worship as Lutherans. When Holy Roman Emperor Matthias (1557–1619) failed to intervene on behalf of the Protestants, Prague became the scene of mayhem in May 1618. Disorder continued in Bohemia even as a new emperor ascended to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. King Ferdinand II (1578–1637), a Habsburg, wielded an enormous amount of power, and in 1620 he squelched the Bohemian rebellion, which cost the Bohemians their independence. Further, Catholicism was reinstated as the state religion. These events caused other Protestant lands within the Holy Roman Empire to take notice. Soon the kings of Denmark, Sweden, and France entered into their own campaigns fighting King Ferdinand II for control of German lands. But the conflicts weren’t strictly about religious freedom: Reducing the authority of the powerful Habsburg family became a primary objective as well.


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