Thirty Years War (30 Years War)

The period in the 16th and 17th centuries was marked by conflicts motivated by political claims to power of the ruling houses or by the recurrent conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In particular, the so-called "religious war" between the two faiths claimed many victims and reached its peak in the Thirty Years War, in which dozens of European states fought a kind of proxy war for their respective faiths in the area of the then Holy Roman Empire (present-day Germany). For this reason, the Thirty Years' War is also divided into the main protagonists of the war:
- Bohemian-Palatinate War
- Danish-Lower Saxon War
- Swedish War
- Swedish-French War


Tripping reason:

At the beginning of the 17th century, apart from countries and rulers, Europe was divided into the two different faiths of Catholics and Protestants. Again and again the sides tried to increase their influence, eliminate opponents or destroy them by military conflicts. The cause of the Thirty Years' War is the uprising in Bohemia in 1618 and the associated second Prague lintel.

Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Rudolf II secured in his majesty letter of 1609 the Bohemian estates religious freedom, so that both faiths could be lived out. However, Rudolf died in 1612 and succeeded his brother Matthias, who admittedly recognized the letter of majesty, but wanted to undo the concessions as a convinced Catholic. When he began to close Protestant churches, to forbid the faith and to suppress in March 1618 a protest of the Bohemian estates against these measures with a ban on assembly of the Bohemian Diet, it came inevitably on May 23, 1618 to the storm of armed nobles of Prague Castle and his Bohemian law firm. There they met the imperial representatives Jaroslav Borsita of Martinic, Wilhelm Slavata and the secretary Philipp Fabricius. After a heated discussion that left no result, the three were then thrown out of the window. The three survived the fall, but the attack on the emperor's deputies was politically equated with an attack on the emperor himself and thus the action of a declaration of war.



Karte dreißigjähriger Krieg

Map of the Thirty Years War



Bohemian-Palatinate War (1618-1623)

After the public proclamation of the rebellion, a thirty-member directorate of nobility was formed in Prague, whose task was the drafting of a constitution, the election of a new king and the military defense of Bohemia.

Already in the summer of 1618 there were first battles in South Bohemia between the army of Protestants and the imperial soldiers. Meanwhile, both sides sought to gain allies for their cause. Thus, on the Protestant side, Frederick V of the Palatinate and the Duke of Savoy could persuade Charles Emanuel I to join Bohemia. On the imperial side Count von Bucquoy was commissioned with the campaign to Bohemia. This quickly set his army in motion, but could be stopped by the soldiers of Bohemia under the leadership of Peter Ernst II von Mansfeld. In return, Mansfeld Pilsen conquered and urged the imperial troops back to Budweis.



Deutsche Soldaten im dreißigjährigen Krieg

German soldiers in the Thirty Years War



Under the command of Heinrich Matthias von Thurn, the Moravian estates Bohemia could be connected and his campaign on the territory of the imperial Habsburgs in Austria reached as far as Vienna, where he opened on 6 June 1619. At the Battle of Sablat could be beaten by Thurn and he was ordered back to Prague. In the summer of 1619, the Protestants founded the Bohemian Confederation and on 24 August 1619 Friedrich von der Pfalz became the new king. On August 28, 1619, on the side of the Catholics, Ferdinand, who had been deposed in Bohemia, was crowned Roman Emperor and henceforth called himself Emperor Ferdinant II.

On October 8, 1619 Ferdinant II was able to move the Bavarian Duke Maximilian I in the Treaty of Munich under great concessions to the war. But already in the same month Vienna was again besieged by the Bohemian commander Prince of Transylvania Gabriel Bethlen, who, however, soon withdrew to not be attacked by a mercenary army of the Emperor from Poland.

The first half of 1620 was marked by political decisions. Thus, on July 3, 1620, the Treaty of Ulm concluded a non-aggression pact between the Catholic League and the loyalist Protestant Union, which precluded support from the Union for Bohemia. Thus, the Bohemian King Frederick V of the Palatinate had to fight not only with the supply of his army but also with lack of political support. This was particularly evident when in September 1620 the army of the Catholic League invaded Bohemia from the south and the Saxon troops occupied Lusatia. In the Battle of White Mountain on November 8, 1620 near Prague, the Bohemian army had to suffer a heavy defeat and King Frederick was forced to leave Prague and flee to The Hague, where he sought in Northern Germany more allies.

Meanwhile, Silesia left the Bohemian Confederation and Emperor Ferdinant imposed on King Friedrich the Reichsacht (a peace and undeclared or outlawed). After the conquest of Bohemia by the Catholics were distributed to the 30,000 families of Protestant faith and dozens of estates of the nobles confiscated as a reparation payment.

Another theater of war beside Bohemia lay in the Palatinate. There, in the summer of 1620, the Spanish army commander Ambrosio Spinola conquered the left bank of the Rhine from the side of the Catholics, invading his army from Flanders. In the spring of 1621, however, he retired back to Flanders, back he read a 11,000-strong crew army. 1 year later, the Protestant army leaders Christian von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, Ernst von Mansfeld and Margrave Georg Friedrich von Baden-Durlach fought back and marched into the Palatinate. On April 27, 1622 they were able to win a victory at the Battle of Mingolsheim, but had to take many defeats in the next few months. Thus, the Baden troops were defeated on May 6, 1622 at the Battle of Wimpfen crushing and Christian of Brunswick - Wolfenbüttel defeated the imperial army at the Battle of Höchst.



Herzog Christian von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel

Duke Christian of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel



Christian von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and Ernst von Mansfeld assumed the Netherlands after the defeats. On the retreat, they met on August 29, 1622 on the Spanish army, which they defeated at the Battle of Fleurus.

From the summer of 1622, the right bank of the Rhine was occupied by imperial troops. In addition, the Upper Palatinate fell to Bavaria, who subsequently began to Catholicize the area. After the army of Christian von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and Ernst von Mansfeld had to take heavy casualties, this was no longer regarded as a serious danger.




Danish-Lower Saxony War (1623-1629)

After the defeat of the Protestant rebellion in the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, France began in 1624 to start a new rebellion. In return, France not only brought Savoy and Venice to Italy, but also campaigned for an alliance with Northern European countries. Thus it was that in 1625 the Hague Alliance was founded consisting of England, the Netherlands and Denmark with the aim to counteract the claims of the Habsburg Emperor to the North German territory.

Christian IV of Denmark received the supreme command of the new army and wanted to finance this mainly by the Lower Saxony imperial circle, where he was a member entitled to vote as Duke of Holstein. The real incentive for the entry into the war Christian IV was to win the cities of Verden, Osnabrück and Halberstadt for his son.

Shortly thereafter, Christian already had 14,000 men under him. In Lüneburg in March 1625, he wanted to move the county stadiums to finance another 14,000 man. However, they were averse to war and provided funding on the condition that the army should have purely a defensive character and not cross the country's borders for an attack. Christian consented to get his soldiers, but sat down on the condition and occupied the cities of Verden and Nienburg, which, however, were already in the Lower Rhine-Westphalian imperial circle.

Startled by the military operations of Christian, the Bohemian nobleman Albrecht von Wallenstein offered the emperor to set up his own army and to oppose Christian. After the imperial council had approved the proposal in June 1625, Wallenstein was appointed Duke with the opportunity to build a 24,000-strong army. Wallenstein's preparations began in July, and by the end of the year he was able to move into his winter quarters with his army in Magdeburg and Halberstadt, while the imperial army under the leadership of Tilly took up positions in eastern Westphalia and Hesse.



Albrecht von Wallenstein

Albrecht von Wallenstein



On April 25, 1626 Wallenstein was able to win his first major victory against the army of Ernst von Mansfelds in the Battle of Dessau Elbbrücke. Mansfeld was then able to set up an army again, but Wallenstein pursued Mansfeld until he died on his escape near Sarajevo. On August 27, 1626 in the Battle of Lutter on Barenberge also Christian suffered a defeat against Tilly and Wallenstein was able to advance from the summer of 1627 within a few weeks north Germany to Jutland and occupy the area. Only the Danish island could not be occupied due to a missing navy. With the Peace of Lübeck in 1629, the war against Denmark was over.



Zeitgenössische Darstellung der Schlacht bei Lutter

Contemporary illustration of the Battle of Lutter



Swedish War (1630-1635)

After Denmark was defeated militarily, Gustav Adolf of Sweden finally saw his chance to massively expand the power position of his country in the Baltic Sea region. So he mobilized his soldiers and landed on July 6, 1630 on Usedom and then forced Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and Saxony to enter into an alliance with Sweden and proceed against the Habsburg emperor. On September 17, 1631 Breitenfeld came to a meeting of the two armies. Gustav was able to beat the imperial Tilly and march unhindered south until the battle of Rain am Lech on 14 and 15 April 1632. In the battle Tilly was also severely wounded and had to go to Ingolstadt where he died on April 30 of his wounds. The Swedes tried to take Ingolstadt, but the siege failed. In the meantime, Elector Maximilian Regensburg was able to recapture, which caused the Swedes to abandon the siege and move on to Munich.



Schwedische Infanterie aus dem 17. Jahrhundert

Swedish infantry from the 17th century



After the death of Tilly appointed the Habsburg Emperor Albrecht von Wallenstein again commander-in-chief of the imperial troops, after this 1630 was released from office. Wallenstein began immediately with the counter-offensive and inflicted heavy losses on the Swedes on September 3, 1632 in the Battle of the Old Veste near Nuremberg and on 16 November 1632 in the Battle of Lützen. In addition, Gustav Adolf was killed by Swedes at Lützen. His successor was his underage daughter Christina of Sweden, the guardianship was Axel Oxenstierna. This could enter into an alliance with the Protestants of the Frankish, Swabian and Rhenish imperial circle (Heilbronn Confederation) and continue the fight.



Gustav II. Adolf von Schweden

Gustav II. Adolf of Sweden



On February 25, 1634, the imperial troops lost their commander-in-chief Wallenstein, when he was murdered in Cheb. His successor was Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, who in the same year could still win a big victory against the Swedes at the Battle of Nördlingen.

However, as early as 1635, the Protestant alliance fell apart as the imperial estates gradually emerged, starting with axes of axes, and signed the war with the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II in the Prague peace. There was also an agreement to go to war together against the enemies of the imperial empire. In contrast, Protestant Sweden entered into an alliance with Catholic France in 1635 in the Treaty of Wismar in order to restrict the expansion of power of the Habsburg emperor. Thus, the Thirty Years' War no longer developed into a religious war between Catholics and Protestants, but again into a power political war.




Swedish-French War (1635-1648)

In consequence of the withdrawal of the imperial estates from the war and a threatening peace, which would strengthen the position of power of the Habsburg emperor, France decided actively to intervene in the war and to carry out attacks on the Reich territory. the next few years were then characterized only by minor clashes, larger battles or campaigns were missing. From 1643, the first peace talks between the warring party France, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire began. In 1645, with the armistice of Kötzschenbroda, Saxony and Sweden ended the war with each other. Only in 1648, in the so-called Peace of Westphalia, was the thirty-year war finally ended.



Bevölkerungsverluste im dreißigjährigen Krieg

Population losses in the Thirty Years' War


Konfessionen in Europa nach 1648

Denominations in Europe after 1648






You can find the right literature here:


The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy

The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy Paperback – October 15, 2011

A deadly continental struggle, the Thirty Years War devastated seventeenth-century Europe, killing nearly a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to towns and countryside alike. Peter Wilson offers the first new history in a generation of a horrifying conflict that transformed the map of the modern world.

When defiant Bohemians tossed the Habsburg emperor’s envoys from the castle windows in Prague in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire struck back with a vengeance. Bohemia was ravaged by mercenary troops in the first battle of a conflagration that would engulf Europe from Spain to Sweden. The sweeping narrative encompasses dramatic events and unforgettable individuals―the sack of Magdeburg; the Dutch revolt; the Swedish militant king Gustavus Adolphus; the imperial generals, opportunistic Wallenstein and pious Tilly; and crafty diplomat Cardinal Richelieu. In a major reassessment, Wilson argues that religion was not the catalyst, but one element in a lethal stew of political, social, and dynastic forces that fed the conflict.

By war’s end a recognizably modern Europe had been created, but at what price? The Thirty Years War condemned the Germans to two centuries of internal division and international impotence and became a benchmark of brutality for centuries. As late as the 1960s, Germans placed it ahead of both world wars and the Black Death as their country’s greatest disaster.

An understanding of the Thirty Years War is essential to comprehending modern European history. Wilson’s masterful book will stand as the definitive account of this epic conflict.

For a map of Central Europe in 1618, referenced on page XVI, please visit the book feature.

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The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – June 30, 2005

Europe in 1618 was riven between Protestants and Catholics, Bourbon and Hapsburg--as well as empires, kingdoms, and countless principalities. After angry Protestants tossed three representatives of the Holy Roman Empire out the window of the royal castle in Prague, world war spread from Bohemia with relentless abandon, drawing powers from Spain to Sweden into a nightmarish world of famine, disease, and seemingly unstoppable destruction.

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Europe in Flames: The Crisis of the Thirty Years War

Europe in Flames: The Crisis of the Thirty Years War Hardcover – December 1, 2018

‘War,’ wrote Cardinal Richelieu, ‘is one of the scourges with which it has pleased God to afflict men’. Yet the prelate’s mournful observation scarcely begins to encapsulate the full complexity and unspeakable horror of the greatest man-made calamity to befall Europe before the twentieth century. Claiming far more lives proportionately than either the First or Second World Wars, it was a contest involving all the major powers of Europe, in which vast mercenary armies extracted an incalculable toll upon helpless civilian populations as their commanders and the men who equipped them frequently grew rich on the profits. Swedish troops alone are said to have destroyed some 2,000 German castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns, while other vast armies in the pay of Spain, France, the Holy Roman Emperor and a host of pettier princelings brought death to as many as 8 million souls. Rarely has such a perplexing tale been more in need of a new account that is both compelling and informed, and no less comprehensible than comprehensive.

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Experiencing the Thirty Years War: A Brief History with Documents

Experiencing the Thirty Years War: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford Series in History and Culture) First Edition Edition

One of the most momentous and destructive wars in European history, the Thirty Years War has long been studied for its diplomatic, political, and military consequences. Yet the actual participants in this religiously motivated, seemingly endless conflict have largely been ignored. Hans Medick and Benjamin Marschke reveal the Thirty Years War from the perspective of those who lived it. Their introduction provides important insights into the roiling religious and political landscape from which the war emerged, as well as a thoughtful examination of the war's stages and enduring significance. An unprecedented collection of personal accounts, many of them translated for the first time into English, combine with visual sources to convey directly to students the experience of early modern warfare. Incisive document headnotes, maps and illustrations, a chronology, questions to consider, and a bibliography enrich students' understanding of this fateful war.

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