The Thirty Years War and the AP European History Exam
AP European History is full of significant and memorable wars that shaped the direction of Europe and, by extension, the world. One of these wars is the Thirty Years War. Perhaps your course did not emphasize this war, or maybe you just don’t remember it! In this AP European History Crash Course Review, you will learn when the Thirty Years War happened, who it involved, and in this case, most importantly what its end meant for Europe.
What Led to the Thirty Years War?
The Protestant Reformation began in 1517, but its effects were to last far longer. The authority of the Catholic Church in Europe was in question for the first time in a long time, and the continent divided into Catholics and Protestants. While some countries were more clearly Protestant, such as England and the Netherlands, and others remained staunchly Catholic like Spain, still others were marked by acute internal division. It is important for you to remember that because of the link between ecclesiastical (church) and state power at the time in history, the religious divide had serious political implications. Don’t think of the church and state as separate entities, but as sometimes combined and sometimes competing powers.
Background to the Thirty Years War
The Thirty Years War occurred from 1618-1648. Which groups were in conflict? After the Reformation, German Lutherans and the Catholics were pitted against one another. In the 1530’s the Lutherans submitted a petition for religious freedom to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V,. How did he respond? He outright rejected their offer. There was one catch, though. Charles V did not have the ability to actually challenge the Protestants.
If you want an example of the bloody religious conflict that predated the war, it’s the death of Ulrich Zwingli, considered by Protestants to be the third most influential reformer —after Luther and Calvin. Zwingli started as a Catholic priest in Switzerland, but grew to criticize the church openly. He joined forces with political rulers to gain the independence he believed priests should have, such as the right to marry. In 1531, in one of the religious conflicts fought between Catholic and Protestant forces, Zwingli was on the battlefield, helping to lead the fight for Swedish Protestant rights. He was killed in battle, which led to his glorification as a Protestant martyr and inspired future Swiss to fight on in his name in the soon-to-come Thirty Years War.
The Peace of Augsburg of 1555 somehow and temporarily resolved the conflict in Europe, allowing each territory within the empire to choose a government that would align itself with either Lutheranism or Catholicism. The northern and central German lands chose Lutheranism, while the southern territories elected to remain Catholic. Charles V realized that his primary goal as emperor, the uniting of all the lands of the Holy Roman Empire under Catholicism, was over. He abdicated the throne, moving to a monastery in 1556. Although other rulers of the HRE followed Charles V, he was the last crowned by the Pope, which allowed him the right to be called “Emperor.”
What Led to the Outbreak of War?
The Peace of Augsburg was successful in keeping the German states from warring against each other for about 50 years, but by the first decade of the new century, the Protestants and Catholics of Germany were preparing for a fight. Gearing up for a fight, both groups formed leagues or unions to defend their territories and faith. The Spanish Habsburg rulers were very concerned that all rulers of the HRE would continue to profess Catholicism, and they were jealous guardians of the royal thrones throughout Europe. One way they tried to ensure their continued domination was through marriage of Habsburg heirs to royals around Europe!
The Four Phases of the Thirty Years War
Get ready! Because the Thirty Years War eventually involved the armies of multiple nations and because of its religious nature that sometimes caused warring within a nation, we can understand it in four phases.
Phase One: The Bohemian Phase (1618-1625)
In 1618, Ferdinand II, Catholic ruler of Bohemia, started to limit the kinds of religious activities allowed by his subjects. Protestants under his rule felt restricted and oppressed and began to look for help from Protestants in other areas. These areas included Denmark, the Dutch, and Great Britain. When Ferdinand got wind that these nations planned to come to the Protestant aid, he reached out to Spain, German Catholics, and of course, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Ferdinand and his pals were able to defeat the Protestant group in the Battle of White Mountain.
Phase Two: The Danish Phase (1625-1629)
In this part of the Thirty Years War, the Protestant Danes were challenged by the Catholic Imperial armies. Their success led to major Catholic victories and put the Catholic Habsburg rulers of Spain and Austria at the height of their power. After this Catholic victory, Ferdinand declared an “Edict of Restitution” which took back lands for the Catholic Church that had previously been overtaken by Protestants. Ferdinand also limited worship in the HRE to only two groups: Catholics and Lutherans.
Phase Three: The Swedish Phase (1630-1635)
Here’s where it gets interesting! In this phase, we look at how Sweden’s Protestant king, Gustavus Adolphus, decided to get involved in defending the Protestants in the HRE. However, France’s Catholic chief minister and Catholic Cardinal Richelieu were getting nervous about the increased power of the Hapsburgs. He, therefore, aided the Swedish Protestants in their fight against Habsburg Catholicism! Gustavus Adolphus was killed in battle in 1632, weakening the Protestants after two successive victories.
Phase Four: The French Phase (1635-1648)
Though Gustavus Adolphus death had dealt a blow to the Protestants course, Cardinal Richelieu was actually more afraid of the threat of the Habsburgs, who were gaining more and more power as they racked up victories, than he was of the Protestants. He believed the Hapsburg rulers could become a rival to the French absolute kings he had worked so hard to strengthen. As a result, Richelieu funded and sent the military to Spain to make war on the weaker side of the Habsburg clan.
Why Does This War Matter?
Don’t let all of the detail about the Thirty Years War distract you from the larger point in your AP Euro History Review. Now that you know how the war was fought, keep reading to understand the war’s significance in European history!
The war that had dragged on for three decades resulted in deaths of between 30% and 66% of the entire male population of many German territories. These figures seem hard to believe, but you must consider that not all of the deaths came from battle. Disease, which was far more likely to kill the soldiers in their war-weakened states, and starvation, also played huge roles in the body count.
Europe had fought itself into exhaustion by 1648, and all of the countries were devastated by their losses. Religiously, there was still a great divide between Catholics and Protestants, but Europeans began to believe that the religious differences could not be solved by war. The rise of stronger absolute rulers meant that political power would soon replace the power of the church as the great prize.
The Peace of Westphalia
Finally in 1648, the countries agreed to stop the religious conflict in the Peace of Westphalia. In it, over 300 German princes were given the right to decide which religions would dominate in their principalities. Because of this independence, the leader of the Holy Roman Empire’s influence, and the goal of Christendom, – a huge tract of Europe to be dominated by Catholic rulers and the Catholic faith – would never be realized. With Catholicism, Calvinism, and Lutheranism now permitted, Northern Germany would remain Protestant and southern Germany Catholic.
As you continue to work through your AP European History Crash Course, you will find that the Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic division in Germany persisted into modern times, affecting the actions and approaches of future German leaders such as Otto von Bismarck and Adolph Hitler. This gives you an indication of just how important the Thirty Years War is to your study!
The Thirty Years War on the AP European History Exam
A new format for the AP European History exam was administered for the first time in 2016. However, a look at past, released exam questions is still helpful. In fact, today’s exam requires more writing than the previous one, and therefore more chance you will be asked to recall the events and effects of the Thirty years War. In 2009, one of the essays was entirely dedicated to the war: “Analyze the various ways in which the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) represented a turning point in European history.”
Even if you do not get a question as narrowly focused as the above, it is likely that you will be asked about religious conflicts in European history, or about the rise of political power over religious power in time. Studying the Thirty Years War in your AP Euro Review is a perfect way to ensure you will be ready for the exam!
The Thirty Years War: The Bottom Line
You should know that the Thirty Years War was a direct result of the reformation, and originated as a fight between Protestants and Catholics, but evolved into a highly political conflict. A big theme of this time of war was the question of authority for individual states. The Thirty Years War also marks the last major war to be fought over religious issues, as European rulers were cementing their power and became serious rivals to the influence of the church.
If you can remember these important themes and ideas, you will be ready to answer any question you might have about the Thirty years War on the AP Euro Exam.
AP European History is full of big and memorable wars that shaped the direction of Europe and the world at large. One of these wars is the Thirty Years War. Perhaps your course did not emphasize this war, or maybe you just don’t remember it! In this AP European History Crash Course Review, you will learn when the Thirty Years War happened, who it involved, and in this case, most importantly what its end meant for Europe.
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The Thirty Years' War was a defining moment in the 17th century of Europe. The dynastic ambitions of many countries resulted in war over certain land. Religion also played a similar factor in the Thirty Years' War. When the war was being fought at first it began as a religious war but as it progressed it became more political. The importance of religion was secondary to the dynasties will to control certain areas of Europe.
When the Peace of Augsburg was signed in 1555, it settled the disputes between the Lutherans and Catholics. It said nothing about the practice of Calvinism. The two Holy Roman emperors, Matthias and Ferdinand II, were determined to rid of Protestantism and to rule Germany.
In Bohemia the Hugenots, (Protestants) rejected the idea of having a Habsburg as a king. Frederick of Palatinate who was the Calvinist ruler in Bohemia went to war with the Habsburgs. When two of the Kings governors came to visit, Bohemia Protestant noblemen threw them out of a window. This was known as the Defenestration of Prague. In response to this Ferdinand of Habsburg, soon to be elected Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II decided to take action against Frederick V. Since both sides were convinced that they were fighting for a holy cause each leader began to gain some allies. In the end, however, Bohemia was made Catholic, and the Spanish took over Frederick of Palatinate's land.
Another religious cause for fighting the war the Catholic Counter Reformation was making an impact on Germany. Protestant Germans were worried about the influence of the Catholic Church on the Lutheran states. Cardinal Richelieu wanted to defeat the Habsburgs. He was sending diplomats everywhere to gain allies against the Habsburgs. When Adolphus was attacking Germany, Richelieu was negotiating with the German Catholic states. He wanted to make them feel that if they cooperated that they would be fine as they were.
After Ferdinand had taken Bohemia, he invaded northern Germany. The Protestants were in fear. Christian IV, the king of Denmark, led an army into Germany in defense of the Protestants but was easily defeated. After defeating Christian, the Holy Roman Emperor sought to recover all church lands secularized since 1552 and establish a strong Habsburg presence in northern Germany.
There were also major political motives for fighting this war. The Dynasties had goals to conquer certain lands that others had. This would evolve as the major reason for fighting the war.
When Emperor Ferdinand needed a leader to lead his private army he hired Albert of Wallenstein. Wallenstein fought for him, then over time used the army for his personal goals. In fear of Wallenstein having too much power Ferdinand fired him as commander of the army. After time, however, Wallenstein was hired again. When Wallenstein defeated Christian IV, Emperor Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution. This meant that all the land that was taken by the Protestants in 1552 now belonged to the Catholic Church.
Political motive is being established by the issuing of the Edict of Restitution.
When Sweden joined the war in 1629 Adolphus wanted to control the whole Baltic trade route and wanted the Habsburgs to be defeated. Leading one of the most advanced armies with the mobile cannon, the Swedish were able to defeat Wallenstein. When they fought at the battle of Lutzen in 1632 Adolphus was killed and Wallenstein withdrew. The German princes were now siding with Ferdinand. The Emperor annulled the Edict of Restitution, which left the Swedes isolated in Germany.
When the war was going on the Catholic kings of France were willing to join anyone of any religion to defeat the Habsburgs. Cardinal Richelieu was paying many people to keep armies in Germany to hold off the Habsburgs. The French, Dutch, Swedes, Protestant Germans were attacking the lands that the Habsburgs had control owning.
In itself the France and Spain were having a huge war. The ambitions of the dynasties were to control as more than the other. When it came time to go to the bargaining table, each side wanted to have the upper hand over the other. When the war was coming to an end there was a treaty signed in 1648 known as the Peace of Westphalia. The Peace of Westphalia blocked the Counter Reformation and blocked the Habsburgs. It renewed the Peace of Augsburg, and added Calvinism as an acceptable practice of faith. Each German state became independent.
At the end of the Thirty Years' War the main outcome was the division of lands. The whole concept of fighting the war was lost. Religion, instead of being number one priority became number two. The dynastic ambitions of the Monarchies were more important. This was the last and final religious war. There would be no more in Europe after this. By the end of the seventeenth century Protestants and Catholics expected to gain no more land by fighting.