Thirty Years' War

The Thirty Years' War lasted from 1618 to 1648 in Europe, and was one of the most destructive wars in European history, claiming around eight million lives in total. In some places half the pre-war population died and the war thoroughly influenced the Baroque Era which had prevalent themes of "vanitas" or the ultimate death and decay of all earthly things.

The war was linked to preceding and subsequent conflicts, and in the Netherlands it is known as the Eighty Years' War ending in 1648 with Dutch independence being recognized de jure.


See also: Early modern Europe
Map of Thirty Years' War

The war has its roots in the Protestant Reformation, where especially northern Europe became Protestant, and broke away from the Catholic church. The Protestant (Hussite) nobles in Bohemia rebelled against the Holy Roman Empire, which was Catholic, and ruled by the King of Austria of the House of Habsburg. While the Habsburg states included the global Spanish Empire, the anti-Habsburg alliance came to include Protestant nations such as the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as the Catholic Kingdom of France.

The Thirty Years' War was one of the first wars to be dominated by firearms, as most infantry was armed with matchlock muskets. Dragoons (soldiers who rode horses to battle and dismounted to fire their muskets) were also widely used. While the infantry was supported by pikemen to fend off cavalry, the pikes were over time replaced by bayonets. As all sides wished to field as many soldiers as possible while reducing expense, the motto was that "the war feeds itself", meaning that armies would requisition, plunder, blackmail and rob their way to the needed provisions. In short time, the common peasants came to hate all soldiers, no matter their nominal allegiance, as often the only difference was whether the soldiers would leave behind worthless scrip when they took all movable things from the local populace.

This war, like all wars in Europe into the modern era, saw a far higher proportion of soldiers die of disease than in battle, and army camps often bred various diseases, due to lacking hygiene. The firearm technology of the time, with big bullets but relatively low muzzle velocities, led to a lot of amputations, which in turn killed many soldiers when wounds became infected.



The war ended in 1648, with the Treaty of Westphalia (signed and negotiated in both Münster and Osnabrück), which established the concept of Westphalian sovereignty, the foundation of modern international relations. The basic concept is that all states would be legally equal, and should not interfere in each others' domestic affairs, where each citizen should be allegiant to no more than one ruler. This principle was an end to the Holy Roman Emperor's political influence; the title became purely ceremonial, until it was abolished in 1806. While Austria became a great power in its own right, Spain lost its role as a dominant power in Europe.

State sovereignty allowed expanded state administration, including census, postal service, banking, and military medicine. During and after the war, conscripted armed forces gradually replaced the Landsknecht (mercenary) armies.

As war between European neighbours became the exception rather than the rule, travel was less of a danger, allowing a tradition of young noblemen to go on a Grand Tour across the continent.

The Netherlands rose as a sovereign nation, experiencing the Dutch Golden Age after the war. Sweden annexed much of northern Germany, and nearly came to encircle the Baltic Sea. The Swedish dominance of the Baltic would last a century and end after the Great Northern War.

The war had a huge human toll, in Europe comparable only to the two World Wars; in some regions nearly half the population died due to the near constant fighting, plundering and diseases spread by the moving armies. Works of fiction set or written during this era often paint a grisly picture of the - very real - atrocities committed during the war, and the bleak lot of both the common soldier and regular civilians just trying to scrape by. Many geographic names that mention "Schweden" ("Sweden" or "Swedes") date back to that era and Swedish war camps.


"Defenestration room" at the Prague castle
  • 1 Vienna. has the Heeresgeschichtliche Museum that has several high profile exhibits from the war, including the bloodstained order of Wallenstein to Pappenheim to intervene in the battle of Lützen where the latter would die (leading to the bloodstains) Vienna (Q1741) on Wikidata Vienna on Wikipedia
Czech Republic
  • 2 Prague. The defenestration of the Catholic Lords Regent and their secretary by members of the Protestant Bohemian estates on 23 May 1618 triggered the Thirty Years' War. The scene of the event can be visited in the Ludwig wing of the Old Royal Palace. You may also visit the Palace of imperial generalissimo Wallenstein with its beautiful garden. On the western outskirts of the city is the site of the 1620 Battle of White Mountain (Bílá Hora), marked by a monument and an exhibition in the nearby Letohrádek Hvězda (Star villa). Prague (Q1085) on Wikidata Prague on Wikipedia
  • The Richelieu Wing of the 1 Louvre Palace. Louvre Museum (Q19675) on Wikidata Louvre on Wikipedia, named after the shrewd French cardinal and chief minister, the mastermind behind France's entry into the war and a chief negotiator at the Treaty of Westphalia.
  • 3 Rocroi (in the Ardennes on the Belgian-French border, 25 km southeast of Chimay). Baroque star-shaped fort, site of a major Franco-Spanish battle in 1643 Rocroi (Q273702) on Wikidata Rocroi on Wikipedia
Gustavus Adolphus memorial in Lützen
  • 4 Breitenfeld (near Leipzig). Site of two battles, 1631 and 1642, both won by the Swedish-Protestant party. Breitenfeld (Q873362) on Wikidata Breitenfeld, Leipzig on Wikipedia
  • 5 Lützen. The place where Gustav II Adolph of Sweden died in battle in 1632, elevating him from a mere mortal to a martyr for the Protestant cause and a hero for Lutherans all over Europe. The Gustavus Adolphus memorial is often visited by Swedes, but–despite a modern legend–not an extraterritorial area of Sweden. Lützen (Q517174) on Wikidata Lützen on Wikipedia
  • 6 Magdeburg. The city was sacked in 1631 and almost entirely destroyed in an act of war so brutal even contemporary Catholics expressed outrage at the deed of their coreligionists. The term "magdeburgisieren" even entered the German lexicon, describing the wanton and total destruction of a city. Magdeburg (Q1733) on Wikidata Magdeburg on Wikipedia
  • 7 Münster's townhall. The place where the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, ending the war, redrawing the borders in Central Europe and starting the era of "Westphalian sovereignty" in international law. Münster (Q2742) on Wikidata Münster on Wikipedia
  • 8 Nördlingen. The walled old town, situated in the middle of a primeval impact crater, was the site of two battles. The one in 1634 was won by the imperial and Catholic armies, the one in 1645 by the French. Nördlingen (Q489902) on Wikidata Nördlingen on Wikipedia
  • 9 Rain (near Donauwörth). Site of the Battle of the River Lech, a major Swedish victory that led to the death of Count Tilly. Rain (Q503737) on Wikidata Rain, Swabia on Wikipedia
  • 10 Regensburg. Three imperial diets (meetings of the Prince-Electors of the Holy Roman Empire) were held in Regensburg during the war. The 1630 diet dismissed Wallenstein as supreme commander of the imperial forces. Regensburg (Q2978) on Wikidata Regensburg on Wikipedia
  • 11 Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The old town in Franconia, untouched by wars, maintained its medieval to early modern appearance with complete town walls. To this day a story of how the town was spared destruction in the war is reenacted. Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Q153494) on Wikidata Rothenburg ob der Tauber on Wikipedia
While the war had few naval battles, it marked the height of the Age of Sail. The Vasa was built for the war in Stockholm in 1628, but sank just outside the harbour, meeting an unlikely fate as a time capsule of the Thirty Years' War.
  • 2 Vasa Museum (Stockholm/Djurgården, Sweden). The Vasa is a 64-gun galleon built for the Thirty Years' War, which sank in the Stockholm harbour in 1628, a few hours into its maiden voyage. Salvaged in 1961, it is the only preserved vessel of its kind. Vasa Museum (Q901371) on Wikidata Vasa Museum on Wikipedia
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