Which is the shortest battle in the world

The Thirty-Year War

On May 23, the Prague window lintel marks the 400th anniversary of the start of the Thirty Years War. For the DHM blog, the historian Dr. Gerhard Quaas gives a brief historical overview of the events of that time.

The Thirty Years' War - the first "original catastrophe" in German history - has remained in the collective memory of Germans despite the terrible events of the two world wars. The numerous reports of the dissolution of state order, of brutal violence, epidemics, hunger and religious fanaticism have lost none of their urgency to this day. Famous generals like the Swedish king Gustav Adolf or Albrecht von Wallenstein have become legendary. Illustrations, documents, weapons and equipment from this time provide eloquent testimony for posterity.

By the end of the 16th century, denominational differences had intensified and resulted in the denominational alliances of the Protestant Union (1608) and the Catholic League (1609). The religious and power-political conflicts increased the will to confront on both sides. As the central power of Catholicism, the Habsburgs initially concentrated their counter-Reformation measures on Bohemia. King of Bohemia was always a Habsburg, mostly the emperor himself. In the meantime, however, the majority of the nobles in Bohemia were Protestant. A majesty letter issued in 1609 guaranteed them freedom of religion and gave the estates the right to elect the king. Both are increasingly in danger and put the stands in turmoil.

Constitutional struggle and denominational war

In Bohemia, for example, the struggle for freedom of belief erupted in a demonstrative act of resistance: the Prague window lintel on May 23, 1618. Two governors of the emperor and a secretary were thrown out of the window after a violent exchange with representatives of the estates. They survived the fall.

When Bohemian rebels elected the Calvinist Elector Friedrich V of the Palatinate as their king on August 26, 1619, every chance for a compromise was wasted. Two days later, the previous King of Bohemia, a radical opponent of the Protestants, was elected Emperor as Ferdinand II. After the coronation, the emperor and Spanish advisers decided to deploy the League Army in Bohemia and to occupy the Palatinate on the left bank of the Rhine with Spanish troops. Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria also provided mercenaries.

In June 1620 the war began. Duke Maximilian sent well-armed units, which together with troops of the League gradually conquered Bohemia. The poorly organized army of the Bohemian Estates lost the battle on White Mountain near Prague in November 1620 in one of the shortest battles in world history. Friedrich V, henceforth mocked as the Winter King, had to flee and was exiled in the Netherlands.

The war continued and spread to the Palatinate. Spain and the troops of the League, under the leadership of the general Tilly, occupied the electoral state. Troops of Duke Maximilian I also took part in this campaign. Mercenary associations in the service of Protestants could not achieve anything militarily and the center of German Calvinism came into Catholic hands. As compensation for the deployment of his army in Bohemia, the Bavarian Duke Maximilian received the Upper Palatinate and later the electoral dignity.

A brutal process of recatholicization began in Bohemia. Numerous rebels were executed, around 150,000 people left their homeland, and half of the land changed hands. It was here that the ascent of the Bohemian nobleman, Albrecht von Wallenstein, unknown until then, began. The redistribution of property made Wallenstein, who had previously converted to Catholicism, one of the richest men in Bohemia. After the elevation to Duke of Friedland by his patron Ferdinand, he raised an army for the emperor at his own expense and naturally expected something in return.

Sebastian Vrancx, soldiers plunder a farm, around 1620 © DHM

Wallenstein - a war entrepreneur

When the army of the league and an imperial army under Wallenstein's leadership advanced north, the Danish King Christian IV intervened in the war in view of the impending Counter-Reformation and out of his own territorial interest. After several defeats, he made peace with the emperor in 1629. In place of the outlawed Mecklenburg dukes who supported the Danish king, Wallenstein becomes Duke of Mecklenburg and commander-in-chief of all imperial troops.

Wallenstein was a war entrepreneur and his ever-growing army devoured more and more money. His Duchy of Friedland was a single war factory and he obtained weapons, ammunition and equipment in large numbers from there. In the form of a tax, he demanded large contributions from the occupied country. By 1630 his army was probably 150,000 strong. An army of this size was a power factor, because at the beginning of the war the Kaiser had no army, only individual regiments. Ferdinand II was at the height of his power.

In this situation he issued an edict of restitution in 1629, which called on the Protestants to return the church property, which had been secularized since 1552. Even the Catholic estates could not accept this increase in power by the emperor. Like the Protestants, they too feared for their class freedoms and a development in the direction of imperial absolutism, which would have meant a weakening of princely territorial power. In Wallenstein and his huge army they saw a promoter of this development. One of the most resolute opponents of the edict was Maximilian von Bayern. At the Regensburg Princely Congress in 1630, the edict was withdrawn and Wallenstein was dismissed. Once again, power interests were more important than sectarian ties.

Gustav Adolf - the "lion from midnight"

In 1630 the Swedes also intervened on the Protestant side in the war: in July Gustav Adolf, the “lion from midnight”, as he was called by Protestants with reference to religious journalism, landed with his army on Usedom. Catholic France supported the Swedes annually with 400,000 thalers and hoped that this would weaken the Habsburg positions. In the meantime, Tilly's army had major supply problems and hoped to solve them by conquering Magdeburg before the Swedes arrived. The storm on the city ended in its almost complete destruction and caused horror across Europe.

A few months later the Swedes and Saxons defeated the league army under the leadership of Tilly in the battle of Breitenfeld, near Leipzig. The road to the south was open to Gustav-Adolf and he made a triumphal entry into Munich in May 1632. The balance of power had again turned in favor of the Protestants.

Wallenstein was reinstated and received unlimited powers from the emperor to the rank of commander-in-chief. He turned out to be an equal opponent of the Swedes. On November 17, 1632 there was the battle of Lützen, in which Gustav-Adolf was killed. His tragic end made him a Protestant martyr.

Wallenstein fell into the crossfire of criticism again because he followed the wishes of the emperor less and less and negotiated with the opponents without clear goals, so that ultimately nobody knew where he was. In Vienna people believed in high treason and thus sealed their fate. On February 25, 1634 he was murdered in Eger. His life path and contradicting character have made him a great literary figure in many ways.

The war goes on

After the defeat of the Swedes and German Protestants in the Battle of Nördlingen (1634), the Peace of Prague between the Emperor and the imperial estates came on May 30, 1635. A kind of imperial army under the supreme command of the emperor with the associations of Bavaria and Saxony was to be formed. The Prague concept had to fail because the foreign powers were not involved in the negotiations.

Thereupon France, which until now had only interfered diplomatically, entered the war. The war came on the spot, victory or defeat made little difference to the situation. Increasingly, marauders roamed the country, pillaging and murdering. In many places the peasants had formed combat units and actively defended themselves against their mortal enemy, the soldiers.

The balance of the thirty year war was terrifying. In some areas only a third of the population survived, and the total population had fallen from 17 to 10 million.

Wolfgang Kilian, The Nuremberg Peace Supper on September 25, 1649 (with text sheet) © DHM

The Peace of Westphalia - a European treaty

After a long attempt, peace negotiations began in Münster and Osnabrück in 1648. In addition to various international regulations, the confessional boundaries were set according to the status of 1624 and Calvinism was recognized as an independent religion. Important imperial organs were occupied equally according to denomination. The sovereigns gained greater sovereignty and followed the model of absolutism. The decoupling of politics from the denominations that had reinforced the destructive and uncompromising forces in the war proved of central importance. Germany rose to be a pioneer for religious freedom. The treaty laid down the political rules of the game for the European powers for the next century and a half. The European war was ended by a European peace.

Dr. Gerhard Quaas

Dr. Gerhard Quaas has worked in the Feudalism Department at the then Museum of German History since 1974, and since 1990 he has been the collection curator for old weapons and armaments at the German Historical Museum. He worked on the 1500-1650 section of the permanent exhibition as well as the special exhibitions “Iron clothes. Armorer works from three centuries from the collection of the German Historical Museum ”(March 12 to July 6, 1992) and“ Hofjagd ”(February 19 to April 12, 2004). Together with Andrè König, he published the "Losses from the collections of the Berlin armory during and after the Second World War" in one volume, published by the German Historical Museum Foundation, Berlin 2011