Peace of Westphalia (1648)

Anuschka Tischer

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Peace of Westphalia (1648)


The Peace of Westphalia, concluded in 1648 in Münster (Germany), ended the Thirty Years War, which started with an anti-Habsburg revolt in Bohemia in 1618 but became an entanglement of different conflicts concerning the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, religion, and the state system of Europe. This contest was a civil “German war,” but foreign powers played crucial a role. The Peace of Westphalia ended with the signing of two treaties between the empire and the new great powers, Sweden and France, and settled the conflicts inside the empire with their guarantees. A new electorate was established for the exiled son of the revolt’s leader, the elector Palatine. Bavaria kept the electorate that it had been given for its support of the emperor Ferdinand II during the revolt. This compromise in 1648 meant a change of the empire’s fundamental Golden Bull of 1356 and was a symbol that all conflicts occurring since 1618 were resolved and that those who made peace did not avoid radical cuts and invented fresh ideas in order to make peace. Catholics and Protestants (now including Calvinists as well as Lutherans) accepted each other. Several regulations guaranteed their balance: 1624 was declared the “normal year” of any territory’s denomination, minorities were tolerated or had a right to emigrate, and no one could be forced to convert any longer. The Peace of Westphalia is regarded as a milestone in the development toward tolerance and secularization. This settlement also strengthened the imperial Estates: they could go into foreign alliances and decide important matters, such as peace and war, along with the emperor. Habsburg’s suspected ambition for a “universal monarchy” was thereby controlled, in particular because the Franco-Spanish negotiations in Münster did not bring peace between France and Spain and left open conflict areas, such as Lorraine. Moreover, France and Sweden got territorial “satisfaction,” especially in Alsace and Pomerania. The Peace of Westphalia also confirmed the legal independence of the Swiss Confederation, whereas by a separate peace with Spain, in Münster, the United Provinces of the Netherlands officially became a sovereign state after eighty years of war. The Peace of Westphalia was crucial in German and international history. Its precise role in the European state system and international law is, however, subject to controversy, such as the debate over the “Westphalian System” in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Controversies about the Peace of Westphalia are not new. The history of its reception and interpretation is as long as the history of its emergence. Unquestionably, though, the negotiations were a milestone in diplomacy and peacemaking. Sources on the peace are most valuable for always changing methods and perspectives of history. Research on the Peace of Westphalia increased enormously with its 350th anniversary in 1998 and its several conferences and exhibitions.

Article.  7820 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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