Westphalia, Peace of

Westphalia, Peace of, 1648, general settlement ending the Thirty Years War. It marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire as an effective institution and inaugurated the modern European state system. The chief participants in the negotiations were the allies Sweden and France; their opponents, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire; and the various parts of the empire (which had been riven by the war) together with the newly independent Netherlands. Earlier endeavors to bring about a general peace had been unsuccessful. The compact known as the Peace of Prague (May, 1635) marked a step in the direction of peace and signaled the belief of the Protestant powers that the Swedish forces on which they depended would not be able to maintain a preponderant role in Germany. The conditions of the compact were not in accord with Richelieu's design to break up the imperial power, however, and the war continued despite offers of mediation from the pope and the king of Denmark. Congresses were proposed and discarded. It was not until Dec. 25, 1641, that a preliminary treaty provided for two concurrent conferences—at Münster and Osnabrück. The conferences, fixed for 1643, met in 1644 and began serious work in 1645. The treaties were signed Oct. 24, 1648. Through the French and Swedish "satisfactions" the power and influence of the Holy Roman Empire and of the house of Hapsburg were lessened. The sovereignty of the German states was recognized, and the empire continued only in name. France, emerging as the dominant European power, had its sovereignty over three bishoprics (Metz, Toul, and Verdun) and over Pinerolo confirmed. Breisach was made over to France. Alsace was ceded despite ambiguity of title, and France was allowed to fortify a garrison at Philippsburg. Sweden obtained W Pomerania, including Stettin and the island of Rügen; the archbishopric (but not the city) of Bremen and the adjoining bishopric of Verden; and Wismar and the island of Pöl. It was agreed that the Upper Palatinate and the old electoral vote should remain with Bavaria, while the Rhenish Palatinate, with a new electoral vote, was assigned to Charles Louis, the son of Frederick the Winter King. The Swiss Confederation and the independent Netherlands were explicitly recognized. The elector of Brandenburg received compensation for Pomerania; the duke of Mecklenburg, for Pöl and part of Wismar. The outcome of the religious deliberations was significant. Territorial rulers continued to determine the religion of their subjects, but it was stipulated that subjects could worship as they had in 1624. Terms of forced emigration were eased; Calvinism was recognized; and rulers could allow full toleration, at their discretion. Finally, religious questions could no longer be decided by a majority of the imperial estates. Future disputes were to be resolved by a compromise between the confessions. The era of religious warfare was over, and a general attempt had been made toward religious toleration.

See C. V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (1938).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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