In this lesson, we will examine the consequences of the Thirty Years’ War, as well as the birth of the Enlightenment. We will place these events in historical context and show their lasting impact.
The Thirty Years’ War
Oh boy. The Thirty Years’ War. This is a struggle that most people do not know much about.
Compared with the American Civil War or World War II, the Thirty Years’ War is highly complex. Let’s dig in, and learn a little bit about this conflict.The Thirty Years’ War was a series of wars fought among numerous European powers between 1618 and 1648. While theses wars had multiple causes, religious issues were a leading factor. Remember, religion was a huge deal during this time!Following the Protestant Reformation, which Martin Luther sparked in 1517, Protestants and Catholics were often at each other’s throats. Religious tension between Calvinists, Lutherans, Catholics, and other factions ran rampant throughout 16th and 17th century Europe. In the diverse Holy Roman Empire, Protestants and Catholics were sharply divided, and each group looked to other foreign states for support.
When the Catholic Ferdinand II ascended to the position of Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Bohemia (which was one of the many independent kingdoms within the Holy Roman Empire) many Protestants feared their religious rights would be jeopardized. They rebelled and sought support from other leading Protestant states, including England, the Dutch Republic, Denmark, Sweden, and others. In 1619, Ferdinand II became the Holy Roman Emperor. He formed alliances with other Catholic states, including Spain and Hungary. We should understand the Thirty Years’ War was thus very much a religious war, pitting Protestants against Catholics.In the early stages of the conflict, the Holy Roman Empire’s imperial army was successful in overrunning Protestant Germany.
In 1631, Swedish intervention and French assistance allowed the Protestants to achieve victory at the Battle of Breitenfeld. This battle was the first major Protestant victory in the conflict.French involvement in the war stemmed from the fact that it was surrounded on both sides by Habsburg dynasties: Spain (in the West) and the Holy Roman Empire (in the East) were both ruled by Habsburg families.
You can see how this was not exactly a good situation for France. This also explains why the Holy Roman Empire was allied with Spain and why France intervened.Throughout the 1640s, France and Sweden won a number of important victories, causing the tide of the war to turn in their direction. Exhausted from years of warfare, and neither side able to gain a decisive advantage, negotiations among the European powers finally resulted in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The Peace of Westphalia was not a single peace treaty, but rather refers to a series of separate treaties ending the Thirty Years’ War.In addition to ending the war, the Peace also granted certain liberties.
It stipulated that each state or kingdom was free to decide its own religion; it guaranteed religious minorities the right to practice their religion freely; and it made Calvinism a valid religious option. Certain territorial and political provisions were also laid out.
The Impact of the Thirty Years’ War
The Thirty Years’ Wars had a profound impact on European society. The religious war caused some Europeans to become disillusioned with established religion. Following the war, state-sponsored religion declined, as states allowed greater religious freedoms.
The influence of the church also declined. This bred the individuality and even skepticism that was characteristic of the Enlightenment – don’t worry, we will address the Enlightenment in just a moment or two.The war also impacted views of government. For centuries, Europeans had espoused the concept of the divine right of kings, which basically meant monarchs were put into power by the will of God and were not subject to any other Earthly power.
But the war shook faith in government. The atrocities committed during the war caused many intellectuals to decry war and fostered a skepticism of government.
The Birth of the Enlightenment
So, what was the Enlightenment? The Enlightenment was a late 17th and 18th century intellectual movement emphasizing human reason, individualism, and skepticism. The Enlightenment movement challenged traditional religious views, and instead promoted scientific and rational thought. Enlightenment thinkers were the liberals of their day. They were typically humanists who advocated for equality and human dignity, and stood opposed to supernatural occurrences, superstition, intolerance, and bigotry.
To a degree, the Enlightenment spurred atheism, but more commonly it resulted in a mix between Christianity and scientific rationalism. Deism, the belief in a God who allows the universe to proceed according to natural law, is a good example of how Enlightenment thought impacted religion.There is no exact beginning date for the Enlightenment because it was such a broad movement. It developed gradually; it did not suddenly spring up out of nowhere.
Most historians place the birth of the Enlightenment between the mid-17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The philosophies of thinkers, like Ren; Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Isaac Newton, were particularly important in birthing the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment started in Europe and eventually spread to the United States. Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by Enlightenment thinking. The Enlightenment died out in the early 19th century.
So how do the Thirty Years’ War and the Enlightenment relate? Well, it would probably be a mistake to say the Thirty Years’ War ’caused’ the Enlightenment. While there is no way to be sure, the Enlightenment probably would have happened even without the Thirty Years’ War. Nevertheless, the Thirty Years’ War helped create social conditions that allowed the Enlightenment to blossom.
The Thirty Years’ War was one of many important factors that led to the Enlightenment.
Let’s review. The Thirty Years’ War was a series of wars fought among numerous European powers between 1618 and 1648.
The conflict began after Protestants rebelled against Catholic Ferdinand II of Bohemia. Initially, the Holy Roman Empire held the advantage, but in 1631, at the Battle of Breitenfeld, the Protestants achieved their first major victory. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, a series of separate peace treaties, ended the war.The war impacted society in profound ways.
It weakened the concept of the divine right of kings, which was the belief that all monarchs had been put into power by the will of God and were not subject to Earthly power. The Thirty Years’ War created conditions under which the Enlightenment blossomed. The Enlightenment was a late 17th- and 18th-century intellectual movement that emphasized human reason, science, and individualism, and stood opposed to traditional religious views.
This video lesson might help you to:
- Understand the importance of religion throughout Europe in the early 17th century
- Describe the conflicts which grew between Protestants and Catholics which led to another European war – The Thirty Years War
- Note the effects of the war on European society
- Recognize the Peace of Westphalia as the end of the war
- Explain how constant war led to the Enlightenment period