Alarmed by the growing power of the Huguenots, Catherine de’ Medici decided that they must be exterminated. At midnight on Augus
24, 1572, St. Bartholemew’s Day, Catherine gave a signal from a Paris church tower which began the massacre of Huguenots in Paris. The massacre then spread to the provinces, taking the lives of several thousand Huguenots.
The War of the Three Henrys Following the St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre, Henry of Navarre
(1 553-1610), a Bourbon, emerged as the Huguenots’ leader. King Henry I11attempted to form a moderate Catholic faction as an alternative both to the Huguenots and to the uncompromising Guise faction.
Catholic-Huguenot conflict continued, culminating in the Warof the Three Henrys (1585-1589), a conflict between King Henry 111,Henry of Navarre, and Henry, the Duke of Guise (1550-1588). Regarding the Duke of Guise as a serious threat to his own power, King Henry I11had him assassinated in December 1588. The Guise faction retaliated with the assassination of the king in July 1589.
Henry of Navarre now became King Henry IV (r. 1589-1610), the first Bourbon king of France. Succeeding where others had failed, Henry IV made peace between the contending religious factions (see Chapter 8).
The Thirty Years’ War
The Origins of the Conflict
The Peace of Augsburg of1555 had brought a temporary truce in the religious conflict in the German states (see Chapter 4).This settlement had recognized only Lutherans and Roman Catholics, but Calvinism had subsequently made gains in a number of states. The Calvinists began to demand recognition of their rights. The
Thirty Years’ War began, however, as a direct result of a conflict in the Hapsburg-ruled Kingdom of Bohemia.
The Bohemian Period (1618-1625)
In 1617, the Bohemian Diet elected Ferdinand of Styria as king of Bohemia. Ferdinand, a member of the Hapsburg family, became Holy Roman emperor two years later, as Ferdinand I1 (r. 1619-1637). He was an ardent supporter of the Catholic cause.
Ferdinand’s election alarmed Bohemian Calvinists, who feared the loss of their religious rights. In May 1618, the Calvinist revolt began when the rebels threw two Catholic members of the Bohemian royal council from a window some seventy feet above the ground
councillors fell into a pile of manure and suffered only minor injuries.
This incident became known as the Defenestration of Prague.
Taking control of Prague, the rebels declared Ferdinand deposed
and elected a new king, Frederick V (1596-1632),the elector of the
Palatinate in western Germany and a Calvinist. The German Protestant
Union, which Frederick headed, provided some aid to the Bohemian
Emperor Ferdinand I1 won the support of King Maximilian I (r.
1573-1651)of Bavaria, the leader of the Catholic League. Troops of
the Holy Roman Empire and Bavaria, commanded by Baron Tilly
(1559-1632),invaded Bohemia. In November 1620,Tilly won a
decisive victory over the forces of Frederick V at the Battle of White
Mountain, near Prague. Frederick, known derisively as the “Winter
King,” fled to Holland.
Emperor Ferdinand I1 regained the Bohemian throne, while King
Maximilian of Bavaria acquired the Palatinate. The Bohemian period
of the Thirty Years’ War thus ended with a Hapsburg and Catholic
victory. The Calvinist-led revolt in Bohemia had been suppressed,
while in Germany, the Palatinate had been transˆerred from Protestant
to Catholic control.
The Danish Period (1625-1629)
The Danish period of the conflict began when King Christian IV
(r. 1588-1648),the Lutheran ruler of Denmark, intervened in 1625to
support the Protestant cause against Emperor Ferdinand 11.King Christian was also the duke of Holstein and therefore a prince of the Holy Roman Empire.
Defeat of Protestant Forces
The emperor secured the assistance of Albrecht von Wallenstein
(1583-1634),who raised an independent army of 50,000 men. The
combined forces of Wallenstein and Tilly defeated Christian IV in
August 1626and then occupied the duchy of Holstein the following year
End of Danish Perwd
The Treaty of Liibeck of 1629 restored Holstein to Christian IV,
but the Danish king pledged not to intervene further in German affairs.
The Danish period of the war, like the Bohemian period, thus ended
with a Hapsburg and Catholic victory.
The Swedish Period (1630-1635)
The Catholic victories alarmed Protestants almost everywhere.
Furthermore, the victories of the emperor endangered the independence of the German princes, while the French Bourbons were concerned about the growth of Hapsburg power.
Widening of the War
The Protestant cause soon found a new defender in King Gustavus
Adolphus (r. 1611-1632) of Sweden. In the summer of 1630, the
Swedes moved into Germany. Later in the year, France and Sweden
signed an alliance, and France entered the war against the Hapsburgs.
The Thirty Years’ War had begun primarily as a German conflict
over religious issues. The conflict now became a wider European war,
fought mainly over political issues, as Catholic France and Protestant
Sweden joined forces against the Catholic Hapsburgs.
The Course of Battle
During the early stages of the conflict, the Swedes won several
notable victories. Tilly, the imperial commander, fell in battle in 1632.
Frightened by his enemies’ victories, Emperor Ferdinand I1 called
on Wallenstein to form a new army. In November 1632, at the Battle
of Liitzen, the Swedes defeated Wallenstein, but Gustavus Adolphus
was killed in the fighting.
When Wallenstein entered into secret negotiations with Sweden
and France, Ferdinand I1 relieved him of his command in February
1634. The general was assassinated a few days later. In the autumn,
the emperor’s army decisively defeated the Swedes at Nordlingen in
The Treaty of Prague
The deaths of both Gustavus Adolphus and Wallenstein, together with the exhaustion of both the Holy Roman emperor and the German
Protestant princes, brought an end to the Swedish period of the war.
The Treaty of Prague, signed in 1635, generally strengthened the
Hapsburgs and weakened the power of the German princes.
The French Period (1635-1648)
The settlement reached in the Treaty of Prague was wrecked by the
French decision to intervene directly in the war. Cardinal Richelieu
(1585-1642), the chief minister of King Louis XI11 (r. 1610-1643) of
France (see Chapter 8),wanted to weaken the power of the Hapsburgs
and take the province of Alsace from the Holy Roman Empire. In
addition, Richelieu had designs against Spain arid its Hapsburg king,
Philip IV (r. 1621-1665).
In Germany, the French could rely on support from the Swedes and a number of German princes in the struggle against the Hapsburg Holy Roman emperor, while France focused its attention on the war against Spain.
Both in Germany and in the Franco-Spanish conflict, the fortunes of war fluctuated. For a time, the forces of the IJoly Roman emperor, aided by King Maximilian of Bavaria and other Catholic princes, more than held their own against the Swedes and German Protestants. France’s success against Spain, however, enabled the French to send larger forces into Germany. This helped tip the balance in favor of the emperor’s foes. Emperor Ferdinand I1 died in 1637 and was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand 111 (r. 1637-1657). Peace negotiations began in 1641, but made little progress until the death of Cardinal Richelieu in 1642 and the French occupation of Bavaria in 1646.
The Peace of Westphalia (1648)
The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 ended the Thirty Years’ War. Sweden, Brandenburg, and France all gained territory. Sweden acquired western Pomerania, while eastern Pomerania was assigned to Brandenburg. France annexed part of Alsace and some nearby territory.
The settlement formally recognized the independence of the Dutch Republic and Switzerland and granted the German states the right to make treaties and alliances, thereby further weakening the authority of the Holy Roman emperor.
In religious affairs, the Peace of Westphalia expanded the Peace of
Augsburg to include Calvinists, as well as Catholics and Lutherans.
The Peace of Westphalia ended the Holy Roman emperor’s hope
of restoring both his own power and the Catholic faith throughout the
empire. The empire was now, more than ever, fragmented into a
number of virtually independent states.
The end of the Thirty Years’ War left Hapsburg Spain isolated. The
French war against Spain continued until 1659,when the Treaty of the
Pyrenees awarded France part of the Spanish Netherlands and some
territory in northern Spain. King Philip IV of Spain agreed to the
marriage of his daughter Maria Theresa to King Louis XIV (r. 1643-
1715) of France.
Together, the Peace of Westphalia and the Treaty of the Pyrenees
established France as the predominant power on the European con-
The Catholic Reformation succeeded both in bringing a much-needed spirit of reform to the Roman Catholic Church and in stemming the tide of Protestant expansion in Western Europe. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church was unable to regain the central position in Western European society it had held during the Middle Ages. The wars of religion brought mixed results. While King Philip II ofSpain succeeded in reducing the power of the Moslem Turksin the Mediterranean, he failed in his efforts to restore Roman Catholicism in England and lost control of the heavily Calvinist Dutch Netherlands. France remained a predominantly Catholic country, although it continued to have a significant Huguenot minority. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburgs failed to destroy Protestantism and in the process, suffered a further decrease oftheir own power. Thepower of the Spanish Hapsburgs declined, as well, and by the mid-seventeenth century, France had become the most powerful state on the European continent