AP European History-Unit 3 Essay Mr. Cross
What was the impact of the Peace of Westphalia on the political and religious issues within the Holy Roman Empire?
The two treaties of Mnster and Osnabrck, commonly known as the Peace of Westphalia, was the culminating element for the Holy Roman Empire in the Thirty Years’ War. It established a final religious settlement and provided for new political boundaries for the German states of central Europe. The impact of the Peace of Westphalia was broad and long-standing, as it dictated the future of Germany and ex-territories of the Holy Roman Empire for some time to come.
The Peace of Westphalia put down the Counter Reformation in Germany and instituted the final religious arrangement the German states had been crying for. It renewed the terms of the Peace of Augsburg, namely that each state of the Empire received the liberty to be either Lutheran or Catholic as it chose; no individual freedom of religion was permitted. If a ruler or a free city decided for Lutheranism, then all persons had to be Lutheran. Similarly in Catholic states all had to be Catholic. In addition to re-instituting the Peace of Augsburg in its traditional form, the Peace of Westphalia included Calvinism to Lutheranism and Catholicism as an acceptable faith. On the controversial issue of church territories secularized after 1552 the Protestants won a complete victory. With the advent of the Peace of Westphalia, the squabbling between Protestants and Catholics was finally put an end to.
The Holy Roman Empire was officially dissolved with the Peace of Westphalia. This had been advanced with the drawing of internal religious frontiers in the days of Luther, although now it was confirmed. Borderlands of the Empire fell away. The Dutch and Swiss established themselves as independent, as did the United Provinces. The western frontier of the Empire was carved up among France, Sweden and the Dutch. France took control over three Lorraine bishoprics which they had occupied for a century. The Swedes received the bishoprics of Bremen and Verden and the western half of Pomerania, including the city of Stettin. Sweden enlarged its trans-Baltic possessions, and in addition claimed the mouths of the Oder, Elbe, and Weser rivers in Germany. The Dutch obtained only the mouths of the Rhine and the Scheldt. On the interior front of the Empire, both Brandenburg and Bavaria increased their statures. Brandenburg lay claim to eastern Pomerania, the large archbishopric of Magdeburg, and two smaller bishoprics. Bavaria received control of the Palatinate and a seat in the electoral college, increasing the Empire’s electors to eight. However, these mere territorial changes were not the true victory for France, the Dutch and Sweden, but rather the new constitution written for the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire. The impact of this constitution was heavy and widespread, as it would effectively render Germany politically helpless for several years to come. The constitution liberated the over three hundred German states; each became virtually sovereign. Every individual state received the right to conduct diplomacy and make treaties with foreign powers. However, the constitution further stated that no laws could be made by the Empire, no taxes levied, no soldiers recruited, no war declared or peace terms ratified except with the consent of each of the three hundred some-odd princes, ecclesiastics, and free cities that comprised the imperial states. Since any agreement on such matters on a scale as large and diverse as the imperial states would be impossible, the principle of self-government, the principle that so many princes of the Reichstag asked for, was effectively used by France, Sweden and the Dutch to destroy the Empire as an effective political player. In effect, the requests of the Empire led to its undoing. The impact of the new constitution, more so than the dissolution and territorial changes made in the Empire, would be felt by Germany for years into the future. As most European countries were consolidating under royal absolutism, Germany sank back into chaos not unlike that found during feudal times.
The Peace of Westphalia had a huge impact on the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire, and not an entirely positive one. Although the religious difficulties between Catholics and Protestants were eased with the official recognition of both, the Empire was politically crippled when the principle of self-government came to be its undoing. Parts of the Empire were also eaten up by neighboring countries, although this was less important than was the new constitution. The impact of the Peace of Westphalia was immense, as it decreed the future of the German imperial states for some time to come.