The Thirty Years’ War – Part 18

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translated by Annika Backe

On December 4, 1644, the 135 representatives of the powers involved in the war gathered in Osnabrück and Münster. The congress’ agenda comprised four main items: the complaints of the estates, the conditions for an amnesty of the rebels, the satisfaction of the allies abroad, and the compensation of the dispossessed. Then there were the international negotiations. The city of Münster, where the French envoys had settled themselves, witnessed simultaneous negotiations for a peace between France and Spain as well as Spain and the United Netherlands.

Some of the difficult peace negotiations took place at the townhall of Münster. Photograph: Florian Adler /

Even when the negotiations were underway, the military operations did not stop. Every party involved made a final effort to gain an advantage at the negotiating table. At this point, we do not want to look at every single aspect of the military strategy, mainly because in this final stage of the war neither siege coins nor emergency money was produced any more. Here, we would only like to summarize the results of the negotiations conducted by the powers present at Münster and Osnabrück. After all, those results were to provide the basis for the wars fought in the next generation. An author of that era described the stipulations laid down in the Peace of Westphalia “une sémence éternelle de guerres“ (= eternal war seed). The following events proved him right in his prediction.

Pomerania under Swedish control. Christina, Ducat 1641, Stettin. Ex Künker Auction 269 (2015), 6926.

Pomerania was divided. Sweden got one half, as a reward for its “help”, while Brandenburg kept the other. To cover the expenses for disbanding the army, Sweden was granted a payment amounting to 5 million thaler in addition.

Medal from 1682 on the territories gained thanks to the Peace of Westphalia. Ex Rauch Auction 84 (2009), 1785.

Alsace was relinquished to France. The relevant agreement was highly complex in the light that the emperor wanted to prevent the French king, possessing Alsace, from being entitled to a seat in the Imperial Diet. The emperor, therefore, transferred all his rights to Alsace to the French king whereas the imperial cities continued to be under the control of the empire.

Palatinate. Charles Louis, 1648-1680. Ducat 1662, Heidelberg. Ex Künker Auction 258 (2015), 407.

Charles Louis, Elector Palatine, son of the infamous Winterking, was given Heidelberg and the Rhenish Palatinate. The electoral dignity of the Palatinate, in contrast, remained under the Bavarian line of the House of Wittelsbach while an eighth electoral dignity was created for Charles Louis. In the Electoral College, however, he was only the last one to cast his vote. 

Despite the fact that the Thirty Years’ War had once been triggered by religious reasons, only a very few stipulations were actually laid down in regards to religion. The Edict of Restitution was completely abolished, and Calvinism was made the third official religion in the empire. 

Gerard ter Borch, The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster 1648. Spanish and Dutch envoys swear the oath of ratification of their separate peace.

As a matter of fact, the peace between the Netherlands and Spain was prompted by a blunder of the French representatives. The information that they had approached the Spanish envoys and suggested an exchange of conquered Catalonia for the Spanish Netherlands went out and alienated the Dutch to such an extent that they immediately started to prepare peace negotiations acceptable for Spain. And when word got around that the King of France was to marry a Spanish infanta the United Netherlands signed the peace treaty right away and abandoned their untrustworthy allies. On January 30, 1648, the treaty was signed. 

1647 medal by Jean Looff in Middelburg on the slow pace of the peace negotiations in Münster. Ex Leu Numismatik AG Auction 92 (2004), 238.

Already the same summer, the governor general of the Spanish Netherlands, a son of the German emperor, invaded France. The army his father had provided him with was annihilated. Emperor Ferdinand III was thus forced to agree to peace. He gave the order to sign the peace treaty. It took the diplomats another three weeks to finally reach an agreement about the order in which the parties involved were to sign the document. 

Münster. 1648 silver medal on the Peace of Westphalia, by E. Ketteler. Ex Künker Auction 249 (2014), 1862.

On October 24, 1648, the treaty was signed. As late as six years later, in May 1654, the last occupying troops withdrew from Germany. Clearing up the mess this war had left – a war which had turned the balance of power upside down in all of Europe –, on the other hand, took much longer. 

All parts of the series can be found here.

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