These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, with the Habsburgs and their Catholic allies on one side, and the Protestant powers (Sweden, Denmark, Dutch, and Holy Roman principalities) and France (Catholic but anti-Habsburg) on the other. The treaties also ended the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognising the independence of the Dutch Republic. The Treaties of Westphalia brought to a close a tumultuous period of European history which saw the deaths of approximately eight million people.
The negotiation process was lengthy and complex. Talks took place in two different cities, as both sides wanted to meet on territory under their own control. A total of 109 delegations arrived to represent the belligerent states, but not all delegations were present at the same time. Three treaties were signed to end each of the overlapping wars: the Peace of Münster, the Treaty of Münster, and the Treaty of Osnabrück. Collectively, these treaties make up the Peace of Westphalia.
The Peace of Westphalia established the precedent of peaces established by diplomatic congress. A new system of political order arose in central Europe, which political scientists now call Westphalian sovereignty, based upon the concept of co-existing sovereign states. Inter-state aggression was to be held in check by a balance of power, and a norm was established against interference in another state's domestic affairs. As European influence spread across the globe, these Westphalian principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to international law and to the prevailing world order.
Peace of Westphalia
Treaties of Osnabrück and Münster
The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648 (1648) by Gerard ter Borch
Peace negotiations between France and the Habsburgs began in Cologne in 1641. These negotiations were initially blocked by France, as Cardinal Richelieu of France desired the inclusion of all of its allies, whether fully sovereign countries or states within the Holy Roman Empire. In Hamburg and Lübeck, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire negotiated the Treaty of Hamburg with the intervention of Richelieu. The Holy Roman Empire and Sweden declared the preparations of Cologne and the Treaty of Hamburg to be preliminaries of an overall peace agreement.
Dutch envoy Adriaan Pauw enters Münster around 1646 for the peace negotiations
The main peace negotiations took place in Westphalia, in the neighboring cities of Münster and Osnabrück. Both cities were maintained as neutral and demilitarized zones for the negotiations.
Sweden preferred to negotiate with the Holy Roman Empire in Osnabrück, which the Protestant forces controlled. Osnabrück was a bidenominational Lutheran and Catholic city, with two Lutheran churches and two Catholic churches. The city council was exclusively Lutheran, and the burghers were mostly Lutheran, but the city also housed the Catholic Chapter of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück and had many other Catholic inhabitants. Osnabrück had been subjugated by troops of the Catholic League from 1628–33 and then taken by Lutheran Sweden.
The reverse of this medal: Christina of Sweden as Minerva standing l., holding an olive branch in her l. arm, and grasping the tree of knowledge with her r. hand.
The peace negotiations had no exact beginning and ending, because the 109 delegations never met in a plenary session. Instead, various delegations arrived between 1643–46 and left between 1647–49. The largest number of diplomats were present between January 1646 and July 1647.
Delegations had been sent by 16 European states, sixty-six Imperial States representing the interests of 140 Imperial States, and 27 interest groups representing 38 groups.
Three separate treaties constituted the peace settlement.
The Peace of Münster was signed by the Dutch Republic and the Kingdom of Spain on 30 January 1648, and was ratified in Münster on 15 May 1648.
Two complementary treaties were signed on 24 October 1648:
The Treaty of Münster (Instrumentum Pacis Monasteriensis, IPM), between the Holy Roman Emperor and France, along with their respective allies
The Treaty of Osnabrück (Instrumentum Pacis Osnabrugensis, IPO), between the Holy Roman Empire and Sweden, along with their respective allies.
Internal political boundaries
A historical map from 1884 showing European borders in 1648.
Holy Roman Empire in 1648.
The power asserted by Ferdinand III was stripped from him and returned to the rulers of the Imperial States. The rulers of the Imperial States could henceforth choose their own official religions. Catholics and Protestants were redefined as equal before the law, and Calvinism was given legal recognition as an official religion. The independence of the Dutch Republic, which practiced religious toleration, also provided a safe haven for European Jews.
The Holy See was very displeased at the settlement, with Pope Innocent X in Zelo Domus Dei reportedly calling it "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time".
The main tenets of the Peace of Westphalia were:
All parties would recognize the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio). The options were Catholicism, Lutheranism, and now Calvinism.
Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in private, as well as in public during allotted hours.
General recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of each party over its lands, people, and agents abroad, and responsibility for the warlike acts of any of its citizens or agents. Issuance of unrestricted letters of marque and reprisal to privateers was forbidden.
Switzerland was formally recognised as independent from the Holy Roman Empire, after decades of de facto independence.
The Dutch Republic, which had declared its independence from Spain in 1581, was formally recognised as an independent state.
To escape incorporation into Swedish Bremen-Verden, the city of Bremen had claimed Imperial immediacy. The emperor had granted this request and separated the city from the surrounding Bishopric of Bremen. Sweden launched the Swedish-Bremen wars in 1653/54 to take the city.
The treaty ruled that the Dukes of Mecklenburg, owing their re-investiture to the Swedes, cede Wismar and the Mecklenburgian port tolls. While Sweden understood this to include the tolls of all Mecklenburgian ports, the Mecklenburgian dukes as well as the emperor understood this to refer to Wismar only.
Bavaria retained the Palatinate's vote in the Electoral College of the Holy Roman Empire, which it was granted by the imperial ban on the Elector Palatine Frederick V in 1623. The Prince Palatine, Frederick's son, was given a new, eighth electoral vote.
Barriers to trade and commerce erected during the war were abolished, and "a degree" of free navigation was guaranteed on the Rhine.
The treaties did not entirely end conflicts arising out of the Thirty Years' War. Fighting continued between France and Spain until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. The Dutch-Portuguese War had begun during the Spanish occupation of Portugal, as part of the Eighty Years' War, and went on until 1663. Nevertheless, the Peace of Westphalia did settle many outstanding European issues of the time.
Scholars of international relations have identified the Peace of Westphalia as the origin of principles crucial to modern international relations, including the inviolability of borders and non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. This system became known in the literature as Westphalian sovereignty. Although challenges to these ideas have arisen, the debate is still structured around the concept of Westphalian sovereignty.
^Konrad Repgen, 'Negotiating the Peace of Westphalia: A Survey with an Examination of the Major Problems', In: 1648: War and Peace in Europe: 3 vols. (Catalogue of the 26th exhibition of the Council of Europe, on the Peace of Westphalia), Klaus Bußmann and Heinz Schilling (eds.) on behalf of the Veranstaltungsgesellschaft 350 Jahre Westfälischer Friede, Münster and Osnabrück: no publ., 1998, 'Essay Volume 1: Politics, Religion, Law and Society', pp. 355–72, here pp. 355 seq.
^Konrad Repgen, 'Negotiating the Peace of Westphalia: A Survey with an Examination of the Major Problems', In: 1648: War and Peace in Europe: 3 vols. (Catalogue of the 26th exhibition of the Council of Europe, on the Peace of Westphalia), Klaus Bußmann and Heinz Schilling (eds.) on behalf of the Veranstaltungsgesellschaft 350 Jahre Westfälischer Friede, Münster and Osnabrück: no publ., 1998, 'Essay Volume 1: Politics, Religion, Law and Society', pp. 355–72, here p. 356.
^Böhme, Klaus-R (2001). "Die sicherheitspolitische Lage Schwedens nach dem Westfälischen Frieden". In Hacker, Hans-Joachim. Der Westfälische Frieden von 1648: Wende in der Geschichte des Ostseeraums (in German). Kovač. p. 35. ISBN 3-8300-0500-8.
Croxton, Derek, and Anuschka Tischer. The Peace of Westphalia: A Historical Dictionary (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002).
Croxton, Derek (1999). "The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and the Origins of Sovereignty". International History Review. 21 (3): 569–591. doi:10.1080/07075332.1999.9640869.
Mowat, R. B. History of European Diplomacy, 1451–1789 (1928) pp 104–14 online
Schmidt, Sebastian (2011). "To Order the Minds of Scholars: The Discourse of the Peace of Westphalia in International Relations Literature1". International Studies Quarterly. 55 (3): 601–623. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2478.2011.00667.x. Historiography.
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