The Peace of Westphalia brought an end to the Thirty Years' War (1618–48) and established Protestantism as an official religion. Protestantism was a movement against the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, a Christian religion based in Rome, Italy, and headed by a pope. Prior to that time, Catholicism was the only religion in Europe. The Thirty Years' War was a series of conflicts, rather than one long campaign. It grew out of hostilities between Catholics and Protestants, but eventually involved political issues. The war had four stages, which involved many European powers: the Bohemian, the Danish, the Swedish, and the Swedish-French. The European countries eventually sought a solution to the various conflicts at a peace conference in Westphalia, Germany. The negotiations lasted four years while the fighting continued until 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia was finally signed. Under the treaty, France and Sweden received some German lands. The agreement contained important allowances for Protestantism: Lutheranism, the first Protestant faith, which was founded by the German religious reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546), was given the same status as Catholicism. Calvinism, the religious movement begun by French reformer John Calvin (1509–1564), also was given official recognition. The treaty ended the religious warfare in Europe and provided for some measure of religious tolerance.
The pact recognized the sovereignty (freedom from outside control) of all the states that were part of Holy Roman Empire. The empire was a loose federation (alliance) of German and Italian states that was originally formed when Charlemagne (Charles the Great; 742–814) was crowned emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III (c. 750–816) in A.D.800. The treaty therefore dissolved the empire. Historians now view the Peace of Westphalia as the beginning of Europe's modern state system.
Further Information: Coxton, Derek. Peacemaking in Early Modern Europe: Cardinal Mazarin and the Congress of Westphalia, 1643–1648. Cranbury, N.J.: Susquehanna University Press, 1999; Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years' War. London, UK: Routledge, 1997; "The Peace of Westphalia." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/64/064FA000.htm, October 25, 2000.