What was the Thirty Years' War? Why did it happen and what was the end result?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Thirty Years' War was a confusing conflict that was initially fought between Roman Catholics and Protestants and primarily in the area that is now Germany. A long and bloody affair that caused great hardship among the citizens of the occupied territories, the war stripped the areas of crops and the people of most of their possessions by the looting and lawlessness of the armies. Starvation and disease were rampant, and many of the nations' treasuries were drained from the long fighting. For example,

The Swedish armies alone may have destroyed up to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns.

On one side of the conflict was the Holy Roman Empire, led by the House of Habsburg (Austria), comprising the following:

  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Bavaria
  • Hungary
  • Croatia
  • Spain
  • Denmark
  • Norway

The mostly Protestant alliance included:

  • France
  • Dutch Republic
  • Sweden
  • Bohemia
  • Saxony
  • England
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Transylvania
  • Brandenburg-Prussia

Some nations (Denmark and Norway) switched allegiances during the three decades of fighting, while other countries (Hungary, Germany) were divided, with troops battling on either side. There were four major phases:

  • The Bohemian Revolt  (1618-1621)
  • The Danish intervention  (1625-1629)
  • The Swedish intervention  (1630-1635)
  • The French intervention  (1635-1648)

The decisive actions of the war came at the Battle of Zusmarshausen, when the Imperial army was defeated by the combined French and Swedish armies in 1648. The Swedish army captured the city of Prague later that year, leaving Austria the only major power not controlled by Protestant forces. A group of treaties (such as Hamburg, Munster, and Osnabruck) finally put an end to the war in 1648.