Structural Inadequacies, Poorly Crafted Legislation, Eroding Imperial Authority, Escalating Confessional Conflict and the Eventual Intractability of Two Ruling Princes, Caused the Thirty Years War

Publication Year:
2017
Usage 81
Downloads 47
Abstract Views 34
Repository URL:
https://scholarship.rollins.edu/mls/77
Author(s):
Traver, Arthur N
Tags:
Thirty Years War; Bohemian War 1618; Causes
artifact description
Europe in the 16th Century was experiencing radical social, political and economic change. Technological development was apparent in all aspects of society. Most noteworthy was the invention of the printing press which enabled rapid dissemination of information to a rapidly increasingly literate general population. Towns, the development of trades and the provision of specialized services were rapidly evolving. European commerce was changing from a feudal structure to a money based economy. That is, currency in return for goods and services was replacing a structure of peasants providing life essentials protected by aristocratic nobility. The centralized, complicated, hierarchical feudal political structure was rapidly becoming obsolete. Dynamic social, political and economic change is stressful. Century old practices and paradigms were being replaced. Europe may have made the change from feudalism to early-modernity without bloodshed if the essentially important religious structures of Europe were stable. The Catholic Church, however, was rife with corruption, absurd practices and greed facilitated by the organized confiscation of wealth in the form of tithes. The Church had lost the confidence and earned the contempt of tens of thousands of the faithful it was presumably organized to serve. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, urging Church reform, on a German church door. His views gained rapid acceptance. In less than 40 years, Lutheranism was the second well established and powerful religion in the Holy Roman Empire. In less than 40 more years, Calvinism would become the third. The new Protestant religions eschewed the need for priests to act as intermediaries with God, the need for Church administered sacraments to gain redemption and – perhaps most importantly – the need to fund a centralized, corrupt and abusive Church structure. This new, revolutionary thinking easily extended to politics. It called into question the antiquated, irrelevant, complicated and inefficient structures of the Holy Roman Empire. Historians disagree whether The Thirty Years War was a religious war extending to politics, or a political war extending to religion. There is, however, no disagreement that religion was a powerful catalyst for dynamic stressful change that led to war. This paper posits that there were seven principal causes for the outbreak of the Bohemian War, the first of a series of wars which became known as the Thirty Years War: 1) The Treaty of Augsburg; 2) The constant threat posed by the Ottoman Turks in the east and the Empire’s inadequate political structure to effectively deal with it; 3)The Hapsburg’s deliberately self-imposed weakening of Imperial authority and prestige; 4) The Brothers’ Quarrel; 5) The damaging, inconsistent and arbitrary application of Imperial policy and power; 6) The cumulative effect of 63 years of ever increasing political and confessionally charged tensions and conflicts that culminated in two warring camps – one led by Catholic Ferdinand II and the other led by Frederick V; and 7) The Bohemian Revolt itself. In 1620, The Bohemian War ended with the crushing defeat of the Rebels by Imperial forces at White Mountain, Bohemia. Emperor Ferdinand II could have then ended the war, but chose to widen it into Germany in order to press his newly won military advantage and to press his Catholic and Imperial agendas. A series of subsequent wars ensued that ultimately involved almost all of Europe. The War ended with the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and the codification of early-modern political structures.