What did the Peace of Westphalia mean and what were its consequences? Many will wonder what is the point of talking about the Peace of Westphalia, signed in October 1648. The reason is that Modern Europe was designed in Westphalia and therefore it is essential to know the protagonists and the terms of this peace, which ended to the bloody Thirty Years War .
What did the Peace of Westphalia mean and what were its consequences?
During the 15th century, Europe experienced an increase in hatred between Protestants and Catholics, leading to the fact that in 1618 it did not take much to ignite one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, the Thirty Years War , in which almost all states participated. : Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Switzerland.
A period of three decades in which the hatred between Catholics and Protestants never seemed to have no end. The armies were exhausted and the territories had been looted and devastated.
Germany , on whose soil six armies had fought: German, Danish, Swedish, Bohemian, Spanish and French, went from having 21 million to 13 million inhabitants.
But all of Europe, ravaged by looting, murder, rape and epidemics, yearned for peace; also because of the awareness that no one could win this war.
After 5 years of negotiations, in the presence of 150 delegates, in October 1648, after 30 years of war, the Peace of Westphalia was signed, which ended the Thirty Years’ War and thanks to which modern Europe was born around to the conception of sovereign states.
This Peace is of fundamental importance for the knowledge of the birth of the modern non-denominational State.
Europe born from the Peace of Westphalia
With the development of the modern states that emerged in 1648, a geopolitical Europe was born completely different from that of 1618. A Europe that in general terms resembles that of today, although Germany and Italy must wait until the 19th century to impose the scene European Union and shake the order that has left them on the sidelines for a long time. In this way, the geopolitical system born of the Peace of Westphalia encompasses almost all of Europe, including Russia.
The Thirty Years’ War, therefore, generated a clear change in European geopolitics, with the regression of the great empires and the appearance of modern states, as we know them in today’s Europe.
Due to the hegemonic role that the Old Continent played until the beginning of the 20th century, the architecture of this treaty will indirectly be that of almost the entire planet. The rules of good conduct of the States, established on this occasion, including those emanating from international law, will define international relations until the end of the First World War, when the United States tried to establish new parameters with the creation of the first security agency. global collective, the League of Nations.
The direct consequences of the Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia had four immediate consequences .
- The first was to put an end to the conflict for good.
- The second was to redesign the geopolitical map of Europe so that the entire European territory encompassed the center-south (Spain, Holy Roman Empire-Austria) and the northwest (France, Holland, Great Britain, Sweden).
- The third was to establish the principle of sovereignty , the result of which is a fundamental concept of modern politics: the reason of state. This meant that each signatory undertook to respect the territorial rights of the other signatories, without interfering in their internal affairs. Thus was born Europe as a continent made up of sovereign states and the only sacred law of international politics was created for three and a half centuries. This leads, in principle, to greater security and better internal and external stability, and, despite everything, the geopolitical map drawn in 1648 will remain almost the same to this day, at least in its general lines, highlighting the extraordinary work done by the peace negotiators.
- The fourth consequence referred to the religious plane : the same legal rights were recognized for Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists, putting an end to the idea of Christianity in the Middle Ages: with Westphalia the concept of a Christian Europe evaporates in the form of a universal monarchy gravitating around the Roma-House of Habsburg duo.
Despite the peace treaty, Pope Innocent X strongly opposed the agreements and declared them invalid in the famous bull “Zelo domus Dei”, however the treaty was already signed and the Thirty Years’ War had been ended and almost all hostilities, so it became the last great religious war in Europe.
The wars, of course, did not stop, but they were motivated by politics or economics rather than religion.
How did the Peace of Westphalia affect the Church?
The Peace of Westphalia was a severe blow to the temporal prestige of the Church , which in fact lost in Germany three archbishops and thirteen bishoprics with thousands of churches, convents and pious foundations.
In Rome it was regretted that Emperor Ferdinand III had accepted a peace so seriously offensive to the Catholic religion , but the Thirty Years’ War proved that the papal state outside its borders no longer had a voice.
With the Peace of Westphalia, the principle of denominational unity within the same State was broken forever , which was to be maintained for thirteen centuries, even by force of arms and internal repression.
Catholics and Protestants were equal before the law , safeguarding the principles of tolerance and religious freedom. In this way, the treaties recognize the equality of the three great Christian confessions and place them alongside the same rights and the same authority.
The sovereigns of the states understood the importance of separating state affairs from matters of religion and faith.
Thus arose the concept of non-denominational state that would mark the constitutions of all modern states.
We can say then that although peace treaties often mark a turning point in history, in the case of the Peace of Westphalia it was something special. The signing of this agreement in 1648 marked the end of the Thirty Years’ War and marked the birth of modern Europe as a continent of sovereign states.