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PODs of the Thirty Years War XLV

By Alex Richards

Coat of arms of the Margraviate of Brandenburg. Reproduction by David Liuzzo and shared under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

While the year 1647 had been relatively quiet in the realm of military actions, the peace negotiations in Westphalia only accelerated in pace. While the major powers of France, Sweden, Spain and the Emperor remained cautious about trying to keep options open, for many of the smaller states of the Empire it was to be this year that the final disposition of territory was determined, and fundamental questions about the future of the Empire answered.

The Question of Brandenburg

Ever since his truce with Sweden had ended Brandenburg-Prussia’s active involvement in the war in 1643, Elector Friedrich Wilhelm’s position has been somewhat precarious. While the end of military activity in the vast majority of his territories had reduced the short term pressures on the nation from the depredation of the Swedish Army, the decision had left him in a position where neither Sweden nor the Emperor could be relied upon to support the interests of the Electorate. While Sweden’s need to maintain favour with the German Princes had prevented them from simply forcing the Elector to renounce his claim to the Duchy of Pomerania, this was a consideration that could only last until the end of the war, particularly as it was now clear that that the Emperor would consider surrendering the whole duchy for better terms elsewhere.

Still worse for the Elector was the situation in Brandenburg’s territories in the Rhineland. These lands formed Brandenburg’s share of the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg which had been divided between them and Catholic Pfalz-Neuburg after the War of the Jülich Succession in 1614, and had been largely ignored by the Elector over the course of the war. While the tenuous loyalty of the populace, and the threat of Pfalz-Neuburg renewing their claim still present (thanks in large part to the Electors rejection of the offer of a dynastic alliance to resolve matters in the 1630s), the Elector’s concerns would have been significant enough even if it hadn’t been for the Dutch. With the now Brandenburg territories of Cleves and Mark lying on the route up the Rhine towards the United Provinces, Dutch troops had been stationed as a defensive force in the two territories ever since 1616, and with the war with Spain now approaching its end, the prospect of their departure loomed large. Still worse, they formed an alternative, and more immediately compelling, focus of loyalty for the local populace; and with the Elector over a million thalers in arrears there was no prospect that the loan which legitimised their presence would be repaid.

Now increasingly concerned that he was about to lose the Rhenish Provinces- either through the Dutch taking them as collateral for the loan or through a popular revolt he could not hope to crush- and still seeking to bolster his position in negotiations with Sweden and the Emperor, Friedrich Wilhelm embarked on a costly, and in the short term highly disruptive and arguably misguided, policy of major military expansion, paired with diplomatic overtures. He expanded the army in Westphalia to 4,100 (with a further 2,900 in Brandenburg proper and 1,200 in Prussia), moved his court to Cleves from 1646 to be nearer the negotiations, began making overtures to the French, married his eldest daughter to Dutch Stadholder Frederick Henry, and then launched an invasion of Pfalz-Neuburg held Berg to try and settle that dispute on the battlefield. In this he was singularly unsuccessful- Wolfgang Wilhelm of Pfalz-Neuburg had been seeing armies marching over or occupying his lands, particularly those in the Rhineland, pretty much non-stop ever since he’d come to the throne in 1614 and simply waited for the Electors troops to run out of bread and go home rather than engage them in battle. The subsequent treaty saw Brandenburg gain the other half of the County of Ravensburg, but effectively ended any prospect of gaining the Duchies of Jülich and Berg until the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Meanwhile Oxenstierna’s offer of a dynastic alliance between Brandenburg-Prussia and Sweden had been definitively rejected by the Elector- not least because it was now increasingly clear that Queen Christina of Sweden was uninterested in marriage- and the Chancellor had responded by agreeing to Trauttmannsdorff’s offer to partition Pomerania. Sweden gained the richer western half including Stralsund and Stettin so long as these lands remained within the Empire.

Friedrich Wilhelm thus moved quickly to ensure he wasn’t left in the lurch, abandoning his support for the larger scale constitutional change promoted by Hesse and leveraging the Emperor’s desire for a strong buffer against the Swedish bridgehead in Pomerania. When taking into account the fact that Saxony had effectively isolated themselves entirely from the peace negotiations and so could be safely disregarded, and their inclination to decisively split Brandenburg from Sweden, Trauttmannsdorff and the Emperor were inclined to be remarkably generous in their offer. Not only was Friedrich Wilhelm’s inheritance of the remaining eastern part of Pomerania confirmed, but he was also granted the Bishoprics of Kammin, Halberstadt and Minden, as well as the Archbishopric of Magdeburg when the current, Saxon, administrator had died. In total, this meant that Brandenburg had gained almost twice as large an area as Sweden would in the Peace negotiations, though between Eastern Pomerania’s historic poverty and the devastation wrought upon Magdeburg they were probably roughly equivalent in real terms.

The Constitutional Settlement Advances

Portrait of Jacob Lampadius by Coenraet Waumans. Lampadius suggested the radical notion of universal freedom of conscience. How to deal with religious freedom would be a sticking point of the peace.

The Emperor’s willingness to concede ecclesiastical territories was by far the largest change between the negotiations at Westphalia and those which had occurred previously. Where his father had aggressively sought to reclaim church lands from the Protestant powers of the Empire, Emperor Ferdinand III prioritised both the strength of the Habsburg Crownlands- comprehensively rejecting a Franco-Bavarian suggestion to cede Silesia to Brandenburg instead of the ecclesiastical territories- and the defence of the traditional hierarchical structure of the Empire as a whole. In this, he was both showing a simple pragmatism and realistic sense of what was achievable, and was also responding to the new challenges that had arisen from French backing of a more fundamental change in the Empire.

By the summer of 1647 this threat had retreated. Sweden had withdrawn their backing as part of the Pomeranian deal- which also included a confirmation of their acquisition of the Archbishopric of Bremen, the Bishopric of Verden and the Free City of Wismar- and France followed suit in April 1647 in return for recognition of the Alsatian cessation. As a face-saving measure, it was agreed that negotiations on the remaining constitutional issues were to be postponed until the first Reichstag after the Peace, a decision which would effectively end Hessian hopes in this area.

The Pomeranian deal however also brought the wider question of the Church Lands across the Empire to the fore once more as, having accepted that some ecclesiastical lands could be ceded to a protestant power and secularised, it was now inarguable that a definitive solution to the ambiguities of the Religious Peace of Augsburg would involve abandoning the Edict of Restitution entirely- as the Peace of Prague had only suspended it for 40 years.

While the first principal of the Peace of Augsburg, that it must be a document both sides could accept without losing face, was one which had never truly faded, the second and third had proven more difficult over the years. Treating the religious division as a temporary matter that merely required regulating of how to co-exist peacefully until one side or the other won out was already something of a legal fiction when originally proposed in 1555. The failure of the Edict of Restitution to enforce the Catholic interpretation- and the willingness of the Emperor to simply continuing to suspend its supposed terms indefinitely- was a demonstration of how little anyone in the Empire still believed it was a practical basis for a framework. Meanwhile the 1552 normative year allowing Protestants to retain church territory annexed before that date had fallen foul of the fact that Protestants within the Empire viewed that as an elastic date- i.e. that it guaranteed all lands up to that point, but that more could be added later- while Catholics considered it a hard limit.

Consensus was reached comparatively quickly on adopting what had been the proposal of the moderate Lutherans in the years before the war began, in which a new normative year would be determined, and the Protestants would then agree to the Catholic interpretation of this as a hard limit from that point onwards. This merely pushed the question back onto what normative year should be chosen- the Emperor and Bavaria favouring 1629 Edict of Restitution and the Protestant powers and Sweden favouring 1618 and the start of the War. Matters were further complicated by the fact that Imperial policy was to view the 1618-1629 war began with the Bohemian Revolt as a separate conflict resolved by the Peace of Lübeck and decisively settled in the Emperor’s favour from the later involvement of France and Sweden. This therefore guaranteed that the secular lands seized from the Bohemian rebels could remain in their new disposition, and the Emperor was extremely reluctant to consider any suggestions that the amnesty for his domestic enemies could be extended to the years before 1630. France, eager to weaken the Habsburgs but wishing to strengthen the church, was in favour of extending the amnesty back to 1618 but to accept the Restitution.

With a firm impasse preventing either date from being adopted, the Saxons proposed January 1st 1624 as a compromise date, for reasons which nobody has ever been able to adequately explain (and so was probably because it was the end of the day and everyone desperately wanted the meeting to finish), and with the Habsburg lands excluded entirely and allowed to retain the 1635 disposition of the Peace of Prague regardless. Lists of territories to be handed over were soon being drawn up, weakening confessional solidarity and allowing for a broad cross-confessional consensus to emerge on the topic while abandoning the radicals on both sides.

To some extent this can be put down to just how long the war had been going on for. Frederick V’s idea of a divine mission to bring down the Habsburgs had died with him. Emperor Ferdinand II had been equally intransigent, and was now equally dead. There remained figures on both sides who still fervently believed in their respective divine missions, but they were no longer in supreme authority anywhere and were increasingly sidelined at the negotiations with figures such as Maximilian of Bavaria leading a push to endorse the compromise position. Still more significant was the growing disillusionment of many of these hardliners by the course of events.

The destruction wrought by both sides was now such a fact of life that the idea of the war as divine punishment could no longer be taken seriously for the vast majority of the populace, and there was increasingly discussion of the need for religious toleration to be enshrined. While Dr. Lampadius’s suggestion of universal freedom of conscience was a step too far for pretty much the entire Empire to consider at this point, there was much more widespread support for guaranteeing the protection of certain guaranteed minorities. Indeed Johann Phillip von Schönborn, who became Archbishop-Elector of Mainz on 19th November 1647 and was already Bishop of Würzburg, spent essentially the whole of the negotiations in Westphalia discussing this matter with the Protestant delegations. With the direction of travel now clearly indicated, most of the remaining significant princes of the Empire now fell in line rather than risk isolation.

1624 was also the year agreed for the Imperial amnesty to apply to, a decision which had one very significant consequence for the negotiations. While exclusions for the Habsburg Crownlands and Bavaria were included in the agreement, the choice of date opened the door for the rehabilitation of the Elector Palatine- now represented by Frederick V’s second son Karl Ludwig- a situation which Emperor Ferdinand III held over Elector Maximilian of Bavaria’s head as part of the attempts to direct his attentions in the desired direction. Towards the end of 1647, however, this situation became untenable to continue, as the Peace of Ulm collapsed.


Alex Richards is the author of Tippecanoe and Wallace Too, published by SLP


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