The European Religious Wars

The European Religious Wars

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When one looks at the religious wars, it is very difficult to identify a beginning and middle. People can argue that the seed for the wars was planted in the wars between the Calvinists and Hapsburgs, otherwise known as the Dutch and the Spanish. In addition, people can argue that the Protestant Reformation in Germany and other parts of Europe sparked these “religious” wars. It was inevitable that the growing division between Christian churches in Europe would lead to a series of armed conflicts for over a century. Protestants and Catholics would shed each other''s blood in monumental amounts in national wars and in civil wars. These struggles would eventually destroy the European monarchical traditions themselves. But truly, were they even religious wars? Thus, the question arises.

     The Bohemian War, fought from 1618 through 1623 was most likely the one war that had anything to do with religion. After Mathais, Ferdinand the Second took over as the Holy Roman emperor. Being a passionate member of the Catholic Church, Calvinism was just out of the question in his book. No one in Bohemia would be allowed to carry out religious services in any way promoting Calvinism. The conflict went much further. The Bohemian princes became irritated, and Ferdinand sent two ambassadors to try to ease the tensions. This only sparked an onslaught of aggression. Fear of being forced into Catholicism was enough t push the princes over the edge, and the two ambassadors were thrown out the window in objection. Thus came the defenestration of Prague. The fighting still had a long way to go, and at the Battle of White Mountain, the forces collided. The Catholic group, called the Catholic League, was backed by Ferdinand II, Spain, the Elector in Saxony (Germany) and also the Pope, conquered the relatively smallish Bohemian army. The success was immense, and Alsace went to Spain to maintain good ties.

     To move on to the next wars, one must discuss Cardinal Richelieu. Cardinal Richelieu was a driving power behind the thirty years war. He was frustrated with the amount of success and prosperity that the Hapsburg Empire was experiencing. Richelieu wanted to minimize the successes that the Hapsburgs were experiencing. To do this, he took advantage of the circumstances. In 1624, Richelieu convinced the King of Denmark (Christian IV) to invade the Holy Roman Empire. Christian IV was fighting against an incredibly talented and ingenious mercenary.

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That mercenary was Albrecht von Wallenstein. In what were known as the Danish Wars, King Christian was defeated severely at the Battle of the Dassau Bridge. Somehow, Albrecht von Wallenstein ended up being dismissed from duties, and King Christian was still forced out of the Holy Roman Empire. This was definitely not a war of religion, but yet it was a part of the religious wars.     

Around the same time period, Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution (1629). This was perhaps the only religious event to happen during the Danish War. This Edict stated that the Catholic Church would again have and maintain powers over the Church territories. In many ways, the Edict of Restitution was much like the Supremacy act in England as well. The edict gave full power to the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II.

     The Danish war almost immediately segued into the Swedish War. Richelieu got his nose involved in other business again, and somehow found funds to send forty thousand troops to the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus. The two distinguished that trade in the Baltic region had gotten into the wrong hands, and so the entire Swedish War was fought on the basis of regaining control of the Baltic Trade. The battle of Brietenfeld on the 17th of September 1631 proved that Gustavus Adolphus was supreme, and was therefore named to be the champion of Protestantism. In all of his glory, Adolphus makes a jubilant march towards the Rhine River. Albrecht von Wallenstein was re-appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor, with the general idea of putting a halt on Gustavus Adolphus’s advances in the Baltic. To make a long story short, Adolphus’s army defeats Wallenstein. On a side note, Adolphus was killed in the battle of Lutzen, and found dead and naked under a pile of corpses. It wasn’t until the Battle of the Nordlingen that the Emperor was finally able to succeed in battle. The Emperor hereby repealed the Edict of Restitution.

     The end of the so-called religious wars is now approaching. To conclude, one must examine the French and Swedish war. Extensive warfare results all over Europe after Cardinal Richelieu declares war on the Spanish. By this point in time, no one even knew the point of all of the fighting. It was a lost cause, and ended up causing an incredible loss of life and property to people all over Europe. Estates and holdings of the people were being demolished, and the people were dying left and right.

     Speaking of deaths, the important leaders of the religious wars were mostly deceased by 1643. The emperor Ferdinand died in 1637, and Cardinal Richelieu died in 1642. Cardinal Mazzarin took over for Richelieu. The Peace of Westphalia occurred in 1648, putting an end to a terrible era of fighting over property.

     From what has been noted above, it is very easy to discern that the so-called “religious” wars were not notably religious. The grounds for 30 years of fighting were not in disagreement between Calvinist and Catholic, but in the dire need for a more extensive and far-reaching empire. Religion as the purpose behind all of the fighting had disappeared after the Bohemian War.

     So truly, when asked,” How Religious were The Religious Wars?” the best and most true answer is, not very!


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