History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Ferdinand III

Ferdinand II died in 1637, and was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand III. He was forced to carry on the war, but now its object was very much changed.

Louis XIV now ruled in France, and France had joined with Sweden against the Emperor. And both were fighting now, not to give religious freedom to the Protestants, but to conquer some part of Germany for themselves.

But at length all parties became weary of the terrible war, and in 1648 peace was signed. This is called the Peace of Westphalia, from Osnabruck and Munster, the two towns in Westphalia where the treaty was signed; the Swedes meeting at Osnabruck, the French at Munster.

The war which was then brought to an end was one of the most terrible ever fought in Europe. Germany was a waste of ruined cities and blackened homesteads. More than half the people were dead; of those who remained many were reduced to the utmost poverty. Trade and manufactures were almost at a standstill, the shipping and commerce for which Germany had been so famous were ruined, and the Great Hansa League almost broken up.

It was with a sigh of relief that the people of Germany received the news that the terrible war which had desolated the land for thirty years was at length at an end. Yet the joy was not unmixed with anger and discontent. Few of the Catholics in Germany were really pleased with the Peace of Westphalia. For, except in Bohemia and Austria, which belonged to the Emperor by inheritance, and where he refused to tolerate Protestantism, the Protestants were given entire freedom. That displeased the Catholics.

The Protestants also were not entirely pleased. They had long ere this begun to fight among themselves, and were divided into Lutherans and Calvinists. They were both given equal freedom, so neither party was pleased.

But, worst of all, Germany had lost much territory, and this was bitter to every German, Catholic and Protestant alike.

To Sweden the whole of Western Pomerania had to be given up, as well as several other towns upon the Baltic and North Seas. France received all Alsace except the city of Strassburg. And both France and Sweden now claimed a right to interfere in the affairs of the Empire. But there was a difference between the parts of the Empire given to Sweden and to France. The part which France received was no longer looked upon as a part of the Empire, but became part of France. And thus the Rhine became the boundary of France, a point for which the French had long fought. The land which Sweden received still remained a part of the Empire, although under the rule of Sweden. And by right of these new possessions the King of Sweden joined the German Diet.

Both Switzerland and the Netherlands had long since ceased to be a part of the Empire. But it was at the Peace of Westphalia that they were for the first time openly acknowledged to be free.

Though, in fact, it was not only Switzerland and the Netherlands which had become independent. Nearly every prince in the whole of Germany did as he liked, and the Empire was now little more than a name. The Emperor's power was a mere shadow, and each prince ruled his own small state as he chose. He made war or peace at will. He made friends with one foreign state or with another, paying but little heed to the desires of his overlord, the Emperor.