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Posted on Dec 13, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

The 30 Years War

By Luis Reis

In this article we plan to take you back in time into a time when Western Europe was deeply divided. We’ll try to make you look beyond the obvious reasons as to why this happened. We’ll introduce you to the belligerent parties and their most important commanders. The main battles and the final outcome will also be reviewed. We hope that by the end of this piece you’ll be familiar not only with the facts, but also with the implications this conflict had in the following four centuries of Europe’s History.

In order for us to fully understand the conflict we have to take a look at some of the events that were the precursors to the war.

It began with Martin Luther and his desire to reform the Roman Catholic Church doctrine. In 1521, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, demanded that Luther appear before the head of the Holy Roman Empire at Worms. Luther was than asked to explain his views and Charles ordered him to abandon his ideas. Luther refused and he was placed under an imperial ban as an outlaw. He managed to escape, however, and was hidden away in a castle in Wartburg where he continued to develop his ideas. The Emperor Charles V had striven hard to reconcile the German Protestant community and the Roman Curia; the unwillingness of both the Council of Trent and the German Protestants to make major concessions had lead to a confrontation of both camps. The Schmalkaldic War was of only temporary success into pressuring the Protestants into a more conciliatory position and was counteracted by Duke-Elector Maurice’s Expedition against Innsbruck in 1552. This action resulted in the Religious Peace of Augsburg, regarded by Germany’s protestant princes as a guarantee of their territorial creed, but for the Emperor it was a document forced upon him under humiliating conditions.


Neither the Council of Trent nor the Papal Curia were willing to accept this Religious Peace of Augsburg as a permanent situation. Counterreformation agitation tried to undermine it. Emperor Rudolf II (1575-1612) clearly supported the Counterreformation. The case of the free Imperial city of Donauwörth, which was occupied by Bavarian troops in 1607 (and the Counterreformation enforced) without the Emperor taking action, caused the protestant princes to form the Protestant Union in the year of 1608. The Catholics also took action. In 1609, the Catholic League was formed. That same year, Emperor Rudolf, as King of Bohemia, cancelled the religious toleration Protestants enjoyed in Bohemia. Thus the stage was prepared for a showdown between these two opposing blocks.

The Bohemian Phase

The imminent confront between Catholics and Protestants would reach its climax on 23 May 1618, at Prague Castle, when an assembly of Protestants (led by Count Thurn) tried two Imperial governors, Wilhelm Grav Slavata (1572–1652) and Jaroslav Borzita Graf Von Martinicz (1582–1649), for violating the Letter of Majesty (Right of Freedom of Religion), found them guilty, and threw them, together with their scribe Philip Fabricius, out of the high windows of the Bohemian Chancellery. This act, known as the Defenestration of Prague would be the proximal cause for the beginning of the 30 Years War. With this strong attitude the Protestant nobles of Bohemia deposed the Emperor Mathias as King of Bohemia and elected Frederick Count Palatinate King of Bohemia in his place.

It was obvious that the Habsburgs wouldn’t let such a rebellious act go without punishment. So Emperor Ferdinand, who had succeeded to Emperor Mathias as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, lacking the funds to raise a force against Bohemia, borrowed from Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, effectively pawning Upper Austria. A Bavarian-Imperial army under Johan Tzerclaes, Count of Tilly marched into the city of Prague to put an end to the Bohemian uprising.

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia

On November 8 of the year 1620 Christian of Anhalt (the Prince of Anhalt-Bernberg and advisor to Frederick V), assembled Frederick’s troops (about 10,000 infantry and 11,000 cavalry), and deployed them on the slopes of a hill (Bílá Hora in Czech, the name meaning White Mountain) blocking the road to the city of Prague. His troops occupied a solid position on the field, with his right flank covered by a hunting castle, his left covered by a brook, and a small brook with some moors in front of them.

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