The Peace of Westphalia (German: Westfälischer Friede) was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster, effectively ending the European wars of religion. These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire between the Habsburgs and their Catholic allies on one side, and the Protestant powers (Sweden, Denmark, Dutch, and Holy Roman principalities) and their Catholic (France) Anti-Habsburg allies on the other. The treaties also ended the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognising the independence of the Dutch Republic. The Treaties of Westphalia brought to a close a tumultuous period of European history which saw the deaths of approximately eight million people.[1] The peace negotiations involved a total of 109 delegations representing European powers, including Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, Philip IV of Spain, the Kingdom of France, Cristina of the Swedish Empire, the Dutch Republic, the Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and sovereigns of the free imperial cities. Thousands of diplomats and support staff attended these conferences.[2] The Peace of Münster together with the Treaty of Münster between the Holy Roman Emperor, France and their allies and the Treaty of Osnabrück involving the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden and their allies collectively formed the Peace of Westphalia.

The Peace of Westphalia established the precedent of peaces established by diplomatic congress,[3][4] and a new system of political order in central Europe, later called Westphalian sovereignty, based upon the concept of co-existing sovereign states. Inter-state aggression was to be held in check by a balance of power. A norm was established against interference in another state's domestic affairs. As European influence spread across the globe, these Westphalian principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to international law and to the prevailing world order.[5]


Peace negotiations between France and the Habsburgs, provided by the Holy Roman Emperor and the Spanish King, were started in Cologne in 1641. These negotiations were initially blocked by France.[6] Cardinal Richelieu of France desired the inclusion of all its allies, whether sovereign or a state within the Holy Roman Empire.[7] In Hamburg and Lübeck, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire negotiated the Treaty of Hamburg. This was done with the intervention of Richelieu.[8]

Dutch envoy Adriaan Pauw enters Münster around 1646 for the peace negotiations

The Holy Roman Empire and Sweden declared the preparations of Cologne and the Treaty of Hamburg to be preliminaries of an overall peace agreement. This larger agreement was negotiated in Westphalia, in the neighboring cities of Münster and Osnabrück.

Both cities were maintained as neutral and demilitarized zones for the negotiations. Münster was, since its re-Catholicization in 1535, a strictly mono-denominational community. It housed the Chapter of the Prince-Bishopric of Münster. Only Roman Catholic worship was permitted. No places of worship were provided for Calvinists and Lutherans. Osnabrück was a bidenominational Lutheran and Catholic city, with two Lutheran and two Catholic churches for its mostly Lutheran burghers and exclusively Lutheran city council and the Catholic Chapter of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück with pertaining other clergy and other Catholic inhabitants.

From 1628–33, Osnabrück had been subjugated by troops of the Catholic League. The Catholic Prince-Bishop Franz Wilhelm, Count of Wartenberg then imposed the Counter-Reformation onto the city, with many Lutheran burgher families being exiled. While under Swedish occupation, Osnabrücks's Catholics were not expelled, but the city suffered severely from Swedish war contributions. Both cities strove for more autonomy, aspiring to become Free Imperial Cities, so they welcomed the neutrality imposed by the peace negotiations and the prohibition of all political influence by the warring parties, including their overlords, the prince-bishops.[9]

Since Lutheran Sweden preferred Osnabrück as a conference venue, its peace negotiations with the Empire, including the allies of both sides, took place in Osnabrück. The Empire and its opponent France, including the allies of each, as well as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and its opponent Spain (and their respective allies) negotiated in Münster.[10]


Sebastian Dadler undated medal (1648), Christina of Sweden, portrait with feathered helmet r. Obverse
The reverse of this medal: Christina of Sweden as Minerva standing l., holding an olive branch in her l. arm, and grasping the tree of knowledge with her r. hand.

The peace negotiations had no exact beginning and ending, because the participating total of 109 delegations never met in a plenary session, but arrived between 1643–46, and left between 1647–49. Between January 1646 and July 1647 probably the largest number of diplomats were present. In total,194 European sovreigns were represented by these delegations. Delegations had been sent by 16 European states, sixty-six Imperial States, representing the interests of a total of 140 involved Imperial States, and 27 interest groups, representing the interests of a variety of a total of 38 groups.[11]


Three separate treaties constituted the peace settlement. The Peace of Münster[13] was between the Dutch Republic and the Kingdom of Spain on 30 January 1648, and was ratified in Münster on 15 May 1648. Two complementary treaties, both signed on 24 October 1648, were the Treaty of Münster (Instrumentum Pacis Monasteriensis, IPM),[14] between the Holy Roman Emperor, France, and their respective allies, and the Treaty of Osnabrück (Instrumentum Pacis Osnabrugensis, IPO),[15] involving the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, and their respective allies. The treaties did not restore peace throughout Europe, but they did create a basis for national self-determination.


Internal political boundaries

Historical map
Holy Roman Empire in 1648.

The power taken by Ferdinand III in contravention of the Holy Roman Empire's constitution was stripped and returned to the rulers of the Imperial States. This rectification allowed the rulers of the Imperial States to decide their religious worship independently. Protestants and Catholics were redefined as equal before the law, and Calvinism was given legal recognition.[16][17] The independence of the Dutch Republic also provided a safe country for European Jews.[18]

The Holy See was very displeased at the settlement, with Pope Innocent X in Zelo Domus Dei[19] reportedly calling it "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time".[20]


The main tenets of the Peace of Westphalia were:

  • All parties would recognize the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state, the options being Catholicism, Lutheranism, and now Calvinism (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio).[16][17]
  • Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in public during allotted hours and in private at their will.[21]
  • General recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of each party over its lands, people, and agents abroad, and responsibility for the warlike acts of any of its citizens or agents. Issuance of unrestricted letters of marque and reprisal to privateers was forbidden.

Territorial adjustments


The Peace of Westphalia has been studied extensively by those in the fields of International Relations and Political Science, as it marked a shift on ideas of state sovereignty.[27] It has been described as an "icon" of International Relations scholarship by Dr.Stephen Krasner of Stanford University, due to it touching upon the topics of collective security, the establishment of sovereign and equal states, and nonintervention into the internal affairs of foreign states:

The Westphalian model, based on principles of autonomy and territory, offers a simple, arresting, and elegant image. It orders the minds of policymakers. It is an analytic assumption for neo-realism and neo-liberal institutionalism, both of which posit that states can be treated as if they were autonomous, unified, rational actors. It is an empirical reality for various sociological and constructivist theories of international politics. Moreover, it is a benchmark for observers who discern a basic erosion of sovereignty in the contemporary world.[28]

The new Westphalian system embraced the idea that nation-states held sovereignty over extraterritorial powers, such as the Catholic Church or the Holy Roman Empire. The European order after 1648 – with its basic territorial unit of the nation-state – provided the basis for the development of world-state interaction into the twentieth century. The twenty-first century has sometimes been described as "Post-Westphalian". This is due to supranational organizations such as the European Union and United Nations, alongside various other political and economic organizations, limiting state sovereignty. Furthermore, humanitarian ideas – including the "right to protect" – have increasingly been used as a justification to violate state sovereignty since the 1990's. The term "Westfailure" was coined in 1999 by Susan Strange, which has been used to note signs of the weakening of the Westphalian system.

As the Thirty Years' War was largely fought on the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, 95% of the war's casualties were Imperial subjects.[29] The conflict was especially devastating for the ethnically German portions of the Empire: the population was reduced between 25% and 40% in Germany proper.[30] As a result, the Thirty Years' War has taken an important position in the German national consciousness. The Treaty of Westphalia also became an important topic in the developing German nationalism of the nineteenth century. The treaty has been commemorated as ending a devastating chapter in German history.[31] It was also a sign of the failing power of the Holy Roman Empire of the Catholic Habsburgs, and was ultimately a step in the establishment of Prussia, which would become the leading German state in the nineteenth century.

The treaties did not entirely end conflicts arising out of the Thirty Years' War. Fighting continued between France and Spain until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. The Dutch-Portuguese War had started during the Spanish occupation of Portugal, as part of the Eighty Years' War, but went on until 1663. Nevertheless, it did settle many outstanding European issues of the time. Some of the principles developed at Westphalia, especially those relating to respecting the boundaries of sovereign states and non-interference in their domestic affairs, became central to the world order that developed over the following centuries, and remain in effect today. In several parts of the world, however, sovereign states emerged from what was once imperial territory only after the post-World War II period of decolonization.[5] More significantly, one of the major principles—the balance of power—was undermined in the Twentieth century. Referring to the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler said that without the Wehrmacht, a "wave would have swept over Europe that would have taken no care of the ridiculous British idea of the balance of power in Europe in all its banality and stupid tradition—once and for all."[32] During World War II, the multipolar balance became bipolar, between the Axis and the Allies, followed by the United States and NATO nations against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations during the Cold War. In his book Politics Among Nations in the chapter entitled "The New Balance of Power", Hans Morgenthau opened with the words:

The destruction of that intellectual and moral consensus which restrained the struggle for power for almost three centuries deprived the balance of power of its vital energy that made it a living principle of international politics … The most obvious of these structural changes which impairs the operation of the balance of power is to be found in the drastic numerical reduction of the players in the game.[33]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, power was seen as unipolar with the United States in absolute control,[34][35][36] though nuclear proliferation and the rise of Japan, the European Union, the Middle East, China, and a resurgent Russia have begun to recreate a multipolar political environment.[37][38] Instead of a traditional balance of power, inter-state aggression may now be checked by the preponderance of power,[39] a sharp contrast to the Westphalian principle.

See also


  1. ^ Clodfelter, Micheal (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015. McFarland. p. 40. ISBN 978-0786474707.
  2. ^ Cavendish, Richard. "The Treaty of Westphalia". historytoday.com. 
  3. ^ "Principles of the State System". Faculty.unlv.edu. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Information from city of Münster". Muenster.de. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Henry Kissinger (2014). "Introduction and Chpt 1". World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History. Allen Lane. ISBN 0241004268. 
  6. ^ "Making peace, 1645–48". britannica.com. 
  7. ^ Croxton, Derek (2013). Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace. Palgrave. ISBN 9781137333322. 
  8. ^ Schiller, Frederick. "The Thirty Years War, Complete". gutenberg.org. Retrieved 24 February 2018. 
  9. ^ Schiller, Frederick. "The Thirty Years War, Complete". gutenberg.org. Retrieved 24 February 2018. 
  10. ^ Konrad Repgen, 'Negotiating the Peace of Westphalia: A Survey with an Examination of the Major Problems', In: 1648: War and Peace in Europe: 3 vols. (Catalogue of the 26th exhibition of the Council of Europe, on the Peace of Westphalia), Klaus Bußmann and Heinz Schilling (eds.) on behalf of the Veranstaltungsgesellschaft 350 Jahre Westfälischer Friede, Münster and Osnabrück: no publ., 1998, 'Essay Volume 1: Politics, Religion, Law and Society', pp. 355–72, here pp. 355 seq.
  11. ^ Konrad Repgen, 'Negotiating the Peace of Westphalia: A Survey with an Examination of the Major Problems', In: 1648: War and Peace in Europe: 3 vols. (Catalogue of the 26th exhibition of the Council of Europe, on the Peace of Westphalia), Klaus Bußmann and Heinz Schilling (eds.) on behalf of the Veranstaltungsgesellschaft 350 Jahre Westfälischer Friede, Münster and Osnabrück: no publ., 1998, 'Essay Volume 1: Politics, Religion, Law and Society', pp. 355–72, here p. 356.
  12. ^ Sonnino, Paul (30 June 2009). Mazarin's Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674043862. 
  13. ^ "Original text in Dutch National Archives". beeldbank.nationaalarchief.nl. 
  14. ^ "Digital German text Treaty of Münster". lwl.org. 
  15. ^ "Digital German text Treaty of Osnabrück". lwl.org. Retrieved 13 May 2017. 
  16. ^ a b Treaty of Münster 1648
  17. ^ a b Barro, R. J. & McCleary, R. M. "Which Countries have State Religions?" (PDF). University of Chicago. p. 5. Retrieved 7 November 2006. 
  18. ^ "This day, Mary 15, in Jewish history". Cleveland Jewish News. 
  19. ^ Psalms 69:9, "For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up, and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me."
  20. ^ Larry Jay Diamond; Marc F. Plattner; Philip J. Costopoulo (2005). World religions and democracy. 
  21. ^ Section 28
  22. ^ Böhme, Klaus-R (2001). "Die sicherheitspolitische Lage Schwedens nach dem Westfälischen Frieden". In Hacker, Hans-Joachim. Der Westfälische Frieden von 1648: Wende in der Geschichte des Ostseeraums (in German). Kovač. p. 35. ISBN 3-8300-0500-8. 
  23. ^ Böhme (2001), p. 36.
  24. ^ Böhme (2001), p. 37.
  25. ^ a b c Böhme (2001), p. 38.
  26. ^ Gross, Leo (1948). "The Peace of Westphalia, 1648–1948". American Journal of International Law. 42 (1): 20–41 [p. 25]. doi:10.2307/2193560. 
  27. ^ "The Historical Context Of Contemporary International Relations". wwnorton.com. 
  28. ^ Schmidt S. To Order the Minds of Scholars: The Discourse of the Peace of Westphalia in International Relations Literature. International Studies Quarterly [serial online]. September 2011;55(3):601–623. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 27, 2018.
  29. ^ Clodfelter, Micheal (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015. McFarland. p. 40. ISBN 978-0786474707.
  30. ^ "History of Europe – Demographics". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  31. ^ Wilson, Peter H. "The Causes of the Thirty Years War 1618–48." The English Historical Review, vol. 123, no. 502, 2008, pp. 554–586. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20108541.
  32. ^ Hitler, Adolf (2004). Domarus, Max, ed. Hitler; Speeches and Proclamations (PDF). 3. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. p. 2536. ISBN 0-86516-228X. 
  33. ^ Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 4th edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967, p 332.
  34. ^ Krauthammer, Charles (1990). "The Unipolar Moment". Foreign Affairs. 70/1. 
  35. ^ Wohlforth, William (1999). "The Stability of Unipolar World". International Security. 24: 5–41. doi:10.1162/016228899560031. 
  36. ^ Lake, David A. (2007). "Escape from the State-of-Nature: Authority and Hierarchy in World Politics". International Security. 32: 47–79. doi:10.1162/isec.2007.32.1.47. 
  37. ^ National Intelligence Council. 2025 Global Trends (PDF). 
  38. ^ Yueh, Linda. "America's place in a multi-polar world". BBC. 
  39. ^ Leffler, Melvyn P. (1992). A Preponderance of Power. Stanford University Press. 

Further reading

  • Croxton, Derek, and Anuschka Tischer. The Peace of Westphalia: A Historical Dictionary (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002).
  • Croxton, Derek (1999). "The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and the Origins of Sovereignty". International History Review. 21 (3): 569–591. doi:10.1080/07075332.1999.9640869. 
  • Mowat, R. B. History of European Diplomacy, 1451–1789 (1928) pp 104–14 online
  • Schmidt, Sebastian (2011). "To Order the Minds of Scholars: The Discourse of the Peace of Westphalia in International Relations Literature1". International Studies Quarterly. 55 (3): 601–623. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2478.2011.00667.x.  Historiography.

External links