From Martin Luthers death in 1546 until the middle of the seventeenth century, European life was dominated by religiously and politically inspired violence. Roman Catholics and Protestants across Europe engaged in almost a century of slaughter before religion ceased to be the primary motive or excuse for warfare. France descended into nearly 50 years of civil war before emerging with a united monarchy under the terms of the Edict of Nantes in 1598. Warfare in Germany during the Thirty Years War reached levels of human destruction higher than any previously experienced. Spain escaped civil strife and remained firmly Catholic. The countrys unparalleled wealth, drawn from its American empire, gave Spain enormous political leverage in European affairs. Philip IIs long 40-year reign at the end of the fifteenth century forged Spains all-powerful position during this era. Despite its "superpower" status, Spain suffered the defeat of its Armada naval fleet at the hands of the English, who unlike the French managed to avoid civil war under the inspired leadership of Queen Elizabeth. Spain also failed to subdue Protestant nationalism in the Netherlands. As a result, Spains position in international affairs declined thereafter. For Germany, the original center of the Reformation, Lutherans and Catholics, after some bloodletting, had come to tolerate each other. But in the early seventeenth century the temporary compromises collapsed. The resulting free-for-all, known historically as the Thirty Years War (16181648), effectively consumed much of Europes energies until it was resolved in the international settlement of Westphalia. After 1648, though the peoples of central Europe would remain deeply divided, religion would no longer be a primary factor in international conflict, as it had been since the beginning of the Reformation.
After reading this chapter you should understand:
- The French wars of religion between Catholics and Calvinists.
- The Spanish struggle against Dutch independence in the Netherlands.
- The struggle between Catholic Spain and Protestant England.
- The course of the Thirty Years War and the devastation of central Europe.