Peace of Westphalia


The Peace of Westphalia (German: Westfälischer Friede, pronounced [vɛstˈfɛːlɪʃɐ ˈfʁiːdə] (listen)) is the collective name for two peace treaties signed in October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster. They ended the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) and Eighty Years' War (1568–1648), and brought peace to the Holy Roman Empire, closing a calamitous period of European history that killed approximately eight million people. The Holy Roman Emperor (Ferdinand III of Habsburg), the Spanish Empire, the kingdoms of France and Sweden, the United Provinces (Netherlands), and their respective allies among the princes of the Holy Roman Empire participated in these treaties.[1]

Peace of Westphalia
Treaties of Osnabrück and Münster
Münster, Historisches Rathaus -- 2014 -- 6855.jpg
The historic town hall of Münster where the treaty was signed
TypePeace treaty
Signed24 October 1648
LocationOsnabrück and Münster, Westphalia, Holy Roman Empire

The negotiation process was lengthy and complex. Talks took place in two cities, because each side wanted to meet on territory under its own control. A total of 109 delegations arrived to represent the belligerent states, but not all delegations were present at the same time. Two treaties were signed to end the war in the Empire: the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück.[2][3] These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War in the Holy Roman Empire, with the Habsburgs (rulers of Austria and Spain) and their Catholic allies on one side, battling the Protestant powers (Sweden and certain Holy Roman principalities) allied with France, which was Catholic but strongly anti-Habsburg under King Louis XIV. The separate Peace of Münster ended the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the United Provinces.

Joachim Whaley, a leading English-language historian of the Holy Roman Empire, mentions that later commentators such as Leibniz, Rousseau, Kant, and Schiller eulogized the Peace of Westphalia as the first step towards a universal peace, but he points out that "their projections for the future should not be mistaken for descriptions of reality".[4]

Scholars of international relations have identified the Peace of Westphalia as the origin of principles crucial to modern international relations,[5] collectively known as Westphalian sovereignty, though other historians argue that this is largely a myth invented after the fact.[6]


Europe had been battered by the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War, exacting a heavy toll in money and lives. The Eighty Years' War was a prolonged religious war between Catholics and Protestants, evolving to a struggle for the independence of the Protestant-majority Dutch Republic (the modern Netherlands), supported by Protestant-majority England, against Catholic-dominated Spain and Portugal. The Thirty Years' War was the most deadly of the European wars of religion, centred on the Holy Roman Empire. The war, which developed into four phases, included a large number of domestic and foreign players, siding either with the Catholic League or the Protestant Union (later Heilbronn League). The Peace of Prague (1635) ended most religious aspects of the war, and the French–Habsburg rivalry took over prominence. With between 4.5 million and 8 million dead in the Thirty Years' War alone, and decades of constant warfare, the need for peace became increasingly clear.[7]


Peace negotiations between France and the Habsburg Emperor began in Cologne in 1636. These negotiations were initially blocked by Cardinal Richelieu of France, who insisted on the inclusion of all his allies, whether fully sovereign countries or states within the Holy Roman Empire.[8][page needed] In Hamburg, Sweden, France and the Holy Roman Empire negotiated a preliminary peace in December 1641.[9] They declared that the preparations of Cologne and the Treaty of Hamburg were preliminaries of an overall peace agreement.[citation needed]

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

The main peace negotiations took place in Westphalia, in the neighbouring cities of Münster and Osnabrück. Both cities were maintained as neutral and demilitarized zones for the negotiations.[9]

In Münster, negotiations took place between the Holy Roman Empire and France, as well as between the Dutch Republic and Spain who on 30 January 1648 signed a peace treaty,[10] that was not part of the Peace of Westphalia.[11] Münster had been, since its re-Catholicisation in 1535, a strictly mono-denominational community. It housed the Chapter of the Prince-Bishopric of Münster. Only Roman Catholic worship was permitted, while Calvinism and Lutheranism were prohibited.[citation needed]

Sweden preferred to negotiate with the Holy Roman Empire in Osnabrück, controlled by the Protestant forces. Osnabrück was a bidenominational Lutheran and Catholic city, with two Lutheran churches and two Catholic churches. The city council was exclusively Lutheran, and the burghers mostly so, but the city also housed the Catholic Chapter of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück and had many other Catholic inhabitants. Osnabrück had been subjugated by troops of the Catholic League from 1628 to 1633 and then taken by Lutheran Sweden.[12]


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

The peace negotiations had no exact beginning or end, because the 109 delegations never met in a plenary session. Instead, various delegations arrived between 1643 and 1646 and left between 1647 and 1649. The largest number of diplomats were present between January 1646 and July 1647.[citation needed]

Delegations had been sent by 16 European states, 66 Imperial States representing the interests of 140 Imperial States, and 27 interest groups representing 38 groups.[13]


Three separate treaties constituted the peace settlement.

  • The Peace of Münster (Tractatus Pacis)[15][16] was signed by the Dutch Republic and the Kingdom of Spain on 30 January 1648, and was ratified in Münster on 15 May 1648.
  • Two complementary treaties were signed on 24 October 1648:
    • The Treaty of Münster (Instrumentum Pacis Monasteriensis, IPM),[17][18] between the Holy Roman Emperor and France, along with their respective allies
    • The Treaty of Osnabrück (Instrumentum Pacis Osnabrugensis, IPO),[19][20] between the Holy Roman Empire and Sweden, along with their respective allies.


Internal political boundariesEdit

A map showing European borders in 1648
The Holy Roman Empire in 1648

The power asserted by Ferdinand III was stripped from him and returned to the rulers of the Imperial States. The rulers of the Imperial States could henceforth choose their own official religions. Catholics and Protestants were redefined as equal before the law, and Calvinism was given legal recognition as an official religion.[21][22] The independence of the Dutch Republic, which practiced religious toleration, also provided a safe haven for European Jews.[23]

The Holy See was very displeased at the settlement, with Pope Innocent X calling it "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time" in the bull Zelo Domus Dei.[24][25]


The main tenets of the Peace of Westphalia were:

  • All parties would recognise the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which each prince had the right to determine the religion of his own state (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio). However, the ius reformandi was removed: Subjects were no longer forced to follow the conversion of their ruler. Rulers were allowed to choose Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Calvinism.[21][26]
  • 1 January 1624 was defined as the normative date for determining the dominant religion of a state. All ecclesiastical property was to be restored to the condition of 1624. Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in private, as well as in public during allotted hours.[26]
  • France and Sweden were recognised as guarantors of the imperial constitution with a right to intercede.[27]

It is often argued that the Peace of Westphalia resulted in a general recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of each party over its lands, people, and agents abroad, as well as responsibility for the warlike acts of any of its citizens or agents.[citation needed]

Territorial adjustmentsEdit


Allegory of the Peace of Westphalia, by Jacob Jordaens.

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 begun during the Iberian Union between Spain and Portugal, as part of the Eighty Years' War, and went on until 1663. Nevertheless, the Peace of Westphalia did settle many outstanding European issues of the time.[citation needed]

Westphalian sovereigntyEdit

Scholars of international relations have identified the Peace of Westphalia as the origin of principles crucial to modern international relations, including the inviolability of borders and non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. This system became known in the literature as Westphalian sovereignty.[34][page needed] Although scholars have challenged the association with the Peace of Westphalia,[35] the debate is still structured around the concept of Westphalian sovereignty.[citation needed]

However, scholars have challenged the view that the modern European states system originated with the Westphalian treaties. The treaties do not contain anything in their text about religious freedom, sovereignty, or balance of power that can be construed as international law principles. Constitutional arrangements of the Holy Roman Empire are the only context in which sovereignty and religious equality are mentioned in the text, but they are not new ideas in this context. While the treaties do not contain the basis for the modern laws of nations themselves, they do symbolize the end of a long period of religious conflict in Europe.[36]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Clodfelter, Micheal (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015. McFarland. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-7864-7470-7.
  2. ^ "APW Einführung". Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  3. ^ "Peace of Westphalia | Definition, Map, Results, & Significance". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  4. ^ Joachim Whaley, Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, Volume I: Maximilian I to the Peace of Westphalia 1493–1648, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 637
  5. ^ Patton, Steven (2019). "The Peace of Westphalia and it Affects on International Relations, Diplomacy and Foreign Policy". The Histories. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  6. ^ Osiander, Andreas (2001). "Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth". International Organization. 55 (2): 251–287. doi:10.1162/00208180151140577. JSTOR 3078632. S2CID 145407931.
  7. ^ Elliott, J.H. (2009). Spain, Europe & the Wider World, 1500-1800. Yale University Press. p. 29. ISBN 9780300145373.
  8. ^ Croxton, Derek (2013). Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace. Palgrave. ISBN 978-1-137-33332-2.
  9. ^ a b Wilson, Peter H. (2009). Europe's Tragedy: A History of the Thirty Years War. Allen Lane. p. 632. ISBN 978-0-7139-9592-3.
  10. ^ Lesaffer, Randall (23 July 2007). "Private Property in the Dutch-Spanish Peace Treaty of Münster (30 January 1648)". SSRN 1002389.
  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 pp. 355 seq.
  12. ^ Schiller, Frederick. "The Thirty Years War, Complete".
  13. ^ 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. 355–372, here p. 356.
  14. ^ Sonnino, Paul (2009). Mazarin's Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-04386-2.
  15. ^ "Original text in Dutch National Archives". Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. Retrieved 23 July 2010.
  16. ^ Vrede van Münster – Original Dutch text Peace of Münster digitised on Dutch Wikisource
  17. ^ "Digital modern German text Treaty of Münster". 25 March 2014.
  18. ^ Westfälischer Friede – Vertrag von Münster – Original German text Treaty of Münster digitised on German Wikisource
  19. ^ "Digital modern German text Treaty of Osnabrück". 25 March 2014. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  20. ^ Westfälischer Friede – Vertrag von Osnabrück – Original German text Treaty of Osnabrück digitised on German Wikisource
  21. ^ a b Treaty of Münster 1648
  22. ^ Barro, R. J. & McCleary, R. M. "Which Countries have State Religions?" (PDF). University of Chicago. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 August 2006. Retrieved 7 November 2006.
  23. ^ "This day, Mary 15, in Jewish history". Cleveland Jewish News.
  24. ^ The incipit of this bull, meaning "Zeal of the house of God", quotes from Psalm 69:9: "For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up, and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me."
  25. ^ Larry Jay Diamond; Marc F. Plattner; Philip J. Costopoulo (2005). World religions and democracy. p. 103.
  26. ^ a b "The Peace of Westphalia" (PDF). University of Oregon. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  27. ^ Mary Fulbrook A Concise History of Germany, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 60.
  28. ^ Böhme, Klaus-R (2001). "Die sicherheitspolitische Lage Schwedens nach dem Westfälischen Frieden". In Hacker, Hans-Joachim (ed.). Der Westfälische Frieden von 1648: Wende in der Geschichte des Ostseeraums (in German). Kovač. p. 35. ISBN 3-8300-0500-8.
  29. ^ Böhme (2001), p. 36.
  30. ^ Böhme (2001), p. 37.
  31. ^ a b c Böhme (2001), p. 38.
  32. ^ Whaley, Joachim (24 November 2011), "Germany and the Holy Roman Empire in 1500", Germany and the Holy Roman Empire Volume I: Maximilian I to the Peace of Westphalia, 1493-1648, Oxford University Press, pp. 623–624, retrieved 28 April 2022
  33. ^ Gross, Leo (1948). "The Peace of Westphalia, 1648–1948". American Journal of International Law. 42 (1): 20–41 [p. 25]. doi:10.2307/2193560. JSTOR 2193560. S2CID 246010450.
  34. ^ Henry Kissinger (2014). "Introduction and Chpt 1". World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-241-00426-5.
  35. ^ Osiander, Andreas (2001). "Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth". International Organization. 55 (2): 251–287. doi:10.1162/00208180151140577. ISSN 1531-5088. S2CID 145407931.
  36. ^ Randall Lesaffer (2014). "Peace treaties from Lodi to Westphalia". Peace Treaties and International Law in European History: From the Late Middle Ages to World War One. Cambridge. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-511-21603-9.

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit

  • Texts of the Westphalian Treaties (in German) (full text in Latin, with translations to German, English, French, Italian, Swedish, and Spanish)
  • Peace Treaty of Münster (full text, English translation) – Peace Treaty of Münster (full text, German translation)
  • Peace Treaty of Osnabrück (full text, German translation)