Peace of Westphalia

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Peace of Westphalia
Treaties of Osnabrück and Münster
The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648 (1648) by Gerard ter Borch
The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648 (1648) by Gerard ter Borch
Type Peace treaty
Drafted 1646–1648
Signed 15 May–24 October 1648
Location Osnabrück and Münster, Westphalia, modern-day Germany
Parties 109

The Peace of Westphalia (German: Westfälischer Friede) was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Münster and Osnabrück, 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 and their Catholic French 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 that constituted the peace settlement were:

  • The Peace of Münster[1] between the Dutch Republic and the Kingdom of Spain on 30 January 1648, ratified in Münster on 15 May 1648; and
  • Two complementary treaties both signed on 24 October 1648, namely:
    • The Treaty of Münster (Instrumentum Pacis Monasteriensis, IPM),[2] between the Holy Roman Emperor, France, and their respective allies.
    • The Treaty of Osnabrück (Instrumentum Pacis Osnabrugensis, IPO),[3] involving the Holy Roman Empire, Sweden, and their respective allies

The Peace of Westphalia established a new system of political order in central Europe based upon the concept of sovereign states, which became known as Westphalian sovereignty. A norm was established against interference in another state's domestic affairs. Inter-state aggression was to be held in check by a balance of power, the negotiations also established the precedent of peaces established by diplomatic congress,[4][5] with a total of 109 delegations represented in Westphalia. As European influence spread across the globe, these Westphalian principles became central to international law and to the prevailing world order.[6]


In Hamburg and Lübeck, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire negotiated the Treaty of Hamburg, the Holy Roman Empire and Sweden declared the preparations of Cologne and the Treaty of Hamburg to be preliminaries to an overall peace agreement. Peace negotiations between France and the Habsburgs began in Cologne in 1641. Cardinal Richelieu of France desired the inclusion of all its allies, whether fully sovereign countries or states within the Holy Roman Empire.[7]

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

The negotiations took place in Westphalia, in the neighbouring cities of Münster and Osnabrück. Both cities were maintained as neutral and demilitarised zones during the negotiations, the Holy Roman Empire and France negotiated in Münster along with their respective allies. Also in Münster were Spain, its breakaway Dutch provinces, and their respective allies. Lutheran Sweden preferred Osnabrück as a venue for negotiations with the Holy Roman Empire.[8]

Münster had been a strictly mono-denominational community since its re-Catholisation in 1535. Only Roman Catholic worship was permitted, while Lutheran and Calvinist worship was prohibited. Osnabrück was a bidenominational city that had two Lutheran and two Catholic churches. Osnabrück had been subjugated by troops of the Catholic League in 1628–33, but then occupied by Sweden.


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 109 delegations never met in a plenary session, but instead arrived between 1643–46 and left between 1647-49. Between January 1646 and July 1647 probably the largest number of diplomats were present. 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.[9]


Internal political boundaries[edit]

Historical map
Holy Roman Empire in 1648.

The power asserted by Ferdinand III over the Holy Roman Empire was stripped from him and returned to the rulers of the Imperial States, the rulers of the Imperial states were henceforth allowed to choose their official religions. Catholics and Protestants were redefined as equal before the law, and Calvinism was recognised alongside Lutheranism as one of the religions permitted in the Holy Roman Empire,[11][12] the independence of the Dutch Republic, which practised religious toleration, also provided a safe haven for European Jews.[13]

The Holy See was very displeased at the settlement, with Pope Innocent X writing in Zelo Domus Dei[14] reportedly calling it "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time".[15]


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).[11][12]
  • 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.[16]
  • 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[edit]


The treaty 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.[6]

More significantly, one of major principles—the balance of power—was undermined in the Twentieth century. Referring to the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler said that without 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."[22] 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. (1967: 332) In his 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.[23]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, power was seen as unipolar with the United States in absolute control,[24][25][26] 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.[27][28] Instead of a traditional balance of power, inter-state aggression may now be checked by the preponderance of power,[29] a sharp contrast to the Westphalian principle.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Original text in Dutch National Archives". Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. 
  2. ^ "Digital German text Treaty of Münster". 
  3. ^ "Digital German text Treaty of Osnabrück". Retrieved 13 May 2017. 
  4. ^ "Principles of the State System". Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  5. ^ "Information from city of Münster". Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Kissinger, Henry (2014). World Order. ISBN 9780698165724. 
  7. ^ Croxton, Derek (2013). Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace. Palgrave. ISBN 9781137333322. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Sonnino, Paul (30 June 2009). Mazarin's Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674043862. 
  11. ^ a b Treaty of Münster 1648
  12. ^ a b 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. 
  13. ^ "This day, Mary 15, in Jewish history". Cleveland Jewish News. 
  14. ^ 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."
  15. ^ Larry Jay Diamond; Marc F. Plattner; Philip J. Costopoulo (2005). World religions and democracy. 
  16. ^ Section 28
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Böhme (2001), p. 36.
  19. ^ Böhme (2001), p. 37.
  20. ^ a b c Böhme (2001), p. 38.
  21. ^ Gross, Leo (1948). "The Peace of Westphalia, 1648–1948". American Journal of International Law. 42 (1): 20–41 [p. 25]. doi:10.2307/2193560. 
  22. ^ Hitler, Adolf (2004). Domarus, Max, ed. Hitler; Speeches and Proclamations (PDF). 3. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. p. 2536. ISBN 0-86516-228X. 
  23. ^ Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 4th edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967, p 332.
  24. ^ Krauthammer, Charles (1990). "The Unipolar Moment". Foreign Affairs. 70/1. 
  25. ^ Wohlforth, William (1999). "The Stability of Unipolar World". International Security. 24: 5–41. doi:10.1162/016228899560031. 
  26. ^ 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. 
  27. ^ National Intelligence Council. 2025 Global Trends (PDF). 
  28. ^ Yueh, Linda. "America's place in a multi-polar world". BBC. 
  29. ^ Leffler, Melvyn P. (1992). A Preponderance of Power. Stanford University Press. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]