Treaty of Westphalia

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The Treaty of Westphalia was the treaty between Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and King Louis XIV of France that ended the Thirty Years War in 1648. It established the modern concept of state sovereignty by drastically limiting the power of the Holy Roman Emperor, who had previously been said to be ruler of all Europe.



Perhaps the most significant point of the treaty is that religious issues, ostensibly the main cause of the Thirty Years' War, are scarcely mentioned. Article 28 simply says,

That those of the Confession of Augsburg, and particularly the Inhabitants of Oppenheim, shall be put in possession again of their Churches, and Ecclesiastical Estates, as they were in the Year 1624. as also that all others of the said Confession of Augsburg, who shall demand it, shall have the free Exercise of their Religion...[1]

Article 46 adds that "Law and Justice shall be administer'd... without any respect; as to the Catholicks, so also to the Subjects, Creditors, Heirs, or private Persons, who shall be of the Confession of Augsburg." Each territorial ruler had "free exercise of Territorial Right, as well Ecclesiastick, as Politick,"[2] but individuals were free to worship on their own.

Thus, the Treaty of Westphalia confirmed religious freedom to Roman Catholics and Lutherans throughout the Holy Roman Empire.[3]

Effects of the War

Property was to be restored insofar as was possible, including all lands, without respect to religion. Even the descendants of the "Winter King", Frederick V Elector Palatine, were to be restored to his domains and his electoral title was to be returned. (Bavaria, which had been awarded the electorate during the war, would retain a new eighth electorate as long as its line lasted. As the Bavarian line actually outlasted the Empire, this permanently increased the Imperial electors to eight.)

Imperial Powers

The Treaty of Westphalia ended the medieval political theories which made the Emperor sovereign over all Europe, replacing them with the modern concept of state sovereignty. The Emperor had to defer to the Imperial Diet for anything dealing with wars, whereas each individual state had total liberty to make alliances and wars whenever it pleased.[4] Outside the Empire, Switzerland was declared totally independent,[5] and the King of France was implicitly declared equally sovereign to the Emperor,[6] and he was awarded many lands along the Rhine.

Views of the Treaty

The Treaty of Westphalia has been seen as the basis for the modern international system of diplomacy between sovereign nation-states.[7] Thus, it has been criticized for retarding the growth of "supranational governments".[8]

Al Qaeda has also criticized the Treaty of Westphalia, calling it a Western tool to build up the current international system.[9]

Former NATO/Ukraine chief propagandist Alexei Arestovich cites the Thirty Years War, which was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia, as the beginning of the 'modern era'.

External links


  1. Article 28
  2. Article 64
  3. Note that this did not include other Christian denominations, let alone non-Christians.
  4. Article 65
  5. Article 63
  6. Article 86
  7. "Securing Peace in Europe." Dr. Javier Solana, Secretary-General of NATO. 12 November 1998.