The Treaty of Westphalia: Description, Analysis and Prescription

Peace of Westphalia, treaty, signed October 24, 1648, closed the Thirty-Years War and readjusted the religious and political affairs of Europe. It is called like that because the negotiations, which began in 1644, took place in the German cities of Münster and Osnabrück, in Westphalia. The main participants were France and Sweden and their opponents Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. By the terms of the treaty, the sovereignty and independence of each state of the Holy Roman Empire was fully recognized, making the Holy Roman emperor virtually powerless.

By the early 1640s, after witnessing so much abuse by the Hapsburg Emperor’s feudal authority against the peoples of the small and war-devastated German states; and realizing that the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War were leading toward the destruction of civilization, Cardinal Jules de Mazarin acted to shift the attention of Europe away from religious conflicts. He sought to base a peace on the economic recovery and political sovereignty of the German Electorates and States, to move them towards freedom from the tyranny of the Emperor.

According to the treaty both sides must forget whatever happened to them and each side must avoid any act of hostility towards the other side as taking revenge. Neither this side nor the other must help the other’s enemies. Both sides must try to reconstruct and reestablish the damages remained since the war.

Before the Treaty of Westphalia, according to the treaty of Augsburg (1555), the religion of each German state was to be determined by the religion of its prince-Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Calvinist. If a prince changed his religion he would forfeit his lands; this provision was included as a method of checking the spread of the Reformation. The Peace of Westphalia marked the close of the period of religious wars. Thereafter, European armed struggles were waged principally for political ends.

After the Thirty-Years War which was on the independence of lands ruled by the Holy Roman Empire and on religions, each of the German states of the Holy Roman Empire became independent enough not to be obliged to obey the Empire on peace and war. In terms of religion they could have the religion they wanted to have and have private or public churches and even the Calvin followers were respected.

Despite the many results and consequences that the treaty had, I think the most important and influential result of the Treaty of Westphalia was fully recognition of the independence and territorial sovereignty of each of the states. That is since the Treaty of Westphalia, territory is the most significant and the determining factor of a state. Since then, a state is not recognized by its people or by its legitimacy or authority, but it is recognized by its territory. Territory of a state became valuable and borders got sacred.

Although Germany was not recognized as an independent state and it was a collection of many states, and despite the fact that the treaty resulted in Germany’s weakness, it had an advantage for Germany in terms of economic, commerce and trade. That is, because of the expensive tolls by the Venetians, the Dutch and the English on the Rhine River, German people could not trade and commerce. But, after the treaty of Westphalia and recognition of the states as independent it was an advantage for them. Thus, Mazarin began to play an entirely new and unique role inside the Empire by increasing German freedom in trade and commerce along the main waterways of the Empire.

So as I represent Germany, I could say that economically speaking the treaty was good for Germany and German people, while it resulted in Germany’s weakness politically and broke it down into many independent states.

When we delve into the treaties and agreements through the history, we notice that the only thing that has not into account is the rights of nations and the only important and significant thing has been what the rulers, kings, emperors and now the states have wanted. I think the Treaty of Westphalia is a practical example of this, when the importance of nations and people is put aside and the importance of territories and then borders are taken into account. While, the rulers, kings, emperors and the states must get their legitimacy from the people and then using that legitimacy start to have authority over them. Then I could conclude that the territory and borders became important so that the rulers, king, emperors and the states could govern the people easier.