History of Baden-Württemberg

The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War

The longest war in German history became, through the intervention of external powers, a European war. The cause was mainly the conflict of religious denominations as a result of the Reformation. Thus in the southwest of the empire, Catholic and Protestant princes faced one another as enemies, the Catholics (Emperor, Bavaria) united in the "League," the Protestants (Electorate Palatine, Baden-Durlach, Württemberg) in the "Union."
The war began in 1618 with the Defenestration of Prague.

Nearly all parts of the southwest experienced troop movements and battles. The map shows the extent to which the population suffered losses due to direct military action or to disease. The Black Forest remained unmolested. The most affected were the Palatinate, the Neckar land, the Alb and the Danube, but also on the Upper Rhine.

The Palatine War (1619 - 1622). In 1619 the Bohemians deposed their Catholic king from the House of Habsburg, and offered the crown to a Protestant prince, the Prince Elector Friedrich V of the Palatinate. Most of his councilors and several friendly princes advised him against accepting. But Friedrich opted for the Bohemian crown. With Elisabeth, his young English wife, he got into the coach and drove from Heidelberg to Prague. In November 1619, he was crowned there. Almost exactly a year later, in November 1620, he lost the battle of White Mountain by Prague to Tilly, the commander of the Catholic League. He fled clear through Germany to the Netherlands. Along with the Bohemian crown, he had also lost the Palatinate.
Soon thereafter, Margrave Friedrich Georg of Baden-Durlach also had to depart his little country in haste. He had dared to oppose Tilly, and was beaten in the Battle of Wimpfen (1622). Tilly moved through the Kraichgau and took Heidelberg.

The relatively peaceful years. The war shifted to northern Germany. The German southwest remained generally spared for years. It seemed as though the emperor and the Catholic League would finally pull out a victory. The page turned as the Swedish King Gustav Adolf came in on the side of the Protestants (1630). His triumphal procession led him deep into the German south. Even Baden-Durlach and Württemberg welcomed him as a liberator. The fortunes of war, however, were loyal to neither side. Next both sides lost their greatest commanders: Gustav Adolf ell in the battle by Lutzen near Leipzig. Wallenstein, the commander-in-chief of the imperial troops, was murdered in 1634 in Eger.

Fourteen years of terror (1634 - 1648). For the Protestants, the year 1634 brought a turn for the worse. The Swedish lost the decisive battle at Nördlingen. Then the imperial forces flooded into the Duchy of Württemberg. Waiblingen, Herrenberg and Calw were burned down, Stuttgart occupied.

Now the French came into the war. Even though France was purely Catholic, it allied itself with the German Protestants. There was no chance that the emperor would win the war. Thus the southwest again became a theater of war. For the lands on the Upper Rhine and the Neckar, the worst years began. A whole array of battles took place here: Rheinfelden (1638), Tuttlingen (1643), Freiburg (1644), Herbsthausen near Mergentheim (1645). Neither side won a decisive victory. But the population suffered terribly, under both friend and foe. The armies fell on the land, from which they had to sustain themselves, like swarms of locusts. The last battle of the war took place at Zusmarshausen, west of Augsburg.

As the bells of peace rang out in 1648, many villages and cities in the German southwest were impoverished from quartering troops, were partly destroyed, burned out. The Duchy of Württemberg alone had lost almost two thirds of its population from hunger and disease, murder and killing. In 1618 it had 350,000 inhabitants, in 1648 just 120,000. The following examples come from the Münsingen district and show the numbers of married couples and buildings before and after the war:

  Married Couples Houses and barns
City of Münsingen 191 96 240 157
Apfelstetten 56 15 74 29
Auingen 87 25 115 49
Böttingen 64 14 82 39
Hundersingen 45 3 54 5
Mehrstetten 132 26 156 68
Mundingen 48 10 35 23

An important outcome of the Peace of Westphalia was that now, along with Catholics and Lutherans, the Reformed were also tolerated. This was important for the Palatinate.

For one part of the southwest, a peace of 150 years began. On the Middle Neckar, in the whole Upper Rhine area and especially in the Electorate Palatine the wars waged by the French King Louis XIV from 1674 to 1714 caused further terrible destruction.
France penetrated through acquired possessions in Alsace to the Rhine border. Switzerland separated from the German empire.

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© 10/2000 by Mike Pantel