The war started as a religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire. Over time the wars involved most of Europe and wasn’t so much about religion. Overall though, it was mainly a struggle between the Holy Roman Empire controlled by Habsburg and the Protestant principalities. At the time, these principalities relied on Sweden and the Netherlands as their primary anti-Catholic powers. The war(s) also involved the anti-French alliances which consisted of the rivalry of France with the Habsburg powers. Some of the European conflicts that created this series of wars was religious conflicts, territorial conflicts, commercial rivalries, and dynastic conflicts.
To what extent did politics determine the outcome of the War?
The Thirty Years War was such a complex series of wars that there could be so many answers to this question. I will state that politics determined the outcome of the Thirty Years War to the extent that the war was eventually settled by the Treaty of Westphalia. Listed in the treaty are who will control what territories, who will have which rights, what happens with the governments and their religions, etc. so in short, land, power and preservation of the throne were assigned and these all had at the very least some political motives tied to them.
Discuss the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.
For the last four years of the Thirty Years War, the parties involved in this phase of the war had been negotiating at Osnabruck and Munster in Westphalia. The Thirty Years War ended on October 24th, 1648 and this is when the Peace of Westphalia was signed. The Swedes received control over Western Pomeranian, Verden and Bremen along with a large cash compensation. Rights over Alsace were given to the French. One could easily say that the control of the Emperor over German territorial rulers had no legal validity at this point. As far as the German portion, the government was religiously neutral and one could privately exercise their non-conforming religion. The land earlier secularized by Protestants was allowed to remain so. However, the emperor in the Habsburg territory of Austria and Bohemia was allowed to re-impose Catholicism.
Could matters have been resolved without war?
I believe the matters could have been resolved without war. After the Thirty Years War, those still alive and still involved in these wars got together to establish the Peace of Westphalia. This shows me that they were capable all along of getting together and creating such an agreement. But then again, at this point they were probably tired of war, possibly now having greater incentive to not leave this war as a legacy to their children’s children and a few new faces were in the scene. I feel they were capable of resolving the matters without war, but they may not have had as much humility and incentive to compromise prior to the Thirty Years War.