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Europe's Wars of Religion

The Thirty Years' War was a conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

Conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Europe escalated until the two sides went to war in the 1500s and fought for more than a hundred years. With both sides convinced God was on their side, the fighting was especially bloody. Religion wasn’t the only issue involved; some rulers used the religious wars as an opportunity to seek advantage against rival powers. The last of the religious wars was the Thirty Years’ War, which involved nearly every country in Europe. By the time it was over, one-third of Germany wasdead, and Europe lay devastated. The killing of Christians by Christians had resulted in the worst disaster since the Black Death, but this disaster was man-made.

Thirty Years’ War = a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics. The war started in 1618 and ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Black Death = a deadly disease (bubonic plague) that spread through much of Europe during the Middle Ages. It is estimated that it killed at least one third of all the people in Europe.

At the end of the war, the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) decreed that the ruler of each kingdom could choose the religion for his own land. Southern Europe (France, Italy, Spain) chose to remain with the Roman Catholic Church, while northern Europe (such as Germany, England, and Scandinavia) generally chose to be Protestant, a pattern that remains with us today. As another consequence of the Thirty Years’ War, France replaced Spain as the strongest country in Europe.

Treaty of Westphalia = a treaty signed by dozens of European kingdoms in 1648. The treaty decreed that the ruler of each kingdom could choose the religion for his or her own land. This treaty marks the end of Europe’s Wars of Religion.

Scandinavia = Norway, Sweden, and Denmark; the peninsula in northern Europe consisting of Norway and Sweden.