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Thirty Years' War started out as a war of religion, and then almost all European entities got involved in it. It was concluded by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which led to a great deal of changes in European politics, but especially to the reorganization of the Holy Roman Empire.

Even though the significance of the Peace of Westphalia as a watershed moment in the European history is seldom debated, I am given to understand1 that there are two opposing viewpoints about a certain aspect about it. According to one viewpoint, the Thirty Years' War and the Peace of Westphalia mark as the events after which religious politics played a little part in the diplomatic relations amongst European powers, i.e. after 1648, diplomatic relations amongst European entities were dominated by secular issues. On the other hand, some historians argue that the Peace of Westphalia did not mark such a dramatic transition from religious to secular politics.

As far as I know, the first viewpoint seems reasonable -- most of the major wars that happened after the Thirty Years' War had purely secular origins. What are some of the arguments put forward by the opposing side to justify that religion still played a significant part in the international diplomatic decisions? (Note that here I am ignoring the part religion played in the internal politics -- for example any civil war that might have its origin in religion.)

  • Are you sure that the opponents of the dramatic transition POV do not mean it the other way? As in, there was no dramatic transition because even before only a small fraction of the conflicts had an actual religious background, v.g. the very Catholic France helping the United Provinces against Spain in the same Thirty Years'War. – SJuan76 Dec 28 '16 at 12:29
  • @SJuan76 Since the start of Protestantism, there were religious wars throughout Europe. HRE had initial settlement through the Peace of Augsburg and then a full scale war erupted in 1618. France and Netherlands had their wars of religion. England too had a civil war that had some basis in England, and international (Dutch) parties were involved. All of these conflicts had purely or mostly religious origins. – taninamdar Dec 29 '16 at 3:05
  • I know all that well, but the issue some people may have with that is that religion could, in some cases, not be the cause of the war but just an instrument for it. Keep in mind that the Pope was mostly in the hands of the HRE, so switching religion was an advantage to those who opposed him. A telling example was the English one, where Henry VIII created an English Church that had little religious differences from the Catholic one, except for the fact that he was its head so he could divorce a HRE relative. – SJuan76 Dec 29 '16 at 9:22
  • "some historians argue that the Peace of Westphalia did not mark such a dramatic transition" - could you perhaps give an example? – Felix Goldberg Jan 30 '17 at 8:40
  • @FelixGoldberg I don't have one. However, the instructor did mention that some historians tend to argue that. – taninamdar Jan 30 '17 at 16:15
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Prior to the early part of the 16th century, that is 1517, there was no religious Catholic Protestant split to speak of.

The European Wars of the 16th century mostly centered around the Holy Roman Empire (HRE), the entity that was the one most divided by the Catholic-Protestant split. This would include the modern Netherlands and Belgium, (shaded pink on the map in the link). One way of looking at this was that most western European wars between 1530 and 1648 were quasi "civil wars" between Catholic and Protestant members of the HRE (and their allies and affiliates). That's why these wars took the tone of "religious" wars: The combatants were (mostly) divided along the lines of religion.

After 1648, the center of aggression turned to Catholic France, under Louis XIV and XV. They were opposed by Protestant England and the Netherlands, but also by the Catholic Austrian and HRE, and often by Spain in the 17th century. In the 18th century, there were games of "musical chairs" with Protestant England and Catholic Austria allied against Catholic France and Protestant Prussia in the War of Austrian Succession, and then Protestant England and Prussia allied against Catholic France and Austria in the Seven Years' War. Which is to say that the role of religion declined sharply after 1648.

  • What can you possibly mean by "Though technically not part of the HRE, ..."? The Low Countries were, officially, part of the HRE from it's founding in 962 until 1648 (*de jure) or 1568 (de facto) depending on which side of The Eighty Years War (of Dutch Independence) one wishes to argue for. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 28 '17 at 2:10
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    @PieterGeerkens: Removed that reference. I was honestly confused. Thanks for your help. – Tom Au Sep 28 '17 at 2:52

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