International Relations Peace of Westphalia (1648)
Anuschka Tischer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0073


The Peace of Westphalia, concluded in 1648 in Münster (Germany), ended the Thirty Years’ War, which started with an anti-Habsburg revolt in Bohemia in 1618 but became an entanglement of different conflicts concerning the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, religion, and the state system of Europe. This contest was a civil “German war,” but foreign powers played a crucial role. The Peace of Westphalia ended with the signing of two treaties between the empire and the new great powers, Sweden and France, and settled the conflicts inside the empire with their guarantees. A new electorate was established for the exiled son of the revolt’s leader, the elector Palatine. Bavaria kept the electorate that it had been given for its support of the emperor Ferdinand II during the revolt. This compromise in 1648 meant a change of the empire’s fundamental Golden Bull of 1356 and was a symbol that all conflicts occurring since 1618 were resolved and that those who made peace did not avoid radical cuts and invented fresh ideas in order to make peace. Catholics and Protestants (now including Calvinists as well as Lutherans) accepted each other. Several regulations guaranteed their balance: 1624 was declared the “normal year” of any territory’s denomination, minorities were tolerated or had a right to emigrate, and no one could be forced to convert any longer. The Peace of Westphalia is regarded as a milestone in the development toward tolerance and secularization. This settlement also strengthened the imperial Estates: they could enter into foreign alliances and decide important matters, such as peace and war, along with the emperor. The suspected ambition of the Habsburgs for a “universal monarchy” was thereby controlled, in particular because the Franco-Spanish negotiations in Münster did not bring peace between France and Spain and left open conflict areas, such as Lorraine. Moreover, France and Sweden got territorial “satisfaction,” especially in Alsace and Pomerania. The Peace of Westphalia also confirmed the legal independence of the Swiss Confederation, whereas by a separate peace with Spain, in Münster, the United Provinces of the Netherlands officially became a sovereign state after eighty years of war. The Peace of Westphalia was crucial in German and international history. Its precise role in the European state system and international law is, however, subject to controversy, such as the debate over the “Westphalian System” in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Controversies about the Peace of Westphalia are not new. The history of its reception and interpretation is as long as the history of its emergence. Unquestionably, though, the negotiations were a milestone in diplomacy and peacemaking. Sources on the peace are most valuable for always changing methods and perspectives of history. Research on the Peace of Westphalia increased enormously with its 350th anniversary in 1998 and its several conferences and exhibitions.

General Overviews

The most recent scholarly monograph on the Westphalian negotiations and peace is Croxton 2013. Dickmann 1998 (originally published in 1959) is still valuable due to the author’s long-term archive research, although it lacks many current aspects and is sometimes even contrary to later research. The sometimes still-quoted Kopp and Schulte 1940 is an unacceptable work of Nazi propaganda. Repgen 1999 covers the main problems of the negotiations and how they were solved in the peace. Westphal 2015 and Brunert 2017 give an overview on the basis of the latest research with a focus on the peace process. Some monographs on the Thirty Years’ War also offer information on the peace (Parker 1997, Wilson 2009, Asbach and Schröder 2014), but they are more focused on the wider political or military frame, or both. Croxton and Tischer 2002, a reference work, includes the variety of new research being done in the late 1990s and provides short explanations of terms, persons, topics, and so on that concern the Peace of Westphalia.

  • Asbach, Olaf, and Peter Schröder, eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to the Thirty Years’ War. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014.

    Impressive presentation of the war and its several aspects, including the Peace of Westphalia, by various international scholars. A perfect introduction into the current state of research on the Thirty Years’ War.

  • Brunert, Maria-Elisabeth. “Der Westfälische Frieden 1648: Eine Friedensordnung für das Reich und Europa.” In Friedensordnungen in geschichtswissenschaftlicher und geschichtsdidaktischer Perspektive. Edited by Peter Geiss and Peter Arnold Heuser, 69–95. Wissenschaft und Lehrerbildung 2. Göttingen, Germany: V & R Academic, 2017.

    The article, based on a very deep knowledge of the sources and recent research, gives an overview over the Congress and Peace of Westphalia. The focus is on the role of the Peace of Westphalia in the development of a peace order in Germany and Europe.

  • Croxton, Derek. Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137333339

    Thorough monograph on the Congress and Peace of Westphalia by a recognized expert on the subject. Essential for everyone who is looking for a comprehensive overview in English.

  • Croxton, Derek, and Anuschka Tischer. The Peace of Westphalia: A Historical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.

    Reference work that offers short explanations and related literature on terms, persons, places, and so on relative to the Peace of Westphalia. Useful selected bibliography.

  • Dickmann, Fritz. Der Westfälische Frieden. 7th ed. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff Verlag, 1998.

    Originally published in 1959, this is the only scholarly monograph on the Peace of Westphalia. Although it lacks more than half a century of research and is obsolete in many details, it is an unsurpassed overview. Dickmann even refers to topics that only later became the subject of research (e.g., public media, ceremony).

  • Kopp, Friedrich, and Eduard Schulte. Der Westfälische Frieden: Vorgeschichte, Verhandlungen, Folgen. Munich: Hoheneichen-Verlag, 1940.

    What at the first glance might look just like an old-fashioned but rare overview of the Peace of Westphalia is actually anti-French Nazi propaganda. Because of its high circulation, the book is still widespread but should definitely not be used as research literature.

  • Parker, Geoffrey, ed. The Thirty Years’ War. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 1997.

    The instructive book, written by several experts, is much quoted for the Thirty Years’ War, the Peace of Westphalia, and the history of its reception. One should be aware, however, that it does not include the very fruitful research of the last two decades.

  • Repgen, Konrad. “Die Hauptprobleme der Westfälischen Friedensverhandlungen von 1648 und ihre Lösungen.” Zeitschrift für Bayerische Landesgeschichte 62 (1999): 399–438.

    Concise and instructive article on all important problems of the negotiations and their outcome in the Peace of Westphalia. A similar but shorter English article by Repgen can be found in Volume 1 of Bussmann and Schilling 1998 (cited under Collections of Articles).

  • Westphal, Siegrid. Der Westfälische Frieden. Munich, Germany: C. H. Beck, 2015.

    DOI: 10.17104/9783406683039

    The short book gives a very dense overview over the Peace of Westphalia. The focus lies in particular on the peace process and its mechanisms.

  • Wilson, Peter H. The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

    This huge and solid monograph on the Thirty Years’ War includes chapters on the Westphalian peace congress and the aftermath. The focus is strictly on the great political decisions and military development, so the book does not offer a thorough inside view of the negotiations or the peace.

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