Destruction of Bavaria Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Military operations during the Thirty Years’ War led to major destruction in many parts of Germany, notably in Bavaria, leading to a realignment of political and economic power in Germany and further divisions based on religion.

Summary of Event

Inhabitants of frontier areas have long been at higher risk from military action than those living in interior provinces. The inhabitants of the province of Bavaria thought they were among the latter group in the seventeenth century, but during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648);Bavaria and , Bavaria was among the former. [kw]Destruction of Bavaria (1630-1648) [kw]Bavaria, Destruction of (1630-1648) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1630-1648: Destruction of Bavaria[1090] Diplomacy and international relations;1630-1648: Destruction of Bavaria[1090] Religion and theology;1630-1648: Destruction of Bavaria[1090] Government and politics;1630-1648: Destruction of Bavaria[1090] Economics;1630-1648: Destruction of Bavaria[1090] Organizations and institutions;1630-1648: Destruction of Bavaria[1090] Germany;1630-1648: Destruction of Bavaria[1090] Bavaria;destruction of

The Protestant Reformation was the great popular upheaval of the sixteenth century. Most supporters of Protestantism in Germany came from the central and northern parts of the region, but Protestantism, especially its more radical version, Calvinism, had attracted some followers in southern Germany as well. Calvinism was supported even though the Peace of Augsburg (1555) had given religious authority to the predominant Reformed faith, Lutheranism, in those areas where the ruler was Lutheran. The lack of a provision for Calvinism, together with the revival of the Catholic Church through the Counter-Reformation Counter-Reformation[CounterReformation] (1560-1648), led to the Thirty Years’ War, in which the forces of Catholicism sought to reclaim all of Germany for Catholicism Catholicism;Thirty Years’ War and . The war had been spearheaded by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II Ferdinand II (Holy Roman Emperor) (the Habsburg ruler in Vienna) in alliance with the duke of Bavaria, Maximilian I Maximilian I (elector of Bavaria) .

All of the region’s Protestant rulers—whether Calvinist or Lutheran—fought to defend the Peace of Augsburg. The Catholics had two armies, the imperial army and that of the Catholic League, led by Duke Maximilian, and the Protestants had armies commanded by various princes, including the king of Sweden, Gustavus II Adolphus Gustavus II Adolphus .

The Catholics, for the most part, prevailed in the first ten years of the war (1618-1628). This trend prevented the Bohemians from choosing as their ruler the Calvinist Frederick William, Frederick William, the Great Elector elector of the Palatinate, at the Battle of White Mountain White Mountain, Battle of (1620) in November of 1620. The Catholic victories also kept the ruler of Denmark from intervening on behalf of the Protestants. However, the overreaching Catholics, led by Emperor Ferdinand II, reclaimed for the Catholic Church the former ecclesiastical principalities that had been secularized after the Peace of Augsburg through the Edict of Restitution (1629) Restitution, Edict of (1629) . This action enraged and energized the Protestant rulers and led to the intervention of King Gustavus.

Beginning in 1630, the Protestants were the ones who most often prevailed. Gustavus won major victories for them before being killed in battle at Lützen Lützen, Battle of (1632) in 1632. Infighting among the Catholics, whose brilliant general Albrecht Wenzel von Wallenstein Wallenstein, Albrecht Wenzel von was assassinated in 1634 at the command of Ferdinand II, led to battlefield losses and the restoration of a balance of power among the German princes. Meanwhile, the Protestant forces had carried the fighting to southern Germany, notably Bavaria, which was invaded repeatedly by Protestant forces.

Swedish king and Protestant commander Gustavus II Adolphus was killed by Catholic forces in the fall of 1632 near Nuremberg, Bavaria, during the Thirty Years’ War.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

The nature of the fighting and its consequences led to substantial destruction. Because both sides in the conflict ran out of money, it was common practice to rely on the occupied lands’ inhabitants to support the troops. The troops were generally quartered in the countryside, and the locals were forced to be supportive by providing the troops a place to rest and by giving them food. This system of “contributions” affected especially those who raised the food: the peasantry. Towns “contributed” to the war effort to prevent military depredation (plunder), though Nuremberg, for example, which had a healthy municipal treasury before the war, wound up with heavy indebtedness after the war.

Military strategy often called for troops to deliberately ravage the areas through which they marched. This was particularly the case in Bavaria, which was invaded by Protestant forces under Gustavus in 1632. In April, 1632, at the Battle of the Lech Lech, Battle of the (1632) (a river flowing from the Austrian Alps through central Bavaria), Gustavus defeated the imperial forces, which had withdrawn and moved toward Ingolstadt. The Protestant army marched through the countryside until it reached Munich, the German capital, and wreaked devastation as it advanced. By the fall of 1632, Gustavus and his troops were at the gates of Nuremberg, one of Bavaria’s most prosperous cities. The Protestant army ravaged the area around the city, though they did not invest Nuremberg. In the winter and spring of 1633, despite the death of Gustavus the preceding fall, the Protestant forces reorganized under their new leader, Bernhard Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, and marched through northern Bavaria, devastating the areas around Würzburg and Bamberg and capturing Regensburg. Some peasants, desperate at their loss of lands and crops, staged a brief revolt.

Protestantism, a popular religion in the German states, including Bavaria, was gaining even more adherents, which angered the already concerned Catholic Church. A contemporary depiction shows Protestant preaching in the streets around the time of the Thirty Years’ War.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

This devastation was enhanced by outbreaks of the plague in the early 1630’, outbreaks that were brought on by the military’s destruction of the countryside and the subsequent movement to the towns and cities of refugees seeking safety. It is not known how many deaths resulted from starvation, disease, or military action, but the number was substantial.

By the mid-1630’, both sides in the war were prepared to call a truce, but the negotiations proved difficult. The intervention of France gave new life to the Protestant cause, but Catholic Bavaria suffered again in 1645, when Protestant forces invaded the region once more. Protestant victories convinced combatants that it was time to stop fighting, and peace was negotiated at Münster and Osnabrück between 1645 and 1648, treaties now known collectively as the Peace of Westphalia Westphalia, Peace of (1648) .


Historians have debated the extent of the devastation and destruction described in writings of and about the period, especially those descriptions by authors such as Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen Grimmelshausen, Jakob Christoffel von in his popular novel Der abentheuerliche Simplicissimus (1669; The Adventurous Simplicissimus, 1912; best known as Simplicissimus Simplicissimus (Grimmelshausen) ). Lacking any official population statistics, historians have generally concluded that the population of Germany declined during this period by about 30 percent, though some later estimates have reduced that figure. Some historians argue that the country was already in decline prior to 1618, when the growth of international trade caused the economic center of gravity in Europe to move to the western periphery of the Continent. There can be no doubt, however, that the war affected the population severely, and Bavaria did not recover its population numbers until the next century. Population decreases;Bavaria

The devastation of the Thirty Years’ War might also have played a part in changing the role of armies in the century that followed. Armies were of limited size and were supported by taxes. They fought battles on limited fields, and the results tended to be confined to the exchange of territorial ownership among governments that were more or less absolutist in character.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beller, E. A. “The Thirty Years’ War.” In The New Cambridge Modern History, edited by J. P. Cooper. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970. A good synthesis of accounts that noted Bavaria’s devastation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Guthrie, William P. Battles of the Thirty Years’ War: From White Mountain to Nordlingen, 1618-1635. Contributions in Military Studies 213. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. This first volume of two books describes the battles fought in the early years of the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Guthrie, William P. The Later Thirty Years’ War: From the Battle of Wittstock to the Treaty of Westphalia. Contributions in Military Studies 222. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. Guthrie concludes his examination of the Thirty Years’ War with a description of the battles fought between 1636 and 1648.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany: The Reformation. New York: Knopf, 1959. A general history of Germany by one of the foremost scholars in the field.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hughes, Michael. Early Modern Germany, 1477-1806. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Hughes is more skeptical of the extent of the devastation, noting that most of the description of it was by German authors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey, ed. The Thirty Years’ War. 2d rev. ed. New York: Routledge, 1997. A comprehensive and authoritative history of the war. Like Hughes, Parker is somewhat skeptical of the extent of the destruction.
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