Edict of Restitution Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Edict of Restitution marked the high point of the Counter-Reformation and of Habsburg imperial power during the Thirty Years’ War.

Summary of Event

During the first phases of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648);Holy Roman Empire and , it appeared that Emperor Ferdinand II Ferdinand II (Holy Roman Emperor) would be at least partly successful in emulating the powers of Western Europe by establishing a stronger national state based on monarchical authority and religious conformity. The Edict of Restitution Counter-Reformation[CounterReformation] , issued in 1629, marked the turning point after which achievement of these ambitions became increasingly unlikely. [kw]Edict of Restitution (Mar. 6, 1629) [kw]Restitution, Edict of (Mar. 6, 1629) Laws, acts, and legal history;Mar. 6, 1629: Edict of Restitution[1070] Religion and theology;Mar. 6, 1629: Edict of Restitution[1070] Europe;Mar. 6, 1629: Edict of Restitution[1070] Germany;Mar. 6, 1629: Edict of Restitution[1070] Restitution, Edict of (1629)

Hitherto, the war had been predominantly a religious contest between the Catholic Habsburg Empire on the one side, and several Protestant Protestantism;Thirty Years’ War and powers of Europe, including Bohemia, the Palatinate, and Denmark, on the other. During the course of the Bohemian phase of the war from 1618 to 1625, Ferdinand ruthlessly crushed religious and political rebellion in Bohemia while his brother-in-law, Maximilian I Maximilian I (elector of Bavaria) of Bavaria Bavaria , and the army of the Catholic League overran the Palatinate. Similarly, the Danish phase of the war from 1625 to 1629 witnessed the Habsburg conquest of Denmark, which had entered the conflict to shore up the faltering Protestant cause and promote Danish dynastic interests in northern Germany. The year 1629 found Catholicism Catholicism;Thirty Years’ War and and Habsburg Austria triumphant. For Ferdinand II, the moment had arrived to crown his success by taking steps to strengthen the Roman Catholic Church and the sovereign power of his dynasty within the Holy Roman Empire. Acting upon the advice of William Lamormaini, Lamormaini, William his Jesuit confessor, the emperor promulgated the Edict of Restitution on March 6, 1629.

Imperial law governing the recognition of religious confessions, the control of the numerous and often wealthy ecclesiastical principalities, and the ownership of Church property was settled by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. Under that agreement, only the Catholic and Lutheran Churches were recognized as legal. The princes reigning in the ecclesiastical principalities were required under a provision known as the ecclesiastical reservation to be Catholic, and the ownership of Church properties was assigned to whichever of the legal confessions actually had possession at the time of the Truce of Passau on August 2, 1552.

The three-quarters of a century between the Peace of Augsburg and the Edict of Restitution had seen the arrival of the Reformed (Calvinist) church, the widespread avoidance of the ecclesiastical reservation in northern and eastern Germany, and the loss of considerable property by the Catholics.

Ferdinand decreed that all Church properties that had been acquired by the Protestants since the Truce of Passau were to be restored, and all ecclesiastical principalities were to receive Catholic rulers. This decree affected the two archbishoprics of Magdeburg and Bremen; twelve bishoprics, three of which were subsequently left in the hands of John George I John George I of Saxony, a Lutheran supporter of the imperial cause; and numerous abbeys, churches, and estates. The edict further stated that only adherents of the Catholic faith or the faith of the Augsburg Confession, meaning Lutherans, were to enjoy free exercise of religion. The Reformed or Calvinist faith was thus placed outside imperial protection.

Yet even the religious tolerance extended to the Lutherans was qualified by the edict’s strict adherence to the terms of the Peace of Augsburg, ignoring the secret promise of toleration extended to Lutherans in the ecclesiastical lands made by Emperor Ferdinand I. This clause represented the widest application to date of the principle cuius regio, eius religio—literally, “whose rule, his the religion.” Ferdinand had previously made extensive use of this principle against the Protestants of Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia, Carniola), Bohemia, and Upper and Lower Austria.

An astrologer forecasts the assassination of imperial general Albrecht Wenzel von Wallenstein (right), who was killed by his own emperor’s officers after Wallenstein had secretly met with Protestant leaders, the Catholic empire’s enemies.

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

Ferdinand’s decision to require restitution by means of an imperial edict rather than by calling for an imperial Diet, and his enforcement of the edict by imperial commissioners backed by the imperial army under Albrecht Wenzel von Wallenstein Wallenstein, Albrecht Wenzel von and that of the Catholic League Catholic League under Count Johan Tserclaes Tilly Tilly, Count Johan Tserclaes von were all aspects of his attempt to strengthen the monarchical power in Germany. These measures raised a storm of controversy and numerous other problems as well. The Protestant princes of the empire, even those who were excluded from the provisions of the edict, such as John George of Saxony and George William George William of Brandenburg, now had cause to fear a new wave of religious persecution at the hands of the triumphant Catholic forces, which were then concluding military operations against defeated Denmark. Both Protestant princes and Catholic princes, such as Maximilian of Bavaria, feared that the emperor would use the edict to subject them to the absolute power of the Habsburg Dynasty.

A Holy Roman Empire unified behind a Habsburg ruler also presented a definite threat to France, now asserting its strength under the guidance of Cardinal de Richelieu Richelieu, Cardinal de and ready to resume its contest with the emperor’s ally, Habsburg Spain. Furthermore, violent arguments broke out among Catholic princes and religious orders as to which of the restored territories they would receive. Finally, the emperor failed to take into consideration the insufficient number of Catholic clergy available in relation to the large territories they would be forced to take over.

Such problems, combined with the ruthless execution of the edict by Wallenstein and Tilly, served to undercut Ferdinand’s support from Catholics as well as Lutherans. At the same time, it inspired many of the Protestant princes to look abroad for assistance from King Gustavus II Adolphus Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden and from Richelieu’s France. Ferdinand, in an attempt to salvage the support of his former staunch ally Maximilian of Bavaria, who was in the process of negotiating an alliance with France, agreed on August 13, 1630, to dismiss Wallenstein but not to modify the Edict of Restitution. The dismissal of Wallenstein also represented an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the Protestant princes from rallying behind Gustavus II Adolphus, who two weeks earlier had landed with his forces at Peenemünde in Pomerania. Within a year, Gustavus II Adolphus had secured the somewhat reluctant support of John George of Saxony and George William of Brandenburg and had made an alliance with Cardinal de Richelieu of France.


Consequently, the international nature of the war was significantly strengthened by Swedish and subsequent French participation, and the conclusion of peace was made more difficult. Not until 1648 was peace restored in Germany, while the conflict between France and Spain lasted until 1659.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bireley, Robert. The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter Reformation. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1999. Bireley demonstrates how the Counter-Reformation was an active response to the profound changes taking place in the sixteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bireley, Robert. Religion and Politics in the Age of the Counterreformation: Emperor Ferdinand II, William Lamormaini, S. J., and the Formation of Imperial Policy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981. A detailed account of the role of Ferdinand’s confessor.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gagliardo, John G. Germany Under the Old Regime, 1600-1790. London: Longman, 1991. Provides a coherent overview of the political, cultural, social, and economic trends in the Holy Roman Empire during its last two centuries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grell, Ole Peter, and Bob Scribner, eds. Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Chapter 7, an essay by historian Euan Cameron, examines Protestant identities in Germany during the later Reformation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holborn, Hajo. The Reformation. Vol. 1 in A History of Modern Germany. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959. Still the best overall history of Germany in English for this period, and a standard source.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ingrao, Charles W. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. A well-balanced and literate work, without being ponderous, covering the formation of the Habsburg dynastic empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years’ War. London: Methuen, 1985. Places the events in their military context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sturdy, David J. Fractured Europe, 1600-1721. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2002. This thorough overview of European history includes a chapter on the Edict of Restitution.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wedgwood, C. V. The Thirty Years’ War. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1949. An extremely readable account of the war, including its German as well as international ramifications.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Ferdinand II; Frederick William, the Great Elector; Gustavus II Adolphus; Cardinal de Richelieu; Albrecht Wenzel von Wallenstein. Restitution, Edict of (1629)

Categories: History