In the 21st century, some of the basic principles of international relations include the concepts of inviolability and the ability for a nation to unilaterally govern domestic affairs (to a certain extent). Many historians attribute these notions to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. In fact, the term “Westphalian Sovereignty” derives its name from this very treaty. The Treaty or Peace of Westphalia itself was a series of peace treaties signed between May to October of 1648 in the German cities Osnabruck and Munster. The two treaties ended the Thirty Years War, one of the most destructive and costly wars Europe has seen up until the World Wars. Lasting from 1618-1648, this major European conflict saw almost every State involved, killing an estimated 8 million people, mostly from Starvation.
Originating as a religious conflict, the Thirty Years War gradually became a fight to see which country would govern Europe. Conflict began with the ascension of Emperor Ferdinand II of the Holy Roman Empire. Ferdinand’s legislature to force his citizens to adhere to Roman Catholicism was against the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which decreed the notion “cuius regio, eius religio” (wholse realm, his religion). Ferdinand’s attempt to enforce Catholicism caused widespread hatred in Bohemia, which was mostly Protestant. This anger came to a head in 1618, culminating in the Defenestration of Prague, in which Ferdinand’s representatives were tossed of a window, resulting in open revolt in Bohemia. Seeking to break free of the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant Bohemian states drew the support of the Scandinavian powers (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) while Ferdinand sought the support of his Nephew, King Philip IV of Spain. This stage, known as the Bohemian revolt, would begin a truly Continental conflict. Bohemian nobility formed alliances with Protestant states in Germany and even the Ottoman Empire, followed by alliances between Ferdinand and various nation-states in the Catholic league.
During the first years of the war, Holy Roman Empire forces were successful, successfully quelling the Bohemian revolt and dissolving the Protestant forces. Despite these early successes however, the tide turned in 1630, when Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus took the side of the Protestants and pushed back Catholic forces, regaining great amounts of lost territory. When Gustavus was killed in 1632 however, the Swedes lost their resolve and were completely vanquished by 1635. After the Swedish defeats, the Peace of Prague was signed in 1635, signaling an end to the involvement of Northeastern Germany States such as Saxony, but not those to the South and West. Critically, this treaty could not solve religious and political tensions, so fighting continued. The Peace of Prague is generally seen as the end of a mostly German civil war, as well as a religious conflict. The second phase of the Thirty Years War would be less of a religious war and more of a war for European dominance.
Unhappy with the Peace of Prague, the French entered the war in 1635. Interestingly, the French themselves were Catholic but rivals of the Holy Roman Empire. Due to poor equipment and training, the French army was initially unable to make any progress against Ferdinand, even after he died of old age in 1637. However, the Spanish, allied with the Holy Roman Empire, mounted many counterattacks into France, even threatening Paris itself in 1636. However, internal revolts in Spain coupled with the Swedes re-entering the war caused a stalemate by 1642. Then next year, 1643, would mark a pivotal point in the decades-long conflict. Denmark and Norway entered again, this time on the side of the Holy Roman Empire. At the same time, the death of Louis XIII, the king of France led to a power vacuum resulting in some major French defeats, particularly at the Battle of Herbsthausen. After the failed Swedish attack on Prague in 1648, the Thirty Years War was finally ended with the Peace of Westphalia. With this treaty came major changes for Europe: the Dutch Republic would be granted its independence, France retained historic territories and gained some along the border with Germany, Sweden would be granted money, and Europe would officially abide by the 1555 Peace of Augsburg once again. More religious freedom was granted to Christians practicing a different religion than their official state religion as well.
This history and treaty is celebrated in this hefty silver medal from Munster, Germany. Commemorating the Peace of Munster and the Treaty of Westphalia, it was minted by E. Ketteler in 1648. The obverse depicts the personification of Peace driving a triumphal biga of crowned lions with Cornucopia and Caduceus in hand. More specifically, one can see military instruments cast aside, a clear allegory to the end of Hostilities. The obverse inscription reads “ET IVNCTI CVRRVM DOMINÆ SVBIERE LEONES” (alas, the lions joined together have come under the Lord’s chariot). The reverse consists of ten lines of text, reading “PACIS FOELICITAS ORBI CHRISTANO QVA RESTITVTA QVA AD INCITAMENTVM DEMONSTRATA TOT REGNIS ET PROVINCIIS AD VTRVM QVE SOLEM VTRVMQ3 OEANVM TERRA MARIQVE PARTA SECRITAS TRANQVILLITATIS PVBLICÆ SPE ET VOTO MONASTERY WESTPHA ANNO MDCXLVIII (The happiness of peace unto the Christian world, however devised or accomplished by such kingdoms and provinces, either alone of by ocean, land, or sea, is the security of public harmony, for which we hope and ow here in the monastery of Westphalia in 1648). Overall, this medal is a celebration of one of the most important treaties of history, one that has lasting impacts to this very day.