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Old Monday, November 19, 2007
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Westphalia, Peace of, treaty, signed October 24, 1648, that closed the Thirty Years' War and readjusted the religious and political affairs of Europe. It is so called because the negotiations, which began in 1644, took place in the German cities of Münster and Osnabrück, in Westphalia. The main participants were France and Sweden and their opponents Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. By the terms of the treaty, the sovereignty and independence of each state of the Holy Roman Empire was fully recognized, making the Holy Roman emperor virtually powerless.

Among the territorial provisions of the treaty were the following: France was confirmed in the possession of the city of Pinerolo in Piedmont (Piemonte) and the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun in Lorraine. Also, the town of Breisach on the east bank of the Rhine River and most of Alsace were ceded to France. Sweden obtained western Pomerania, with Stettin, Wismar, and the islands of Rügen and Poel, thus gaining control of the Baltic Sea.

The archbishopric of Bremen and the bishopric of Verden were also ceded to Sweden, and both Sweden and France obtained the right to vote in the diet of the Holy Roman Empire. As compensation for its cessions in Pomerania, Brandenburg obtained Cammin and the bishoprics of Halberstadt and Minden, together with succession to the archbishopric of Magdeburg. Mecklenburg-Schwerin was enlarged by the bishoprics of Schwerin and Ratzeburg in compensation for Wismar. Hessen-Kassel obtained the rich abbacy of Hersfeld, and Saxony (Sachsen) was allowed to retain Lusatia. The Lower Palatinate was restored to Charles Louis, eldest son of the elector of the Palatinate Frederick V, and an eighth electorate was created in his favor; the Upper Palatinate was confirmed to Bavaria. Also, the de facto independence of Switzerland and of the United Provinces of the Netherlands was recognized. The overall result of this political reorganization was that France, mainly at the expense of the Austrian Habsburgs, emerged as the chief power on the Continent.

The provisions with respect to ecclesiastical affairs included the interdiction of all religious persecution in Germany and the confirmation of the Treaty of Passau (1552) and the religious Peace of Augsburg (1555). According to the treaty, the religion of each German state was to be determined by the religion of its prince—Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Calvinist. If a prince changed his religion he would forfeit his lands; this provision was included as a method of checking the spread of the Reformation. The Peace of Westphalia marked the close of the period of religious wars. Thereafter, European armed struggles were waged principally for political ends.
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