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The Thirty Years’ War lasted for over a generation, but not for lack of attempts to end it. Several parties volunteered to mediate an end to the fighting soon after Sweden’s invasion in 1630, and continued to do so until the Treaty of Hamburg (1641) set the terms for the Congress of Westphalia. Most of these were German princes who had personal incentives to end the fighting; the Diet of Regensburg (1640) also sent out peace feelers on behalf of the princes as a collective body. Christian IV of Denmark, who was ultimately chosen to mediate, was not in the war directly but was concerned to limit Swedish acquisitions on the Baltic that would threaten Denmark’s quasi-monopoly on collecting tolls.

The chief peacemaker on the Catholic side was Pope Urban VIII, who proposed the Congress of Cologne in 1634, even before France had actively entered the conflict against Spain and the Empire. It was the pope’s role to end conflict between monarchies, but Urban VIII had additional incentive because Catholic powers fighting each other could not limit the gains of Protestant states such as Sweden or the Dutch Republic, much less the even greater potential threat of Ottoman Turkey.

The distinct peace conferences proposed by Christian IV (between Sweden and the Empire) and Urban VIII (among France, Spain, and the Empire) were insufficient as long as France and Sweden remained firmly committed to their alliance and refused to negotiate without each other. Ultimately, therefore, the Congress of Westphalia emerged as a sort of amalgamation of the two, and took place in two separate (but nearby) cities. Mediation by Christian IV was jettisoned when Sweden went to war against Denmark in 1643, an indication that having a mediator whose interests runs too contrary to one of the parties is unlikely to work out, at least if the mediator lacks sufficient power to impose itself on the negotiations. Urban VIII’s successor, Innocent X, went on to provide mediation among Catholic powers, but did not sign the peace treaty because it made too many concessions to Protestants. Another Catholic mediator, Venice, also participated and did sign the treaty, although not without accusations of partisanship from all sides.

In spite of the huge delay between the proposal of peace conferences and their actual instantiation in 1644, it is reasonable to think that mediation accelerated peace talks meaningfully. It is entirely possible that Sweden and the Empire might have met without mediation, but France’s position was trickier. Mediators also played a vital role in the progress of talks in Münster, where precedence disputes between French and Spanish representatives made it impossible for the two sides to meet formally. Proposals were given to mediators, who translated them and passed them over to the other side. This is not to say that individual representatives never met to discuss matters in person, but formal meetings presented problems of protocol that could be more easily sidestepped or worked around in informal and private meetings.

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