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Maximilian I of Bavaria

Maximilian I

Although leader of a German principality rather than an independent kingdom — and not even among the highest ranking German estates, the electors — Maximilian I (r.1597-1651) arguably influenced the course of the Thirty Years’ War, and the Congress of Westphalia, more than any other individual.

Maximilian became Duke of Bavaria in 1597, taking over from his father, who had run the duchy into debt. Maximilian cut expenses, increased revenues, and soon put his government on sound financial footing. He also instituted government reforms and centralized power in a way typical of the age: after 1612, he never called the representative assembly together again.

Like many other Baroque Catholic rulers, Maximilian was very devout and took every opportunity to advance the cause. His punishment of the city of Donauwörth in 1607, and subsequent retention of the city under his own control, was the proximate cause for the foundation of the Protestant Union. Maximilian soon responded by founding the Catholic League, and the Holy Roman Empire was divided into two armed parties, setting the stage for the Thirty Years’ War.

When rebellion broke out in Bohemia and elsewhere in 1618, Maximilian was willing to help Emperor Ferdinand II — for a price. He suppressed a rebellion in Upper Austria, and kept the territory as security for payment of his war debts. His forces led the defeat of Frederick V in Bohemia and the Palatinate, in exchange for which Ferdinand promised to let Maximilian keep the Upper Palatinate and the electoral dignity that had until then belonged to Frederick. This action, confirmed by the electors in 1623, was widely protested and became a central cause for the continuation of the war. Maximilian also supported the other great cause for the continuation of the war was the Edict of Restitution, issued by Ferdinand II in 1629, which returned a vast amount of land that Protestants had taken from Catholics since 1555.

With Sweden’s invasion of the Empire in 1630, Maximilian signed an alliance with France to neutralize Bavaria: he would not fight the Emperor, but he was very protective of his territory. This policy failed because Maximlian would not meet Sweden’s conditions, but the policy reappeared during the Congress of Westphalia. Bavaria’s army combined briefly with Spain’s in 1634 for the campaign that culminated in the Battle of Nördlingen, ending Swedish power in South Germany. For the remainder of the war, Maximilian’s troops fought to keep the military campaigns far from Bavaria, but France made sporadic progress to the east, especially after 1642.

Maximilian’s principles as an absolutist and a Catholic reformer gradually gave way to the reality that the war could not be settled without Protestant consent, at least as long as Sweden remained strong militarily. Maximilian, along with other German Catholics, hoped that France would prevent Protestants from making too many gains, but they were repeatedly disappointed. Once the war returned to Bavaria with the French and Swedish campaign of 1646, Maximilian again sought neutrality and French protection. He signed the Truce of Ulm in 1647, but, frustrated with the progress of negotiations, re-entered the war in September to attack Sweden. By 1648, he supported extensive concessions to the Protestants that allowed peace to be made. He never conceded the Upper Palatinate or the electoral dignity, however. Having begun the war as Duke Maximilian I, he ended it as Elector Maximilian I.