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Pope Urban VIII

Pope Urban VIII was not alive to witness the Congress of Westphalia, but his efforts were as responsible for its origins as any other individual’s.

Urban reigned as pope from 1623 to 1644 and enjoyed considerable success as a patron of the arts (especially of the sculptor and architect Bernini); he was also the last pope to expand the Papal States. However, the cost of these activities put the papacy deeply in debt, making it impossible for his successors to play such an important role in European politics.

One of Urban VIII’s ambitions throughout his reign was to bring peace to Catholic powers, especially the powerful rivals of France and Spain. He tried repeatedly to resolve the dispute over the Valtelline Pass in the 1620’s, and mediated the Peace of Cherasco in 1631 to end the fighting in the Mantuan War. As the war in Germany continued to broaden, Urban called for a peace conference in Cologne where France, Spain, and the Austrian Habsburgs could work out their differences. The parties agreed in principle, but France never sent representatives to Cologne because it refused to negotiate without its Protestant allies, the presence of whom the papacy could not countenance. Various peace initiatives in the late 1630’s almost always included the papacy as a mediator among Catholic powers. When the Treaty of Hamburg, which laid the groundwork for the Congress of Westphalia, was signed in 1641, the papacy was named as a mediator along with Venice. (Protestant states would have their own mediator.)

Ironically, Urban himself got into a war with the Duchy of Parma in 1642. It ended in 1644 in a papal defeat, shortly after which the pope died. Today, Urban VIII is remembered chiefly as the pope who sentenced Galileo to house arrest.