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Q: When was the POW signed?

A: October 24, 1648

Q: Which countries were parties to it?

A: France and Sweden, on one side, and the Holy Roman Empire on the other. A number of Imperial estates (subordinate units of the HRE such as duchies, counties, etc.) signed it as well, but their signature was not considered necessary to make it binding.

Q: How many treaties were there?

A: There were two “peace instruments,” the Instrumentum Pacis Monosterensis (Peace Instrument of Münster, or IPM) and the Instrumentum Pacis Osnabrugensis (Peace Instrument of Osnabrück, or IPO). These were signed separately, the IPM by France and the Holy Roman Empire, the IPO by Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire. However, they were held to constitute a single treaty.

Q: What about Spain and the Netherlands?

A: The king of Spain and the government of the United Provinces of the Netherlands signed a peace treaty in Münster on January 30, 1648, and ratified it on May 15th of the same year. Some consider this treaty a part of the Peace of Westphalia, others do not.

Q: Who were the reigning monarchs when the peace was signed?

A: In France, Louis XIV was king, but the government was run by a regency led by Cardinal Mazarin.  In Sweden, Queen Christina reigned, and Axel Oxenstierna retained the post of chancellor.  The Habsburg monarchs were Ferdinand III of the Holy Roman Empire and Philip IV of Spain.

Q: Who mediated the negotiations?

A: In Münster, Fabio Chigi (future Pope Alexander VII) of the papacy and Alvise Contarini represented Venice.  King Christian IV of Denmark had been designated to mediate in Osnabrück, but was unable to because he was attacked by Sweden as the negotiations began.

Q: What role did England have?

A: Not much.  England had been involved in negotiations during the 1630’s for the restoration of the Palatinate, which was both a fellow Protestant state and had been ruled by King Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth.  However, a civil war broke out in 1642, which ended English involvement on the Continent until the negotiations were over.

Q: Why did they negotiate in two cities?

A: France and Sweden could not settle the question of which one would have precedence.  Negotiating in separate, but nearby, cities seemed to be the best alternative.  Religion was not the key factor in the divided congress, although Sweden did not like the idea of being snubbed by the papal ambassador in Münster.  However, the Dutch representatives negotiated with Spain in Münster without manhy problems.

Q: What did the treaties stipulate?

A: There were two main components to the treaties: territorial changes (mostly to the benefit of France and Sweden) and provisions to resolve the political and religious conflicts inside the Empire.

The territorial changes included the following:

  • France obtained the “Three Bishoprics” of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, varying parts of which it had occupied for the past century
  • France’s control of the duchy of Lorraine, conquered during the war, was passed over in silence as a matter between France and the duke of Lorraine
  • France was granted some ambiguous rights in the province of Alsace, which let to disputes later in the century; also the fortresses of Breisach and Philippsburg on the east bank of the Rhine
  • Sweden was granted the West Pomerania (Vorpommern) along with its best port, Stettin; the bishoprics of Bremen and Verden; and the port of Wismar in Mecklenburg
  • Brandenburg, which had inherited Pomerania during the war, received East Pomerania (Hinterpommern) and compensation for the part that went to Sweden: the archbishopric of Magdeburg and the bishoprics of Halberstadt and Minden

The internal Imperial issues were resolved in the following manner:

  • Bavaria was allowed to keep the Upper Palatinate, which it had occupied at the beginning of the war, as well as the Palatine electoral dignity that had been transferred to it in the 1620’s
  • the Count Palatine, son of the one deposed at the beginning of the war, was restored to the Lower Palatinate and received a new, eighth electorate with the lowest priorty;
  • the possession of religious territory in the Empire was settled by the adoption of a “Normal Year” of 1624: whoever ruled a territory in that year was allowed to keep it. The treaty made numerous exceptions, however.
  • the principle was reaffirmed that the ruler of an Imperial estate could determine its official religion; however, people who had practiced a different religion earlier were allowed to continue in it, and those who converted were allowed to practice privately or to emigrate
  • the Habsburgs’ realms, including Bohemia, were exempt from these restrictions, which meant that they could continue to enforce Catholicism
  • the main Imperial courts were divided almost equally between Protestants and Catholics, and religious questions were only allowed to be settled by “amicable composition,” i.e. both sides had to agree
  • Calvinism was allowed alongside Catholicism and Lutheranism

Here are a few other provisions of the peace:

  • the Swedish army was to receive 5 million Imperial talers to disband
  • no one in the Empire was allowed to interfere in the ongoing war between France and Spain
  • Switzerland’s exemption from the Empire was confirmed

Q: What disputes were left unresolved?

A: France and Spain continued at war until 1659, when they signed the Peace of the Pyrenees. Spain also remained at war against Portugal until the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668 recognized Portuguese independence. Spain’s conflict with Catalonia was settled in 1652 with the reunion of the province to the crown. Venice, a mediator at the Congress of Westphalia, had been attacked by the Ottoman Empire in 1645 and remained at war until 1669, when it accepted the loss of Crete. A revolt in Polish Ukraine broke out in 1648 that eventually involved Sweden, Brandenburg, and Russia.

Q: What were the consequences of the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia?

A: France became the dominant power in Europe for the rest of the century and expanded its borders. The Holy Roman Empire was left decentralized and weak. In the 19th century, Germans came to resent this and the French conquest of Alsace and Lorraine. Most people in the 20th century believed that the Peace of Westphalia created a new international order based on state sovereignty, but this has been shown to be incorrect.

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered in this FAQ? Ask Dr. Westphalia by email at drwestphalia at

2 thoughts on “FAQ

  1. Hello Dr. W!

    I looked at the english Westphalia document on the Avalon/Yale website. I counted the word Sovereignty mention 9 times…. many of which seemed to refer to the right of direct Sovereignty over cities or lands……..

    Would you mind helping me to understand your position and why you don’t believe the document had anything to do with state sovereignty? I see articles on both sides of the issue….

    thanks so much,


  2. Hi Daniel,

    Good questions! First, I wouldn’t want to say that the Peace of Westphalia had nothing to do with sovereignty, only that it had nothing to do with the creation of a sovereign state system in the modern sense.

    Second, keep in mind that the text at the Avalon Project is an English translation. The word “sovereignty” does not exist as such in Latin, the language of the original treaties, but was a later derivation from the Latin word for superior (the same root as “soprano”). Look at §88 where “sovereign right of territory” is used to translate “sublime territorii ius,” but it goes alongside other signs of rulership — “Regales, Rights, Jurisdictions, Fiefs and Patronages” etc. — that should really be superfluous in a modern use of sovereignty.

    When people talk about the “sovereign state system” created via the Peace of Westphalia, they mean the right of each government to absolute control of its own interior affairs. But this was the exact opposite of what happened at Westphalia, where France and Sweden intervened to guarantee the legal status of the Imperial estates as specified in the Imperial constitution. They were not upholding sovereignty, but rather affirming their right to have a say in how the Empire was governed.

    Dr. W

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