80 years of war between the Netherlands and Spain and 30 years of war in Europe had to be ended. This required an agreement between a large number of parties. Two cities were chosen as negotiating places to separate Protestants (Osnabrück) and Catholics (Münster). After five years, the Peace of Westphalia was concluded on 24 October 1648, which has continued to have an effect in many respects to this day. These are the key data that led to the peace agreement. They give an idea of how exhausting the project “Westphalian Peace” really was.
Professor Jakobi once again takes on the task of explaining the complex processes in an understandable and exciting way: “It was a great challenge that, despite the general longing for peace, all negotiations had failed up to then. The mere fact that, in addition to the Thirty Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Netherlands also had to be ended made the undertaking almost impossible. In addition, there was no ceasefire, and the war continued unabated during the negotiations.”
The novelty: peace achieved through negotiations with equal partners
Nevertheless, one had to try to bring about peace – and that without having victors and defeated, strong and weak, who would have given the negotiations a clear direction. Professor Jacobi explains: ” It was necessary to get everyone together at one table. That was the only way.”
Thus, a possible procedure was planned. Two cities were selected which were not affected by the war at that time and were so close together that it was possible to stay informed about the status of the negotiations and to coordinate further action. In addition, it had to be ensured that they corresponded to the confessions of the respective envoys, that is, that they were mostly Protestant or Catholic, respectively.
“An envoy congress was called. This meant that the negotiations were not conducted by the rulers or their leading statesmen themselves, but by authorised delegations. On the one hand they were representatives of the great powers Spain, Sweden, France and the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. On the other hand, there were representatives of the regional powers, the electorate and numerous territorial powers,” explains Professor Jakobi. A great variety of interests and opinions that came together there. The historian further explains: “Since the balance of power was not fixed and there was no negotiation diplomacy in today’s sense, it was not possible to define in advance who had to negotiate which matters, when and with whom. Therefore, no direct negotiations were conducted in a large round. Two mediators were named.”
Mediators as a key to success
Professor Jakobi attributes an important role to these mediators in the communication process: “The mediators were the papal nuncio Fabio Chigi on the one hand, and Alvise Contarini, the envoy of the Republic of Venice, in other words the representatives of two powers not involved in the war. They had to maintain the status of independence and bring the individual positions together in many different discussions. Individual partial peace was negotiated in many steps, which were then all still to be agreed with the respective rulers. It was an arduous undertaking that took five years.”
The Protocol as an essential basis for negotiation
A small example, which the long-standing director of the Municipal Archives of Münster addresses during a visit to the Friedenssaal, makes the difficulties clear: “When the contracts were officially signed, the question arose as to who was allowed to sign first. Since this problem could not be solved, the signature took place not simultaneously in one room but one after the other in the quarters of the delegations”. These and similar protocol questions were the order of the day and, according to Professor Jakobi, could only be solved with great skill and inventiveness. In 1648, an agreement was finally reached which, from today’s perspective, achieved three major successes.
The beginning of religious freedom
Freedom of religion was guaranteed, that is, the so-called Augsburg religious peace ended, in which it had been stipulated that regionally the confession of the respective ruler was always valid for all his subjects. Professor Jakobi: “This led to the fact that different regions had to change their denominations over and over again. With the Peace of Westphalia this forced change was over. Everyone could keep his confession, no matter under which rule. To make this possible, a so-called normal year was defined, which was 20 years in the past. The distribution of confessions in 1624 was fixed and determined the distribution of confessions in Germany to this day.”
Strengthening the decentralised particular powers
In the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, the regional rulers were the real winners. They were significantly strengthened and given extensive freedom of action. “This gave them great independence and they could do anything as long as it did not go against the Emperor and the Empire. This was a strengthening of the federal structure of the Empire, which undermined the formation of a central state (as in France, Spain, Sweden and England),” explains Professor Jacobi.
Stabilisation between the major powers
The relationship between the European powers was redefined on the basis of “international law”. This significantly improved the overall European situation. No “eternal peace” was achieved, but sustainable intergovernmental stability emerged in Europe. “It was contractually guaranteed that there should be no more interference in the internal affairs of a state from outside (example: King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden). The idea of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, which is still valid today, was thus established,” the expert emphasizes. Professor Jakobi concludes the topic with the remark: “Eternal peace will remain a utopia. But much can be done to avoid armed conflicts and to create the conditions that will make peace agreements possible.” The Peace of Westphalia is an instructive, historical example and perhaps a model for resolving conflicts in the present (for example in the Middle East).