Thirty Years' War: History, Events, Timeline, And Death Count

By | October 24, 2020

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Batalla de Rocroi, 1643. (Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau/Wikimedia Commons)

The Thirty Years' War is one of the least-discussed European conflicts despite the fact that its estimated death toll is higher than the American Civil War and Napoleonic Wars combined. That's partially because the war was 30 years long and frankly confusing, with many of the issues facing the people of Europe being compounded by a sudden mini ice age that devastated agriculture. It is nonetheless an important war, as it was arguably the last true religious war of European history.

Centuries after Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to a church door, the Protestant Reformation was still going strong, but by the turn of the 17th century, most people had figured out how to live in peace. Even the Hapsburg-run Holy Roman Empire managed to rule areas of Protestant majority with relatively little conflict until 1618, when the new emperor, Ferdinand II, rescinded the Letter of Majesty which promised religious freedom to Protestants and instead claimed all of the Holy Roman Empire as Catholic land.  

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Defenestration of Prague woodcut, 1618. (Johann Philipp Abelinus/Wikimedia Commons)

All Those Defenestrations

As you can imagine, the Protestants didn't like this much. Bohemia, a Protestant stronghold, retaliated with epic style with the Defenestration of Prague, although technically, it was the Second Defenestration of Prague (or super technically, the third Defenestration of Prague) because history can be tricky sometimes.

What in the Holy Roman Empire is a defenestration? To put it simply, it means to get so angry at someone that you literally throw them out a window, although it's most useful in the modern era as an S.A.T. vocabulary word. Back then, it was the only way to describe the actions of the Bohemians on May 23, 1618, when revolters shoved Ferdinand II's local representatives out of a window, where they fell an excruciating 70 feet.

Amazingly, they survived. According to the Catholic Church, it was by the grace of the intervention of angelic beings, but the Protestants insisted they'd fallen into a large pile of manure. Either way, the violence of the Defenestration of Prague made its way back to the ears of Ferdinand II, and the Thirty Years' War was on.