History Blog

Tadhg Hogan


The Thirty Years War:  From Religious to Political Warfare


In this informative document, I will be discussing the Thirty years war. Why? I find this particular war rather interesting. It is a significant event in history and is considered by some the first modern war. It is a good example of how a religious conflict can evolve into a political one and the struggle for a balance of power in Europe.


The Cause:

In years before the Thirty Years War, there were religious tensions in the Holy Roman Empire between Catholics and Protestants. After the introduction of Protestantism in 1519 by Martin Luther, tensions were very high. There had already been a previous war on the matter which resulted in the 1555 Peace of Augsburg allowing freedom of religion concerning Catholicism and Lutheranism in the parts of the Holy Roman Empire. This was encouraged under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor Mathias. Regardless, the thing that really kicked of the Thirty Years War was 2nd Defenestration of Prague in 1618.

The year is 1618: The future Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and a Roman Catholic by faith, Ferdinand Habsburg II is voted King of Bohemia by the Holy Roman Parliament. The majority Protestant diet of Bohemia votes him out of office, but Ferdinand refuses to leave, instead sending his nobles to sort things out. So happens the 2nd Defenestration of Prague (which was the capital of Bohemia), in which Bohemian Protestant nobles threw Catholic nobles out of windows. This act is considered the beginning of The Thirty Years War.  Miraculously, the Catholic nobles survived falling around three-stories.  This was the first was many events during the course of Thirty Years War.


Phase one: The Bohemian Phase 1618-1625

The First Phase of Four phases in the Thirty years war was the Bohemian phase, which lasted 7 years until 1625. Bohemia had plunged itself into a civil war between Catholics and Protestants. The Protestant Bohemians were aided militarily by several Holy Roman Empire states including The Platinate and Transylvania (Transylvania in itself wasn’t actually part of the Holy Roman Empire). The Protestants were also aided financially by the Dutch. There were other notable Protestants states in the Holy Roman Empire, the most notable of which was probably Saxony, who remained neutral because they didn’t want any trouble (for now).

Spain and its territories aided their Habsburg German relatives and it’s worth noting that Spain was in a powerful state at this time and was a Habsburg Monarchy. The Bohemian Rebels were led by Heinrich Thurn who contacted Fredrick V of the Platinate who was crowned King of Bohemia. Bohemia also tried to reach out to other Protestant states such as England, Sweden and Denmark-Norway. All of which refused (for the time being) with the King of Denmark-Norway, Christian IV, stating: “Who advised to drive out Kings and seize Kingdoms?”  In 1619 Ferdinand was crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Heinrich Thurn marched on the important city of Vienna but to no avail.

In 1620 the Bohemian Revolt was successfully crushed after The Battle of the White Mountain and annexed into Habsburg Austria (another important part of the Holy Roman Empire). The Imperial Forces who won the Battle of the White Mountain were led by Johann Tserclaes or the Count of Tilly. In the aftermath of the battle, the Bohemian leadership deserted. Then, Transylvania sued for peace gaining some land of Habsburg Austria (note: Habsburg Austria was not the Holy Roman Empire but a state within it. It also held some land outside the Empire). The last major resisting force was the Platinate which was defeated and conquered in 1622. Sparse fighting continued until 1625 ending the First phase of the War.


Phase two: The Danish Phase 1625-1630

A quick note before we continue, the Thirty years war had restarted the 80 years war between Spain and The Netherlands. Therefore, Spain’s involvement was more minimal than it could have been.

Regardless, the Danish were afraid of losing their possessions within the Holy Roman Empire, being Schleswig and Holstein. So, in 1625(with French financial aid) Christian IV amassed his army and marched across the border. Christian was not successful in his invasion. The Danes lost at Dessau in 1626 to General Wallenstein and was again defeated by the previously mentioned Count of Tilly at The Battle of Lutter. The Danes were defeated yet again at Stralsund in 1628. Keep in mind that England and the Dutch were giving aid to the Danes. So, possibly weak generals and leadership led to the several Danish defeats. In 1629, Christian was forced to sign a treaty with the Habsburgs.  The Treaty of Lübeck. This resulted in Danish withdrawal, no territory changes but the Danish had stay out of the affairs of the Holy Roman Empire.


Phase Three: The Swedish Phase 1630-1635

With Catholic power rising in the Holy Roman Empire, Protestant powers began to get worried about the possible impending rise of a Catholic Empire.

The Swedes decided to intervene. 

Sweden was a Protestant power led by King Gustav II, better known as Gustavus Adolphus. They invaded after finishing a war with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They, like the Danes, also received aid from the French, but, unlike Denmark-Norway, Sweden didn’t fail in their intervention. This is often seen as the point that the war evolved from a religious conflict into to a political one as France was Catholic and at this rate, they were only helping the Swedes in order to weaken the Hapsburgs and importantly Spain. 

Meanwhile, the Swedes landed in Protestant Pomerania, which itself was fighting the Holy Roman Emperor. There, the Swedes managed to make (or threaten) Brandenburg Prussia into giving them help. Gustavus also tried to make Saxony help but its leader, John George I, wanted Saxony to be neutral. With Wallenstein having been dismissed, Tilly invaded Saxony fearing a Saxon-Swedish Alliance, thereafter forcing John George to ask Sweden for help.

A battle was inevitable. 

In 1631, a combined Saxon-Swedish Force met Tilly at Breitenfeld.  Tilly’s much larger force was utterly defeated and both sides met again the following year at Rain, this was another Swedish victory and it saw Tilly killed.

So, why did Sweden win where Denmark lost?

Well, Sweden had a better way of recruitment. For one, the Danish relied on nobles to pay for parts of an army to fund a entire, big one. However, the Swedes used an efficient method of conscription. The Swedes were also aided by small cannons which could fire faster that regular ones.

After the events at Rain, Wallenstein was reinstated, and Swedes had to act fast. Wallenstein and Gustavus met at Lutzen, this was another Swedish victory but did see Gustavus Adolphus and his horse killed.  In 1634, Ferdinand ordered the assassination of Wallenstein, which was successfully carried out.

At this point both sides had lost most good generals, but the Swedes would lose against the Spanish at Nordlingen. The Spanish were commanded by Infante-Ferdinand. This saw Spain finally becoming involved in the wider war. In 1635, the Peace of Prague was signed which saw Sweden’s German allies and other Protestant states sue for peace. So, now it was basically Sweden vs. The Hapsburgs. Spain was also involved but they had other issues with the Dutch. This ended the Swedish phase


Phase four: The French phase: 1635-1648

Meanwhile, in France, Louis XIII and an advisor of his Cardinal Richelieu were becoming concerned that the Peace of Prague made the Hapsburgs too powerful. So, in 1635 France declared war on Spain and then the Hapsburgs the following year.

Richelieu coordinated many strategies, two of which were to fight head on and fund rebellions within Spain and the Hapsburg domains to keep their opponents busy. At first though, the French did quite poorly with the Spanish under Infante-Ferdinand driving all the way to Paris via the remaining parts of the Spanish Netherlands. Over the next four years, fighting was intense, and both sides won major and/or minor victories. But, in 1637, Ferdinand II died and was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand III.

In 1640, the war was still going nowhere, while Spain had to deal with a declared independent Portugal and as well as Catalonia, which declared itself a principality under the rule of French king Louis XIII. Portugal was financially aided by the French, so Spain had withdraw its troops from the rest of Europe to help quell the Portuguese. Meanwhile, Sweden was still fighting in the North and basically took control of the North after winning the 2nd Battle of Breitenfeld in 1642.

In the same year, Cardinal Richelieu died and so did Louis XIII the following year, leaving Louis XIV to be heir, but at this time he couldn’t really do much because he was an infant. As such, France was now under a regency led by Anne of Austria. 1644 saw an important French victory at Rocroi. This battle virtually ended the idea of Spanish invincibility, as well as showing that France was still a stable nation and would continue its rise.

After Rocroi everyone was getting sick and tired of war, so delegates began to discuss peace (though these peace talks would take a few years to come to an agreement). During the peace talks, Sweden found itself at war with Denmark-Norway, which Sweden won.

In 1646, peace talks were stepped up because everyone was getting tired of a war that had been raging for 28 years. Negotiations were held over two years in the cities of Osnabrück and Münster. In 1648, Spain and The Netherlands signed the Peace of Münster which recognised Dutch independence and ending the 80 years’ war.

Throughout 1648, Hapsburg power was weakened after the French won at Lens and the Swedes laid siege to Prague. In the same year, the Treaty of Münster was signed, which laid peace terms with France and the fighting parts of the Holy Roman Empire, but not Spain. The next treaty, the Treaty of Osnabrück, made peace between Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire. All of these peace talks are known as the Peace of Westphalia. These treaties also reinstated the terms in the Peace of Augsburg and allowed religious toleration of Calvinists.

The Peace of Augsburg is often considered to be the beginning of ‘modern’ diplomacy.



To conclude, this Twenty-Nine Year, eleven-month, three week and one day war (that’s rounded up to Thirty) was driven by different desires over the course of it. At the start, it was to protect their faith and religion. Toward the end, it was driven by geo-political desires (mostly of France and Spain).

All in all, the legacy of the Thirty Years War is complex. At the end, it saw the rise of Sweden and France, and the decline of the Holy Roman Empire as Europe’s central power as it was now really decentralised and also because of the major population loss from within the Empire.


Thank you for reading this document.


The Kingdom of Mercia: The Superpower of the English Heptarchy
Tadhg Hogan (7ASA)

The Kingdom of Mercia

The Superpower of the English Heptarchy

Why am I doing the kingdom of Mercia?

Usually, when you are studying the Anglo-Saxons, you would study the Kingdom of Wessex. The most you would usually do on Mercia would be King Offa and his dyke. I find this a tad unfair and I have decided to write pieces of information on this largely untouched kingdom.

In these pages of information, you should learn a bit about the Kingdom of Mercia and its rise and fall.

The name ‘Mercia’ comes from a Latinisation of the Old English Term: “Myrce” meaning border people. Personally, for the early years of the Kingdom, I don’t think this fairly represents them. After all, they were the biggest kingdom of the early Anglo-Saxons.

The Kingdom was originally on the River Trent, East Midlands. It did not have a centralised capital city, but this was usually located wherever the King was at the time. It states in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that Tamworth was an important royal place.

Between 600-839AD Mercia seemed to dominate the kingdoms south of the River Humber, making vassals out of five of the seven kingdoms in the English Heptarchy (East Anglia, Kent, Sussex ,Essex and for short time, Wessex ). The period is known as the Mercian Supremacy.

Kings of Mercia and a brief history:

   Most of our information about the Kingdom of Mercia comes from Anglo-Saxon texts, usually written by monks. As a result, pieces of information about Mercia and its kings can be mysterious at times. Depending on the source, there will be more information for some kings than others. Please bear with this fact.

King Icel: 515-535, the first Mercian king, King Icel to quote the Flores Historium: Came from Germany and occupied East Anglia, that is, the country of the East Angles; and some of them invaded Mercia, and waged war against the British. He is acknowledged by most historians as the first true king of Mercia, though some argue that it was King Creoda (584-595)

Little is known about King Cnebba. Though he ruled for ten years, and (despite popular belief) was not born in Tamworth fortress.

Virtually nothing is known about Cynewald, the next king, not even how long he ruled for.

Creoda, said to be the Great-Grandson of Icel, he began his reign in 584. He is said to have been the first Mercian king to securely hold the land of Mercia.

Pybba (595-606 AD) is said to have had 12 sons and a daughter. His ventures expanded Mercia to Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Though information about Pybba is sketchy and unclear.

King Cearl (606-626) was mentioned as the King of Mercia in several historical sources including the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. An important fact about Cearl was that he wasn’t part of the Mercian royal family. No-one knows his relationship with Pybba or how he took the throne. It is known that Cearl began to grow impatience for their more powerful and bigger neighbour: Northumbria. It is thought that Cearl took part in the Battle of Chester with British Tribes against the Northumbrian forces led by King AEthelfrith. According to some historians, this is when Cearl reign was effectively ended after the battle was lost and paved way for Pybba’s son to take the throne.

Pybba’s son was Penda. King Penda began his reign in 626 AD, then again, he could have began his as late as 633 AD. A majority of our information about Penda comes from Bede, who disliked him (Bede was the author of Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, the most important early source for Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity). Penda (sometimes with help of Welsh Lords) fought of two Northumbrian invasions both from King Elwin and Oswald respectively. Penda met his demise at The Battle of Winwaed on 655, when, he was killed at the hands of the Northumbrians, led by King Oswiu. Penda brought around 30 sub-kings to the battle. The Battle was the result of a period of confusion in Northumbria,and led to temporary downfall of Mercian Power.

After the murder of Penda’s son Peada in 656AD King Oswiu of Northumbria assumed dominance of Mercia for two years until a revolt in 658. In the aftermath of the revolt, the Northumbrians were shaken off the throne of Mercia. Then appeared a second son of Penda: Wulfhere. He ruled Mercia as an independent kingdom for the first time since the rule of Penda. ( Though apparently it is thought that he did pay tribute to the Northumbrian King for a while, and I’ll quickly take this time to mention that Peada did rule as an under-king before his death).  During his reign, Wulfhere somewhat managed to restore Mercian power, however, before he died in 675, he suffered a major defeat by Northumbria.

AEthelred was the next king of Mercia, under his reign, Mercia defeated Northumbria at the Battle of Trent, settling the dispute over the former kingdom of Lindsey in favour of the Mercians and assuming direct control over the area.

 He was then succeeded by Coenred, a son of Wulfhere. Both AEthelred and Coenred were considered religious and holy monarchs. They apparently became known for almost nothing else.

The King that followed was called Ceolred, but according to a letter sent by Saint Boniface he was ‘a dissolute youth who died insane’ So, with the death of Ceolred ended the line of Kings a that were directly descended from Penda.

The next ‘important’ King went by the name of AEthelbald. Who ruled from 716-757 AD. It is thought that the major start of the Mercian Supremacy.  He was the cousin of Ceolred and is acknowledged as one of Mercia’s strongest kings. In the early years of his reign, he was faced with a threat of two powerful kings from strong kingdoms: Ine of Wessex, and Wihtred of Kent. Though not even a decade into his reign these ‘problems’ were solved for Mercia. With Wihtred dying in 725 and Ine abdicating to become a monk become one of the two kings of Wessex to do so. He effectively ruled all kingdoms (except the Welsh kingdoms) south of the River Humber by the 730s. These included East Anglia, Wessex, Kent and Sussex. He was eventually murdered in 757 by his own bodyguards.

King Beornred was quick to come and quick to go. No one knows how he even came to power. He ruled only in the year 757.  The Anglo-Saxon chronicle (another important source for Anglo- Saxon history) states that he ruled for ‘but a little while, and unhappily and unprosperously’ The King that followed is probably one of the more famous Mercian Kings.

 Following a civil war during the reign of Beornred, King Offa rose to power. Offa (757- 29th of July 796) was a strong king like AEthelbald and one the most famous. He had an overwhelming lust of control and power. He established for a second time a strong hold on the kingdom south of the River Humbar. He is known for building a 140 mile dyke across the Welsh border to stop pillages by the Welsh. The dyke was fittingly named: Offa’s Dyke. He claimed himself the King of the English, and was coined: the father-in-law from hell! He had his authority recognised by Charlemagne, King of Franks, meaning he has beginning to get noticed. His face was depicted on coins which stated: Offa Rex. Meaning ‘King Offa’ He died in 796 and was buried in Bedford.

Offa’s son Ecgfrith ruled for 141 days, after which he was assassinated. The Alcuin of York reported to close friend about his death. The noble youth did not die through his own sins, I believe, but it was the vengeance of the father’s blood that fell upon the son.

With Ecgfrith dying so quickly, as well as having no children, there were no direct successors to the throne. So, the crown was given to Ceonwulf (796-821), descendant of a brother of King Penda. He is known for being the last Mercian King to hold authority south of the River Humbar. He is also notable for putting down several rebellions. One of which being led by Eadberht Praen, the self-proclaimed King of Kent. Ceonwulf ‘ousted’ the rebellion and had Eadberht blinded as well as amputating some of his limbs.

The brother of Ceonwulf (Ceolwulf I 821-823) was next to ascend to the throne. This period of kingship is thought to have started the decline of Mercian power. A noted 12th Century historian -William of Malmesbury- states: ’the kingdom of the Mercians declining, and, if I may use the expression, nearly lifeless, produced nothing worthy of historical commemoration.’  He was soon ousted from the throne.

Beornwulf (823-826) was another factor in Mercian decline, he may have been (I exaggerate to say) the single most reason that Mercia became a ‘second-rate kingdom’ once again. In 825, he went up against Wessex near Swindon at the Battle of Ellandun and lost. In turn, the ‘sub-kingdoms’ of Mercia (in this case Essex and Sussex) switched sides to Wessex. If things couldn’t get any worse, they were about to be! The King of Wessex (Ecgberth) led an army to Kent and ousted the pro-Mercian king.  Seeing these events, East Anglia led up in revolt, Beornwulf marched an army to stop them, and was killed in the process. In the short space of three years, Mercia had lost the territory they gained and had held for two-hundred years.

King Ludeca (826-827). Information about this monarch is scarce. Not even how he came to power. We also don’t know what his connection was to the Mercian royal family. We do know that he suffered the same fate as Beornwulf. He died in 827 fighting the East Angles.

King Wiglaf (827-839) ruled the Mercian Kingdom for only really half his reign. Thought to be a distant relative of Penda, the first half of his reign saw Mercia fall under the de facto control of Ecgberth of Wessex. Yet, the second half of his reign saw him reconquer all his lost territory and even regain Berkshire and large swathes of Essex. By the time Wiglaf died in 839 (coincidentally being the same year King Ecgberth of Wessex died) Mercian power had temporarily been re-established.

All we know about King Wigmund (839-849) is that he ruled for a year and that he was the son of Wiglaf.

Wigstan (840) was Wigmund’s son. Not much is known about this monarch either, he was apparently murdered by his successor (ending the rather short number of kings descended from Wiglaf) and that he may have jointly ruled Mercia with his mother AElfflaed (try saying that five times fast).

Beorhtwulf (840-852) murdered Wigstan to ascend to the throne of Mercia. He said his ancestry to Beornwulf made him king. His first decree was marrying his son off to Wigstan’s mother! It was the reign of Beorhtwulf that saw the first Viking attacks on Mercian soil. The most notable of these were 842 and 851 attacks on London. The first went mostly ignored, but the second was answered by Beorhtwulf and the Vikings were driven out of London towards Southwark and into the territory of Wessex. Where the King at the time (Aethelwulf) swiftly defeated them with Wessex now being much more powerful than Mercia. It is thought that the earl Viking invasions brought Mercia, Wessex and the other Saxon kingdoms closer tighter to defeat the common foe.

King Bugred (852-874) spent most of his reign repelling Viking invasions and is considered the last true king of an independent Mercia. He was actually very good at keeping the Vikings at bay, because holding back the Vikings was a tricky task from the east, and the Welsh from the west. He teamed up with Ethelwulf of Wessex to hold them at bay. This didn’t last though, for in 874 came the ‘March of the Danes’ in which it was too much for Bugred and the Mercians to take and Bugred was expelled from Mercia. He moved to Rome, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

Ceowulf II (874-883) was not really a king of a sovereign Mercia, but more of a puppet king that the Danes put into place. As the Anglo-Saxon chronicle puts it:  The Danes gave Ceolwulf, an unwise king’s thane, the Mercian kingdom to hold; and he swore oaths to them, and gave hostages, that it should be ready for them on whatever day they would have it; and he would be ready with himself, and with all those that would remain with him, at the service of the army.  By 883, Ceowulf had lost all eastern lands to the Danelaw (Danes) and the south and west were virtually sub-kingdoms of the Danelaw.

AEthelred II (883-911) decided to break ties with the Danelaw after severe amounts of Eastern Mercia was coming under Danish sovereignty. He formed an alliance with Alfred the Great of Wessex, which basically made Mercia an effective sub-kingdom of vassal state of Wessex. As well as that, AEthelred had to swear loyalty to Alfred and marry his daughter to seal the pact. Though the terms were harsh, this actually in a way helped Mercia, as with help from Wessex they pushed the Vikings back and they regained most of their eastern lands.

Lady AEthelflaed (911-918) was the wife of AEthelred II, who was also the daughter of Alfred the Great (who by the time of her ascension to the throne had been dead for 12 years) she was known as a good military strategist and frequently carried out attacks against the Welsh and Danes. She died in 918.

The final ‘monarch’ of Mercia (because Mercia was a vassal state of Wessex) was Lady AEelwynn (918) she only ruled for a few weeks until Edward the Elder (son of Alfred the great and Leader of Wessex) came along and deposed her. Edward was met with minimal resistance. As the Anglo-Saxon chronicle states: the daughter of Æthelred, lord of the Mercians, was deprived of all dominion over the Mercians, and carried into Wessex, three weeks before mid-winter; she was called Ælfwynn.

The takeover of Mercia by Edward the elder and the deposing of Lady AElfwynn in 918 effectively ended the kingdom of Mercia and it was assumed under the control of Wessex and then England.

In conclusion

In conclusion, Mercia was a powerhouse of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, assuming direct control over Lindsey and making vassals out of the kingdoms south of the River Humbar, but - as we have learnt several times in history - all great empires and kingdoms will eventually fall, and Mercia is a great example of this. They were powerful and feared, yet were eventually weakened by the Saxon kingdoms and the Danes, and annexed by Wessex. Paving the way for the formation of the Kingdom of England.

Thank you for reading 😊.


Learn more about History at Dubai College

Visit our History page

history page

Flickr Slideshow