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Franco-Swedish War 1635–1648

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

Franco-Swedish War, 1635–1648

As a Catholic nation, France should have been the natural ally of Ferdinand II in his attempts to impose Catholicism on his subjects. The chief French minister of state, in fact, was a cardinal of the Catholic Church. However, France fought on the Protestant side and played a decisive role in the Hapsburg’s defeat.

Born into the minor French nobility in 1585, Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu became a cardinal in 1622. Richelieu was also the king’s chief minister; as such, his goal was to make France the most powerful nation in Europe. Logically, this meant France’s foreign policy would be to weaken other nations as much as possible.

Up to this time, the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg family had always been a thorn in France’s side. Geographically, the empire occupied a very strong central position on the continent. In addition, the Austrian Haps- burgs were related to the Spanish royal family and had been acquiring more and more authority in the empire. All this created potential for a strong, united German state under Hapsburg rule, with Spain as a powerful ally. Richelieu wanted to avoid this at all costs; France’s geographical position between two strong allied nations would be very vulnerable.

This situation indicates that religion was by no means the central issue in the Thirty Years’ War, at least not in the minds of all the combatants. Richelieu’s position as a minister of the Church took second place to his position as minister of France. When Jules Mazarin—also a Catholic cardinal—succeeded Richelieu on the latter’s death in 1642, he continued Richelieu’s policies. Both were hardheaded men with great common sense who excelled at the politics of realism as described by Machiavelli in The Prince.

The French watched the progress of Gustav II Adolf and the Swedish army. Their decisive military success inspired Richelieu to offer substantial monetary support to the Swedes. French troops finally joined the fighting in 1635. The combined French and Swedish troops continued to win victories for the next ten years.

By 1644, Gustav’s daughter Kristina had reached the age of eighteen and was old enough to rule Sweden in her own right, assisted by the canny advice of her chief minister Axel Oxenstierna. Sweden was also fortunate to have some brilliant generals, who achieved an impressive series of military victories. The Swedish army had reached Bavaria by 1646 and Prague by 1647; by the terms of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Sweden annexed several important territories.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Thirty Years' War Practice Test

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