Queen Christina and the Treaty of Westphalia

The 30 Years War officially began in 1618. It was not a single war per se, but a series of interrelated wars between various European powers. It is considered one of the most destructive in Europe, with countries like Germany losing between 15-30% of its population to war and its consequences. Overall it was likely the third most destructive war by body count (WWI and WWII having more), but arguably the most destructive as a percentage of the population. It came to an end in an agreement known as the Treaty, or Peace, of Westphalia. Here is what I remember being taught about this pivotal treaty; it was the beginning of the modern era of states and national sovereignty, it was the end of religion as a major political force in Europe, it happen because Europe was out of money and very war wary, and happened on Oct 24, 1648.

It is perhaps one of the greatest political alliance in all of history. At its signing modern Europe was born. It set up most of the modern nations and boundaries that we recognize today, and as such also set up the majority of the wars that would now happen between sovereign states. Reading the majority of summaries on the Treaty of Westphalia one would get the impression that it was born out of some sort of immaculate conceptions. It just happened. The “States” did this or that, with little ro no attempt to reveal the behind the scenes people that made this monumental treaty possible.

Several weeks ago my daughter asked me to tell her stories of women who had done important things in history. Every night my family goes to bed after reading a story about a famous woman in history. It has been an illuminating exercise in my personal, and our collective forgetfulness of women in History. The general assumption is that women were not involved in world until the recent modern era, but as I have discovered with my daughter this is entirely inaccurate. Christina Vasa and the Treaty of Westphalia is one example.

Christina Wasa became the queen of Sweden at the age of six when her father was killed in one of the battles of the Thirty Years War. She was the sole heir of the King, and he insisted on her education be equal to that of any prince. Thus before his death he had set up his daughter to receive the training necessary to become a successful ruler in time. In 1644, at 18 years of age, she assumed the thrown.


By this time the 30 years war had raged for 26 years. The regent of Sweden, prior to Christina assuming the thrown, had procecuted the war fairly effectively. The Swedes had several years of successful battles and along with the French had become one of the stronger European powers. It was the regents advice that Christina continue to prosecute the war, and continue to advance the borders. Acting against his advice, and refusing to continue the Swedish territorial advance, Christina began to initiate peace in the region. Given the 12 years that the regent, Alex Oxenstierna, was in control this was a considerable feat of tactical politics for an 18 year old newly crowned queen.

The Treaty of Westphalia signed in 1648 was really the culmination of four years of negotiations beginning in 1644. It is not clear from the historical record who began the negotiation process, but it does seem clear that it was a combination of the French having already obtained their territorial goals, the Holy Roman Emperor running out of money and being thoroughly beaten, and Christina of Sweden’s willingness to not continue their territorial expansion that lead to the beginning of a series of treaties that culminated in complete peace in 1648.

Queen Christina received in the negotiations both territory won in the war and a significant payment from the French for their alliance during the war. This income was used to pay for the war, but also allowed Queen Christina to turn her attention to art and philosophy. Because of her interest and investment into the the arts and sciences Sweden became known as the “Athens of the North”.

Learning that a woman was strategic in the Peace of Westphalia came as a complete shock to me. In the several years that I have been a teaching assistant for various political science classes that cover the Peace of Westphalia I had never heard, remembered or taught Queen Christina’s involvement in the treaty. I had inadvertently helped propagate an inaccurate view of history by not including the women involved.

I am grateful to my daughter Savannah who’s desire to learn about the women of the past has helped correct my own education in so many ways, and hopefully will ensure that at least my children will receive a proper education that includes the roles of the men and women side by side in history.

Information for this post was summarized from the combination of these three articles.
1) http://womenshistory.about.com/od/rulerspre20th/p/queen_christina.htm
2) http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Axel_Oxenstierna_-_Territorial_gains_for_Sweden/id/613179
3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years%27_War
4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina_of_Sweden

—by SMS

2 thoughts on “Queen Christina and the Treaty of Westphalia

  1. GoodReason says:

    Fascinating. Guess I’ll be adding this to my Intro to IR lecture on the Treaty of Westphalia! If you ever need another historical figure for your stories, Georgiana Malloy from Australia is on eof my favorites.

  2. akfarns says:

    I can’t even say how much I love this new family tradition of telling bedtime stories about famous women in history–so much better than telling bedtime stories about women that need to be rescued–it’s about time we learned about the ones who have done the rescuing!!

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