There are two things in polite society that you are never to discuss publicly: religion and politics. Almost invariably, these two elements of culture are inseparable in their ability to arouse strong emotion. This was no doubt true during the 17th century when there was a drastic change in how both religion and politics were perceived by European society. Through either the Protestant Reformation or the Counter Reformation, governments gained control over the religion their state practiced. Religious tolerance became more prevalent. Religion was also used as a means to legitimize the nobles’ power struggles, thus gaining public support for their conflicts. Through the examination of two major conflicts of this time, the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War, one can identify all of these trends.
After the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation, the states of Europe had gained almost complete control over church hierarchy. Governments benefited from this new acquisition, as they gained all the property the church previously controlled in their country. However, religious alignment often led to conflicts. The Thirty Years War began through an altercation between the Catholic Emperor of Bohemia and his Protestant subjects. This conflict quickly turned into a political, rather than religious, issue. This is evident when France (a Catholic state) sided with the Bohemians against the Holy Roman Empire when the Emperor became too powerful. Religion might have started conflicts, but politics always ended them during this era. At the end of this conflict, the Treaty of Westphalia stated that a Christian Kingdom was to be created, thus ending most of the religious prejudices.
Through an effort to avoid hegemony, many states of differing religious backgrounds formed alliances. This encouraged religious tolerance. Religious diversity in many countries made tolerance necessary to achieve unity toward political goals. During the English Civil War, there were many different religions present in England. Quarrels between the different sects were common. However, it was only through the acceptance of their differences that the Parliament was able to unite and make political change a reality.
Religious ideals were often used as a rallying point to build power bases for political agendas. Oliver Cromwell used religion, during the English Civil War, to strengthen the spirit of his New Model Army, which was unbeatable against the King’s forces. During the Thirty Years War, the Holy Roman Emperor fought against the Protestants. The Edict of Restitution claimed that all lands formerly belonging to the Catholics should be restored to them. However, Ferdinand had a more selfish agenda. The Edict of Restitution gave Ferdinand an excuse to gain a great amount of land thus giving him more money and power.
Religion and Politics intertwined greatly during 17th Century Europe. Both the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War were influenced by these factors. Through the integration of religion into the politics of the day, the common people supported the power struggles of the nobles, and religious toleration became common. This pattern of diversity and compromises continues even to today.