As the end of October approaches, millions of Lutherans across the world will come together to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and the birth of Lutheranism. The Reformation lasted from 1517 to 1648 and is arguably one of the most tumultuous periods in world history with ramifications that are felt to this day.
At 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24, 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed by around 194 different states in Europe, represented by 179 diplomats.
The treaty marked the end of feudalism and beginning of the modern state — or form of country that we use to this day. It is fascinating to note that the treaty marked the beginning of a concept of religious toleration which came as a result of one of the most horrific wars in world history, "The Thirty Years War." A war which resulted after an initial temporary settlement between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church, failed. The Peace of Augsburg, which gave Lutherans equal rights in Holy Roman Empire was signed on Sept. 25, 1555.
Actually, The Thirty Years War was an amalgamation of a series of European wars, some of which had been waged for more than 80 years. The end of the wars was brought about by a series of peace conferences and treaties that began in December 1644. The Peace of Munster, signed on Jan. 30, 1648, and ratified on May 15, 1648, is the subject of world famous painting, "The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster," by Gerard ter Borch II.
The wars and the resulting treaties also put an exclamation point on centuries of disagreements between the English and the Germans — and now the European Union. For context, understand that Maryland was first settled by Europeans in March 1634, in part, as a direct result of The Thirty Years War — and the early settlers of what we know as Carroll County today, brought all those disagreements with them. This still has an impact on Carroll County today. More to come on that.
If you are among the folks who are aghast that people are still fighting the American Civil War that ended in 1865; you have not seen anything like the consequences of The Thirty Years War. Europe has never gotten over the war which was fought between the Catholics and the (Lutherans) Protestants from 1618 to 1648. On a recent trip to central and eastern Europe, the war was mentioned almost every day as we viewed this castle that was destroyed or that village that was burned.
Interestingly, although the war was actually between the Catholics and the Protestants; it was fought by Sweden, a world power at the time, Switzerland, France, Spain, the Russians, English, and Dutch, who all fought each other — in Germany.
Over 20 percent of the entire population of Europe died. In certain areas of central Europe and Germany, over half — up to three-quarters of the population died. To make matters even worse, the gigantic troop movements during the war caused another outbreak of the Black Death — the Plague — to take place from 1623-1640.
Much of what is considered today to be a "war crime," was routine during the war and contributed to the lasting animosities, especially since much of the conflict was waged against defenseless, innocent civilian populations. Cannibalism was rampant and horrific acts of violence on a grand scale were routine, as the entire economic, transportation, and agriculture structure of Europe collapsed into complete chaos for almost two generations.
It can be argued that the results of 1648 treaty and The Thirty Years War have, in part, caused every war in Europe and North America since 1648 — and most Americans have never heard of it.
The impact of the 1648 treaty is felt in Carroll County to this day. Joseph D. Brooks, the mayor of Westminster from 1892 to 1895 and the editor of the American Sentinel newspaper from 1909 to 1929, gave an address on Jan. 19, 1923, in which he observed "Westminster, the meeting place of the Germans and English, remained dormant. Their ideas of living were different and there was no real work to build a town of any consequence."
Indeed, much of the unspoken history of Westminster is the tension of being in the demilitarized zone in the middle of the county between the Germans of northern Carroll County, and the English of the southern part of the county.
Meanwhile, getting back to the roots of unrest; arguably, the period of great upheaval in Europe, known as the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther on Oct. 31, 1517. This is where we will pick up the story in a future column.