Lena Oetzel:Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz
‘Peace as an argument in conflict I: The peace of Prague in the Westphalian peace negotiations.’
The history in conflict webinar continued with a double session featuring presentations by Lena Oetzel and Dorothée Goetze, who both focused foreign relations and the use of earlier treaties as arguments in conflicts. Lena Oetzel directed our attention to the Westphalian Peace Congress and, in particular, how the earlier Peace of Prague was referred to in the negotiations between the different parties.
Peace does not come out of nowhere. There were usually earlier attempts at peace-making that failed or did not last, as was the case for the Westphalian Peace Congress, a cumulation of 30 years of conflict and many attempts at peace making. An older treaty that can be found in the sources related to the Peace Congress was the 1635 Peace of Prague, that had been concluded between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Elector of Saxony, and aimed to pacify the Holy Roman Empire. For example, a closer look into the instructions of the envoys shows how omnipresent references to Peace of Prague were.
The source material highlights the different ways in which such a treaty could be interpreted and used by diplomatic actors. For the Elector of Saxony, the peace represented a moment in time when he was at the height of his power. During the 17th century the power balance within the empire had changed. The Elector's current position was anything but strong, but in his own interpretation of the Peace of Prague he had fashioned himself as an influential mediator who had bridged the gap between the Protestant and Catholic Estates and had reunited them again behind the Holy Roman Emperor. In fact, the Elector of Saxony originally did not want to send any envoys to the Westphalian Peace Congress, as he argued that all conflicts within the Holy Roman Empire had already been resolved by the Peace of Prague.
However, other diplomatic actors disagreed with such a positive interpretation of the treaty. While the imperial delegates also emphasized its legal validity, the regulations that had been agreed-upon were considered a mistake that the Emperor did not want to repeat. The envoys of the Hanseatic cities complained that the treaty had in fact been forced on them: ‘It had been sink or swim’. They emphasized the necessity of including all parties in the Westphalian negotiations, in contrast to the Peace of Prague. According to them, the failure to do so previously was the reason for the treaty’s lack of success, a clear contract with the Elector’s interpretation of a treaty that made the Westphalian negotiations redundant.
Lena Oetzel is a researcher at the University of Salzburg, currently editing the Handbook on Early Modern Diplomacy with Dorothée Goetze, to be published by De Gruyter History.