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Founding of the Heilbronn League, 1633 (1842 Lithograph)

The Heilbronn League was an alliance between Sweden, France, and the Protestant princes in western Germany against the Catholic League during the Thirty Years' War. The treaty forming the League was signed at Heilbronn in Germany on 23 April 1633.

After the death of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632 the majority of German states were desperate to achieve peace. Nevertheless, Wallenstein's continued military operations, as well as the diplomatic work carried out by Axel Oxenstierna, Sweden’s first minister, failed to bring about a permanent settlement. Most significantly, the search for a peace that would privilege all of those who signed it ensured the continuance of the war.

It was essential that France took the lead, and provide patronage to their German allies. Together they formed the Heilbronn League, which consisted of the Upper and Lower Rhenish, Swabian and Franconian military circles. Each of the circles was required to provide 2.5 million Reichstaler annually, while the Swedes retained their position as overall military commanders. France also agreed to increase the revenue that it would supply, as the death of Gustavus had resulted in France having a greater influence on the overall military situation.

After the crushing Imperial-Spanish victory of Nördlingen, most of the German Protestant states were compelled to seek peace with the Emperor, who was now ready to come to terms and to relinquish the harshest provisions of the Edict of Restitution. Peace between the Emperor and the majority of German states was achieved at the Peace of Prague. This treaty was signed not only by eastern Protestant states, like Saxony and Brandenburg (which were not parties to the Heillbronn League), but even by many Swedish allies in western Germany. Thus, after the Peace of Prague, the Heilbronn League’s role was virtually over. Legally speaking, this treaty affirmed that German states could not enter in alliance treaties with other states. Swedish influence in the Rhineland theatre evaporated, and in the following years military operations were conducted under French leadership. A few former League’s members, especially Hesse, continued to fight against the Emperor until the final Peace of Westphalia.

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