It began in the Netherlands, as outraged Calvinists smashed statues to protest the wealth and excesses of Spain and the Catholic Church. In Germany, starving soldiers laid waste to entire regions. The ensuing war engulfed all of 17th-century Europe in 80 years of bloody religious conflict. After the assassination of generals and the death of kings, after nearly one-third of Germany’s population lay dead from the plague or the sword, Europe’s rulers finally came together. They intended only to end the wars; they did not expect to create a new global order. But when they finally signed the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Europe – and the world – was on its way to being transformed.

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