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These states employed relatively large mercenary armies, and the war became less about religion and more of a continuation of the France–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence.The war was preceded by the election of the new Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, who tried to impose religious uniformity on his domains, forcing Roman Catholicism on its peoples.Spain, wishing to finally crush the Dutch rebels in the Netherlands and the Dutch Republic, intervened under the pretext of helping its dynastic Habsburg ally, Austria.No longer able to tolerate the encirclement of two major Habsburg powers on its borders, Catholic France entered the coalition on the side of the Protestants in order to counter the Habsburgs.In addition to Habsburg lands, the Holy Roman Empire contained several regional powers, such as the Duchy of Bavaria, the Electorate of Saxony, the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the Electorate of the Palatinate, Landgraviate of Hesse, the Archbishopric of Trier, and the Free Imperial City of Nuremberg.A vast number of minor independent duchies, free cities, abbeys, prince-bishoprics, and petty lordships (whose authority sometimes extended to no more than a single village) rounded out the empire.The Empire soon crushed this perceived rebellion in the Battle of White Mountain, executing leading Czech aristocrats shortly after.

After this success, the Catholics regained peace, and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio began to be exerted more strictly in Bavaria, Würzburg, and other states.

Religious tensions remained strong throughout the second half of the 16th century.

The Peace of Augsburg began to unravel: some converted bishops refused to give up their bishoprics, and certain Habsburg and other Catholic rulers of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain sought to restore the power of Catholicism in the region.

The Thirty Years' War devastated entire regions, with famine and disease resulting in high mortality in the populations of the German and Italian states, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Southern Netherlands.

Both mercenaries and soldiers in fighting armies traditionally looted or extorted tribute to get operating funds, which imposed severe hardships on the inhabitants of occupied territories.

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