From the Cologne War until the end of the Thirty Years’ Wars (1618–1648), religious conflict devastated German lands. The latter reduced the overall population of the German states by about 30 per cent, and in some places, up to 80 per cent. The Peace of Westphalia ended religious warfare among the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire. Their mostly German-speaking rulers were able to choose either Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, or the Reformed faith as their official religion after 1648.
In the 18th century, the Holy Roman Empire consisted of approximately 1,800 territories. The elaborate legal system initiated by a series of Imperial Reforms (approximately 1450–1555) created the Imperial Estates and provided for considerable local autonomy among ecclesiastical, secular, and hereditary states, reflected in the Imperial Diet. The House of Habsburg held the imperial crown from 1438 until the death of Charles VI in 1740. Having no male heirs, he had convinced the Electors to retain Habsburg hegemony in the office of the emperor by agreeing to the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.
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This was finally settled through the War of Austrian Succession; in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Charles VI’s daughter Maria Theresa ruled the Empire as Empress Consort when her husband, Francis I, became Holy Roman Emperor. From 1740, the dualism between the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy and the Kingdom of Prussia dominated the German history.
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