Europe's Tragedy: A History Of The Thirty Years War

Europe's Tragedy: A History Of The Thirty Years War Best read as a reference guide and an invaluable comparison to Tyll this book is, for a casual reader, too full of literally as well as figuratively exhaustive detail, to be enjoyed as a cover to cover read. There are a few problems with this book but the main one is that it is simply too long 800 pages on the Thirty Years War is just too much unless you have an extreme interest in the topic I was interested in learning about the war because it is one of those topics that are skimmed over in European history classes and there really isn t that much out there to read Plus the start of the book makes it seem like it will be fun reading as he discusses how the war was started because of some Bohemia There are a few problems with this book but the main one is that it is simply too long 800 pages on the Thirty Years War is just too much unless you have an extreme interest in the topic I was interested in learning about the war because it is one of those topics that are skimmed over in European history classes and there really isn t that much out there to read Plus the start of the book makes it seem like it will be fun reading as he discusses how the war was started because of some Bohemian Protestants tossing the Emperor s representatives out a window But the book quickly drags with incredible unnecessary detail that for most people will be out of their head three pages later anyway Yes, I did learn a lot about the war but with so much detail I didn t enjoy learning it and a lot of what the book covered I have no memory of whatsoever.Let s compare this book to Desmond Seward s book on the Hundred Years War Seward covers his topic in sufficient detail in only 300 pages That book moves quickly and is fun and interesting But it takes Wilson eight chapters almost 250 pages to even get to the beginning of the Thirty Years War And Wilson throws so many people and places at us without enough maps or family trees that trying to remember who s who and where s where makes the book evenfrustrating We get emperors, kings, dukes, princes, knights, bishops, generals, electors from German states, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Italy, Holland with cities, towns, provinces, principalities, protectorates and trying to keep track of who is in charge of what place and where that place is in relation to the next place is impossible or at least it was for me The book has only two maps other than battle maps One is a map of central Europe that lacks sufficient detail and the other is a map of Switzerland that is mostly useless The battle maps themselves look like something Wilson might have drawn on the back of a cocktail napkin This is the 21st century so getting a clear and detailed map should not be a great difficulty Try to imagine someone writing a book on World War II without including several maps showing the pitch and flow of the war across Europe during the 6 years of fighting And as far as pictures go, the pictures on Wikipedia s article on the war are better than anything you will find in this book.But the main problem is that the book is way too long because Wilson feels a need to tell us everything about the war and the 50 or so years before the war started that his research dug up Plus Wilson is a lousy writer If Wilson had limited himself to even 500 pages and aimed his book at a reader other than the historian in the next office this book could have been worth reading It s too bad that Wilson didn t use his first chapter as a model for writing the book So how does someone review a book as large, in depth, and complex as this one This conflict, which I certainly learned less than nothing about in school, was a brutal, long, and devastating war that ravaged many parts of Central Europe Modern estimates put total losses at 15% 20% of the Holy Roman Empire s population, a loss rate greater than that suffered by the Soviet Union during WWII.I still cannot conceptualize just how terrible this conflict was There were domestic armies crisscrossing So how does someone review a book as large, in depth, and complex as this one This conflict, which I certainly learned less than nothing about in school, was a brutal, long, and devastating war that ravaged many parts of Central Europe Modern estimates put total losses at 15% 20% of the Holy Roman Empire s population, a loss rate greater than that suffered by the Soviet Union during WWII.I still cannot conceptualize just how terrible this conflict was There were domestic armies crisscrossing the land, taking what they needed to sustain itself like a heavily armed swarm of locusts, foreign armies taking advantage of the Empire s weakness to pick off territory, economic collapse, the plague , and massive population displacements over the course of 30 years The land was so devastated that by the later parts of the war military strategy had to take into account what regions were still even capable of supporting an army Wilson does an excellent job walking the reader through the immense complexity of the war though the book would have been immensely improved by the addition ofmaps Wisely starting in the years leading up to the actual outbreak of hostilities The politics that culminated in this devastating conflict were a toxic brew of ambitious nobles, religious zealotry, familial relations, imperial politicking, and the sabotage of existing imperial institutions that could have served as a venue for developing a consensus and compromiseImperial politics was thus a series of formal meetings of rulers and their representatives at irregular intervals, supplemented by lesser assemblies to discuss specific issues Contact was maintained in between by couriers or informal meetings The large number of relatively weak elements made it difficult for anyone to act alone, discouraging extremism and diluting any agenda to a minimum that all could agreeWhat surprised me most was the proto representative structures that were already in existence within the Empire It was nothing close to the representative institutions that exist today, but did provide some degree of representation, even if only among the nobles and other notable citizens The HRE was much less imperial autocratic than I initially assumed and there was much too be admired in its structure when compared to its neighbors Unfortunately those institutions were not strong enough to prevent war partially through sabotage by religious militants and partially by a very stubborn emperor.Another thing that surprised me about the conflict was how little religion impacted events Yes, there was certainly a religious influence on the political decisions of rulers and rebels, but it was not a hard a fast barrier Protestants served and attained very high positions in the Imperial army while Catholic powers such as France allied with protestant Sweden to take advantage of the Empire s weakness While being the same religion as your superiors was an advantage, protestants and Catholics served under the banners of all sides Political gain,so than religion, was the driving force of nation states with confessional alignments serving as convenient to propaganda efforts.Speaking of protestant Sweden, it is often forgotten this now benign Nordic country was a world beater back in the 17th Century and successfully invaded and held a portion of the HRE for quite a while While it had a small population, itthan made up for it by hiring mercenaries and recruiting Germans into its forces In fact, the vast majority of its army for most of the war was comprised of Germans who preferred the yolk of Sweden to the rule of the HRE So remember, the next time a volvo cuts you off, they could mean serious business as long as their were Germans to hire to do their dirty work.Another fascinating aspect of this war was the inability of contemporary states to sustain the country in a time of war Financial systems were just beginning to develop theirmodern aspects, but were still small and weak Taxing the population was a difficult activity and rarely raised the expected amount of revenue Shortfalls were made by loans, IOUS, and granting lands and titles to secure financing Because this conflict lasted much longer than previous conflicts and had such high stakes, nations, even rich ones such as Spain which could draw upon New World silver, had to take outandloans to maintain itself Sufficed to say, the interest costs ballooned rather quicklyOf this Spanish government expenditures , 30.5 million went to the civil budget 44.2 million directly to the armed forces and 175.8 million to bondholders and contractors for loans and interestNot surprisingly the lenders had little interest in any sort of public good and could care less if the world went to hellThe formal structure of ordinary taxation became littlethan a front behind which the financiers carried on their affairs with studied indifference towards the damage that they did to the government and contempt for the suffering of the tax paying element of the populationThis financial weakness made seizing property from enemies evenimportant and led to further crimes against civilians and their property This, in turn, made itdifficult for states to generate tax revenues, continuing the cycle of loans, interest payments, pillaging andloans Continue this for 30 years and you can see why this was such a terrible war.A final note I would like to add is just how few battles there actually were over the course of 30 years It was primarily a war of maneuver, siege, and diplomacy Armies lost manysoldiers to desertion and disease than enemy contact In fact the biggest problem most generals faced was retaining soldiers so that they could threaten the enemy with maneuver and sieges Unlike the battles and wars we see in so many fantasy novels even crushing victories in the field would not guarantee success in the war The campaign seasons were short making it difficult to follow up smashing victories, cities and towns could hold out against siege forces that were attritioned through hunger, desertions, and disease, the Empire was large with little in the way of major transportation arteries apart from rivers, and even in victories the winning army would often be severely diminished themselvesMilitary Operations were essentially intended to secure local military advantage to lend weight to these negotiations and compel the other side to bereasonableMilitary victories had to be paired with diplomacy that could extract concessions from the defeated party Before Clauswitz rulers of the time knew war was merely politics carried out by other means.All in all reading this book reinforced by fervent belief that a representative secular government is the ideal arrangement for a nation The Thirty Years War provides a striking example of just what can go wrong in a state so closely tied a specific religion and with so little recourse among the ruledThough they are now largely silent, the voices from the 17th century still speak to us They offer a warning of the dangers of entrusting power to those who feel summoned by God to war, or feel that their sense of justice and order is the only one validSome other passages that struck me as ringing true and still relevant to today s worldNevertheless, then as now, militancy proves especially dangerous when combined with political power It creates a delusional sense in those who rule of being chosen by God for a divine purpose and reward It encourages the conviction that their norms alone are absolute their faith is the only really true religionThe two law and faith were considered indivisible because religion provided the guide for all human endeavor since there could be only one truth, there could be only one law But now Catholics and Lutherans both claimed to be right while the Germans as a whole were regarded as backward and boorish, too busy gorging themselves on fatty foods and guzzling barrels of beer to achieve the heights of Castilian civilization They lived in a rain soaked land of dreary forests and expensive, uncomfortable innsWait, how did that one get in hereFactions in both Spain and the Dutch Republic saw war as the means to assert control over their own governments and promote what they regarded as their country s best interestThe Imperialists occupied Meissen and dispatched Croats towards Dresden with the message that Johann Georg would no longer need candles for his banquets as the Imperialists would now provide light by burning Saxony s villagesMostly because this was the most badass line in the entire book Only upon reading the first chapeter of Europe s Tragedy did I realize how little I actually knew about the 30 Years War Usually when I pick up a history book, I have a general idea of the subject matter I might not have a firm grasp of the details but I m aware of the major events, and players The Thirty Years War was a almost completely dark gap in my knowledge It was jumbled up with several other European Wars that took place between the Reformation and the French Revolution I knew it la Only upon reading the first chapeter of Europe s Tragedy did I realize how little I actually knew about the 30 Years War Usually when I pick up a history book, I have a general idea of the subject matter I might not have a firm grasp of the details but I m aware of the major events, and players The Thirty Years War was a almost completely dark gap in my knowledge It was jumbled up with several other European Wars that took place between the Reformation and the French Revolution I knew it lasted approximately three decades, and that it involved much of Europe I was pretty sure religion was probably an issue and that the Dutch were involved.Having finished Peter Wilson s massive study, I consider myself adequately informed Within the first few chapters, Wilson argues convincingly against several widely held misconceptions about the conflict Wilson then effectively introduces the framework of the conflict Wilson is at his best as a writer when he refrains from the details and gives a broad overview With this subject, providing such a broad overview is no small task Wilson s argument is that the War was much less a religious Crusade of any kind than a conflict over the exact workings of government in the Holy Roman Empire In order to convince the reader of this fact, he has to introduce the enormously complicated structure of the Empire, as well as incorporate about a hundred years of buildup before he can begin to touch upon the subject of his book Topics that simply must be discussed in this long introduction include the effects of the Reformation which started in the Empire , the opposing Counter Reformation, the complex mechanisms of the Hapsburg family the family of the Holy Roman Emperors since the 13th century, since the 1530 s once branch ruled the Empire while another held the throne of Spain , and the Dutch War of Independence Perhaps most difficultly, he has to describe the complexities of the German constitution To give you a hint of how difficult this task could be, keep in mind that although a German constitution was almost universally accepted as existing, there was neither a written constitution or a political entity known as Germany.Wilson accomplishes this pretty skillfully Unfortunately, Wilson is not nearly as adept at describing the actual war as he is at laying the groundwork for it Let me make clear, it is obvious that Wilson is extremely well acquainted with his subject and that he has done a lifetime of research However, the book completely fails to transfer it s author s expertise to the reader in an engaging or stimulating manner There is a complete lack of narrative flow in Wilson s account of the fighting Wilson doesn t delve into any of the personalizing details Major figures are given at best a minimal introduction There is no awareness of the human scale of the events Generals and armies blur with each other Accounts of battles are extremely dry and almost exclusively explanatory Compounding the issue is a lack of maps The map provided is less than mediocre, and fails completely when Wilson is describing conflicts inlocalized areas.It would be one thing if Wilson was attempting a scholarly work But he constructs the book as a general survey, and there isn t a whole lot here to that would giveunderstanding of the subject to someonefamiliar with the conflict than I was After admirably setting the stage, Europe s Tragedy becomes a dry and dull textbook at onset the main event I did learn a lot from the over 800 pages However, the combination of the inadequacies of information with Wilson s weaknesses as a writer make the majority of the book excruciatingly dull and a chore to get through Europe s Tragedy succeeds as a comprehensive reference, but fails as a enjoyable reading experience A Little Learning May Be a Dangerous Thing, but a Lot of It Can Prove too Much for a Writer s CraftI picked up Peter H Wilson s massive volume Europe s Tragedy A New History of the Thirty Years War last summer, and it took me until a few days ago to finish it, mainly because there was a long spell of time when the book, half read or rather, half unread was just lying on my desk, collecting dust and heaping silent reproaches on me, but also because the reading process itself was extraordinari A Little Learning May Be a Dangerous Thing, but a Lot of It Can Prove too Much for a Writer s CraftI picked up Peter H Wilson s massive volume Europe s Tragedy A New History of the Thirty Years War last summer, and it took me until a few days ago to finish it, mainly because there was a long spell of time when the book, half read or rather, half unread was just lying on my desk, collecting dust and heaping silent reproaches on me, but also because the reading process itself was extraordinarily slow, Wilson s style being extremely dense and also quite dry.Starting this book with high hopes, which seemed to be justified given the careful preparation of the stage Wilson does a wonderful job at explaining the situation in the Empire and in its surrounding states before the war, which enables him to prepare the ground for an analysis of the political crises leading to the war and which were also encouraged by his introductory chapter in which he compares various interpretations the Thirty Years War received among historians, I soon had to admit to myself that my enthusiasm was, in fact, withering theI read on The simple reason for this seems to me that Wilson is unable or unwilling to submit the plethora of detail he has amassed to the point he wants to make And so, instead of making a point, he makes at least a million of them, each so close to the others that they all seem to blur into a throng of tiny dots with no clear outlines, which is not to put too fine a point on it not the point of a point Instead of illustrating what he wants to say with carefully selected facts and particulars, he drums up an endless line of names both of places and people which he parades up and down, opening up ever new side tracks and jumping from cross reference to cross reference like a jolly frog from out of the Pierian spring in the full knowledge of its uncatchability.This vastness of detail is made worse by the inadequacy of the maps the book offers a point that is not really Wilson s responsibility but the editor s but also by Wilson s somewhat uninspired style of writing My tax advisor could breathelife into Wallenstein, Tilly and other agents that play a role in this history than Wilson did, and although an historian must consider socioeconomic and political structures, whenever he introduces human agents, they should bethan just another printed name on the paper Even in his account of the human costs exacted by this war, Wilson fails to impart anything human at all to the reader.I would never contest Wilson s knowledge and expertise in the field he is writing about, and I am also sure that he has some points to make, but in my opinion his writing is so poor and bland and his ability to select from his vast corpus of knowledge is so little made use of that reading this book did not leave me any wiser in the end although I learnt some particulars, my overall knowledge was not increased, and there was much I forgot as soon as I had turned over the page and considering the effort and determination it cost me to continue my reading, I soon felt like another, belated, casualty of the Thirty Years War myself.The author has my respect, but I would not recommend this book of his THIRTY YEARS WARS2014 marks one hundred years since the outbreak of the Great War, which was itself the beginning of a conflagration which some historians have referred to as the Second Thirty Years War 1914 1945 Yet while the Second Thirty Years War continues to transfix our collective consciousness, hardly any of our contemporary political discourse in the West reflects on the original Thirty Years War, or even seems to acknowledge the fact that the horrors Europe experienced in the twentie THIRTY YEARS WARS2014 marks one hundred years since the outbreak of the Great War, which was itself the beginning of a conflagration which some historians have referred to as the Second Thirty Years War 1914 1945 Yet while the Second Thirty Years War continues to transfix our collective consciousness, hardly any of our contemporary political discourse in the West reflects on the original Thirty Years War, or even seems to acknowledge the fact that the horrors Europe experienced in the twentieth century represented merely the latest European general war in a tradition of such periodic calamities stretching back through the centuries The Napoleonic Wars, the Seven Years War, and the Thirty Years War are but the most prominent examples But what could we in the West stand to learn from studying a conflict which began nearly four hundred years ago Quite a lot, it seems to me The Thirty Years War is often dismissed as the grotesque death rattle of European medievalsim a struggle between culturally and intellectually backward religious fanatics in an exotic historical setting quite removed from our own time, in which we have learned the values of liberty, justice, toleration, empathy, and self restraint Yet while reading through Peter Wilson s account, I found myselfoften struck by the continuities between Early Modern Man and his twenty first century evolutionary descendant, Millennial Man The European princes who plunged into war in the first half of the seventeenth century were certainly religious men some of them even to the point of zealotry but oftentimes their religious persuasions were bound up with political ambitions, tribal animosities, and moral questions of freedom, autonomy, political representation, self determination, and redress of grievances which are perfectly intelligible to our postmodern universe This realization may be cause for discomfort if such a calamity could fall upon largely reasonable people living centuries ago, despite the best efforts of a large body of moderate statesmen genuinely interested in peace, then who is to say that such a crisis could not confound us in our own time, despite the elegant liberal internationalist structures we have built for ourselves the partnerships for peace Is it possible that the cultural and political archetypes which gave birth to the hellish monster of continental war in the seventeenth century are still active, like a volcanic magma chamber covered by earth, ready to burst forth at some future time of seismic activity At a time in which entire Palestinian families are killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and Israeli families are terrorized by Hamas rockets in which Vladimir Putin and pro Russian partisans dismember the sovereign state of Ukraine in the name of ethnic kinship in which the religious zealots of ISIS battle to create an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria in which the extreme right rears its head in European politics for the first time in decades in which the United States casually expands its Afghan War into Pakistan, patrolling the skies and killing innocents with robotic drones in which political repression persists and perpetuates itself in all its overt and covert forms we must pause to reflect on the past and the future We must not allow the superficial answers to satisfy us And we must be very, very careful THE WARThe Thirty Years War was precipitated by a long political crisis within the Holy Roman Empire, which was exacerbated to the point of open warfare by relatively small factions of religious extremists on all sides who were driven by a dangerous single mindedness and sense of divine purpose The 1555 Peace of Augsburg represented a truce between the Catholic and Lutheran princes of the empire, and a recognition on the part of the Catholic emperors that total religious conformity could not be enforced at swordpoint and the Protestant Reformation could not simply be undone at least not overnight In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, however, the Augsburg order became strained, as devout Calvinist principalities like Palatine, Hessen Kassel, and Brandenburg, excluded from the political concessions given to the Lutherans, began to take extra constitutional measures to increase their influence within the empire Frederick V of Palatine headed a Union of protestant princes, while Maximilian of Bavaria led the Catholic Liga in response, as the Emperor himself and moderate Protestant princes like those in Saxony, the birthplace of the Reformation, sought to avoid allowing the Empire to become divided on religious grounds This buildup culminated in the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618, in which the Emperor s envoys, sent to negotiate with protestant statesmen in the Prague Castle, were seized and hurled from the castle windows, marking the beginning of the Bohemian Revolt Frederick V of Palatine was subsequently crowned King of Bohemia, as anti Habsburg rebels overran the countryside Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, relied on the Liga forces to crush the revolt, furthering the conflict s sectarian character The enterprising Liga general, Count Tilly, scores a decisive victory against the rebels at the Battle of White Mountain, and by the year 1623, the rebels have been thoroughly trounced and Frederick has fled to the Netherlands.It is here that the conflict begins to take on an eventragic character, because though the war could have ended here, the structural weakness of the Holy Roman Empire and the sense of religious mission so pervasive among European rulers invited outside intervention on behalf of the beleaguered protestant princes of the Empire, continuously stoking the fires of blood lust, ambition, and religious passion which fed the carnage and contributed to the brutal character of the war In the latter 1620s, King Christian IV of Denmark, which has a seat on the Reichstag thanks to its holdings in Holstein, tries to salvage the protestant cause by intervening in northern Germany in 1625, partially out of religious sympathy, and partly to secure his dynastic holdings near the river systems of the region and contribute to the maritime tributary system which financed the Danish monarchy and made the Danish royals some of the richest people in Europe Christian is comprehensively defeated by Tilly s forces, and the imperialists advance all the way to the Baltic, alarming Sweden and prompting its king, Gustav II Adolf, wrapping up a war with the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, to contemplate his own intervention in the Empire Gustav lands in Pomerania in 1630, opening a bloody new chapter in the war and extending it by another eighteen years He is lionized in protestant propaganda as a messianic figure of sorts, sent from the heavens to liberate the German protestants from the satanic tyranny of the Habsburgs Tilly s run comes to an end, as his army is smashed at the Battle of Breitenfeld 1631 , and Gustav secures the support of Brandenburg, Hessen Kassel, and Saxony The war becomes a massive and convoluted struggle between the German princes, as foreign powers like Sweden, France, and Spain feed in troops on either side, each finding a cause to support or at least an enemy to thwart in the Empire Gustav s luck runs out at Lutzen, where he is killed in battle against Wallenstein s imperial army in 1632, leaving the Swedes rudderless and causing the war to become evenuniversal, localized, convoluted, and directionless, and subsequently adding to the plight of civilians throughout the empire For them, a nominally friendly army is as dangerous as a hostile one, as the underdeveloped military financial system of Europe compels armies to make war at the enemy s expense plundering cities and villages for supplies, billeting in private homes, extorting money and information from the local people, and generally making life miserable for the European peasantry Armies become criminal gangs, as rape, murder, arson, and highway robbery become a ways of life for the still semi mercenary European soldiery Peasants take matters into their own hands, resisting armies on all sides in the pursuit of perhaps the most noble cause of the war that of not allowing their communities to be ravaged by private warfare between the European princes Isolated soldiers are ambushed, robbed, and killed by peasant guerillas.Armies carry not only weapons with which to murder and terrorize, but infectious diseases which decimate populations Having plundered the countryside and run out of food, none of the belligerents in Germany are able to field large armies for the final decade of the war Most of the fighting is between small, mobile forces of cavalry which are unable to conduct seiges or garrison captured fortifications without adequate infantry contingents After Gustav II Adolf s death at Lutzen, Wallenstein inexplicably withdraws from the battlefield He mystifies Ferdinand II by refusing to press his advantage against the now leaderless Swedes He conducts unilateral negotiations with the Pro Swedish princes, in direct defiance of the Emperor With his loyalty to the Habsburgs cast into doubt, the emperor quietly issues a statement stripping him of command On February 25, 1634, a group of Irish and Scottish officers burst into his bedroom and run him through with a halberd The war becomes increasingly internationalized as the Swedish presence weakens in Germany France and Spain become proactive belligerents, in pursuit of their wider European objectives Spain, under the Count Duke Olivares, seeks Habsburg support against the ongoing Dutch Revolt, as its ongoing war in the Spanish Netherlands modern Belgium is the theatre of massive, grinding engagements that would later become typical of the First World War Spain s problems are further exacerbated by open war with France, and revolts in Portugal and Catalonia in 1640 Olivares hopes to stabilize the Empire by helping the Emperor win the war thereby freeing Imperial troops to join the battle against France and the Dutch France, under the feckless Louis XIII and the hardnosed realist Cardinal Richelieu, seeks to stave off encirclement by the Habsburgs Despite the Catholicism of the French monarchy, Richelieu supports the Dutch Revolt to drive the Spanish off France s northern border, stirs up trouble in Italy to threaten Spain s duchy in Milan, and finally sends military expeditions into Germany to support the anti Habsburg forces, hoping to create a neutral protestant power bloc that will neutralize the Austrian wing of the Habsburg monarchy By the mid 1640s, it is apparent that the disaster is only going to end through a widespread negotiated settlement After confusion and controversy on all sides during the Congress of Westphalia from 1646 48, the catastrophe finally ends in 1648, as Spain makes peace with the Dutch with the treaty of Munster, and the Empire is pacified by the Peace of Westphalia Though stemming from the pragmatic needs of the belligerents, Westphalia was a milestone in the history of European statecraft It created a paradigm in European politics in which interventions in the sovereign territory of another state or principality were stripped of much of their legitimacy It was also among the first truly secular political conferences in European history although the stated goal of the Congress was to forge a lasting Christian peace The Emperor s power was significantly weakened, inaugurating a new era in which Austria largely disengaged from German affairs, instead expanding the Austrian state through conquests in Eastern Europe and the Balkans until challenged by Frederick II in 1740, and eventually ejected from Germany by Bismarck in 1866 71 Religious and political toleration was extended to Calvinists in the Empire The Peace was a foundational event for modern internationalism, as the representatives of the various European powers present at the Congress were addressed largely on equal terms, undermining the traditionally hierarchical structure of European politics in which the Emperor was taken to be higher in status than the mere kings who ruled the rest of Europe THOUGHTS AND REACTIONSReading about the Thirty Years War, one can t help but wonder how is it that any of the millions of people who were victimized by the war were able to hold on to their religious faith, when so many people, with genuine religious convictions similar to their own, were doing such horrible things to one another Having one s home plundered and family murdered on multiple occasions by multiple armies under leaders of different, yet equally heartfelt, religious persuasions must have caused a great deal of cynicism Why would God allow such a thing to happen Wilson points out a common refrain from all sides of the war everyone acknowledged that the Christians of Europe were treating one another with farcruelty, barbarity, and pure, unadulterated malice than was ever perpetrated against them by the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire The Turks could never dream of doing as much damage to Christendom as Christians themselves did during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries The paradox surrounding the ferocity of conflicts within Christianity, among zealous followers of a faith which implores us to turn the other cheek, remains to me one of the great enigmas of the Christian faith It seems to me that what happened politically in the Thirty Years War is somewhat analogous to the crisis in Syria over the last few years just on a much larger scale In both cases, the governing regime suffered a partial breakdown, as dissenting factions took up arms Then ambitious foreign powers began to project their idological projects onto the internal war In Syria, the Americans saw a chance to support freedom fighters rebelling against a tyrannical government, while Russia saw a conservative, sovereign state under attack from an international gang of radicals Weakness within a state is a siren s song which invites aggression from other, stronger powers The Thirty Years War was a much deadlier conflagration than that in Syria simply because the Holy Roman Empire was, comparatively speaking, a much larger,populous, andstrategically important entity encompassing the heart of Europe It was this slippery sloped logic of intervention that drove the Thirty Years War from a revolt in Bohemia to a major European war which deprived Germany of perhaps one quarter of its population and permanently set back its political development For my part, I remain intimidated that in many quarters, the most important lessons of the war have still not been learned Against all who would take up arms to fulfill their ambitions through the fires of war, let our refrain be thus remember Westphalia This work is a very good read on the Thirty Years War It details all of the conflict very well and contextualizes it in early Modern Europe The author has a great knowledge of his matters and gives examples when he claims something, making his argumentation very strong He just has some small issues with early modern history outside of Central Europe like describing the Ottoman court as very similar to the medieval Roman one, despite all the obvious influences, or confusing between principal This work is a very good read on the Thirty Years War It details all of the conflict very well and contextualizes it in early Modern Europe The author has a great knowledge of his matters and gives examples when he claims something, making his argumentation very strong He just has some small issues with early modern history outside of Central Europe like describing the Ottoman court as very similar to the medieval Roman one, despite all the obvious influences, or confusing between principality, earldom and Kingdom regarding Catalonia , but from what I realize this is mostly due to his highly specialized studies on early modern Central Europe and his narrowing of historical perspective although he covers in an aproppriate way many of the other related conflicts on his work , but that s compensated by his almost encyclopedic knowledge about the inner workings of the Holy Roman Empire it s needed a huge study to master such a complex topic He also arguments against seeing the Thirty Years War as the last conflict driven by religion and focuses instead on dynastic, geopolitical, ambition both by the rulers who participated and the Bohemian rebels and constitucional issues inside the Empire, while not completely denying the influence of the fundamentalists mainly in the Palatinate or in Ferdinand II which were factors which delayed the war s end and sees the conflict not as the founder of the modern state, but as a catalyst of that institution.This author s style of writing, while giving much information and suiting me very well, isn t the best one for most people Wilson has a dense academic text full of statistical examples, which is the cause of many critiques here, but I discount that in my evaluation because that s what is expected of a major account Popular History is fine and I might give it the maximum grade if it s very well done, but people can t punish this work because they are used to reading easier books and stumbled on reading ascholarly work As this work despite the flaws above is an excellent work, I give it the maximum grade especially considering it has almost 1000 pages, which forces any evaluation to be careful with the huge scope presented here This 30 year period of European History is sadly neglected, but it seems I have found the right book for unraveling the turbulent times of 1618 1648 This war, incidentally, was the one that launched the Finns onto the world scene King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden employed Finnish horsemen, whose war cry, HAKKAA P LLE up and at em was turned into the name of the troops, the Hakkapelites Now that I have finished it, I must say, Prof Wilson has produced a massive, yet approachable tome, w This 30 year period of European History is sadly neglected, but it seems I have found the right book for unraveling the turbulent times of 1618 1648 This war, incidentally, was the one that launched the Finns onto the world scene King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden employed Finnish horsemen, whose war cry, HAKKAA P LLE up and at em was turned into the name of the troops, the Hakkapelites Now that I have finished it, I must say, Prof Wilson has produced a massive, yet approachable tome, which fully covers all the facets of this thorniest of wars The Bohemian Revolt, the Catholic Lutheran schishms, Sweden s run for superpower status in Europe and France s meddling in just about everybody s business are all explained in detail.This is a book I can recommend to any serious fan of military and social history, but it will not appeal to the casual reader There s simply too much of everything here, so if you want the Idiot s Guide to the 30 Years War, this is not it This will drag you in, take you through villages on campaign and over winter billeting, and tell you everything you ever want to know of this famous war or set of wars, actually Writing a history of the Thirty Years War 1618 1648 presents the historian with many problems because of the complexity of the conflict Major stumbling blocks to the study of the war include the need to work with at least fourteen languages, study thousands of published works, and toil in numerous archives to produce a study that would cover all aspects of a conflict that involved much of Europe As such, there are few full length general accounts of the Thirty Years War Most of the publishe Writing a history of the Thirty Years War 1618 1648 presents the historian with many problems because of the complexity of the conflict Major stumbling blocks to the study of the war include the need to work with at least fourteen languages, study thousands of published works, and toil in numerous archives to produce a study that would cover all aspects of a conflict that involved much of Europe As such, there are few full length general accounts of the Thirty Years War Most of the published literature is meant for specialists, and many of the brief overviews are geared for students Dr Peter H Wilson, Professor of History at the University of Hull, and a leading historian of Early Modern Germany, has taken up this task, and given us the first general account of the conflict since Geoffrey Parker s The Thirty Years War 1984 Wilson s previous studies include War, State and Society in W rttemberg, 1677 1793 1995 , German Armies War and German Society, 1648 1806 1998 , The Holy Roman Empire, 1495 1806 1999 , From Reich to Revolution German History 1558 1806 2004 , as well as a recently published document collection The Thirty Years War A Sourcebook 2010 Wilson s massive detailed account, based on the latest research, examines the political, economic, social, and military history of the era with respect to the origins, conduct, and outcome of the most destructive war of the seventeenth century The author sees the Thirty Years War as a conflict in Central Europe, and this region is his main focus But, the study addresses all of the major and minor players, including Spain, France, the Dutch Republic, Sweden, Denmark, England, Transylvania, Savoy, and the Ottoman Empire, that had an impact on the origins or course of the conflict The author strives to show the distinctiveness of the German War in respect to other related conflicts, such as the Hispano Dutch, Polish Swedish, and Mantuan wars, during the era Wilson begins by examining the origins of the conflict in the Holy Roman Empire in relation to the general European situation in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries To do so, he introduces key issues and participants inside and outside the Empire The weakened state of the Austrian Habsburgs after the Long Turkish War 1593 1606 , the roles of the Protestant Union and Catholic League in German politics, and legal issues such as the J lich Cleves Crises are fully examined Readers of this journal will appreciate the influence of the Dutch Revolt 1568 1609 and Long Turkish War on military leaders with regard to strategy, military technology, fighting tactics, and logistics in the Thirty Years War The author devotes nearly five hundred pages to the conduct of the Thirty Years War He fully describes the politics, diplomacy, and military action of the many participants involved in the war from the Bohemian Revolt to the Peace of Westphalia He argues throughout his study that the Thirty Years War was a series of secular conflicts with religious overtones The Bohemian Revolt of 1618 was a coup carried out by a minority of anxious militant Protestants against Habsburg rule for political reasons pp 269 70 Emperor Ferdinand II drew the support of Maximilian of Bavaria, the Catholic League, and Spain against Frederick V of the Palatinate and the Bohemian rebels, not for religious motives, but to uphold the imperial constitution p 297 The dynastic ambitions of Christian IV of Denmark, not a religious cause, led to the Danish phase of the Thirty Years War in 1625 p 387 Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden intervened in German affairs for security reasons in 1630 p.462 Protestant Sweden and Catholic France became allies against the Austrian Habsburgs for secular goals Most studies of the Thirty Years War give limited coverage to the period after 1635 Historians tend to see this period as chaotic and extremely destructive Wilson, however, devotes equal attention to this period of the conflict In fact, his book is especially important for the detailed discussion of activities during the last thirteen years of the war He stresses that this phase of the war wreaked havoc, but it also remained firmly controlled and directed Operations continued to support political objectives as rulers sought to improve their negotiating positions p 624 Wilson succeeds in providing a well written, authoritative study of the Thirty Years War Specialists as well as general readers will gain much from this work Military historians will enjoy his coverage of the many campaigns There are numerous battle plan maps However, the study lacks an overall map of Central Europe and smaller operational maps dealing with military campaigns Winner of the Society for Military History Distinguished Book AwardThe horrific series of conflicts known as the Thirty Years War tore the heart out of Europe, killing perhaps a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to whole areas of Central Europe to such a degree that many towns and regions never recovered All the major European powers apart from Russia were heavily involved and, while each country started out with rational war aims, the fighting rapidly spiralled out of control, with great battles giving way to marauding bands of starving soldiers spreading plague and murder The war was both a religious and a political one and it was this tangle of motives that made it impossible to stop Whether motivated by idealism or cynicism, everyone drawn into the conflict was destroyed by it At its end a recognizably modern Europe had been created but at a terrible price Peter Wilson s book is a major work, the first new history of the war in a generation, and a fascinating, brilliantly written attempt to explain a compelling series of events Wilson s great strength is in allowing the reader to understand the tragedy of mixed motives that allowed rulers to gamble their countries future with such horrifying results The principal actors in the drama Wallenstein, Ferdinand II, Gustavus Adolphus, Richelieu are all here, but so is the experience of the ordinary soldiers and civilians, desperately trying to stay alive under impossible circumstances


About the Author: Peter H. Wilson

Peter H Wilson was G E Grant Professor of History at the University of Hull He is now the Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford.


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