Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years' War. Routledge and Kegan Paul: Boston Mass, 1984
(This volume includes the contributions of 10 different historians.)

As this work is a historical narrative, and one that our authors describe as "impossibly complicated" (at least the first decade of the Thirty Years' War), it will be difficult to summarize. Motivations for warfare were as varied as situations: some participants saw the war as simply a fight by Frederick of the Palatinate to win back his electoral status. Others saw a threat to their personal religious beliefs and lands, and still others joined the war for the cause of religion at large. One situation all future combatants had in common: difficulties with taxation and with raising the cash to pay armies. Parker argues that the end of the Thirty Years' War saw wide-ranging effects: the changes in scale - the sheer number of troops, the kinds of activities they engaged in, the volume of supplies and weapons, and the length of siege-dominated war - spurred a qualitative change in the way governments organized and the way common people lived. Parker also argues that "persistent painstaking opportunism" on the part of the elites, combined with the paralysis of normal political channels that "exerted a decisive effect on the course of the Thirty Years' War." Finally, did this war have a permanent effect on German society? Individual hamlets were ravaged, but some fought back. Some soldiers got away with rapine and murder, but … not all. Was there "an all-destructive fury of the Thirty Years' War?" Our author says yes, in immediate and individual situations, but no, if we consider the 20 year following.

By the 1600s, all three of the major Imperial Hapsburg institutions, the Circles, the Supreme Court and the Diet were deadlocked by the conflicts between Protestants, Catholics and Calvinists. Members of the Diet found that when two opposing groups occupied an area, it was even more difficult to raise taxes than it had been in past. In part, "cuius regio euis religio" simply permitted local governments to function.

Rudolph II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, had tried to reinstate Catholicism while fighting off the Turks. When Rudolph II allowed the city of Donnauworth to be invaded and reCatholicized, and this action split the already vexed Diet in 1608, and his action helped to draw up the battle lines. His misguided-shading-into-insane policies suggested to his subjects that his brother, Matthias would be the better choice. The "deposers" hoped to gain freedoms and liberties, and to roll back the repressions they had suffered. In 1612, Rudolph died and Matthias inherited the Hapsburg lands.

After the election of Matthias, a Protestant Union of six leading Electorate was formed and diplomatically guided by Prince Christian of Anhalt- Bernburg. A focusing issue was the debate over the succession to the Catholic estates of Cleves-Julich. Anhalt worked tirelessly to get support, and, engaging Frances's fears of Spanish dominance, finally persuaded Henry IV of France to commit troops to a Protestant claimant. With Henry's interests involved, the succession crisis became international, but with his assassination, the crisis abated. In response to the Protest show of force, a Catholic League was founded. This event was a precursor to the larger war, and established patterns of alliances.

A Venetian war over shipping (ukzok war) polarized the two sides even further. The archduke Ferdinand, having worked to become Emperor-elect to Matthias, concluded a treaty with France which allowed him to fight the Venetians, in return for which he gave up parts of France and Italy. The Protestant Union then cooperated with Venice, as did the Dutch and English. Most importantly, through this war the two formerly estranged houses of Hapsburg were reunited physically via a route through the Grey Leagues land in Valtelline and Lombardy and strategically in their aims to support Catholicism and the Habsburg dynasty.

The Bohemian princes affected by the "Letter of Majesty" (permitting reCatholicization) gathered to protest. Having been told by regents of Emperor Matthias to disband their protest meeting in Prague, they instead revolted, entered the Palace, and hurled the two most outspoken Catholic regents (and their secretary) out of the window. Subsequent to that, they offered the crown of Bohemia to Frederick of the Palatinate (son-in-law to James I of England), initiating a rebellion within the Emperor's lands. Shortly thereafter, Seven Imperial Electors choose the archduke Ferdinand as their next Emperor, and he promised with Maximilian of Bavaria an Electorate and the Palatinate when the Bohemian Protestant rebellion was concluded.

Looming over all of these semi-internal affairs was the end of the 12 year Spanish truce with the Dutch. Both sides were preparing for a resumption of war, but the Dutch in the meantime had improved their position considerably. Spain felt it needed to get involved in the Bohemian war to keep the Protestant alliances from becoming too powerful. So "in the spring of 1620 an army of 20,000 veterans marched under the personal command of [Spanish] Ambrosio Spinola from the low countries into the Palatinate, a crucial step in turning the revolt of Bohemia into the Thirty Years' War had been taken."

Although the first part of the war was indecisive (1618-1629), the first "round" of that decade was decisively lost by the Protestants in November 1620 at White Mountain. The Spanish Army of Flanders joined the side of Ferdinand the Emperor, and Frederick of the Palatinate went to the Hague where he established his court in exile. After their first drubbing, all his allies (including Christian IV of Denmark) agreed that only England could change the balance of power, and further, only England's involvement would induce them back for a second helping. Not all the German Protestants were supportive of Frederick. But England offered mediation, and not troops.

As it happened, France decided to intervene again to retake the Valtelline lands seized by Spain, and Spain was having difficulty suppressing revolt in the region. And the local feeling was strongly against Maximilian, who had been of assistance at the White Mountain but whose rulership of new lands was opposed by his noble neighbors. Once again, with the help of the Dutch and Hungarians, Frederick made a bid for his kingdom, but at Stadtlohn his forces were wiped out. Having run out of resources and options, he at last requested James I of England, his father-in-law, to help mediate. Just at that moment, James had other fish to fry. He had hoped to set up a Spanish marriage for his son and heir Charles, and at the same time enlist Spanish help for a Palatinate settlement. It turned out, however, that the political price was too high: Catholicism for Charles himself and for Frederick of the Palatinate's heir. The possible alliance was at end, and the English turned to the French. At the same time Gustavus Adolphus, King of the Swedes, a terrific soldier and charismatic leader, expressed interest in the Protestant cause. To everyone's surprise, Christian IV, the Danish leader with a fortune to spare, out of jealousy or fear of the Swedes, got himself involved in the Spring of 1625. The French promptly abandoned the Protestant cause and momentarily rejoined Spain. England also declined to help very much. Without allies Christian was beaten, beaten again and eventually sent home. Christian had dragged out the war without adding any credit to himself; however, his involvement did identify clearly the Palantine cause with the Protestant cause, and it determined the Catholics to take revenge.

From the historian's perspective, there were some weaknesses to be noted in the Hapsburg position: first, there were not many entrepreneurial financiers in Catholic territories with the ability to raise troops. They, being Protestant, had left with the Protestants. Second, the army was loosely, or perhaps badly managed, and third, Protestant Hungary was left unconquered as well as Straslund, a port city. Then, in 1621-23, Ferdinand II leased all the mints in his territories to "coiners for hire" and they proceeded to debase coinage by up to 90%. The finances of the empire were in shambles. Furthermore, Ferdinand was a Catholic to the exclusion of being a diplomat. His 1629 Edict of Restitution caused ill-will in every place it was enforced. Also, his most well-known (ablest?) general and troop recruiter, Wallenstein, was an unpopular vicious man, and his armies were very very costly. The Pope and the Poles stopped supporting Ferdinand, and worse yet, in 1628 the Dutch captured the entire Spanish treasure fleet for that year, crippling resources that could have come from his ally Philip IV. In fact, over the next two years the Dutch mopped the Spanish out of northwest Germany. So Ferdinand's General Tilly now shouldered the burden of the battles alone. Finally, and worst of all, both branches of the Hapsburgs had got involved in a French dispute in Italy.

The succession to Mantua was an opportunity for Spain to get a foothold in Milan, and to edge out the French, who owned succession rights. However, instead of a quick victory, they got bogged down in a siege, and then attacked by a French army who legged it over the Alps. Vienna and Madrid were angry at each other over the incident, and the Pope, like the French and the Bavarians, chose not to support the Spanish.

As a side note, the Germans carried on a constant discussion of Ferdinand's policies through position papers called Denkshriften. Thousands of these were printed during the war, and they created a sort of public opinion which ostensibly had some affect (?)

1630-1631: The Regensburg Electoral Meeting made things, which had hardly been good, worse. Ferdinand agreed to decommission Wallerstein, but failed to get his son declared "Emperor-to-be," and the League did not support the Hapsburg armies in the Netherlands. Because the conservative court insisted on the Edict of Restitution, they further alienated the north German Electors. Two Protestant princes, Saxony and Brandenburg, met and created yet another alliance, the Leipzig Manifesto, a defensive association intended to mediate between the Imperial, League and foreign armies and hold off an out-and-out war in central Europe. The secret treaty of Fontainebleau (France-Bavaria) was a similar instrument, intended to be a buffer and prevent the war from spreading further.

Now, back to the Swedes. They had arrived on the Continent in 1625, but they were shoved back out with a few lucrative tolls and the promise of future French support. In July 1630 they landed again, and struggled to retain troops until French money came in, but when it did, they were strengthened considerably, and fortified further when Brandenbug and Saxony joined up. They crushed the Imperial forces at Breitenfeld in September 1631, killed General Tilley, and waltzed down to Munich. Emperor Ferdinand I, with alternatives thin on the ground, recalled Wallenstein, who raised another army, and held off the Swedes all through July. The Swedes appeared to be falling back in the autumn, but the moment after Wallenstein had told his army to go home for the winter, the Swedes turned around for another campaign. In the November 1632 battle of Lutzen, the opposing sides fought to a standstill, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed in battle. And as an aside, Frederick of the Palatinate died. Everyone appeared to have a black eye, but one person was about to have worse than that: in 1634 Wallenstein was assassinated by Ferdinand, who saw or believed that his best general was becoming a mutineer, landowner, and a bigger threat than the Protestants. Ferdinand III was put at the head of the Imperial armies, and Swedish chancellor Oxenstierna was put in charge of the Swedish armies.

To step back and sum up, there were three critical stages transforming the revolt of Bohemia into a major European war: 1) involvement of the Frederick of the Palatinate with Spain in 1619; 2) the invasion of Sweden into Pomerania, 1630; and 3) the Peace of Prague, 1635. The Peace of Prague comes next.

In 1635 Sweden was still the most significant player in the field, far outnumbering the others (127 garrisons as compared to 52 French and 43 Hessian). The Swedes felt far more involved in the Polish war than they did the German war, and hoped to go home with some land as restitution, with pay for their armies, with security against invasion by Swedish control of Baltic seaports, and with the end of Habsburg ambitions for sovereignty in Germany. But they were far from these goals in 1635; in fact, Swedish soldiers began to mutiny because they were in arrears, and at one point held Oxenstierna as hostage. He was forced to ransom himself by exorbitant promises. Finally the French paid enough so that the Swedes could keep fighting, and in the end, the Swedes received all that they had wanted.

The Peace of Prague was accepted by the Emperor and Saxony in 1635 and finally put an informal end to the Edict of Restitution. But in that year, France at last stepped into the major theater themselves by declaring war on Philip IV of Spain. Having delayed, they were fresh, and had money, but lacked experienced generals. Sick, broke and weary, in 1636 Ferdinand II declared war on France, and the year after that, died, leaving Ferdinand III to become emperor in 1637. In 1640 Ferdinand III held an Electoral meeting in Nuremburg. At that time, he formally gave up the Edict of Restitution. In June of 1641, the Swedes and French agreed upon another alliance, and the Swedes re-entered Germany. At Breitenfeld in 1642, the Swedes won again, and the final Hapsburg army was nearly finished. Meanwhile, the Dutch managed two great sea victories as well as some rather good land wins against the Spanish. At the same time, Portugal and Catalonia rebelled. The addition of France gave new heart to the Protestants, punched some holes through the Emperor's territories, and tied up Spain while their peasants and colonies revolted.

However, just as Spain was occupied with trouble, in France, Richelieu and Louis XIII died, and in England, the Civil War broke out. These countries then had new diplomats and new policies to develop. It seemed that no one really wanted to carry on a fight in Germany. "The common man wishes himself dead" wrote Oxenstierna's brother in a diplomatic note. The conference in Westphalia to discuss peace was made into a Diet, so that its recommendations would have the force of law. The Danes, who had been buzzing around as allies of the Habsburgs, were once again sent packing, and the Swedes finished the Hapsburgs at Jankov in 1645.

From 1645, the effort was to negotiate a settlement at Munster. Everyone showed up at Munster to get a piece of the fractured pillaged pie: there were 176 plenipotentiaries representing 194 European rulers. As a side note, there were lawyers aplenty: not enough beds to go around but more than enough wine for all. Letters took up to 20 or 30 days at the farthest (Madrid) and so diplomatic treaty-making took up 3 years.

There were three phases of the negotiations: the 1643-1645 Catholic debate in Frankfurt; the 1645-1647 negotiations in Munster, and 1648, the year in which peace treaties were signed. During negotiations, France was delaying so that they could further weaken Spain. The Germans also had an agenda: they wanted official toleration for Calvinism, restitution of secularized church lands, restoration of the Elector Palatine, and a general amnesty. The German Protestants as a group stood together in their negotiating process, and by so doing, got to their goals. A new normative date for religion was chosen: 1 Jan 1624. A little battle between gave a last victory to the French over the Imperial army, but a rebellion at home sent the French home, too. The Dutch settled with Spain for freedom at the same time. The peace was signed in 1648, and by 1654, six years later, all the troops were finally decommissioned, paid off, and went to Hungary, or home.

Chapter VI

The war in myth, history and legend.

The universal soldier

What do we know about soldiers in the 17th century? First, their dress was not exactly uniform: most soldiers, if they could, wore a signifying token, and some received clothing when they enlisted. However, just as many did not; frequently, they dressed in what they could take as war booty. So identifying colors might be limited to tokens and the colored regimental standards they fought under.

Why did men join up? There are a plethora of reasons: debt or trouble at home, conscription, vagabondery or an ill-timed jail sentence, or to escape an unwanted position in craft or trade or agriculture, or to gain wealth, glory, adventure, or even idealism and the defense of the faith. It was easier to gain recruits in the years when bread was high-priced, and hunger haunted the towns of Europe. Quite a few saw honorable behavior as loyalty to the profession itself and the current paymasters, but not the cause.

Governments who were impoverished relied on enterprisers who loaned the money to recruiters. I'm not quite sure how the enterprisers got their money back, but they must have! Organizing supplies was just as arduous as recruiting; the men had to be fed, and horses found for the cavalry, and servants and women accommodated, and most of these supplies had to be shipped by river. When the troops got ahead of their supply trains, the countryside was ravaged.

Death and desertion (wastage rates) seem to be about 1 in 4 per month, but in battle, it was common that more than half of a regiment would be killed. Ransoms rescued a few more officers, and common soldiers were sometimes simply welcomed into the enemy army - far more commonly than would ever occur today - but it also happened that prisoners were slaughtered, and that many died of disease and hunger.

Changes to military drill are attributed to John and Maurice of Nassau. They founded an academy, pioneered the revolving salvo, trained soldiers in the discipline of movement and drill, and published the first pictorial drill manual "The Exercise of Arms." Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden put their ideas to work in his armies in a way that proved most effective in the Thirty Years' War.

Military changes also included the brigade, field cannons for pitched battles, and new methods for taking cities. Open battles were important, but the siege of cities adapted to bombardment took far longer, and was far more important for securing a countyside. These changes in scale - the sheer number of troops, the kinds of activities they engaged in, the volume of supplies and weapons, and the length of siege-dominated war - spurred a qualitative change in the way governments organized and the way common people lived.

The War and German Society

What effect did war have on German society? Individual hamlets were ravaged, but some fought back, and some soldiers got away with rapine and murder, but some soldiers were reprimanded for their misdeeds. Was there "an all-destructive fury of the Thirty Years' War?" Our author says yes, in immediate individual situations, but no, if we consider the 20 year following. Peasants fled from their lands to fortified cities, and some close-living populations died of plagues that periodically swept through. Between 1615 and 1650 there is a significant decline in economic activity.

Pinpointing reasons may be a bit harder. War damages some kinds of trades while inflating others. Some of what the soldiers took in the form of taxes was spent again in the cities that had been taxed. And economic trends may have been downward anyway as the Atlantic economies rose. Alternatively, some scholars see Germany as a vigorous area, so vigorous, in fact, that the Thirty Years' War as part of an economic expansion, and the war itself disposed of excess capital. After the war, there was an economic rebound; buildings were rebuilt, production and trade resumed. The long-term effect may have been exaggerated by previous historians, but the short term effect, for that generation, was just as devastating as could ever be.

The War and Politics

Was the Westphalian settlement a politically fruitful settlement? Yes, says our author, in defiance of some other scholarly opinion. Germans and Europeans settled two key points: religion and the Habsburgs were both removed as sources of conflict. That peace did not everywhere ensue is not the fault, necessarily, of the settlements that were made. Sweden and France "continued to fight their neighbors for another sixty years."

Why was the war so long? Confessional politics destabilized Europe for 120 years. There was no necessary correlation between personal religious choice, the church as an institution, national security and foreign policy, and yet these were combined in the most explosive of ways, creating odd enemies and a constantly shifting line of alliances. The war lasted as long as it did, in part because of this mixture of politics and religion. It may be that war was due anyway: overproduction and overpopulation may have been a problem. But it seems that Germany recovered rather well immediately following the war. It is difficult, in fact, to find in records anywhere just how great the human loss was. No one power possessed the ability to convincingly crush the others, and this also may have lengthened the war. Finally, he cites "persistent painstaking opportunism" on the part of the elites, combined with the paralysis of normal political channels that "exerted a decisive effect on the course of the Thirty Years' War."

What have I learned from this book? What questions do I have?

Disparities of information really make statecraft a nervy business.
Somebody who understands the locals is just as important then as now.
Singular charismatic, stubborn and insane individuals could and did have enormous impact (Wallerstein, Ferdinand's Edict)
Peasants without walls are almost always losers.
The scale of conscript fighting in the 30 Years' War was unprecedented, financially ruinous to states; rulers seem to be underwater and not certain how they got there. On this note, such uncertain mechanisms for taxes gave mercenary entrepreneurs a unique opportunity.
A lot of guys would rather be soldiers than peasants. (You'll probably die, but you'll travel first…?)
Nobody wants peace until the money runs out.

Diplomacy seems incredibly tortuous -- is it just that everyone owed everyone? -- or is Parker right about the destabilizing effect of religion linked to politics?

Is there such a thing as a unique period of brutality, and was this such a period? Possibly, because of the "preferred foreign army" policy.