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About this book

An edited and annotated collection of translated documents on the Thirty Years War, providing students with accessible source material on this destructive conflict. Covering all aspects of the war from a variety of contemporary perspectives, it brings together an exciting range of material from treaties to literature to eyewitness accounts.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
The Thirty Years War was the greatest man-made calamity to befall Europe before the twentieth century, claiming proportionately far more lives than either of the world wars. It has been variously presented as the culmination of an age of ‘religious wars’ beginning with the Protestant Reformation in 1517, as an international struggle against Austrian and Spanish Habsburg predominance, and, more narrowly, as a German national disaster. These interpretations are supplemented by further national perspectives, each relating events through the experience of one of the many other countries which became involved.
Peter H. Wilson

1. Political and religious tension in the Empire after 1555

Abstract
It was long customary for historians to blame the outbreak of the Thirty Years War on the failure of the Peace of Augsburg to resolve tensions in the Empire arising from the disputes over the Protestant Reformation [Doc. 1]. This treaty was deliberately ambiguous in its language to allow both Catholics and Lutherans to sign it whilst still disagreeing fundamentally over what constituted supposedly absolute and singular religious truth. The ambiguity was not immediately a problem and the treaty proved surprisingly durable, helping to sustain the longest period of peace in modern German history prior to the tranquillity that has lasted since 1945.
Peter H. Wilson

2. Confessional polarisation? Protestant Union and Catholic League

Abstract
The elector Palatine fanned the controversy from the Donauwörth incident [Doc. 3] to rally support for his programme of reorganising the Empire along confessional lines. Though a senior prince, he felt marginalised as an adherent of a minority confession (Calvinism) within a political minority (Protestant imperial Estates) in the Empire. He wanted the imperial Estates to meet in two confessional groups, rather than in the customary three ‘colleges’ of electors, princes and imperial cities in the imperial diet, since Catholics held the majority in all three. However, religious groupings had been controversial in the Empire since the earlier Schmalkaldic League of Lutheran princes and towns, formed in 1531, which had been defeated by Emperor Charles V in a short, but decisive, war in 1546–7. Lutheran Saxony consistently opposed such sectarian alliances thereafter, preferring to cooperate with the emperor and moderate Catholics to safeguard the rights gained in 1555. Relatively few Protestant imperial Estates thus joined the elector Palatine in the Protestant Union founded in 1608 [Doc. 4].
Peter H. Wilson

3. Crisis in the Habsburg monarchy

Abstract
The Habsburgs’ ability to deal with problems in the Empire was impaired by mounting difficulties in their own lands. The dynasty remained solidly Catholic, but most of their nobility and many urban burghers converted to Protestantism from the 1560s. Unlike the Reichstag where the Catholic imperial Estates retained a majority, the Protestants outnumbered the remaining Catholic nobles, burghers and clergy in the provincial Estates (assemblies) of the Habsburg lands. They used the power of the purse to bargain religious concessions from the dynasty in return for taxes (paid largely by the peasants!) to amortise the dynasty’s large debts and to maintain defences against the Turks along the Hungarian frontier. This policy split the provincial Estates, where the Catholic minority, whilst not always agreeing with the dynasty, nonetheless opposed the Protestants’ special privileges.
Peter H. Wilson

4. The Bohemian Revolt and its aftermath

Abstract
The Habsburgs had ruled Bohemia since 1525 and regarded it as a hereditary possession. The Bohemians saw the formal acceptance of each new king through their diet (assembly) as an election. Religious differences partly overlapped these constitutional disagreements, because most Bohemian nobles were Protestant and associated their religious freedoms with political autonomy. Emperor Matthias moved the Habsburg court back to Vienna on his accession in 1612, leaving the government of Bohemia in the hands of ten regents, including three Protestants. The regents continued the earlier policy of restricting crown appointments to Catholics and applying a narrow interpretation of Protestant religious and political privileges. This was stepped up after 1617 when Matthias arranged for Ferdinand II to succeed him as Bohemian king, whilst he remained emperor. A group of Protestant aristocratic malcontents staged the Defenestration as a calculated coup, hoping that throwing the regents out of the palace window would radicalise the more moderate majority into following their confrontational policies [Doc. 11]. The rebels’ ‘Apology’ attempted to justify this and enlist foreign support to forestall a violent Habsburg backlash [Doc. 12]. The ailing Matthias initially tried to negotiate [Doc. 13], but both sides swiftly resorted to arms, and the conflict escalated once Ferdinand II became emperor in 1619.
Peter H. Wilson

5. Spain and the Netherlands

Abstract
The Thirty Years War ran parallel to the second stage of the Eighty Years War, or Dutch Revolt against Spain. This began when Philip II of Spain (1527–98, r.1558) used force to silence protests over a wide range of religious, fiscal and political grievances in the Netherlands. Military repression radicalised opposition to Spanish rule and led to a protracted struggle from the 1560s. Spanish forces recovered control of the south (modern Belgium and Luxembourg) by 1585, prompting most of the Protestants there to flee to the north, or to England and Germany. However, the rebels remained defiant in the area north of the Rhine. Leadership of the revolt passed into the hands of Calvinist nobles and urban patricians, but the majority of the inhabitants of the seven northern provinces were still Catholic or Lutheran at this point. The leaders reorganised the north as an independent republic which secured de facto recognition from Protestant countries, but also Catholic Venice.
Peter H. Wilson

6. The war in western and northern Germany 1621–9

Abstract
The defeat at White Mountain ended Frederick V’s rule in Bohemia and left him a fugitive dependent on handouts from the parsimonious Dutch and his British in-laws. The war continued because he refused to accept the loss of his electoral title and half his Palatine lands as Ferdinand II’s price for a pardon. The ‘Palatine Cause’ became a rallying cry for all those hostile to the Habsburgs, since war in the Empire distracted Spain from its campaign against the Dutch and prevented Austria from assisting Philip IV. Various minor German princes also rallied to Frederick V for a variety of personal, political and confessional reasons, and raised troops from their own resources and by plundering neighbouring Catholic territories. Bavaria continued to back Ferdinand, because it was the chief beneficiary of the emperor’s desire to punish the Palatinate. The Catholic League army under Count Jean Tserclaes de Tilly (1559–1632), reinforced by Spanish and imperial contingents, advanced against Frederick’s forces defending the Lower Palatinate on the middle Rhine. Frederick’s commander was Count Ernst von Mansfeld (1580–1626), a brilliant organiser but a poor general who pursued his own secret negotiations with the Habsburgs, hoping for better rewards. Frederick was unable to pay Mansfeld’s army properly and it quickly acquired notoriety for its plundering and extortion [see Doc. 121].
Peter H. Wilson

7. The Catholic ascendancy

Abstract
Danish intervention in 1625 restarted the war which had effectively ended with the defeat, two years before, of the last of Frederick V’s armies at Stadtlohn. Spain had withdrawn its contingent which had served with the imperial army since 1619, because it needed the soldiers for its own war against the Dutch. Always short of money [see Docs 127–30], the emperor could not afford a large army, most of which had to be deployed to protect Hungary against periodic Transylvanian attacks and the threat of war with the Ottoman empire. The resumption of war in north Germany exposed Ferdinand II’s dependency on Bavaria and the Catholic League, since Tilly’s troops were the only ones available to oppose the Danes. Bavaria also found the war costly [see Doc. 131] and Maximilian urged Ferdinand to increase his army — a request the Bavarian elector would later regret. Ferdinand responded by appointing Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Waldstein (1583–1634), better known as Wallenstein, to raise and command a new army in the Empire. Though a relatively junior general, Wallenstein had amassed a huge fortune through his role in confiscating property from the defeated Bohemian rebels. He was already a controversial figure, known for his haughty demeanour, seemingly boundless ambition and, as details leaked out, his theologically suspect interest in astrology [Docs 47–50].
Peter H. Wilson

8. The Edict of Restitution, 1629

Abstract
A major factor behind the electors’ opposition at their congress in Regensburg in 1630 was their alarm at Ferdinand’s unilateral attempt to settle all the disputed points of the 1555 Religious Peace by issuing the Edict of Restitution in March 1629. Restitution meant the return of all Catholic church property and rights acquired by Protestants since 1552, the normative year imposed in the 1555 Religious Peace [see Doc. 1]. While this involved questions of constitutional and property law, it was also clearly a religious issue, not least through the linkage of demands for restitution with attempts to reimpose Catholicism on people who had embraced Protestantism since 1555, or who had lived on land belonging to princes declared rebels by the emperor since 1618. Re-Catholicisation gained pace after White Mountain in the Habsburg lands where it targeted the Protestant nobility [see Doc. 29]. It was extended to other parts of the Empire in the wake of Tilly’s victories, but made relatively little progress amongst ordinary subjects who were reluctant to abandon Protestantism [Doc. 61].
Peter H. Wilson

9. Swedish intervention 1630

Abstract
Swedish intervention immediately divided opinion in the Empire and has proved controversial ever since. The Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus (1594–1632, r.1611), was hailed as a divine saviour by Protestant militants and those, like the Bohemian and Austrian exiles, who had suffered from the earlier Habsburg victories. Moderates and princes like Elector Johann Georg of Saxony (1586–1656, r.1611) bitterly resented the Swedes as foreign invaders whose presence gravely threatened hopes of a peaceful resolution to the crisis triggered by the Edict of Restitution [see Doc. 62].
Peter H. Wilson

10. The destruction of Magdeburg, 1631

Abstract
The destruction of Magdeburg was the worst calamity to befall any community during the war. It attracted attention throughout Europe and swiftly came to exemplify a conflict which seemed to break all bounds. Pappenheim’s estimate of the death toll is probably correct [Doc. 79]. Only about a fifth of the city’s 25,000 inhabitants survived and over 4,500 of these soon fled their devastated homes, many of which were still in ruins a century later. Even after 12 years of conflict, devastation on this scale was deeply shocking, but reactions to the disaster were mixed and far more complex than the later reception in the historical literature which generally presents it merely as an extreme example of the horrors of war.
Peter H. Wilson

11. Sweden’s search for security and reward, 1631–5

Abstract
Magdeburg’s destruction was a potential public relations disaster for Sweden, since it exposed Gustavus Adolphus’s inability to protect his German allies. This explains some of the virulent polemics during 1631, which deflected attention from Swedish inactivity by emphasising how the incident demonstrated Catholic tyranny. Having persuaded Saxony to join him [see Doc. 76], Gustavus finally confronted Tilly at Breitenfeld near Leipzig in September 1631 [see Doc. 117]. The battle was the king’s greatest victory. The imperial army collapsed, enabling Gustavus to advance deep into the Catholic ecclesiastical lands in central Germany. Having taken Würzburg [Doc. 91], he overran much of the Rhineland and parts of north and south-west Germany.
Peter H. Wilson

12. Wallenstein’s second generalship, 1632–4

Abstract
The terms of Wallenstein’s reappointment as imperial commander were negotiated at Göllersdorf outside Vienna in April 1632 [Doc. 97]. The original no longer exists; almost certainly destroyed deliberately to remove anything that might have incriminated the emperor. Having recovered some ground during 1632, Wallenstein concentrated his efforts the following year to persuade Saxony to change sides. This objective was pursued through a combination of military pressure and secret negotiations [Doc. 99]. Though Wallenstein kept the emperor apprised of general developments, he remained reticent on the details. The earlier criticism of his boundless ambition swiftly resurfaced, not least because he remained suspiciously inactive in Silesia for most of 1633, while Swedish armies overran much of south-west Germany and threatened Bavaria again [Doc. 98]. The emperor and his advisors hesitated to remove him, fearing they had lost control of the army [Doc. 100].
Peter H. Wilson

13. The Peace of Prague, 1635

Abstract
Wallenstein’s death removed a principal obstacle to Saxony’s desire to change sides by allowing it to negotiate with the emperor through more reliable channels. The Swedes were aware of what was happening, but were unwilling to challenge Saxony openly for fear of discouraging their other, equally lukewarm, German allies. The crushing imperial victory at Nördlingen on 6 September 1634 finally made it safe for Saxony to defect. One half of the Swedish army retreated precipitously to the Rhine, while the other half withdrew northwards to defend Pomerania.
Peter H. Wilson

14. War and politics, 1635–40

Abstract
Despite securing the army’s loyalty in the Powder Barrel Convention [see Doc. 104], there seemed little prospect in 1635 of Sweden defeating the emperor. Swedish forces had been halved by the loss of the south German army under Bernhard of Weimar who retreated to the Rhine after Nördlingen and later took his men into French service (for an English translation of this arrangement, see G. Symcox (ed.), War, Diplomacy and Imperialism, 1618–1763 (London, 1974), pp. 117–25). Many in Sweden’s regency council initially urged Oxenstierna to make peace, but all were reluctant to leave Germany without at least some compensation [Doc. 106].
Peter H. Wilson

15. Military organisation and the war economy

Abstract
Much of the writing on the war conveys the impression it was waged by debauched mercenaries with no loyalty other than to the highest bidder. Mercenaries already had a poor reputation in the sixteenth century when they were shunned socially by the pious who condemned their trade in killing. In fact, mercenaries were simply those who enlisted for a bounty and received pay. Most were subjects of their paymaster, to whom they were already bound by feudal jurisdiction, dynastic and confessional loyalty. Some were drafted under the limited forms of conscription which existed in Denmark, Sweden and most German territories. These systems invariably stated the principle of universal service to defend hearth and home, but then elaborated numerous exemptions based on social and marital status, occupation, age and fitness. The Scandinavian systems placed men directly in the regular army, which also contained units of mercenaries, i.e. professionals. The conscripts were at least nominally reserved for national defence and the Danish constitution contained provisions restricting their use outside the country.
Peter H. Wilson

16. Experience

Abstract
Most civilians encountered soldiers as unwelcome intruders who disturbed the peace of their community. Often, the troops were only passing through, stopping just long enough to rest and consume anything worth taking. Others stayed longer as expensive garrisons in strategic towns [see Docs 125–6]. Civic officials found themselves overruled by commandants who did as they pleased. The community’s normal routine was completely suspended if the other side approached and the garrison prepared for a siege [Doc. 133]. The consequences of prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful resistance were all too graphically demonstrated by Magdeburg’s fate [see Docs 79–90].
Peter H. Wilson

17. Peace making, 1641–8

Abstract
The initial optimism generated by the Peace of Prague [see Doc. 103] had long evaporated by the time Ferdinand III succeeded his father in February 1637. The new emperor was more pragmatic, but equally determined to preserve the gains his father had secured in 1635. He summoned the imperial diet in 1640 for the first meeting since 1613. Though the assembled imperial Estates agreed continued support for the war against Sweden and France, many were clearly growing disillusioned. After the negotiations through the Saxon elector collapsed in 1636, peace talks were shifted to Hamburg, a financial centre which all sides found expedient to regard as neutral. The deteriorating military and political situation obliged Ferdinand III to accept the Hamburg Peace Preliminaries in December 1641 [Doc. 157]. These settled the form, but not the content of the peace, by arranging for a general congress to meet in the two Westphalian towns of Münster and Osnabrück.
Peter H. Wilson

18. The Peace of Westphalia

Abstract
The Westphalian congress convened in 1643 in the form agreed in the Hamburg Peace Preliminaries of December 1641 [see Doc. 157]. France and Sweden presented a united front, but their delegations were quartered respectively in Münster and Osnabrück. This reflected the Habsburg interpretation of the issues as two separate wars; one against Sweden which began in 1630, the other with France after 1635. Sweden’s championing of German Liberty meant that constitutional and religious matters were mainly discussed in Osnabrück along with Swedish demands for territorial ‘satisfaction’ and the financial ‘contentment’ of its army. The latter was essential to allow Sweden to make peace, since it did not have enough money to meet its obligations to its officers under the Powder Barrel Convention [see Doc. 104].
Peter H. Wilson

19. Peace implementation, celebration, commemoration

Abstract
There were wide fears that the Westphalian settlement would not hold unless its terms were implemented swiftly. The Empire was still full of soldiers whose expensive presence retarded economic recovery and prolonged anxiety that peace would never come [Doc. 169]. France soon withdrew its small army which was needed for its continuing struggle against Spain. Bavaria and the emperor pulled their troops into their own lands to demonstrate goodwill and signal their intention to abide by the peace. The Bavarians were soon paid off with money from their immediate neighbours who were largely former members of the Catholic League. The imperial army was reduced and redeployed to Hungary to counter threats from the Ottoman Turks. Sweden refused to withdraw until its troops were paid off by the rest of the Empire. The generals met in Nuremberg to ‘execute’ (i.e. implement) the peace terms. A phased withdrawal was arranged in two ‘execution recesses’ in 1649 and 1650 [Docs 170–1]. A remarkable nine-tenths of the promised 5.2 million taler was paid to the Swedes by the June 1650 deadline, enabling a speedy withdrawal and demobilisation [Doc. 172]. Only 3 per cent of the money was still outstanding when the Swedes left their last German garrison in 1654.
Peter H. Wilson
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