The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy

Overview

A deadly continental struggle, the Thirty Years War devastated seventeenth-century Europe, killing nearly a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to towns and countryside alike. Peter Wilson offers the first new history in a generation of a horrifying conflict that transformed the map of the modern world.

When defiant Bohemians tossed the Habsburg emperor’s envoys from the castle windows in Prague in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire struck back with a vengeance. Bohemia was ravaged...

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Overview

A deadly continental struggle, the Thirty Years War devastated seventeenth-century Europe, killing nearly a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to towns and countryside alike. Peter Wilson offers the first new history in a generation of a horrifying conflict that transformed the map of the modern world.

When defiant Bohemians tossed the Habsburg emperor’s envoys from the castle windows in Prague in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire struck back with a vengeance. Bohemia was ravaged by mercenary troops in the first battle of a conflagration that would engulf Europe from Spain to Sweden. The sweeping narrative encompasses dramatic events and unforgettable individuals—the sack of Magdeburg; the Dutch revolt; the Swedish militant king Gustavus Adolphus; the imperial generals, opportunistic Wallenstein and pious Tilly; and crafty diplomat Cardinal Richelieu. In a major reassessment, Wilson argues that religion was not the catalyst, but one element in a lethal stew of political, social, and dynastic forces that fed the conflict.

By war’s end a recognizably modern Europe had been created, but at what price? The Thirty Years War condemned the Germans to two centuries of internal division and international impotence and became a benchmark of brutality for centuries. As late as the 1960s, Germans placed it ahead of both world wars and the Black Death as their country’s greatest disaster.

An understanding of the Thirty Years War is essential to comprehending modern European history. Wilson’s masterful book will stand as the definitive account of this epic conflict.

For a map of Central Europe in 1618, referenced on page XVI, please visit the book feature.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal

Among continental Europeans, the Thirty Years War is etched in memory...A definitive account has been needed, and now Peter Wilson, one of Britain's leading historians of Germany, has provided it. The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy is a history of prodigious erudition that manages to corral the byzantine complexity of the Thirty Years War into a coherent narrative. It also offers a bracingly novel interpretation. Historians typically portray the Thirty Years War as the last and goriest of Europe's religious wars—a final bonfire of the zealots before the cooler age of enlightened statecraft. Mr. Wilson severely qualifies this conventional wisdom. It turns out that the quintessential war of religion was scarcely one at all...Wilson's masterful account of the Thirty Years War is a reminder that war, and peace, are almost never the offspring of conviction alone.
— Jeffrey Collins

Booklist

Only in retrospect did the strife acquire coherence as the Thirty Years' War, and Wilson incisively cuts through its several phases to recount the objectives and options of the warring parties...Confidently argued, clearly written, Wilson's history is superb coverage of this pivotal period in European history.
— Gilbert Taylor

The Times
Peter Wilson's book is a major work, the first new history of the Thirty Years' War in a generation. It is a fascinating, brilliantly written attempt to explain a compelling series of events, which tore the heart out of Europe.
Sunday Times

[It] succeeds brilliantly. It is huge both in its scene-setting and its unfolding narrative detail...It is to Wilson's credit that he can both offer the reader a detailed account of this terrible and complicated war and step back to give due summaries. His scholarship seems to me remarkable, his prose light and lovely, his judgments fair. This is a heavyweight book, no doubt. Sometimes, though, the very best of them have to be.
— Paul Kennedy

Choice

Wilson's monumental study captures both the complexities of the political and military transformations and the level of brutality that the endemic struggles unleashed...This will be the defining study of the Thirty Years War for the next generation.
— P. G. Wallace

Wall Street Journal - Jeffrey Collins
Among continental Europeans, the Thirty Years War is etched in memory...A definitive account has been needed, and now Peter Wilson, one of Britain's leading historians of Germany, has provided it. The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy is a history of prodigious erudition that manages to corral the byzantine complexity of the Thirty Years War into a coherent narrative. It also offers a bracingly novel interpretation. Historians typically portray the Thirty Years War as the last and goriest of Europe's religious wars--a final bonfire of the zealots before the cooler age of enlightened statecraft. Mr. Wilson severely qualifies this conventional wisdom. It turns out that the quintessential war of religion was scarcely one at all...Wilson's masterful account of the Thirty Years War is a reminder that war, and peace, are almost never the offspring of conviction alone.
Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
Only in retrospect did the strife acquire coherence as the Thirty Years' War, and Wilson incisively cuts through its several phases to recount the objectives and options of the warring parties...Confidently argued, clearly written, Wilson's history is superb coverage of this pivotal period in European history.
Sunday Times - Paul Kennedy
[It] succeeds brilliantly. It is huge both in its scene-setting and its unfolding narrative detail...It is to Wilson's credit that he can both offer the reader a detailed account of this terrible and complicated war and step back to give due summaries. His scholarship seems to me remarkable, his prose light and lovely, his judgments fair. This is a heavyweight book, no doubt. Sometimes, though, the very best of them have to be.
Choice - P. G. Wallace
Wilson's monumental study captures both the complexities of the political and military transformations and the level of brutality that the endemic struggles unleashed...This will be the defining study of the Thirty Years War for the next generation.
Publishers Weekly
From the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, brutal warfare swept across Europe. In his monumental study of the causes and the consequences of the Thirty Years War, Wilson, a professor of history at the University of Hull in England, challenges traditional interpretations of the war as primarily religious. He explores instead the political, social, economic as well as religious forces behind the conflict—for example, an Ottoman incursion left the Hapsburg Empire considerably weakened and overshadowed by the Spanish empire. Wilson then provides a meticulous account of the war, introducing some of its great personalities: the crafty General Wallenstein; the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, who preserved his state through canny political treaties and military operations; and Hapsburg archdukes Rudolf and Matthias, the brothers whose quarrels marked the future of Bohemia, Austria and Hungary. By the war's end, ravaged as all the states were by violence, disease and destruction, Europe was more stable, but with sovereign states rather than empires, and with a secular order. Wilson's scholarship and attention to both the details and the larger picture make his the definitive history of the Thirty Years War. 16 pages of color photos; 22 maps. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Castaldo (pastor of outreach & church planting, College Church) writes as a former Roman Catholic who has converted to evangelical Protestantism. He places himself in the "positive identity" camp now—that is, among those who cooperate warily with Catholics in some matters while remaining critical of Catholic polity and doctrine. While some readers may be uncomfortable with Castaldo's evangelism, mild and centrist as it is, his book importantly addresses the mutual ignorance many Christian denominations have of each other, especially at the lay level. VERDICT A useful, if not unbiased, survey of the differences between Catholicism and conservative Christianity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674062313
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 1024
  • Sales rank: 206,490
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter H. Wilson is G. F. Grant Professor of History at the University of Hull.
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Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Maps and Battle Plans
  • List of Tables
  • Note on Form
  • The Habsburg Family Tree 1500–1665
  • Map of Central Europe, 1618
  • Note on Currencies
  • Preface
  • Part I: Beginnings
    • 1. Introduction
      • Three Men and a Window
      • Interpretations
      • The Argument


    • 2. Trouble in the Heart of Christendom
      • The Empire
      • Confessionalization
      • Religion and Imperial Law


    • 3. Casa d’Austria
      • Lands and Dynasty
      • Estates and Confession
      • The Catholic Revival


    • 4. The Turkish War and Its Consequences
      • The Turkish Menace
      • The Ways of War
      • The Long Turkish War
      • The Brothers’ Quarrel


    • 5. Pax Hispanica
      • The Spanish Monarchy
      • The Dutch Revolt 1568–1609
      • The Spanish Road
      • Spanish Peace-making


    • 6. Dominium Maris Baltici
      • Denmark
      • The Divided House of Vasa
      • Poland-Lithuania


    • 7. From Rudolf to Matthias 1582–1612
      • Religion and the German Princes
      • Confession and Imperial Politics to 1608
      • Union and Liga 1608–9
      • The Ju¨ lich-Cleves Crisis 1609–10


    • 8. On the Brink?
      • Emperor Matthias
      • The Uskok War and the Habsburg Succession 1615–17
      • Palatine Brinkmanship




  • Part Two: Conflict
  • 9. The Bohemian Revolt 1618–20
    • For Liberty and Privilege
    • A King for a Crown
    • Ferdinand Gathers His Forces
    • White Mountain
    • Accounting for Failure


  • 10. Ferdinand Triumphant 1621–4
    • The Palatine Cause
    • Protestant Paladins
    • The Catholic Ascendancy 1621–9


  • 11. Olivares and Richelieu
    • Olivares
    • Richelieu
    • The Valtellina


  • 12. Denmark’s War against the Emperor 1625–9
    • Trouble in Lower Saxony
    • Wallenstein
    • Denmark’s Defeat 1626–9


  • 13. The Threat of European War 1628–30
    • The Baltic
    • The Netherlands
    • Mantua and La Rochelle
    • The Edict of Restitution
    • The Regensburg Electoral Congress 1630


  • 14. The Lion of the North 1630–2
    • Swedish Intervention
    • Between the Lion and the Eagle
    • The Swedish Empire
    • Calls for Assistance
    • Zenith


  • 15. Without Gustavus 1633–4
    • The Heilbronn League
    • Tension along the Rhine
    • Spain Intervenes
    • Wallenstein: the Final Act
    • The Two Ferdinands


  • 16. For the Liberty of Germany 1635–6
    • Richelieu Resolves on War
    • The War in the West 1635–6
    • The Peace of Prague 1635
    • Appeals to Patriotism
    • Renewed Efforts for Peace


  • 17. Habsburg High Tide 1637–40
    • Stalemate
    • Resolution on the Rhine
    • Peace for North Germany?


  • 18. In the Balance 1641–3
    • The Franco-Swedish Alliance 1641
    • The War in the Empire 1642–3
    • Spain’s Growing Crisis 1635–43
    • From Breda to Rocroi 1637–43


  • 19. Pressure to Negotiate 1644–5
    • The Westphalian Congress
    • France in Germany 1644
    • The Baltic Becomes Swedish 1643–5
    • 1645: Annus horribilis et mirabilis


  • 20. War or Peace 1646–8
    • A Crisis of Confidence 1646
    • Towards Consensus
    • Spain’s Peace with the Dutch
    • The Final Round 1648



  • Part Three: Aftermath
  • 21. The Westphalian Settlement
    • The International Dimension
    • A Christian Peace
    • Demobilization
    • The Imperial Recovery


  • 22. The Human and Material Cost
    • An All-destructive Fury?
    • The Demographic Impact
    • The Economic Impact
    • The Crisis of the Territorial State
    • Cultural Impact


  • 23. Experiencing War
    • The Nature of Experience
    • Military–Civil Relations
    • Perceptions
    • Commemoration



  • Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Index

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