Read More: The Thirty Years War (1618-1648)

  • by Antony Ramm, Information and Research, Central Library

This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.

2018 will mark the significant anniversary of a dreadful European conflict, one fought by many of the continent’s major powers, costing millions of lives and causing untold devastation to the land. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) may be sufficiently far in the past that most Europeans will pay its anniversary little attention but, in many ways, the conflict was even more terrible than the First World War. For that reason – and because, during August, the people of Augsburg mark the Peace of Westphalia that brought an end to the Thirty Years’ War – we thought this month a fitting time to draw your attention to some resources relating to these fascinating events. All the books described below are available from our Local and Family History library.

Destruction of German locales
Destruction of German locales

Table showing some of the destruction of German locales during the Thirty-Years War – taken from Documents of German History (ed,. Louis Snyder)

The Thirty Years’ War can be confusing for the modern reader to follow and it is useful to read a general history of the conflict before exploring the detail. While the most recent history (Peter H. Wilson’s Europe’s Tragedy: A History of the Thirty Years’ War) is available elsewhere, the Information and Research department also holds loanable copies of some slightly older – but no less informative – histories, including those by J.A. Polisensky, G. Pages and S.H. Steinberg. However, perhaps the most interesting history available in our collection is that by the German poet and philosopher Frederic Schiller. Our edition is from 1828 and is available to view by asking staff.

History of the Thirty Years War in Germany
History of the Thirty Years War in Germany

Title page of Schiller’s History of the Thirty Years War in Germany: Volume I. Volume II is also available.

Just as the First World War ultimately centred on what rule Germany would have over other European states, so the Thirty Years War was fought to settle the question of who would rule Germany. Not yet a unified nation, 17th-century Germany instead consisted of various sub-units, principalities, duchies, counties and other domains, all owing nominal allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire, but all claiming varying levels of sovereignty; and it was the balance of power between Empire and state, especially in matters of religious conscience, that was to be the originating issue of the conflict. The 1913 work by James Bryce is still among the most useful guides to the dizzying complexities of the Holy Roman Empire.

Just as in the First World War, conflict soon drew in the other major European powers, foremost among them France and the two Habsburg branches of Spain and Austria. The Dutch, British, Swedish and Danish would all become involved in time, and to varying degrees, as the Thirty Years’ War became folded into conflicts such as the Anglo-Spanish War, the Eighty-Years War and the Habsburg-Bourbon rivalry. Loanable studies of combatants during this period – such as the Netherlands, France, Spain and the Habsburgs – are available from the Information and Research library, while a volume of essays debating the Dutch-Spanish rivalry is also present in the department’s collection. Other borrowable books of relevancy include biographies of Cardinal Richelieu of France and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Also relating to Adolphus is an intriguing volume entitled the Swedish Intelligencer from 1632; reckoned to be the world’s first example of an illustrated newspaper, our copy of this work (which includes Parts 3 and 4 of the whole) contains an eyewitness account of the Swedish king’s death at the Battle of Lutzen in 1632. This incredible item is available for viewing by asking staff.

Extract from the Swedish Intelligence
Extract from the Swedish Intelligence

The war was notorious for the involvement of soldiers without a direct connection to the cause or country for which they were fighting. Our Gascoigne collection of militaria includes a volume detailing the records of Scots Brigade troops in the service of the Netherlands during this period and a biography of Sir Edward Cecil, commander of an English regiment in Dutch service from 1627 to 1629.

Image of Sir Edward Cecil, taken from the 'Life and Times of General Sir Edward Cecil; Viscount Wimbledon'
Image of Sir Edward Cecil, taken from the ‘Life and Times of General Sir Edward Cecil; Viscount Wimbledon’

The most famous commander of the whole conflict, however, was not a mercenary: Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian military leader and politician, who fought on behalf of the Holy Roman Empire. Together with a relatively modern (1976) – and loanable – narration of Wallenstein’s life, our collection also includes an 1840 biography of this great military leader. That book – and the items from the Gascoigne collection – are available to view by asking staff.

Title page of 'The life of Wallenstein; Duke of Friedland'
Title page of ‘The life of Wallenstein; Duke of Friedland’

Finally, as with the First World War, the Thirty Years’ War inspired a multitude of creative writing. Fiction related to the conflict that is available from our collection includes loanable copies of novels by Hans Jacob Cristoffel von Grimmelshausen (who actually fought during the conflict itself), Alessandro Manzoni and Gunter Grass, as well as plays by Bertold Brecht and Frederic Schiller. Foremost among these items, however, is a 1751 edition of Daniel Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier, which was actually printed in Leeds. Again, this volume from our special collections is available to view by asking staff.

Title page of the Leeds [Leedes] - printed edition of Defoe's Memoirs of a Cavalier
Title page of the Leeds [Leedes] – printed edition of Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier
 The books described here are just a small sample of the 90,000 titles belonging to our Information and Research library, many of which are available to loan. See our library catalogue for a full list of all titles and login to your library account, or contact your local library, to reserve any Information and Research books.

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