The horrific series of conflicts known as the Thirty Years War (1618-48) 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.

The extraordinary narrative of the war haunted Europe's leaders into the twentieth century (comparisons with 1939-45 were entirely appropriate) and modern Europe cannot be understood without reference to this dreadful conflict.

The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) was Europe's most destructive conflict prior to the two world wars. Two of European history's greatest generals faced each other at Lützen in November 1632, mid-way through this terrible war. Neither achieved his objective. Albrecht von Wallenstein withdrew his battered imperial army at nightfall, unaware that his opponent, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, had died a few hours earlier. The indecisive military outcome found an immediate echo in image and print, and became the object of political and historical disputes. Swedish propaganda swiftly fostered the lasting image of the king's sacrifice for the Protestant cause against the spectre of Catholic Habsburg 'universal monarchy'. The standard assumption that the king had 'met his death in the hour of victory' became integral to how Gustavus Adolphus's contribution to modern warfare has been remembered, even celebrated, while the study of Lützen's wider legacy shows how such events are constantly rewritten as elements of propaganda, religious and national identity, and professional military culture. The battle's religious and political associations also led to its adoption as a symbol by those advocating German unification under Prussian leadership. The battlefield remains a place of pilgrimage to this day and a site for the celebration of Protestant German and Nordic culture. This book is the first to combine analysis of the battle itself with an assessment of its cultural, political and military legacy, and the first to incorporate recent archaeological research within a reappraisal of the events and their significance. It challenges the accepted view that Lützen is a milestone in military development, arguing instead that its impact was more significant on the cultural and political level.
The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) was Europe's most destructive conflict prior to the two world wars. Two of European history's greatest generals faced each other at Lützen in November 1632, mid-way through this terrible war. Neither achieved his objective. Albrecht von Wallenstein withdrew his battered imperial army at nightfall, unaware that his opponent, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, had died a few hours earlier. The indecisive military outcome found an immediate echo in image and print, and became the object of political and historical disputes. Swedish propaganda swiftly fostered the lasting image of the king's sacrifice for the Protestant cause against the spectre of Catholic Habsburg 'universal monarchy'. The standard assumption that the king had 'met his death in the hour of victory' became integral to how Gustavus Adolphus's contribution to modern warfare has been remembered, even celebrated, while the study of Lützen's wider legacy shows how such events are constantly rewritten as elements of propaganda, religious and national identity, and professional military culture. The battle's religious and political associations also led to its adoption as a symbol by those advocating German unification under Prussian leadership. The battlefield remains a place of pilgrimage to this day and a site for the celebration of Protestant German and Nordic culture. This book is the first to combine analysis of the battle itself with an assessment of its cultural, political and military legacy, and the first to incorporate recent archaeological research within a reappraisal of the events and their significance. It challenges the accepted view that Lützen is a milestone in military development, arguing instead that its impact was more significant on the cultural and political level.
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