Winter Driving Best Books of the Month Men's Leather Watches Learn more nav_sap_SWP_6M_fly_beacon Nothing But Thieves All-New Amazon Fire TV Grocery Amethyst Jewelry Find the Best Purina Pro Plan for Your Pet Amazon Gift Card Offer jstfd6 jstfd6 jstfd6  Amazon Echo Starting at $49.99 Kindle Voyage Shop Now SnS

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars53
Format: PaperbackChange
Price:$10.61+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on December 7, 2000
This is quite simply one of the finest works of history produced by an English or American historian during the twentieth century. It occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf alongside the works of Steven Runciman, Peter Green, and C. Vann Woodward.

Wedgwood's book has three great virtues: (1) the clarity and directness of her analysis; (2) her extensive research in a wide variety of incredibly obscure sources in many different languages; and (3) her remarkable gifts as a literary stylist. She writes beautiful, classic English prose and has a genius for portraiture. Moreover, she has visited many of the sites of the events in question and her feel for the physical background of the story is a particularly engaging part of the book.

To most history lovers, the Thirty Years' War is an obscure and impenetrable thicket considered too much trouble to explore. But Wedgwood recognized that it was one of the decisive episodes in early modern European history. It delayed the unification of Germany by two centuries; began the slow relative decline of Austrian power; paved the way for France's superpower status under Louis XIV; and accelerated Spain's decay into the sick man of eighteenth-century Europe.

One of the other reviewers suggested that Wedgwood's account was marked at times by debatable interpretations influenced by 1930's pacifism. I can see where that idea might come from, but I disagree with it. Certainly, one of Wedgwood's concerns is why the statesmen of the time were repeatedly unable to bring an end to this horribly destructive war, which took on a life of its own that defeated the original intentions of just about all of the participants (much like the Great War of Wedgwood's youth). But in contrast to a lot of other people in England in the mid-1930's, Wedgwood recognized the Nazi regime as the unmitigated evil that it was. Her book seems to have been written in part to explore how it was that Germany's past history had produced the country's monstrous new regime.

I also have a slight disagreement with the suggestion by another reviewer that Wedgwood skimps on military history. The major battles -- particularly Breitenfeld, Nordlingen and Rocroi -- are discussed here in vivid and memorable terms. But Wedgwood doesn't make dramatic battle descriptions an end in themselves. To Wedgwood, the outcome of battles is important insofar as it affected the balance of political forces and thereby made it impossible at a series of critical points to bring the war to an end.

Finally, I have to quote some representative passages to show Wedgwood's gift for language and deft portraits of the major participants. This is perhaps my favorite of the latter:

"General and private opinion flattered the archduke [Ferdinand II]'s virtues, but not his ability. Kindly contemptuous, the greater number of his contemporaries wrote him off as a good-natured simpleton wholly under the control of his chief minister Ulrich von Eggenburg. Yet Ferdinand's apparent lack of personal initiative may have been a pose . . . . He does not appear to have taken political advice from his confessors, and his subjection to the Church did not prevent him from laying violent hands on a Cardinal and defying the Pope in pursuit of what he himself felt to be right. Repeatedly in the course of his life he twisted disaster into advantage, wrenched unexpected safety out of overwhelming danger, snatched victory from defeat. His contemporaries, unimpressed, commented on his astonishing luck. If it was luck, it was indeed astonishing."

Here is her elegy for the power of imperial Spain following the disastrous battle of Rocroi:

"It was the end of the Spanish army. The cavalry survived, but they were so broken in discipline and morale as to be useless without that splendid infantry which had been the strength of the army. They had not lost their reputation at Rocroy, as the Swedes had done at Nordlingen, but they had died to keep it. . . . In the centre of their position on the fields before Rocroy there stands today a little modern monument, an unassuming grey monolith, the gravestone of the Spanish army; almost, one might say, the gravestone of Spanish greatness."
55 comments229 of 234 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon June 10, 2003
This is by far the best book ever written on the Thirty Years war and this judgement is unlikely to change very soon. Wedgewood is one of the 20th century's distiguished historians. This book was written and published during WWII and as such this gives the works a sense of dramatic urgency. Wedgewood saw clear parallels between what happened in the 17th century and what was happening to Europe in the 1940s. The Jesuits for example are referred to as "the storm troopers of the counter-Reformation.
Wedgewood's sympathies are clearly with the Protestants and there is no doubt who the hero of the book is, Gustavus Adolphus, who is in nearly every way portrayed positively. That is not to say that this is a flaw with the book, rather it is a strength. In these days of sprin doctors, it sometimes seems difficult to realize that good press was sometimes earned and deserved.
It would be too difficult to try and summarize the book in the space provided. In a nutshell, the Thirty Years war evolved into a general European conflict (with the English sitting this one out) due to many of the unresolved issues of the previous century. The Hapsburgs of Austria wanted to dominate the Holy Roman Empire, France wanted to contain the Spainish and Austrian branches, and Sweden was on its way to becoming a world power (for at least the next 100 years). The reason the war went on for so long was that no one really had the strength to land a decisive blow. Oddly enough whenever a power did come close some disaster would over take the army and the powers would have to start over again. Supplying, paying and feeding armies in the field was probably the most problematical undertaking of the entire conflict, along with finding the funds to continue the war for yet another year.
Wedgewood masterfully is able to describe a number of personalities, political situations and religious conflicts to give a real sense of both the era and the people who made it.
77 comments76 of 79 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on September 25, 2005
Halfway through this splendid book and a third of the way through this dreadful war, the reader confronts Germany as a wasteland: its crops ravaged or burnt or trampled, its peasantry slaughtered or starved or dead of disease. One might well expect that the combatants, even if they had reached no closure, would fall back exhausted. But no: there was worse to come-another 18 years of pillage and devastation until at last the participants, by now nearly bled dry, at last reconciled themselves, if not to an understanding, then at least to go home. Oddly enough the Peace of Westphalia, which at last brought the conflict to a conclusion, came in time to serve as a template for the modern political world.

This latter fact might be reason enough to read C. V. Wedgewood's classic account of the conflict. But there is a happier reason, and that is that her exposition is, from start to finish, a delight. In his introduction, Grafton calls her "the greatest narrative historian of [the 20th Century," and it is hard to quarrel with him: she is brisk precise, compassionate, mordant and energetic

Having said this, it is no contradiction to say that her story doesn't really gain traction until the coming of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, the man who, as it is said, secured the permanent establishment of Protestantism on the continent. Gustavus is the only character to get a chapter of his own and from Wedgewood, the fullest personal description. "Coarsely made and immensely strong, he was slow and rather clumsy in movement, but he could swing a spade or pick-axe with any sapper in his army. ..." Wedgewood goes on for several pages like this. It is all good reading, and in the end, it is not quite hero-worship: no matter how much she may seem to admire Gustavus (and perhaps, to a much lesser extent, some of the other protagonists), still in the end the primary focus of her attention is on the German peasants-the poor pawns, battered and abused, in this miserable contention. Nobody knows how much population Germany lost in the Thirty Years' War: some estimates say 40 percent. Whatever the number, it is hard to imagine any feats of heroism or achievements of policy than justify all the bloodshed and is fortune.

Grafton says Wedgewood writes like Gibbon. In the end she writes like herself, but against Gibbon, a better comparison might be Tacitus: Ferdinand "was no a clever man but he had a certain unconscious ability for appropriating the ideas of clever men." John George of Saxony "had been known to sit at table gorging homely foods and swilling native beer for seven hours on end, his sole approach at conversation to box his dwarf's ears or to pour the dregs of a tankard over a servant's head as a signal for more. ... [H]e drank too much and too often. ... It made diplomacy difficult." Gustavus (again) "had, like many great leaders, an unlimited capacity for self-deception. In his own eyes the Protestant champion, in Richelieu's eyes a convenient instrument against the House of Austria, he was in sober fact the protagonist of Swedish expansion on German soil. Sweden stood to gain. Protestantism stood to gain, but the German people stood to lose."

"Just imagine," someone said, "if Gustavus had not taken a bullet at Lutzen in 1632, we might have a Lutherana Pope!" Maybe. Instead we are left with a heritage no less durable for being unintended: the system of nation-states, with individual sovereignty and at least the rudiments of religious freedom-also, perhaps, the notion that nothing is worth fighting for quite this much, and that we are often better off just cultivating our garden.

And yet a final irony is that Wedgewood published her first edition with the echoes of Hitler's rhetoric in her ears. In an almost unexampled instance of contemporaneous comment, she remarks that "three centuries have smoothed every scar from [the] placid landscape, even as the philosophy of the new Germany [sc., in 1937] has submerged the spiritual landmark. `Freedom of belief for all the world'-forgotten yearning of an age forgotten among men who have no choice but to believe what they are told."
0Comment40 of 41 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on November 18, 2008
Wedgewood's history was written in 1938, when the German states were "reunified" under under Nazi rule into the "Third Reich", so she approaches the question of the 30-year civil war of the "First Reich", or Holy Roman Empire, from this perspective. She refers to the monument still standing on the battlefield of Breitenfeld, which commemorates the struggle for "freedom of belief", as a forgotten relic of a bygone age. However, she added the footnotes and the bibliographical endnote to this edition in the 1960s, so the references were updated to that time.

It still has a well-deserved reputation of being a solid factual account of the war, which was insanely complex as well as terrifyingly violent. As with most historians of her era, she concentrates on the narrative facts: who raised an army from where, where they marched it to, who they met, the battles they fought, and the results. However, its great strength is that she adds short but pithy character sketches of the main protagonists, which are good enough to be helpful, and opinionated enough to be intriguing. This prevents the story from getting bogged down, and holds the reader's interest well. At times she also goes into details of the collapse of civil society, and the horrific human consequences of the war, but perhaps not as much as a more modern author probably would have.

As with many popular works, she has a strong set of opinions, amounting really to a bias, but as with any popular work, this also helps to keep the reader's interest, whether you agree or disagree with her. For her, the Austrian and Imperial ruling family, the Habsburgs, can almost do no wrong. When Ferdinand II or Ferdinand III demand new rights and powers as the emperors of the the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, she describes them as taking the normal sorts of steps that political leaders did at the time, who were always seeking to enhance their own grandeur. Of course, she has a point, that we cannot so easily judge an historical political figure by the standards of our own day. Nevertheless, when anyone opposed to the Habsburgs resists, she describes them as rashly putting the unity of the German nation at risk. When anyone other than the Habsburgs seeks to enhance their own power within the empire, they are, for her, recklessly endangering the nation to further their personal ambition. Characters like Maximilian of Bavaria and Wallenstein, are, for her, acting wisely in the empire's best interests while they are fighting for the Habsburgs, but when they deviate from their alliance, they are succumbing to personal ambition and endangering the prospects of peace and Geman unity. After each great defeat for the Protestant cause, she describes their despair with gusto, and describes the elation of the Habsburgs and the Catholics with glee. When crucial battles go the other way, she often tends to mitigate the consequences.

Her spin on the events does not detract however from one's enjoyment, and it is the first account of the war I have read that lays out the sequence of events with such clarity and detail. In fact, her account is factual and detailed enough for a fair observer to be able to conclude at the end, despite all her spin, that the war was started primarily by the Austrian Habsburgs' determination to enhance their power by bluster, legal pressure, and if that failed, by sheer armed violence. The Austrian Habsburgs stood firmly in the way of any peace agreement, and succeeded at different times in alienating all their supporters, including their relatives in Spain, and even the Pope. The war only finally ended when the supply of funds from the Habsburgs' Spanish colonies dried up, and the Habsburg crown was bankrupt. Even so, her criticism of the unreasonableness of the Swedes, the other German princes, the Dutch, the French, and the free German cities, is not always misplaced.

As the book goes on, she gives brief descriptions of the famines, the plagues, the massacres, and the other terrifying consequences, showing the kind of pacifist sadness of the pity of war common to her era. The consequences of the Thirty Years War were so horrific that they need little embellishment to cause shock, and it almost staggers belief that a whole population of such a size could be brought to such a level of desperation and suffering. Alhtough she could have given more detail here, this kind of digression into social history was not conventional for a historian of her era, and there are many other books which cover that.

I'd found Schiller's history of the war hard to follow, and Wedgewood filled the gap quite nicely. One of the best parts of the book is the first few chapters, where she gives a lively description of the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, and a description of the constitutions of the different states, the nature of the differing religious sects, and the personalities of the main protagonists. This is essential for understanding what comes next and why people acted as they did. Without this description, the entire story is hard to follow. The book is worth getting for this section alone, but the rest is also good.
0Comment17 of 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 9, 2007
This is the best single-volume account of the Thirty Years War

(1618-1648). The war was very complex but Wedgwood provides singular

clarity. Other interpretations are possible, but her vision is strong

and memorable. The Machiavellian machinations are head-spinning, one has

to read carefully, the reward is a solid understanding of not only

17th C dynastic politics but how Medieval politics operated

before the rise of the nation state.

Wedgwood is an old-fashioned historian like Gibbon, retelling the events

in highly-readable prose, focused on the "great men". This can be

problematic, the Thirty Years War was more than just the decisions made

by a few elites - social, economic and other forces were at work. Her

sources are almost all 19th century. There are no new insights on the

war, it is a retelling of established views. As a political narrative it

is not only a great work of history but also literature.
0Comment17 of 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon April 25, 2000
I finished this book on Dec. 21, 1968, and have never found a better book on the 30 Years War. I read 50 books in 1968 and this work won my "best book read this year" award. The book is full of little touches that make it more than a history, e.g.: concerning the monument to Gustavus Adophus' greatest victory, Breitenfeld: "The monument still stands, set back from a quiet country road in the shade of a line of trees. Three centuries have smoothed every scar from that placid landscape..." or these words on the death of Ferdinand II: "On February 15(1637)at 9 in the morning his body and soul parted one from the other, the one to moulder in the vaults of Graz, the other to receive the reward for which he had laboured so long..."
0Comment15 of 15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon December 6, 2009
This is really a quite excellent book about a difficult and confusing episode in history. Wedgwood (yes, she is related to the porcelain people) does a very admirable job of disentangling the many threads that wind their way through the events so that even a reader completely unfamiliar with the story can follow along and understand not only what happened, but to some extent why and, more importantly, what the ramifications were.

That this book remains perhaps the single best work on the subject more than 70 years after it was written is a real testament to both the scholarship and writing skill that characterize it. That Wedgwood was able to write such an illuminating text while still in her twenties is all the more remarkable.

If you want an introduction to a pivotal turning point in Europe's transition from the Middle Ages to modern times, you cannot do better than this book. The one caveat that makes me withhold that fifth star is that Wedgwood gives very short shrift indeed to the enormous suffering that ravaged Central Europe for the 30 years of the war. By all accounts the horrors afflicting the civilian population almost defy belief: starvation, plague, the depredations of the soldiery, massacres, cannibalism... The list goes on and on, but one would hardly know it from reading this book, which maintains a relatively high-level view of events and limits discussion of smaller events to the individual doings of the leading characters, mainly kings, emperors, and their ministers and generals. I think this approach is very helpful in terms of following the threads that give the war its wider meaning and keeping readers' focus on these, but when all is said and done I must say I came away feeling that something vital was missing. The war now seemed so orderly and clean--and utterly devoid of human presence. I wish Wedgwood had devoted a chapter to what the grand schemes meant to an ordinary citizen.
11 comment14 of 14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 10, 2000
With its daunting history of the intrigues and politics of this complex period, it's hard to believe this book was written by a 28 year old woman (the V stands for Victoria - she used her initials because she felt that a woman historian wouldn't be taken seriously in 1938).
As long as the reader undertands that this book focuses more on the politics and strategies of the period than the military history (and more on the northern European geopolitics than the southern), he or she will not be disappointed.
The way in which she seems to get into the minds and motives of the numerous characters almost 400 years ago is nothing short of incredible.
11 comment11 of 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on July 20, 2005
I want to first agree with what the other reviewers have said regarding the readability of the book, and Wedgwood's beautiful writing. I would like to add that for those interested in a general history that gives decent accounts of the battles, this is the book to get. Parker's book, while probably more up to date andthoroughly researched is not up to the task when it comes to detailing the fighting.

I can't give it five stars as it is a bit outdated and so much new research has been published since. Still an solid general history and great choice for a first book on the subject.
0Comment12 of 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 19, 2007
For the English-language reader Wedgwood's book, which has been in print for over sixty years, is still an excellent introduction and synoptic narrative of this lengthy and turbulent period of European history. It gives brief and judicious biographical sketches of the major political and military actors of three generations: The principal antagonists at the outset -- Ferdinand II of Austria and Frederick V, Elector Palatine; the condottieri-style generals - Spinola, von Mansfeld, Tilly, Wallenstein, Piccolomini, Christian of Halberstadt, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the duc d'Enghien (Conde); the contentious minor rulers -- Maximilian V of Bavaria, Johann Georg of Saxony; the northern monarchs -- Christian IV of Denmark and Gustavus Adophus of Sweden (and his daughter Christina and prime minister, Oxenstierna); the "spoiler", Cardinal Richelieu; the new Emperor Ferdinand III and his cousin, the warlord Cardinal-Infant Ferdinand of Spain; and many others. This book is written in a traditional English historian's prose style that is clear, eloquent and totally lacking the jargon of concurrent and later social and economic histories, while still covering these aspects of the period. In spite of some reviewers' claims of a "Protestant bias" in her interpretation, the author seems extremely fair when assessing responsibility for the long-running disaster of the war, taking the position that it was the self-serving political interests of the participants (dynasties, rulers, generals and paymasters) that kept the war going at the expense of the social and economic welfare of the vast majority of inhabitants of Germany and Bohemia.

Although I am not familiar with this new edition (and Grafton's introduction) I emphasize that any reissuing of this book should have a brief scholarly introduction which supplies more details on the constitutional arrangements and crises of the Holy Roman Empire during the sixteenth century, with a special emphasis on the composition of the Bohemian estates and the conflicts between the estates and the Habsburg king-emperors. The extent and internal organization of "the Bohemian crown lands" should also be outlined. A succinct review of the political status of Lutheranism, Calvinism, the Bohemian Brethren, and other Protestant confessions throughout all of Europe around the year 1600 and a note on how their status had altered by 1700 would also be useful in "setting the stage" for the events of 1618 and understanding the relgious-denomination consequences of the war.

The author supplies sufficient details on the major battles, but this is not a work of military history. As Wedgwood knows, battles were only significant in the larger view as a result of their political consequences. And it is in the elucidation of the underlying politics of the war (including how political prospects shifted with the waxing and waning of military fortunes) that Wedgwood excels. In her analysis of the general European situation at the outset of the war she proposes that there were three sets of forces which underlay and drove contemporary events. Each was a source of conflict and each might cross-cut the others, complicating the declared interests and objectives of the dynasties and nations involved. In brief, the forces were: (a) Religion, with three major competing factions (Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist; she notes that the conflict between the latter two forms of Protestantism was often as extreme as it was between each of them and the Roman Catholic Church). (b) Nationalism (French, German, Czech, etc.), which was a new force on the scene, crystallizing the idea that political entities might be defined by nationality (which here equals some combination of ethnicity and native language) rather than conceived of as polyglot territorial agglomerations brought about by dynastic interests. (c) Monarchic-constitutional issues, which were especially complicated and ambiguous within the "constitutional" grouping of major and minor powers known as The Holy Roman Empire (HRE).

The constitutional problem was twofold. Within the small arenas of developing nation states and the yet smaller ones of traditional rulerships throughout Europe (duchies, counties, "free-city" areas ruled by town councils and mayors) contests over the basis and extent of the rulers' powers and privileges were taking place. Aristocrats, oligarchs and merchants had traditional corporate bodies (estates) reluctant to cede their own powers (taxation, the organization of military service) to a central authority. The same conflict was also being played out on the larger scale of the Hly Roman Epire, that loose grouping of special obligations and exemptions which was the final residue of an earlier system of vassalage binding together the elected Emperor (who had been a Habsburg for several centuries) and the smaller rulerships of Central Europe. The religious reforms, rebellions and wars of the sixteenth century had produced a system that appeared to resolve some of the potential problems through the won privilege of cujus regio, eius religio ("whoever rules, his religion [is the religion of the ruled area]"). In the year of the war's inception, 1618, this new balance was very fragile, comprising four Catholic and three Protestant imperial Electors. In Germany the special arrangements regulating relationships between the Emperor (resident in Vienna or Prague) and local rulers and guaranteeing a great deal of political autonomy to the locals, especially the Protestant Electors, had been somewhat codified by the Augsburg Treaty of 1555, and were known as the "German Liberties". These would prove to be especially important to the three Protestant Electors at the outset of the war.

In the developing continental war one could be pro- or anti-Habsburg based on any one of the above factors or any combination of two or three of them. For example, a Catholic ruler (including the papacy) might seek Protestant allies in order to combat Habsburg territorial expansion in his direction or to combat constitutional changes in the Empire which affected his position adversely. Or a Protestant power might accept the Habsburg "program" in any given case because it did not wish to disturb constitutional arrangements that were to its advantage (this characterization is apt for Saxony and Brandenburg during the first twelve years of the war.)

As Wedgwood notes, all three considerations (religion, nationality, constitutional relations) could be and were used cynically to advance the positions and interests of individual rulers and factions. From the point of view of rationality or predictability, political choices and commitments were often self-contradictory (e.g., a Catholic power supporting a Protestant venture; a German Liberties party accepting occupation by the army of a foreign power, etc.) or temporary expedients that made the overall European situation more chaotic. The war began locally in Bohemia, but its complications and consequences radiated outward as far west as Spain and England (even farther, to the Caribbean naval theater), as far north as Sweden and northeast to Poland, as far south as Italy and southeast as Transylvania; in other words, it was a European continental war with global impact.

When the war broke out in 1618 it was over the Habsburg violation of a "constitutional guarantee" of religious freedom in Bohemia (the concessions stated in Rudolf II's Letter of Majesty). And here is where individual personalities and beliefs played an important role. Ferdinand II, who had knowingly violated the terms of the Letter soon after being selected by the Bohemian Diet as King (and therefore the first in precedence of the HRE Electors) was determined not only to expand the political powers of the Habsburg dynasty in Bohemia and elsewhere, he was firmly committed to the goals of the Catholic Counter-Reformation (i.e., re-Catholicizing all of the areas within the HRE which had become Protestant during the last one hundred years). When he was deposed by a special convention of the Bohemian estates (the defenestration of his deputies in Prague being the signal event of this deposition), the crown of Bohemia was offered to the Elector of the (Rhineland) Palatinate, Frederick V, who considered himself a champion of the Protestant cause. The religious zeal of these two antagonists led to extreme fixed positions at the very outset of the war.

Given the other major conflict hovering in the background -- the Spanish Habsburg determination to recover the now Protestant area of the Netherlands which had become the successful and defiant (Dutch) United Provinces - the war soon became international. While the entry of France and then Denmark followed by Sweden, into the war during the 1620's changed its nature and extended its duration, Wedgwood concentrates much of her analysis on the behavior of the two Protestant Electors, Johann Georg of Saxony and Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg and one Catholic ruler, Maximilian of Bavaria. It is her contention throughout the book that Johann Georg and Maximilian in particular could have prevented the war's spread and forced Ferdinand into a compromise very early in the course of events that acquired their own dynamism once they got out of hand. Despite their religious differences these two were always strong "German Liberties" proponents, and each had the same view of the Austrian Habsburg rulers: they should be kept for the broader protections they offered, but kept in place with respect to encroachments on the traditional rights of local rulers. In the end both of these rulers survived the lengthy war in spite of numerous diplomatic and military reversals (Saxony switched sides and joined the Swedes for several years, while Maximilian's position was constantly and secretly supported by his nominal enemies, the French, as their potential foot in the Habsburg camp.) Wedgwood believes that the price of their survival was far too costly for the rest of Germany.

Wedgwood's gloss on the changing nature of the conflict is that by the year 1635 the war had become one of great-power politics, and that the earlier religious and ideological causes were losing their ability to motivate the antagonists. Her summary of the changes emphasizes the following:

(a) Religion had discredited itself as a plausible source of political programs and a legitimate cause for war. Religion was becoming more interiorized and private, and losing ground philosophically and ethically to the new prestige of empirical and applied science (this was the era of Galileo and Kepler, with Descartes, Harvey, Hook, Newton, Huygens, etc. on the near horizon; a time of laboratory science and scientific societies.) As the basis of a political program religion was viewed cynically by those who saw the devastation it had brought about.

(b) For thinking men, nationalism began to fill the emotional void in public life left by the withdrawal of religion as the underlying motive for political and cultural action. This was very obvious in France, but even true of Ferdinand III, for whom the new main cause was the construction of an Austrian-based hereditary monarchy whose additional obligations as the Holy Roman Imperial protector of far-flung German Catholics were no longer perceived as worthwhile. In the minds of both Germans and Austrian Habsburgs the Holy Roman Empire was becoming an honorific entity with ambiguous and weak political commitments in Germany. The Elbe-North German-Pomeranian ideal empire of Wallenstein was never again revived as a dynastic program. Austria began to move south and east (toward Italy, Croatia, and Hungary) in its expansionist aims.

(c) The control of immense polyglot, multi-religious, mercenary armies and their huge camp followings had become a pressing matter of concern for all of the political authorities that hired them - they were neither religious nor national in their motives and aims and were in fact independent "mobile states" unto themselves, cynical and rapacious and often as dangerous to their paymasters as to their foes; whenever their immediate prospects for pay and maintenance looked bad, they changed sides. The most successful mercenary generals had become mini-sovereigns. Officers were all "out for themselves" and for their troops (rather than for the cause or nation of their paymaster), since without troop loyalty they had no means of personal advancement -- the most famous commanders, Ernst von Mansfeld, Wallenstein, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the Swedish general Wrangel, all expected (and some received) grants of territory and titles of nobility as their rewards for service. The "national" armies of conscripts that came to the fore in the 18th century was the answer to this problem.

The pace of the war wound down during its last five years (although there were several major battles fought even then), which was a period of extended negotiatons in Münster and Osnabrück, with the "final treaty" being signed late in 1648. For the next five years a series of conferences met at Nürnberg to implement and enforce the peace treaty and to deal with difficult problems raised by demobilizing huge armies. Many of the loans of this period, which were raised to cover the demobilization costs, were not paid off for a century. Individual rulers such as Charles of Lorraine and the Duke of Savoy (who got nothing from the treaty) refused to vacate various fortresses for five or six years, but the war did not break out again. France and Spain continued at war with each other, but not in Germany. Numerous soldiers, especially officers, went into mercenary service all over Europe. Others took to the hills as professional bandits - for the next 20 years merchants traveled through certain parts of Germany and Bohemia in armed caravans.

Wedgwood accepts the more recent (1900-1930's) historical estimate that the population of the Imperial German lands (excluding Alsace and the Netherlands) dropped from about 21 million in 1618 to 13 million in 1648. The number of dislocated people was also substantial. While she acknowledges that the number of towns and villages destroyed and other "infrastructural" and economic losses were very large, she feels that all contemporary sources (e.g., the pamphlet literature of the next 100 years) exaggerated local losses, since all parties in the war continued to seek indemnities and restitution. The free peasantry benefited briefly, since landowners were desperate for manpower to restore their estates - prices fell while wages rose for a number of years, which increased the standard of living of peasants and artisans. But within a decade of the peace treaty the landowning gentry was pleading with Imperial, royal and local rulers to impose legal restrictions which would re-create bonded, serf-like conditions for peasants. Town councils now became pawns and bureaucrats of the dynastic courts of their rulers and also implemented restrictive legislations on peasants (e.g., prohibitions against mobility, domestic industry, and household craft production -- a trend which later historians refer to as "neo-serfdom"). Class stratification was as rigid as it was before the war started. There was a new, large class of mobile petty nobles and gentry seeking court-backed military and bureaucratic appointments, at the expense of town and peasant taxpayers.

Germany and the Austrian-based monarchy and empire were totally excluded from the international competition to establish overseas colonies and from the developing "Atlantic trade". For a number of years the outlets of Germany's major rivers (Rhine, Elbe, Oder, and for Brandenburg-Prussia, Vistula) were controlled by foreign powers, reducing Germany's commercial strength. Hamburg was the exception, becoming the major maritime merchant city of the North Sea coast, at the expense of the other Hanseatic cities and the Scandinavian powers. The only medium-sized German state to emerge with positive prospects was Brandenburg, soon to become the administratively efficient and militarily powerful Prussia. The peace, while ending the "wars of religion", set the stage for a long series of "nationalistic" wars that subsumed dynastic and religious sources of conflict. France replaced the Habsburg Spanish-Austrian coalition as the menacing and tyrannical continental power willing to disturb the peace. Austria turned to the south and east and Spain lost its great power status and became an economic and cultural backwater. There was no politically or culturally unified Germany within the boundaries of the old Empire (French culture began to reign supreme) and the cosmopolitanism (its openness to outside influences) of this area during the 18th century, instead of being a source of pride over its achievements, became a source of lament for later cultural and ethnic purists of revived German nationalism.

Author's Judgment and Conclusions: In terms of responsibility for the overall disaster, Wedgwood points to the futility and self-destructiveness of sincere religious zeal in the cases of Ferdinand II and the Elector Palatine. But, from the point of view of failures of practical (and ethical) politics, she highlights the behavior of Maximilian and Johann Georg, who could have prevented the spread of the conflict in 1620 and could have brought the war to an early end in 1635 if they had agreed to work together on a "unified German program" which would have forced Imperial compromises and concessions had they both stood behind it. Between these two she sees the Saxon as the greater victim of military circumstances (pressed by the Swedish juggernaut) and therefore less culpable for the mess, while she judges the Bavarian as too subtle and too ambitious in pursuit of his own dynastic and territorial ambitions at the expense of a general settlement good for his fellow Germans, thus identifying him as the more culpable.

Beautiful in its style and concision, Wedgwood's final summary is also gloomy (as one might expect of a work completed in 1939, on the verge of World War II):

"As there was no compulsion towards a conflict which, in despite of the apparent bitterness of the parties, took so long to engage and needed so much assiduous blowing to fan the flame, so no right was vindicated by its ragged end. The war solved no problem. Its effects, both immediate and indirect, were either negative or disastrous. Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading, confused in its causes, devious in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example in European history of meaningless conflict."
0Comment14 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.