Why don't army officers join politics?

Thirty Years' War

Peter H. Wilson

To person

holds the Chichele Professorship in War History at All Souls College, Oxford University. Most recently he published "The Thirty Years War. A European Tragedy" (2017). [email protected]

The Thirty Years War was a bloody and protracted struggle for the religious and state order within the Holy Roman Empire. This empire was the largest and most populous in Europe at the time. It included not only present-day Germany and Austria, but also the Czech Republic, northern Italy, southern Denmark, eastern France and western Poland. Another nine larger and smaller European states were either directly involved in the war or provided funds or soldiers to one or more warring parties. The fact that the war was a historical event of lasting importance is undisputed among scientists. However, when it comes to the question of what caused it, why it dragged on and how its legacy is to be interpreted for future generations, opinions differ greatly.

In part, these disagreements are due to patchy scientific evidence. The Holy Roman Empire left no national archive; you have to piece your story together from diverse and incomplete sources that are often ambiguous or contradictory. In addition, it was extremely cluttered, even for its own residents. Unlike the hereditary monarchies of England, France or Spain, the Holy Roman Empire was ruled as a "mixed monarchy". The emperor, elected by an elite group of seven electors, shared power with around 60 princes, 140 counts and abbots and around 60 imperial cities. As Habsburg emperor, he retained the upper hand, not least because there was no serious alternative to the House of Habsburg, whose hereditary principalities comprised a third of the empire and a considerable part of Hungary in the east. As the only ruling family able to defend the empire against the Ottomans, the House of Habsburg had repeatedly been designated for reign since 1438. But it could only rule the rest of the empire in association with the electors, princes and imperial cities, which together formed the so-called imperial estates. The general conclusion is that alleged constitutional weaknesses of the Reich were responsible for the war and that after the war it was little more than a hollow structure. As will become clear below, modern research challenges these common conclusions.

The second, more essential reason for the divergent interpretations lies in the natural need to simplify the complex and intricate relationships. Historians usually emphasize structural factors and portray the war as a consequence of larger fundamental developments: either as a "general crisis" - brought about by the shift from a feudal to a capitalist economy or by the climatic changes of the Little Ice Age - or as changes in the political order that triggered "state-building wars". [1] Other, less structural interpretations place the Thirty Years' War in a longer struggle between the French kings and the House of Habsburg for supremacy in Europe. This approach, however, trivializes the importance of the events in the Holy Roman Empire as well as the differences between the war there from 1618 to 1648 and the parallel eighty years war of the Netherlands against Spanish rule (1568-1648) as well as the interim hot and cold wars between France and Spain since the 1580s, which escalated in 1630 into a major conflict that lasted until 1659. [2] Another common variant of this approach is to argue that although the Thirty Years War began with the Estates uprising in Bohemia in 1618, the original combatants quickly lost control of events and their disputes turned into a general European war. [ 3]

The most widespread structural interpretation is that it was the last and greatest religious war in an entire age of religious wars that began with the Reformation in 1517. Denominationally motivated hatred caused a "break in communication" that prevented important negotiations and led directly to violence. [4] Other scholars point to a more general sense of fear and a chiliastic belief in an imminent apocalyptic battle between good and evil and a subsequent millennial epoch of peace and Christian unity. [5] In this context, the appearance of a conspicuous comet in 1618 was undoubtedly interpreted as a sign of approaching divine anger. [6]