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Readings in the Military History of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648)

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Map of 30 Years War (1)The Thirty Years War involving the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and most of Europe continues to intrigue students, scholars, and general readers. The conflict began in 1618 with the Protestant Bohemian nobles rebelling against the Catholic King Ferdinand, later Emperor Ferdinand II (1619-1637). The rebels sought to replace Ferdinand by electing Frederick V, a Calvinist and Elector of the Rhine Palatinate, to the Bohemian crown. But the rebels were defeated by the armies of Ferdinand II and the Catholic League at the battle of White Mountain (1620). In 1621, Spain and the Dutch Republic, after the Twelve Year Truce (1609-1621), renewed their fight in the Low Countries and German Rhineland. Before long the Imperial, Catholic League, and Spanish armies occupied the Palatinate, forcing Frederick V to flee to the Dutch Republic. In 1625, the Lutheran Christian IV of Denmark (who was also the Duke of Holstein) intervened in the German crisis. Imperial and Catholic League forces defeated Christian IV at the battle of Lutter (1626) and Wolgast (1628), forcing him to withdraw from the struggle in the Treaty of Lübeck (1629). Ferdinand II controlled most of Germany at this point. To secure his lands against the Habsburg threat, Gustavus Adolphus, the Lutheran King of Sweden, invaded northern Germany in 1630. The Swedes were financially supported by Catholic France and the Protestant Dutch Republic in the fight against the Austrian Habsburgs. The religious war was becoming more of a political war. The Swedish army drove the Imperials out of northern Germany and soon occupied Bavaria. But, Gustavus Adolphus was killed in the battle of Lützen (1632). The Swedes eventually withdrew to the north, especially after the Peace of Prague (1635) between Ferdinand II and most of the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire. The Thirty Years War continued when France joined Sweden in the struggle against the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs in 1635. The long conflict would grind out until the Peace of Westphalia (1648). The Franco-Spanish aspect of the war lasted until the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659).

Defenestration of Prague 1618Traditional studies focus on the German aspect of the conflict. Nineteenth-century studies include Samuel Rawson Gardiner’s The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (1875) and Anton Gindley’s History of the Thirty Years War (1885). Hubert Reade, Sidelights on the Thirty Years War (1924), Cicely Veronica Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (1938), and Elmer Adolph Beller, Propaganda in Germany during the Thirty Years War (1940) keep the focus on the German Empire. But, Georges Pagès writes about French involvement in The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (1938, English translation 1970). Many of the older studies focus on “great men” such as Richard Lodge’s Richelieu (1896), Eveline Charlotte Godley’s The Great Condé: A Life of Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (1915), Max Weyland’s Turenne: Marshal of France (1930), Francis Watson’s Wallenstein: Soldier under Saturn: A Biography (1938), Nils Ahnlund’s Gustavus Adolphus the Great (1940), and Wedgwood’s Richelieu and the French Monarchy (1949).

Ferdinand II (1619-1637)To study the Thirty Years War, one could start with reading a selection of writings edited by Theodore K. Rabb in The Thirty Years War (second edition, 1981). Sigfrid Henry Steinberg, The “Thirty Years War” and the Conflict for European Hegemony, 1600-1660 (1966) expands the scope of the war to suggest that the conflict started earlier than 1618 and lasted longer than 1648. He also stresses that the conflict, or series of conflicts, involved most of Europe. In his study, the Czech historian Josef V. Polišenskỳ gives a socioeconomic viewpoint of the conflict in The Thirty Years War (1971). In the last thirty years there has been the publication of a number of important surveys of the Thirty Years War. A good starting point is Geoffrey Parker’s general study of the era in Europe in Crisis, 1598-1648 (second edition, 2001). Peter Limm’s The Thirty Years War (1984) in the Longman’s Seminar Studies in History series provides a brief survey with documentation. Stephen J. Lee The Thirty Years War (1991) and Graham Darby’s The Thirty Years War (2001) are brief overviews. David Maland, Europe at War, 1600-1650 (1980) is another valuable introduction to the subject. Geoffrey Parker’s (editor) The Thirty Years War (second edition, 1997) is a modern classic with sections written by Parker, Simon Adams, Gerhard Benecke, John H. Elliott, Richard Bonney, R.J.W. Evans, Christopher R. Friedrichs, Bodo Nischan, E. Ladewig Petersen, and Michael Roberts. The three-volume 1648: War and Peace in Europe (1998, edited by Klaus Bussmann and Heinz Schilling) contains dozens of essays by leading historians in all aspects of the conflict. Herbert Langer explores more of the social and cultural aspects of the conflict in The Thirty Years War (1980). Ronald G. Asch, The Thirty Years War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 1618-1648 (1997) brings the religious and constitutional struggle in the Holy Roman Empire back to the center of events. The latest survey is Peter H. Wilson’s massive study The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy (2009) which discusses the origins and conduct of the conflict in great detail. A fascinating study is Geoff Mortimer’s Eyewitness Accounts of the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (2002).

Battle of White MountainPublished primary source documentation interests many scholars. Peter Limm’s seminar study already mentioned contains documentation. Josef V. Polišenskỳ, War and Society in Europe, 1618-1648 (1978) and Gerhard Benecke, Germany in the Thirty Years War (1978) are important works. Recent document collections are Tryntje Helfferich’s The Thirty Years War: A Documentary History (2009) and Peter H. Wilson’s The Thirty Years War: A Sourcebook (2010). A great reference work that is actually an encyclopedia of the actors and events associated with the making the treaties of Münster and Osnabrück is Derek Croxton and Anuschka Tischer’s The Peace of Westphalia: A Historical Dictionary (2002).

Albrecht von WallensteinThe campaigns and battles of the Thirty Years War continue to receive attention. Ronald G. Asch, “Warfare in the Age of the Thirty Years War 1598-1648,” in Jeremy Black’s European Warfare 1453-1815 (1999) is a good overview. William P. Guthrie explores the campaigns and battles in Battles of the Thirty Years War: From White Mountain to Nordlingen, 1618-1635 (2001), The Later Thirty Years War: From the Battle of Wittstock to the Treaty of Westphalia (2003), and “Naval Actions of the Thirty Years War,” The Mariner’s Mirror 87 (August 2001). Geoffrey Parker, “The Soldiers of the Thirty Years War,” in Konrad Repgen and Elisabeth Müller-Luckner’s Krieg und Politik 1618-1648: Europäische Probleme und Perspektiven (1988) addresses of the soldiers of the period. The essays in Steve Murdoch (editor), Scotland and the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648 (2001) stress Scottish military involvement in the armies of the conflict. Eduard Wagner’s European Weapons and Warfare, 1618-1648 (1979) contains illustrations of arms and equipment used in the Thirty Years War. David Parrott’s article “Strategy and Tactics in the Thirty Years War: The ‘Military Revolution’,” Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen 18 (1985) is enlightening.

Sack of Magdeburg (1631)Scholars have always been interested in the origins of the Thirty Years War. The traditional and modern surveys address the causes of the conflict. Some see the origins in the sixteenth century. Most focus on the political and religious causes for the outbreak of the Bohemian revolt. For the causes and outbreak of the Bohemian revolt, Geoffrey Parker’s The Thirty Years War, Ronald G. Asch’s The Thirty Years War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 1618-1648, and Peter H. Wilson’s The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy are highly recommended. Studies that specifically focus on the origins of the conflict include Myron P. Gutmann, “The Origins of the Thirty Years War,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (1988) and Nicola Mary Sutherland, “The Origins of the Thirty Years War and the Structure of European Politics,” The English Historical Review 107 (1992). They have different takes on the background and causes of the struggle. Alison Deborah Anderson, On the Verge of War: International Relations and the Jülich-Kleve Crises, 1609-1614 (1999) explains a major German crisis before the conflict. The most recent observations are made in Peter H. Wilson, “The Causes of the Thirty Years War,” The English Historical Review 123 (2008). Brennan C. Pursell, The Winter King: Frederick V of the Palatinate and the Coming of the Thirty Years War (2003) addresses Count Palatine’s involvement in the Bohemian revolt and the ensuing war in Bohemia and the Palatinate. For Spanish involvement in the German crisis, one should consult Peter Brightwell’s “Spain and the Origins of the Thirty Years War” (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1967) and the series of journal articles that derived from this manuscript, including “The Spanish System and the Twelve Years Truce,” The English Historical Review 89 (1974), “The Spanish Origins of the Thirty Years War,” European Studies Review 9 (1979), “Spain and Bohemia: The Decision to Intervene, 1619,” European Studies Review 12 (1982), and “Spain, Bohemia and Europe, 1619-1621,” European Studies Review 12 (1982). One should also read Josef V. Polišenskỳ, The Tragic Triangle: The Netherlands, Spain and Bohemia, 1617-1621 (1991). The focus of Arthur Wilson White, Jr., “Suspension of Arms: Anglo-Spanish Mediation in the Thirty Years War, 1621-1625” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1978) is on the failed Anglo-Spanish attempts to mediate a peace settlement in Germany. Thea L. Lindquist, “The Politics of Diplomacy: The Palatinate and Anglo-Imperial Relations in the Thirty Years War” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 2001) is engaging.

Surrender of Breda (1625)The Dutch-Hispanic War (1621-1648) has received some consideration by scholars. Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World, 1606-1661 (1982) is a valuable political, military, and economic examination of the conflict. The background to the conflict is discussed in Geoffrey Parker, The Dutch Revolt (1978) and Paul C. Allen, Philip III and the Pax Hispanica, 1598-1621: The Failure of Grand Strategy (2000). The Spanish army and navy in the Low Countries are the topics of Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659: The Logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries Wars (second edition, 2004), Fernando González de León, The Road to Rocroi: Class, Culture and Command in the Spanish Army of Flanders, 1567-1659 (2009), and Robert A. Stradling, The Armada of Flanders: Spanish Maritime Policy and European War, 1568-1668 (1992). Spanish strategy is explored in John H. Elliott, The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in the Age of Decline (1986), as well as the essays in Robert A. Stradling, Spain’s Struggle for Europe, 1598-1668 (1994) and Jonathan I. Israel, Conflicts of Empire: Spain, the Low Countries and the Struggle for World Supremacy, 1585-1713 (1997). A valuable discussion of the Dutch military during this era is in Olaf van Nimwegen’s The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions 1588-1688 (2010).

Christian IV of DenmarkDenmark’s role in the Thirty Years War has received some recent attention. Paul Douglas Lockhart provides an important study in Denmark in the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648: King Christian IV and the Decline of the Oldenburg State (1996). Martin Bellamy, Christian IV and His Navy: A Political and Administrative History of the Danish Navy, 1596-1648 (2006) is a notable addition to the literature.

Ferdinand II and Austrian Habsburg policy is explored in Robert Bireley, Religion and Politics in the Age of the Counter-Reformation: Emperor Ferdinand II, William Lamormaini, S.J. and the Formation of Imperial Policy (1982). Bireley continues his examination of Jesuit influence on Catholic rulers in The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors (2003). The Imperial commander Albrecht von Wallenstein is the focus of Golo Mann’s Wallenstein: His Life Narrated (1971, English translation 1976) and Geoff Mortimer’s Wallenstein: The Enigma of the Thirty Years War (2010). Vladimir Brnaric, Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years War (2009-10) is a study in Osprey’s Men-at-Arms series.

Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden at the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)Swedish intervention in the Thirty Years War has drawn much notice. Michael Roberts’ classic two-volume study of Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden, 1611-1632 (1953-58) is important. His work was published in an abridged version Gustavus Adolphus and the Rise of Sweden (second edition, 1992). One should also read Roberts’ “The Political Objectives of Gustavus Adolphus in Germany, 1630-1632,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1957), “Gustavus Adolphus and the Art of War” in his Essays in Swedish History (1967), and “Oxenstierna in Germany, 1633-1636,” in his From Oxenstierna to Charles XII: Four Studies (1991). The battle of Lützen is explored by Richard Brzezinski in Lützen 1632: Climax of the Thirty Years War (2001). The same author provides a look at the Swedish army in The Army of Gustavus Adolphus (1991-93). An interesting study is Erik Ringmar’s Identity, Interest and Action: A Cultural Explanation of Sweden’s Intervention in the Thirty Years War (1996). Boris Fedorovich Porshnev’s study Muscovy and Sweden in the Thirty Years War, 1630-1635 (1976, English translation 1995) is useful.

Battle of Rocroi (1643)The origins of the Franco-Spanish conflict (1635-1559) are explored in Robert A. Stradling, “Olivares and the Origins of the Franco-Spanish War, 1627-1635,” The English Historical Review 101 (1986) and David Parrott, “The Causes of the Franco-Spanish War of 1635-1659,” in Jeremy Black’s The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe (1987). For France’s involvement in the Thirty Years one should consult the many studies on Richelieu and Mazarin, including Robert J. Knecht’s Richelieu (1991) and Geoffrey Treasure’s Mazarin: The Crisis of Absolutism in France (1995). Hermann Weber “‘Une Bonne Paix’: Richelieu’s Foreign Policy and the Peace of Christendom,” in Joseph Bergin and Laurence W.B. Brockliss’ Richelieu and His Age (1992) is important. David Parrott, Richelieu’s Army: War, Government and Society in France, 1624-1642 (2001) shows the limitations of the French army. The French army is also examined in John A. Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army, 1610-1715 (1997). Spanish strategy is investigated in Jonathan I. Israel’s “Olivares, the Cardinal-Infante and Spain’s Strategy in the Low Countries (1635-1643): The Road to Rocroi,” in Richard L. Kagan and Geoffrey Parker’s Spain, Europe and the Atlantic World (1995). Derek Croxton discusses French strategy in Germany in Peacemaking in Early Modern Europe: Cardinal Mazarin and the Congress of Westphalia, 1643-1648 (1999). Paul Sonnino explores French diplomacy in Mazarin’s Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde (2008).

A full bibliographic citation for each of the works mentioned above (plus other studies) can be found at: Age of the Thirty Years War (1598-1660): A Bibliography (pdf).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

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