The Latymer School History Magazine - page 41

The Lion of the North:
Gustavus Adolphus depicted
at the turning point of the
Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)
against the forces of Count
The Miseries of War by
Jacques Callot – French
soldiers are punished for
attacking a farm, convent and
burning a village.
The Thirty Years War
(1618-1648) is one of the
most convoluted and
destructive conflicts in
European history. It pitted
Protestant against Catholic,
the Holy Roman Empire
against France, the German
princes and princelings
against the emperor and
each other, and France
against the Habsburgs of
Spain. The Swedes, the
Danes, the Poles, the
Russians, the Dutch and the
Swiss were all dragged or
dived in. Commercial
interests and rivalries played
a part, as did religion and
power politics. By the time
the Peace of Westphalia was
signed in 1648 it is estimated
that around eight million
people had perished, with
the German states alone
losing up to 30% of their
population due to the
fighting, famine and disease
that ravaged the region. It
witnessed acts of
unprecedented brutality,
such as the sack of
Magdeburg and resulted in
many significant changes
including the birth of
German nationalism and the
rise of Brandenburg (later to
evolve into Prussia) laying
the foundations for German
unification; yet in Britain the
Thirty Years War remains
relatively unknown. The
century saw Britain
turn its focus away from
Europe as civil war loomed
and consequently historical
study in this country has
overlooked the crisis that
emerged on the continent.
This article does not have the
time to fully explore the war
and will instead focus on the
intervention of Sweden
under their inspirational
monarch Gustavus Adolphus.
A man who tipped the
balance of the conflict in
favour of the Protestants and
pioneered revolutionary
military techniques on his
way to major victories
against the Catholic Imperial
By the time Gustavus
Adolphus marched his
Swedish army south for his
brief but significant
intervention, the Thirty Years
War was already a decade
old. Religious tension had
been building in Bohemia for
a number of years when in
1618 Protestant Defensors
(those charged with
maintaining the delicate
balance between Catholics
and Protestants) stormed the
Hradschin Palace and hurled
two of the most outspoken
Catholic regents out of the
window. They survived by
landing on a pile of dung –
seen as divine intervention
by some Catholics who
subsequently advocated the
use of force to crush the
rebellion. This
'Defenestration of Prague' as
it was called, marked the
beginning of the Thirty Years
War. The Bohemian rebels
deposed their king
Ferdinand (soon to become
Ferdinand II, Holy Roman
Emperor) and replaced him
with the Protestant Frederick
V – chosen in part because
he was leader of the
Protestant Union and
therefore the most likely to
be able to motivate the
Protestant forces in their
defence. After some initial
gains, the Union began to
disintegrate in the face of
attack from the reconstituted
Catholic League under the
leadership of Maximilian of
Bavaria. On the 8
November 1620 at the Battle
of White Mountain, the
rebels made their final
desperate stand just beyond
the walls of Prague – It took
less than an hour for the
Catholics to secure total
victory. The Bohemian revolt
was over.
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