quarta-feira, 22 de agosto de 2012

Under the Flag of War: The First European Civil War (1618-1648)

They came marching, this day then that, one from sunrise the other from sunset, he from south and they from north, and have wanted to contain and assuage the fire, but only creased its fury!
Pastor Johann Goerg Dorsh of Bad Peterstal, Black Forest, caching on the occasion of the Peace of Westphalia, 1648.
‘I was born in war’,
said one of the women who had followed the armies in 1648; £I have no home, no country and no friends—war is all my wealth and now where shall I go?’ Her regret at the ending of the war was her own, but in another sense she spoke for a whole genera­tion. No one born in Germany after about 1610 knew what peace was like. Few could remember how the war had started or why it was being fought; they knew only that year after year the great straggling armies marched and countermarched across their land, burning, pillaging and destroying, and that hunger and disease killed thousands more than the guns.

The war began with the revolt of the Protestant Bohemians against their king, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdi­nand II. Ferdinand called on his Habsburg and Wittelsbach cousins, the King of Spain and the Duke of Bavaria, to aid him. The revolt was crushed. But the other Protestant powers, however tardy in their aid to Bohemia, could not allow Austria to be totally dominant. Half-heartedly and inefficiently, they continued the war. When the Twelve Years’ Truce between Spain and the United Provinces ended in 1621 they found natural friends in the Dutch. England sympathized. So did Denmark, whose King, Christian IV, invaded the imperial lands in Saxony in 1625, but was routed by Tilly and driven back.
Again the Protestant powers rallied in defeat and a new champion emerged—the warrior king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. At first brilliantly successful, hailed as a saviour by some, hampered and betrayed by others, Gustavus finally met disaster at Liitzen. Once again the Emperor seemed invincibly in the ascendent. Once again, another power could not allow the victory. This time it was France who intervened. Richelieu, anti-Protestant at home, was even more anti-Habsburg abroad. In May 1635 he declared war on Spain. Fighting spread to the soil of France and then to Italy. Almost every state in Europe was now ranged on 
but wait for the great powers to settle its destiny. It waited another thirteen years.
The sufferings of this long war for the civilian population were aggravated by the way the armies operated. Most soldiers were mercenaries, serving a particular commander for pay. If he, or his employer, had no funds, they had to live off the country. Troop movements were often dictated not by strategy but simply by the necessity of finding fresh lands to plunder. The best generals were those who could hold the biggest army together at the least expense. Wallenstein was a genius at such logistics, but it tended to create a situation that no one could control. The armies were paid to make war; they went on making war in order to be paid.
The detail shown opposite is from a painting by Philips Wouwer- man (himself a true child of the war—he was born in 1618) showing a melee of cavalry and infantry. Wouwerman spares us the horrors which Callot records with such terrible realism, but he does convey some sense of the frenzy of a conflict that had degenerated into a weary and hopeless slaughter—a conflict whose lasting monument is that sardonic masterpiece of the mock-heroic, Simplicius Simplicissimus. Here is how Grimmels- hausen, in his measured and reasonable words, describes the career of the mercenaries. ‘Nothing but hurting and harming and being in their turn hurt and harmed, this was their whole purpose and existence. From this nothing could divert them—not winter or summer, snow or ice, heat or cold, wind or rain, mountain or valley, swamp or desert, ditches, ramparts, water, fire .... or the very fear of eternal damnation itself. At this task they laboured until at last, in battles, sieges, assaults, campaigns, or even in their winter quarters, which is the soldiers’ paradise, one by one they died, perished and rotted.’

In: H.G. Koenigsberger. Europe and The World 1559-1660. The Age of Expantion. Edited by Hugh Trevor-Hoper. Thames and Hudson, London, 1968. p. 144.

The Dance of Death

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