The Thirty Years' War

Graham Darby examines the nature and effects of the war that dominated the first half of the 17th century.

For those who wrestle with seventeenth-century Europe there is no more complex topic than the Thirty Years' War. It is also an issue that generates a large number of questions in examinations - on the origins, course and consequences of the war. In addition, there can be questions about its nature: how far was it a war of religion, what was its social and economic impact and what were its military and financial implications? It is the purpose of this article to help clarify the latter topics, beginning with religion.

A Religious War?

This is a difficult issue. For one thing, in early modern times religion and politics were inextricably intertwined, so that our present-day approach, which makes a clear distinction between the two, is often inappropriate. Secondly, early modern language was couched in religious terminology to such an extent that it is often difficult to distinguish between what was, perhaps, formulaic or habitual and what was sincere and meaningful. And thirdly, in our secular age, it is quite simply very difficult to appreciate the extent and depth of religious feeling in the seventeenth century.

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