This book was pure joy for me to read. I’ve been a fan of Schiller since reading some of his plays in college and I wish i had read this years ago. I’ll probably hunt down a German version soon, because even though he wrote in the 18th century, his prose is so clear and vivid, it’s not very difficult. If you’re looking for a detailed, unbiased, chronological account of the Thirty Years’ War, this is not it. I’ll repeat myself again and direct you to C.V. Wedgwood’s history, or Peter Wilson’s if you’re feeling masochistic.
I don’t really know how to describe this except maybe as historical literature. The narrative flow is superb, and it feels like you are being told a story, rather than a dry retelling of events. Writing in Germany, barely a hundred years after the war’s end, Schiller’s approach is very passionate. Repercussions of the events he describes were still very real, and it’s clear that opinions on the war and its major players were still pretty divided in Europe. It’s an orderly progression and is easy to follow if you already have some familiarity with the events. I’m assuming it’s going to be a tougher read for someone who hasn’t read any of the more contemporary histories.
Schilller also had no compunction about taking sides. I had to stop in the first chapter and look up his religious affiliation (deist, but strongly anti-Catholic) due to his rather stringent criticisms of the Roman Catholic church. He was hardly pro-Protestant, although his sympathy for German national feeling comes through very clearly. Even back then, it was his thesis that this was not primarily a religious war, although it was religion that made it possible for the common man to be inspired to fight:
For the state, or for the prince, even the smallest additional impost would have been avoided; but for religion the people readily staked at once life, fortune, and all earthly hopes.
Schiller, Friedrich (2011-03-30). The History of the Thirty Years’ War (Kindle Locations 140-141). . Kindle Edition.
Well hello there, theme of my book!
Even though this is a fairly lengthy work, it feels like an overview. Everything is painted in broad strokes, which does help give it an epic feel. Schiller doesn’t spend much time on the details of various battles, but he really saves it up for some big moments, like the Fall of Magdeburg and the Battle of Lutzen. Magdeburg is portrayed very luridly and the outrage over atrocity is still very apparent over 100 years later. As to Lutzen, Schiller sees it as the long-awaited clash of two titans- Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus- and gives it the time and feeling it deserves.
For me, this was an intensely satisfying five-star read, though I would only really recommend it to fellow history buffs who already have some knowledge of the time period.