Why This War Was So Awful

Whenever I think I’m not quite depressed enough to do this story justice, I look at something like this.I came across this map on a German Thirty Years War reenactment group website. The site is pretty interesting if you can read German, and if you can’t there are a lot of cool pictures of reenactors in amazing costumes.  This map shows population losses by region for the years 1618-48. The ones with dark shading are obviously the worst, but even within categories, there was considerable variation. Wurttemberg for instance lost over 75 percent of it’s population, while after the Siege of Nuremberg there was nothing left alive in a thirty-mile radius around the city.In light of that, it’s probably not too surprising that many Germans still considered this war the most devastating in their history, even after World War II.



Major Player: Christian of Brunswick

The fantasy version of this guy wasn’t going to come into play until the second book, but he’s just too much fun to leave out. Christian, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg and Bishop of Halberstadt, was the same age as Frederick and Elizabeth and one of their key supporters. Unfortunately for them, he didn’t enter the action until after the Battle of White Mountain– when it was too late for them to keep Bohemia-but he was certainly instrumental in keeping the conflict going when it might otherwise have fizzled out after such a crushing defeat. 

christian of brunswick
Christian the Younger of Brunswick, age 21

Christian was the third son of the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, but was educated by his uncle, Christian IV of Denmark. At only seventeen, he became the Bishop of Halberstadt, after his brother-who’d previously held the position- died. It was a Lutheran administrative post, and in Christian’s case, became a piggy bank to finance a career in the military. He really didn’t seem to be clerical material in any case. 

He got his first military experience in the army of Maurice of Nassau, helping fight the Spanish in the Netherlands. It seems he only did this for a year or so before raising his own army to fight on behalf of Frederick V. No one knows exactly why he rallied to Frederick when it looked like all hope was lost, but Christian claimed to be in chivalric love with Elizabeth and was apparently, playing the part of romantic hero. Awww! I mean honestly, this guy is just too good to be true, for authorly purposes at least. 

He was very bad news for Catholics everywhere, since he was fond of plundering all over the countryside and scored some pretty big treasure from wealthy Catholic bishoprics in Westphalia. Hey, if you can’t have the girl, you might as well try for the bling! He was accused of considerable atrocities, and nicknamed “The Mad” (der Tolle), though it’s hard to know how much was true and how much was imperial propaganda. 

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Badass of the Month: Musketeers

The mere mention of musketeers brings to mind attractive men wearing large hats, tall boots and fighting with swords. And yet, we are not here just to stare at pictures of such. Although it was a hazard of my “research.”  Because I hate to be a tease, here’s Luke Evans as Aramis. You’re welcome.

Only fictional, alas!
Only fictional, alas!

When most people think of musketeers, they naturally think of The Three, plus D’Artagnan, as well as the evil Cardinal and the even more evil Milady. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book, but I don’t recall if a musket was ever fired in the course of the story. It was all sword-fighting, all the time, with a tiny bit of romance. Just right, in other words.

While the musketeers in Dumas’ classic also worked as regular troops (I think they were briefly deployed at the siege of La Rochelle), their main role was as king’s guards. The French king, Louis XIII, used musketeers as a kind of personal bodyguard, then Cardinal Richelieu got his own, which gave them all excellent excuses to constantly challenge each other to duels, even though they were on the same side. A mere technicality that should never impede swashbuckling.

The average musketeer of the period spent a lot more time marching and a lot less time dueling. A sad state of affairs. Musketeers and pikemen made up most of the infantry during the time of the Thirty Years War. Firearms had been around for awhile, but they were still unwieldy and difficult to use. Probably the biggest issue was the fact that they could only deliver one shot at a time, and took quite long to reload. The musket-and-pike formation was developed as a way to protect musketeers as they reloaded.

Unlike the Winged Hussars or cuirassiers, musketeers wore little to no armor, since they needed to be able to move freely. The fact that they also had to walk everywhere probably contributed to making armor less popular too. They made up for it in hats, boots, and swagger.

What are the spurs for? Just bling, I suspect.
What are the spurs for? Just bling, I suspect.

Your typical musketeer was pretty heavily laden in any case. He might have worn a helmet, and a cloak to keep his powder horn dry. A larger horn was for the coarse gunpowder used for the main charge, while the smaller held the fine priming powder. They hung from cords over the left shoulder so they rested on the right hip and were attached to a belt to keep them from swinging.

Musketeer's equipment- Photo courtesy Flickriver/snowshoemen.
Musketeer’s equipment- Photo courtesy Flickriver/snowshoemen.

They carried single charges in wooden containers hung on a bandolier over the elft shoulder. This rested on the right hip, along with a bag of shot, and other tools needed to clean and repair the musket. They also carried four to six yards of match coiled around his shoulder. Since the match burned quickly, only one in ten would keep it lit while marching, so he could light the others if they had to go into action. Obviously, this was an explosive combination, in such close proximity to both charges and powder. Musketeers usually deployed two to four paces apart and only drew closer when attacking.

Of course, they also carried their musket, usually a big, heavy matchlock, though these were eventually replaced by wheellock muskets.

Dutch matchlock musket, ca. 1620
Dutch matchlock musket, ca. 1620


Their sword was often of poor quality, so if combat became close, musketeers frequently used the stocks of their muskets for bludgeoning.

Musketeers were typically deployed in formation. The tercio  had been developed by the Spanish and dominated the warfare of the 16th century. These were large, hollow squares of pike that protected musketeers deployed at the corners.

Their pike were grouped as a central block with always twice the number of men in each line as there were ranks deep, because each man needed twice the amount of space in depth as in width to wield his weapon. The effect was to produce a square block that would be flanked by ‘sleeves’ of musketeers.  . . .

Though only the first five ranks of the tercio could fire at any one time, the presence of another ten or more behind stiffened the resolve of those in front, or at least made it harder for them to run away.

Wilson, Peter H., Europe’s Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War, pg. 89-90



By the 17th century, Maurice of Nassau had developed a more linear formation that could often successfully challenge the tercio. These were called battalions, They required thinner lines and fewer pike, but were also harder to control.

Both used the counter-march, in which musketeers who had fired would peel off to the right or left and march toward the back, allowing the next rank of musketeers to fire, or the pikemen to charge. Well-trained troops could cover about 40 yards per minute while doing this.

Many recruits during this time period preferred becoming a musketeer to carrying a pike, because pikemen were used primarily for defense, but were sitting ducks if someone broke the lines. There is also the less charitable theory that it was more difficult to loot while carrying a pike.

So, musketeers were not quite as romantic as some of us would like, but in the end, pretty useful.

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Major Player: Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor

Since the majority of my main characters are based on historical figures, I thought I’d profile some of them, and then let you figure out who’s who. No, actually I’ll totally hit you over the head with the who’s who. It’s already begun, since obviously, Kendryk and Gwynneth are based on Frederick and Elizabeth. Of course, one of the joys of writing fantasy is I can use the historical figure as a point of departure, then slander them with impunity. Or in Kendryk’s case, make them really cute.

So, while Kendryk is for all practical purposes the protagonist of this first book (oh yes, there will be several more, even if it takes me the rest of my life), there will be a pretty major antagonist. Her character profile will be next, but in the meantime, here’s the real guy she’s based on. Ferdinand II was Holy Roman Emperor for nearly two-thirds of the Thirty Years War, and in the view of many scholars, contributed a fair amount to starting and perpetuating it.

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Badass of the Month: Cuirassier

In doing some technical research for another main character, I came across these guys. Cuirassiers were named for the breastplates (cuirasses) they wore, and were a type of heavy cavalry popular well into the 19th century. In fact, they were still around to a limited extent in World War I, and still possess a regiment in the French Army today.

Pappenheim’s Cuirassiers during the 30 Years War

We’ve already discussed how cavalry was undergoing some serious changes in the period before and during the Thirty Years War. The increased use of firearms and pike made traditional cavalry nearly obsolete. But there was still a use for big guys on big horses, wearing a lot of armor. Yay!

The armor was as follows: a full-coverage helmet, or burgonet. How anyone saw or heard anything while wearing one of these, I do not know. They sometimes had scary-looking masks on them, which gave rise to the name of “Totenkopf,” or Death’s Head. I’m sure some of you have heard of that appellation in other contexts.*coughSScough*

Helmet belonging to Prince Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony

Then, they pretty much covered themselves in really heavy, thick armor that could stop bullets. In fact, the armor sometimes came from the manufacturer already dented, to prove that it had been tested against firearms. It could weigh up to eighty pounds. It probably got pretty sweaty in there, too.

After the helmet came the gorget, which covered the neck. Then, the breast- and back-plates which protected the torso. Shoulders were covered by pauldrons, the elbows by couters, and rerebraces and vambraces covered the upper and lower arms, respectively. Yes, there will be a quiz!

German cuirassier gauntlets, ca 1620

They also wore armored gauntlets to protect hands and wrists, but the right-hand ones were often left off because it was difficult to reload a pistol while wearing. Or doing anything else, I imagine!

I mean seriously, could YOU ride a horse, draw and fire pistols and use a sword with any kind of accuracy wearing metal gloves? Reloading would be the least of my worries. I guess that’s why they’re badasses and I am not.

Here’s a nice example of the full armor:

Cuirassier 3/4 Armor, Germany ca 1620

If you’re interested in more, or just want to do well on quiz, you can take a look at my pinterest board with even more cool-looking pieces.

On to the weapons!

From the best three pages (seriously, they’re the only pages that are fun to read) of Peter Wilson’s book on The Thirty Years War, we get the following:

Pistols were carried in the saddle holsters with the triggers facing outwards, because their long barrels meant they had to be drawn with the hand turned towards the back.

As most men were right-handed, they had to hold the reins in their left hand and reach over to draw their left-hand side pistol or their sword. (pg. 92)

Ugh, sounds complicated. Cuirassiers typically carried wheellock pistols, which were the successor to the matchlock. Since the matchlock needed to be lit with an actual flame in order to fire, the wheellock was superior in many ways. It was safer, because you were less likely to be blown up by your own gunpowder, since yes, carrying an open flame on your person along with the gunpowder on your person seems like a recipe for disaster.

A pair of wheellock pistols

It was also more reliable, because the slow matches that lit matchlocks could go out in the rain (most fighting was in Germany which = rainy), and could be hard to light when wet, while the wheellock had a covered priming pan that kept the powder dry and let sparks be generated in any kind of weather.

A Walloon sword

Even with those technological improvements, pistols were still not terribly reliable. So cuirassiers always carried something sharp as well. One popular item was the Walloon sword, and in fact some basket-handled rapiers made during the Thirty Years War were called Pappenheimer rapiers after the excellent Imperial cavalry general Gottfried, Count Pappenheim.

So, how did cuirassiers fight? They were frequently sent up against blocks of pike and musket, which had to be made to break up before cavalry could be effective. If the pikes stayed in formation, the horses would simply refuse to ride into them. Yet more evidence that horses are smarter than people.

One tactic that developed was called the caracole. From Wilson:

Successive ranks would trot within range, fire and ride back to reload, sacrificing the psychological impact of shock tactics to the accumulative effect of firepower.

Even men trained to charge home with cold steel would often panic and break off their attack around ten metres from their target, ‘bouncing’ back to their start positions.

Many regiments were composed of a mix of cuirassiers and arquebusiers into the 1620s, with the former deployed in the front ranks if the unit made a charge. (pg. 94)

This tactic became less and less effective as infantry became more numerous, better-trained, and used better weapons. Some commanders adjusted to this by expecting the cuirassiers to go aggressively hand-to-hand, using their pistols only when they were close enough to fire directly against their opponents armor, to make sure it went through. That’s not very nice.

Some started to add mace heads, hammer heads or axe blades to their pistols, so they could continue to use them once the barrel was empty. Cause yeah, I don’t know about you, but I would be less than pleased to find myself staring at the whites of their eyes after firing my two measly rounds. Time for a bit of bludgeoning!

Bohemia Part 3: The Winter King

Some of you might have noticed that my book is tentatively titled The Winter King. That’s just a working title for now until I find something better. After all the changes I’ve made, there will be neither winter nor a king involved. However, the battle taking place in the prologue excerpt does resemble the Battle of White Mountain (below) at least a little bit.

Once Frederick became king, he quickly felt the Emperor’s wrath. Spanish troops moved into and occupied his home in the Rhineland and there was nothing he could do about it. Also, annoyingly, his father-in-law refused to support the rebellion.

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Bohemia Part 2: Battles in the Land of Beer

So, I jumped the gun a bit in my last post. Before the Bohemians could elect a new king, a bunch of other stuff happened.

When I first started to write my book, I wanted to cover all of this. But frankly, it’s a huge pain and makes for an unwieldy and confusing narrative. So, it will diverge pretty seriously from real events. Never fear- there will still be plenty of fighting and big battles, though! Just not these particular fights and battles.

This is what really happened:

Ferdinand II
Ferdinand II

By the time the Bohemians rebelled, the Habsburg Emperor Matthias was old and not very with it. As his presumed successor, future Ferdinand II  worried that the old guy would simply give in to the Bohemians. Matthias had been ruling with the help of Cardinal Khlesl, his chief minister. In a bloodless coup, Ferdinand simply had Khlesl arrested and locked up in an alpine castle. From then on, he was in charge.This ensured the support of Spain, Habsburg relatives who had long been concerned about the declining prestige of the Empire, as well as the decline in Catholicism.

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