The Thirty Years War

By Jim Rohrer

Articulating why we like the eras we model can be challenging.  The reasons may not be the same for all of our favorite eras.  I like Dark Ages because I have read accounts of many battles involving Uhtred in the Bernard Cornwell books.  But I also have enjoyed the Sharpe series and cannot seem to work up an interest in Napoleonic wars.  It is a mystery.  I like the 1890s and World War I because they seem to fit with Steampunk and I like Steampunk for no particular reason.

On the other hand, I think I can explain why the Thirty Years War is interesting.  First, it was big.  Perhaps 30 percent of the population of central Europe died, many of them civilians.  Second, it was an extension of the Protestant Reformation but in a strange way; France helped the northern German states despite being Roman Catholic.  So, the TYW had more to do with the balance of power than with religion.

Third, national armies were not up the challenge of such extended campaigns so mercenaries were widely used.  Mercenary companies worked for whoever paid them so they could and did switch sides.  This makes them the consummate professional soldiers in the TYW.

Fourth, the TYW took place in central Europe prior to the unification of the German state.  One could argue (and many did) that the German “nation” was composed of people who spoke German.  On the other hand, are south Germans really culturally similar enough to north Germans to make this argument?  I do not know the answer but north and south certainly fought hard against each other in the TYW.  And are the Dutch part of the north German area or not? The Dutch language is related but different from German.  Central Germans cannot understand Swiss German so maybe the common language argument falls apart. Polish mercenary units fought on both sides and yet they were not German.  Fascinating!

Most people who model this era focus on the ECW.  Presumably that is because they are English and so it is part of their national history.  But other gamers might find the TYW to be interesting if they tried exploring it. Mars makes 1/72 sets for this era that are affordable.

About jimr

As a semi-retired professor, I have time to indulge myself with hobbies. Solo wargaming with 54mm figures using One Hour Wargame (OHW) rules and an expanded card deck is my style of play.
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5 Responses to The Thirty Years War

  1. Martin Smith says:

    Interesting comments, James. Historical fiction can be very influential. I’ve just finished reading a book based in the Wars of the Roses, and the temptation to get my WOTR figures out and rebase them for a game is almost irresistible! However, I feel that ECW is less fiction than fact from my own viewpoint:- I game ECW partly because it happened ‘on my doorstep’, and names and places are familiar (one battle was fought in my home town, and another major game-changer was 20 minutes from here), whereas the TYW has always felt remote (and I haven’t fathomed out the politics).
    The main role for the TYW from my own perspective was in training up a significant number of the leading figures of the ECW.

  2. james E rohrer says:

    Your comment is interesting. The ACW happened on my doorstep and I enjoy watching movies about it but gaming that era has not been attractive yet. Perhaps is is too familiar. Being of Germanic heritage, the Thirty Years War has a personal angle and Europe is less familiar to me, making it interesting.
    You last sentence made me smile. It seems a bit Anglo-centric, not that there is anything wrong with that!

  3. Paul Le Long says:

    Interesting comments, Jim. I was always in the ECW camp for the reasons Martin stated but have become much more interested in German history lately and I’m attracted to the TYW – I can easily use my ECW figures after all!

    I’ve recently started raising 10mm armies for the Seven Weeks War of 1866 which united the German Confederation under Prussian (rather than Austrian) leadership. Compass Games do a great boardgame on the topic too. The interesting thing is that the dozens of smaller ‘German’ states chose sides for a variety of non-geographical reasons, though it’s true that Bavaria and a lot of South Western states sided with Austria.

    And of course some of the major events of both the TYW and 1866 took place in Bohemia – which is now the Czech Republic and not in Germany at all (though the language is German in parts).

    • jimr says:

      The North German Confederation is an interesting group. It seems odd that Prussia was part of it, since ultimately parts east of Berlin belong in Poland. In an alt-history imagi-nations campaign, I would give NGC German states east of the Netherlands including Hanover, Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony and smaller states. Bohemia might be a contested area. In this arrangement, the German Empire does not form. Poland can be an ally of NGC. The South German Confederation goes with Austria.

  4. Paul Le Long says:

    Sounds like a very interesting campaign! If you ever run it I’d be interested to read about it.

    I read something last year that argued that Germany proper conforms, culturally & economically, to all the land east of the Elbe – essentially what was West Germany 1945-90.

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