Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War

Europe’s Tragedy

Peter H. Wilson

ISBN 9780674062313

Publication date: 10/15/2011

Request exam copy

A deadly continental struggle, the Thirty Years War devastated seventeenth-century Europe, killing nearly a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to towns and countryside alike. Peter Wilson offers the first new history in a generation of a horrifying conflict that transformed the map of the modern world.

When defiant Bohemians tossed the Habsburg emperor’s envoys from the castle windows in Prague in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire struck back with a vengeance. Bohemia was ravaged by mercenary troops in the first battle of a conflagration that would engulf Europe from Spain to Sweden. The sweeping narrative encompasses dramatic events and unforgettable individuals—the sack of Magdeburg; the Dutch revolt; the Swedish militant king Gustavus Adolphus; the imperial generals, opportunistic Wallenstein and pious Tilly; and crafty diplomat Cardinal Richelieu. In a major reassessment, Wilson argues that religion was not the catalyst, but one element in a lethal stew of political, social, and dynastic forces that fed the conflict.

By war’s end a recognizably modern Europe had been created, but at what price? The Thirty Years War condemned the Germans to two centuries of internal division and international impotence and became a benchmark of brutality for centuries. As late as the 1960s, Germans placed it ahead of both world wars and the Black Death as their country’s greatest disaster.

An understanding of the Thirty Years War is essential to comprehending modern European history. Wilson’s masterful book will stand as the definitive account of this epic conflict.

For a map of Central Europe in 1618, referenced on page XVI, please visit this book’s page on the Harvard University Press website.

Praise

  • In his monumental study of the causes and the consequences of the Thirty Years War, Wilson challenges traditional interpretations of the war as primarily religious. He explores instead the political, social, economic as well as religious forces behind the conflict...Wilson then provides a meticulous account of the war, introducing some of its great personalities: the crafty General Wallenstein; the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, who preserved his state through canny political treaties and military operations; and Hapsburg archdukes Rudolf and Matthias, the brothers whose quarrels marked the future of Bohemia, Austria and Hungary. By the war's end, ravaged as all the states were by violence, disease and destruction, Europe was more stable, but with sovereign states rather than empires, and with a secular order. Wilson's scholarship and attention to both the details and the larger picture make his the definitive history of the Thirty Years War.

    —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Awards

  • 2011, Winner of the Distinguished Book Award - Military History

Author

  • Peter H. Wilson is the author of Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire, an Economist and Sunday Times Best Book, and The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy, winner of the Distinguished Book Award from the Society of Military History. He has appeared on BBC Radio and has written for Prospect, the Los Angeles Times, and the Financial Times. President of the Society for the History of War and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Wilson is Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford. His work has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.

Book Details

  • 1024 pages
  • 2-1/16 x 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author

Recommendations