Friday, October 30, 2009

Peter H. Wilson's "The Thirty Years War"

Peter H. Wilson is G. F. Grant Professor of History at the University of Hull.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy, and reported the following:
The Thirty Years War was Europe’s most destructive conflict prior to the twentieth-century, contributing to the deaths of proportionately far more Europeans than either world war. My interpretation differs substantially from earlier views on three points. I regard it as a struggle over the political and religious order of Central Europe, which was related to, yet remained distinct from wars elsewhere across the continent. Second, it was not primarily a religious war, despite the presence of militants, mainly on the sidelines, who interpreted events as signs of God’s will. Third, it was not inevitable, hence the tragedy of missed opportunities for peace.

Page 99 relates to the first of these points, as it discusses the mounting problems of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty that became embroiled in a protracted, fruitless war against the Muslim Ottoman empire at the end of the sixteenth century. Bankrupt and internally divided, the dynasty embarked on an inadequately-resourced effort to reassert influence over the Holy Roman Empire and their hereditary possessions within it. This programme helped trigger the Bohemian Revolt which began the Thirty Years War in 1618. Equally, the Habsburgs’ underlying weakness explains their failure to contain the Revolt and its subsequent spread into wider conflict. Page 99 examines Habsburg intervention in Transylvania in 1600 which contributed to their over-extension. It also illustrates a more general aspect of my approach, which is to emphasise contingency over more impersonal structural forces in explaining events. The devil really is in the detail.
Learn more about Peter H. Wilson's The Thirty Years War at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue