See also the article "Guerres de religion sans frontières" in the EHNE.
Introduction: Media and their functions in the Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) developed from a political and confessional conflict between the German Emperor Ferdinand II (1578–1637) and the Bohemian nobility into a European-wide war, as both sides also found allies outside of their own confessional camps. Thus peace also had to be brokered by two congresses (1648 in Münster and Osnabrück, hence the "Peace of Westphalia"). For the Holy Roman Empire, it led to the legal recognition of both confessions; for Europe it entailed the necessity of dispatching permanent ambassadors and thus of establishing a system of continuous diplomatic exchange.1 The conflict was also the first European war regularly reported in periodically appearing media. Previously in Europe, with the exception of chronicles, only individual, easily digestible military events had been described in broadsides or pamphlets, where they were often given a religious or political interpretation. Periodically appearing media – above all weekly newspapers, which had existed in the Holy Roman Empire since 1605, but also Messrelationen, which appeared biannually or triannually2 – were able to follow longer developments continuously over months and years. Perhaps it was this continuous and regular reporting itself that led Europeans to think of this war as one coherent event, namely "The Thirty Years' War," and not as a chain of independent conflicts set in locations near and far.3
For many European countries, the war can be considered the origin of periodical reporting of any kind. Beginning in 1618 in Amsterdam, newsletters (Nachrichtenbriefe) from Germany, Italy, and other regions were regularly collected and printed, for example in Cologne as the Wochentliche Niderlandische Postzeitung.4 English Translations of these newsletters began appearing in 1620;5 1621 witnessed the birth of informational pamphlets called "newsbooks".6 The first weekly newspaper appeared in Antwerp (Nieuwe tidinghen) in 1618, in Paris (Gazette) in 1631.7 In the Empire, the war provided the impetus for the founding of numerous new weeklies in cities such as Hildesheim, Halberstadt and Stuttgart.
These were not the only periodically appearing media during the Thirty Years' War. Unlike today, when all media are integrated in the virtual web, the media of the seventeenth century did not so easily cross over with one another. Print media were literally characterized by different formats: octavo for information meant to be transportable, such as a prayer book; quarto for Messrelationen as well as most newspapers and pamphlets; folio for illustrated broadsheets, but also for chronicles or the political newspaper Theatrum europaeum.8 Hand-written newsletters (often called Zeitungen, i.e. "newspapers," as the word Zeitung then meant "news") also circulated, assembled each week by paid scribes and adhering to no standardized form. In addition, there were compilations of newsletters or digests referred to as (hand-)written newspapers, or Fuggerzeitungen,9 broadsheets illustrated with woodcuts or engravings,10 and news songs, performed by travelling entertainers (male and female).11 Media used various "channels" (print, manuscript, image, sound, drama), and each medium could perform several functions. These functions – not the "format" or "channel" of the medium – determined how "the war" was presented in each medium and how it "arrived." If the Thirty Years' War is to be characterized as a media phenomenon, it must be shown in which of its aspects and in what ways the war was taken up and diffused in the media of its time. In turn, this is only possible by considering the function individual media had, that is, by asking what they were meant to achieve or effect. It is possible to distinguish four tasks performed by media in the Thirty Years' War: (1) the reporting of facts, (2) putting information into context, (3) commentary and agitation, and (4) synthetic, often allegorical interpretation. In what follows, these functions will provide the rubrics for explaining how the war became a media "phenomenon" in its time.
War as a chain of events and facts
In-depth research into the interpretive and commentary-driven pamphlets of the Thirty Years' War12 can easily obscure the fact that by far the majority of paper in this war was used to pass on facts. While recognizing the problem that reported "facts" themselves are based on interpretation, in this context we shall treat as "facts" everything that the reporters of the time themselves considered true and communicated as such to their contemporaries.13 Very many media in the Thirty Years' War were mainly or overwhelmingly devoted to reporting facts in this sense: newspapers, informational pamphlets (often called "New Newspaper" (Neue Zeitung), i.e. "Latest News" after the first words of their titles)14 and Messrelationen, but also some images and songs. In handwritten and print media, facticity was vouchsafed by the obligatory dateline. The dateline announced in standardized form the place and time at which the news was recorded, not of the events themselves. If an event could be dated, this information had to be given a second time, as in the following newsletter, printed in a Magdeburg Messrelation of 1620:
Prague, 8 March. Today the enemy left Budweis and captured Belltschitz, then came to Wittlingau, torched the outskirts, and began to fire upon the city. Our soldiers, however, four patrols strong, defended themselves so staunchly that the enemy had to retreat. (…) On the 3rd (of March) His Majesty left Breslau for Lausitz. He is awaited here within eight days, on the 19th the baptism will take place, and thereafter His Majesty will go personally to the front.15
This excerpt provides a typical example of the form in which the war "arrived" in newsletters and, through them (to the extent that they acted as the ultimate source of information), in all other "fact-reporting" media. Geographical terms or numbers were provided with precision in order to attest to the report's concern for truth. Who "the enemy" and "our soldiers" were, however, was left to the reader to decipher. In order to understand the reports, it was necessary to know the present military situation and the state of alliances. Individual events were described as precisely as possible, but briefly and without embellishment. The build-up of suspense, although not unknown, was frowned upon in news reporting, as can be seen from the short report in the Frankfurt Messrelation about the Defenestration of Prague:
When the Supreme Burggrave and Kreuzherr Popel, Grand Prior of Our Lady, had reached a rather solid agreement with them, but the supreme Landhofrichter (judge) Slawata and Mr. Schmisansky dissented, the Estates bid the first two stand aside and had Mr. Slawata and Mr. Schmisansky along with the secretary Master Philipp thrown from the chancery window – at a great height – down into the ditch. As God willed, however, all three survived.16
Names, offices, and titles were given precisely, but no additional or background information was provided; the reporter did not reflect at all on the importance of the event. Indeed, this report assumed a great deal of knowledge. The reader had to know who "the Estates" were and at least have a sense of the meanings of the titles in order to contextualize the event. The pure reporting of events during the Thirty Years' War often (although not always) dispensed with background information and explanations. Thus news required a great deal of prior knowledge on the part of readers – or the aptitude and the opportunity for familiarizing themselves with the contents of news reports over a longer period of time.
The Prague newsletter shows, furthermore, that not only the spectacular, "big" or "decisive" events found their way into the media reports of the time but also smaller encounters and even unsuccessful undertakings, which did not appear at all in irregular media. The reason for this status accorded to small military incidents lay in the short intervals between reporting that characterized many news media. Newsletters and newspapers appeared weekly; their writers, compilers and editors thus had to regularly and speedily fill a minimum amount of paper with news, for which they were paid. This quota could not be met by "big" events alone, nor could the latter be relied upon to provide regular material. In addition, the meaning of a battle or an event could at times only be determined at a distance of some time, which the writer of a newsletter or a newspaper, who had to be up-to-date, did not have.
More voluminous writings could also deal with longer-term developments. The typical longer-range "event" during the Thirty Years' War was the siege. The siege report was a standard genre of independent, non-periodical publications17 and Messrelationen. In irregularly appearing publications the occurrence was chronologically summarized, whereas in Messrelationen it was separated into discrete, often widely dispersed sections, the "most recent" of which ought to be as current as possible. A siege report usually provided a precise description of what happened on each day. It ended either with the withdrawal of the besieging troops or with conquest, which usually took place not as an assault but mostly via an "accord," an agreement preceded by negotiations between the commander of the besieging troops and the commandant of the stronghold (or his representatives).18 If the necessary space was available in the publication, the "accord" would be printed there verbatim and in full.19
This kind of factual reporting was also performed by many engravings depicting events of the war, such as a bombardment or the deployment of troops around a stronghold.20 Such images required a lengthy production process and thus are not to be compared to photography; instead, they provided a belated and often a rather schematic "picture" of the events described in reports. Apparently dramatic and "current" images were actually produced long after the events. An example is the Defenestration of Prague, which, although the ostensible trigger of the war, was only visually rendered in 1640.21 The majority of images from the Thirty Years' War showed static, motionless subjects, such as the plan of a stronghold or an elevated view of the same structure surrounded by troops, usually marked with letters or numbers whose meaning was explained elsewhere.22 A bombardment could be portrayed by smoking canons,23 by lines indicating the direction of fire,24 or by shot trajectories.25
Facts were also typically reported in the form of lists, for example of troop numbers and regimental commanders.26 Such lists were published at the beginning of a campaign and were supposed to show which commanders were taking on soldiers or simply to demonstrate the strength of one's own side. In the wake of a successful siege, the victors published lists of provisions, material, or other goods found in the conquered stronghold.27 After battles it was common for both sides to have lists printed of the officers who had been captured or killed.28 Prisoners could be released for money ("ransomed"), unless they preferred to change masters.
War as a context for events (with propagandistic undertones)
Media that appeared less often and in greater volume per issue, including Messrelationen but also independent single publications, supplemented the "dry" factual reports with official documents and comprehensive descriptions. In this way, the reported facts were simultaneously embedded into contexts of all kinds, and military movements or the particular role of individuals stood out. For example, a German-language song in 11 verses (by Marcus Liborius Vulturnus of Tannenburg, who signed with an acronym) recounted the victory of Wallenstein's troops against Mansfeld at Dessau Bridge on 5/15 April 1626, thus contributing in its own way to the broader depiction of combat.29 Detailed descriptions of a battle or the introduction of written documents gave the distinct impression that a report was especially saturated with facts. Such additions, however, make the transition to partisan portrayal, to stylization or to propaganda fluid. For the Thirty Years' War, Göran Rystad (born 1925) has used the 1634 Battle of Nördlingen to show that the military reports of all sides were edited.30 They were, of course, based on reports of senior officers who had taken part in the battle. These descriptions, however, went first to the war office of the court in question, where they were edited and, if necessary, supplemented with further material before they were printed and published in their final form. Thus the victors (in Nördlingen the Emperor and Spain) could underscore the achievements of their armies and commanders, whereas the losers remained unaware of the seriousness of their defeat or downplayed it. The first report about the Battle of Nördlingen in the Frankfurt Messrelation of autumn 1635 ended on a hopeful note, quoting Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's (1604–1639) determination "to gather his scattered troops" so as to then "oppose the enemy with full force."31 Only the following spring would the scale of the defeat become clear and finally admitted: "And although at the beginning the imperial side suffered no small harm, (…) it should be accounted nothing or only slight in comparison with the Swedish defeat."32
That the publication of documents in the Thirty Years' War could function as propaganda is illustrated by the so-called "chancery episode" (Kanzleistreit). During his precipitous flight from Prague, the "Winter King" Frederick V, Elector Palatine (1596–1632) was forced to leave behind portions of his chancery records.33 These fell into the hands of his enemies, who published a selection of them and sought thereby to prove the existence of an extensive anti-imperial alliance system.34
Many writers took confessional positions despite generally seeking only to report facts, especially in intensely religiously charged situations – and before the long war had made the yearning for peace the most important topic of the day. This was hardly to be avoided in light of the confessional nature of the conflicts, and also since "judgment" sets in as soon as facts are put together in such a way that readers must assume a context of causality or, what is more, of guilt. An example is provided by the informational pamphlet "Pommerscher Verlauff" of 1630, which was assembled from newspapers and other news reports. According to this pamphlet, imperial troops were in Pomerania "with no small detriment to the poor subjects, ostensibly on the orders of His Imperial Majesty to resist enemies and block the passes."35 Although the preposition "with" denotes no causal connection, such is implied and thus the devastation of Pomerania is attributed to the imperial army. Yet even the factual analysis of events could contain judgmental notes, as evidenced by an anonymous contemporary chronicle from the year 1628. There the Danish defeat at Königslutter was described as follows:
17 August witnessed General Tilly's great defeat of the King of Denmark at Lutter Castle, where 6,000 Danes fell including many noble officers. This victory is thus to be set above that achieved at White Mountain.36
This extract is limited to a brief description of the fact, but it introduces a judgment by comparing – from the perspective of the victor – the victory with that over the Bohemian "Winter King" at White Mountain and according it a higher value.
War as an Occasion for Debate and Agitation
In pamphlets, whose object lay chiefly in argumentation, debate, and judgment, the war was seldom portrayed as a series of factual events. Instead, the contesting parties debated what the war was actually about.37 According to Emperor Ferdinand II and his allies, the initial goal of the war was to defend the imperial right to the crown of Bohemia as stipulated by the Golden Bull of 1348. The Bohemian Estates did not recognize this right; they defended themselves and elected their own king. In addition, they believed the religious rights guaranteed them by the Bohemian Letter of Majesty (1609) had been violated.38 Both parties to the war thus sought to prove on the basis of legal documents, both to their own supporters and troops and to the opposing party, that their war was "just" (bellum iustum) and therefore legitimate.
Although the Reformation centenary of 1617 had probably raised tensions between the confessions in the Empire,39 Bohemian propaganda had little effect there. Most Lutheran Imperial Estates did not view the Bohemians as fellow believers, tended to the emperor's legal point of view, or considered themselves financially incapable of waging war. After the Bohemian defeat at the Battle of White Mountain, their king, Frederick, was lampooned as the "Winter King" – king for one winter – in many broadsides.40 One rebus broadside41 (a form typical of the time) depicted the followers of the Elector Palatine as blind beggars and refugees42 and humiliated the toppled king further with the bawdy remark that he had lost his "English garters" ("Das [Engel]lendisch [Hosen]band"; i.e. the Order of the Garter) during his escape. One broadsheet showed a postman ("Postbott") who, according to the accompanying verses, was searching for the Elector Palatine all over the country but could not find him and thus repeated the verses as a refrain: "Oh please tell me where I can find / the lost Elector Palatine?"43
As the war continued and the emperor remained militarily successful, the focus of journalism shifted to a new political problem: the idleness of the Lutheran Estates. Reformed writers warned that this Lutheran idleness paved the way for Spanish-Catholic world rule.44 For their part, the Lutheran Estates denounced the Reformers as unreliable alliance partners who were only waiting to get the upper hand themselves. In these arguments, the war appeared as a struggle for confessional predominance or even simply for self-preservation and for the enhancement of power. The imperial party needed no special journalistic legitimization; for it was celebrating military successes and, moreover, had an interest in keeping the Lutheran Estates quiet. In this phase, only a few Protestant pamphlets and broadsheets (of Reformed or Lutheran provenance) articulated the hope for military assistance from a saviour in the form of a biblical "Lion of Midnight."45
This image, which had already appeared in 1620s journalism, redounded to the benefit of King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden (1594–1632) when he set out from "midnight" (i.e., from the north) and landed on the Baltic coast of Pomerania in 1630. Thus began the "Swedish" phase of the war, during which journalism was characterized above all by the glorification of Gustavus Adolphus. Pamphlets and broadsides depicted him as a champion of Christ, the saviour of embattled Protestantism and as an almost divine hero.46 The war in general was stylized as a semi-eschatological struggle for the ascendancy of Christ and the true faith. Even after Gustavus Adolphus's death at the Battle of Lützen in 163247, some broadsides appeared that seemed almost to posit defiantly his further existence: "The Swede lives on!"48. Committing oneself to the alliance with Sweden or holding to it after the king's death was thus portrayed as a religious duty of Protestants. This was the object of these countless pieces of journalistic propaganda, which issued from the presses of German and Swedish Lutherans alike.
The emperor went on the defensive journalistically, too, during this phase of the war – not only because of Swedish military successes but also because he deposed the dukes of Mecklenburg and replaced them with "his" general Wallenstein – Duke Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583–1634). This move was as extraordinary as it was unlawful, and it obliged the emperor to perform elaborate justifications.49 The ostracism of Wallenstein four years later had at least some support in imperial custom, and the emperor could make his case more briefly.50
The last great journalistic debate of the war dealt with whether Protestant Imperial Estates should subscribe to the Peace of Prague, which had been concluded in 1635 between the Emperor and the Catholic Imperial Estates and the Electorate of Saxony. The sufferings of the long war spoke for it, but signing the Peace meant that the Protestants would have to turn against and fight their earlier ally Sweden. Furthermore, the peace treaty guaranteed the emperor the right to once again make Catholicism the official religion in his hereditary lands. For a Protestant power, therefore, concluding peace meant on the one hand doing something essentially good but on the other abandoning both the Swedish ally and fellow believers in imperial lands.51 Another point was that many Protestants were not willing to accord the emperor the right to confiscate for the Catholic Church certain properties that had become Protestant, even after a transition period of forty years.52 This difficult decision fuelled the debate. Since most but not all the Imperial Estates subscribed to peace, the fallout from the failed Peace of Prague was doubly dire for Protestants in hereditary Habsburg lands and Bohemia. For they had to bear both war and re-Catholicization at the same time. Andreas Gryphius (1616–1664) summarized this state of affairs in the final verses of his poem "Thränen des Vaterlands" ("Tears of the Fatherland" – namely Silesia), written in 1636: "But I remain silent about what is worse than death, more horrible than plague, blaze and hunger: that so many are forced to abandon their souls' treasure."53 In this way he alluded to the Protestants forced to deny or abjure their faith.
War in allegorical and metaphorical interpretation
A special opportunity to depict the war visually arose from the fact that images depict not only facts but also metaphors and allegories and thus can portray ideas. Typical media for this kind of depiction were coins and medals, which were usually commissioned by rulers from goldsmiths or mint masters.54 In 1628, the city of Stralsund had the master of its mint coin medals showing the successful defence against the siege of Wallenstein's troops.55 The court medal-maker for the Elector of Saxony,56 Sebastian Dadler (1586–1657), minted a medal showing the Battle of Breitenfeld near Leipzig.57 The image portrayed allegories of the three virtues justice, piety and fortitude under the hand of God in the clouds.58 The message conveyed was that the victory was not only granted by God but also achieved through the three virtues; considering that the Saxon troops fled during the battle,59 this medal also constitutes an attempt to drown the memory of a shameful fact in a triumphal image.
Numerous visual representations of individual military events also contain images of metaphors and allegories meant to convey particular meanings. Although they are often dubbed caricatures, these illustrations usually portrayed individuals realistically. Less realistically portrayed, in contrast, were actions and environment, depending on the metaphorical word picture employed. For example, the word "Pfaffengasse" (literally, "cleric's alley") was used as a derisive label for the domains of rich bishoprics along the Rhine and Main rivers. Some broadsides portrayed Gustavus Adolphus's military triumph as the "Midnight Lion's" stroll down "cleric's alley."60 Another illustrated broadside depicts Gustavus Adolphus as an eye surgeon operating on the Duke of Bavaria's cataract; meanwhile "Tille" (Tilly), who has already undergone the "operation," sits on a bench at the edge of the picture holding his aching eye shut.61 Such images represented the war as a painful but ultimately curative "operation" (the metaphor is still popular in war analysis). In addition, many broadsheets presented the war as a feast of sweetmeats62 that did not go as planned. This depiction evokes a saying of the Elector of Saxony, according to whom "Tilly would break his teeth on the Saxon candy, which normally contained some hard nuts."63
An apt subject for allegories was Jean t'Serclaes de Tilly's (1559–1632) conquest of Magdeburg, since the name of the city is composed of the two recognizable elements "Magd" (maid) and "Burg" (place, city). Tilly, general of the Catholic league, had "conquered a virgin city" – the image seemed to elicit erotic decodings that differed depending on the viewer's confession. Protestants highlighted the violence of the event, thus designating the conquest as a rape,64 as the overcoming of a city determined to defend its virginity.65 Catholic publications tended to emphasize the legal standpoint. They pointed out that the emperor was head of the realm and the legal lord of the city and staged Tilly's union with Magdeburg as a legitimate marriage.66 In war journalism, metaphorical and allegorical images were especially suited to providing a recapitulatory interpretation of individual events without having to provide reasons or arguments.
Conclusion: Effects and aftermath
It was not the medium but the occasion and the goal of a statement that determined how the Thirty Years' War and its individual events "arrived" in the media of the time. They were decisive factors for whether the war should be portrayed as a string of facts, as a context for events, as a problem to be solved through thought or action, or metaphorically in a word picture or drawn image. Of course, media could induce constraints that affected reporting. The swift publication rhythm of newspapers entailed the necessity of finding news items, thus ennobling "small" events of the war. The long production process attending most visual portrayals meant that they could not "illustrate" the war and its events but rather could only "put it into pictures" afterwards at a relatively large temporal remove from the events, through the presentation of either facts or allegories. In media as a whole the war probably appeared "more static" than contemporaries experienced it, since a majority of reports dealt with sieges and troop deployments. Those affected by the war must have perceived it as the unpredictable result of quickly shifting and terrible events. Due to the long time it took to produce media, it is uncertain whether contemporaries could actually draw personal conclusions from recent reports. In all likelihood rumours spread faster than newspapers. Nevertheless, the impetus given to media in general by the war testifies to the increasing interest in news during the period – and not only on the part of the subjects of those powers making war but also in England. It was probably the diffusion both of pamphlets and especially of periodical news media that helped people all over Europe perceive each other as "contemporaries." Admittedly, not all were confronted with the same events, but all could be informed about these events at approximately the same time – at least to the extent that travel conditions permitted. Of course this only holds, if at all, for those areas in which periodical reporting already existed, such as in England, the Empire, the Netherlands and France. Italy had hand-written67 but no printed newspapers yet, and thus only certain interested circles had direct access to the news. This suggests that the integration of Europe might have come about thanks to news communication. However, since written newspapers have so far been studied only sporadically, it is too early to tell the extent to which this integration occurred through the consumption of news.