THE THIRTY YEARS WAR
Judging by the images and the books that are popular today, can you imagine how someone 400 years from now will view our society? How will they reconstruct our day in age based on the records we leave behind? That is, if they can even access our information. What impressions will they have of our culture?
I take this into consideration as I research and write my 17th century historical novels. I have a good idea of what the time period looked like from paintings like those from the Dutch Golden Age. Objects and artifacts that survived the passing of time help illustrate how people lived their daily lives. But what people thought, what they felt, can only be taken from the work of those who wrote down their experiences. Even then, we only get the point of view of individuals with a certain standing in the community. We are subject to see history based on their beliefs and more importantly, what they wanted the reader to believe.
So, as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War and the impact the war had on the Aisch Valley in Franconia, Germany, I choose sources that give me a more realistic version of the world I am recreating. These include local historical almanacs, autobiographical accounts that survived over the years and current research of the Early Modern Period. I’d like to tell you about my most important ones.
The Thirty Years War was considered The Great War by the Germans up until WWI. The devastation it left behind was up until that time unmatched. The population was reduced by a third, some believe by half. Great tracks of land were left untouched by the war but other areas were set back 100 years in their development. Some of the villages in my area died out completely for more than two generations. And a surprising number of events that transpired there were written down and collected.
Germans call them Heimatbücher; village historical almanacs, written by local residents, village officials and clergy. Many small communities have them. Full of church records, local weather chronicles, tax records, marriage, birth and death registers, maps and photographs, you’ll find one on almost every bookshelf in Germany. They recorded everything from the Hussiten Wars to the Little Ice Age, the natural catastrophe believed to help fuel the Thirty Years War. Many of the troop movements that stain Germany’s war-torn history and the damage left behind can be found in these books. They tend to be overlooked by ‘real’ historians but they are a wealth of knowledge and now our little secret.
Around the time of the Thirty Years War, the early 1700’s, literacy in Germany was supposedly 2% to 4% of the population, without taking into consideration the difference between those who read regularly and those who could read at all. The reported literates were either of a high standing or involved in the church. More Protestants were known to be able to read than Catholics. Yes, there were those women who were learned but the majority of these were men. And some of these people felt the need to write their memoirs.
A local hero from the town of Uehlfeld in Franconia, Veit von Berg was a young Protestant pastor who was in the city of Neustadt an der Aisch when it was sacked in July 1632. After the war, in 1648, he was commissioned to serve the Evangelical parish in Uehlfeld. Thirty-five people survived the horrors that left this village in ash and rubble, a village that once had population of over 600. Veit von Berg spent his free time rebuilding Uehlfeld, teaching the savaged farmers how to sow seed and live life and writing his autobiography. This is a touching, explicit, insightful story of his fight to live through an unjust war.
A more famous story is Simplicius Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen, considered to be the first German novel. It is the story of a peasant boy torn away from his family by marauding mercenaries. We follow him from the abduction, to the life with a hermit, to military service, to wealth and excess back to the life of a hermit. The adventures he experienced are considered to be the autobiographical account of Grimmelshausen’s life.
In 1988, Jan Peters, a German historian, found a hand-written document in the Berliner Staatsbibliotek, the Berlin Library. Peters set out to decipher the writings and search for the author, whose name is nowhere in the writings to be found. After much detective work, the writer is believed to the mercenary soldier, Peter Hagendorf. Hagendorf recorded his 25-year career as a mercenary and the 22,500 km travels that took him from Italy to Germany, to the Spanish Netherlands and France. He also took part in the famous Sack of Magdeburg in 1631.
Now, most of my reference books are in German and most of them are written by men. But I want to recreate this time period for an English-speaking audience and keep the language contemporary. I want to get close to the characters, inside their heads, and I also want to do this from the viewpoint of a woman. And I want to stay true to the events documented in my sources.
American historian, Joel Harrington, http://as.vanderbilt.edu/history/bio/joel-harrington professor at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, specializes in the Early Modern Period in Germany and has written numerous books concerning this time period in the English language. In 2009, he published The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Harrington studies the situation of abandoned children in Nuremberg, Germany, their mothers and the role society played in all of this in the early modern world.
Over the years, the more information I searched for, the more I found. This is only a small outtake from all the sources I have collected. For me, the love of research equals the love of writing historical fiction. And as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War, these books and documents are as instrumental to my writing as my computer and a pad and paper. The stage is set and I can bring in the actors and raise the curtain.
Today I’d like to welcome Marlene Smith on the last day of her Spotlight Blog Tour:
A final hello!
Welcome to Day 7 of my RRBC “SPOTLIGHT” Author Blog Tour! This tour has been an absolute blast, a wonderful experience. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have! A huge THANKS to RRBC, my host, and all of those that have joined us along the way.
Since today is the final day of my tour, I would like to take this opportunity to shine the light elsewhere.
If you have been following along my blog tour, you know that writing has always been a big part of my life. Words have been my passion from a very young age. It has been in the recent years that I decided to take my writing to the next level.
The biggest step came in February, 2014. Only a short time after RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB was formed, I was invited to take on the role as Secretary. I had already developed a Twitter-ship with Nonnie Jules, the President of RRBC. With her encouragement (and impossible-to-refuse offer), I accepted the “job.” Little did I know then that I would gain a new family.
Trust me when I say that this is a one-of-a-kind organization. The members are incredible! The Board is amazing! And there’s a great deal that goes on behind the scenes… time, hard work, sweat, and tears. Our hearts go into this club, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
During my time in this book club, I have received the most incredible support and encouragement for my writing. Because of that support, I finally put my words out there. In December, the same year as that first step, I became a published Author in RAVE SOUP FOR THE WRITER’S SOUL Anthology. (RRBC’s members made this book. It’s incredible and a must read!) Three poems are in this book… poems where I spill my heart, where I offer encouragement, where I speak my words.
Fast forward a couple of years… I now have the most wonderful family in RRBC, and I’m not just referring to the Governing Board. Yes, the Board is a family on its own and I absolutely adore my Board Family, BUT, this book club is such a big part of my life, such an important part of my life, that they can’t be anything but family. RRBC is the most supportive, most encouraging, most awesome-tastic family in the world!
With all of that being said, I owe many, many thanks to the people of RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB, including this blog tour. Seriously… being selected as a “SPOTLIGHT” Author is a HUGE honor and I am beyond touched for the opportunity.
Even more than that, I owe thanks to Nonnie Jules, for she’s the reason I took that first initial step. I firmly believe that she’s the reason I am now a published author. She was the push I needed when I didn’t know I needed a push.
Since that first step in December, 2014, my life has been forever changed. I owe a lot to this woman because she has been my mentor, my friend, my “other mother.” She inspires me daily, makes me want to be a better person, and encourages me like no other. I am truly blessed to have her in my life and I could never find the proper words, or enough words, to show her the appreciation that she so deserves.
Thank you to my RRBC family. I adore each of you, more than you know.
All she wanted was a fresh start.
Eight months ago, Scarlet made the choice to leave the prison she called home, and to escape the man that put her there. She had made a new home for herself in the small town of Belmont, Montana. The abandoned apartment was far from luxury, but she was better off, away from her past life.
She never expected to meet Lucas, the local hero and town’s only doctor. She didn’t expect to enjoy the small town life. She didn’t expect her past to catch up to her.
Will she risk it all? Risk revealing her secrets at a chance of love? Will she be forced back into the life she hated? Will she gain control of her own destiny?
Available Spring 2017!!
Author Marlena Smith is a true Southern Belle at heart. Her home has always been in Alabama and she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Growing up as a preacher’s daughter, faith and family played a large part in her life.
Her earliest memory of writing was that of 2nd grade when she was selected to attend the Young Author’s Conference in her home state. Little did she know then that her future was being mapped out.
Today, Marlena is an Author, Freelancer, Book Reviewer, Researcher and Secretary of Rave Reviews Book Club. She may wear many hats, but her passion remains with writing. That’s where her heart is and that’s where she feels she belongs. She has several works in progress, including an upcoming short romance, THE POWER OF LOVE, expected to be out in Spring 2017.
Until then, you can check out some of Marlena’s writing in the RAVE SOUP FOR THE WRITER’S SOUL ANTHOLOGY, available on Amazon.
Find Marlena online:
The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company, was a trading company founded in 1602. Considered by some to be the first corporation in the world, the VOC was in any case the largest and most impressive trading company in Europe during the Early Modern Period. The Company ruled the trade zone between South Africa and Japan and was granted authority by the Dutch government to build forts, appoint a governing body and to form an army, as well as conducting trade and establishing colonies.
Some statistics: The Company operated from 1602 until 1795. In a span of 193 years, they employed over a million workers—soldiers, sailors, clerks and merchants, sailed 4,785 ships and moved more that 2,5 million tons of Asian goods. By 1650, 50% of the merchant ships in Europe were owned by the Dutch.
Surviving today are over 25 million pages of documents, housed in Jakarta, Colombo, Chennai, Cape Town and The Hague. The VOC archives are the largest source of early modern history found anywhere in the world.
The Company was at home in Amsterdam and Amsterdam in the early 17th Century generated some impressive statistics itself. In 1567, the population was 25,000. In 1610, the population had doubled; in 1620 the city had grown to 100,000 people. In 1660, 200,000. Because Spain had taken control of the main hub of business and trading in central Europe, Antwerp (modern Belgium) in 1585, trading moved to Amsterdam. Skilled tradesmen flocked to the source of employment. This drastic rise in population reflected how many refugees were fleeing from Spanish troops and the fact that Amsterdam was known for religious tolerance.
But back to the VOC: what made men sail half way around the world? Compared to bulk goods like timber, tar and salt there was more money to be made trading luxury goods like spice and sugar. And the only place to get spice and sugar was half way around the world. Spice was in great demand because the taste of less-than-fresh meats did not satisfy the discerning palate.
Up until the end of the 16th century, the Spanish and the Portuguese were in control of the seaways and the routes were unknown to the Dutch. The Dutch merchants sailed their first voyages after 1596 when extensive information regarding Asian ports and navigation were brought back from abroad by a man named Jan Huyghen van Linschoten. Still, many of these routes were unknown, uncharted and somehow the early voyages were successful. In order to keep these newly flush Dutch merchants from competing against each other, the VOC was formed and claimed a monopoly over trade in the East.
But these sea voyages were long, grueling, dangerous, tedious, lasting up to six months, even longer. What sort of person voluntarily boarded a sailing ship? On to waters uncharted? Riches were to be had in the spice trade, yes, but those who earned the money were rich merchants who stayed home and got richer. Merchants living in the Indies had a life expectancy of about three years. For those who travelled with the Company, only one in three returned.
The type of person who travelled was one who had more or less nothing to lose. Cramped quarters, wormy water (if any fresh water at all), hard bread infested with weevils, disease, fleas, lice. A simple soldier had maybe a few square feet of space below deck. Was this life really so bad for these men? For many of them, the conditions on the ship, regular substantial meals and employment outweighed the disadvantageous life they were facing in Europe.