|Georg Braun; Frans Hogenberg: Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Band 1, 1572
The Master Draught
The Thirty Years War was a many-faceted conflict fought in Central Europe, neatly fitted into a nutshell starting with what they call the Defenestration in Prague in 1618 and ending with a series of treaties called the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Many factors figure into this weary, bloody, long-lasting era of human destruction. The most popular reason for the war was, of course, religion: the subject itself is heated, arguers are passionate about their beliefs so it’s easy to wave a spark into a flame. The Holy Roman Empire was Catholic. The emperor was intolerant of those that embraced the teachings of Luther and other forms of the Protestant religion. And the Protestants wanted to be free to practice as they liked.
Add a few princes who are promised territory and power and then some people who have lost their homes and are hungry and have little choice except to follow the regiments, plundering and pillaging if they want anything to eat. What you get is terror that spreads across the countryside like wildfire. Historians will also cite what they call the Little Iceage and the scientific data that backs up the theory. Temperatures were, on the average, colder during this span in the early modern period. That meant crops were failing and the people were that much worse off than they had been. Food was scarce, prices were high.
Franconia took a beating during this time. By the end of the war, large tracts of land were completely devastated and depopulated. Those who were left died in the years after of disease or starvation. They say the population of the German territories was reduced by about a third but many people also fled. Exact numbers are impossible to quantify.
In Franconia today, remembrances of this time period are still evident. Many cities and villages have streets called something like Schwedenschanze
, in English, Swedish Entrenchment. And streets named after the Generals Tilly or Mansfeld, and after the Swedish king, Gustav Adolf. And there are towns who honor their local famous legends, like Rothenburg ob der Tauber
, the historical festival weekend including a play called The Master Draught, written by Adam Hörber, celebrated every year since 1881 over the Whitsun weekend.
The setting is Rothenburg in October 1631. General Tilly, leading an Imperial army of 60,000 men, lays siege to the Protestant independent city-state Rothenburg, threatens to burn it to the ground and execute the city council. But there is one way for them to save themselves. Their Mayor Georg Nusch is asked to down a mug of wine measuring 3.75 liters in one go. Then the troops will leave them alone. He somehow manages that and saves the city.
The four-day Whitsun weekend is full of reenaction, colorful period dress, horses, troop encampment, food, beer, and regular performances of the play The Master Draught that premiered in 1881 and has been put on every year since then. For more information, please visit: