War of Catholics versus Protestants

In 1631, many believed this conflict was one interpretation of God versus another, among the 'believers' were leaders of the Habsburg Austrian Empire and Bavaria. It was convenient then and in subsequent centuries right to this day, to wrap a complex issue with a simple cover. To judge something as bad versus good was uncomplicated . And the good religion was to prevail.

The Austrian Habsburg power, its capitol in Vienna, and its principal ally, the German Catholic League, were very Catholic. Those who attempted to set themselves and their lands apart from Vienna in 1618 were primarily Protestant. Much of what is now Germany had become Protestant in the wake of Luther’s words and were not keen to be a part of the Habsburg Empire nor the League. That one empire or league or state or city had associated itself with a particular religion went back to the 1555 Peace of Augsburg. Then was established cuius regio, eius religio (don’t try to say that too fast), that being in brief, the faith of the ruler was to be the faith of his subjects and his lands. So, if the Catholic Habsburg emperor extended his domain over lands inhabited by Protestants, he could insist his subjects become Catholic – or require any holdouts to leave. And this was indeed the condition promoted by the Vienna court, which was attended to by Jesuit priests, keen to promote the Counter Reformation.

This wrap of religion was real. But under the wrapping lay complex (and that’s an understatement) interrelationships in which one could not unequivocally declare one thread is solely religion, another economics, another politics, another family affairs, another growing population, another mass psychological stress, another…

Despite the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, being hailed as the defender of the Protestants, he did not mention their cause in his Declaration of June, 1630, when he announced his intentions of intervening in the conflict. Two months later, he vaguely alluded to religion, explaining why his army set foot in Germany in July: “…only and solely for defense against the disturbers of the peace, both ecclesiastical and secular."

Nevertheless, the king and his commanders remained attentive to their faith, and faith was a serious matter for many in the Swedish ranks. The morning of the battle, Robert Monro recounted: “…we begunne the morning with offering our soules and bodies, as living Sacrifices unto God, with Confession of our sinnes, lifting up our hearts and hands to Heaven, we begged for reconciliation in Christ, by our publique prayers…” The recognition phrase to be uttered during the fight was “Gott mit uns.” Shortly after the last of the enemy had fled the field, Gustavus Adolphus with his army recognized their God for the victory.

The Swedish army was predominantly Protestant – but not entirely. If a man could wield a weapon and was willing to march with the army, then it mattered little if he carried a crucifix instead of the plain Protestant cross.

Likewise for the other side. Although Count Tilly had a deep-seated antagonism against Calvinism, one branch of Protestantism, stemming from his experience in his youth in the Lowlands with Dutch Calvinists, the old general was quite accepting of individual Protestants and tolerant of those of that faith who served under him. Many did.

From an entire army down to a small patrol, the religious composition was mixed.

There was more to concerns of the heart than interpretations of the Bible and procedure in front of the congregation. This was a time of witchcraft, widely believed that such was as real as flood and drought, and as destructive. Few witches were killed in the Middle Ages but by the tens of thousands many – most were women – were burned or hanged during the 16th century and well into this 17th century. Like witches, there was magic and it could be in anything. Von Grimmelshausen wrote of people in the Thirty Years War coveting talismans against bullets and seeking out fortunetellers and swearing they laid eyes on demons as real as soldiers. In the minds of many, there was no clear boundary between such and their religion.