Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's The Point

In a response to my blog, next door neighbour, Jenn points out she has been to Prague Castle and saw and photographed the window from which the two Imperial envoys were hurled, the event that precipitated the Thirty Year’s War. The two men were lucky, landing in a pile of horse manure they escaped unhurt if undignified.

Someone said ‘what’s the point of reading about a long vanished war’. There are several reasons. Curiosity! The great vanity fair of human existence. It’s an interesting narrative, history usually is. It’s about people in a different era – the same emotions and desires but channelled by different beliefs and customs. It explains subsequent events and what is happening in the area today. The shape of modern Europe was being hammered out on the battlefield and treaty table. But these circumstances are universal. What is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan today is a sort of repeat. Religion, status, territory, power, great powers meddling and jockeying. It is different and it is not different.

For even in the early 17th century much of the planet was involved. While Tasman had not yet sailed to New Zealand, the Dutch were trading in the East Indies – a perilous operation with prospects of spectacular rewards if successful. Silver from the mines in Mexico and Peru was swelled the coffers of Spain and helping pay the wages of the troops engaged in fighting the Dutch rebels. I’ve learnt that because the sea route to Low Countries was insecure the Spanish marched troops from Italy over the Alpine passes and down the Rhine to their destination. The possibility of Protestant states blockading this route was a factor in the war.

Geography affects war. Always has. Always will. Geography includes climate. Winter was shut-down time. This period was extremely cold, a mini-Ice Age. Armies, composed mainly of mercenaries, were largely self-funding, loot and tribute extracted from the local area. Woe betide the settlements where the troops were stationed during winter months. Then when the campaign began pillage and lawlessness meant devastation for the countryside and towns through which the troops passed. It was a cruel time if you were there.

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