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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 21 — The Thirty Years' War

Chapter 11 — The Fatherland after the war

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Peace Proclaimed — Banquet at Nuremberg — Varied Feelings awakened by the Peace — Celebration of the Peace in Dolstadt — Symbolical Figures and Procession — The Fatherland after the War — Its Recovery Slow — Invaded by Wandering and Lawless Troops — Poverty of the Inhabitants — Instances of Desolation of the Land — Unexampled Extent of the Calamity — Luther's Warnings Verified.

THE peace had been signed. The ambassadors had solemnly shaken hands with one another in token of its. ratification, and on all the roads rode trumpeters to carry to city and rural village the news of the happy event. The rude tempests of war had spent themselves, and now mild-eyed Peace looked forth and smiled.

The peace was celebrated at Nuremberg by a great banquet, at which imperialists and Swedes sat down together at the same table, and mingled their rejoicings under the same roof. Brilliant lights illuminated the vaulted roof of the magnificent town-hall. Between the blazing chandeliers were hung thirty kinds of fruits and a profusion of flowers, bound together with gold wire. Four bands were appointed to discourse sweet music, and in six different rooms were assembled the Six classes of invited guests. Two enormous allegorical figures had been erected on the tables — the one an arch of victory, the other a six-sided mountain, covered with mythological and allegorical figures from the Latin and German mythologies. Dinner was served in four courses, each consisting of 150 dishes. Then came the fruits, some of which were served in silver, and others on the boughs of the very trees on which they had grown, and which had been transferred root and all into the banqueting-room. Along the table at intervals burned fine incense, which filled the spacious hall with a delightful perfume. There was also confectionery in great abundance, made up in a variety of fanciful and fantastic forms. A herald now rose and announced the toast of the day — "The health of his Imperial Majesty of Vienna, and his Royal Majesty of Sweden." The toast of the newly-concluded peace followed, and was drunk with rapturous cheers by the assembled ambassadors and generals, while a response was thundered from the artillery of the castle. A somewhat perilous play at soldiers now diversified the entertainment. Muskets and swords were brought into the room, and the company, arming themselves and forming in file, marched :round the table, and fired off a salvo. After this they marched out, and ascended the streets to the old Margrave's Castle at the northern gate, and discharged several pieces of ordnance. On their return to the town-hall they were jestingly thanked, and discharged from the service on the ground that now War had sheathed his sword, and Peace began her reign. To regale the poor, two oxen had been killed, and quantities of bread were distributed, and out of a lion's jaws there ran for six hours white and red wine. Out of a still greater lion's jaws had run for thirty years tears and blood. As did the ambassadors at Nuremberg, so in every town and half-destroyed village this thrice-welcome peace was celebrated by the rejoicings of the inhabitants.

From the banquet-hall of Nuremberg, let us turn to the homesteads of the people, and mark the varied feelings awakened in their breasts by the cessation of this terrible war. "To the old," says Gustavus Freytag, "peace appeared like a return of their youth; they saw the rich harvests of their childhood brought back again; the thickly-peopled villages; the merry Sundays under the now cut-down village lindens; the pleasant hours which they had spent with their now dead or impoverished relations and companions — in short, all the pictures that made up the memory of early days they saw reviving again to gladden their age. They found themselves happier, manlier, and better than they had become in almost thirty years filled with misery and degradation. The young men, that hard, war-begotten, wild generation, felt the approach of a wonderful time; it seemed to them like a fable out of a far-off land; they saw in vista a time when on every field there would wave in the wind thick yellow ears of corn, when in every stall the cows would low, when in every sty would bask a round little pig, when they themselves should drive two horses to the merry crack of the whip, and no hostile soldier would dare to lay rough hands upon their sisters and sweethearts; when they would no longer lie in wait in the bushes with hay-forks and rusty muskets for stragglers; when they would no longer sit as fugitives, in the eerie nights of the forest, on the graves of their stricken comrades; when the roofs of the village houses would be without holes, the yards without crumbling barns; when one would no longer hear the cry of the wolf at the yard-gate; when the village church would again have glass windows and beautiful bells; when in the befouled choir of the church there would stand a new altar, with a silk cover, a silver crucifix, and a gilt cup; and when once again the young men would lead the brides to the altar with the maiden-wreath in their hair. A passionate, pained joy throbbed in every breast; and even war's wildest brood, the common soldiers, felt its convulsive thrill. The callous governing powers even, the princes and their ambassadors, felt that the great fact of peace was the saving of Germany from the last extremity of ruin. Solemnly, and with all the fervor of which the people were capable, was the peace celebrated throughout the land." [1]

As an example of the way in which the peace was welcomed in the smaller towns we take Dolstadt, in the Dukedom of Gotha. The glimpse it gives us of the morals of the Fatherland at this era is far from pleasant, and shows us how far the sons of

the Reformers had degenerated; and it paints in affecting colors the character of the men on whom the great calamity of the Thirty Years' War fell. The Pastor of Dolstadt, vexed from day to day with the impiety of his flock, denounced against them the judgment of Heaven unless they turned from their wickedness. They only laughed at his warnings, and showed him all manner of disrespect. They tore down his hops from the pole, they carried off the corn from his field, and many other injuries, as he complained with tearful eyes in 1634, did they inflict upon him. When he came to die he burst into tears, uttering the following sorrowful exclamation — "Alas! poor Dolstadt, how ill it will go with thee after my departure!" Directing a look towards the church, and surveying it with a heart heavy with sorrow and eyes dim with death, he made his attendants raise him in bed, and again exclaimed, "Ah! dear, dear church, how wilt thou fare after my death! thou shalt be swept into a heap with the broom of judgment!" His prophecy came true. In 1636 the armed corps of Hatzfeld fell upon the place, ravaging and spoiling; the church was plundered, and its wood-work torn down and burned, as Pastor Dekner had not obscurely foretold. In the same year the village had to pay 5,500 guldens of war indemnity. From 1627 to 1637, 29,595 guldens had been exacted of it. The inhabitants dwindled away, and in a short while the place became almost as deserted as the wilderness. In 1636 there were only two married couples in the village. In 1641, first Bannier, and after him the French were quartered there in winter; one half-acre was the whole extent of soil cultivated, and the population amounted to just four persons.

After the Peace of Westphalia, under the fostering care of Duke Ernest, the pious sovereign of Gotha, this as well as the other abandoned villages were quickly re-populated, so that in 1650 there was held also in Dolstadt a festival in honor of the peace. The morning of the 19th of August was ushered in by the singing of hymns. At six o'clock the bells were set a-ringing, and the whole population of the place assembled before the entrance of the village — the women grouped on one side of the path, and the men on the other. Before the females stood an allegorical figure of Peace, dressed in a robe of green silk, crowned with a green wreath, varied with yellow flowers, and holding in its hand a branch of olive. In front of the men was a symbolical representation of Justice, clothed in white, wearing a green wreath, and holding in one hand a naked sword, and in the other a yellow rod. The young men stood at some distance, with a representation of Mars before them, dressed as a soldier and carrying a cross-bow. In the middle of these groups stood the scholars and villagers, with the pastor at their head, the director of the day's proceedings, and afterwards their narrator. The pastor directed their glance back on the awful tempests which had beat upon them, now happily ended. He told them how often they had had to flee from their homes, fear in their hearts and tears in their eyes; and how glad they were, the storm over, to return, though to enter naked and devastated dwellings, and sit at hearths blackened and cold. "And now let us," he said, "pass in with praise at these same gates, out of which we have often passed in flight; and let us enter the sanctuary of the Eternal with a psalm of thanksgiving, and lifting up our voices with one accord, sing to God on high." Thereupon the whole assembly, wearing green wreaths, and carrying in their hands green branches, marched to the church singing hymns. The villagers had been joined by the gentry and nobility of the neighborhood, and the procession was a long and imposing one. In the church hymns were again sung by voices which trembled with varied emotions; prayers breathed out with touching pathos and solemnity ascended upward; and the pastor, mounting the pulpit, preached a sermon suited to the joyful occasion. Thereafter the whole assemblage gathered in the market-place, and the stripling and the patriarch, the village maiden and the high-bona dame, mingling their voices in one mighty chorus, sang a closing hymn and then dispersed. [2]

The condition of the Fatherland after the war was of the most serious and painful character. Peace had been proclaimed, but many years were needed to staunch the wounds and efface the deep scars which the war had made. When one has been brought to the grave's brink and again recovers, slowly the pallor departs from the face, and slowly does the dimmed eye brighten and the sickly frame wax strong. So with Germany: the work was both laborious and tedious of re-building its cities, restoring the verdure of its fields and the shade of its forests, and especially reviving its all but extinct population. Unconscionable war taxes, ravaging camps waiting for disbandment, prolonged into the era of peace the miseries that had darkened the period of war. To these were added annoyances of another kind. The whole country swarmed with "masterless bands," made up of runaway serfs and discharged soldiers, with women and camp followers.

After these came troops of beggars and hosts of robbers, who wandered from province to province in quest of prey. "A stream of beggars," says Gustavus Freytag, "of every kind wandered over the country — dismissed soldiers, cripples, homeless people, old and sick people; among the rest, lepers, with certificates from the hospitals; exiles from Bohemia and Hungaria, who had left their home for their religion; expelled nobles from England, Ireland, and Poland; collectors who wished to set free their relations from the Turkish prisons; travelers who had been plundered at wayside inns; a blind pastor,

with five children, from Denmark; and not one of this long troop was there who had not a tale of suffering or adventure to recount, in order to procure money or excite admiration." [3]

They forcibly quartered themselves in the villages where there still remained a few inhabitants; and where the population had totally disappeared they took unchallenged possession of the empty dwellings. But the infection of evil habits spreads fast; and the inhabitants, discovering that it was easier to rob than to cultivate the fields, began to make secret incursions into their neighbors' territories, and appropriated whatever they coveted. The Romanists plundered the Protestant communities, and the Protestants repaid the visit by plundering the Romanists. The gypsy tribes began to swarm and multiply; their wandering hordes would gather in every village. Fantastically dressed, they would encamp round the stone troughs in the market-places, with laden carts, stolen horses, and naked children. Only where there existed a strong municipality could these wild wanderers be kept away. In the Dukedom of Gotha sentinels were placed on the bridges and at the fords of rivers, to sound the alarm when they saw any of these lawless troops approaching. Gradually something like a police force was organized; a register of householders was made, and an account taken of the hind each occupied, and the manner in which he cultivated it, and the taxes fixed which he was to pay. By these means the inhabitants were again broken into habits of industry. Those who had fled to the mountains, or had sought refuge in the cities, or in foreign countries, returned, the villages arose, marriages and baptisms were numerous, and something like its old face began again to be seen on the Fatherland.

The poverty of the inhabitants was so great that they were not able to procure implements to cultivate their fields, and large tracts of Germany long lay fallow, or covered with brushwood. "There were parts of the country where a horseman could ride for many hours without coming to a single inhabited dwelling. A messenger, who hastened from Saxony to Berlin, traveled from morning till evening over uncultivated land, through thorns and thistles, without finding one village in which to rest." [4] In Thuringia and Franconia, fair samples of the rest of Germany, it is calculated that seventy-five per cent of the male population had perished.

They had lost eighty-five per cent. of horses, eighty-three of goats, and eighty-two of cows; the remaining horses were lame and blind, and the sheep in all places were completely annihilated. The population of Hesse had shrunk to a fourth of its former number. Augsburg was reduced from 80,000 to 18,000; Frankenthal, from 18,000 to 324; Wurtemberg, from 400,000 to 48,000. In the Palatinate but a fiftieth part of the population remained. In Ummerstadt, near Coburg, which before the war had a population of 800, so great was the reduction that in two years not one child was born. It is a bloody history which these facts record. [5]

In olden time, when nations were migrating from one country to another, it would happen that particular territories were even more completely bereft of inhabitants, or when plague smote a city there might be even a more terrible destruction of its people. These depopulations were local, and were easily repaired from the abundant population around the stricken spot; but here was an ancient nation, possessing hundreds of walled towns, numerous villages, with meadow-lands and fields, cultivated for thirty generations, overtaken by a stroke beneath which their cities fell into ruins, their villages sank into heaps, their morals and religion were lost, and the soil, refusing longer to be the servant of man, sent forth only weeds, and offered only a lair to the wild beast.

The prophetic eye of Luther saw the approach of terrible evils to Germany, should the Gospel he had preached not be held fast by her sons. His warnings had been despised, and a night, blacker even than any he had foreseen, descended on the Fatherland.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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