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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 21 — The Thirty Years' War

Chapter 3 — The march and its devastations

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Germany before the War – Its Husbandry – Its Villages – Its Cities – Dress, &c., of the Citizens – Schools – Its Protestantism – Memories of the Past – Foreign Soldiers Enter Thuringia – Their Oppressions of the Peasants – Exactions – Portents – Demoralization of Society – Villagers Driven into Hiding-places – Cruelties on Protestant Pastors – Michel Ludwig – George Faber – John Otto – Andrew Pochmann – The Pastor of Stelzen.

To know the desolation to which Germany was reduced by the long war, it is necessary to recall the picture of what it was before it became the theater of that unspeakable tragedy. In 1618, the opening year of a dismal era, Germany was accounted a rich country. Under the influence of a long peace its towns had enlarged in size, its villages had increased in number, and its smiling fields testified to the excellence of its husbandry. The early dew of the Reformation was not yet exhaled. The sweet breath of that morning gave it a healthy moral vigor, quickened its art and industry, and filled the land with all good things. Wealth abounded in the cities, and even the country people lived in circumstances of comfort and ease.

In Thuringia and Franconia the villages were numerous. They were not left open and without defense. Some of them were surrounded with a broad trench or ditch; others were defended with stone walls, in which were openings or gateways opposite all the principal streets, with heavy doors to shut them in at night. Nor was the churchyard left unprotected; walls enclosed the resting-places of the dead; and these, oftener than once, formed the last refuge of the living. As a further security against surprise or molestation, village and meadow were patrolled night and day by watchmen. The houses were built of wood or clay; they stood close to each other, ranged in narrow streets, and though their exteriors were mean, within they were not deficient in furnishings and comfort.

The fruit-trees stood round the village, perfuming the air with their spring blossoms, and delighting the eye with their autumn fruits. At the village gates, or under the boughs of one of its embowering trees, a fountain would gush out, and pour its crystal waters into a stone trough. Here weary traveler might halt, and here ox or horse, toiling under the load, might drink. The quiet courtyards were filled with domestic fowls; squadrons of white geese sallied across the stubble-fields, or, like fleet at anchor, basked in the sun; teams of horses were ranged in the stalls, and among them might be some great hard-boned descendant of the old charger.

But the special pride of the husbandman were the flocks of sheep and oxen that roamed in the meadow, or grazed on the hill-side. Besides the ordinary cereals, crops of flax and hops covered his fields. It is believed that the cultivation of Germany in 1618 was not inferior to its cultivation in 1818.

The cities were strongly fortified: their walls were not infrequently double, flanked by towers, and defended by broad and deep moats. It was observed that stone walls crumbled under the stroke of cannon-balls, and this led to the adoption of external defenses, formed of earthen mounds, as in the case of the Antwerp citadel. Colleges, gymnasia, and printing-presses flourished in the towns, as did trade and commerce. The great road passing by Nuremberg, that ancient entrepot of the commerce of the West, diffused over Germany the merchandise which still continued to flow, in part at least, in its old channel. The Sunday was not honored as it ought to have been within their gates. When Divine service was over, the citizens were wont to assemble on the exchange, where amusement or business would profane the sacred hours. They were much given to feasting: their attire was richer than at the present day: the burghers wore velvets, silks, and laces, and adorned themselves with feathers, gold and silver clasps, and finely mounted side-arms. The table of the citizen was regulated by a sumptuary law: the rich were not to exceed the number of courses prescribed to them; and the ordinary citizen was not to dine in plainer style than was appointed his rank. Dancing parties were forbidden after sunset. Those who went out at night had to carry lanterns or torches: ultimately torches were interdicted, and a metal basket fixed at the street-corners, filled with blazing tar-wood, would dispel the darkness.

Since the Reformation, a school had existed in every town and village in which there was a church. In the decline of the Lutheran Reformation, the incumbent discharged, in many cases, the duties of both pastor and schoolmaster. He instructed the youth on the week-days, and preached to their parents on the Sunday. Sometimes there was also a schoolmistress. A small fee was exacted from the scholars. The capacity of reading and writing was pretty generally diffused amongst the people. Catechisms, Psalters, and Bibles were common in the houses of the Protestants. The hymns of Luther were sung in their sanctuaries and dwellings, and might often be heard resounding from garden and rural lane. The existing generation of Germans were the grandchildren of the men who had been the contemporaries of Luther. They loved to recall the wonders of the olden time, when more eyes were turned upon Wittemberg than upon Rome, and the Reformer filled a larger space in the world's gaze than either the emperor or the Pope. As they sat under the shade of their linden-trees, the father would tell the son how Tetzel came with his great red cross; how a monk left his cell to cry aloud that "God only can forgive sin," and how the pardon-monger fled at the sound of his voice; how the Pope next took up the quarrel, and launched his bull, which Luther burned; how the emperor unsheathed his great sword, but instead of extinguishing, only spread the conflagration wider. He

would speak of the great day of Worms, of the ever-memorable victory at Spires; and how the princes and knights of old were wont to ride to the Diet, or march to battle, singing Luther's hymns, and having verses of Holy Scripture blazoned on their banners. He would tell how in those days the tents of Protestantism spread themselves out till they filled the land, and how the hosts of Rome retreated and pitched their encampment afar off. But when he compared the present with the past, he would heave a sigh. "Alas!" we hear the aged narrator say, "the glory is departed." The fire is now cold on the national hearth; no longer do eloquent doctors and chivalrous princes arise to do battle for the Protestantism of the Fatherland. Alas! the roll of victories is closed, and the territory over which the Reformation stretched its scepter grows narrower every year. Deep shadows gather on the horizon, and through its darkness may be seen the shapes of mustering hosts, while dreadful sounds as of battle strike upon the ear. It is a night of storms that is descending on the grandchildren of the Reformers.

At last came the gathering of foreign troops, and their converging march on the scene of operations. Startling forms began to show themselves on the frontiers of Thuringia, and its vast expanse of glade and forest, of village and town, became the scene of oft-repeated alarms and of frightful sufferings. Foreign soldiers, with the savage looks of battle, and raiment besmeared with blood, marched into its villages, and entering its thresholds, took possession of house and bed, and terrifying the owner and family, peremptorily demanded provisions and contributions. Not content with what was supplied them for their present necessities, they destroyed and plundered whatever their eyes lighted upon. After 1626, these scenes continued year by year, growing only the worse each successive year. Band followed band, and more than one army seated itself in the villages of Thuringia for the winter. The demands of the soldiery were endless, and compliance was enforced by blows and cruel torturings.

The peasant most probably had hidden his treasures in the earth on the approach of the host; but he saw with terror the foreign man-at-arms exercising a power, which to him seemed magical, of discovering the place where his hoards were concealed. If it happened that the soldier was baffled in the search, the fate of the poor man was even worse, for then he himself was seized, and by torments which it would be painful to describe, was compelled to discover where his money and goods lay buried. On the fate of his wife and his daughters we shall be silent. The greatest imaginable horrors were so customary that their non-perpetration was a matter of surprise. Of all was the unhappy husbandman plundered. His bondman was carried off to serve in the war; his team was unyoked from the plough to drag the baggage or the cannon; his flocks and herds were driven off from the meadow to be slaughtered and eaten by the army; and the man who had risen in affluence in the morning, was stripped of all and left penniless before night.

It was not till after the death of Gustavus Adolphus that the sufferings of the country people reached their maximum. The stricter discipline maintained by that great leader had its effect not only in emboldening the peasants, and giving them some little sense of security in these awful times, but also in restraining the other military corps, and rendering their license less capricious and reckless than it otherwise would have been.

There was some system in the levying of supplies and the recruiting of soldiers during the life of Gustavus; but after the fall of the Swedish king these bonds were relaxed, and the greatest sufferings of the past appeared tolerable in comparison with the evils that now afflicted the Germans. In addition to their other endurances, they were oppressed by superstitious terrors and forebodings. Their minds, full of superstition, became the prey of credulous fancies. They interpreted everything, if removed in the least from the ordinary course, into a portent of calamity. They saw terrible sights in the sky, they heard strange and menacing voices speaking out of heaven and specters gliding past on the earth. In the Dukedom of Hildburghausen, white crosses lighted up the firmament when the enemy approached. When the soldiers entered the office of the town clerk, they were met by a spirit clothed in white, who waved them back. After their departure, there was heard during eight days, in the choir of the burned church, a loud snorting and sighing. At Gumpershausen was a girl whose visions and revelations spread excitement over the whole district. She had been visited, she said, by a little angel, who appeared first in a red and then in a blue mantle, and who, sitting in her sight upon the bed, cried, "Woe!" to the inhabitants, and admonished them against blasphemy and cursing, and foretold the most frightful shedding of blood if they did not leave off their wickedness. [1] After the terror came defiance and despair. An utter demoralization of society followed. Wives deserted their husbands, and children their parents. The army passed on, but the vices and diseases which they had brought with them continued to linger in the devastated and half- peopled villages behind them. To other vices, drunkenness was added. Excess in ardent spirits had deformed the German peasantry since the period of the Peasant-war, and now it became a prevalent habit, and regard for the rights and property of one's neighbor soon ceased. At the beginning of the war, village aided village, and mutually lightened each other's calamities so far as was in their power. When a village was robbed of its cattle, and sold to the adjoining one by the marauding host, that other village returned the oxen to their original owners on repayment of

the price which they had paid to the soldiers. Even in Franconia these mutual services were frequently exchanged between Popish and Protestant communities. But gradually, their oppression and their demoralization advancing step by step, the country people began to steal and plunder like the soldiers. Armed bands would cross the boundaries of their commune, and carry off from their neighbors whatsoever they coveted. Brigandage was now added to robbery. They lurked in the woods and the mountain passes, lying in wait for the stragglers of the army, and often took a red revenge. How sad the change! The woodman, who had once on a time awakened all the echoes of the forest glades with his artless songs, now terrified them with the shrieks of his victim. A bunting hatred arose between the soldiers and the peasantry, which lasted till the very end of the war, and the frightful traces of which long survived the conflict.

So long as their money lasted, the villagers bought themselves off from the obligation of having the soldiers billeted upon them; but when their money was spent they were without defense. Watchmen were stationed on the steeples and high places in the neighborhood, who gave warning the moment they descried on the far-off horizon the approach of the host. The villagers would then bring out their furniture and valuables, and convey them to hiding-places selected weeks before, and themselves live the while in these places a most miserable life. They dived into the darkest parts of the forests; they burrowed in the bleakest moors; they lurked in old clay pits and in masses of fallen masonry; and to this day the people of those parts show with much interest the retreats where their wretched forefathers sought refuge from the fury of the soldiery. The peasant always came back to his village – too commonly to find it only a ruin; but his attachment to the spot set him eagerly to work to rebuild his overturned habitation, and sow the little seed he had saved in the down-trodden soil. He had been robbed of his horse, it may be, but he would harness himself to the plough, and obeying the force of habit, would continue the processes of tilling and sowing, though he had but small hopes of reaping. The little left him he was careful to conceal, and strove to look even poorer than he was. He taught himself to live amid dirt and squalor and apparent poverty, and he even extinguished, the fire on his hearth, lest its light, shining through the casement, should attract to his dwelling any straggler who might be on the outlook for a comfortable lodging for the night. "His scanty food he concealed in places from which even the ruthless enemy turned away in horror, such as graves, coffins, and amongst skulls." [2]

The clergy were the chief consolers of the people in these miserable scenes, and at the same time the chief sufferers in them. The flint brunt of the imperial troops fell on the village pastor; his church was first spoiled, then burned down, and his flock scattered. He would then assemble his congregation, or such as remained of them, for worship in a granary or similar place, or on the open common, or in a wood. Not infrequently were himself and his family singled out by the imperial soldiers as the special objects of rudeness and violence. His house was commonly the first to be robbed, his family the first to suffer outrage; but generally the pastors took patiently the spoiling of their goods and the buffetings of their persons, and by their heroic behavior did much to support the hearts of the people in those awful times.

We give a few instances extracted from the brief registers of those times. Michel Ludwig was pastor in Sonnenfeld since 1633. When the times of suffering came he preached in the wood, under the open heaven, to his flock. He summoned his congregation with the drum, for bell he had none, and armed men were on the outlook while he preached. He continued these ministrations during eight years, till his congregation had entirely disappeared. A Swedish colonel invited the brave man to be preacher to the regiment, and he became at a later date president of the field consistory near Torstenson, and superintendent at Weimar.

Instances occur of studious habits pursued through these unsettled times. George Faber, at Gellershausen, preached to a little flock of some three or four at the constant peril of life. He rose every morning at three, studied and carefully committed to memory his sermon, besides writing learned commentaries on several books of the Bible.

John Otto, Rector of Eisfeld in 1635, just married, in addition to the. duties of his office had to teach the public school during eight years, and supported himself by threshing oats, cutting wood, and similar occupations. The record of these vicissitudes is contained in jottings by himself in his Euclid. Forty-two years he held his office in honor. His successor, John Schmidt, was a famous Latin scholar, and owed his appointment to the fact of his being found reading a Greek poem in the guard-house, to which he had been taken by the soldiers.

The story of Andrew Pochmann, afterwards superintendent, illustrates the life led in those times, so full of deadly dangers, narrow escapes, and marvelous interpositions, which strengthened the belief of the men who experienced them in a watchful Providence which protected them, while millions were perishing around them. Pochmann was an orphan, who had been carried off with two brothers by the Croats. Escaping with his brothers during the night, he found means of entering a Latin school. Being a second time taken by the soldiers, he was made quarter-master gunner. In the garrison he continued his studies, and finding among his comrades scholars from Paris and London, he practiced with them the speaking of Latin. Once, when sick, he lay down by the

watch-fire with his powder-flask, containing a pound and a half of powder, under his sleeve. As he lay, the fire reached his sleeve and burned a large portion of it, but without exploding his powder-flask. He awoke to find himself alone in the deserted camp, and without a farthing in his pocket. Among the ashes of the now extinct watch-fire he found two thalers, and with these he set out for Gotha. On the way he halted at Langensalza, and turned into a small and lonely house on the wall. He was received by an old woman, who, commiserating his wretched plight, as shown in his haggard looks and emaciated frame, laid him upon a bed to rest. His hostess chanced to be a plague nurse, and the couch on which he was laid had but recently been occupied by a plague patient. The disease was raging in the town; nevertheless, the poor wanderer remained unattacked, and went on his way, to close his life amid happier scenes than those that had marked its opening.

The village and Pastor of Stelzen will also interest us. The spring of the Itz was a holy place in even pagan times. It rises at the foot of the mountains, where they sink down in terraces to the banks of the Maine, and gushes out from the corner of a cave, which is overshadowed by ancient beeches and linden-trees. Near this well stood, before the era of the Reformation, a chapel to the Virgin; and at times hundreds of nobles, with an endless retinue of servants, and troops of pilgrims would assemble on the spot. In 1632 the village in the neighborhood of the well was burned down, and only the church, school-house, and a shepherd's hut remained standing. The pastor, Nicolas Schubert, was reduced to extreme misery. In the ensuing winter we find him inditing the following heart-rending letter to the magistrate: – "I have nothing more, except my eight small naked children; I live in a very old and dangerously dilapidated school-house, without floors or chimneys, in which I find it impossible to study, or to do anything to help myself. I am in want of food, clothes – in short, of everything. – Given at the place of my misery – Stelzen. – Your respectful, poor, and burned-up pastor."

Pastor Schubert was removed, whether to a richer living we know not – a poorer it could not be. His successor was also plundered, and received in addition a blow from a dagger by a soldier. A second successor was unable to keep himself alive. After that, for fourteen years the parish had no pastor. Every third Sunday the neighboring clergyman visited and conducted Divine service in the destroyed village. At last, in 1647, the church itself was burned to the bare walls. Such was the temporal and spiritual destitution that now overwhelmed that land which, half a century before, had been so full of "the bread that perisheth," and also of that "which endures to eternal life." [3]


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Monday, December 10th, 2018
the Second Week of Advent
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