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Early Warfare on Postcards:
By the Middle-Ages most art was either being produced for the Church, which was primarily interested in instructive Biblical narratives, or for wealthy patrons who were also interested in narrative themes but could indulge in a broader range within reason. An acceptable theme that was also popular was that of warfare, especially those battles that helped to bring the ruling elite into power. These images can be found in illuminated manuscripts, and on tapestries and frescos. They were all meant to glorify war, even when depicting its horrors, for they helped solidify the current political system which was based on military power as much as the divine right of kings. Depictions of great battles became even more popular by the Renaissance for it allowed painters to show off their newfound virtuosity in rendering multiple figures in complex compositions. These large scale heroic depictions of battles would greatly influence the way historic paintings were composed for centuries to come, especially as nationalist desires began replacing religious fervor. This format was still being used to commemorate the battles of World War Two. Monumental events were seen as requiring monumental art works to be displayed on.
Polish German War 1002-1018
Duke Boleslav the Brave was an outstanding military leader and statesman who consolidated the lands of Poland. Under his leadership he greatly expanded its borders first in the east at the expense of Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire. During this conflict it seized Slovakia, Moravia, Red Ruthenia, Meissen, Lusatia, and Bohemia. In 1018 he turned his attentions eastward where he defeated the Prince of Kiev at the Battle of the Bug and then seized Kiev. By 1025 he crowned himself Boleslav I, the first king of Poland.
While most of Boleslav’s conquests were lost after his death, the events of the war have been captured in art, such as on the murals at Meissen. Such works were often portrayed on postcards, not as military cards but as art reproductions. The distinction, if truly there, raises a number of fundamental questions when examining postcards. The content of the original artwork is not benign; it is meant to convey a strong propagandistic message whether it be to glorify a king, a hero, a victory or to remind the viewer who their enemies are. Even if a military painting is placed on a postcard for no other function than reproducing art, its associations are so loaded with cultural artifacts that they can’t help but have a propagandistic side to them. Just the act of reproducing a picture sanctions the relevance of the subject if not the meaning contained within. In the age of postcards military subjects could be reproduced as a reminder of ethnic hatreds and lend support to nationalistic urges. In this way they can be used to reinforce various political agendas, especially when it comes seizing territory. If printed during wartime, military art reproductions are assuredly meant to help rationalize continual quests for territory. Borders in Europe have been fought over for so long that there is an endless supply of historical references to chose from to support a claim.
The Norman Conquest 1066
At the death of King Edward in 1066, the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, had himself immediately crowned King Harold II of England but this ascension was quickly challenged on two fronts. King Harald III of Norway claimed that a longstanding agreement between the earlier Kings of England and Norway had guaranteed the thrown of both countries to the other if either one died without an heir. Duke William of Normandy also claimed that the thrown was promised to him by King Edward. With no clear heir to the throne of England, all parties began to prepare for war.
While Harold stood guard on the English Channel fearing an invasion from Normandy, the Norwegian King invaded the North Country. Harold quickly moved to meet him, marching his army at incredible speed. He surprised the Norwegian army at Stamford Bridge where they were destroyed in the ensuing battle. While this was a great victory, Harold had no time to rest for he soon discovered that the Normans had finally crossed the Channel and had landed in England. Racing south with only a portion of his battle weary army, Harold met William at Hastings, only this time it was his army that was defeated and he was killed. While the defeat was largely attributable to some foolish tactical errors made by Harold’s exhausted men late in the battle, William saw this as God’s divine will giving tacit approval to his ambitions to rule England. It took some time for William the Conqueror to consolidate power because many in Britain did not share his interpretation of events. The remaining resistance was put down by destroying the agricultural base that supported it. This strategy created a famine but it broke resistance to his rule marking the first time England had a strong centralized authority.
There is much debate over the significance in the change of dynasties, but it did refocus England’s attention from Scandinavia to Western Europe. While the battle of Hastings was the largest ever fought on English soil it may have assumed its mythic proportions more from the cultural changes that ensued than political outcomes. While these events have been illustrated on postcards, it is the art reproductions of the 230 foot long Bayeux Tapestry commemorating William’s victory that dominate postcards of this battle. Its origins remain debated, but since this great work of art is located in Normandy, the postcards depicting this English battle were largely published in France. In modern times the tapestry itself has begun to assume mythic proportions that might even dwarf the battle. The tapestry’s highly recognizable style has allowed references to be made to it to publicize all sorts of unrelated events or products.
Morgarten and Sempach 1315-1386
The Austrian Hapsburgs had long sought to hold the Alpine route through the Gotthard Pass to insure their military and economic domination over Italy. Control over this strategic pass had been placed in the hands of the League of the Three Forest Cantons when the Confederation was formed in 1291. Ever fearful that the Austrians would invade the Confederation to seize the pass, they threw their support behind Duke Louis IV of Bavaria when he contested the Hapsburg throne in 1314. With tensions high, the Swiss of Canton Schwyz launched a raid against Einsiedln Abbey in 1315 over a local dispute. Claiming this raid a violation of his Jurisdiction, Duke Leopold I of Austria raised an army of knights in Zug, and invaded Schwyz by way of the Morgarten Pass alongside Lake Egeri.
The Confederates of Schwyz, supported by the Confederates of Uri caught the knights while still in the deep pass, killing many by hurling rocks and logs down upon them. The Swiss armed with halberds then attacked their mounted adversaries driving most of the remaining knights into the lake. Not only did this victory ensure the continued existence of the Confederation, it sent shockwaves through Europe by showing that it was possible for unarmored common foot soldiers to defeat highly trained mounted knights. Fighting would continue, but when neither side could gain an advantage, a truce was signed in 1318.
The great prestige won by the men of Schwyz during the Battle of Morgarten led many to call all three of the Forest Cantons by their name. This would eventually be corrupted into Switzerland. This battle is often seen as the birth of the Swiss State, and its 600th anniversary was celebrated in the midst of World War One. Not only were depictions of the Battle of Morgarten placed on anniversary postcards; it was often referenced on propaganda cards that stressed Switzerland’s defense in these dangerous times. The Battle had come to represent the idea that the nations existence has always been dependent on their ability to put up a strong armed resistance against outsiders. This message was an important reminder during the Great War, as mobilization put a great strain on their economy and the allegiances of their multiethnic population.
A popular hero who is said to have fought in the Battle of Morgarten is William Tell. He is best known for the story of how he was forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head with a crossbow by the evil Hapsburg Governor. There has been a debate for centuries as to whether Tell was a real person or just legend, but this hardly matters in regard to postcards. His adventures were popularized over time to such a great extent that he became an archetype of the warrior and one who specifically represents the spirit of resistance against tyranny, not just to the Swiss but for all oppressed peoples. Illustrated postcards can easily be found representing all the legends surrounding Tell, and there are many view-cards of the monument built to honor his story in Altdorf.
While the wearing of armor provided a great advantage over men with less protection on the battlefield, the noble class, usually more interested in individual feats than in strategy did not always constitute the best army. At the battle of Sempach in 1386 the lightly armored but disciplined pikemen of the Swiss Confederation won another decisive victory over the knights of Austria. The theme of the common soldiers working together to defeat invincible knights became an important one for Swiss postcards for this narrative also symbolized the unity and strength of their Confederation. The knight as an oppressor of the common man became an important alternative narrative to the chivalrous knight; and this theme was picked up on other cards as well. The declining relevance of the individual on the battlefield would also create a yearning that was largely filled through myth.
The Hundred Years War 1337-1453
To prevent further Viking raids, the French allowed the Norsemen under the leadership of Rollo to settle on the northwestern coast of France and form a fiefdom in 996 CE. After these Normans successfully invaded England in 1066 making William the Conqueror King of both Normandy and England, the old arrangement of paying feudal homage to the King of France became complicated. The ruler of Normandy was no longer just a vassal to the King of France; he was his equal as the King of England. When in 1337 King Edward III stopped payments, French King Philip VI responded by confiscating Edward’s lands in Aquitaine. This was the English bridgehead to the continent, and control over it would determine the balance of power in this rivalry. To regain momentum King Edward III brought up the legality of succession to the French Crown, claiming the throne was rightfully his. With both sides believing their interpretation of these feudal arrangements to be just, they chose to assert these rights through the accepted means of the day, which was war. Supporters would now be rallied to a great dynastic struggle.
The first of these conflicts is known as the Edwardian Era War that lasted until 1360. It would open with a naval battle in 1340 when King Edward III’s fleet attempted to land at Bruges and found a French fleet blocking his way in the Zwin channel that separates Zealand from Flanders. The French fleet supported by ships from Genoa was largely made up of galleys laid out side by side in rows near Sluys to form an impenetrable wall. The English, having no navy to speak of had confiscated one masted merchant ships known as cogs, and refitted them with high castles and crows nests so that their archers could rain down a shower of arrows on their enemy. The static defense of the numerically superior French proved faulty as the English attacked at only one end of their line, overwhelming them before the rest of the ships could respond. The Battle of Sluys was not a typical naval engagement in that ships would meet and lash themselves together, and then the troops crowded aboard would engage in hand to hand combat.
Sluys was an important English victory for the destruction of the French fleet allowed it to safely transport troops across the English Channel. Edward III’s reliance on seizing his Kingdoms own commercial craft in place of building a navy led many shipbuilders to close their yards. This in turn allowed the French to regain naval superiority by the end of his reign.
After neutralizing the French Fleet off Sluys, King Edward III landed in Flanders. Years of indecisive fighting would follow until there was finally a notable English victory at Crecy. This allowed Edward to seize the important port of Calais, but in the end he was left holding nothing else and he gave up his claim to the French Throne. Fighting temporarily ceased when the Plague swept through France, but Edward Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) resumed the war in 1355 leading to his victory at Poitiers. This led to an agreement in which England would retain Aquitaine and the French would take control over Normandy.
Charles V was determined to regain all lost French lands lost to the English. Jockeying for position he allied himself with Flanders through the marriage of his brother, and in response Edward III reinstated his claim to the French throne. This led to the conflict known as the Caroline War, which broke out in 1368. Small scale fighting continued for twenty years with the French seizing a number of English strongholds but there was no decisive victory and the countryside was left ravaged. While armies living off the land usually caused great damage to the countryside, the planed destruction of everything in sight (chevauchee) now became an accepted strategy. The idea was to use widespread destruction as a bargaining point without having to take a risk in open battle.
Waging continuous wars against France was expensive, which forced the English crown to seek ways of raising more revenue. When the poll tax of 1381 was imposed, it became the tipping point in a long list of economic grievances, and the Peasants’ Revolt (Wat Tyler’s Rebellion) was sparked. After marching on London, the rebels under the leadership of Wat Tyler took the city and forced King Richard II to make concessions. Once the rebel army dispersed, promises of cheap land, free trade and the end of serfdom were immediately forgotten. Although the rebellion continued to rage in the countryside, it ended within a month after many rebels and most of their leaders were killed. While none of the rebelís demands were met, the crown became very reluctant to levy new taxes, which hampered further military operations in France.
The Peasants’ Revolt, the first popular rebellion in England is a good example of how attitudes toward the past change with time. In its own day, this uprising would have been viewed as criminal and given as little publicity as possible. Five centuries later after the power of the crown was diminished, the struggle was transformed into a righteous and even heroic cause. In 1907 Raphael Tuck produced a series of eight postcards each illustrating an important event from English history as reenacted in the St. Albans pageant. The inclusion of the Peasants’ Revolt in the set reflects how important further demands for change were seen by the postcard buying public at the time of publication. The card represents the growing power of the workers movement more than a historical event.
The Truce of Paris ended the Caroline War in 1396 but each side continued to encourage revolts against the other. The continued rivalries between the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy added to this destabilized order until it erupted into a full civil war by 1411 and each side sought England's help to tip the balance. King Henry V took advantage of this situation by promising territories to John the Duke of Burgundy in exchange for his neutrality while he laid claim to the French throne.
The Lancastrian War began when Henry V invaded France in 1415. He soon won his first victory at Agincourt and would eventually reconquer Normandy. Agincourt was a very lopsided victory in favor of King Henry who was heavily outnumbered. Today we can explain this away through leadership, weaponry, and tactics, but at the time it was clearly seen by both sides as the judgement of God. This made the remainder of the campaign easier for the English. After marching on Paris, Charles VI disinherited his son, the Dauphin Charles, and declared Henry the King of France. This might have been the end of the conflict had not Henry V and Charles VI both died soon afterwards leaving Henry’s son too young to rule. The Dauphin would then be crowned Charles VII and fight Henry’s heir for control over France. The momentum had now shifted; it was the French would avoid battle and began chipping away at English holdings with one siege after another. There was no formal ending to this conflict, but by 1453 the English were left holding nothing more than Calais. England would not give up its claim to the French Throne until 1800 when Napoleon Bonaparte seized power, but the fighting had long stopped by then.
Later historians would redefine these three conflicts along with some lesser events into the Hundred Years War, which did much to strengthen nationalistic identities in both England and France. Many changes in weaponry occurred during the conflict. Archers who were once despised for using a cowardly weapon came to play a decisive role on the battlefield. The increasing use of pikes, halberds, and gun powder slowly raised the importance of foot soldiers over mounted knights. Even notions of chivalry began to break down as armies did what they had to do to win regardless of moral perceptions. The increasing use of mercenary knights who were paid with loot were not very discriminating as to where this loot came from.
Despite the significance of the Hundred Years War on the development of both France and England, little reference is made to it on postcards outside of art reproductions, which are scant in number. One possible reason behind this is that in the early years of postcard production the two nations were trying to forge alliances against the growing power of the German Empire, and they did not need reminders that would highlight their long historical differences.
A notable exception to the lack of postcards depicting episodes from the Hundred Years War are the myriad of images displaying Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orléans. She is one of the best examples of a heroic figure that has become part of a national identity. Of peasant birth, she came to the aid of the Dauphin after claiming to have received visions from God. She was then sent to Orleans in 1428 to help lift its siege by the English. Her presence boosted French morale and the city was finally relieved. After several other victories were obtained, the Dauphin was able to march into Reims the following year to be coronated Charles VII of France. Her growing popularity and aggressive nature made her a dangerous presence. When captured by the Burgundians near Compiegny her ransom was not secured, and she was sold to their English allies who tried for hearsay. Though this trail was only a political move to undermine the legitimacy of the French King, she was still burnt at the stake as a consequence at the age of nineteen.
Jeanne d’Arc’s story is a powerful one with mythic overtones, and it quickly spread throughout France and even helped demoralize the English who feared they might had killed a Saint. Scenes from this narrative have been depicted in art ever since they occurred in the 1420’s. By the time Napoleon rose to power she had become a symbol of France itself. When postcards were first being used to reproduce art there was already a vast array of work depicting her to choose from, and these cards became numerous. Not all publishers relied on historical sources; many cards depicted contemporary art work and many narrative hand colored real photo sets were produced in studios. By this time her mythical resonance was so strong that the meaning behind this imagery could not help but drift into the realm of propaganda.
Most postcards depicting Joan of Arc do not rely on historical narrative as much as mythical meaning. As a heroine and martyr she has become more important as symbol of resistance and determination to inspire current generations. Empowered by her visions from God she provides divine and moral support for France itself against any enemy. She has become one of the patron saints of France. There are countless postcards depicting her on monuments, representations of her in pageants, and use of her spirit leading men into battle. The latter of these was particularly common during the First World War where she was no longer presented as the enemy of England but transformed into the heroine of France. Her image on postcards functioned in the same manner as her legend did in her own time; it promoted the divine righteousness of the French cause.
Early Modern Warfare
The development and growth of the printing trades had an enormous affect on how war was depicted. While paintings of great battles were still being made for wealthy patrons, cheap images of all kinds in printed form were now reaching the general public. The subject matter portrayed had to connect with ordinary people who wanted something that related to their own life if a publisher was to make sales. Citizens whose farms and towns were often pillaged by friend and foe alike tended to see war from a different perspective that that of kings. This caused artists to begin portraying ordinary foot soldiers and sometimes the brutality of war in ways that had an impact on the civilian populace. Some of these finest depictions however were too gruesome for general consumption, and only now find an audience amidst museum goers and advanced collectors. These changes however vastly increased the amount and scope of artistic materials from which modern publishers could draw on.
The Battle of Cerignola 1503
By the end of the 15th century, France had largely come to dominate the battlefields of Europe by their successful offensive tactics that employed large bodies of heavily armored cavalrymen (gendarme) in conjunction with pikemen who were usually Swiss mercenaries. Their supremacy was finally challenged by Fernandez de Cordoba who created strong defensive formations (colunella) by integrating pikemen with arquebusiers. These early gunmen would fire into an advancing enemy, and then retreat behind the safety of pikemen without ever engaging in hand to hand combat. These new tactics were put to the test in April 1503 at the Battle of Cerignola fought in southern Italy. Though the Spanish were heavily outnumbered, the attacking French were decisively defeated. The colunellas would evolve into even stronger formations, which not only shifted the balance of power in the Italian Wars, it allowed Spain to dominate the European battlefield for over a century. The greater use of cannon on battlefields would eventually make these packed formations untenable.
Hand cannons, consisting of a simple metal tube with one closed end were first used in China in the 13th century. They would be packed with gunpowder and then some sort of shot, then the powder was ignited by a lit taper through a small touch hole drilled into the side of the tube. They begin to appear in Europe during the early 14th century where they evolve into the arquebus. While an improvement over a simple tube, this new weapon was still very inaccurate with a short range, and took an exceedingly long time to load. Without pikemen to protect them, arquebusiers would be overwhelmed by an advancing enemy before they were ready to fire again. A novelty at first, these firearms would eventually replace the crossbow, and began being used in earnest by the Black Army of Hungary in their fight against the Ottomans in the late 15th century. They also became an essential element of the new Spanish tactics adopted in the century that followed. By the mid-17th century, the arquebus was replaced by the flintlock musket, and the affixable bayonet replaced the need for pikemen that arquebusiers once fought next to.
The crossbow and the arquebus were both technologies that were received with mixed reactions. While some only saw these new weapons as a tool that could provide an advantage in combat, others thought they had no place in warfare. While projectile weapons such as spears and arrows had long been employed in war, it took some time for them to be perceived by warriors as something more than cowardly weapons. There was something even more unsettling about these new devices. The fact that they ensured death from a distance with no chance for an opponent to defend himself seemed patently unfair and thus immoral. Many tried to ban these unchristian weapons, including Pope Innocent II who in 1139 deemed crossbows too murderous. Arquebusiers that were captured were often put to death by those closely professing chivalric values. These types of arguments over what is acceptable on a battlefield have continued to follow new technologies up to this day when they clash with our values.
The Peasants War 1524-1526
The economic and social fabric of Europe was undergoing significant changes in the late 14th century that began to spark unrest. The old Feudal order that set up a balance of obligations between lords and peasants began breaking down in favor of arrangements that only favored those in power. The burden of financing Kingdoms fell more and more on the peasantry who could afford it the least. Growing dissatisfaction was fueled indirectly by Martin Luther’s challenge to the Roman Church, for it opened the possibility that the unsatisfactory social order could also be replaced. Though trouble was brewing for decades, the nobles took the status quo for granted and were unprepared when the peasants rose up at Stuhlingen in 1524. Separate insurrections soon broke out in Swabia and Franconia, and within a year the war spread over the southern and central German lands of the Holy Roman Empire.
Though generally disorganized, the rebels issue the Twelve Articles of the Peasantry that spoke to their economic and social demands. They would eventually be answered by the Swabian League, an alliance of princes and cities who began mobilizing for military action. Though the peasants built defenses, their military inexperience and unorganized leadership made them easy prey for the mounted knights massed against them. Even with this disadvantage the war dragged on with massacres on both sides. After hundreds of thousands of peasants were killed by the summer of 1525 the revolt slowly died down having accomplished little. Though fought with ancient arms, this war is different in that it wasn’t a dispute over religion or one with imperialistic aims; but rather populist struggle that challenged world order. Its likes would not be seen again until the French Revolution.
There has been much debate over the true causes of this conflict and its significance in more modern times. Marxist historians such as Frederick Engels portrayed it in terms of the same class struggle against feudal institutions that manifested in the Springtime of the Peoples revolution that swept across Europe in 1848. By the 19th century these revolutionary ideas were closely tied to nationalistic movements; and although they initially failed, they would become inseparable in people’s minds from the formation of the German Empire. Once a challenge to authority, the Peasants War had become a rallying point of German nationalism, and as such it has also become a suitable subject for patriotic postcards.
Anglo-Spanish War 1585-1604
As Protestantism spread through the Low Countries in the early 16th century, its adherents found themselves increasingly at odds with their Catholic Spanish overlords. This led to open rebellion in 1566, which eventually drew the support of Protestant England. Antagonism between Spain and England was already high as English privateers continually took Spanish treasure ships off the Americas and had started raiding the Spanish coast. In response, King Philip II of Spain added his support the Catholic rebellion in Ireland aimed against Queen Elizabeth I. Though no formal war between the two was declared, England began supporting the Dutch in their quest for independence from Spanish rule with troops in 1585. An English fleet under Francis Drake then attacked the Spanish West Indies and Florida before descending on Cadiz in 1587 where he burned a Spanish fleet.
After Mary Queen of Scots, who Catholics saw as the legitimate heir to the English thrown was executed in 1587, King Philip decided to invade England and replace Queen Elizabeth with a Catholic regent. A fleet was prepared the following year and dispatched to the Netherlands from where they would transport an invading army to the English shore. When the Spanish army failed to show up on time, the anchored armada was surprised by an English fleet enlarged with privateers. Although the Battle of Gravelines was hardly conclusive, it forced the Spanish armada to sail northwards around Scotland, and as they turned to head home, about a third of their fleet was destroyed in severe stormy weather. Rampant disease rendered the remnants incapable of continuing the fight.
The destruction of the Spanish armada became an important element of the growing propaganda war. Not only was the destruction of Spanish ships by storm presented as the obvious hand of God, it was to be a sign that the Protestant reformation had heavenly approval. Details of this conflict have largely been forgotten or distorted over the years in favor of the broader myth of England’s ability to overcome impossible odds. The myth of the Spanish armada remains strong because it has often been resurrected in time of need to reinforce the notion of Godís favor. Many postcards represented this event, but output seems to have been strongest when England was under the threat of invasion by Nazi Germany during World War Two.
The English galleon Revenge took part on the Raid on Cadiz and served as Francis Drake’s flagship during the Battle of Gravelines. In 1591 under the command of Richard Grenville she was part of a patrolling squadron looking to intercept Spanish treasure ships. While making repairs off the Azores, they were surprised by a Spanish fleet. All the English ships managed to flee and escape except for the Revenge, which sailed directly into the fifty-three ship Spanish armada. After a night of intense fighting the ship finally surrendered, her captain dying of his wounds two days later. Already heavily damaged from the Battle of Flores, the captured Revenge went down in a violent storm soon after. This story became the subject of many romantic legends, most notably in the poem, A Ballad of the Fleet by Tennyson. This popularization of the battle made it a prime subject for postcards.
Despite the early victory at the Battle of Gravelines, English attempts at attacking northern Spain and Puerto Rico ended in disaster. Further attempts by Spain to invade England also failed largely due to bad weather. In 1596 the English sacked Cadiz and the Spanish captured Calais but even as the war spread it brought neither side closer to victory. In 1601 the Spanish landed troops at Kinsale to help aid the Irish fighting the Nine Years War, but they would eventually return leaving the Irish rebels on their own. The King of Spain died in 1598, and his successor Philip III was not as enthusiastic about continuing the fight. When Elizabeth died in 1603 and was replaced by the Catholic King James I, a peace was easily negotiated the following year. Postcards rarely acknowledge anything relating to this conflict outside of the destruction of the Spanish armada and Queen Elizabeth’s defiant stance. It had become so engrained in British mythology that the propaganda value of these cards could resinate without the need for explanation. British defeats were obscure, having been largely removed from history books by the 1850’s.
Thirty Years War 1618-1648
By the 17th century the Hapsburg ruled Holy Roman Empire was beset with conflicts between Roman Catholics and German Protestants who were mostly followers of Luther and Calvin. In 1609 King Rudolph of Bohemia established the Defenders to guarantee Protestants religious freedom within his kingdom, but he was deposed only two years later by his brother Matthias who did not believe in religious tolerance. By 1618 the Defenders created a provisional government, raised an army under Count Thurn, and began hostilities against the Hapsburg rule. The first phase of this conflict would be marked by a full scale religious war. After Matthias died in 1619 his selected heir Ferdinand II was chosen by the Electoral College to take the Hapsburg throne but he was rejected by the Bohemians who elected their own King Frederick V.
As these events upset the natural order in which Kings were chosen, Kingdoms outside the conflict began taking an interest in the situation and choosing sides. With the aid of fellow Catholic Bavarian and Spanish allies, Ferdinand II quickly defeated the Bohemians but his inability to tolerate any heretics within his lands led to brutal suppression. Ferdinand ’s embrace of Catholic absolutism helped to revive the rebellion. In 1625 Christian IV of Denmark saw the renewed rebellion as a chance to seize territory and came to the aid of his fellow Protestants. Within four years he was defeated by the joint Hapsburg forces under the command of General Albrecht von Wallenstein and the Bavarian Catholic League under Johann Tserclaes, the Count of Tilly. This would end Denmark’s role as an important military power. While much of this victory was achieved through the hands of von Wallenstein, he was sacked in 1630 in fear he was plotting a coup against the Hapsburg throne.
The King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus felt the Hapsburg victory over Denmark challenged his own domination of the Baltic and, with financing from France, he invaded Pomerania in 1630. This invasion now introduced more secular concerns into this religious conflict. While not initially seen as a major threat, the Swedish army was very well organized to the point of being considered the first professional army of modern times. Only after they seized a considerable amount of territory did the Catholic League move against them; invading Saxony and seizing Leipzig.
The Count of Tilly was already an experienced soldier before this war started. In 1610 he was given command of the Catholic League by Maximilian I of Bavaria, and his leadership and organization allowed him to follow up with a string of victories. When confronted by Lutheran revolts inspired by the Swedish landing in Pomerania, he took swift action against those that opposed their Catholic rulers. The most notable example is Tilly’s siege of Magdeburg in 1630. When no relief came from the Swedes, the city fell the following year and most of its inhabitants were slain. News of this massacre caused much outrage all over Europe, which in turn caused many more Protestants to rally against Hapsburg rule.
The Imperial Hapsburg city of Rothenburg was another successfully besieged by Tilly in 1631, after they denied him permission to quarter his men there for the winter. By the time Tilly left for spring campaigning, most of the city’s inhabitants had fled. Rothenburg never recovered from this devastation and saw little development in the years that followed. This inadvertently led to the preservation of many old parts of the city, which would allow it to become a tourist attraction in later years. The military illustrator Max Uhmayer created a series of drawings depicting the siege that were placed on continental sized postcards in 1931 to mark the anniversary of the conflict by the local publisher A. Ohmayer.
Marching deep into Hapsburg territory Gustavus Adolphus confronted the forces under Tilly at the Battle of Breitenfeld in September 1631. Tilly had won every battle so far, but now he withered under the superior combined arms tactics used by the Swedes. This battle resulted in a major victory for Sweden, with Tilly’s army to damaged to act as an effective fighting force. The tactics used by Gustavus Adolphus did not go unnoticed, though it took some time for them to be adopted. They made traditional methods of fighting battles obsolete and would usher in a new age of warfare.
Tilly went on the defensive after his defeat at Breitenfeld, maneuvering to prevent the Swedes from entering Bavaria. They met up on the banks of the River Lech, where in April 1632 the Catholic army was utterly defeated at the Battle of Rain and Tilly received a mortal wound. Gustavus Adolphus then invaded Bavaria unopposed in May, which posed a direct military threat to Austria. Tilly’s exploits during this conflict stand out above all others, which placed him in the public eye. Most postcards of this war probably depict Tilly’s campaigns including the massacre at Magdeburg, but none of these cards give a real sense to the horrors that ensued.
After Tilly’s death, von Wallenstein was brought back in desperation to take control over the entire Hapsburg army. While he advanced to take Prague, he avoided major engagements with the Swedes. When an early winter set in, Wallenstein began falling back to Leipzig where he could better keep his army supplied. Gustave Adolphus saw this move as an opportunity to trap the Hapsburg army, but when his plans went astray surprise was lost. They met up for battle at Lutzen in November 1632 where both sides suffered high casualties. While the Swedes held the field ending the immediate threat to Saxony, Gustave Adolphus was killed in battle. The Swedish Army remained a powerful force but it was never as aggressive or bold afterwards.
When Gustav Adolphus was killed at Lutzen, his war-horse Streiff was also shot in the neck. While Streiff survived and was taken back to Pomerania, he died soon afterwards in 1633. He was then skinned and his hide sent to Stockholm to be be mounted over a wooden frame so it could be put out on display. Unfortunately the frame that was built was much smaller than the actual horse so the hide was cut down to fit, which reduced his grand stature. The stuffed Strieiff was then placed in the Royal Armory to serve as a monument to the dead king. Postcards have captured this monument over time, and the horse still remains on exhibit.
By 1634 the Swedes finally began suffering defeats but this just raised concern by rivals that the power of the Holy Roman Empire was growing far too strong. Although a Catholic country, France entered the war the following year allied to the German Protestants. This definitely showed that those directing the conflict no longer saw it as war of religious differences as much as one of political dominance. Soon after the Dutch joined the alliance against the Habsburgs and the war expanded to the frontiers of Denmark, Italy, and Spain. While France would go on to secure a number of victories, most notably against the Spanish at Rocroi, it eventually became clear there could be no clear cut winner.
The Battle of Rocroi was fought in 1643 after a Spanish army left Flanders to invade northern France. Though the Spanish employed the same packed formations of pikemen and musketeers that had always ensured them of victory after victory, their density proved to be a great drawback once they were surrounded and the French brought up artillery. Massive smoothbore weapons had been used in warfare for some time but their lack of mobility limited their use to sieges. Now their size had been reduced enough for them to become an effective weapon on the battlefield. Though the French failed to destroy their enemy at Rocroi, the Spanish did surrender, largely in fear of what these field guns bight do to massed men. This was the beginning of the end for this old way of fighting. To avoid the destructive power of artillery, infantry would begin to fight in more linear formations going forward.
The Duchy of Wurttenberg, a Hapsburg vassal, was devastated during the war losing about two-thirds of its population. Its principal fortress, Hohentwiel was besieged by the French in 1641 but it was the only one never to fall. There were many such sieges throughout the war, and through this one is but one small historical footnote to this long conflict, the siege of Hohentwiel became one of the most common subjects from this war to be placed on postcards. This is because it became a symbol of Austrian resistance and determination, and as such its appeal as a national myth outweighed its historical significance. Acts of resistance can come to garner much more meaning to a society than actual victories when expressed through myth.
The Last campaign of the war was fought at Prague in 1648 after a Swedish army attacked it and captured the city’s castle. Two additional Swedish armies arrive to seize the rest of the city but Field Marshall Colloredo put together an army of citizen soldiers to resist the attack. The most notable piece of fighting took place on the stone bridge (now Charles Bridge) spanning the Vltava, where the Swedes were turned back. The incident became the subject of folklore and art. A well known panoramic painting by the Liebschera brothers depicting the battle was placed in a diorama-like display at the General Land Centennial Exposition held in Prague in 1891. Though presented as a trade show, it was a thinly veiled attempt at promoting Czech nationalism. The painting of this battle was reproduced on many postcards over the following years because its expression of a strong determination to resist conquest could also be used to represent the Czech struggle for nationhood.
Adolf Liebschera was an academic painter and illustrator from Prague who had a particular interest in producing scenes from Czech history. These works often incorporated symbolic elements that represented the oppression of the Czech people by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By representing long past episodes, he avoided confrontations with authorities over his nationalistic inclinations. While his most famous work was The Swedes on the Charles Bridge, he produced many works of the Thirty Years War that were reproduced on postcards.
The Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648 after thirty years of war devastated central Europe. Bohemia would remain under Hapsburg control but the German princes of the Holy Roman Empire would retain their sovereignty regardless of religious preference. The Netherlands and Switzerland were also recognized as sovereign states at this time. The Bourbons ruling France would now become the dominant political and military power in Europe, and the state of Prussia would begin its ascendancy under Frederick the Great.
In the wake of two world wars, most of us have forgotten haw devastating many early wars actually were. Even when armies did not deliberately target civilians as a military objective, they had grown too large to be paid, and so they were allowed to loot as compensation for their service. They also lived off the land but after years of war there was little left to eat in certain regions, which brought starvation to civilian and soldier alike. By the time the Thirty Years War was over, central Europe was nearly a desolate wasteland. It proved to be one of the most destructive wars to engulf Central Europe before the 20th century. It devastated agriculture, commerce, industry, and killed off about 20 percent of the German population. The Holly Roman Empire was left in shambles and a strong German state would not be reconstituted until the mid-19th century. While the military campaigns of the Thirty Years War were glorified on postcards to reinforce patriotic feelings and support nationalist aims, they also supported antiwar views. Some publishers revisited this theme in the wake of destruction wrought by World War One.
With the Thirty Years War we find a number of events depicted on postcards from different countries. This conflict had such a great influence on the creation of modern nation states, along with long standing animosities that exist to this day that it was easy to draw on specific events from this old conflict to stir up contemporary emotions. This can most easily be seen on early cards published in Bohemia that glorify their long struggle against their Hapsburg overlords. Czech nationalism had grown strong in the late 19th century and postcards were used to propagate these urges toward independence. When Czechoslovakia was finally carved out of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 many Czech publishers used postcards containing historic images from this conflict to reinforce the identity of their fledgling nation.