"Soldiers Plundering a Farm," by Sebatian Vrancx, 1620
"Soldiers Plundering a Farm," by Sebatian Vrancx, 1620

New Susan Karant-Nunn Chair to Kick Off 'Miseries of War'

The UA Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies is marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Thirty Years' War with a series of events on "The Miseries of War."
March 7, 2018
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"The Miseries of War" Marking the 400th Anniversary of the Start of the Thirty Years' War in 1618

In 2018, the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies will explore war in early modern Europe.

  • March 28, 7 p.m., "Defending the Convent: Interactions Between Soldiers and Nuns During the Thirty Years' War in Germany" by Beth Plummer, Susan C. Karant-Nunn Professor of Reformation and Early Modern European History, UA Fred Fox School of Music, Holsclaw Hall
  • Four Sundays in August (5, 12, 19, 26), Summer Lecture Series: "Religious War Beyond the Battlefield in the Reformation Era" presented by graduate students in the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies, St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church, Tucson
     
  • On Nov. 7, professor Peter Wilson, author of "The Thirty Years' War: Europe's Tragedy," will give the annual Town and Gown Lecture, "Tragedy, Violence and Survival in Germany during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)." Wilson is the Chichele Professor of the History of War at All Souls College, University of Oxford, U.K.
Beth Plummer, the UA's Susan C. Karant-Nunn Professor of Reformation and Early Modern European History
Beth Plummer, the UA's Susan C. Karant-Nunn Professor of Reformation and Early Modern European History
“Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre" is a series of 18 etchings by French artist Jacques Callot that depict the destruction unleashed on civilians during the Thirty Years' War.
“Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre" is a series of 18 etchings by French artist Jacques Callot that depict the destruction unleashed on civilians during the Thirty Years' War.
Oxford professor Peter Wilson, author of "The Thirty Years' War: Europe's Tragedy," will give the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies’ annual Town and Gown Lecture.
Oxford professor Peter Wilson, author of "The Thirty Years' War: Europe's Tragedy," will give the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies’ annual Town and Gown Lecture.

The Thirty Years' War, which was fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648, is seen as one of the most destructive conflicts in human history, resulting in approximately 8 million deaths. Famine, disease, violence — the war is notable for the devastation it caused. 

This year, the University of Arizona's Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies is marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Thirty Years' War with a series of events on "The Miseries of War."

First up is a lecture at 7 p.m. March 28 titled "Defending the Convent: Interactions Between Soldiers and Nuns During the Thirty Years' War in Germany" in the Alice Holsclaw Recital Hall in the UA Fred Fox School of Music. The lecture will be followed by a reception, and both are free and open to the public.

This event also will serve as the inaugural lecture of Beth Plummer, who is the first Susan C. Karant-Nunn Professor of Reformation and Early Modern European History.

The other two keynote events will be the Summer Lecture Series and the division's annual Town and Gown Lecture, titled "Tragedy, Violence and Survival in Germany during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)," which will be held on Nov. 7 and feature Oxford University professor Peter Wilson, one of the foremost international scholars on the Thirty Years' War.

Ute Lotz-Heumann, the director of the division and the Heiko A. Oberman Professor of Late Medieval and Reformation History, recognizes that marking another historical anniversary on the heels of the mammoth 500th Protestant Reformation commemoration in 2017 is "somewhat daunting." Still, she thinks taking a closer look at the miseries of the Thirty Years' War has something important to tell us today.

Defending the Convent

In 1630, Margarethe von Calenberg, the Lutheran abbess of Schildesche, refused the demand from the Bishop of Paderborn and 50 soldiers to hand over the convent's keys, seals and foundation documents. The soldiers responded by breaking down the convent doors, storming the choir to retrieve these items and forcing all the nuns to convert to Catholicism.

During the various wars of religion, troops plundered convents and monasteries as a regular part of their military tactics. The fear of being attacked led many nuns to flee to safer locations. In her lecture, Plummer will delve into the experiences of those nuns who refused to flee during the Thirty Years' War.

These nuns lived mostly in mixed denominational convents and wouldn't leave the convent because they feared that the invading troops would change the denomination of the convent or steal the treasury containing the convent's foundation documents, privileges and formal seal, which meant the soldiers could take over the convent's legal and spiritual authority.

"The nuns were afraid to concede," Plummer said. "If everyone left, that was fine. But if one nun stayed, she could convert the whole convent to another religion."

At such moments, abbesses and nuns faced down soldiers to prevent the breach of the convent walls.

"One abbess got her hand chopped off as she was trying to keep the soldiers from coming in," Plummer said. "These events were discussed for decades afterward. People remembered how various nuns acted. If a nun converted to Catholicism in that moment, she was always suspected of colluding with the enemy."

From Western Kentucky to UA

Plummer joined the UA last fall from Western Kentucky University, lured here by the reputation of the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies. "This was the one job in the country that would tempt me to leave my old job, which I very much loved," she said. "It has turned out to be an absolutely perfect move."

Because the first Susan C. Karant-Nunn Chair would be arriving just after Karant-Nunn, a Regents' Professor of History and longtime division director, retired, the search committee wanted the new hire to share Karant-Nunn's expertise in Martin Luther and gender history.

Plummer is an expert on the Reformation and Martin Luther, on confessional coexistence and toleration, and on gender relations in early modern Germany. She is the author of the prize-winning book "From Priest's Whore to Pastor's Wife: Clerical Marriage and the Process of Reform in the Early German Reformation." She also co-edited "Archeologies of Confession: Writing the German Reformation, 1517-2017."

Plummer has written extensively on marriage, concubinage, bigamy, historical memory and Protestant nuns. Her current monograph project focuses on the experiences of nuns living in pluri-denominational convents in early modern Germany.

She said she is trying to answer the question: "Why did convent life survive in Protestant areas even though Martin Luther was very clear that convent life was a false teaching, that women and men should not live in religious houses separate from the rest of the population?"

"I am interested in the lived experience of the Reformation," Plummer said. "What happened to the people as they made these transitions, which were hugely disruptive?"

War Was Brewing for Decade

On May 23, 1618, a small group of Protestants, incensed at restrictions on their religious freedom, threw representatives of the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor out the window of Prague Castle. This act of defenestration was the inciting incident of a 30-year war that already had been brewing for a decade and involved most of the major powers in Europe.

The war is known for the atrocities committed by mercenary soldiers. "This is a war where everybody was affected," Lotz-Heumann said, noting that marauding armies were always on the move, quartering themselves in people's homes, taking food, bringing disease. "We have reports of rape and horrible violence."

The devastation of the war far exceeded 30 years, leaving an entire generation to rebuild. An estimated 20 to 40 percent of Germany's population died in the war, which ended with a series of treaties that made up the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

"As much as the treaty supposedly ended the war, it didn’t end religious strife — quite the contrary," Plummer said. "Because people remembered things that their previously nice neighbors had done to them, they were less likely to overlook religious differences."

Lotz-Heumann finds it sobering that the agreement that was signed to mark the end of the war was not markedly different from an agreement reached some 100 years earlier called the Peace of Augsburg (1555).

"When you look at wars, you see many of them ending up in a place you could have reached in a compromise," Lotz-Heumann said.

Lotz-Heumann believes it is an important job of historians to help people grasp the realities of historical events, including war.

"I would argue that in this country, the majority of the population has forgotten how terrible war is," she said. "And then we can take it too lightly."