Judging by the images and the books that are popular today, can you imagine how someone 400 years from now will view our society? How will they reconstruct our day in age based on the records we leave behind? That is, if they can even access our information. What impressions will they have of our culture?
I take this into consideration as I research and write my 17th century historical novels. I have a good idea of what the time period looked like from paintings like those from the Dutch Golden Age. Objects and artifacts that survived the passing of time help illustrate how people lived their daily lives. But what people thought, what they felt, can only be taken from the work of those who wrote down their experiences. Even then, we only get the point of view of individuals with a certain standing in the community. We are subject to see history based on their beliefs and more importantly, what they wanted the reader to believe.
So, as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War and the impact the war had on the Aisch Valley in Franconia, Germany, I choose sources that give me a more realistic version of the world I am recreating. These include local historical almanacs, autobiographical accounts that survived over the years and current research of the Early Modern Period. I’d like to tell you about my most important ones.
The Thirty Years War was considered The Great War by the Germans up until WWI. The devastation it left behind was up until that time unmatched. The population was reduced by a third, some believe by half. Great tracks of land were left untouched by the war but other areas were set back 100 years in their development. Some of the villages in my area died out completely for more than two generations. And a surprising number of events that transpired there were written down and collected.
Germans call them Heimatbücher; village historical almanacs, written by local residents, village officials and clergy. Many small communities have them. Full of church records, local weather chronicles, tax records, marriage, birth and death registers, maps and photographs, you’ll find one on almost every bookshelf in Germany. They recorded everything from the Hussiten Wars to the Little Ice Age, the natural catastrophe believed to help fuel the Thirty Years War. Many of the troop movements that stain Germany’s war-torn history and the damage left behind can be found in these books. They tend to be overlooked by ‘real’ historians but they are a wealth of knowledge and now our little secret.
Around the time of the Thirty Years War, the early 1700’s, literacy in Germany was supposedly 2% to 4% of the population, without taking into consideration the difference between those who read regularly and those who could read at all. The reported literates were either of a high standing or involved in the church. More Protestants were known to be able to read than Catholics. Yes, there were those women who were learned but the majority of these were men. And some of these people felt the need to write their memoirs.
A local hero from the town of Uehlfeld in Franconia, Veit von Berg was a young Protestant pastor who was in the city of Neustadt an der Aisch when it was sacked in July 1632. After the war, in 1648, he was commissioned to serve the Evangelical parish in Uehlfeld. Thirty-five people survived the horrors that left this village in ash and rubble, a village that once had population of over 600. Veit von Berg spent his free time rebuilding Uehlfeld, teaching the savaged farmers how to sow seed and live life and writing his autobiography. This is a touching, explicit, insightful story of his fight to live through an unjust war.
A more famous story is Simplicius Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen, considered to be the first German novel. It is the story of a peasant boy torn away from his family by marauding mercenaries. We follow him from the abduction, to the life with a hermit, to military service, to wealth and excess back to the life of a hermit. The adventures he experienced are considered to be the autobiographical account of Grimmelshausen’s life.
In 1988, Jan Peters, a German historian, found a hand-written document in the Berliner Staatsbibliotek, the Berlin Library. Peters set out to decipher the writings and search for the author, whose name is nowhere in the writings to be found. After much detective work, the writer is believed to the mercenary soldier, Peter Hagendorf. Hagendorf recorded his 25-year career as a mercenary and the 22,500 km travels that took him from Italy to Germany, to the Spanish Netherlands and France. He also took part in the famous Sack of Magdeburg in 1631.
Now, most of my reference books are in German and most of them are written by men. But I want to recreate this time period for an English-speaking audience and keep the language contemporary. I want to get close to the characters, inside their heads, and I also want to do this from the viewpoint of a woman. And I want to stay true to the events documented in my sources.
American historian, Joel Harrington, http://as.vanderbilt.edu/history/bio/joel-harrington professor at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, specializes in the Early Modern Period in Germany and has written numerous books concerning this time period in the English language. In 2009, he published The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Harrington studies the situation of abandoned children in Nuremberg, Germany, their mothers and the role society played in all of this in the early modern world.
Over the years, the more information I searched for, the more I found. This is only a small outtake from all the sources I have collected. For me, the love of research equals the love of writing historical fiction. And as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War, these books and documents are as instrumental to my writing as my computer and a pad and paper. The stage is set and I can bring in the actors and raise the curtain.
Laura Libricz at home here: http://lauralibricz.blogspot.de/
I am a writer, a mother, a guitar factory worker. And I love to write. I was born and raised in Bethlehem, PA and moved to Upstate New York when I was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, I got a scholarship to go to college. I tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all my time reading German literature (ahem, struggling through originals and reading the English translations.) And the passion for writing brewed there in the background. Most of my writing from that time landed in the fire. What a shame, I think now.
I earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where I reside today. My first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven's Ponds Trilogy and is now available at Smashwords, Amazon and all other e-book sellers. The second book, The Soldier's Return, is scheduled to be released in October 2015. Both are historical in nature, dealing with the Thirty Years War in Germany from 1618-1648.