Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War

Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War

Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War

Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War


Courage and Grief illuminates in a nuanced fashion Sweden's involvement in Europe's destructive Thirty Years' War (1618-48). Focusing on the various roles women performed in the bloody and extended conflict, Mary Elizabeth Ailes analyzes how methods of warfare and Swedish society were changing in profound ways. This study considers the experiences of unmarried camp followers and officers' wives as well as peasant women who remained in the countryside during times of conflict and upheaval.

Women contributed to the war effort in a variety of ways. On campaign they provided support services to armies in the field. On the home front they helped to minimize disruptions incurred within their frayed communities. As increasing numbers of men left to fight overseas, women took over local economic activities and defended their families' interests. Such activities significantly altered the fabric of Swedish society.

Examining women's wartime experiences in the Thirty Years' War enhances our understanding of women's roles in society, the nature of female power and authority, and the opportunities and hardships that warfare brought to women's lives.


In November 1632 the future looked bright for Nils Brahe. Born into a Swedish aristocratic family in 1604, he had enjoyed a successful military career that had brought him great favor from the highest ranks of the Swedish military leadership. in 1625 he began his career as a second lieutenant and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a captain in 1626, a lieutenant colonel in 1627, a colonel in 1628, and finally general of the infantry in 1632. the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, favored Brahe to such an extent that in 1632 he appointed him to the Council of the Realm, the highest political honor the king could bestow on one of his subjects. Brahe’s personal life was also full of hope. Since 1628 he had been married to Anna Margareta Bielke, who was also a member of the Swedish aristocracy. They had celebrated their wedding on April 16, 1628, at Stockholm’s castle with the king in attendance as a wedding guest. Since that time his wife had followed Brahe on campaign, and she was currently four months pregnant with their second child.

On November 6, 1632, Gustavus Adolphus directed Brahe to command the Swedish infantry during the Battle of Lützen. During October and early November, the imperial commander, Albrecht von Wallenstein, had been leading his troops into Saxony to establish winter quarters there. Gustavus Adolphus hoped to catch the imperial forces and strike a blow at them before winter weather brought an end to the 1632 campaign season. the two sides met at Lützen, a small town near Leipzig. Before the battle began, the Swedes and their allies formed into two ranks with their cavalry on the flanks. Facing them across a road were Wallenstein’s men who had placed cannons on a small hill and entrenched musketeers in ditches alongside the road. the remainder of his infantry formed into two ranks with the cavalry to the left and . . .

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