In the last, most barbarous phase of the war (1618–48), the Swedish ambassador to the Netherlands, German-born Ludwig Camerarius, wrote to a friend in Nuremberg : ‘Happy are they who in this wretched time are already asleep in the Lord.’ 1 It was a sentiment expressed frequently by his countrymen in those years, in poetry and letters, in diary entries and funeral orations. For unlike the wars of the twentieth century (apart from 1944–5), the Thirty Years War was fought almost wholly on the territory of the Holy Roman Empire. As a result, in the war theatres along the main transit routes, a whole generation of Germans had grown to manhood knowing nothing else but fighting, pillaging and burning. The damage done to life and property made this war the most destructive in Germany’s history before the mid twentieth century. Thus a traveller making his way from Pomerania in the northeast during the late 1640s, across Mecklenburg, turning southwards through Brandenburg, Magdeburg and Thuringia, and then on to the Palatinate and Swabia in the south, would have found countless numbers of devastated villages, seen towns which had been sacked not once, but three and four times, the surviving inhabitants reduced in some cases to cannibalism. 2 In all these areas the total loss in population has been estimated as at least 40-60 per cent, and in some districts to have been as high as 70 per cent. Yet it would have been possible in the same years to travel north-west from Vienna, avoiding central Bohemia, 4through Upper and Lower Saxony, across Bremen into Holstein, and see little evidence of the war apart from the region around Leipzig and Magdeburg. For the war had been selective in its targets. The populations of neutral Switzerland, and of Austria, the Tyrol, Holstein and Frisia, had changed little between 1618 and 1648. It was said that during these years not a single foreign soldier had crossed the frontiers of the territory of Oldenburg, in the north-west, where the ruler, Count Anton Günther, was able to increase the prosperity and revenues of his realm from his famous stud farm. Hamburg too went unscathed, a fact it owed to the wise foresight of the city fathers in preparing adequate defences. Further east, the thriving corn markets in mid century Danzig, Königsberg and Thorn contrasted sharply with conditions elsewhere in the Empire, where fighting and plague threatened to turn the land, in Camerarius’s phrase, into ‘an Arabian desert’. 3