*Note: This article was originally written in 2012 and is the second entry from the original Epik Fails blog series.
CONTENT WARNING: this article contains some language, crude humor, and discussions of war, disaster, and death.
November the 5th, 1605 – The Gunpowder Treason
1618-1648: The Thirty Years War
30 Years… THIRTY friggin’ YEARS of pointless European-wide WAR!
Here is a war that simply did not need to happen. The 30 Years War is one of those unfortunate situations that probably could have been avoided altogether, if only the leaders of Europe had decided that it might be a good time for some group therapy. You know, rather than deciding to beat the heck out of each other until one of them says uncle or passes out, figuratively.
The unfortunate thing in this case was that there was no victory: An entire thirty years of constant warfare was completely wasted on a stalemate!? And to make matters even worse, over the next few hundred years, most of the wars that would follow could be traced back to this single continental debacle.
While North America is being explored and colonized, the average European back home is a simple peasant-farming-villager. At this time, there are about fifty million people living in Europe, give or take a few, and most of these feudal citizens had never had a single vacation outside their tiny villages, or what passed as a kingdom. To begin with, the peasant-farmers of the early 1600’s didn’t exactly have it going all that well, but if there was ever a time to not be a peasant-farmer in seventeenth century Europe, it was roughly between 1618 and 1648.
This was a war that began over which brand of Christianity one subscribed to and mutated into a war over which country was more awesome. Not that it really mattered to the common folk, quite frankly either way this elongated conflict did not go so well for the peasants in the middle of the madness…
The (Thirty-Freaking-Year) War ravished the continent like a tubby Dutch kid goes after a cream-filled cupcake: not a pleasant sight.
Wars generally go a little bit like the playoffs, where certain weaker opponents are systematically eliminated until you got the victor walking away with a big silver trophy. Not in this case, this was more like a no holds-barred, balls to the wall, full-on, free-for-all, Irish-bar-fight where everyone wakes up in jail the next morning with a black eye, a hangover from hell, and thinking W-T-F?!
So what’s the back story here?
Our terrible tale of FAIL begins in London, England – 1605: all thanks to a mustache-twirling terrorist of a douche named Guy Fawkes: “Remember, remember the Fifth of November, the Gun Powder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason the Gun Powder Treason should ever be FORGOT!” – V (‘V For Vendetta!’)
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was an astronomic failure.
Guy Fawkes was an English mercenary hired by the Catholic Church to blow up England’s Parliament in an effort to overthrow the Anglican monarch King James I. On November the 5th, 1605, Guy Fawkes initiated the plan by rolling 36 barrels of high-explosives underneath the Parliament building. Unfortunately (for Guy), the 2.5 metric tons of gunpowder got wet, and wouldn’t light. He was then promptly captured by royal guards, tortured, and hung (or drawn and quartered), along with the rest of his co-conspirators. For some reason I imagine Guy Fawkes being dragged away shouting triumphantly, “I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!”
The gunpowder treason became a national holiday in celebration of the King’s safety: Guy Fawkes Night, in which it is customary to dismember, hang, and roast a scarecrow dressed up with the vilified visage of the 17th Century terrorist suspect himself. It’s sorta like a bizarre combination of America’s Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Halloween all rolled into one wacky holiday. (At one point they used to burn an effigy of the Pope instead, but they later figured it might be considered a tad offensive.) Even if Guy Fawkes had good intentions, suicide-bombing Parliament just isn’t the way to go about making a positive impact on the world.
Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel, “V For Vendetta” co-opted the Guy Fawkes visage in its vigilante protagonist. The comic was adapted into a kickass movie (starring: Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving), its rampant cult popularity gave rise to the use of the film’s Guy Fawkes mask as the trademark of the real world group known as Anonymous, but that’s an entirely different story altogether…
The Gunpowder Plot would become the fuse that would light the powder keg of Europe itself.
What has been dubbed the Thirty Years War was in fact a combination of feuding countries at war, culminating in one of the biggest. bloodiest, cluster %#&@$ of all time; some historians say that it was in fact the bloodiest (And I’m sitting there thinking: Were you there? Did you measure the pints yourself? But I digress.) This massive, continental attempt-at-suicide all started with a pretty funny story called: the Bohemian Revolt. *And yes, it is kind of humorous in a ‘sucks to be them!’ kind of way.
To start with the Bohemian Protestants didn’t like the way the Catholic Austrian Emperor’s representatives were talking smack to them, so, in the name of political correctness, they decided to chuck them out a window… into a well-placed pile of horse crap. Yes, that is correct, the Thirty Year, European-wide manslaughter fest all started because of some Jackass-like antics. And as satisfying as that must have been for the Bohemians, (as they high-fived one another, flicked off the dung-covered arch bishops and fist-bumped their ragtag band of Protestant ‘hippy’ comrades) there is a reason why there’s no such thing as a Bohemia anymore…
The poo covered Catholic henchmen ran back to tattle-tale to the Pope (Pope Urban VIII), who basically said, “Wipe them out… All of Them.” It really would have been better for the Bohemians if the Austrian Empire had atomic warheads and simply nuked them out of existence, because the Bohemian aristocracy was about to be brutally laid to waste regardless.
Although there was no clear winner at the end of the thirty year conflict that ensued there was, without a doubt, a loser. I think it’s reasonable to assume, based on what happened next, that the Austrian Emperor lacked any kind of sense of humor, because man did that prank backfire.
By 1623 there were no Bohemians left in Bohemia, and the Austrian Empire didn’t get the chance to shout ‘In Your Face!’ because by that point the religious war they’d sparked was spreading like a viral infection across the ‘Face’ of Europe.
Following the utter annihilation of Bohemia, came the Danish War in 1625. To make this long story a little shorter let’s just say the Protestant Danes were busy fighting off the Holy Roman Empire when they were suddenly attacked from behind by Sweden for no apparent reason at all. To make things a little more confusing Sweden suddenly turned around and became the defenders of the Protestant faith in 1630. Now Sweden is not a country that is typically known for doing anything half-assed, so if attacking the Danes wasn’t part of the plan, they sure as hell made it look like it was.
Meanwhile, the French decided to back the Catholics and attack Sweden on the home front, a bold move, especially for them. We go from the Danish War to the Swedish War to the French-Swedish War, and so ensued the most horrific destruction in the entire war. Hired mercenaries were set loose and control was quickly lost, and therefore the military campaign degraded into a killing spree.
Back in France, the fighting had reached the King’s doorstep and the Huguenots had their own little rebellion. Subsequently, the Irish Catholics decided to rise up against their Anglo rulers. In response, King James of England, (as in the King James Bible and Jamestown), in his ‘divine wisdom’ decided “Hey! I know, let’s get those crazy Catholic Irish to breed with the Protestant Scotts!” The Scotch-Irish hybrids that came about were persecuted to the point of leaving for the Newfoundland known as the Americas. They settled and became the earliest hillbillies of the new world, along with the Pilgrims of the Mayflower who decided to get the heck out of Europe.
Following James’s death in 1630, King Charles I took up the reigns of England, and immediately began to harshly persecute the Puritan Separatists to show his allegiance to the Anglican Church, since his wife was Catholic. He was eventually beheaded for being an idiot. At this point the war had shifted from religious to purely political motivations centered around the the petty Bourbon-Hapsburg rivalry.
By 1645 it was not uncommon for a group of heavily armed men to ride into a random town and whether they were protestant or catholic there would be blood regardless. Like I said, this war didn’t go so well for the villagers of said nations. Now if you think it’s difficult to keep track of all whose on which side just from reading about it, just try and imagine what it’d be like up in that hell hole. You just start stabbing everything in sight and hope you didn’t just shank your friendly neighborhood veterinarian.
Suffice it to say, when 1648 finally rolled around the monarchs of Europe collectively threw in the towel, and called it a day, after a death toll of 11 million. So um, yeah. Moral of the story: Don’t start a war over pointless crap? …or maybe next time we don’t try to prove our religion is better by trying to kill the person who disagrees with us, or something along those lines… IDK
The Thirty Years War – A Recipe for Disaster (One part Epic, Three parts FAIL):
Hope you enjoyed this edition of “Epik Fails!”, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to ‘Like’ EPiK FAILs on Facebook! (www.Facebook.com/EpikFails), and SHARE IT with your friends!
————————————————–Click for a Complete List of Essays on Historical Failure!!
———–Check out: WORLD WAR ONE: the “Great” War?
“The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy” by: Peter H. Wilson
“Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot” by: Antonia Fraser
“Remember, Remember: A Cultural History of Guy Fawkes Day” by: James Sharpe
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