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1632 is the lead novel by historian/writer/editor Eric Flint in an epic book series set in the region of Thuringia at the southern edge of the central German plains. The series pits powerful antagonists like Denmark, England, Spain, France, the Holy Roman Empire and the kingdom of Hungary against a loose confederation of protestant states primarily defended by the intervention of the armies of the king of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus II, who is reinforced in the struggle known as the Thirty Years' War by the odd arrival of Grantville, a town from the future.
The fiction of the series is about how the small American town of three-thousand 'West Virginians' transported across time and space to May 1631 impacts the historical, cultural, technological, political and geo-historic development of Europe as the influence of the knowledge it brings with it percolates through the seventeenth century. This article is about the confluence of historic factors which attracted Flint the author to choose the setting of his literary experiment in the day and age half-way through the conflict which killed off 25% of the German people of the day.
History and premiseEdit
The historical settingEdit
A century and a quarter after the Council of Trent, the new role of the Roman Catholic Pope had been established as an absolute ruler (in name) over the priesthood as was strongly characteristic of the new age of absolutism ushered in by the sixteenth century. At that time the Pope had Society of Jesus (Jesuits — established in 1534) which had for nearly a hundred years the institutional goal of stamping out Judaism, Protestantism and heresy where and whenever they occurred.
Politically, the era was wedded to authoritarianism rooted in the Divine Right of Kings, and Spain was the pre-eminent power, dominating in both Europe and on the world stage at large while the other sea faring nations raced to grab territories of their own in the middle of the Age of Exploration. The Roman Catholic Church had settled well into the path of the counter-reformation, the Puritan revolution was on the horizon. It was the heyday of the Dutch Merchantile Empire and somewhat past the beginning of Poland's decline and the ascension of Russia, while the Swedish empire was at its zenith. England had yet to rise, and Catholic France was led by Prime Minister Cardinal Reichlieu.
The Jesuits increasingly contributed to the reinvigoration of the Counter-Reformation Church, seducing Europe's nobles away from protestantism by a variety of measures. This culminated in the Edict of Restitution — the papal proclamation that all property of Protestant churches was to be confiscated for the Church. Consequently, the Jesuits had done nothing but grow more powerful as the century passed, and many of its members were the heart and soul of the Office of the Holy Inquisition, but they were also sworn agent-soldiers of the Pope, anxious to intrigue and sway any Protestant ruler by any means, including war. When the Jesuits were banned upon pain of death from living in the Holy Roman Empire, this (in part) created the conditions leading to the Thirty Years' War, the geopolitical background into which author Flint paints yet a bleaker picture.
The Catholic Church used two main methods to fight the spread of Protestantism.[clarification needed] The first was the Catholic Spanish Habsburg Monarchy.[clarification needed] The second was the doctrine of Cuius regio, eius religio — 'The people take on the faith of the Ruler'. It was far easier to convert one prince (or conquer him) than a hundred thousand individual peasants.
The 1632 series begins after years of war in the Holy Roman Empire, as the armies of the German Protestant states and their Swedish allies fight against the troops of the Catholic League. The town arrives shortly after the sack of Magdeburg by Catholic armies, and only begin to influence larger political events after Gustav Vasa's victory at the Battle of Breitenfield.
In the beginningEdit
Flint created the fictional town of Grantville, West Virginia (modeled on the real town of Mannington) and dropped it and its powerplant abruptly into the new time-space, through a side effect (An accident, in truth) of an alien technology (The Assiti Shards). A spherical section of land about three miles in radius measured from the town center was transported back in time into the middle of the Thirty Years' War, in the German province of Thuringia in the Thuringer Wald. This occurred during the middle of a wedding (accounting for the presence of a few characters not native to the town, including an extra doctor and his daughter, a nurse). He created another nearby fictional German free city, (Badenburg) and plunged both populations into tentative contact. Real Thuringian municipalities located close to Grantville were posited as Weimar, Jena, Saalfeld and the more remote Erfurt, Arnstadt, and Eisenach; all located in the valley of the Saale River East of the Palatinate (Rhine) well to the south of Halle and Leipzig.
Grantville, led by Mike Stearns, President of the local United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and a supporting cast of characters widely diverse in background and viewpoint coped with the town's space-time dislocation, the surrounding raging war (with several of its minor armies), language barriers, class conflict, witchcraft, Woman's Lib, the reformation and the counter-reformation and strife (at its peak) among many other factors. Once complication was a compounding of the town's food shortage when the town was flooded by refugees from the war. Flint mixed in sexual shocks (Cheerleaders, miniskirts and blue jeans) experienced by down-time stalwarts, as well as shock at American style rah-rah political rallies. In a more serious vein, the plot covered short-term survival of the town, as well as the long-term question of how to maintain technology sundered from twenty-first century resources.
Flint develops the plot mainly through character interactions and jocular bantering rather than dry narrative. Add in a lot of significant Jewish and European history (The central of several developed romances in the novel occurs between the daughter ('Becky') of a historically powerful and real Jewish extended family clan, the Abrabanels, and UMWA workers/New USA president Mike Stearns) as the new USA begins to evolve from a flag with but one star.
Flint paints the armed conflicts by the era's superpowers as a pretext for less noble machiavellian Affairs of State which are themselves being guided, manipulated, and used by the power behind the throne (in particular, Cardinal Richelieu). His depiction of the armies of mercenaries of the time is too strong for the generally upbeat tale to be totally pleasant, but serves to create tension and generate a series of crises.
Characters imagined and historicalEdit
Historical figures in the booksEdit
Several historical figures occupy prominent or supporting roles in the novel include King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, Johan t'Serclaes, Count of Tilly, and Albrecht von Wallenstein, all general officers of note and fame. And Cardinal Richelieu, takes on the role of the ultimate villain forced by circumstance in the later third of the work.
Characters of more than minor noteEdit
To the historical personalities, Flint adds a rich mix of well developed believable characters of local origin (down-timers) including some with a real person basis like the various members of the Abrabanel family (composite characters), or the holder of this or that office. He then creates action by introducing up time Americans (i.e. those caught by the Ring of Fire from the future) in conversations large and small.
Notes and referencesEdit