Professor Peter H. Wilson

Featured Publication

 Lützen: Great Battles (OUP, 2018)

Lützen: Great Battles

The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) was Europe's most destructive conflict prior to the two world wars. Two of European history's greatest generals faced each other at Lützen in November 1632, mid-way through this terrible war. Neither achieved his objective. Albrecht von Wallenstein withdrew his battered imperial army at nightfall, unaware that his opponent, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, had died a few hours earlier. 

The indecisive military outcome found an immediate echo in image and print, and became the object of political and historical disputes. Swedish propaganda swiftly fostered the lasting image of the king's sacrifice for the Protestant cause against the spectre of Catholic Habsburg 'universal monarchy'. The standard assumption that the king had 'met his death in the hour of victory' became integral to how Gustavus Adolphus's contribution to modern warfare has been remembered, even celebrated, while the study of Lützen's wider legacy shows how such events are constantly rewritten as elements of propaganda, religious and national identity, and professional military culture. The battle's religious and political associations also led to its adoption as a symbol by those advocating German unification under Prussian leadership. The battlefield remains a place of pilgrimage to this day and a site for the celebration of Protestant German and Nordic culture. 

This book is the first to combine analysis of the battle itself with an assessment of its cultural, political and military legacy, and the first to incorporate recent archaeological research within a reappraisal of the events and their significance. It challenges the accepted view that Lützen is a milestone in military development, arguing instead that its impact was more significant on the cultural and political level.

The Holy Roman Empire. A Thousand Years of Europe's History (Penguin, 2017)

Book Cover for: The Holy Roman Empire. A Thousand Years of Europe's  History
hoe cover italian

A great, sprawling, ancient and unique entity, the Holy Roman Empire, from its founding by Charlemagne to its destruction by Napoleon a millennium later, formed the heart of Europe. It was a great engine for inventions and ideas, it was the origin of many modern European states, from Germany to the Czech Republic, its relations with Italy, France and Poland dictated the course of countless wars - indeed European history as a whole makes no sense without it.

In this strikingly ambitious book, Peter H. Wilson explains how the Empire worked. It is not a chronological history, but an attempt to convey to readers why it was so important and how it changed over its existence. The result is a tour de force - a book that raises countless questions about the nature of political and military power, about diplomacy and the nature of European civilization and about the legacy of the Empire, which has continued to haunt its offspring, from Imperial and Nazi Germany to the European Union.

The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy (Harvard University Press, 2011)

The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy
The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy - German Cover

A deadly continental struggle, the Thirty Years War devastated seventeenth-century Europe, killing nearly a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to towns and countryside alike. Peter Wilson offers the first new history in a generation of a horrifying conflict that transformed the map of the modern world.

When defiant Bohemians tossed the Habsburg emperor’s envoys from the castle windows in Prague in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire struck back with a vengeance. Bohemia was ravaged by mercenary troops in the first battle of a conflagration that would engulf Europe from Spain to Sweden. The sweeping narrative encompasses dramatic events and unforgettable individuals—the sack of Magdeburg; the Dutch revolt; the Swedish militant king Gustavus Adolphus; the imperial generals, opportunistic Wallenstein and pious Tilly; and crafty diplomat Cardinal Richelieu. In a major reassessment, Wilson argues that religion was not the catalyst, but one element in a lethal stew of political, social, and dynastic forces that fed the conflict.

By war’s end a recognizably modern Europe had been created, but at what price? The Thirty Years War condemned the Germans to two centuries of internal division and international impotence and became a benchmark of brutality for centuries. As late as the 1960s, Germans placed it ahead of both world wars and the Black Death as their country’s greatest disaster.

An understanding of the Thirty Years War is essential to comprehending modern European history. Wilson’s masterful book will stand as the definitive account of this epic conflict.


 would like to hear from potential DPhil students regarding war in Europe and the wider world c.1500-1900; the military, political, cultural or social history of German-speaking Europe c.1500-1900.

I currently teach:


  The Military and Society in Britain and France c.1650-1815
  The Thirty Years War (SS12)
In the Media

BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking 10 March 2016

BBC World Service Feb.2016
BBC History Magazine podcast Feb.2016


  • The Business of War untangled: Cities as Fiscal-Military Hubs in Europe, 1530s-1860s

  • El Sacro Imperio Romano Germánico. Mil años de historia de Europa

  • A Global History of Early Modern Violence


  • Consolidating states, professionalizing armies, and controlling violence in the long-term aftermath of the Thirty Years War, 1600s-1780s