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Dr Tom Pert, Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

The Refugee Experience in the Thirty Years' War

Whether as a product of natural disaster, severe economic deprivation or man-made miseries, the refugee experience is a universal and indelible part of human history which touches almost every country in the world.

Rural refugees in the Thirty Years' War

Dr Thomas Pert from the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance is undertaking a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship entitled "The Refugee Experience in the Thirty Years' War."

Through his Fellowship, Dr Pert will focus on the experiences of predominantly rural refugees in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the conflict which saw the greatest number of displaced persons in Europe prior to the Second World War.

By using a wealth of primary source materials, Dr Pert will address a long-overlooked aspect of the war and shed new light on the relationship between refugees, communities, and the emerging modern states.

Soldiers plundering a farm during the Thirty Years' War. Source: Bridgemanart Library.


Battle on Charles Bridge in Prague in 1648, ending the Thirty Years' War. Picture and installation created for the Prague exhibition of 1891.

Beyond religious intolerance: The impact of military, political and economic pressures

Even the most comprehensive studies of the War offer only small glimpses into the experiences of refugees, with no dedicated surveys of the subject.

Previous studies on refugees in early modern Europe overwhelmingly focus on the experiences of certain religious groups avoiding persecution on faith grounds. However, in addition to examining religious intolerance, this project will address other causes of forced displacement during the Thirty Years’ War, such as a hostile military presence, political and economic pressures, and even a desire to avoid other forms of persecution – such as the Witch Trials in Bamberg.

In doing so, the project will differentiate between various ‘types’ of refugee, such as groups and individuals who abandoned rural communities temporarily for the security of nearby fortified towns, and those who were forced to find long-term sanctuary following the destruction of their homes and livelihoods.

Examining written and visual representations of refugee experiences

As the vast majority of the population of the German States lived in rural communities, most refugees originated from such areas. In addition to drawing on the ‘self-narratives’ of townspeople, peasants and soldiers affected by the War, this project will use a range of civic records to examine the responses of local communities and their governments to the presence of refugees. Dr Pert will also assess written and visual representations of refugees in early modern print.

By using a wealth of source materials to address a plurality of motives and models of exile, Dr Pert’s project will produce the first comprehensive examination of refugee experiences in the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years’ War, and show that the same questions which dominate discourse on refugee crises in the twenty-first century have shaped debates on refugees for centuries.