History Scotland

SCOTTISH WIDOWS OF THE THIRTY YEARS’ WAR (1618-1648)

‘Providing for widows and orphans is pleasing to Almighty God’

Early modern historians are well aware of the contribution of Scottish soldiers to the Dutch and Scandinavian armies during the Thirty Years’ War: estimates state that over 50,000 Scots aided the anti-Habsburg forces alone throughout the conflict. It is a sobering thought that most of these Scottish soldiers and officers did not return to their home country, but died abroad from the consequences of warfare. More soldiers perished from disease or wounds than did on the day of battle.

In recent years, substantial research has been undertaken to understand the war experience of these soldiers. However, in comparison, very little is known about those who financially depended on them. The Scottish War Widows project seeks to address this gap and analyses the survival strategies of women who were left behind by their fighting husbands. This group is far from homogeneous and includes women of different means and social standing in various locations in Scotland, the Dutch Republic, the Holy Roman Empire and Scandinavia. Our lack of knowledge about Scottish widows derives not least from the difficulty of finding archival material pertaining to them. For instance, in Swedish archives the correspondence of wives and widows is frequently filed under their husbands’ name, making it harder to find. Nevertheless, a valuable corpus of widows’ letters written in Scots, Latin, Swedish, German and Dutch has now been collected, digitally photographed, translated and transcribed. They are scattered in archives across Scotland, England and continental Europe. One of the most important findings from the analysis of their correspondence is that Scottish war widows were not helpless victims of their fate, but could rely on personal and institutional support as well as on their own agency to rebuild or simply maintain their livelihoods.

Provision through wills and remarriage

Scottish war widows were afforded some level of protection through wills and testaments which anticipated the demise of their partner. Research in various Scottish and continental archives demonstrates

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