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Reviewed by:
  • Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War by Mary Elizabeth Ailes
  • Britt Mitchell (bio)
Review of Mary Elizabeth Ailes. Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. 234 pages. $55.00

In recent years, Sweden has emerged as a leader on feminist and family issues, promoting social policies that provide women with societal and economic support for the biological work of childbirth and breastfeeding as well as fostering equality in the workplace. While the rest of the world looks to Sweden [End Page 201] for ideas and innovations on such subjects, what is the origin of Sweden's inspiration?

One answer emerges from the scholarship of Mary Elizabeth Ailes in her recently published Courage and Grief: Women and Sweden's Thirty Years' War. A little-studied subtopic in a well-studied conflict, the roles of women both on the field of battle in German Saxony and at home in continental Sweden were critical components of Sweden's shifting social norms both during and after the years of conflict, from 1618 and 1648. Additionally, Sweden's shift during the war from the reign of battle-proven King Gustavus Adolphus to his daughter, Queen Christina, amid revolutionary changes to the manner in which both warfare and diplomacy were conducted, allowed for relatively minor yet historically significant shifts in practices surrounding land ownership, payments of debt, and inheritance. The gates of history turn on small hinges.

Although Ailes does not explicitly set out to make this case, her meticulously collected and catalogued sources—journals, account books, and petitions to the court—do the work for her, parsing out the important roles played by women during the war. Divided into four parts, the book begins with "Women on Campaign," then moves to "Women and Conscription," "Officers' Wives on the Home Front," and concludes with "Queen Christina and Female Military Leadership." Each section takes account of a different group of women and the role they played in moving forward the military campaigns associated with the Thirty Years' War and women's societal roles, including individual accounts of women who were part of each group, and concludes by noting significant changes to Swedish social and legal systems that occurred in the wake of the conflict.

In the first section, "Women on Campaign," Ailes recounts and assesses the roles played by the many women who frequently accompanied battalions in military campaigns. These women were both needed and criticized by soldiers and commanders. They cared for the physical and emotional needs of the armies, laundering clothes and cooking meals, but were frequently disparaged as an impediment to military success. Strict rules regarding the marital status of women in the caravan were often enacted by commanders, but the challenges of battle made them difficult to enforce. Such rules, designed to prevent sexual distractions among soldiers, failed to account for the frequent widowing associated with warfare, the growth of young daughters into women, and the need for female companionships among wives of soldiers. The [End Page 202] women who accompanied husbands and fathers on campaign developed a unique economy that provided opportunity for the development of skills and trade, advancement opportunities for military children, and a social safety net for military families. Women who took part in these activities had opportunities to travel, learn, and teach in ways that were often unavailable to women that remained behind. Upon returning to Sweden following husbands' deaths or the end of the war, these women were a source of human capital that had an important impact on reshaping society in the aftermath of the war.

The second section, "Peasant Women and Conscription" details some of the economic and social shifts that occurred in Sweden as a result of the conscription rules associated with the war. Because the economic capacity of Sweden was dependent on both having adequate laborers to work the farmland and adequate soldiers to carry out the campaigns of the war, a conscription strategy was adopted. Naturally, this strategy prioritized the needs of the state over the needs of the individuals. Under these rules, it was women who took a lead in working the system to ensure that...


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pp. 201-205
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