Modern justice can find little to choose thereafter between the methods of the opposing armies.
Continuing The Thirty Years War,
our selection from The Story of Germany by Charles F. Horne published in 1914. The selection is presented in 3.5 installments, each one 5 minutes long. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Thirty Years War.
Time: 1618 – 1648
The citizens, disheartened by his flight, terrified by the overwhelming forces arrayed against them, surrendered to Ferdinand. Executions, proscriptions, banishments, followed without number. Every person of the land was compelled to accept Catholicism. Many burned their homes with their own hands, and fled to other countries. Seldom has liberty been so utterly trampled underfoot; seldom has a land been so completely subjugated. The Bohemians, who had been one of the most intellectual, energetic peoples of Europe, here practically disappear from history as a separate nation.
We turn now to the second period of this deplorable war. Its scene shifts to the domain of the unhappy Frederick upon the Rhine. He himself fled to Holland, but his land was considered as forfeited, and was deliberately desolated by Spanish troops in the service of the Emperor. The Bohemians had employed a well-known leader of mercenary troops, Count Mansfeld. When their cause was lost, Mansfeld, with most of his army, amused the Catholic forces by negotiations, till he saw his opportunity, when he slipped away from them, and led his army to the Rhine. There he continued the war in Frederick’s name, though really for his own sake. His troops supported themselves by pillaging the country, and the wretched inhabitants of Frederick’s Palatinate were treated almost as mercilessly by their pretended friends as by their open foes.
The peasants of Upper Austria also rebelled against Ferdinand’s efforts to force his religion upon them. For a time it seemed they would be as successful as the Swiss mountaineers had been. Under a peasant named Fadinger they gained several impressive victories; but he was killed, and their cause collapsed into ruin. In its last stages their struggle was taken up by an unknown leader, who was called simply “the Student.” But it was too late. Remarkable and romantic as was the Student’s career, his exploits and victories could not save the cause, and he perished at the head of his followers.
Meanwhile, the war along the Rhine assumed more and more the savage character that made it so destructive to the land. Mansfeld, driven from the Palatinate, supported his ferocious troops almost entirely by plundering. Tilly, the chief general of the Catholic League, followed similar tactics, and, wherever they passed, the land lay ruined behind them. Some of the lesser Protestant princes joined Mansfeld, but Tilly proved a great military leader, and his opponents were slowly crowded back into Northern Germany. The Emperor forced his religion upon the Rhine districts, as he had upon Bohemia and Austria. The Protestant world at last began to take alarm. Both England and Holland lent Mansfeld support. The King of Denmark, drawing as many of the Protestant German princes as possible to his side, joined vigorously in the contest.
This Danish struggle may be considered the third period of the war. It lasted from about 1625 to 1629, and introduces one of the two most remarkable men of the period.
Albert of Waldstein, or Wallenstein, as he is generally called, was a native of Bohemia, who joined the Catholics, and won military fame and experience fighting on the imperial side in the Bohemian war. He acquired vast wealth through marriage and the purchase of the confiscated Protestant estates. Proving a remarkably capable financial manager, he was soon the richest subject in the empire, and was created Duke of Friedland, a district of Bohemia.
All of these successes were to Wallenstein mere preliminary steps to an even more boundless ambition. He studied the political outlook, and his keen eye saw the possibility of vastly expanding Mansfeld’s barbaric system of supporting his soldiers by plunder. The Emperor Ferdinand had but few troops of his own, and they were needed for quelling rebellion within his personal domains. For carrying on the war along the Rhine, he was entirely dependent upon the princes of the Catholic League and their army under Tilly.
Wallenstein now came forward and offered to supply the Emperor with a powerful imperial army which should not cost him a penny. This offer, coming from a mere private gentleman, sounded absurd; and for a time Wallenstein was put aside with contemptuous laughter. At last the Emperor told him, if he thought he could raise as many as ten thousand men, to go ahead. “If I have only ten thousand,” said Wallenstein, “we must accept what people choose to give us. If I have thirty thousand, we can take what we like.”
The answer makes plain his whole system. His troops supported and paid themselves at the expense of the neighborhood where they were quartered. If it was a district which upheld the Emperor they took “contributions to the necessity of the empire.” If the land opposed him, no polite words were needed to justify its pillage. Within three months Wallenstein had nearly fifty thousand men under his standard, drawn to him by the tempting offers of plunder that his agents held out. If the war had been terrible before, imagine the awful phase it now assumed, and the blighting curse that fell upon unhappy Germany!
Modern justice can find little to choose thereafter between the methods of the opposing armies. We speak, therefore, only of the martial genius which Wallenstein displayed. He completely outmaneuvered Mansfeld, defeated him, and drove him to flight and death. Then Wallenstein and Tilly proceeded to destroy the high military reputation of the Danish King. He was overcome in battle after battle, and his land so completely devastated that he prayed for peace on any terms.
Peace seemed indeed at hand. The remaining Lutheran states of Saxony and Brandenburg, which had been neutral and were as yet almost unharmed, dared not interfere. The Emperor Ferdinand might have arranged everything as he chose had he used his power with moderation. But his hopes had grown with his fortunes, and he seems to have planned the establishment of such an absolute power over Germany as had been the aim of his ancestor, Charles V.
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