“Most powerful and gracious Emperor,” said the Elector, vainly endeavoring to dismount, “I am your prisoner.” “You recognize me as Emperor now?” rejoined Charles.
Continuing Protestant Struggle Against Charles V – The Smalkaldic War,
our selection from The Emperor Charles V (2nd. edition) by Edward Armstrong published in 1910. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Protestant Struggle Against Charles V – The Smalkaldic War.
Ulrich of Wuertemberg escaped less lightly. He paid a large indemnity, received Spanish garrisons in his fortresses, and engaged to serve against his late allies. He had no resource, for his subjects hated him; from the windows of the cottages fluttered the red and white Burgundian colors as a token of what was in the peasants’ hearts. Ferdinand pressed warmly for the restoration of the duchy to Austria, but Charles replied that the aim of the war was the service of God and the revival of imperial authority: to seek their private advantage would only quicken the envy with which neighboring powers regarded the house of Hapsburg. Farther north the octogenarian of the Elector of Cologne resigned his see, and the evangelization of the Middle Rhine was at an end. Ulm gave in with a good grace, but Augsburg long delayed. Charles’ original intention was, apparently, to garrison these towns, as Milan and Naples, with reliable Spanish troops, and perhaps to destroy their walls and dominate them by fortresses. But he treated the cities leniently. He left here and there companies of imperial troops, levied moderate contributions, replaced at Ulm and Augsburg the democratic constitution of the trades by the old wealthy aristocracies, but promised to respect the existing religion. Strasburg, which, in spite of French entreaties, capitulated in February, 1547, was almost exempt from punishment; it was feared that the distant, wealthy, and headstrong city might hold out a hand to the Swiss and become a canton.
In Southern and Western Germany there was no longer an enemy in the field, but, in the North, Maurice’s treachery had brought its penalty. John Frederick, acting with unusual vigor, recovered his dominions, received homage from the feudatories of Halberstadt and Magdeburg, and overran Maurice’s territories, until he was checked before the walls of Leipsic. When Ferdinand prepared to aid Maurice, the German Protestants of Lusatia and Silesia refused their contingents, and the Bohemian Utraquists made common cause with the Lutherans. The Utraquist nobility and towns formed a league in defense of national and religious liberties; they convoked a diet and raised an army. Ferdinand was faced by a general Bohemian revolt. His position was weakened by his wife’s death in February, for it was pretended that he was merely consort. Only the Catholic nobles were for the Hapsburg King; the roads were barricaded to prevent the passage of his artillery; and John Frederick, entering Bohemia, received a hearty welcome. The North German maritime and inland cities were now in arms, and the Lutheran princes of Oldenburg and Mansfield were threatening the Netherlands. Charles sent his best troops to Ferdinand’s aid, and dispatched Hans and Albert Hohenzollern in support of Maurice. But Germans could still beat Germans. Albert was surprised and taken at Rochlitz. Ferdinand eagerly pressed Charles to march north in person. The Emperor was unwilling, and Granvelle strongly dissuaded it. The dispatch of Alba was the alternative, but Charles did not trust his generalship. He was delayed, partly by gout, and partly by fear of a fresh rising in the Swabian towns. Here he had left seven thousand men, but he could not himself safely stay in Nuremberg without a garrison of three thousand, and could not afford to lock these up. His sole presence in the North, wrote Piero Colonna, was worth twenty-five thousand foot, and Charles, ill as he was, must march.
The unexpected turn which the war had taken in Saxony was not Charles’ only trouble. Paul III had been alarmed by the Emperor’s progress, which had been more rapid and complete than he expected, and at the end of six months, for which he had promised his contingent, he withdrew it. The material loss was slight, but the whole aspect of the war was altered. Charles could scarcely now profess to be fighting for submission to Pope and council, for the council in March transferred itself, after violent altercations with the Spanish bishops and imperial envoys, to Bologna. Rome rejoiced at the successes of John Frederick. In the late French war the Turks had figured as the Pope’s friends and had spared his shores; it now seemed possible that the Lutherans might be the Pope’s allies. It was certain that, if time were given, the Pope’s defection would stimulate the active hostility of France. Charles must have done with the rebellion, and that quickly.
Tortured by gout and fearing that his forces would prove inferior to the Saxons, Charles moved painfully from Nordlingen to Regensburg and thence to Eger, where he was joined by Ferdinand, Maurice, and the electoral prince of Brandenburg. Spending Easter at Eger, he crossed the Saxon frontier on April 13, 1547, with eighteen thousand foot and eight thousand horse. Ten days of incessant marching brought him within touch of the Elector, who was guarding the bridge of Meissen. John Frederick had foolishly frittered away his forces in Saxon and Bohemian garrisons. He now burned the bridge and retired down the Elbe to Muehlberg, hoping to concentrate his scattered forces under the walls of Wittenberg, while his bridge of boats would keep open communications with the left bank.
Charles was too quick for the ponderous Elector. He marched at midnight on April 23-24, and at 9 A.M. reached the Elbe, nearly opposite Muehlberg. As the mist cleared, Alba’s light horse descried the bridge of boats swinging from the farther bank, and a dozen Spaniards, covered by an arquebuse fire, swam the river with swords between their teeth, routed the guard, and brought the boats across. Meanwhile Alba and Maurice found a ford by which the light horse crossed with arquebusiers en croupe. Charles and Ferdinand followed, with the water up to the girths, the Emperor pale as death and thin as a skeleton. The Elector, after attending his Sunday sermon, was enjoying his breakfast; he made no attempt to defend his strong position on the higher bank, but withdrew his guns and infantry, covering the retreat in person with his cavalry. The bulk of the imperial forces had crossed by the bridge of boats, and the day was passed in a running rear-guard action. It was a long-drawn sunset, and not till between six and seven did Alba, as ever making sure, deliver his decisive attack. The Saxon horse had turned fiercely on the pursuing light cavalry some nine miles from Muehlberg, and then the imperialists, striking home, converted the retreat into a headlong flight. More than a third of the Saxon forces were left upon the field; the whole of their artillery and baggage train was taken. John Frederick regained his timid generalship by his personal bravery. Left almost single-handed in the wood through which his troops retired, he slashed at the Neapolitan light-horsemen and Hungarian hussars who surrounded him, but at length surrendered to Ippolito da Porto of Vicenza, who led him, his forehead streaming with blood, to Charles.
Of the interview between the Emperor and his enemy there are several versions, but none inconsistent. “Most powerful and gracious Emperor,” said the Elector, vainly endeavoring to dismount, “I am your prisoner.” “You recognize me as Emperor now?” rejoined Charles. “I am today a poor prisoner; may it please your majesty to treat me as a born prince.” “I will treat you as you deserve,” said Charles. Then broke in Ferdinand, “You have tried to drive me and my children from our lands.”
The evidence as to the angry scene seems conclusive. Charles had been twenty-one hours in the saddle; he had been exasperated by the insolence of the Princess, who had addressed him as “Charles of Ghent, self-styled Emperor.” Yet his harsh reception of a wounded prisoner contrasts unpleasantly with the generosity which his biographers have ascribed to him.
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