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Albrecht Von Wallenstein
The declaration of the great founder of Christianity that he "came not to bring peace, but a sword," receives its completest justification in the history of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ignorant of the constitution of the human mind, and blind to the absurdity of attempting to enforce opinion, the adherents of the old and of the reformed faith, during these two hundred years, scarcely sheathed their swords. The offenders, it is just to say, were generally, but by no means invariably, the Catholics; and the retaliation of the Protestants was seldom inferior in ferocity to the offence received. The "Thirty Years' War" was the bloodiest, as happily it was the last, scene in this great religious tragedy. The greatest Catholic leader of this period was Wallenstein.
Wallenstein's last banquet.
Such was his popularity that in 1619, on the Bohemian revolution breaking out, he was offered by the insurgents the command of their army, although a Catholic. But he steadily refused the offer, and warmly espoused the imperial cause, upon which the Bohemians confiscated his estates. He, however, soon retrieved his fortunes by a second rich marriage, and the favor of the emperor. The Bohemians, under their heroic leaders, the Counts von Mansfeldt and Thurn, ventured to march upon Vienna, and threaten Ferdinand in his capital; but Wallenstein, on June 10, 1619, gained a signal victory over their army, and saved his master's throne. In the following year the Bohemians and Hungarians formally renounced their allegiance; the former setting up Frederick, Elector-Count Palatine of the Rhine, as their king; and the latter, Bethlem Gabor, Prince of Transylvania. Frederick, who was the son-in-law of James I. of England, was as unfit to govern as his father-in-law, and spent his time in a frivolous parade of his rank. He obtained but a doubtful support from the Protestant princes in Germany, who were jealous of his popularity. Ferdinand, assisted by Spain and other Catholic powers, sent a large force into Bohemia, under the command of Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, and totally routed Frederick's army at Prague,-the king fleeing to Breslau, and thence to Holland. The Palatinate was then declared forfeited to the Empire, and was devastated by the Spanish commander, Spinola. Wallenstein, during this campaign, spent his treasures in the imperial cause with the utmost readiness and liberality, and obtained as a reward the lordship of Friedland, which brought him a large revenue. To this he added by the purchase of several forfeited estates in Bohemia, and thus became possessed of immense wealth. In 1621-23 he distinguished himself by defeating Bethlem Gabor, the new King of Hungary, and forcing him to surrender his claim to the crown. For this service Wallenstein was created Duke of Friedland.
A cruel persecution of the Protestants in Bohemia and Silesia dishonored the emperor's success; and the attempt of his officers in Austria to suppress Lutheranism by force, produced a revolution in 1625. It was put down by the energy of Tilly and Pappenheim, two of the greatest generals of their day. The Count von Mansfeldt gallantly upheld the Protestant cause in Westphalia, and other parts of Germany, but was defeated by Tilly, who imposed Catholicism upon all the revolted provinces. In their despair the German Protestants applied for aid to their northern brethren. Gustavus Adolphus, the young and brave King of Sweden, an ardent champion of the Reformed faith, and Christian, King of Denmark, responded to their appeal,-the latter immediately invading the Empire. The imperial finances being considerably reduced by the war, Ferdinand was glad to avail himself of an offer made at this crisis by Wallenstein, to levy an army at his own cost. This offer was abundantly fulfilled. In a few months an army of 30,000 men was collected, as if by magic. Wallenstein was enviously suspected of being in league with the devil, but the secret of his sway was the fascination of his bold and generous nature. He maintained at once thorough toleration, and strict discipline in his ranks.
These results, however, were not attained without injustice. Contributions were levied on the most fertile districts, as yet undesolated by war, to the extent, as it is said, of $60,000,000 in seven years. His popularity with the army procured him the jealousy of Tilly, who, in the campaign of 1625-26, outrivalled him, by successfully combating the invasion of Christian and his Danish forces, and driving them beyond the Elbe. Wallenstein, nevertheless, in the following campaign, won his laurels, both as a statesman and a general, by his intrigues and conquests. Displaying the greatest ardor in the cause of the Empire, he attempted to render it an absolute despotism. After routing Count Mansfeldt on the Elbe, he marched into Hungary, and defeated the united armies of the count and Bethlem Gabor. Christian of Denmark having assembled a new army in 1628, Wallenstein marched to meet it; and, by a series of brilliant successes, recaptured all the towns garrisoned by the Danes, and forced the king to sue for peace. At the Congress of Lubeck, in May, 1629, this was accorded on favorable terms to Denmark. Wallenstein during these campaigns astonished his compeers, and excited their envy, by the wondrous rapidity of his movements, and the skill with which he surmounted difficulties that seemed insuperable. He was rewarded with the duchy of Mecklenburg, which was forfeited to the Empire by the treason of its former owner.
The envious schemes of Tilly and Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, induced Ferdinand to remove Wallenstein from his rank of commander in 1630. He had hardly withdrawn to his Bohemian estates, when Gustavus Adolphus, who had been hitherto prevented from affording active assistance to the Protestant party, landed in Pomerania with a small but highly disciplined army. This illustrious monarch, eminent for virtue and piety, no less than for political wisdom and military skill, was now the sole hope of the Reformation in Germany. The princes who professed its tenets were lukewarm and unready,-divided by jealousies among themselves, and careless of all but their own worldly interests. He, on the contrary, was devoted to the cause of his faith, and his solemn disavowal of personal ambition in undertaking its championship is stamped with sincerity.
He soon commenced a career of conquest. New Brandenburg and other districts yielded to his arms, and he formed an alliance with France, now under the sway of Cardinal Richelieu, which the emperor had vainly negotiated to prevent. The rich city of Magdeburg declared for him, and was accordingly besieged by Tilly. The selfishness of the Lutheran leaders, the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony, in not responding to the appeal of the Protestants in the city, led to its fall in 1631, before Gustavus could reach it. The most atrocious cruelties were perpetrated by the Catholics at the sack; no consideration of age or sex availing to prevent the massacre, which lasted for two days, and extended to 30,000 of the inhabitants. This monstrous crime was severely avenged by the indignant Gustavus. He forced the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony to render him assistance, and, with an augmented army, hesitated not to give battle to Tilly at Leipsic, and defeated him September 7, 1631. The Protestants took courage and joined Gustavus in great numbers. He continued his victorious march, defeating the enemy at Merseberg, capturing Wurzburg, then advancing on the Rhine, and reducing on the way Frankfort-on-the-Main, Mentz, Spires, Mannheim, and other cities. He next turned to Bavaria, where Tilly and Maximilian entrenched themselves at Rain-on-the-Lech. The former was killed by a cannon-ball during the siege, in 1632. Gustavus marched through Augsburg, where the citizens did him homage, and besieged Munich, which speedily surrendered. He now threatened to subdue Bavaria and Austria, when his progress was stopped from an unexpected quarter.
The emperor, justly mistrusting the loyalty of Maximilian, who was in league with France, now saw himself deprived of his ablest generals, and felt his power failing. He turned to Wallenstein as the only man who could save the Empire. That leader was meantime living in retirement, and secretly glad of the success of Gustavus. He refused at first to take the command of the imperial army, and only consented at last on condition of having sole and absolute authority, with the right of disposing as he pleased of his conquests. These humiliating terms were accepted by Ferdinand, and in a few months after the death of Tilly, Wallenstein was in the field with a large and powerful army, raised, as before, by his own exertions. He drove the Saxons from Bohemia, and thence marched to Leipsic, which capitulated. At Nuremberg, where Gustavus offered him battle, he wisely refused, and for three months the two camps remained close to each other, each general trying to exhaust the patience of his adversary, and relying on the destructive effects of famine and pestilence. Gustavus was forced to withdraw, after losing 20,000 men; a yet heavier loss, nevertheless, having befallen Wallenstein, whose numbers were better able to bear it.
Gustavus marched southward, but soon returned to attack Wallenstein, who had moved northward, and was pillaging the neighborhood of Leipsic. The two armies met at Lutzen on November 6, 1632. A dense fog shrouded the movements of each side from the other, and created a fearful confusion. Wallenstein ranged his infantry in squares, having a ditch in front, and flanked by his cavalry. Gustavus headed his men and charged the enemy across the ditch. But his own infantry was borne down by the black cuirassiers of Wallenstein, and, as he turned to attack them, the thick fog concealed their approach. His horse was wounded, and he himself had his arm broken. In moving off the field he was shot in the back, and falling from his saddle was dragged in the stirrup. He fell into the hands of the cuirassiers, one of whom, as the Swedes came up to the succor of their king, shot him through the head. His corpse was discovered after the battle, and honorably buried. The death of their king caused the deepest affliction to the Swedes, but aroused instead of enfeebling their courage. A charge of the Duke of Weimar, one of the Protestant leaders, threw Wallenstein's infantry and cavalry into disorder. An attempt of the Imperialist General Pappenheim, who now came up with a reserve to retrieve the battle, was for a time successful. But as the tide of fortune seemed turning against the Swedes, a reserve of their own army made a last desperate charge, carried the ditch which protected Wallenstein's infantry, and won the day; the Imperialists fleeing in all directions and their great leader escaping into Bohemia.
This defeat was the death-blow to Wallenstein's fortunate career. The Swedes continued to carry on the war successfully under the able minister of Gustavus, Oxenstiern, and the valiant Duke of Weimar. Meantime Wallenstein, after some slight victories in Saxony and Silesia, remained inactive. He at the same time assumed an air of extreme pride and self-sufficiency, which exasperated his enemies and gave occasion for their slanders. He was accused to Ferdinand of designing to seize the Empire,-a charge which seemed the more credible, on account of an offer having been made by France to assist him in obtaining the Bohemian crown. This proposition, however, he had firmly refused. The emperor's intention of removing him from the command of the army having reached his ears, he declared he would resign, but was persuaded to remain by his officers, who at a great banquet, all, with wild and perhaps drunken enthusiasm, signed a promise of inviolable attachment to his person. This, too, was interpreted by his enemies as a conspiracy against the emperor. His destruction was resolved on by the Duke of Bavaria and others, among whom an Italian mercenary general, named Piccolomini, was the most perfidious and savage. A plot was formed against him by certain traitors among his own officers,-the names of Devereaux, Butler, Gordon, and Leslie, to the shame of their nations, appearing in the list.
On February 25, 1634, an entertainment was given to the whole body of officers by Gordon, who commanded the castle of Eger, where Wallenstein was residing. He himself being indisposed, had retired from the table to his chamber. He was roused by loud cries proceeding from the mess-room, where his faithful officers were being murdered by the traitors. He opened the window to inquire the cause of the disturbance, when Devereaux entered, with thirty Irishmen at his back. The cowards shrank at the sight of their great general, standing calm and stern, unarmed, and at their mercy. But Devereaux, a callous and brutal soldier, in a moment stepped forward, and cried: "Art thou the traitor who wilt ruin the Empire?" Wallenstein did not speak, but opened his arms, as if to accept the blow which was aimed at his heart. He was slain at the age of fifty-one. His wealth was chiefly shared among his enemies.
Though undoubtedly ambitious and intriguing, Wallenstein's alleged treachery to the emperor, whom he kept informed of all his schemes, has never been proved, and by many recent historians is disbelieved. He fell a victim to the jealousy of his rivals, which he augmented by his own pride. His fall, however, reflects lasting disgrace on the character of the Emperor Ferdinand, and was justly avenged by the subsequent humiliation of the German Empire.
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