1. The Bohemian Phase: 1618–23
Matthias sent to the Directory an offer of amnesty and negotiation; it was refused.63 Archduke Ferdinand, ignoring the Emperor, dispatched two armies to invade Bohemia. Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate, persuaded Charles Emmanuel, the anti-Hapsburg Duke of Savoy, to send to Bohemia’s aid a force led by an able condottiere, Peter Ernst von Mansfeld; Mansfeld captured Pilsen, the stronghold of the Catholics in Bohemia; Ferdinand’s armies retreated. Christian of Brunswick, Frederick’s Chancellor, suggested to the directors that they would strengthen their defense and better exclude Ferdinand from the throne if they offered it to Frederick. On March 20, 1619, Matthias died, leaving Ferdinand the legal King of Bohemia and heir presumptive to the Imperial crown. On August 19 the Bohemian Diet declared Ferdinand deposed as its king; on the twenty-seventh it proclaimed Frederick of the Palatinate King of Bohemia; on the twenty-eighth the Imperial electors made the Archduke of Styria the Emperor Ferdinand II.
Frederick hesitated to accept his new honors. He knew that, as a leading Calvinist, he could not count on Lutheran support, while against him would be the Empire, the papacy, and Spain. He appealed to his father-in-law, James I of England, for an army; instead, the canny King sent him good advice—to reject the Bohemian throne. Frederick’s gay and spirited wife, Elizabeth, did not urge him to accept, but she promised to share with good cheer whatever fate his choice should bring; and this promise she kept. Christian of Brunswick counseled acceptance. On October 31, 1619, the new King and Queen entered Prague and were enthusiastically welcomed by the Diet and the populace.
Frederick was still a youth of twenty, of fine character and chivalrous disposition, but too immature for statesmanship. One of his first actions after being installed in Prague was to order the removal of all altars and images from the national sanctuary, the Church of St. Vitus, and soon his followers similarly denuded other Bohemian shrines. The Catholic minority denounced the procedure, the Bohemian Lutherans frowned upon it; Lutheran Germany looked coldly on this enthusiastic Calvinist. On April 30, 1620, Ferdinand proclaimed Frederick a usurper and ordered him to leave the Empire by June 1; if he failed to do so he would be declared an outlaw and his property would be confiscated. The Emperor offered to guarantee the Protestant states of Germany freedom from attack if they would give the Catholic states a similar pledge; in the Treaty of Ulm (June 3, 1620) this offer was accepted. The Protestant princes argued that Frederick had endangered their liberties by defying Ferdinand. Elector John George of Saxony aligned his Lutheran state with the Catholic Emperor.
In August an Imperial army of 25,000 men crossed from Austria into Bohemia under Maximilian of Bavaria’s general, Johan Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, who had learned his piety from the Jesuits and the art of war from the Duke of Parma. Near the White Mountain, west of Prague, this army met and routed the Bohemians (November 8). Frederick, Elizabeth, and their entourage fled to Silesia. Failing to raise an army there, the King and Queen dismissed their followers and sought refuge in Calvinist Brandenburg. On the day after the battle Maximilian of Bavaria occupied Prague. Soon Catholicism was restored; images were replaced in the churches; the Jesuits were called in; all education was put under Catholic control; no religion was to be allowed except Catholicism and Judaism. Communion in wine as well as bread was abolished; John Huss’s Day, formerly a national festival, was made a day of mourning, with all churches closed. Thirty leading rebels were arrested; twenty-seven were executed; and for ten years twelve severed skulls grinned from the tower of the Charles Bridge over the Moldau.64 All rebels were forbidden to emigrate. Their property was forfeited to King Ferdinand, who sold it at bargain prices to Catholics; a new Catholic nobility was established, on the basis of peasant serfdom. The middle and commercial classes almost disappeared.
While Maximilian of Bavaria was thus refuting Calvinism in Bohemia, Spinola, during the truce in the Netherlands, led a large force from Flanders to capture the Palatinate. Some minor Protestant princes raised a force to oppose him, and Frederick, leaving his wife in The Hague, joined their camp. When Spinola was recalled to the Netherlands by the renewal of the Dutch war with Spain, Tilly replaced him, defeated the Protestants (1622), and captured and pillaged Heidelberg. The great library of the university was packed into fifty wagons and transported to Rome as a gift from Maximilian of Bavaria to Gregory XV. Maximilian, returning in triumph from Bohemia, was given the Palatinate and its electoral privilege in return for his services to the Emperor. Catholic states now had a majority in the Electoral Diet.
The scope and thoroughness of the Catholic victory disturbed Catholic as well as Protestant potentates. The increased prestige and power of Ferdinand II threatened the “liberties” of the German princes; Maximilian was disturbed to find that he was permitted to hold the Palatinate and Bavaria only as dependencies of the Emperor. Pope Urban VIII sympathized with the French view that the Hapsburgs were becoming too strong for the good of France and the freedom of the papacy, and he winked at Richelieu’s taxing of French Catholics to help German Protestants—and later a Swedish king—against a Catholic Emperor. In 1624 the amazing Cardinal suddenly transformed the political scene with a succession of diplomatic strokes. On June 10 he signed an alliance with the Protestant Dutch against Catholic Flanders and Spain; on June 15 he brought Protestant England into the bond; on July 9, Sweden and Denmark; on July 11 he persuaded Savoy and Venice to join him in an attempt to cut the Spanish-Austrian line of supplies and reinforcements through the Valtelline passes in the Italian-Swiss Alps. In 1625 Christian IV of Denmark brought 20,000 men to join Mansfeld’s 4,000 in Lower Saxony. Alarmed, Maximilian urged the Emperor to send aid to Tilly, whose 18,000 troops had been reduced to 10,000 by weather, hunger, and disease. Ferdinand responded by summoning Wallenstein from Bohemia.
2. Wallenstein: 1623–30
His real name was Albrecht von Waldstein, and he regularly signed himself so.65 His family was one of the oldest in the Bohemian nobility. Born in 1583, he was educated first by the Bohemian Brethren, then by the Jesuits; he married a rich widow, who soon died, leaving him her fortune. He multiplied it by buying, at prices made nominal by the depreciation of the Bohemian currency, sixty-eight estates confiscated by Ferdinand. He was an intelligent and progressive landlord; he improved agricultural methods and production, financed industry, organized schools, medical services, and poor relief, and laid up surpluses to feed his people in time of famine. He impressed his contemporaries not only by his military genius, but by his tall, thin figure, his pale, stern face, his nervous restlessness, his pride and arrogance, his hot commanding temper. His “immutable chastity”66 made him seem superhuman. His confidence in astrology was more active than his faith in Christ.
He had endeared himself to Ferdinand by supporting him at every stage in the Archduke’s rise to power; and from 1619 onward he lent the Emperor great sums that almost financed the throne—for example, 200,-000 gulden in 1621, 500,000 in 1623. He exacted no security for these loans; it was enough that he owned a fourth of Bohemia, could raise an army at will, and could lead it with superlative skill. When, in 1624, the Valtelline passes had fallen under French-Venetian control, and Spanish soldiers and supplies could no longer go from Italy to Austria, Wallenstein offered to mobilize 50,000 men and put them at the service of the Emperor. Ferdinand hesitated, knowing Wallenstein’s love of power; but Tilly, in 1625, cried out for reinforcements. Ferdinand commissioned Wallenstein to mobilize 20,000 men. With startling speed this new army marched into Lower Saxony, well equipped, well disciplined, idolizing its commander, and feeding itself by ravaging the countryside.
Wallenstein repulsed Mansfeld at Dessau, and Tilly defeated Christian IV at Lutter (1626). Mansfeld died, and Christian found his diminishing army helpless and mutinous. The great alliance formed by Richelieu had fallen apart through Gustavus Adolphus’ jealousy of Christian IV, through England’s declaration of war upon France, and Buckingham’s expedition to aid the Huguenots at La Rochelle; Richelieu had to withdraw his forces from the Valtelline passes, which were again open to Austria and Spain. Wallenstein, his army growing with each day, marched into Brandenburg and forced its Elector George William to declare for the Emperor. He pushed on into Christian’s own duchy of Holstein, easily overcoming all resistance. By the end of 1627 all the mainland of Denmark was in his power.
The salt air of the Baltic inflated Wallenstein’s plans. Now that nearly all the northern coast of Germany and most of Denmark were under the Emperor, why not build an Imperial navy, revive the Hanse, and, in alliance with Catholic Poland, establish Imperial control over the Baltic and North seas? Then the Dutch and the English could no longer bring lumber from Baltic ports through the Sound to build their fleets for control of the North Sea and its trade, or to close the Channel to Spain. Imperial possession of the Palatinate gave the Emperor control of the Rhine; so the Dutch would be blocked on river and sea; their power, their wealth, their obstinate revolution would collapse. Gustavus Adolphus would be shut up in the Scandinavian peninsula. Already in 1627 Wallenstein was styling himself Admiral of the Oceanic and Baltic Sea.
The German princes were not quite happy over his victories. They noted that whereas the army of the Catholic League, under Maximilian of Bavaria and the Count of Tilly, was now fallen to some 20,000 men, Wallenstein commanded 140,000 troops, and acknowledged responsibility only to the Emperor. So long as the Emperor had this army behind him, he could make short work of the princely “liberties.” Indeed, Wallenstein was probably nursing the idea of ending feudal sovereignties and uniting all Germany into one powerful state, as Richelieu was doing in Trance and as Bismarck was to do in Germany 240 years later.
During the winter of 1627–28 the Imperial electors, meeting at Mülhausen, debated their hopes and fears. The Catholic electors were inclined to support Wallenstein, trusting that he would eradicate Protestantism from the land of its birth. But when Ferdinand deposed the Protestant Duke of Mecklenburg and transferred the duchy to Wallenstein (March 11, 1628), even the Catholic princes were alarmed by the Emperor’s assumption of power to depose and appoint dukes by his sole will. The electors had one card to play against Ferdinand. He was about to ask them to name his son King of Rome—i.e., to guarantee the son’s succession to the Imperial throne. On March 28 they notified the Emperor that while his armies continued under Wallenstein’s command they would not guarantee the succession. And Maximilian of Bavaria warned him that the general’s army and power, if not soon reduced, would dictate Imperial policy.
As if to point this warning, Wallenstein, apparently on his own authority, began secret negotiations with Christian IV, culminating in the Peace of Lübeck (May 22, 1629). To the surprise of Europe he restored to the Danish King Jutland, Schleswig, and the royal portion of Holstein, exacted no indemnity, but merely required the cession of Christian’s German sees and military authority. What had motivated this generosity? Partly fear of a Western coalition against Imperial control of the Baltic and the straits; partly the belief that Gustavus Adolphus was planning to invade Germany. In the end, Wallenstein foresaw, the issue would be between himself and Gustavus, not Christian.
Ferdinand may have been disturbed by his general’s assumption of diplomatic authority, but his rising suspicions and jealousy had to be concealed, for he was now planning the boldest move of his career, and would need the support of Wallenstein’s troops at every stage of the perilous game. His Jesuit advisers had long been pleading with him to take advantage of his new power, and by Imperial edict to restore to the Catholic Church as much as possible of the property and revenues that had been taken from her since the outbreak of the Reformation, or at least since 1552. Ferdinand, strongly Catholic, saw some justice in the plea, but underestimated its practical difficulties. Since 1552 many properties originally belonging to the Church had been bought and paid for by their present possessors. To effect the restitution thousands of proprietors would have to be dispossessed, presumably by force, and the consequent chaos might throw all Germany into revolution. Maximilian of Bavaria had once favored the idea; now he was appalled by its scope and implications, and he urged the Emperor to defer it until a Diet could give it careful consideration. Ferdinand feared that the Diet would reject it. On March 6, 1629, he promulgated his Edict of Restitution. “There remains nothing for us,” it said, “but to uphold the injured party, and to send forth our commissioners that they may demand from the present unauthorized possessors the restitution of all archbishoprics, bishoprics, prelacies, monasteries, and other ecclesiastical property confiscated since the Treaty of Passau” (1552). This was the Counter Reformation with a vengeance. It was also an assertion of absolute Imperial power, such as even Charles V might have hesitated to assume.
The edict was met with widespread and passionate protests, but it was enforced. Whenever resistance was attempted Wallenstein’s soldiers were called in, and opposition collapsed everywhere except at Magdeburg, which successfully withstood Wallenstein’s siege. Entire cities—Augsburg, Rothenburg, Dortmund—and thirty towns passed into Catholic hands; so did five bishoprics and a hundred monasteries. Hundreds of Catholic parishes were reconstituted. As the principle Cuius regio eius religio was applied by the new owners, requiring the subjects to accept the religion of the ruler, thousands of Protestants were compelled to apostatize or emigrate; from Augsburg alone eight thousand went into exile, including the Elias Holl who had just completed its stately town hall. Exiled Protestant pastors wandered about the country begging for bread; the Catholic priests who had replaced them petitioned the government to give them relief.67 Only the coming of Gustavus Adolphus prevented the final success of the edict, and of the Counter Reformation in Germany.
Having used Wallenstein’s army to enforce the edict, and finding no Protestant armies in the field, Ferdinand was no longer obstinate about retaining him. In May 1630 he asked the general to release 30,000 of his men for service in Italy. Wallenstein objected, urging that the King of Sweden was planning to invade the Empire; he was overruled, and the 30,000 men were taken. In July the electors again proposed the removal of Wallenstein. The Emperor agreed, and on September 13 he notified the officers of the army that their general had been replaced in supreme command by Maximilian of Bavaria. Wallenstein retired peacefully to his estates in Bohemia, knowing that Gustavus had landed on German soil and that the Empire would soon need a general again.
3. Gustavus’ Saga: 1630–32
We must not picture the great King as a Galahad going forth to save the true religion from idolaters. His task was to preserve and strengthen Sweden in political independence and economic development; for these ends he fought against Catholic Poland, Orthodox Russia, Protestant Denmark; if now he dared to match his modest resources against Empire, papacy and Spain combined, it was not because these were Catholic, but because they threatened to make his country the vassal of alien and hostile potentates. He felt that the best defense against such a threat was to establish Swedish bastions on the mainland. Protestant Saxony hesitated, and Catholic France was led to ally itself with Gustavus, because they knew that the issue was no theorem in theology but a struggle for security through power. Nevertheless religion, though a minor motive among the leaders, was a passionate stimulus among the people, and its energy had to be added to patriotism to lift the populace to martial holocausts.
So Gustavus, disembarking his 13,000 troops in Pomerania, offered himself to the north-German states as the savior of Protestantism, and to France as a sword against the swelling Hapsburgs. He waited for reinforcements from Sweden, Scotland, Brandenburg, and Poland, till he had some 40,000 men, well disciplined, armed with the new-style flintlock (not the old matchlock) muskets, and trained to move swiftly with their light artillery. The commander was still young, only thirty-six, but despite his campaigns he had grown stout, and was a problem to his horses as well as to his enemies. Nevertheless he was too often in front of the fray, confidently following his golden beard to victory. His soldiers loved him not because he was lenient, but because he was just. While German armies were followed by flocks of prostitutes so numerous that special officers were appointed to keep them in order, Gustavus allowed no courtesan in his camp, though wives were allowed to serve their soldier husbands.68 Every morning and evening each regiment attended prayer, and every Sunday it heard a sermon; here was the discipline of Cromwell’s Ironsides a decade before Cromwell’s wars. Like Cromwell, Gustavus forbade forcible conversions; wherever he conquered he left religion free.
He spent the remainder of 1630 in spreading his control through Pomerania and seeking allies. If he could associate in one crusade all the foes of the Hapsburgs, he might have an army of 100,000 men, fit to face Wallenstein’s. On January 13, 1631, France and Sweden signed a bond by which the King would find the men, and the Cardinal would supply 400,000 thalers ($4,000,000?) annually, for a five-year campaign; neither power was to make peace without the consent of the other, and Gustavus bound himself not to interfere with the exercise of the Catholic religion. Richelieu invited Maximilian to join this alliance; instead, the Duke-Elector sent Tilly to check the Swedish advance. Tilly took Neubrandenburg (March 19, 1631), and slaughtered the garrison of 3,000 men. Gustavus took Frankfurt an der Oder (April 13), and slaughtered the garrison of 2,000 men. While the King spent time in efforts to add John George of Saxony to his alliance, Tilly and Count zu Pappenheim besieged Magdeburg, which was still resisting the Edict of Restitution. On May 20, after holding out for six months, the city was taken; the victorious troops ran riot in four days of pillage; in the greatest shambles of the war 20,000 persons were slain—not only the garrison of 3,000 men, but 17,000 of the 36,000 inhabitants; and all of the city but the cathedral was burned to the ground. A contemporary writer described the scene:
Then was there naught but beating and burning, plundering, torture, and murder. Most especially was everyone of the enemy bent on securing much booty…. What with blows and threats of shooting, stabbing, or hanging, the poor people were so terrified that if they had had anything left they would have brought it forth if it had been … hidden away in a thousand castles. In this frenzied rage the great and splendid city that had stood like a fair princess in the land was now … given over to the flames, and thousands of innocent men, women, and children, in the midst of a horrible din of heart-rending shrieks and cries, were tortured and put to death in so cruel and shameful a manner that no words would suffice to describe, nor tears to bewail it.69
Tilly, now an old man of seventy-one, did what he could to stop the massacre; he rightly predicted that the Protestant states would “without doubt be only strengthened in their hatred” by this destruction of one of their fairest cities.
On July 22, 1631, the Elector of Brandenburg placed all his resources at Gustavus’ disposal; on April 30 John George allied Saxony with Sweden; and on September 17 the combined Swedish and Saxon armies overwhelmed the outnumbered forces of Tilly at Breitenfeld, near Leipzig. This was the first substantial Protestant victory in the war; it revived the spirit of the Protestant population; and the figure of the Swedish King, fighting without armor in the thick of that battle, covered with dust and sweat but guiding and leading his men fearlessly, became a heartening symbol to a people so recently divided, defenseless, and cowed by the army of Wallenstein. Mecklenburg was recaptured, and the deposed Duke was restored. One state after another entered the Swedish alliance; soon Gustavus controlled a line stretching across Germany from the Oder to the Rhine. He took up his headquarters at Mainz, in the heart of a region normally Catholic. In November John George marched his Saxon army, unresisted, into Prague, carefully sparing Wallenstein’s estates on the way.
Ferdinand, left with no ally but impoverished Spain and no general except the aged Tilly, turned humbly to Wallenstein (December 1631), and asked him to raise an army for the rescue of Bohemia and the protection of Austria. The proud general agreed, but on extraordinary terms: he was to have supreme command of all Imperial forces; he was to have authority to negotiate and sign treaties, except with Adolphus; in lands conquered by him he was to have the right of confiscation and pardon. In April 1632 all these conditions were granted. Wallenstein collected an army and the funds to finance it, offered John George a separate peace, and recaptured Prague without a shot. The Saxon army retreated into Saxony.
Meanwhile Gustavus took the field and defeated Tilly at Rain (April 15); Tilly died a fortnight later of his wounds, and Gustavus occupied Munich. Wallenstein marched out of Bohemia and joined his army with Maximilian’s. Gustavus was now greatly outnumbered in men; his allies, suspecting him of Imperial ambitions, were restless and unreliable; his troops, beginning to starve, were pillaging and alienating Protestants as well as Catholics. John George, in his cups, revealed his anxiety to rid himself of the Swedish King. Gustavus had hoped to capture Vienna, but now, fearing that John George would join Wallenstein, he turned north. At Nuremberg, conscious that the tide was running against him, he sent final instructions to Oxenstierna for carrying on the Swedish government and the war. At Erfurt he bade farewell to his wife. On November 16, 1632, at Lützen, near Leipzig, the two greatest generals of the age came at last face to face: Gustavus with 25,000, Wallenstein with 40,000 men. All day the armies fought and bled, wavered and re-formed. Wallenstein was forced to give way, but Pappenheim reversed that rout till, shot through the lung, he choked with blood and died. Gustavus, seeing his center retreat, put himself at the head of a regiment of cavalry and led a wild rally. A bullet struck his bridle arm, another his horse; he fell; a bullet entered his back; Imperial cuirassiers closed around him and asked who he was; he answered, “I am the King of Sweden, who do seal the religion and liberty of the German nation with my blood.”70They drove their swords again and again into his body, and shouted out the news of his death. Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, took over the command; and the Swedes, maddened by the loss of their King, carried everything before them, won the costly victory, and reclaimed Gustavus’ body, riddled with shot and sword. That night the defeated rejoiced and the victors mourned, for the Lion of the North was dead.
4. Degradation: 1633–48
Thereafter greatness left the war. Richelieu took the leadership of the German Protestants, Oxenstierna carried on his dead master’s will with wise diplomacy, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar led the French, Banér and Torstensson the Swedes, to new victories; but the glory was departed and only the horror remained. The Protestant princes were half relieved at Gustavus’ death; they grudged the heavy price he had been forced to take for rescuing them from Ferdinand; and in the process their fields had been ravaged by the rival armies, their cities had been destroyed, and a foreign King had led Germans against Germans to a hundred thousand deaths.
Wallenstein, having for the first time tasted defeat, seemed to lose his nerve. After Lützen he retired to Bohemia and slowly organized another army. But he too, now fifty, was tired of war, and he hoped for leisure to treat his gout. He negotiated independently with the Protestant leaders, even with Richelieu;71 and Ferdinand must have known that Bohemian exiles, with Oxenstierna’s approval, were plotting to place Wallenstein on the Bohemian throne.72 When Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar led an army into Bavaria, Maximilian and Ferdinand begged Wallenstein to come to the rescue; Wallenstein replied that he could spare no men for such a move. He quartered his idle army on the Imperial estates in Bohemia; the Emperor asked him to lighten the contributions imposed upon these Imperial lands; Wallenstein refused.
On December 31, 1633, Ferdinand and his Council decided that their greatest general must be deposed. Rumors were disseminated through Wallenstein’s army that he was plotting to make himself King of Bohemia, and Louis XIII King of the Romans. On February 18 Imperial orders were posted throughout his army, relieving him of his command. Four days later, taking a thousand men with him, he fled from Pilsen. At Eger, on the twenty-fifth, a few soldiers, hoping for reward, broke into his room, found him alone and unarmed, and pierced him through with their swords. “Presently,” reported a contemporary, “they drew him out by the heels, his head knocking on every stair.”73 The assassins hurried to Vienna, where they received promotion, money, and land. The Emperor, who had spent days and nights in fear and prayer, thanked God for His co-operation.
The war dragged on fourteen years more. Ferdinand’s twenty-six-year old son and namesake replaced Wallenstein as commander in chief of the Imperial armies. He was a likable youth, educated, kindly, generous, loving philosophy, writing music, carving ivory, yet no fool on the battlefield. Helped by older generals, he overwhelmed Bernhard at Nördlingen in the most decisive Imperialist victory of the war. The Protestant forces neared collapse. Oxenstierna saved the situation by the Treaty of Compiègne (April 28, 1635), which committed Richelieu to fuller participation in the conflict; but the Protestant princes of Germany did not relish the prospect of a French cardinal determining their fate. One by one they followed John George of Saxony in making peace with the Emperor, who welcomed them because he saw himself faced with the armies, as well as the money, of France. By the Treaty of Prague (May 30, 1635) he agreed to suspend the Edict of Restitution for forty years, and in return most of the Protestant princes promised to help him and his allies to recover all territories lost by them since the coming of Adolphus. As these included Lorraine, the treaty was in effect aimed at France as well as Sweden; it was a reassertion of German unity against invaders. The religious question disappeared from the war. By the end of 1635 the army of Protestant Saxony was fighting the Protestant Swedes in northern Germany, where Banér and Torstensson, with a military genius worthy of Gustavus, struggled to hold some Continental possessions for Sweden’s security.
In the west Bernhard stood off bravely the growing forces of the Empire. In 1638 France sent him funds and, better still, 2,000 troops under Turenne, who was already rising to fame as a general. So reinforced, Bernhard undertook a campaign memorable in military annals for tenacity of purpose and brilliance of strategy. He defeated the Imperialists at Wittenweier, and compelled the great fortress of Breisach to capitulate. Then, exhausted at thirty-four, he died (1639), and his army and his conquests, including Alsace, passed to France.
The old Emperor had left the scene in 1637, and Ferdinand III, inheriting an Empire of untaxable destitution, found it almost impossible to finance armies against a Richelieu who could still wring francs from impoverished France. In 1642 Torstensson carried the Swedish arms to within twenty-five miles of Vienna and won a major victory in the second battle of Breitenfeld, where the Imperialists lost 10,000 men. The defeated Archduke Leopold William, brother of the young Emperor, court-martialed his officers for cowardice, beheaded those of high rank, hanged those of less degree, and shot every tenth man in the ranks of the survivors.74
Every year seemed now to bring new blows to the new Emperor. In 1643 his ally Spain was broken by the victory of the Duke of Enghien at Rocroi; in 1644 Enghien and Turenne conquered the Rhineland as far north as Mainz; in 1645 Torstensson again swept down almost to the gates of Vienna, the French won a bloody battle at Allerheim, and a Swedish army under Count Hans Christoph von Königsmarck overran Saxony, took Leipzig, and forced John George out of the war. The Bavarian army had been driven out of the Palatinate in 1634; in 1646 Turenne invaded and devastated Bavaria itself, and the once proud Maximilian sued for peace and begged the Emperor to come to terms with France. Ferdinand III, not as somberly inflexible as his father, and hearing the cry of the prostrate Empire, sent his ablest negotiators to Westphalia to seek some compromise between the faiths and the dynasties.
He was too young to know that the carnage and the desolation were probably greater than men had ever wrought in one generation in any land before. There were not two armies but six—German, Danish, Swedish, Bohemian, Spanish, French; armies manned largely by mercenaries or foreigners having no attachment to the German people or soil or history, and led by military adventurers fighting for any faith for a fee; armies fed by appropriating the grains and fruits and cattle of the fields, quartered and wintering in the homes of the people, and recompensed with the right to plunder and the ecstasy of killing and rape. To massacre any garrison that had refused to surrender, after surrender had become inevitable, was a principle accepted by all combatants. Soldiers felt that civilians were legitimate prey; they shot at their feet in the streets, conscripted them as servants, kidnaped their children for ransom, fired their haystacks and burned their churches for fun. They cut off the hands and feet of a Protestant pastor who resisted the wrecking of his church; they tied priests under wagons, forcing them to crawl on all fours till they fainted with exhaustion.75 The right of a soldier to rape was taken for granted; when a father asked for justice against a soldier who had raped and killed his daughter, he was informed by the commanding officer that if the girl had not been so stingy with her virginity she would still be alive.76
Despite the spreading promiscuity, the population of Germany rapidly declined during the war. The decline has been exaggerated and was temporary, but it was catastrophic. Moderate estimates reckon a fall, in Germany and Austria, from 21,000,000 to 13,500,000.77 Count von Lützow calculated a reduction of population in Bohemia from 3,000,000 to 800,000.78 Of 35,000 villages existing in Bohemia in 1618, some 29,000 were deserted during the conflict.79 Throughout the Empire hundreds of villages were left without a single inhabitant. In some regions one might travel sixty miles without seeing a village or a house.80 Of 1,717 houses standing in nineteen Thuringian villages in 1618 only 627 stood in 1649, and many of these were untenanted.81
Thousands of fertile acres were left untilled for lack of men, draft animals, or seed, or because peasants had no assurance that they could reap where they had sown. Crops were used to feed armies, and what remained was burned to prevent the feeding of foes. Peasants in many localities were reduced to eating hidden remnants or dogs, cats, rats, acorns, grass; some dead were found with grass in their mouths. Men and women competed with ravens and dogs for the flesh of dead horses. In Alsace hanged offenders were torn from the gallows to be eagerly devoured; in the Rhineland exhumed bodies were sold for food; at Zweibrücken a woman confessed to having eaten her child.82 Transportation was too disrupted to let a local surplus feed a distant drought; roads were torn up with battle, or dangerous with brigands, or clogged with deserters and fugitives.
The towns suffered only less than the villages. Many of them were reduced to half their former population. Great cities were in ruins—Magdeburg, Heidelberg, Würzburg, Neustadt, Bayreuth. Industry declined for lack of producers, purchasers, and trade; commerce hid its head; once-wealthy merchants begged and robbed for bread. Communes, declaring themselves bankrupt, repudiated their debts. Financiers were loath to lend, fearing that loans would be gifts. Taxation impoverished everybody but generals, tax collectors, prelates, and kings. The air was poisonous with refuse and offal and carcasses rotting in the streets. Epidemics of typhus, typhoid, dysentery, and scurvy ran through the terrified population and from town to town. Spanish troops passing through Munich left a plague that in four months carried off 10,000 victims.83 The arts and letters that had ennobled the cities withered in the heat of war.
Morals and morale alike collapsed. The fatalism of despair invited the cynicism of brutality. All the ideals of religion and patriotism disappeared after a generation of violence; simple men now fought for food or drink or hate, while their masters mobilized their passions in the competition for taxable lands and political power. Here and there some humane features showed: Jesuits gathering and feeding deserted children; preachers demanding of governments an end to bloodshed and destruction. “God send that there may be an end at last,” wrote a peasant in his daybook. “God send that there may be peace again. God in heaven, send us peace.”84