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Posted on Dec 13, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

The 30 Years War

By Luis Reis

Some reports, tell us that a monk brought along a picture of St. Mary which had been defaced by the Protestants, which incited the Catholic troops to fight with more conviction against the blasphemy of the Protestants.

On the imperial side, the Count of Tilly observed the enemy position and sent his well-trained men (some 18,500 infantry and 6,500 cavalry) over a small bridge crossing the brook that separated the two armies. In just two hours of heavy fighting, they smashed through the center of the enemy line. The number of casualties suffered by Christian’s side, more than 5,000 (dead or injured) compared to the 700 suffered by Tilly’s show how big of a slaughter this fight was. This decided the conflict now known as The Battle of White Mountain.


What was the aftermath of this battle? With the Bohemian army destroyed, Tilly entered Prague and the revolt broke down. King Frederick V fled the country (hence his nickname the Winter King). A total of 27 noble leaders of the insurrection were executed at Prague’s Old Town Square, after being trailed and condemned along with a huge number of common people to set an example.

The Palatinate Phase

With his army victorious, Ferdinand II carried out his threat to impose the Ban on Frederick V. On 21 January 1621 that prince, one of the seven Electors, possessor of one of the most ancient titles of the Empire, was made an outlaw.

Utterly demoralized by defeat, the Protestant Union met at Worms throughout the fall and winter of 1621. Despite exhortations from Frederick, then in Silesian exile, they were unwilling to sacrifice themselves before the Spanish juggernaut the Winter King had unleashed.

They convened one last time at Heilbronn on 7 February 1621 to determine whether to carry on. There the Emperor, by the mouth of Louis of Hesse-Darmstadt, cowed the Union into inaction by threat of the Ban.

Nonetheless, the Union was still at least nominally the defender of Frederick’s Rhenish lands. On 12 April the Union entered into the Armistice of Mainz with the Spaniards. In this compact, the Palatinate was placed under truce until July 1621 and the Union formally abandoned the defense of the Palatinate unless Frederick should renounce his pretensions to the Bohemian throne. The Union had originally been organized to endure for a fixed term: on 14 May 1621, the Union expired.

After the fall of Prague (which he had done so little to defend), Mansfeldt had been appointed Frederick’s generalissimo in Bohemia. This meant that he still held Pilsen and Tabor on behalf of Frederick. Over the winter, the victorious Imperials quickly rooted him from these holes and he shifted his army from Pilsen to the temporary safety of the Upper Palatinate.

However, after the reduction of Bohemia, Tilly pursued into the Upper Palatinate, taking Cham on 23 September 1621. Mansfeldt treated with Tilly a while, beguiling the League general with the prospect that Mansfeldt would bring his entire army over to Tilly’s banner. In the event, Mansfeldt gathered his army and fled west. Tilly took the Upper Palatinate without a shot being fired.

On 25 October 1621 Mansfeldt’s troops arrived just in time to relieve Frankenthal from the besieging Spaniards. Tilly and the army of the Catholic League pursued Mansfeldt after their conquest of the Upper Palatinate. However, they did not attack Mansfeldt: the Spanish were unwilling to coordinate an attack and Tilly feared to attack alone. Mansfeldt occupied the Habsburg dominion of the Alsace for his winter quarters.

The Spanish passivity arose not from cowardice, but diplomacy. England and Spain were seeking to persuade Frederick to formally renounce the throne of Bohemia he had lost in return for which he would be allowed to retain his German lands. Unfortunately, Frederick, landless outlaw though he was, would not accede to this plan. Rather than regain his lands by peace, Frederick thought to win them by war.

In 1622 he raised three separate armies to recover his domains. The first of these was Mansfeldt’s already-existing army. This force had been strengthened to 22,000 by extensive recruiting in the ravaged Alsace. The second force was George of Baden-Durlach’s army of 11,000 men, raised in his territories. The last of these was Christian of Brunswick’s army, marching from the north to Frederick’s relief.

Christian had raised an army of 10,000 in Lower Saxony. He had marched into the Westphalian bishoprics of Münster and Paderborn, of which Maximilian of Bavaria’s brother, Ferdinand, Elector of Cologne, was the bishop. There he spent the winter of 1621-22 extorting money from the citizenry and looting the Catholic churches.

It was planned that Mansfeldt would march north and George march south, and the two forces join in the Lower Palatinate. The joined armies of Mansfeldt and Baden-Durlach defeated Cordoba’s Spaniards at Wiesloch on 27 April 1622. The two armies then split and marched north separately to meet Christian of Brunswick.

By early May, the forces of Christian of Brunswick had arrived to the north of the Neckar River and were prepared to assist the Protestant forces. This came as good news to the combined forces of von Mansfeldt and George Friederich who hoped to combine their armies before risking a major battle.

On May 6, to gain time and to attempt to split the combined Catholic army, Mansfeldt crossed the Neckar River near Heidelberg while Georg Friedrich marched east up the river to cross at Wimpfen. The plan failed as the troops under Tilly and Cordoba did not split and instead pursued the 14,000 strong army of George Friederich and cut him off near Wimpfen. Outnumbered, the Margrave of Baden-Durlach positioned his troops in a defensive position on a low hill outside of the village. Here the Protestants made an effective stand, rallied by a strong artillery position until a Spanish shot exploded the Protestant magazine. This would cost the Protestants their position and the Catholics drove the hill and shattered the Protestant army. George then fled to Stuttgart with but a few remaining men under his command.

Meanwhile, Mansfeldt was hurriedly trying to meet up with Christian who was positioned at the Main, Cordoba and Tilly were in hot pursuit to keep this junction from occurring. On 20 June 1622, Christian of Brunswick was intercepted at Höchst while trying to cross the Main and join Mansfeldt on the southern bank of that river. There he too was defeated by the army of Spain and the Catholic League.

Despite the check by Tilly’s forces, Christian was able to cross the river with most of his troops and all of the spoils of Westphalia. He and Mansfeldt joined and retired to the south. On 13 July 1622, Frederick disbanded his armies.

The newly-masterless Christian and Mansfeldt resolved to join the Dutch armies. The joint force marched into the Netherlands and appeared just in time to raise the Spanish siege of Bergen-Op-Zoom. The grateful Dutch took the freebooters into their service.

While his opponent made war at the peace table, Marshall Tilly devoted himself to war, and the taking the fortified positions retained by Frederick. On 1 July 1622 he opened the siege of Heidelberg, which was taken on 19 September 1622. Mannheim followed on 2 November 1622. Only Frankenthal remained loyal to Frederick.

Throughout the ordeal of the Lower Palatinate, Protestant and anti-Habsburg powers had been unable to unite to provide help to Frederick’s remaining forces. The Protestant Dutch, raven by internal dissension and facing a renewed assault after the expiration of their 12-year truce with the Spanish could not commit forces to the Empire. Likewise, the Christian IV, Lutheran King of Denmark was similarly unwilling to attack on his own.

Both powers looked to James I of England to unite the Protestant powers against the House of Austria. However, James pursued the mirage of a diplomatic solution, deluded by his dreams of a marriage alliance between his son Prince Charles and the Infanta (Princess) of Spain.

The Spanish had, by now, taken all of the Lower Palatinate. During a peace conference (between England and Spain) at Brussels, in June 1622, the only combatant was Tilly, who was attempting to secure the remainder for his master, Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria. Although James protested vigorously against Tilly’s attacks (particularly against Heidelberg, which was garrisoned by English volunteers), the Spanish would (and could) do nothing.

By the end of the negotiations in November, the only place still held by Frederick was Frankenthal. As this was also garrisoned by Englishmen, in March, 1623 James required it be given over to Isabella, Archduchess of the Spanish Netherlands pending resumption of talks. If Frederick were able to make his peace with the Emperor within eighteen months, it would be his again.

However, the Emperor himself had plans that would make peace with Frederick impossible.

Outraged by the Emperor’s elevation of Maximillian to the Elector’s rank, and concerned, at long last, by the implications of Spanish and Imperial control of the lower Rhineland, the anti-Habsburg powers began once more to support the efforts of the feckless Frederick to regain Bohemia.

A two-pronged attack was planned. Mansfeldt, who had been biding his time in the service of the United Provinces, was to be seconded once again to Frederick’s employ and retrace his steps westward toward Bohemia.

Christian of Brunswick, who had returned to the Lower Saxon Circle to recruit another army, was to march his armies eastward and join Mansfeldt. The combined armies were then to march southward against Bohemia. Meanwhile, Bethlen Gabor (prince of Transylvania, and Duke of Opole) and the exiled Count Thurn were to attack Bohemia from the south.

Tilly, of course, had other ideas. He marched his forces from the Lower Palatinate northwest to the Lower Saxon Circle. There his veteran forces were an insuperable barrier between Brunswick and Bohemia. Checked, Brunswick led his army toward the Dutch and safety. Not content to passively protect Bohemia, Tilly pursued. At Stadtlohn Tilly’s veteran forces would crush Brunswick’s recruits. This battle was fought on August 6, 1623.

Taking a strong position on a hill, Christian’s forces withstood several attacks of increasing intensity before an attack by the Catholics caused the cavalry on Christian’s wings finally to break and rout. On this sight, the infantrymen attempted to do the same, but were stopped by a bog to the rear of them. What then turned into a disorganized retreat became a bloodbath as Tilly’s forces swept upon the routing Protestants, killing some 6,000 and capturing 4,000 more as prisoners of war. Among the losses were 50 of Christian’s highest ranking officers, and all of his artillery and ammunition. Christian himself escaped alongside 2,000 cavalrymen.

Stadtlohn was the end of the combined operation; Brunswick had lost two thirds of his forces. Mansfeldt, low on cash, disbanded his forces and Bethlen Gabor, unprepared to confront the Imperial might unaided, sued once more for peace.

Reference Works

The Thirty Years War, from Wikipedia
The Thirty Years War, by Chris Atkinson
The Thirty Years War, from Catholic Encyclopedia
The Thirty Years War, from History of Protestantism y James A. Wylie (1878),
History of the Thirty Years War, by Friedrich von Schiller
The Thirty Years War, from Library of Congress, Country Studies
The Thirty Years War, from Fredrika Bremergymnasiet
The Thirty Years War : Sweden, from Mikael Andersson
The Thirty Years War, from History Learning Site
The Thirty Years War, from World History at KMLA Site
The Thirty Years War, from Pipeline Site
The Cambridge Modern History, Volume IV, The Thirty Years’ War
The Thirty Years War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe
, 1618-1648 by Asch, Ronald G.
The Thirty Years’ War by Lee, Stephen J
The Thirty Years War: 1618-1648 by Pagès, Georges
The Thirty Years’ War Edited by Parker, Geoffrey
The Thirty Years War by Wedgewood, Dame C.V.

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