Posts Tagged ‘Holy Roman Empire’


Short military history of the Thirty Years War – the Bohemian Phase

August 4, 2010

The Bohemian Revolt: 1618 – 1620.
The Palatinate phase. 1621 – 1624.
The Danish intervention. 1625 – 1629.
The Swedish intervention. 1630 – 1635.
The French intervention. 1636 – 1648.

Background. The Roman Catholic Habsburg family had a dual holding: the Spanish and Austrian crowns. The Austrian holding had control of the non-hereditary office of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the confederation of hundreds of German states. The rise of the Lutheran heresy, called Protestantism because of the protest against the authority of the Pope, had flared into war all over Europe. The rich, trading, Dutch (in a land previously called Flanders) had gone over to the heretics and are in revolt against Spain.

The straight roads between the two halves of the Habsburg holdings were blocked by France. The seas were controlled by England, and Spain signally failed to subdue that Protestant nation in the abortive Armada. Only one road between Spain and Empire remained, and this was under France and Switzerland, up the Val Telline valley. Should this road fall to the Protestants, the Habsburgs would be crippled, bankrupted, and the isolated holdings destroyed piecemeal.

Successive Emperors had tried to maintain a settled peace with the countries under their charge that had gone Protestant, but the radicals just increased their demands, and the Emperor lacked the force to simply crush them – the rot had spread too far.

1555. Following a long period of religious and political unrest in the Holy Roman Empire, the Peace of Augsburg signed by Emperor Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League granted the ruler of each country the right to decide what faith the country follows (Cuius regio, eius religio). However, only Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism were recognised as valid choices. This left out the growing radical protestant faiths.

During the years up to 1618 there were numerous mass expulsions of populations from their countries following conversations one way or the other. Protestants pushed to extend their political influence. Calvinists agitated because they had been excluded from the treaty.

The radicals formed the (Calvinist dominated) Protestant Union in 1608 as a mutual support organisation, willing to raise an army if any member was attacked. In response, the loyal Roman Catholic German states founded the German Catholic League in 1609 in order to support the Imperial, Spanish backed army if needed.

1618. Defenestration of Prague. When the Bohemian crown became available (it was an elective post, not hereditary), Protestant agitators saw it as an ideal opportunity to extend their power. A Protestant on the throne of Bohemia would alter the power balance in the Empire as Bohemia was one of the Electoral powers, significant in choosing the Future Emperor (itself an elective rather than hereditary role). In an action designed to inflame passions, the Roman Catholic government representatives were hurled out of the government house windows. They miraculously survived, but this almost farcical event was the trigger for the Thirty Years War.

The Protestant nobles raised an army and put Count Ernst von Mansfeld, a mercenary (and, oddly enough, a Roman Catholic who supported the Protestant cause, though probably because of personal vendetta) in charge. Mansfeld successfully besieged the city of Pilsen, where many Catholics had taken refuge.

An Imperial army under Bucquoy approached Prague but was held up, and then pursued and destroyed by a Protestant force under Heinrich Matthias at Lomnice.

[In other news, a Spanish fleet defeated a Dutch fleet flying Venetian colours trying to run the Gibralter blockade.  The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth signed a truce with the Tsardom of Russia.]

1619. Bucquoy intercepted and defeated Mansfeld on the way to assist Hohenloe who was besieging Budějovice, at Sablat.

Frederick V (Calvinist ruler of the Palatinate and leader of the radical Protestant Union) was invited to be king of Bohemia by the extremist Protestant rebels now controlling government.

Ferdinand II was elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the still majority Roman Catholic Electoral College. It was traditional that the Emperor also be crowned king of Bohemia, so Frederick’s installation made him in direct violation of the Imperial prerogatives. Protestant moderates were dismayed, but it was too late to stop the coming catastrophe.

Imperial army under Dampierre was sent to neighbouring Moravia which was supporting the rebels. It was defeated by a Moravian army under von Tiefenbach and ze Zerotina at Wisternitz. It was here that an officer of the Imperial army called Wallenstein with active service experience against the Turks came to the attention of history. He seized the Moravian treasury, carried it to Vienna and presented it to the Emperor. Later he raised a regiment using his own money to serve with the Imperial forces.

Meanwhile, Hungary (and specifically Transylvania) under Bethlen Gabor decided that this was a good time to try a breakaway from Habsburg control, and allied itself with the Protestant rebels in Bohemia. Bratislava fell to the Transylvanians and a siege of Vienna was attempted. Though nominally neutral, the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was supportive of the Roman Catholic Austrians and sent a force which defeated the Transylvanians at Humenné.

[At the Treaty of Munich, Maximillian of Bavaria (leader of the Catholic League) agreed to supply the Emperor with an army in exchange for ‘any part of the Palatinate he could occupy’, together with  Frederick’s title as Elector. This made available the forces to crush the rebellion, but the change in the electoral balance to stack it in Ferdinand’s favour was illegal.]

1620. Bohemia was invaded under combined Imperial army under Bucquoy and Catholic League army under Tilly.

At the battle of White Mountain, Christian of Anhalt (Protestant) was comprehensively defeated by the allied Imperial and Catholic League army. Lower Palatinate (Protestant) invaded by Spanish forces. Upper Austria (Protestant) invaded by Bavaria (Catholic).

[The Treaty of Ulm was signed between the Catholic League and the Protestant Union with the latter agreeing to quit their support for Frederick V as king of Bohemia. They also agreed to disband, which they did the following year.]

1621. Johann Georg Jägerndorf from nearby Silesia decided to have a go at restoring Protestant power in Bohemia. His first stop was mutually neighbouring Moravia, where he was met by what sounds like a scratch Catholic force under Jean de Gauchier at the town of Neutitschein. Despite getting the best of the Catholics, Jägerndorf made no further progress in Moravia and instead turned east to join the Transylvanians.

End of the Twelve Year’s Truce between Spain and the United Dutch Provinces/Dutch Republic. In the north, The United Dutch Provinces (Flanders) were in rebellion against their Spanish masters. The south (modern Belgium) remained Roman Catholic and loyal. This conflict, known as the Eighty Years War, was an enormous drain on Spanish resources, and was characterised by what would now be labelled war crimes. The Alatriste series of books is set against this backdrop. Spanish forces now converged to renew the conflict.

And with the crushing of the rebellion at its source, it was thought that the matter was finished. However, this was just the end of the Bohemian Phase, as the Protestants renewed the conflict elsewhere, inflamed by the Spanish Catholic forces increasing pressure on the Dutch and the Imperial forces stepwise reduction of now isolated Protestant holdings.

[In other news, the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth defeated the Ottoman Empire at the battle of Khotyn. A Dutch East India Company naval convoy was attacked and defeated by Spain while crossing the Strait of Gibralter. Pope Gregory XV elected at the 1621 Papal conclave. In France, Louis XIII failed to capture the Huguenot (Calvinist inspired French Protestants) after a two month siege.]

 Scoreboard: Catholics and Imperials 4, Protestants 2.