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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 21 — The Thirty Years' War

Chapter 1 — Great periods of the Thirty Years' War

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Dying Utterance of Charles IX of Sweden — Rearing of Gustavus Adolphus — Pacification of Augsburg — "Protestant Union" and "Catholic League:" their Objects — Third Phase of Protestantism in Germany — Beginning of the Thirty Years' War — Troubles at Prague — Insurrection — March of the Bohemians to Vienna — Their Retreat — War — Numbers of the Host — The Leaders on Both Sides — Oscillations of Victory — First Period of the War, from 1618 to 1630 — Second Period, from 1630 to 1634 — Third Period, from 1634 to 1648.

STANDING by the death-bed of Charles IX of Sweden (161l), we saw the monarch, as he ruminated on the conflicts which he but too truly divined the future would bring with it to Protestantism, stretch out his hand, and laying it on the golden locks of his boy, who was watching his father's last moments, utter the prophetic words, "He will do it." [1] It was the grandson of the famous Gustavus Vasa, the yet more renowned Gustavus Adolphus, of whom these words were spoken. They fitly foreshadowed, in their incisive terseness, and vague sublimity, the career of the future hero. We are arrived at one of the most terrible struggles that ever desolated the world — the Thirty Years' War.

In the education of the young Gustavus, who, as a man, was to play so conspicuous a part in the drama about to open, there was nothing lacking which could give him hardiness of body, bravery of spirit, vigor of intellect, and largeness of soul. Though his cradle was placed in a palace, it was surrounded with little of the splendor and nothing of the effeminacy which commonly attend the early lot of those who are royally born. The father was struggling for his crown when the son first saw the light.

Around him, from the first, were commotions and storms. These could admit of no life but a plain and frugal one, verging it may be on roughness, but which brought with it an ample recompense for the inconveniences it imposed, in the health, the buoyancy, and the cheerfulness which it engendered. He grew hale and strong in the pure cold air to which he was continually exposed. "Amid the starry nights and dark forests of his fatherland, he nursed the seriousness which was a part of his nature." [2]

Meanwhile the mind of the future monarch was developing under influences as healthy and stirring as those by which his body was being braced. His father took him with him both to the senate and the camp. In the one he learned to think as the statesman, in the other he imbibed the spirit of the soldier. Yet greater care was taken to develop and strengthen his higher powers. Masters were appointed him in the various languages, ancient and modern; and at the age of twelve he could speak Latin, French, German, and Italian with fluency, and understood Spanish and English tolerably. [3] We hear of his reading Greek with ease, but this is more doubtful. He had studied Grotius. This was a range of accomplishment which no monarch in Northern Europe of his time could boast. Of the prudence and success with which, when he ascended the throne, he set about correcting the abuses and confusions of half a century in his hereditary dominions, and the rigor with which he prosecuted his first wars, we are not here called to speak. The career of Gustavus Adolphus comes into our view at the point where it first specially touches Protestantism. The Thirty Years' War had been going on some years before he appeared on that bloody stage, and mingled in its awful strife.

The first grand settlement between the Romanists and the Protestants was the Pacification of Augsburg, in 1555. This Pacification gathered up in one great edict all the advantages which Protestantism had acquired during its previous existence of nearly forty years, and it expressed them all in one single word — Toleration. The same word which summed up the gains of Protestantism also summed up the losses of the empire; for the empire had beam by pronouncing its ban upon Luther and his followers, and now at the end of forty years, and after all the great wars of Charles V undertaken against the Protestants, the empire was compelled to say, "I tolerate you."

So far had Protestantism molded the law of Christendom, reared a barrier around itself, and set limits to the intolerant and despotic forces that assailed it from without. But this Toleration was neither Perfect in itself, nor was it faithfully observed. It was limited to Protestantism in its Lutheran form, for Calvinists were excluded from it, and, not to speak of the many points which it left open to opposite interpretations, and which were continually giving rise to quarrels, perpetual infringements were taking place on the rights guaranteed under it. The Protestants had long complained of these breaches of the Pacification, but could obtain no redress; and in the view of the general policy of the Popish Powers, which was to sweep away the Pacification of Augsburg altogether as soon as they were strong enough, a number of Protestant princes joined together for mutual defense. On the 4th of May, 1608, was formed the "Protestant Union." At the head of this Union was Frederick IV, the Elector of the Palatinate.

The answer to this was the counter-institution, in the following year, of the "Catholic League." It was formed on July 10th , 1609, and its chief was Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria. Maximilian was a fanatical disciple of the Jesuits, and in the League now formed, and the terrible war to which it led, we see the work of the Society of Jesus. The Duke of Bavaria was joined by Duke Leopold of Austria, and the Prince-bishops of Wurzburg, Ratisbon, Augsburg, Constance, Strasburg, Passau, and by several abbots.

The leading object of the League was

the restoration of the Popish faith over Germany, and the extirpation of Protestantism. This was to be accomplished by force of arms. Any moment might bring the outbreak; and Maximilian had all army of Bavarians, zealots like himself, waiting the summons, which, as matters then stood, could not be long deferred. We behold Protestantism entering on its third grand phase in Germany.

The first was the Illumination. From the open Bible, unlocked by the recovered Hebrew and Greek tongues, and from the closets and pulpits of great theologians and scholars, came forth the light, and the darkness which had shrouded the world for a thousand years began to be dispersed. This was the beginning of that world-overturning yet world-restoring movement. The second phase was that of Confession and Martyrdom. During that period societies and States were founding themselves upon the fundamental principle of Protestantism — namely, submission to the Word of God — and were covering Christendom with a new and higher life, individual and national. Protestantism opens its second century with its third grand phase, which is War. The Old now begins clearly to perceive that the New can establish itself only upon its ruins, and accordingly it girds on the sword to fight. The battle-field is all Germany: into that vast arena descend men of all nations, not only of Europe, but even from parts of Asia: the length of the day of battle is thirty years.

Some have preferred this as an indictment against Protestantism; see, it has been said, what convulsions it has brought on. It is true that if Protestantism had never existed this unprecedented conflict would never have taken place, for had the Old been left in unchallenged possession it would have been at peace. It is also true that neither literature nor philosophy ever shook the world with storms like these. But this only proves that conscience alone, quickened by the Word of God, was able to render the service which the world needed; for the Old had to be displaced at whatever cost of tumult and disturbance, that the New, which cannot be shaken, might be set up.

Let us trace the first risings of this great commotion. The "Catholic League" having been formed, and Maximilian of Bavaria placed at the head of it, the Jesuits began to intrigue in order to find work for the army which the duke held in readiness strike. It needed but a spark to kindle a flame.

The spark fell. The "Majestats-Brief," or Royal Letter, granted by Rudolph II, and which was the charter of the Bohemian Protestants, began to be encroached upon. The privileges which that charter conceded to the Protestants, of not only retaining the old churches but of building new ones where they were needed, were denied to those who lived upon the Ecclesiastical States. The Jesuits openly said that this edict of toleration was of no value, seeing the king had been terrified into granting it, and that the time was near when it would be swept away altogether. This sort of talk gave great uneasiness and alarm; alarm was speedily converted into indignation by the disposition now openly evinced by the court to overturn the Majestats-Brief, and confiscate all the rights of the Protestants. Count Thurn, Burgrave of Carlstein, a popular functionary, was dismissed, and his vacant office was filled by two nobles who were specially obnoxious to the Protestants, as prominent enemies of their faith and noted persecutors of their brethren. They were accused of hunting their Protestant tenantry with dogs to mass, of forbidding them the rights of baptism, of marriage, and of burial, and so compelling them to return to the Roman Church. The arm of injustice began to be put forth against the Protestants on the Ecclesiastical States, whose rights were more loosely defined. Their church in the town of Klostergrab was demolished; that at Braunau was forcibly shut up, and the citizens who had opposed these violent proceedings were thrown into prison. Count Thurn, who had been elected by his fellow-Protestants to the office of Defender of the Church's civil rights, thought himself called upon to organize measures of defense.

Deputies were summoned to Prague from every, circle of the kingdom for deliberation. They petitioned the emperor to set free those whom he had cast into prison; but the imperial reply, so far from opening the doors of the gaol, justified the demolition of the churches, branded the opposers of that act as rebels, and dropped some significant threats against all who should oppose the royal will. Bohemia was in a flame. The deputies armed themselves, and believing that this harsh policy had been dictated by the two new members of the vice-regal Council of Prate, they proceeded to the palace, and forcing their way into the hall where the Council was sitting, they laid hold — as we have already narrated — on the two obnoxious members, Martinitz and Slavata, and, "according to a good old Bohemian custom," as one of the deputies termed it, they threw them out at the window. They sustained no harm from their fall, but starting to their feet, made off from their enemies. This was on the 23rd of May, 1618: the Thirty Years' War had begun.

Thirty directors were appointed as a provisional government. Taking possession of all the offices of state and the national revenues, the directors summoned Bohemia to arms. Count Thurn was placed at the head of the army, and the entire kingdom joined the insurrection, three towns excepted — Budweis, Krummau, and Pilsen — in which the majority of the inhabitants were Romanists. The Emperor Matthias was terrified by this display of union and courage on the part of the Bohemians. Innumerable perils at that hour environed his throne. His hereditary States of Austria were nearly as disaffected as Bohemia itself — a spark might kindle them also into revolt: the Protestants were numerous even in them, and, united by a strong bond of

sympathy, were not unlikely to make common cause with their brethren. The emperor, dreading a universal conflagration, which might consume his dynasty, made haste to pacify the Bohemian insurgents before they should arrive under the walls of Vienna, and urge their demands for redress in his own palace. Negotiations were in progress, with the best hopes of a pacific issue; but just at that moment the Emperor Matthias died, and was succeeded by the fanatical and stem Ferdinand II.

There followed with starting rapidity a succession of significant events, all adverse to Bohemia and to the cause of Protestantism. These occurrences form the prologue, as it were, of that great drama of horrors which we are about to narrate. Some of them have already come before us in connection with the history of Protestantism in Bohemia. First of all came the accession of Silesia and Moravia to the insurrection; the deposition of Ferdinand II as King of Bohemia, and the election of Frederick, Elector of the Palatinate, in his room. This was followed by the victorious march of Count Thurn and his army to Vienna. The appearance of the Bohemian army under the walls of the capital raised the Protestant nobles in Vienna, who, while the Bohemian balls were falling on the royal palace, forced their way into Ferdinand's presence, and insisted that he should make peace with Count Thurn by guaranteeing toleration to the Protestants of his empire. One of the Austrian magnates was so urgent that he seized the monarch by the button, and exclaimed, "Ferdinand, wilt thou sign it?" But Ferdinand was immovable. In spite of the extremity in which he stood, he would neither flee from his capital nor make concessions to the Protestants. Suddenly, and while the altercation was still going on, a trumpet-blast was heard in the court of the palace. Five hundred cuirassiers had arrived at that critical moment, under General Dampierre, to defend the monarch. This turned the tide. Vienna was preserved to the Papacy, and with Vienna the Austrian dominions and the imperial throne. There followed the retreat of the Bohemian host from under the walls of the capital; the election of Ferdinand, at the Diet of Frankfort, to the dignity of emperor; the equipment of an army to crush the insurrection in Bohemia; and, in fine, the battle of the Weissenburg under the walls of Prague, which by a single stroke brought the "winter kingdom" of Frederick to an end, laid the provinces of Bohemia, Silesia, and Moravia at the feet of Ferdinand, and enabled him to inaugurate an iron era of persecution by setting up the scaffold at Prague, on which the flower of the country's rank and genius and virtue were offered up in the holocaust we have already described. Such was the series of minor acts which led up to the greater tragedies. Though sufficiently serious in themselves, they are dwarfed into comparative insignificance by the stupendous horrors that tower up behind them.

Before entering on details, we must first of all sketch the general features of this terrible affair. It had long been felt that the antagonism between the old and the new faiths — which every day partook more of passion and less of devotion, and with which so many dynastic and national interests had come to be bound up — would, in the issue, bring on a bloody catastrophe. That catastrophe came at last; but it needed the space of a generation to exhaust its vengeance and consummate its woes. The war was prolonged beyond all previous precedent, mainly from this cause, that no one of the parties engaged in it so far overtopped the others as to be able to end the strife by striking a great and decisive blow. The conflict dragged slowly on from year to year, bearing down before it leaders, soldiers, cities, and provinces, as the lava-flood, slowly descending the mountain-side, buries vineyard and pine-forest, smiling village and populous city, under all ocean of molten rocks.

The armies by which this long-continued and fearfully destructive war was waged were not of overwhelming numbers, according to our modern ideas. The host on either side rarely exceeded 40,000; it oftener fell below than rose above this number; and almost all the great battles of the war were fought with even fewer men. It was then held to be more than doubtful whether a general could efficiently command a greater army than 40,000, or could advantageously employ a more numerous host on one theater.

Once, it is true, Wallenstein assembled round his standard nearly 100,000; but this vast multitude, in point of strategical disposition and obedience to command, hardly deserved the name of an army. It was rather a congeries of fighting and marauding bands, scattered over great part of Germany — a scourge to the unhappy provinces, and a terror to those who had called it into existence. Even when the army-roll exhibited 100,000 names, it was difficult to bring into action the half of that number of fighting men, the absentees were always so numerous, from sickness, from desertion, from the necessity of collecting provisions, and from the greed of plunder. The Bohemian army of 1620 was speedily reduced in the field to one-half of its original numbers; the other half was famished, frozen, or forced to desert by lack of pay, not less than four millions and a half of guldens being owing to it at the close of the campaign. No military chest of those days — not even that of the emperor, and much less that of any of the princes — was rich enough to pay an army of 40,000; and few bankers could be persuaded to lend to monarchs whose ordinary revenues were so disproportionate to their enormous war expenditure. The army was left to feed itself. When one province was eaten up, the army changed to another, which was devoured in its turn. The verdant earth was changed to sackcloth. Citizens and peasants fled

in terror-stricken crowds. In the van of the army rose the wail of despair and anguish: in its rear, famine came stalking on in a pavilion of cloud and fire and vapor of smoke.

The masses that swarm and welter in the abyss Germany now became we cannot particularize. But out of the dust, the smoke, and the flame there emerge, towering above the others, a few gigantic forms, which let us name. Ernest of Mansfeld, the fantastic Brunswicker and Bernhard of Weimar form one group. Arrayed against these are Maximilian of Bavaria, and the generals of the League — Tilly and Pappenheim, leaders of the imperial host; the stern, inscrutable Wallenstein, Altringer, and the great Frenchmen, Conde and Turenne; among the Swedes, Horn, Bauer, Torstenson, Wrangel, and over all, lifting himself grandly above the others, is the warrior-prince Gustavus Adolphus. What a prodigious combination of military genius, raised in each case to its highest degree of intensity, by the greatness of the occasion and the wish to cope with a renowned antagonist or rival! The war is one of brilliant battles, of terrible sieges, but of quick alternations of fortune, the conqueror of today becoming often the vanquished of tomorrow. The evolution of political results, however, is slow, and they are often as quickly lost as they had been tediously and laboriously won.

This great war divides itself into three grand periods, the first being from 1618 to 1630. That was the epoch of the imperial victories. Almost defeated at the outset, Ferdinand II brought back success to his standards by the aid of Wallensiein and his immense hordes; and in proportion as the imperial host triumphed, Ferdinand's claims on Germany rose higher and higher: his object being to make his will as absolute and arbitrary over the whole Fatherland as it was in his paternal estates of Austria. In short, the emperor had revived the project which his ancestor Charles V had so nearly realized in his war with the princes of the Schmalkald League — namely, that of making himself the one sole master of Germany.

At the end of the first period we find that the Popish Power has spread itself like a mighty flood over the whole of Germany to the North Sea. But now, with the commencement of the second period — which extends from 1630 to 1634 — the opposing tide of Protestantism begins to set in, and continues to flow, with irresistible force, from north to south, till it has overspread two-thirds of the Fatherland. Nor does the death of its great champion arrest it. Even after the fall of Gustavus Adolphus the Swedish warriors continued for some time to win victories, and still farther to extend the territorial area of Protestantism. The third and closing period of the war extends from 1634 to 1648, and during this time victory and defeat perpetually oscillated from side to side, and shifted from one part of the field to another. The Swedes came down in a mighty wave, which rolled on unchecked till it reached the middle of Germany, the good fortune which attended them receding at times, and then again returning. The French, greedy of booty, spread themselves along the Rhine, hunger and pestilence traversing in their wake the wasted land. In the Swedish army one general after another perished in battle, yet with singular daring and obstinacy the army kept the field, and whether victorious or vanquished in particular battles, always insisted on the former claim of civil and religious liberty to Protestants. In opposition to the Swedes, and quite as immovable, is seen the Prince of the League, Maximilian of Bavaria, and the campaigns which he now fought are amongst the most brilliant which his dynasty have ever achieved. The fanatical Ferdinand II had by this time gone to his grave; the soberer and more tolerant Ferdinand III had succeeded, but he could not disengage himself from the terrible struggle, and it went on for some time longer; but at last peace began to be talked about. Nature itself seemed to cry for a cessation of the awful conflict; cities, towns, and villages were in flames; the land was empty of men; the high-roads were without passengers, and briars and weeds were covering the once richly cultivated fields. Several States had now withdrawn from the conflict: the theater of war was being gradually narrowed, and the House of Hapsburg was eventually so hedged in that it was compelled to come to terms. The countries which had been the seat of the struggle were all but utterly ruined. Germany had lost three-fourths of its population. [4] "Over the brawling of parties a terrible Destiny moved its wings; it lifts up leaders and again casts them down into the bloody mire; the greatest human power is helpless in its hand; at last, satisfied with murder and corpses, it turns its face slowly from the land that is become only a great field of the dead." [5]

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Monday, October 19th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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