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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 21 — The Thirty Years' War

Chapter 6 — Arrival of Gustavus Adolphus in Germany

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The Reaction – Its Limits – Preparatory Campaigns of Gustavus – All Ready – No Alternative left to Gustavus – His Motives – His Character – His Farewell to the Diet – His Parting Address – Embarkation – Lands in Germany – Contempt of Gustavus by the Court of Vienna – Marches on Stettin – Is Admitted into it – Takes Possession of Pomerania – Imperialists Driven out of Mecklenburg – Alliance with France – Edict of Restitution – John George, Elector of Saxony – His Project – The Convention at Leipsic – Its Failure.

THE Catholic reaction, borne onwards by the force of the imperial arms, had rolled up to the borders of Sweden, chasing before it Christian of Denmark, and every one who had striven to stem its advancing torrent. But a mightier Potentate than Ferdinand or any earthly emperor had fixed the limits of the reaction, and decreed that beyond the line it had now reached it should not pass. From the remote regions of the North Sea a deliverer came forth, summoned by a Divine voice, and guided by a Divine hand, empowered to roll back its swelling wave, and bid the nations it had overwhelmed stand up and again assume, the rights of free men. The champion who now arose to confront Rome was Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden.

A sincere Protestant, as well as valorous soldier, Gustavus Adolphus had seen with pain and alarm the troops of the League and of the emperor overrun the States of Germany, drive away the ministers of the Reformed faith, and set up the overturned altars of Rome. The cry of the oppressed peoples had reached him once and again, but circumstances did not permit of his interfering in the great quarrel. On ascending the throne, he had the disorders of half a century in his own dominions to rectify. This was a laborious task, but it was executed with an intelligence that replaced stagnation with life and prosperity. The external relations of his kingdom next claimed his attention. These called him to engage, first, in a war with Denmark; and, secondly, in a war with Russia. A third war he was compelled to wage with Poland. His title to the throne of Sweden had been brought into question by the Polish sovereign, who maintained that the rightful heirs were to be found in the other line of Gustavus Vasa. The Romanists sided with the King of Poland, in the hope of being able to wrest the sovereignty from the hands of a Protestant, and of bringing back the kingdom to the See of Rome; and thus Gustavus Adolphus found that he had to do battle at the same time for the possession of his crown and the Protestantism of his realm. This contest, which was completely successful, was terminated in 1629, and it left Sweden mistress of a large and important section of the Baltic coast. These campaigns formed the preparation for the fourth and greatest war in which the monarch and people of Sweden were destined to embark. The reforms set on foot within the country had vastly augmented its resources. The power which Gustavus had acquired over the Baltic, and the towns which he held on its coast, kept open to him the gate of entrance into Germany; and the generals and warriors whom he had trained in these wars were such as had not been seen in Europe since the decline of the Spanish school. All these requisites, unsuspected by himself, had been slowly preparing, and now they were completed: he could command the sinews of war; he had an open road to the great battle-field, and he had warriors worthy of being his companions in arms, and able to act their part in the conflict to which he was about to lead them.

If Gustavus Adolphus was now, what he had never been before, ready to engage in the worldwide strife, it is not less true that that strife had reached a stage which left him no alternative but to take part in it, if ever he would do so with the chance of success. Victory had carried the Popish arms to the waters of the Baltic: the possessions he held on the coast of that sea were in danger of being wrested from him; but his foes would not stop there; they would cross the ocean; they would assail him on his own soil, and extinguish his sovereignty and the Protestantism of his realm together. Wallenstein had suggested such a scheme of conquest to his master, and Ferdinand would not be at rest till he had extended his sway to the extreme north of Sweden. [1]

Such was the situation in which the Swedish monarch now found himself placed. He rightly interpreted that situation. He knew that he could not avoid war by sitting still; that if he did not go to meet his enemies on the plains of Germany, they would seek him out in his own sea-girt kingdom, where he should fight at greater disadvantage. Therefore he chose the bolder and safer course.

But these reasons, wise though they were, were not the only, nor indeed the strongest motives that influenced Gustavus Adolphus in adopting this course. He was a devout Christian and an enlightened Protestant, as well as a brave warrior, and he took into consideration the seat crisis which had arrived in the affairs of Europe and of Protestantism, and the part that fell to himself in this emergency. He saw the religion and the liberty of Christendom on the point of being trodden out by the armed hordes of an emperor whose councilors were Jesuits, and whose generals were content to sink the soldier in the ruthless banditti-leader; and to whom could the oppressed nations look if not to himself? England was indifferent, France was unwilling, Holland was unable, and, unless Protestantism was to be saved by miracle, he must gird on the sword and essay

the Herculean task. He knew the slender means and the small army with which he must confront an enemy who had inexhaustible resources at his command, and innumerable soldiers, with the prestige of invincibility, under his banner; but if the difficulty of the enterprise was immense, and might well inspire caution or even fear, it was of a nature surpassingly grand, and might well kindle enthusiasm, and beget a sublime faith that He whose cause it was, and who, by the very perils with which He was surrounding him, seemed to be forcing him out into the field of battle, would bear him safely through all the dangers of the great venture, and by his hand deliver his people. It was in this faith that Gustavus Adolphus became the champion of Protestantism.

"In one respect," says Hausser, "Gustavus Adolphus was a unique personage in this century: he was animated by the fresh, unbroken, youthful spirit of the early days of the Reformation, like that which characterized such men as Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse. If it can be said of any ruler in the first half of the sixteenth century, that he was filled with Protestant zeal and sincere enthusiasm for the greatness of his cause, it may be said of him and of him alone. To a world full of mean artifices, miserable intrigues, and narrow-minded men, he exhibited once more the characteristics and qualities of a true hero. This explains why he called forth enthusiasm where it had been for many decades unknown – why he succeeded in kindling men's minds for ideas which had been engulfed in the miseries of the times. Sacred things were no idle sport with him." [2]

Having resolved to present himself on the great arena, in the faith of uplifting a cause which already appeared almost utterly ruined, Gustavus Adolphus, "like a dying man," says Gfrorer, "set his house in order," by making arrangements for the defense and government of his kingdom in his absence. On the 20th of May, 1630, he assembled the Diet at Stockholm, to bid the States a solemn farewell." [3] Taking in his arms his infant daughter Christina, then only five years old, [4] he presented her to the assembled nobles and deputies, who swore fidelity to her as their sovereign, in the event of her royal father failing on the battle-field. The touching spectacle melted all present into tears, and the emotion of the king was so great that it was some time before he was able to proceed in his farewell address to the States.

When at length he found words, the brave and devoted prince assured his people that it was no light cause which had led him to embark in this new war. God was his witness that he had not sought this contest. That contest exposed himself to great dangers, and it laid heavy burdens on them; but, however full of risks and sacrifices, he dared not decline an enterprise to which he was summoned by the cry of his perishing brethren. Even should he and his subjects prefer their own ease to the deliverance of the oppressed, it would not be long till they should have abundant cause to repent their selfishness. The same armed bigotry which had wrought such desolation in Germany, was at that hour meditating the overthrow of their own throne, and the destruction of their own religion and independence. They must not think to escape by abiding within their own seas and shutting themselves out from others. Who could tell whether Sweden had not attained her present place among the nations for such a time as this? Turning to his councilors of state, he bade them seek to be filled with wisdom, that they might govern with equity. Addressing his nobles, he exhorted them to emulate the bravery of "those Gothic heroes who humbled in the dust the pride of ancient Rome." The pastors he earnestly recommended to cultivate unity, and to exemplify in their own lives the virtues they preached to others. For all classes of his subjects he offered his earnest prayers, that order might bless their cities, fertility clothe their fields, and plenty cheer their homes; and then, with the tenderness of a father taking leave of his children – for the mind of the hero-prince was oppressed by the presentiment that he should see them no more – he said, "I bid you all an affectionate – it may be an eternal farewell." [5]

A few days after this solemn parting, the king embarked his army of 15,000 at Elfsnabhen. It was a small host to essay so great an enterprise; but it was led by a great general, and the heroism and devotion of the chief burned in the breasts of the soldiers. Up to the water's edge the shore was black with the crowds which had assembled to witness the embarkation, and to take, it might be, their last look of their beloved sovereign. Contrary winds detained the fleet a few days, but at last the breeze veered round, and bore away the magnanimous prince, with his chivalrous host, from a shore to which he but too truly presaged he should return no more. In a few days the opposite coast of the Baltic rose out of the waves, and the fleet cast anchor before the Isle of Rugen, on the coast of Pomerania. On the 24th of June, 1630 – exactly 100 years after the presentation of the Augsburg Confession to Charles V – Gustavus Adolphus landed on the shore of Germany. The king was the first to step on land, and advancing a few paces before the soldiers, he kneeled down in presence of the army, and gave thanks to God for conveying the host in safety across the deep, and prayed that success might crown their endeavors.

The powerful Popish monarch who had put his foot upon the neck of Germany, heard

with easy and haughty unconcern of the landing of Gustavus Adolphus. The significance of that landing was but little understood on either the Romish or the Protestant side. Ferdinand could not see that the mighty fabric of his power could be shaken, or the triumphant tide of his arms rolled back, by the little host that had just crossed the Baltic. When the courtiers of Vienna heard of the corning of Gustavus "they looked in the State Almanack to see where the country of the little Gothic king was situated." [6] The princes of Germany, trodden into the dust, were nearly as unable to understand that deliverance had dawned for them in the advent of the northern hero. Front the powerful thrones of England and France they might have looked for help; but what succor could a petty kingdom like Sweden bring them? They could not recognize their deliverer coming in a guise so humble. Gustavus Adolphus was a foreigner. They almost wished that he had not interfered in their matters; and greatly as they longed to be lifted out of the mire, they were content well-nigh to be as they were, rather than owe their emancipation to a stranger. These degenerate princes were to be taught the power of that Protestantism from which they had so greatly declined. At what altar had Gustavus and his followers kindled that heroism which enabled them to command victory, if not at that of the Reformed faith? This it was that made them the deliverers of those who had lost their liberty by losing their Protestantism.

Eager to invest his arms with the prestige of a first success, the Swedish king set out for Stettin, and arrived under its walls before the imperial troops had time to occupy it. Stettin was the capital of Pomerania; but its importance lay in its commanding the mouths of the Oder, and leaving open in the rear of Gustavus a passage to Sweden, should fortune compel him to retreat. He demanded that; the town should receive a Swedish garrison. The citizens, but too familiar with the horrors of a foreign occupation, and not knowing as yet the difference between the orderly and disciplined soldiers of Gustavus and the marauders who served under Tilly and Wallenstein, were unwilling to open their gates. Still more unwilling was their Duke Bogislaus, who added the timidity of age to that of constitution. This prince longed to be freed from the terrors and the oppressions of Ferdinand, but he trembled at the coming of Gustavus, fearing that the emperor would visit with a double vengeance his compliance with the Swedish monarch's wishes. Bogislaus begged to be permitted to remain neutral. But Gustavus told him that he must choose between himself and Ferdinand, and that he must decide at once.

Influenced by the present rather than by the remote danger, Bogislaus opened the gates of Stettin, and the Swedish troops entered. Instead of plundering their houses the soldiers went with the citizens to church, and soon established a reputation which proved second only to their valor in its influence on their future success. The occupation of this town was a masterly stroke. It gave the king a basis of operations on the mainland, it covered his rear, and it secured his communication with Sweden.

Step by step Gustavus Adolphus advanced into North Germany. His host swelled and multiplied the farther his banners were borne. The soldiers who had formed the armies of Count Mansfeld and the Duke of Brunswick, and the corps disbanded by Wallenstein, flocked in crowds to his standard, and exchanged their plundering habits for the order and bravery of well-disciplined troops. The capture of town after town added every day new pledges of final success. The inequality of his force in point of numbers was more than balanced by his great superiority in tactics. Combining the most determined resolution with the most consummate prudence, he went on driving the imperialists before him, and by the end of autumn almost the whole of Pomerania was in his possession. It was on these first efforts that the final issue must depend, and not one false step had he made in them. "Napoleon considered him to be the first general of all times, chiefly because during a dangerous and tedious campaign, from June, 1630, to the autumn of 1631, he advanced slowly, but surely, towards the center of Germany without suffering any repulse worth mentioning." [7]

When winter approached, the imperial generals, wearied with their defeats, sent plenipotentiaries to the camp of the Swedes to sue for a cessation of hostilities, but they found they had to do with an enemy who, clad in sheep's-skin, felt no winter in the climate of Germany. The reply of Gustavus to the proposal that both sides should go into winter quarters was, "The Swedes are soldiers in winter as well as in summer." [8] The imperialist soldiers were farther harassed by the peasantry, who now avenged upon them the pillagings and murders they had been guilty of in their advance. Desertion was thinning and disorganization weakening their ranks, and the imperial commander in Pomerania, Torquato Conte, took the opportunity of resigning a command which, while adding nothing to his wealth, was every day lessening his reputation.

Flying before the victorious arms of Gustavus Adolphus, and abandoning in their retreat wagons and standards, [9] to be gathered up by the Swedes, the imperial troops took refuge in Brandenburg, where they prepared for themselves future calamities by oppressing and plundering the inhabitants, although the subjects of a ruler who was the ally of their emperor. The king would have followed the enemy into the Duchy of Brandenburg, had not the gates of Kustrin, opened to admit the imperialists, been closed upon himself. He now turned his victorious arms towards Mecklenburg, whose dukes the Emperor Ferdinand had stripped of their territory and driven into exile. The capture of Demmin gave him entrance into this territory,

where success continued to attend his arms. By the end of February, 1631, the king had taken fully eighty cities, strongholds, and redoubts in Pomerania and Mecklenburg. [10]

At this stage there came a little help to the Protestant hero from a somewhat suspicious quarter, France. Cardinal Richelieu, who was now supreme in that kingdom, had revived the foreign policy of Henry IV, which was directed to the end of humbling the House of Austria, and his quick eye saw in the Swedish warrior a fit instrument, as he thought, for achieving his purpose. It was a delicate matter for a "prince of the Church" to enter into an alliance with a heretical king, but Richelieu trusted that in return for the subsidy he offered to Gustavus he would be allowed the regulation and control of the war. He found, however, in Adolphus his master. The Treaty of Balwarde (January, 1631) secured to Gustavus a subsidy of 400,000 dollars, for the attainment of interests common to France and Sweden, but left to the latter Power the political and military direction. This was a diplomatic victory of no small importance to the Swedish monarch. The capture of two important places, Colberg and Frankfort-on-the-Oder, which followed soon after, shed fresh luster on the Swedish arms, and made the expedition of Gustavus Adolphus appear still more prominent in the eyes of Europe.

Even the Protestant princes of Germany began to show a little heart. They had basely truckled to the Emperor Ferdinand; not a finger had they lifted to stem the torrent of the Catholic reaction; but now, conscious that a mighty power had arrived in the midst of them, they began to talk of reasserting their rights. They were yet too proud to accept of help from the stranger, but his presence among them, and the success that was crowning his efforts in a war which ought to have been undertaken by themselves, helped to rouse them from that shameful and criminal apathy into which they had fallen, and which indisposed them for the least effort to recover the much of which they had been stripped, or to retain the little that had been left to them. At this moment Ferdinand of Austria did his best, though all unintentionally, to stimulate their feeble efforts, and to make them join their arms with those of the Swedish monarch in fighting the battle of a common Protestantism. The emperor issued orders to his officers to put in execution the Edict of Restitution. The enforcement of this edict would sweep into the Treasury of the emperor and of the Roman Church a vast amount of Protestant property in the two most powerful Protestant electorates in Germany, those of Saxony and Brandenburg, and would specially irritate the two most important allies whom the emperor had among the Protestant princes. The hour was certainly ill-chosen for such a proceeding, when Wallenstein had been dismissed, when defeat after defeat was scattering the imperial armies, and when the advancing tide of Swedish success was threatening to sweep away all the fruits of Ferdinand's former victories even more rapidly than he had achieved them. But, the Court of Vienna believing that its hold on Germany was firm ever to be loosened, and despising this assault from the little Sweden, Ferdinand, acting doubtless by the advice of the Jesuits, gave orders to proceed with the plunder of his Protestant allies.

It was only now that the veil was fully lifted from the eyes of John George, Elector of Saxony. This prince exhibits little save contrast to the pious, magnanimous, and public-spirited Electors of Saxony of a former day. His private and personal manners were coarse; he dressed slovenly, and fed gluttonously. His public policy was utterly selfish. He had long been the dupe of the emperor, his sottish understanding and groveling aims preventing him from seeing the gulf into which he was sinking. But now, finding himself threatened with annihilation, he resolved to adopt a decisive policy. As Elector of Saxony he was the leader of the Protestant princes, and he now purposed to place himself at their head, and form a third party in Germany, which would oppose the emperor on the one side, and the King of Sweden on the other. The Elector of Saxony would not lower himself by joining with Gustavus Adolphus He did not need the hand of the northern stranger to pull him out of the mire; he would extricate himself.

Proceeding in the execution of his plans, destined, he believed, to restore the German liberties, the Elector of Saxony summoned a convention of the Protestant States, to meet at Leipsic in February, 1631. The assemblage was brilliant, but can hardly be said to have been powerful. The princes and deputies who composed it would never have had the courage to meet, had they not known that they assembled under the shadow of the Swedish arms, which they affected to despise. Their convention lasted three months, and their time was divided between feasting and attempts to frame a program of united action. The Jesuits jeered. "The poor little Lutheran princes," said they, "are holding a little convention at Leipsic.

Who is there?" they asked. "A princeling and a half. What are they going to do? Make a little war." The princes did not make a war either little or great: they contented themselves with petitioning the emperor to remove the grievances of which they complained. They begged him especially to revoke the Edict of Restitution, and to withdraw his troops from their cities and fortresses. To this petition not the least heed was ever paid. The princes did not even form a league among themselves; they thought they had done enough when they fixed the number of soldiers that each was to furnish, in the event of their forming a league some other time. [11] This was a truly pitiable spectacle. The princes saw their country devastated, their cities occupied by foreign troops,

their religion and their liberties proscribed – in short, all that gave glory and renown to Germany smitten down by the hand of tyranny, yet the power and the spirit alike were wanting for the vindication of their rights, and amid the ruin of every virtue their pride alone survived; for we see them turning away with disdain from the strong arm that is extended towards them for the purpose of pulling them out of the gulf. Plain it was that the hour of their deliverance was yet distant.

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