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- The Thirty Years War, Book III. - 2/17 -


walls the hostile armies encamped; gazing on each other with dread and respect, longing for, and yet shrinking from, the moment that was to close them together in the shock of battle. The eyes of Europe turned to the scene in curiosity and alarm, while Nuremberg, in dismay, expected soon to lend its name to a more decisive battle than that of Leipzig. Suddenly the clouds broke, and the storm rolled away from Franconia, to burst upon the plains of Saxony. Near Lutzen fell the thunder that had menaced Nuremberg; the victory, half lost, was purchased by the death of the king. Fortune, which had never forsaken him in his lifetime, favoured the King of Sweden even in his death, with the rare privilege of falling in the fulness of his glory and an untarnished fame. By a timely death, his protecting genius rescued him from the inevitable fate of man--that of forgetting moderation in the intoxication of success, and justice in the plenitude of power. It may be doubted whether, had he lived longer, he would still have deserved the tears which Germany shed over his grave, or maintained his title to the admiration with which posterity regards him, as the first and only JUST conqueror that the world has produced. The untimely fall of their great leader seemed to threaten the ruin of his party; but to the Power which rules the world, no loss of a single man is irreparable. As the helm of war dropped from the hand of the falling hero, it was seized by two great statesmen, Oxenstiern and Richelieu. Destiny still pursued its relentless course, and for full sixteen years longer the flames of war blazed over the ashes of the long-forgotten king and soldier.

I may now be permitted to take a cursory retrospect of Gustavus Adolphus in his victorious career; glance at the scene in which he alone was the great actor; and then, when Austria becomes reduced to extremity by the successes of the Swedes, and by a series of disasters is driven to the most humiliating and desperate expedients, to return to the history of the Emperor.

As soon as the plan of operations had been concerted at Halle, between the King of Sweden and the Elector of Saxony; as soon as the alliance had been concluded with the neighbouring princes of Weimar and Anhalt, and preparations made for the recovery of the bishopric of Magdeburg, the king began his march into the empire. He had here no despicable foe to contend with. Within the empire, the Emperor was still powerful; throughout Franconia, Swabia, and the Palatinate, imperial garrisons were posted, with whom the possession of every place of importance must be disputed sword in hand. On the Rhine he was opposed by the Spaniards, who had overrun the territory of the banished Elector Palatine, seized all its strong places, and would everywhere dispute with him the passage over that river. On his rear was Tilly, who was fast recruiting his force, and would soon be joined by the auxiliaries from Lorraine. Every Papist presented an inveterate foe, while his connexion with France did not leave him at liberty to act with freedom against the Roman Catholics. Gustavus had foreseen all these obstacles, but at the same time the means by which they were to be overcome. The strength of the Imperialists was broken and divided among different garrisons, while he would bring against them one by one his whole united force. If he was to be opposed by the fanaticism of the Roman Catholics, and the awe in which the lesser states regarded the Emperor's power, he might depend on the active support of the Protestants, and their hatred to Austrian oppression. The ravages of the Imperialist and Spanish troops also powerfully aided him in these quarters; where the ill-treated husbandman and citizen sighed alike for a deliverer, and where the mere change of yoke seemed to promise a relief. Emissaries were despatched to gain over to the Swedish side the principal free cities, particularly Nuremberg and Frankfort. The first that lay in the king's march, and which he could not leave unoccupied in his rear, was Erfurt. Here the Protestant party among the citizens opened to him, without a blow, the gates of the town and the citadel. From the inhabitants of this, as of every important place which afterwards submitted, he exacted an oath of allegiance, while he secured its possession by a sufficient garrison. To his ally, Duke William of Weimar, he intrusted the command of an army to be raised in Thuringia. He also left his queen in Erfurt, and promised to increase its privileges. The Swedish army now crossed the Thuringian forest in two columns, by Gotha and Arnstadt, and having delivered, in its march, the county of Henneberg from the Imperialists, formed a junction on the third day near Koenigshofen, on the frontiers of Franconia.

Francis, Bishop of Wurtzburg, the bitter enemy of the Protestants, and the most zealous member of the League, was the first to feel the indignation of Gustavus Adolphus. A few threats gained for the Swedes possession of his fortress of Koenigshofen, and with it the key of the whole province. At the news of this rapid conquest, dismay seized all the Roman Catholic towns of the circle. The Bishops of Wurtzburg and Bamberg trembled in their castles; they already saw their sees tottering, their churches profaned, and their religion degraded. The malice of his enemies had circulated the most frightful representations of the persecuting spirit and the mode of warfare pursued by the Swedish king and his soldiers, which neither the repeated assurances of the king, nor the most splendid examples of humanity and toleration, ever entirely effaced. Many feared to suffer at the hands of another what in similar circumstances they were conscious of inflicting themselves. Many of the richest Roman Catholics hastened to secure by flight their property, their religion, and their persons, from the sanguinary fanaticism of the Swedes. The bishop himself set the example. In the midst of the alarm, which his bigoted zeal had caused, he abandoned his dominions, and fled to Paris, to excite, if possible, the French ministry against the common enemy of religion.

The further progress of Gustavus Adolphus in the ecclesiastical territories agreed with this brilliant commencement. Schweinfurt, and soon afterwards Wurtzburg, abandoned by their Imperial garrisons, surrendered; but Marienberg he was obliged to carry by storm. In this place, which was believed to be impregnable, the enemy had collected a large store of provisions and ammunition, all of which fell into the hands of the Swedes. The king found a valuable prize in the library of the Jesuits, which he sent to Upsal, while his soldiers found a still more agreeable one in the prelate's well-filled cellars; his treasures the bishop had in good time removed. The whole bishopric followed the example of the capital, and submitted to the Swedes. The king compelled all the bishop's subjects to swear allegiance to himself; and, in the absence of the lawful sovereign, appointed a regency, one half of whose members were Protestants. In every Roman Catholic town which Gustavus took, he opened the churches to the Protestant people, but without retaliating on the Papists the cruelties which they had practised on the former. On such only as sword in hand refused to submit, were the fearful rights of war enforced; and for the occasional acts of violence committed by a few of the more lawless soldiers, in the blind rage of the first attack, their humane leader is not justly responsible. Those who were peaceably disposed, or defenceless, were treated with mildness. It was a sacred principle of Gustavus to spare the blood of his enemies, as well as that of his own troops.

On the first news of the Swedish irruption, the Bishop of Wurtzburg, without regarding the treaty which he had entered into with the King of Sweden, had earnestly pressed the general of the League to hasten to the assistance of the bishopric. That defeated commander had, in the mean time, collected on the Weser the shattered remnant of his army, reinforced himself from the garrisons of Lower Saxony, and effected a junction in Hesse with Altringer and Fugger, who commanded under him. Again at the head of a considerable force, Tilly burned with impatience to wipe out the stain of his first defeat by a splendid victory. From his camp at Fulda, whither he had marched with his army, he earnestly requested permission from the Duke of Bavaria to give battle to Gustavus Adolphus. But, in the event of Tilly's defeat, the League had no second army to fall back upon, and Maximilian was too cautious to risk again the fate of his party on a single battle. With tears in his eyes, Tilly read the commands of his superior, which compelled him to inactivity. Thus his march to Franconia was delayed, and Gustavus Adolphus gained time to overrun the whole bishopric. It was in vain that Tilly, reinforced at Aschaffenburg by a body of 12,000 men from Lorraine, marched with an overwhelming force to the relief of Wurtzburg. The town and citadel were already in the hands of the Swedes, and Maximilian of Bavaria was generally blamed (and not without cause, perhaps) for having, by his scruples, occasioned the loss of the bishopric. Commanded to avoid a battle, Tilly contented himself with checking the farther advance of the enemy; but he could save only a few of the towns from the impetuosity of the Swedes. Baffled in an attempt to reinforce the weak garrison of Hanau, which it was highly important to the Swedes to gain, he crossed the Maine, near Seligenstadt, and took the direction of the Bergstrasse, to protect the Palatinate from the conqueror.

Tilly, however, was not the sole enemy whom Gustavus Adolphus met in Franconia, and drove before him. Charles, Duke of Lorraine, celebrated in the annals of the time for his unsteadiness of character, his vain projects, and his misfortunes, ventured to raise a weak arm against the Swedish hero, in the hope of obtaining from the Emperor the electoral dignity. Deaf to the suggestions of a rational policy, he listened only to the dictates of heated ambition; by supporting the Emperor, he exasperated France, his formidable neighbour; and in the pursuit of a visionary phantom in another country, left undefended his own dominions, which were instantly overrun by a French army. Austria willingly conceded to him, as well as to the other princes of the League, the honour of being ruined in her cause. Intoxicated with vain hopes, this prince collected a force of 17,000 men, which he proposed to lead in person against the Swedes. If these troops were deficient in discipline and courage, they were at least attractive by the splendour of their accoutrements; and however sparing they were of their prowess against the foe, they were liberal enough with it against the defenceless citizens and peasantry, whom they were summoned to defend. Against the bravery, and the formidable discipline of the Swedes this splendidly attired army, however, made no long stand. On the first advance of the Swedish cavalry a panic seized them, and they were driven without difficulty from their cantonments in Wurtzburg; the defeat of a few regiments occasioned a general rout, and the scattered remnant sought a covert from the Swedish valour in the towns beyond the Rhine. Loaded with shame and ridicule, the duke hurried home by Strasburg, too fortunate in escaping, by a submissive written apology, the indignation of his conqueror, who had first beaten him out of the field, and then called upon him to account for his hostilities. It is related upon this occasion that, in a village on the Rhine a peasant struck the horse of the duke as he rode past, exclaiming, "Haste, Sir, you must go quicker to escape the great King of Sweden!"

The example of his neighbours' misfortunes had taught the Bishop of Bamberg prudence. To avert the plundering of his territories, he made offers of peace, though these were intended only to delay the king's course till the arrival of assistance. Gustavus Adolphus, too honourable himself to suspect dishonesty in another, readily accepted the bishop's proposals, and named the conditions on which he was willing to save his territories from hostile treatment. He was the more inclined to peace, as he had no time to lose in the conquest of Bamberg, and his other designs called him to the Rhine. The rapidity with which he followed up these plans, cost him the loss of those pecuniary supplies which, by a longer residence in Franconia, he might easily have extorted from the weak and terrified bishop. This artful prelate broke off the negotiation the instant the storm of war passed away from his own territories. No sooner had Gustavus marched onwards than he threw himself under the protection of Tilly, and received the troops of the Emperor into the very towns and fortresses, which shortly before he had shown himself ready to open to the Swedes. By this stratagem, however, he only delayed for a brief interval the ruin of his bishopric. A Swedish general who had been left in Franconia, undertook to punish the perfidy of the bishop; and the ecclesiastical territory became the seat of war, and was ravaged alike by friends and foes.


The Thirty Years War, Book III. - 2/17

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