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- The Thirty Years War, Book II. - 6/17 -


Brunswick--two men worthy of immortality, had they but been as superior to their times as they were to their adversities.

The King of Denmark, with his whole army, was unable to cope with Tilly alone; much less, therefore, with a shattered force could he hold his ground against the two imperial generals. The Danes retired from all their posts on the Weser, the Elbe, and the Havel, and the army of Wallenstein poured like a torrent into Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, Holstein and Sleswick. That general, too proud to act in conjunction with another, had dispatched Tilly across the Elbe, to watch, as he gave out, the motions of the Dutch in that quarter; but in reality that he might terminate the war against the king, and reap for himself the fruits of Tilly's conquests. Christian had now lost all his fortresses in the German States, with the exception of Gluckstadt; his armies were defeated or dispersed; no assistance came from Germany; from England, little consolation; while his confederates in Lower Saxony were at the mercy of the conqueror. The Landgrave of Hesse Cassel had been forced by Tilly, soon after the battle of Lutter, to renounce the Danish alliance. Wallenstein's formidable appearance before Berlin reduced the Elector of Brandenburgh to submission, and compelled him to recognise, as legitimate, Maximilian's title to the Palatine Electorate. The greater part of Mecklenburgh was now overrun by imperial troops; and both dukes, as adherents of the King of Denmark, placed under the ban of the empire, and driven from their dominions. The defence of the German liberties against illegal encroachments, was punished as a crime deserving the loss of all dignities and territories; and yet this was but the prelude to the still more crying enormities which shortly followed.

The secret how Wallenstein had purposed to fulfil his extravagant designs was now manifest. He had learned the lesson from Count Mansfeld; but the scholar surpassed his master. On the principle that war must support war, Mansfeld and the Duke of Brunswick had subsisted their troops by contributions levied indiscriminately on friend and enemy; but this predatory life was attended with all the inconvenience and insecurity which accompany robbery. Like a fugitive banditti, they were obliged to steal through exasperated and vigilant enemies; to roam from one end of Germany to another; to watch their opportunity with anxiety; and to abandon the most fertile territories whenever they were defended by a superior army. If Mansfeld and Duke Christian had done such great things in the face of these difficulties, what might not be expected if the obstacles were removed; when the army raised was numerous enough to overawe in itself the most powerful states of the empire; when the name of the Emperor insured impunity to every outrage; and when, under the highest authority, and at the head of an overwhelming force, the same system of warfare was pursued, which these two adventurers had hitherto adopted at their own risk, and with only an untrained multitude?

Wallenstein had all this in view when he made his bold offer to the Emperor, which now seemed extravagant to no one. The more his army was augmented, the less cause was there to fear for its subsistence, because it could irresistibly bear down upon the refractory states; the more violent its outrages, the more probable was impunity. Towards hostile states it had the plea of right; towards the favourably disposed it could allege necessity. The inequality, too, with which it dealt out its oppressions, prevented any dangerous union among the states; while the exhaustion of their territories deprived them of the power of vengeance. Thus the whole of Germany became a kind of magazine for the imperial army, and the Emperor was enabled to deal with the other states as absolutely as with his own hereditary dominions. Universal was the clamour for redress before the imperial throne; but there was nothing to fear from the revenge of the injured princes, so long as they appealed for justice. The general discontent was directed equally against the Emperor, who had lent his name to these barbarities, and the general who exceeded his power, and openly abused the authority of his master. They applied to the Emperor for protection against the outrages of his general; but Wallenstein had no sooner felt himself absolute in the army, than he threw off his obedience to his sovereign.

The exhaustion of the enemy made a speedy peace probable; yet Wallenstein continued to augment the imperial armies until they were at least 100,000 men strong. Numberless commissions to colonelcies and inferior commands, the regal pomp of the commander-in-chief, immoderate largesses to his favourites, (for he never gave less than a thousand florins,) enormous sums lavished in corrupting the court at Vienna--all this had been effected without burdening the Emperor. These immense sums were raised by the contributions levied from the lower German provinces, where no distinction was made between friend and foe; and the territories of all princes were subjected to the same system of marching and quartering, of extortion and outrage. If credit is to be given to an extravagant contemporary statement, Wallenstein, during his seven years command, had exacted not less than sixty thousand millions of dollars from one half of Germany. The greater his extortions, the greater the rewards of his soldiers, and the greater the concourse to his standard, for the world always follows fortune. His armies flourished while all the states through which they passed withered. What cared he for the detestation of the people, and the complaints of princes? His army adored him, and the very enormity of his guilt enabled him to bid defiance to its consequences.

It would be unjust to Ferdinand, were we to lay all these irregularities to his charge. Had he foreseen that he was abandoning the German States to the mercy of his officer, he would have been sensible how dangerous to himself so absolute a general would prove. The closer the connexion became between the army, and the leader from whom flowed favour and fortune, the more the ties which united both to the Emperor were relaxed. Every thing, it is true, was done in the name of the latter; but Wallenstein only availed himself of the supreme majesty of the Emperor to crush the authority of other states. His object was to depress the princes of the empire, to destroy all gradation of rank between them and the Emperor, and to elevate the power of the latter above all competition. If the Emperor were absolute in Germany, who then would be equal to the man intrusted with the execution of his will? The height to which Wallenstein had raised the imperial authority astonished even the Emperor himself; but as the greatness of the master was entirely the work of the servant, the creation of Wallenstein would necessarily sink again into nothing upon the withdrawal of its creative hand. Not without an object, therefore, did Wallenstein labour to poison the minds of the German princes against the Emperor. The more violent their hatred of Ferdinand, the more indispensable to the Emperor would become the man who alone could render their ill-will powerless. His design unquestionably was, that his sovereign should stand in fear of no one in all Germany--besides himself, the source and engine of this despotic power.

As a step towards this end, Wallenstein now demanded the cession of Mecklenburg, to be held in pledge till the repayment of his advances for the war. Ferdinand had already created him Duke of Friedland, apparently with the view of exalting his own general over Bavaria; but an ordinary recompense would not satisfy Wallenstein's ambition. In vain was this new demand, which could be granted only at the expense of two princes of the empire, actively resisted in the Imperial Council; in vain did the Spaniards, who had long been offended by his pride, oppose his elevation. The powerful support which Wallenstein had purchased from the imperial councillors prevailed, and Ferdinand was determined, at whatever cost, to secure the devotion of so indispensable a minister. For a slight offence, one of the oldest German houses was expelled from their hereditary dominions, that a creature of the Emperor might be enriched by their spoils (1628).

Wallenstein now began to assume the title of generalissimo of the Emperor by sea and land. Wismar was taken, and a firm footing gained on the Baltic. Ships were required from Poland and the Hanse towns to carry the war to the other side of the Baltic; to pursue the Danes into the heart of their own country, and to compel them to a peace which might prepare the way to more important conquests. The communication between the Lower German States and the Northern powers would be broken, could the Emperor place himself between them, and encompass Germany, from the Adriatic to the Sound, (the intervening kingdom of Poland being already dependent on him,) with an unbroken line of territory. If such was the Emperor's plan, Wallenstein had a peculiar interest in its execution. These possessions on the Baltic should, he intended, form the first foundation of a power, which had long been the object of his ambition, and which should enable him to throw off his dependence on the Emperor.

To effect this object, it was of extreme importance to gain possession of Stralsund, a town on the Baltic. Its excellent harbour, and the short passage from it to the Swedish and Danish coasts, peculiarly fitted it for a naval station in a war with these powers. This town, the sixth of the Hanseatic League, enjoyed great privileges under the Duke of Pomerania, and totally independent of Denmark, had taken no share in the war. But neither its neutrality, nor its privileges, could protect it against the encroachments of Wallenstein, when he had once cast a longing look upon it.

The request he made, that Stralsund should receive an imperial garrison, had been firmly and honourably rejected by the magistracy, who also refused his cunningly demanded permission to march his troops through the town, Wallenstein, therefore, now proposed to besiege it.

The independence of Stralsund, as securing the free navigation of the Baltic, was equally important to the two Northern kings. A common danger overcame at last the private jealousies which had long divided these princes. In a treaty concluded at Copenhagen in 1628, they bound themselves to assist Stralsund with their combined force, and to oppose in common every foreign power which should appear in the Baltic with hostile views. Christian IV. also threw a sufficient garrison into Stralsund, and by his personal presence animated the courage of the citizens. Some ships of war which Sigismund, King of Poland, had sent to the assistance of the imperial general, were sunk by the Danish fleet; and as Lubeck refused him the use of its shipping, this imperial generalissimo of the sea had not even ships enough to blockade this single harbour.

Nothing could appear more adventurous than to attempt the conquest of a strongly fortified seaport without first blockading its harbour. Wallenstein, however, who as yet had never experienced a check, wished to conquer nature itself, and to perform impossibilities. Stralsund, open to the sea, continued to be supplied with provisions and reinforcements; yet Wallenstein maintained his blockade on the land side, and endeavoured, by boasting menaces, to supply his want of real strength. "I will take this town," said he, "though it were fastened by a chain to the heavens." The Emperor himself, who might have cause to regret an enterprise which promised no very glorious result, joyfully availed himself of the apparent submission and acceptable propositions of the inhabitants, to order the general to retire from the town. Wallenstein despised the command, and continued to harass the besieged by incessant assaults. As the Danish garrison, already much reduced, was unequal to the fatigues of this prolonged defence, and the king was unable to detach any further troops to their support, Stralsund, with Christian's consent, threw itself under the protection of the King of Sweden. The Danish commander left the town to make way for a Swedish governor, who gloriously defended it. Here Wallenstein's good fortune forsook him; and, for the first time, his pride experienced the humiliation of relinquishing his prey, after the loss of many months and of 12,000 men. The necessity to which he reduced the town of applying for protection to Sweden, laid the foundation of a close alliance between Gustavus Adolphus and Stralsund, which greatly facilitated the


The Thirty Years War, Book II. - 6/17

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