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- The Thirty Years War, Book IV. - 1/9 -




Translated from the German




The weak bond of union, by which Gustavus Adolphus contrived to hold together the Protestant members of the empire, was dissolved by his death: the allies were now again at liberty, and their alliance, to last, must be formed anew. By the former event, if unremedied, they would lose all the advantages they had gained at the cost of so much bloodshed, and expose themselves to the inevitable danger of becoming one after the other the prey of an enemy, whom, by their union alone, they had been able to oppose and to master. Neither Sweden, nor any of the states of the empire, was singly a match with the Emperor and the League; and, by seeking a peace under the present state of things, they would necessarily be obliged to receive laws from the enemy. Union was, therefore, equally indispensable, either for concluding a peace or continuing the war. But a peace, sought under the present circumstances, could not fail to be disadvantageous to the allied powers. With the death of Gustavus Adolphus, the enemy had formed new hopes; and however gloomy might be the situation of his affairs after the battle of Lutzen, still the death of his dreaded rival was an event too disastrous to the allies, and too favourable for the Emperor, not to justify him in entertaining the most brilliant expectations, and not to encourage him to the prosecution of the war. Its inevitable consequence, for the moment at least, must be want of union among the allies, and what might not the Emperor and the League gain from such a division of their enemies? He was not likely to sacrifice such prospects, as the present turn of affairs held out to him, for any peace, not highly beneficial to himself; and such a peace the allies would not be disposed to accept. They naturally determined, therefore, to continue the war, and for this purpose, the maintenance of the existing union was acknowledged to be indispensable.

But how was this union to be renewed? and whence were to be derived the necessary means for continuing the war? It was not the power of Sweden, but the talents and personal influence of its late king, which had given him so overwhelming an influence in Germany, so great a command over the minds of men; and even he had innumerable difficulties to overcome, before he could establish among the states even a weak and wavering alliance. With his death vanished all, which his personal qualities alone had rendered practicable; and the mutual obligation of the states seemed to cease with the hopes on which it had been founded. Several impatiently threw off the yoke which had always been irksome; others hastened to seize the helm which they had unwillingly seen in the hands of Gustavus, but which, during his lifetime, they did not dare to dispute with him. Some were tempted, by the seductive promises of the Emperor, to abandon the alliance; others, oppressed by the heavy burdens of a fourteen years' war, longed for the repose of peace, upon any conditions, however ruinous. The generals of the army, partly German princes, acknowledged no common head, and no one would stoop to receive orders from another. Unanimity vanished alike from the cabinet and the field, and their common weal was threatened with ruin, by the spirit of disunion.

Gustavus had left no male heir to the crown of Sweden: his daughter Christina, then six years old, was the natural heir. The unavoidable weakness of a regency, suited ill with that energy and resolution, which Sweden would be called upon to display in this trying conjuncture. The wide reaching mind of Gustavus Adolphus had raised this unimportant, and hitherto unknown kingdom, to a rank among the powers of Europe, which it could not retain without the fortune and genius of its author, and from which it could not recede, without a humiliating confession of weakness. Though the German war had been conducted chiefly on the resources of Germany, yet even the small contribution of men and money, which Sweden furnished, had sufficed to exhaust the finances of that poor kingdom, and the peasantry groaned beneath the imposts necessarily laid upon them. The plunder gained in Germany enriched only a few individuals, among the nobles and the soldiers, while Sweden itself remained poor as before. For a time, it is true, the national glory reconciled the subject to these burdens, and the sums exacted, seemed but as a loan placed at interest, in the fortunate hand of Gustavus Adolphus, to be richly repaid by the grateful monarch at the conclusion of a glorious peace. But with the king's death this hope vanished, and the deluded people now loudly demanded relief from their burdens.

But the spirit of Gustavus Adolphus still lived in the men to whom he had confided the administration of the kingdom. However dreadful to them, and unexpected, was the intelligence of his death, it did not deprive them of their manly courage; and the spirit of ancient Rome, under the invasion of Brennus and Hannibal, animated this noble assembly. The greater the price, at which these hard-gained advantages had been purchased, the less readily could they reconcile themselves to renounce them: not unrevenged was a king to be sacrificed. Called on to choose between a doubtful and exhausting war, and a profitable but disgraceful peace, the Swedish council of state boldly espoused the side of danger and honour; and with agreeable surprise, men beheld this venerable senate acting with all the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Surrounded with watchful enemies, both within and without, and threatened on every side with danger, they armed themselves against them all, with equal prudence and heroism, and laboured to extend their kingdom, even at the moment when they had to struggle for its existence.

The decease of the king, and the minority of his daughter Christina, renewed the claims of Poland to the Swedish throne; and King Ladislaus, the son of Sigismund, spared no intrigues to gain a party in Sweden. On this ground, the regency lost no time in proclaiming the young queen, and arranging the administration of the regency. All the officers of the kingdom were summoned to do homage to their new princess; all correspondence with Poland prohibited, and the edicts of previous monarchs against the heirs of Sigismund, confirmed by a solemn act of the nation. The alliance with the Czar of Muscovy was carefully renewed, in order, by the arms of this prince, to keep the hostile Poles in check. The death of Gustavus Adolphus had put an end to the jealousy of Denmark, and removed the grounds of alarm which had stood in the way of a good understanding between the two states. The representations by which the enemy sought to stir up Christian IV. against Sweden were no longer listened to; and the strong wish the Danish monarch entertained for the marriage of his son Ulrick with the young princess, combined, with the dictates of a sounder policy, to incline him to a neutrality. At the same time, England, Holland, and France came forward with the gratifying assurances to the regency of continued friendship and support, and encouraged them, with one voice, to prosecute with activity the war, which hitherto had been conducted with so much glory. Whatever reason France might have to congratulate itself on the death of the Swedish conqueror, it was as fully sensible of the expediency of maintaining the alliance with Sweden. Without exposing itself to great danger, it could not allow the power of Sweden to sink in Germany. Want of resources of its own, would either drive Sweden to conclude a hasty and disadvantageous peace with Austria, and then all the past efforts to lower the ascendancy of this dangerous power would be thrown away; or necessity and despair would drive the armies to extort from the Roman Catholic states the means of support, and France would then be regarded as the betrayer of those very states, who had placed themselves under her powerful protection. The death of Gustavus, far from breaking up the alliance between France and Sweden, had only rendered it more necessary for both, and more profitable for France. Now, for the first time, since he was dead who had stretched his protecting arm over Germany, and guarded its frontiers against the encroaching designs of France, could the latter safely pursue its designs upon Alsace, and thus be enabled to sell its aid to the German Protestants at a dearer rate.

Strengthened by these alliances, secured in its interior, and defended from without by strong frontier garrisons and fleets, the regency did not delay an instant to continue a war, by which Sweden had little of its own to lose, while, if success attended its arms, one or more of the German provinces might be won, either as a conquest, or indemnification of its expenses. Secure amidst its seas, Sweden, even if driven out of Germany, would scarcely be exposed to greater peril, than if it voluntarily retired from the contest, while the former measure was as honourable, as the latter was disgraceful. The more boldness the regency displayed, the more confidence would they inspire among their confederates, the more respect among their enemies, and the more favourable conditions might they anticipate in the event of peace. If they found themselves too weak to execute the wide-ranging projects of Gustavus, they at least owed it to this lofty model to do their utmost, and to yield to no difficulty short of absolute necessity. Alas, that motives of self-interest had too great a share in this noble determination, to demand our unqualified admiration! For those who had nothing themselves to suffer from the calamities of war, but were rather to be enriched by it, it was an easy matter to resolve upon its continuation; for the German empire was, in the end, to defray the expenses; and the provinces on which they reckoned, would be cheaply purchased with the few troops they sacrificed to them, and with the generals who were placed at the head of armies, composed for the most part of Germans, and with the honourable superintendence of all the operations, both military and political.

But this superintendence was irreconcileable with the distance of the Swedish regency from the scene of action, and with the slowness which necessarily accompanies all the movements of a council.

To one comprehensive mind must be intrusted the management of Swedish interests in Germany, and with full powers to determine at discretion all questions of war and peace, the necessary alliances, or the acquisitions made. With dictatorial power, and with the whole influence of the crown which he was to represent, must this important magistrate be invested, in order to maintain its dignity, to enforce united and combined operations, to give effect to his orders, and to supply the place of the monarch whom he succeeded. Such a man was found in the Chancellor Oxenstiern, the first minister, and what is more, the friend of the deceased king, who, acquainted with all the secrets of his master, versed in the politics of Germany, and in the relations of all the states of Europe, was unquestionably the fittest instrument to carry out the plans of Gustavus Adolphus in their full extent.

The Thirty Years War, Book IV. - 1/9

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