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- The Thirty Years War, Book IV. - 2/9 -


Oxenstiern was on his way to Upper Germany, in order to assemble the four Upper Circles, when the news of the king's death reached him at Hanau. This was a heavy blow, both to the friend and the statesman. Sweden, indeed, had lost but a king, Germany a protector; but Oxenstiern, the author of his fortunes, the friend of his soul, and the object of his admiration. Though the greatest sufferer in the general loss, he was the first who by his energy rose from the blow, and the only one qualified to repair it. His penetrating glance foresaw all the obstacles which would oppose the execution of his plans, the discouragement of the estates, the intrigues of hostile courts, the breaking up of the confederacy, the jealousy of the leaders, and the dislike of princes of the empire to submit to foreign authority. But even this deep insight into the existing state of things, which revealed the whole extent of the evil, showed him also the means by which it might be overcome. It was essential to revive the drooping courage of the weaker states, to meet the secret machinations of the enemy, to allay the jealousy of the more powerful allies, to rouse the friendly powers, and France in particular, to active assistance; but above all, to repair the ruined edifice of the German alliance, and to reunite the scattered strength of the party by a close and permanent bond of union. The dismay which the loss of their leader occasioned the German Protestants, might as readily dispose them to a closer alliance with Sweden, as to a hasty peace with the Emperor; and it depended entirely upon the course pursued, which of these alternatives they would adopt. Every thing might be lost by the slightest sign of despondency; nothing, but the confidence which Sweden showed in herself, could kindle among the Germans a noble feeling of self-confidence. All the attempts of Austria, to detach these princes from the Swedish alliance, would be unavailing, the moment their eyes became opened to their true interests, and they were instigated to a public and formal breach with the Emperor.

Before these measures could be taken, and the necessary points settled between the regency and their minister, a precious opportunity of action would, it is true, be lost to the Swedish army, of which the enemy would be sure to take the utmost advantage. It was, in short, in the power of the Emperor totally to ruin the Swedish interest in Germany, and to this he was actually invited by the prudent councils of the Duke of Friedland. Wallenstein advised him to proclaim a universal amnesty, and to meet the Protestant states with favourable conditions. In the first consternation produced by the fall of Gustavus Adolphus, such a declaration would have had the most powerful effects, and probably would have brought the wavering states back to their allegiance. But blinded by this unexpected turn of fortune, and infatuated by Spanish counsels, he anticipated a more brilliant issue from war, and, instead of listening to these propositions of an accommodation, he hastened to augment his forces. Spain, enriched by the grant of the tenth of the ecclesiastical possessions, which the pope confirmed, sent him considerable supplies, negociated for him at the Saxon court, and hastily levied troops for him in Italy to be employed in Germany. The Elector of Bavaria also considerably increased his military force; and the restless disposition of the Duke of Lorraine did not permit him to remain inactive in this favourable change of fortune. But while the enemy were thus busy to profit by the disaster of Sweden, Oxenstiern was diligent to avert its most fatal consequences.

Less apprehensive of open enemies, than of the jealousy of the friendly powers, he left Upper Germany, which he had secured by conquests and alliances, and set out in person to prevent a total defection of the Lower German states, or, what would have been almost equally ruinous to Sweden, a private alliance among themselves. Offended at the boldness with which the chancellor assumed the direction of affairs, and inwardly exasperated at the thought of being dictated to by a Swedish nobleman, the Elector of Saxony again meditated a dangerous separation from Sweden; and the only question in his mind was, whether he should make full terms with the Emperor, or place himself at the head of the Protestants and form a third party in Germany. Similar ideas were cherished by Duke Ulric of Brunswick, who, indeed, showed them openly enough by forbidding the Swedes from recruiting within his dominions, and inviting the Lower Saxon states to Luneburg, for the purpose of forming a confederacy among themselves. The Elector of Brandenburg, jealous of the influence which Saxony was likely to attain in Lower Germany, alone manifested any zeal for the interests of the Swedish throne, which, in thought, he already destined for his son. At the court of Saxony, Oxenstiern was no doubt honourably received; but, notwithstanding the personal efforts of the Elector of Brandenburg, empty promises of continued friendship were all which he could obtain. With the Duke of Brunswick he was more successful, for with him he ventured to assume a bolder tone. Sweden was at the time in possession of the See of Magdeburg, the bishop of which had the power of assembling the Lower Saxon circle. The chancellor now asserted the rights of the crown, and by this spirited proceeding, put a stop for the present to this dangerous assembly designed by the duke. The main object, however, of his present journey and of his future endeavours, a general confederacy of the Protestants, miscarried entirely, and he was obliged to content himself with some unsteady alliances in the Saxon circles, and with the weaker assistance of Upper Germany.

As the Bavarians were too powerful on the Danube, the assembly of the four Upper Circles, which should have been held at Ulm, was removed to Heilbronn, where deputies of more than twelve cities of the empire, with a brilliant crowd of doctors, counts, and princes, attended. The ambassadors of foreign powers likewise, France, England, and Holland, attended this Congress, at which Oxenstiern appeared in person, with all the splendour of the crown whose representative he was. He himself opened the proceedings, and conducted the deliberations. After receiving from all the assembled estates assurances of unshaken fidelity, perseverance, and unity, he required of them solemnly and formally to declare the Emperor and the league as enemies. But desirable as it was for Sweden to exasperate the ill-feeling between the emperor and the estates into a formal rupture, the latter, on the other hand, were equally indisposed to shut out the possibility of reconciliation, by so decided a step, and to place themselves entirely in the hands of the Swedes. They maintained, that any formal declaration of war was useless and superfluous, where the act would speak for itself, and their firmness on this point silenced at last the chancellor. Warmer disputes arose on the third and principal article of the treaty, concerning the means of prosecuting the war, and the quota which the several states ought to furnish for the support of the army. Oxenstiern's maxim, to throw as much as possible of the common burden on the states, did not suit very well with their determination to give as little as possible. The Swedish chancellor now experienced, what had been felt by thirty emperors before him, to their cost, that of all difficult undertakings, the most difficult was to extort money from the Germans. Instead of granting the necessary sums for the new armies to be raised, they eloquently dwelt upon the calamities occasioned by the former, and demanded relief from the old burdens, when they were required to submit to new. The irritation which the chancellor's demand for money raised among the states, gave rise to a thousand complaints; and the outrages committed by the troops, in their marches and quarters, were dwelt upon with a startling minuteness and truth.

In the service of two absolute monarchs, Oxenstiern had but little opportunity to become accustomed to the formalities and cautious proceedings of republican deliberations, or to bear opposition with patience. Ready to act, the instant the necessity of action was apparent, and inflexible in his resolution, when he had once taken it, he was at a loss to comprehend the inconsistency of most men, who, while they desire the end, are yet averse to the means. Prompt and impetuous by nature, he was so on this occasion from principle; for every thing depended on concealing the weakness of Sweden, under a firm and confident speech, and by assuming the tone of a lawgiver, really to become so. It was nothing wonderful, therefore, if, amidst these interminable discussions with German doctors and deputies, he was entirely out of his sphere, and if the deliberateness which distinguishes the character of the Germans in their public deliberations, had driven him almost to despair. Without respecting a custom, to which even the most powerful of the emperors had been obliged to conform, he rejected all written deliberations which suited so well with the national slowness of resolve. He could not conceive how ten days could be spent in debating a measure, which with himself was decided upon its bare suggestion. Harshly, however, as he treated the States, he found them ready enough to assent to his fourth motion, which concerned himself. When he pointed out the necessity of giving a head and a director to the new confederation, that honour was unanimously assigned to Sweden, and he himself was humbly requested to give to the common cause the benefit of his enlightened experience, and to take upon himself the burden of the supreme command. But in order to prevent his abusing the great powers thus conferred upon him, it was proposed, not without French influence, to appoint a number of overseers, in fact, under the name of assistants, to control the expenditure of the common treasure, and to consult with him as to the levies, marches, and quarterings of the troops. Oxenstiern long and strenuously resisted this limitation of his authority, which could not fail to trammel him in the execution of every enterprise requiring promptitude or secrecy, and at last succeeded, with difficulty, in obtaining so far a modification of it, that his management in affairs of war was to be uncontrolled. The chancellor finally approached the delicate point of the indemnification which Sweden was to expect at the conclusion of the war, from the gratitude of the allies, and flattered himself with the hope that Pomerania, the main object of Sweden, would be assigned to her, and that he would obtain from the provinces, assurances of effectual cooperation in its acquisition. But he could obtain nothing more than a vague assurance, that in a general peace the interests of all parties would be attended to. That on this point, the caution of the estates was not owing to any regard for the constitution of the empire, became manifest from the liberality they evinced towards the chancellor, at the expense of the most sacred laws of the empire. They were ready to grant him the archbishopric of Mentz, (which he already held as a conquest,) and only with difficulty did the French ambassador succeed in preventing a step, which was as impolitic as it was disgraceful. Though on the whole, the result of the congress had fallen far short of Oxenstiern's expectations, he had at least gained for himself and his crown his main object, namely, the direction of the whole confederacy; he had also succeeded in strengthening the bond of union between the four upper circles, and obtained from the states a yearly contribution of two millions and a half of dollars, for the maintenance of the army.

These concessions on the part of the States, demanded some return from Sweden. A few weeks after the death of Gustavus Adolphus, sorrow ended the days of the unfortunate Elector Palatine. For eight months he had swelled the pomp of his protector's court, and expended on it the small remainder of his patrimony. He was, at last, approaching the goal of his wishes, and the prospect of a brighter future was opening, when death deprived him of his protector. But what he regarded as the greatest calamity, was highly favourable to his heirs. Gustavus might venture to delay the restoration of his dominions, or to load the gift with hard conditions; but Oxenstiern, to whom the friendship of England, Holland, and Brandenburg, and the good opinion of the Reformed States were indispensable, felt the necessity of immediately fulfilling the obligations of justice. At this assembly, at Heilbronn, therefore, he engaged to surrender to Frederick's heirs the whole Palatinate, both the part already conquered, and that which remained to be conquered, with the exception of Manheim, which the Swedes were to hold, until they should be indemnified for their expenses. The Chancellor did not confine his liberality to the family of the Palatine alone; the other allied princes received proofs, though at a later period, of the gratitude of Sweden, which, however, she dispensed at little cost to herself.

Impartiality, the most sacred obligation of the historian, here compels


The Thirty Years War, Book IV. - 2/9

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