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- The Thirty Years War, Book I. - 15/15 -


churches in Germany. Anxiously on the stretch was the expectation of both parties. How great then was their astonishment when suddenly the intelligence of peace arrived, and both armies separated without striking a blow!

The intervention of France effected this peace, which was equally acceptable to both parties. The French cabinet, no longer swayed by the counsels of Henry the Great, and whose maxims of state were perhaps not applicable to the present condition of that kingdom, was now far less alarmed at the preponderance of Austria, than of the increase which would accrue to the strength of the Calvinists, if the Palatine house should be able to retain the throne of Bohemia. Involved at the time in a dangerous conflict with its own Calvinistic subjects, it was of the utmost importance to France that the Protestant faction in Bohemia should be suppressed before the Huguenots could copy their dangerous example. In order therefore to facilitate the Emperor's operations against the Bohemians, she offered her mediation to the Union and the League, and effected this unexpected treaty, of which the main article was, "That the Union should abandon all interference in the affairs of Bohemia, and confine the aid which they might afford to Frederick the Fifth, to his Palatine territories." To this disgraceful treaty, the Union were moved by the firmness of Maximilian, and the fear of being pressed at once by the troops of the League, and a new Imperial army which was on its march from the Netherlands.

The whole force of Bavaria and the League was now at the disposal of the Emperor to be employed against the Bohemians, who by the pacification of Ulm were abandoned to their fate. With a rapid movement, and before a rumour of the proceedings at Ulm could reach there, Maximilian appeared in Upper Austria, when the Estates, surprised and unprepared for an enemy, purchased the Emperor's pardon by an immediate and unconditional submission. In Lower Austria, the duke formed a junction with the troops from the Low Countries under Bucquoi, and without loss of time the united Imperial and Bavarian forces, amounting to 50,000 men, entered Bohemia. All the Bohemian troops, which were dispersed over Lower Austria and Moravia, were driven before them; every town which attempted resistance was quickly taken by storm; others, terrified by the report of the punishment inflicted on these, voluntarily opened their gates; nothing in short interrupted the impetuous career of Maximilian. The Bohemian army, commanded by the brave Prince Christian of Anhalt, retreated to the neighbourhood of Prague; where, under the walls of the city, Maximilian offered him battle.

The wretched condition in which he hoped to surprise the insurgents, justified the rapidity of the duke's movements, and secured him the victory. Frederick's army did not amount to 30,000 men. Eight thousand of these were furnished by the Prince of Anhalt; 10,000 were Hungarians, whom Bethlen Gabor had despatched to his assistance. An inroad of the Elector of Saxony upon Lusatia, had cut off all succours from that country, and from Silesia; the pacification of Austria put an end to all his expectations from that quarter; Bethlen Gabor, his most powerful ally, remained inactive in Transylvania; the Union had betrayed his cause to the Emperor. Nothing remained to him but his Bohemians; and they were without goodwill to his cause, and without unity and courage. The Bohemian magnates were indignant that German generals should be put over their heads; Count Mansfeld remained in Pilsen, at a distance from the camp, to avoid the mortification of serving under Anhalt and Hohenlohe. The soldiers, in want of necessaries, became dispirited; and the little discipline that was observed, gave occasion to bitter complaints from the peasantry. It was in vain that Frederick made his appearance in the camp, in the hope of reviving the courage of the soldiers by his presence, and of kindling the emulation of the nobles by his example.

The Bohemians had begun to entrench themselves on the White Mountain near Prague, when they were attacked by the Imperial and Bavarian armies, on the 8th November, 1620. In the beginning of the action, some advantages were gained by the cavalry of the Prince of Anhalt; but the superior numbers of the enemy soon neutralized them. The charge of the Bavarians and Walloons was irresistible. The Hungarian cavalry was the first to retreat. The Bohemian infantry soon followed their example; and the Germans were at last carried along with them in the general flight. Ten cannons, composing the whole of Frederick's artillery, were taken by the enemy; four thousand Bohemians fell in the flight and on the field; while of the Imperialists and soldiers of the League only a few hundred were killed. In less than an hour this decisive action was over.

Frederick was seated at table in Prague, while his army was thus cut to pieces. It is probable that he had not expected the attack on this day, since he had ordered an entertainment for it. A messenger summoned him from table, to show him from the walls the whole frightful scene. He requested a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours for deliberation; but eight was all the Duke of Bavaria would allow him. Frederick availed himself of these to fly by night from the capital, with his wife, and the chief officers of his army. This flight was so hurried, that the Prince of Anhalt left behind him his most private papers, and Frederick his crown. "I know now what I am," said this unfortunate prince to those who endeavoured to comfort him; "there are virtues which misfortune only can teach us, and it is in adversity alone that princes learn to know themselves."

Prague was not irretrievably lost when Frederick's pusillanimity abandoned it. The light troops of Mansfeld were still in Pilsen, and were not engaged in the action. Bethlen Gabor might at any moment have assumed an offensive attitude, and drawn off the Emperor's army to the Hungarian frontier. The defeated Bohemians might rally. Sickness, famine, and the inclement weather, might wear out the enemy; but all these hopes disappeared before the immediate alarm. Frederick dreaded the fickleness of the Bohemians, who might probably yield to the temptation to purchase, by the surrender of his person, the pardon of the Emperor.

Thurn, and those of this party who were in the same condemnation with him, found it equally inexpedient to await their destiny within the walls of Prague. They retired towards Moravia, with a view of seeking refuge in Transylvania. Frederick fled to Breslau, where, however, he only remained a short time. He removed from thence to the court of the Elector of Brandenburg, and finally took shelter in Holland.

The battle of Prague had decided the fate of Bohemia. Prague surrendered the next day to the victors; the other towns followed the example of the capital. The Estates did homage without conditions, and the same was done by those of Silesia and Moravia. The Emperor allowed three months to elapse, before instituting any inquiry into the past. Reassured by this apparent clemency, many who, at first, had fled in terror appeared again in the capital. All at once, however, the storm burst forth; forty-eight of the most active among the insurgents were arrested on the same day and hour, and tried by an extraordinary commission, composed of native Bohemians and Austrians. Of these, twenty-seven, and of the common people an immense number, expired on the scaffold. The absenting offenders were summoned to appear to their trial, and failing to do so, condemned to death, as traitors and offenders against his Catholic Majesty, their estates confiscated, and their names affixed to the gallows. The property also of the rebels who had fallen in the field was seized. This tyranny might have been borne, as it affected individuals only, and while the ruin of one enriched another; but more intolerable was the oppression which extended to the whole kingdom, without exception. All the Protestant preachers were banished from the country; the Bohemians first, and afterwards those of Germany. The `Letter of Majesty', Ferdinand tore with his own hand, and burnt the seal. Seven years after the battle of Prague, the toleration of the Protestant religion within the kingdom was entirely revoked. But whatever violence the Emperor allowed himself against the religious privileges of his subjects, he carefully abstained from interfering with their political constitution; and while he deprived them of the liberty of thought, he magnanimously left them the prerogative of taxing themselves.

The victory of the White Mountain put Ferdinand in possession of all his dominions. It even invested him with greater authority over them than his predecessors enjoyed, since their allegiance had been unconditionally pledged to him, and no Letter of Majesty now existed to limit his sovereignty. All his wishes were now gratified, to a degree surpassing his most sanguine expectations.

It was now in his power to dismiss his allies, and disband his army. If he was just, there was an end of the war--if he was both magnanimous and just, punishment was also at an end. The fate of Germany was in his hands; the happiness and misery of millions depended on the resolution he should take. Never was so great a decision resting on a single mind; never did the blindness of one man produce so much ruin.


The Thirty Years War, Book I. - 15/15

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