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- The Thirty Years War, Book V. - 2/10 -


subjects, and seduced by the tempting propositions of the House of Austria, the Elector at last abandoned the common cause, and, caring little for the fate of his confederates, or the liberties of Germany, thought only of securing his own advantages, even at the expense of the whole body.

In fact, the misery of Germany had risen to such a height, that all clamorously vociferated for peace; and even the most disadvantageous pacification would have been hailed as a blessing from heaven. The plains, which formerly had been thronged with a happy and industrious population, where nature had lavished her choicest gifts, and plenty and prosperity had reigned, were now a wild and desolate wilderness. The fields, abandoned by the industrious husbandman, lay waste and uncultivated; and no sooner had the young crops given the promise of a smiling harvest, than a single march destroyed the labours of a year, and blasted the last hope of an afflicted peasantry. Burnt castles, wasted fields, villages in ashes, were to be seen extending far and wide on all sides, while the ruined peasantry had no resource left but to swell the horde of incendiaries, and fearfully to retaliate upon their fellows, who had hitherto been spared the miseries which they themselves had suffered. The only safeguard against oppression was to become an oppressor. The towns groaned under the licentiousness of undisciplined and plundering garrisons, who seized and wasted the property of the citizens, and, under the license of their position, committed the most remorseless devastation and cruelty. If the march of an army converted whole provinces into deserts, if others were impoverished by winter quarters, or exhausted by contributions, these still were but passing evils, and the industry of a year might efface the miseries of a few months. But there was no relief for those who had a garrison within their walls, or in the neighbourhood; even the change of fortune could not improve their unfortunate fate, since the victor trod in the steps of the vanquished, and friends were not more merciful than enemies. The neglected farms, the destruction of the crops, and the numerous armies which overran the exhausted country, were inevitably followed by scarcity and the high price of provisions, which in the later years was still further increased by a general failure in the crops. The crowding together of men in camps and quarters--want upon one side, and excess on the other, occasioned contagious distempers, which were more fatal than even the sword. In this long and general confusion, all the bonds of social life were broken up;--respect for the rights of their fellow men, the fear of the laws, purity of morals, honour, and religion, were laid aside, where might ruled supreme with iron sceptre. Under the shelter of anarchy and impunity, every vice flourished, and men became as wild as the country. No station was too dignified for outrage, no property too holy for rapine and avarice. In a word, the soldier reigned supreme; and that most brutal of despots often made his own officer feel his power. The leader of an army was a far more important person within any country where he appeared, than its lawful governor, who was frequently obliged to fly before him into his own castles for safety. Germany swarmed with these petty tyrants, and the country suffered equally from its enemies and its protectors. These wounds rankled the deeper, when the unhappy victims recollected that Germany was sacrificed to the ambition of foreign powers, who, for their own ends, prolonged the miseries of war. Germany bled under the scourge, to extend the conquests and influence of Sweden; and the torch of discord was kept alive within the Empire, that the services of Richelieu might be rendered indispensable in France.

But, in truth, it was not merely interested voices which opposed a peace; and if both Sweden and the German states were anxious, from corrupt motives, to prolong the conflict, they were seconded in their views by sound policy. After the defeat of Nordlingen, an equitable peace was not to be expected from the Emperor; and, this being the case, was it not too great a sacrifice, after seventeen years of war, with all its miseries, to abandon the contest, not only without advantage, but even with loss? What would avail so much bloodshed, if all was to remain as it had been; if their rights and pretensions were neither larger nor safer; if all that had been won with so much difficulty was to be surrendered for a peace at any cost? Would it not be better to endure, for two or three years more, the burdens they had borne so long, and to reap at last some recompense for twenty years of suffering? Neither was it doubtful, that peace might at last be obtained on favourable terms, if only the Swedes and the German Protestants should continue united in the cabinet and in the field, and pursued their common interests with a reciprocal sympathy and zeal. Their divisions alone, had rendered the enemy formidable, and protracted the acquisition of a lasting and general peace. And this great evil the Elector of Saxony had brought upon the Protestant cause by concluding a separate treaty with Austria.

He, indeed, had commenced his negociations with the Emperor, even before the battle of Nordlingen; and the unfortunate issue of that battle only accelerated their conclusion. By it, all his confidence in the Swedes was lost; and it was even doubted whether they would ever recover from the blow. The jealousies among their generals, the insubordination of the army, and the exhaustion of the Swedish kingdom, shut out any reasonable prospect of effective assistance on their part. The Elector hastened, therefore, to profit by the Emperor's magnanimity, who, even after the battle of Nordlingen, did not recall the conditions previously offered. While Oxenstiern, who had assembled the estates in Frankfort, made further demands upon them and him, the Emperor, on the contrary, made concessions; and therefore it required no long consideration to decide between them.

In the mean time, however, he was anxious to escape the charge of sacrificing the common cause and attending only to his own interests. All the German states, and even the Swedes, were publicly invited to become parties to this peace, although Saxony and the Emperor were the only powers who deliberated upon it, and who assumed the right to give law to Germany. By this self-appointed tribunal, the grievances of the Protestants were discussed, their rights and privileges decided, and even the fate of religions determined, without the presence of those who were most deeply interested in it. Between them, a general peace was resolved on, and it was to be enforced by an imperial army of execution, as a formal decree of the Empire. Whoever opposed it, was to be treated as a public enemy; and thus, contrary to their rights, the states were to be compelled to acknowledge a law, in the passing of which they had no share. Thus, even in form, the pacification at Prague was an arbitrary measure; nor was it less so in its contents. The Edict of Restitution had been the chief cause of dispute between the Elector and the Emperor; and therefore it was first considered in their deliberations. Without formally annulling it, it was determined by the treaty of Prague, that all the ecclesiastical domains holding immediately of the Empire, and, among the mediate ones, those which had been seized by the Protestants subsequently to the treaty at Passau, should, for forty years, remain in the same position as they had been in before the Edict of Restitution, but without any formal decision of the diet to that effect. Before the expiration of this term a commission, composed of equal numbers of both religions, should proceed to settle the matter peaceably and according to law; and if this commission should be unable to come to a decision, each party should remain in possession of the rights which it had exercised before the Edict of Restitution. This arrangement, therefore, far from removing the grounds of dissension, only suspended the dispute for a time; and this article of the treaty of Prague only covered the embers of a future war.

The archbishopric of Magdeburg remained in possession of Prince Augustus of Saxony, and Halberstadt in that of the Archduke Leopold William. Four estates were taken from the territory of Magdeburg, and given to Saxony, for which the Administrator of Magdeburg, Christian William of Brandenburg, was otherwise to be indemnified. The Dukes of Mecklenburg, upon acceding to this treaty, were to be acknowledged as rightful possessors of their territories, in which the magnanimity of Gustavus Adolphus had long ago reinstated them. Donauwerth recovered its liberties. The important claims of the heirs of the Palatine, however important it might be for the Protestant cause not to lose this electorate vote in the diet, were passed over in consequence of the animosity subsisting between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. All the conquests which, in the course of the war, had been made by the German states, or by the League and the Emperor, were to be mutually restored; all which had been appropriated by the foreign powers of France and Sweden, was to be forcibly wrested from them by the united powers. The troops of the contracting parties were to be formed into one imperial army, which, supported and paid by the Empire, was, by force of arms, to carry into execution the covenants of the treaty.

As the peace of Prague was intended to serve as a general law of the Empire, those points, which did not immediately affect the latter, formed the subject of a separate treaty. By it, Lusatia was ceded to the Elector of Saxony as a fief of Bohemia, and special articles guaranteed the freedom of religion of this country and of Silesia.

All the Protestant states were invited to accede to the treaty of Prague, and on that condition were to benefit by the amnesty. The princes of Wurtemberg and Baden, whose territories the Emperor was already in possession of, and which he was not disposed to restore unconditionally; and such vassals of Austria as had borne arms against their sovereign; and those states which, under the direction of Oxenstiern, composed the council of the Upper German Circle, were excluded from the treaty,--not so much with the view of continuing the war against them, as of compelling them to purchase peace at a dearer rate. Their territories were to be retained in pledge, till every thing should be restored to its former footing. Such was the treaty of Prague. Equal justice, however, towards all, might perhaps have restored confidence between the head of the Empire and its members-- between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics--between the Reformed and the Lutheran party; and the Swedes, abandoned by all their allies, would in all probability have been driven from Germany with disgrace. But this inequality strengthened, in those who were more severely treated, the spirit of mistrust and opposition, and made it an easier task for the Swedes to keep alive the flame of war, and to maintain a party in Germany.

The peace of Prague, as might have been expected, was received with very various feelings throughout Germany. The attempt to conciliate both parties, had rendered it obnoxious to both. The Protestants complained of the restraints imposed upon them; the Roman Catholics thought that these hated sectaries had been favoured at the expense of the true church. In the opinion of the latter, the church had been deprived of its inalienable rights, by the concession to the Protestants of forty years' undisturbed possession of the ecclesiastical benefices; while the former murmured that the interests of the Protestant church had been betrayed, because toleration had not been granted to their co-religionists in the Austrian dominions. But no one was so bitterly reproached as the Elector of Saxony, who was publicly denounced as a deserter, a traitor to religion and the liberties of the Empire, and a confederate of the Emperor.

In the mean time, he consoled himself with the triumph of seeing most of the Protestant states compelled by necessity to embrace this peace. The Elector of Brandenburg, Duke William of Weimar, the princes of Anhalt, the dukes of Mecklenburg, the dukes of Brunswick Lunenburg, the Hanse towns, and most of the imperial cities, acceded to it. The Landgrave William of Hesse long wavered, or affected to do so, in order to gain time, and to regulate his measures by the course of events. He had conquered several fertile provinces of Westphalia, and derived from them principally the means of continuing the war; these, by the terms of the treaty, he was bound to restore. Bernard, Duke of Weimar, whose states, as yet, existed only on paper, as a belligerent power was not affected by the treaty, but as a general was so materially; and, in either view,


The Thirty Years War, Book V. - 2/10

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