War of Politics and Power

Veneered with religion, power was becoming concentrated in the hands of top-tier nobles, aided by burgeoning cadres of civil servants in place of the courtiers of old. This was the era when the nation-state was being born to leave in the dust principalities, baronies, fiefdoms, independent cities, bishoprics, and so many other political divisions of society. The painful birth strained much of Europe.

Upon a cursory glance, the Holy Roman Empire could have appeared as a nation-like political entity. By this time, however, in Voltaire’s words, it was “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.” It was a leftover from the Middle Ages, and the Thirty Years War ripped apart what little unity was left of it.

Glancing back, in 1608 Catholic Bavaria seized and catholicized the Lutheran Imperial Free City of Donauworth, perhaps less out of concern for the inhabitants’ souls than for the valuable bridge across the Danube. In response, Protestant members of the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire left to found the Protestant Union. In response to that response, the duke of Bavaria formed the Catholic League.

This is mentioned to let you know what “Leaguist” refers to in the military force referenced as “Imperial-Leaguist.”

Initially, Phillip III of Spain subsidized the League’s military with Tilly named commander. But the Duke, Maximilian, did not care to associate his Bavaria too closely with Spain and soon reformed the Catholic League to consist only of German nobility and their lands. He stepped aside in 1619 to allow his in-law Ferdinand to become Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. But the Protestant Elector Palatine, Frederick, then asserted claim to Bavaria’s eastern neighbor, Bohemia. His Catholic feathers ruffled, Maximilian decided to take charge of the Catholic League army with Tilly remaining in command, and the new Emperor, Ferdinand II, permitted him to assume control of the war in Bohemia. That army trounced the Protestant army in the first big engagement of the war, the 1620 Battle of White Mountain.

Maximilian I, young at the left, old at the right, firmly ruled Bavaria for 54 years, 1597-1651

Maximilian became Elector of Bavaria in 1623. He efficiently ruled Bavaria and, not forgetting his faith and considering the best interests of the Austrian Habsburgs were his best interests (usually), he stood by the side of his in-law, Ferdinand II. He restructured Bavaria’s finances so well that his Electorate was well able to fund Bavaria’s military ventures, and he made himself overseer of many details of the lives of his people. An example: Maximilian forbade any male under the age of 45 to use a carriage, to ride a horse instead in order to be fit for cavalry service.

This League was still going strong in 1631.

Before being named Emperor in 1619, Ferdinand ruled the Austrian portion of the Holy Roman Empire. This Austria encompassed not only what is present-day Austria but other parts of central Europe such as the western periphery of today’s Hungary. Ferdinand ruled from Vienna and, under him, that city was the Empire’s court. Ferdinand received support and soldiers for his armies from other Catholic lands in the realm as well as from several Lutheran rulers who wished at least to remain neutral in the conflict. It was the Emperor’s military that was the “Imperial” part of “Imperial-Leaguist.”

Ferdinand II usually confined his reading to religious tracts.

Compared to Maximilian, the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, was not nearly as strong willed. Nor was he original in his thinking. Throughout his reign during that war, his decisions and orders were more reaction than action. Profoundly devout in his Catholicism and a supporter of the Church’s Counter Reformation, Ferdinand let himself be influenced by the Jesuits in his court. Ferdinand’s court encouraged their Emperor to hold the Church foremost, in conquered lands like Bohemia to restore property that had been the Church’s before 1555 but seized afterwards by those heretical Protestants. From that encouragement came the Edict of Restitution of 1629. That shook up nearly all the Protestant rulers of lands in the Holy Roman Empire not yet succumbed to the armies of Ferdinand or Maximilian. Glancing around for support from possible seizures and economic disruption, they were disappointed with the Danes for their failed intervention in the war. Calvinist Netherlands had already resumed its war of independence with Spain after a twelve-year cease-fire truce. France continued to resist encirclement by the Habsburgs, though without wishing to resort to war to its east –

But then another power stepped to the fore: Sweden.

Interests of state and politics made for odd alliances. Most Catholic France allied itself with most Protestant Sweden in 1629. That June Sweden had suffered a serious defeat to the Poles and a French envoy to the camp of Gustavus Adolphus offered to extricate Sweden from the bog. Although Sweden faced surrendering most of its gains in that war, French persuasion prevailed. Peace was made and Sweden was promised financial support by France, plus lucrative shipping tolls from Prussian and Polish ports for six years. The king was free to turn his eyes to Germany.

France, ruled by Louis XIII and administrated by Cardinal Richelieu with his aides, profoundly desired to curb Habsburg power – at that time in two large areas but still one family. Habsburg domains bracketed France to the west, northeast and southeast under Spain, and the Habsburg, Ferdinand II legally controlled the feeble Holy Roman Empire (and his rule backed by his undefeated armies), thereby extending Habsburg control to the Rhine and eastern border of France. Swedish intervention held out the chance of curbing or even thwarting the spread of the Austrian Habsburgs at a cost of a little money and no French blood.

Possibly of concern to the French and certainly to the Swedes was the defeat of Denmark to two Imperial-backed armies under Tilly and Wallenstein. By 1630, those armies were then in a position to influence affairs on the south shores of the Baltic, Sweden’s waterway to the rest of the world. Wallenstein occupied Jutland, replaced the dukes of Mecklenburg with himself and had 12,000 men to spare for a loan to Sigismund of Poland, at war with Sweden and who also happened to be the brother-in-law to the Austrian emperor. Tilly’s army held Hesse-Kassel, besieged Straslund and then Magdeburg. Pomerania had to permit Imperial troops to be garrisoned there.  No overt threats had been made against Sweden, but its king and his ministers worried that sooner or later...