History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Ferdinand II

Ferdinand, the nephew of Matthias, was now chosen and crowned as Emperor. But the Bohemians refused to acknowledge him as King. Instead they chose the young Elector Palatine known as Frederick V. He was weak and easily led, but he seemed to be more powerful than he really was, for he had married the Princess Elizabeth of England, and it was hoped that James I would help him. Our George I, it may interest you to remember, was the grandson of this Frederick V.

In November Frederick was crowned at Prague with great splendour, a great deal of money being spent on the ceremony, in spite of the fact that the army was in need, and the soldiers forced to plunder in order to find food.

But all his splendour notwithstanding, those on the Emperor's side thought little of King Frederick. "He is but a winter king," they said, sure that before the summer came his grandeur would have melted away.

Ferdinand was resolved to conquer his rival, and at the same time crush out Protestantism, not only in Bohemia, but in all Germany. So he set out to fight the Winter King. In 1620 a great battle was fought at Weissenberg, or White Hill, near Prague. The leader on the Emperor's side was a great general named Tilly. Tilly was a little lean man of very strange appearance. Great gloomy eyes looked forth from his brown and wrinkled face. His beard was pointed, and his grey moustache bristled fiercely. Upon his shock of rough grey hair he wore a little green cap with a tall red feather, and he generally dressed himself in a green satin coat.

On Frederick's side the Prince Christian of Anhalt led. The King himself took no part in the battle. He left his ragged soldiers to fight for his crown while he entertained two British ambassadors at dinner.

The numbers on either side were nearly equal. But Ferdinand's soldiers were well fed and well drilled. Frederick's were hungry, ragged, and undisciplined. The fight was not long. It began about 12 o'clock on a dull November Sunday, and little more than an hour later the Bohemians were fleeing madly from the field.

Frederick rose from dinner, a king without a country. He had done nothing to win the love of his people, much to make them hate him and his foreign wife. The day after the defeat of the White Hill they fled, followed by the curses of their subjects.

With the flight of the King, Bohemian resistance was at an end. The Imperial troops entered Prague, and Bohemia yielded to the Emperor. The news of the victory was brought to him at Vienna. There, too, he received much treasure which had been captured. Among it was the Letter of Majesty, Bohemia's charter of freedom. When he saw it, Ferdinand, with great joy, tore the royal seal from off it, and cut the parchment in two.

Ferdinand now took bitter vengeance on Bohemia for its revolt. Some of the Protestant leaders were put to death, thousands were sent into exile. The Protestant clergy were banished, and none but the Catholic religion was allowed. The people were fined and taxed, and robbed of their lands and money, until, instead of being a wealthy and prosperous land, Bohemia became a poor and miserable land. Instead of having four million inhabitants, it had barely one.

Meanwhile, the war which had begun as a quarrel between Bohemia and the Emperor spread until almost every country in Europe was drawn into it. For some it was a religious war, a fight for freedom of conscience. For others it was merely a war of politics, a fight against the every-increasing might of the Hapsburgs. Britain, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden took sides against the Emperor. France too fought against him. For although Richelieu was at this time cruelly crushing out the Protestants in France, he was willing enough to help them in Germany, for through them he hoped to weaken the power of the Emperor.

So in spite of many successes, Ferdinand's position was by no means secure. His army was small, his treasury growing daily more and more empty. He knew that if he were to save his crown, he must raise a large army; but he had no money with which to do it.

It was then that a great soldier, Albert of Waldstein, generally known as Wallenstein, came to his aid. Wallenstein was the son of noble, but by no means rich or powerful parents. He, however, very soon showed that he meant to be both rich and powerful. He married a wealthy lady, and when she died and left him all her lands and money, he married another rich heiress. In many other ways he added possession to possession, and lastly he bought huge tracts of land taken from the conquered Bohemians.

He was now immensely wealthy, and he offered to raise an army of 21,000 men at his own expense. But after it was raised the Empire was to pay all salaries, and Wallenstein, as commander-in-chief, was to have the ransom of prisoners, a share of the spoil, and almost kingly power over the conquered.

The Emperor agreed to all that Wallenstein asked, and Wallenstein more than kept his word. For soon he had a far larger army in the field than he had promised. He welcomed all alike to his army, Protestants or Catholics, honest men or scoundrels; all that he asked was that they should fight. And he got what he asked. "God help the land to which these men come," cried a terrified onlooker, as the wild horde marched past him.

Wallenstein himself travelled in princely magnificence. He kept as great state as the Emperor himself. He had a suite of more than two hundred pages, servants, bodyguards, priests, and courtiers about him. A thousand horses were needed for the use of his followers alone. His table was served with the greatest magnificence, with the most splendid foods and wines; and the members of the greatest families, both knights and nobles, were eager to wait upon him.

Wallenstein himself was dark and silent. He spoke little, laughed never. He was tall and thin and very still and mysterious. His small bright eyes seemed to be the only living thing in his dark and gloomy face. In this strange man the Emperor soon learned to put his whole trust. But at the same time he learned to dread him.

In 1627 Wallenstein's army defeated the Protestant army under Count Ernst of Mansfeld at Dessau. Mansfeld was an outlawed noble. He had been a Catholic, and had fought against the Protestants. But having been converted, he now fought on their side. But soon after the defeat at Dessau Mansfeld died. He was a brave and fearless soldier, and he refused to die in his bed. Feeling that he had not long to live, he bade the sorrowing friends who watched around his death-bed to dress him, put on his armour, and gird him with his sword.

"Up, then," he cried; "the end is near. Dear friends, bear me to the open window, so that once again I may feel the morning air upon my face. Death which has ever spared me in the battlefield shall not take me on soft pillows. Standing, I will give back my soul to the God of battles."

So, held erect by two friends, his dim eyes looking full into the wintry dawn, the brave general met his last enemy. "Keep together," he murmured with his latest breath; "make a brave stand."

Another great leader on the Protestant side, Christian of Anhalt, died the same year. Christian IV of Denmark, too, was defeated, and forced to sue for peace. Everywhere the Emperor, with the help of his great general, Wallenstein, seemed victorious.

But at length, before the town of Stralsund, on the shores of the Baltic, Wallenstein's triumphant career was checked. Wallenstein and his hosts lay about the walls, but the people of Stralsund would not yield to him. Week by week they held out, and week by week Wallenstein's determination to take the town grew stronger. "I will have Stralsund," he cried, "even if it were fastened with chains to heaven." And he meant to have it without conditions of any kind, to do with as he would. So when the citizens tried to make terms with him, he treated them with scorn. "Your town shall be as flat as that," he said, as he passed his hand over the table in front of him.

But week after week passed, and Stralsund still held out. At length the great general was forced to eat his proud words, forget his proud threats, and march away.

This siege of Stralsund was a great turning-point in the war. But the Emperor did not know it. In spite of it he believed himself to be completely victorious, and upon Wallenstein's advice he signed the Peace of Lubeck in 1629.

Feeling himself now all powerful, Ferdinand issued what is called the Edict of Restitution. By this Edict he commanded that all bishoprics which had fallen into Protestants' hands should be given back to the Catholics, and that Catholic priests should everywhere replace the Protestant ministers. This Edict burst like a thunderstorm over Protestant Germany. The people were struck helpless with surprise. Everywhere officers and soldiers appeared to see that the Edict was obeyed. Protestant services were stopped, pulpits and bells were carried off, Bibles and hymn-books were seized and burned. The Protestant cause seemed dead.

But now just at this time bitter quarrels began to show themselves on the other side. Many of the nobles had long been jealous of Wallenstein. He was too powerful, too haughty, and they hated him. Now they persuaded the Emperor that he and his army were a danger to the Empire, and begged him to dismiss Wallenstein.

For a long time the Emperor hesitated. He too had grown to fear Wallenstein, but he knew also how much he had done. At length, however, he yielded, and two of Wallenstein's former friends were sent to tell him that the Emperor wanted him no longer.

They were a little afraid to go, for they knew not how Wallenstein might receive them. But the message they brought was no news to Wallenstein, for he had friends at court who had warned him of what was afoot against him. Wallenstein, therefore, had had time to think the matter over. He had decided that it would be best to take the Emperor's dismissal quietly. So he received the messengers very courteously, and entertained them nobly. When at length, with much hesitation, they began to explain their message, he stopped them. "There is no need," he said, "I have already read my destiny in the stars. I do not blame the Emperor, though I am sorry that he has forsaken me so easily. I will, however, yield obedience to him."

So without a murmur the great general retired into private life. Part of his army was disbanded, and part was placed under the leadership of Tilly, his great rival.