History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Ferdinand II

But at this very time a new and great enemy had landed in Germany. This was Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. He was called the "Lion of the North." And a lion of strength he looked with his mane of tawny hair and great broad shoulders.

Gustavus Adolphus came with only a small army. But he expected that the Protestant nobles would receive him with joy, and hasten to join his standard. The Germans, however, looked upon his coming with suspicion. They could not make up their minds that he came as a friend, and they received him coldly.

At first, too, the Emperor thought lightly of this fresh foe. "We have a new little enemy," he said scornfully.

Magdeburg had resisted the Edict of Restitution, and now Tilly with his army lay around the town. Gustavus Adolphus sent messages of encouragement to the people and promised help. But surrounded as he was with men who were hostile or suspicious, he dared not move quickly. So before he arrived the city was taken.

And when it was taken there followed a slaughter too awful to think about. The victorious soldiers seemed to have lost all human feeling, and to be changed into pitiless demons. No cry for mercy was of any avail. Old men, defenceless women and children, were murdered as mercilessly as the armed soldiers who could fight for their lives.

At length, seized with a kind of desperate courage, the citizens resolved to die by their own hands rather than await the brutality of the soldiers. So they set fire to the town. Then began a new horror. On all sides fires sprang up, and soon the roar of flames and the crash of falling houses were added to the general tumult.

The air quivered with heat, grew dense with smoke. It was impossible to breathe freely, and even the blood-maddened soldiers were at length forced to leave their savage work.

Night came on. It was a night of noise and horror, and leaping flames. The fire roared unceasingly from street to street, until, finding nothing else to feed upon, it at last died down. When morning dawned it showed Magdeburg a heap of blackened ruins. Nothing was saved but the grand Cathedral and one or two houses round it. In a few hours one of the finest cities of Germany had been laid in ashes.

The cruelty of the conquerors of Magdeburg made many of the wavering Protestant nobles turn to Gustavus, and on September 7, 1631, he defeated Tilly in a great battle at Breitenfeld near Leipzic.

After this the southward march of the Swedish King was a march of triumph. Again he met Tilly in battle, and again Tilly was defeated. It was the old General's last fight, for in it he was so sorely wounded that he died about a fortnight later.

There seemed nothing now left to the Emperor but to recall Wallenstein. He alone, it seemed, would know how to check the triumphant march of the bold young King.

But Wallenstein had been spurned and insulted. He had appeared, indeed, to take his dismissal quietly. But deep in his heart anger burned, not only against the nobles who had brought about his dismissal, but against the Emperor who had allowed it. He wanted to make the Emperor feel what it meant to "insult a cavalier," as he said.

He began in secret to make terms with Gustavus Adolphus, and when now the Emperor implored him to come to his aid, he scornfully refused.

"I shall not stir," he said; "no not if the Lord of heaven came down to ask it of me."

But Wallenstein's plotting with Gustavus Adolphus came to nothing, and in the end he yielded to the Emperor's persuasion, and consented to help him. So once again the magnificent, despotic old General was head of the Imperial army. But he made his own terms—such terms as never before or since has a General made. He took command, not as a mere soldier, but as a ruling Prince. Not even the Emperor was to give him orders.

The Emperor's army was well-nigh shattered. But there was magic in the mere name of Wallenstein, and as soon as it was known that he would once more take the field, thousands flocked to his standard.

And now the great struggle began between the old warrior and the young. Battles were fought and broad lands laid desolate as the two played the deadly game, marching and counter-marching.

At length, at Lutzen, on November 6, 1632, the great battle of the war took place. The day dawned dark and dreary, but both camps were early astir. The Swedes, in battle array, knelt to pray, then, rising, they sang Luther's hymn, "A strong fortress is our Lord."

Then, Gustavus, mounting his horse, spoke to his men.

"Comrades," he cried, "make ready to show yourselves the brave soldiers you are. Stand shoulder to shoulder, and fight for your religion and your King, and I will reward you all. But hold yourselves like cowards, and not one of you will ever cross the Baltic again and see your native land. May God keep you all."

Then, turning to the German army, he bade them too be brave, and follow him. "God, I trust," he cried, "will give you a victory which will be memorable for all time. If not, then farewell to your religion and your liberty."

In Wallenstein's army Mass was said, but their leader made no speech. He had no need. The sight of him, the mere magic of his name, was enough to fill them with courage.

So, one side shouting "Jesus, Maria," the other "God with us," the battle began.

When the fight was at its fiercest a thick fog fell upon the field, and in the darkness the King, charging at the head of his horsemen, dashed into the enemies' lines. Shot after shot was fired upon him, and, mortally wounded, he fell to the ground.

The regiment swept on, and Gustavus was left with only a young page beside him. He tried to raise his master and carry him to a place of safety. But in vain; for the King was of great stature and was too heavy for him.

Then, even as the page tried to bring his master into safety, some of the enemy riding up demanded the name of the wounded noble. The page would not answer.

But Gustavus Adolphus himself replied. "I am the King of Sweden," he murmured.

Right glad were the horsemen when they heard that, and bending from his saddle one of them put his pistol to the King's head and shot him dead. Having stabbed the faithful page, they robbed both him and the King of everything, even of the clothes they wore. Then they rode away.

Meanwhile, the King's great white horse, all flecked with blood and foam, dashed madly among his men. Its empty stirrups and dragging reins carried to them the dreadful news. Seeing his riderless horse, they knew to a certainty that their King must be either dead or mortally wounded. But instead of making them lose courage, that certainty roused them to fury. Eager to avenge their beloved leader's death, they dashed wildly upon the foe.

The Imperial troops began to waver. Through their ranks rode Wallenstein, drawn sword in hand, encouraging them, urging them onward. Shots flew thick and fast around him, his cloak was riddled, but he himself passed through the deadly hail unharmed. It was as if he bore a charmed life.

For seven hours the battle lasted. Then Wallenstein, acknowledging defeat at last, ordered his men to retreat, and the pursuing Swedes drove them in disorder from the field.

The victory remained with the Swedes, but it was all too dearly bought. For among the slain, his fair face trampled and disfigured, his yellow hair clotted and dark with the dust and blood of battle, lay the "Golden King of the North."



The death of Gustavus Adolphus was a terrible blow to the Protestants of Europe. But the war continued, the Swedish Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, taking the dead King's place as leader.

Wallenstein now wanted to make peace. He wanted to make a peace which would bring much profit to himself and add another great principality to his already huge possessions. He found, however, that he could not do exactly as he wished, so he began to have secret dealings With Oxenstierna. But Oxenstierna did not trust him.

And now once more the Emperor became eager to be rid of Wallenstein, once more there were plots against him, and many of his soldiers deserted.

Wallenstein had always been very sure of himself and of his power. But at length finding himself deserted by many of his friends, he could no longer shut his eyes to the fact that he was in danger of something worse than merely being dismissed a second time. He determined therefore to flee and join the enemy.

The Emperor longed to be rid of Wallenstein, still he hesitated. "Why this delay?" whispered the Spanish Ambassador. "A pistol or a dagger would soon make an end of him." Still the Emperor seemed to hesitate.

Then without the Emperor's orders, but perhaps not without his knowledge, some of Wallenstein's officers swore together to kill him and four of his chief friends.

The conspirators resolved to begin with the friends, and they asked them to supper in the castle of Eger, to which place Wallenstein had fled. Suspecting nothing, the four accepted the invitation. But as soon as they were within, the gates were shut and guarded, and soldiers were posted in the rooms near that in which supper was served.

The evening passed merrily, in feasting and drinking and so friendly were their hosts that the doomed men suspected nothing. At length dessert was placed upon the table. At the same moment the doors at either end of the hall were thrown open, and armed men rushed in. "Long live the House of Austria!" they cried. "Who among you are good Imperialists?" and awaiting no answer they fell upon their unsuspecting victims.

The four fought desperately for their lives, but the struggle was soon over. They could do little against such odds, and one by one they fell dead.

It was now near midnight, and the conspirators set forth to Wallenstein's house to finish their deadly work. He had but just gone to bed, and as they noisily mounted the stairs, his servant, coming down, begged them to make less noise, as his master was going to sleep.

"But this is a time for noise," shouted their captain, and pushing the man roughly aside, he strode on to Wallenstein's room.

The door was locked, but a few blows soon burst it open, and the soldiers rushed in.

Clad in a long sleeping robe, the old warrior stood by the open window.

The rebel captain did not hesitate a moment; no feeling of pity or respect for the General he had so often followed in battle, touched his heart. "Traitor, you must die," he cried.

Wallenstein answered nothing. His lips moved, but no word came. Standing proudly erect, his arms thrown wide, calmly he awaited the death-stroke. It took him fair in the breast, and without a groan he sank to the ground dead.

Thus ended the life of this strange man. He was not wholly good nor wholly bad. But he was hated by both sides—by the Protestants, of whom he was the open enemy; by the Catholics, who believed him to be a traitor. But traitor or no, he was the one man who could have brought peace to Europe at the time. He died, and the war continued.

The murderers were richly rewarded by the Emperor. He heaped money and lands and honours upon them. And in order to prove that that which they had done was not a murder, but a just execution, he published a letter setting forth all the bad things Wallenstein had done, and all the still worse things he had meant to do.