The Thirty Years’ War – Part 17

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=4]

translated by Annika Backe

The attempt to reconstruct the campaigns in the final years of the Thirty Years’ War is destined to fail since they lack any logic. No more regular payments and the supply with provisions also came to a halt. 

David Beck, Portrait of Swedish General Lennart Torstensson, 17th century.

The new Swedish field marshal, Lennart Torstensson, virtually made the worst his habit by denying his soldiers their pay but, instead, giving them free rein to plunder civilians. 

On the one hand, that proved a great relief to the Swedish state coffers but, on the other hand, constituted a horrible burden for the population which lived in the territories the Swedish troops went through. 

It seems that, in the years after 1640, the military commanders’ sole interest was to lead their troops into areas which still possessed resources untouched by the war. As a matter of fact, however, this put the battles out of their context. The high command was no longer able to move its troops to locations where a strategic goal had to be achieved. Increasing in number, the mercenary soldiers became an ever-growing obstacle to peace. The question was how to deal with all those uprooted people who had never done anything else but warfare during their entire life?

Medal by H. G. Bahre(?) on the Regensburg Diet from 1641. Künker Auction 247 (2014), 5932.

The collapse of Spain threatened to affect the Austrian Habsburgs as well. The emperor, therefore, planned to build on his momentary strength and initiated peace talks for which he intended to be in a still favorable position. 

Summoning an Imperial Diet at Regensburg, which opened on November 10, 1641, the emperor seemed to become both a creator and a guarantee for an all-German peace. This was exactly what Sweden and France had to prevent in order to protect their own interests. 

Contemporary portrait of Swedish Field Marshal Johan Banér.

The Swedish field marshal Johan Banér was given the order to move his army to the city of Regensburg and thus, by posing a visible threat, crush the diet. When the attempt failed, the Swedish tried to drive a wedge between the participants of the diet. A ceasefire with Sweden was granted to Frederick William of Brandenburg. From then on, every estate of the German Empire had to make a decision about whom to approach when negotiating a separate peace for its territory: the emperor, the Swedes, or the French. With the dissolution of the Imperial Diet on November 10, 1641, the opportunity for a general peace was wasted for another 7 years. 

Nuremberg. Friedenswunschdukat 1642. Künker 166 (2010), 4968.

Since the late autumn of 1641, imperial, French, and Swedish ambassadors instead engaged in talks as to how to organize a peace congress. Anybody inclined to believe that the beginning of the negotiations put an end to all military actions, is profoundly wrong. Quite the opposite, literally in the last minute, every power tried to get its hands on pledges and demonstrate its own military power, in order to gain as good a negotiating position as possible.

Medal 1743 by Wermuth on the centenary of liberation from Swedish rule by Torstensson on February 17, 1743. Künker 266 (2015), 1597.

For this reason alone Lennart Torstensson, for example, embarked on a campaign in the spring of 1642, which targeted the ancestral home of the Habsburg in Vienna. He marched into Moravia, conquered Olmütz in June, and came to Vienna as close as 40 kilometers before he withdrew to Saxony again. The imperial army chased him and, on November 2, 1642, engaged him in a battle that resulted in a crushing defeat of the imperial troops. Apart from the annihilation of both material goods and human lives, this campaign did not yield any military advantage. 

The diplomatic advantage, in contrast, was enormous: not the emperor but the Swedish representative in Hamburg could afford to issue a manifesto with which he invited all German estates to bring forward their concerns in an international peace conference. Its beginning was slated for March 25, 1642. The Swedish and their allies were to hold a meeting in the city of Osnabrück, while the French and their entourage were present in Münster. Having only just been militarily humiliated, the emperor could not do anything but to get in line with all the other German estates that commuted between Osnabrück and Münster where they presented their concerns and negotiated. 

Gerard ter Borch, Arrival of Adriaen Pauw at Münster 1643, around 1646.

As late as June 23, 1643, Ferdinand III gave his ambassadors the permission to actively participate in the negotiations as well. The opening of the congress was even further delayed. On December 4, 1644, the official opening finally took place. As a matter of fact, the reason for this considerable delay was that the Swedish as well as the French, and even the imperial parties, actually gained an advantage from prolonging the war. 

François Joseph Heim, Battle of Rocroi 1643, 1834.

France, for example, considered itself to have prevailed over Spain at last. Neither the deaths of Richelieu on December 4, 1642, or of Louis XIII on May 14, 1643, could change that. The reigning power smoothly passed onto Louis XIV who ruled with the aid of his regency council and his chancellor Mazarin for the time-being. Only 5 days after the death of Louis XIII, the decisive Battle of Rocroi took place, in which the French troops almost completely annihilated the Spanish army. 

To Spain, that was the ending of the war, and it could no longer prevent losing the Northern Netherlands. Madrid was thus willing to agree to make peace, mainly because France had lost so many sympathies and political support. After all, Pope Urban VIII, who had been favorable towards France, had died and Innocent X, who was opposed to the French interests, had been elected head of the Catholic Church. He broke off all diplomatic relations with Paris, which made it very hard for the French government to further promote the Catholic cause.

Michiel van Mierevelt, Portrait of Frederick Henry of Orange, 1632/1640.

Actually, Mazarin’s influence in the Netherlands diminished as well. His most important ally, Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, whose army had been funded by France for years on end, fell from favor of his people as he advanced in age. The fact that he was supported by his father-in-law, the English king Charles I, cost him the trust of the Dutch estates, which naturally were more sympathetic to the English parliament under Cromwell. Finally, when a French ambassador approached the estates in an arrogant and brusque manner, the French-Dutch alliance was on the verge of collapse. 

While Spain tried to benefit from the current political constellation to negotiate a favorable truce, France, on the other hand, attempted to delay the negotiations and thus make sure that Spain would not enjoy a peace so advantageous that it might rise again and pose a threat to France. 

Medal 1644 at the start of peace negotiations by Dadler. The war goddess Bellona fights with the goddess of peace, Pax. Rv. the goddess of peace prevails over Mars, the god of war. Ex Künker Auction 120 (2007), 2538.

The emperor was not happy about the congress, taking place at Münster and Osnabrück, either. For quite some time after the Swedish ambassador had called, he still tried to claim power to lead the peace negotiations himself and turn it into a matter of the German estates. Only when they disagreed so strongly that a settlement seemed impossible to reach, was Ferdinand forced to give in and grant the Westphalian meetings the status of Imperial Diet negotiations to the effect that every single contract concluded there and signed by him became imperial law. 

1644 medal on the Swedish naval victory over the Danish near Fehmarn, and on the Swedish queen’s declaration of maturity by Dadler. Ex Künker Auction 266 (2015), 1985.

However, the most important critics of immediate negotiations were in fact those who had sent out the invitations: the Swedish. At that time, they had a quarrel with the king of Denmark about the tariffs he charged for a passage through the Sund and which helped him to balance his own budget at the expense of the Danish merchants. In September, Swedish Chancellor Oxenstierna ordered his field marshal in Germany, Lennart Torstensson, to attack the Danish territories. Already in December 1643, the Swedish army invaded Holstein and, prior to the end of January 1644, overran Jütland. The other parties engaged in Germany criticized the Swedish for launching an attack against Denmark without officially declaring war first. To France, in contrast, this was a welcome opportunity to cancel its contracts with Sweden and stop paying subsidies. To assist the Danes, the emperor even equipped an army, which, however, was defeated by the Swedish troops. In turn, the Swedish soldiers marched deep into the Habsburg hereditary lands. His allies defeated, the Danish king became ready to compromise. He was forced to acknowledge that, all alone, he could hardly make a stand against the Swedish. 

Luckily for him, Christina of Sweden turned 18 on September 18, 1644, and, accordingly, took over the reins of government in Stockholm. Christina wanted peace, and she ordered her ambassadors to finally achieve this goal. Her order made the Peace of Westphalia possible. 

Concluding this series, upcoming Part 18 will tell you how the Thirty Years’ War came to an end at last.

All parts of the series can be found here.

Bottombanner Künker-en