(originally Waldstein; 1583–1634),
‘Torn by the hatred and favour of each faction, his name merges unsteadily with the past.’ (‘Von der Parteien Gunst und Hassverwirrt, schwankt sein Charakterbild in der Geschichte.’)- Friedrich Schiller’s lines on Wallenstein
Bohemian noble, soldier, and statesman who played an important role in the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein was born in Bohemia (today the Czech Republic). Given a Protestant upbringing, he converted to Catholicism in 1606. In 1609, his Jesuit confessor arranged his marriage to a wealthy widow who may have been some ten years his senior. When she died in 1614, he inherited all her estates. During the Bohemian rebellion that began in 1618, he remained loyal to the ruler, the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II (ruled 1619–1637), and profited enormously from the latter’s victory over the rebels. He was appointed governor of the kingdom of Bohemia and bought up a large number of confiscated estates so that he came to possess most of northeastern Bohemia. These estates were consolidated into Friedland, of which he became duke in 1623.
In 1625, when the emperor decided to raise an army of his own to counter the threat from Christian IV of Denmark (ruled 1596–1648), Wallenstein was the obvious choice to be commander in chief; he was appointed on 7 April. It is often said that he raised and paid for this army at his own expense, and there is certainly some truth to it: he was able to put together a force of over 24,000 without recourse to the imperial treasury. His great personal wealth and his ability to obtain loans were important factors, but Wallenstein’s primary aim was to sustain his forces with requisitions from any territory they occupied. He also used his duchy of Friedland as a source of supplies.
During the Danish phase of the war (1625– 1629), Wallenstein enjoyed considerable military success. He defeated the Protestant commander, Count Ernst of Mansfeld, at Dessau in 1626, and early in 1627 he marched into Holstein and Jutland (the Danish mainland) before turning east into Mecklenburg and Pomerania. The dukes of Mecklenburg had supported Christian IV, so the emperor deprived them of their titles, transferred their confiscated estates to Wallenstein (February 1627), and the following year made him the sole duke of Mecklenburg (January 1628). This arbitrary move caused some disquiet among all hereditary rulers.
The campaign of 1628 was anticlimactic. The complete defeat of Denmark turned out to be an impossibility: although the emperor appointed Wallenstein ‘‘General of the Oceanic and Baltic Seas’’ in February 1628, without a fleet the Danish islands were beyond his reach. He attempted to capture the port of Stralsund in the summer of 1628 (May– July), but without success. Although he defeated Christian again at Wolgast in September, Wallenstein warned the emperor that if peace were not made, Sweden might undertake a full intervention. He also warned that the cost of maintaining his 100,000-strong army was placing an intolerable burden on the north German states. Peace was made at Lubeck (July 1629).
Wallenstein’s success and his financial exactions from friend and foe alike created enormous resentment and, with the coming of what was thought to be peace, the princes turned on him at the Electoral Diet in Regensburg and made a formal request for his dismissal on 16 July 1630. Surprisingly, Ferdinand agreed to comply; the general was dismissed on 13 August. Equally surprising was the fact that Wallenstein also complied. Indeed, it would appear that he had come to feel that the maintenance of such a large army was unsustainable and greeted the end of his responsibility with relief. Although there are some indications that Ferdinand had come to distrust his general, his dismissal deprived the emperor of military power just as he faced invasion from the Swedish king, Gustavus II Adolphus.
The success of Gustavus II Adolphus in 1631 forced the emperor to recall Wallenstein, and he was appointed commander in chief (with considerable powers) once again in April 1632. Although he was not victorious at the Battle of Lutzen in November, the death of the Swedish king in that battle created a new political situation. Surprisingly, Wallenstein did not go on the offensive, but sought to conduct negotiations with all concerned parties in an effort to bring peace (and probably to obtain territory and titles for himself). However, his independence, his alleged double-dealing, his reliance on astrological predictions, and his bizarre behavior (it was asserted that on arrival in any town he ordered all dogs and cats to be killed because he did not like the noise they made) undermined his credibility with everyone. By now he had become a liability to the emperor, who saw him as a traitorous conspirator (and dispensable now that Spanish aid was imminent). Accordingly, in January 1634 he ordered Wallenstein’s capture (or liquidation), and the following month he was assassinated—by an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman.
Wallenstein was the most important military entrepreneur in the Thirty Years’ War, and his alleged treason and murder have overshadowed the considerable success he had in his first imperial generalship (1625–1630), when he raised the emperor to the zenith of his power. An enigmatic figure, his life became the subject of a dramatic trilogy by the German poet, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller.
B I B L I O G R A P H Y
Asch, Ronald G. The Thirty Years’ War: The Holy Roman Empire and Europe, 1618–1648. New York and London, 1997. An up-to-date survey of the war of manageable length that keeps the focus on Germany. Wallenstein is not neglected.
Benecke, Gerhard, ed. Germany in the Thirty Years’ War. London, 1978. A collection of documents; for Wallenstein’s reappointment in 1632 and his assassination in 1634, see pp. 89–92.
Darby, Graham. The Thirty Years’ War. London, 2001. A concise introduction to the conflict; a good place to start.
Mann, Golo. Wallenstein: His Life Narrated. New York, 1976. Translated from the German edition of 1971 by Charles Kessler, this runs to over 900 pages, without the notes and bibliography of the original.
Parker, Geoffrey, ed. The Thirty Years’ War. 2nd ed. London and New York, 1997. Currently the definitive work on the war, with a full set of notes and a comprehensive bibliography that lists all the essential works in German. For Wallenstein, see especially pp. 262–263 of the bibliographical essay.