Count Ernst von Mansfeld proved a resourceful and tenacious opponent. Having failed to break through north-west Bohemia and join Jägerndorf in May 1621, he entrenched 13,000 men at Waidhaus on the Nuremberg–Pilsen road just inside the Upper Palatinate. The remaining 2,000 were posted in Amberg and Cham to cover his rear against the Bavarians while he faced Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly and Baltasar Marradas, who had collected over 18,000 Liga and imperial troops opposite him at Roshaupt (Rozuadov) across the pass. The two armies spent the next four months alternately assaulting and shelling each other’s encampments in the first of a series of protracted struggles that characterized the war as much as the better-known pitched battles. Tilly remained weak, despite his superior numbers, because Maximilian had withdrawn his best regiments to form a second Bavarian army at Straubing totalling 14,500 men. The soldiers were replaced by fewer numbers of militia, who performed badly in the prolonged positional warfare.
Maximilian’s preparations at Straubing were finally complete by mid-September 1621. Within a week he had taken Cham and was closing against Amberg, intending to trap Mansfeld against the mountains. With his customary negotiations going nowhere, Mansfeld broke out one stormy night and dashed to Neumarkt. Once Tilly had crossed the pass to join Maximilian, Mansfeld’s position became untenable and he raced westwards on 9 October, through Nuremberg to Mannheim, abandoning stragglers to arrive two weeks later with 7,000 unruly, unpaid troops.
His escape was embarrassing for Tilly, but an opportunity for Maximilian. The Upper Palatinate submitted without further resistance, freeing Tilly to pursue Mansfeld. Maximilian was concerned the Spanish might seize the entire Lower Palatinate and wanted to capture at least its capital Heidelberg as it was associated with the electoral title. Mansfeld escaped across the Rhine to ravage Lower Alsace, abandoning the area to the east to Tilly. Sickness and detachments had reduced the main Liga army strength to fewer than 12,000, and it was unable to take either Heidelberg or Mannheim, while Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba and the Spanish similarly failed to dislodge the British defenders in Frankenthal.
The resistance of his fortresses revived Frederick’s hopes and he travelled incognito through France to join Mansfeld at Germersheim on 22 April 1622. Georg Friedrich of Baden-Durlach declared his hand, handing over government to his eldest son and mustering his own troops at Knielingen, near modern Karlsruhe. Duke Christian had been unable to break through Count Jean Jacob Anholt’s cordon at the end of 1621, but did eject Wolfgang Wilhelm’s garrison from Lippstadt in the County of Mark in January. Dutch engineers helped transform the town into a major fortress, while Christian’s cavalry ransacked nearby Paderborn. The contents of the episcopal treasury were sold to buy arms and build the army to around 10,000 men.
Tilly faced the formidable task of defeating the three paladins before they could combine. New recruits had given him 20,000 men ready to besiege Heidelberg. Frederick and Mansfeld crossed the Rhine at Germersheim, plundering their way across the bishopric of Speyer, but found Tilly’s position at Wiesloch too strong. They fell back, hoping Georg Friedrich would join them. Tilly pounced at dawn on 27 April, catching them as they crossed the swollen Kleinbach stream at Mingolsheim 10km south of Wiesloch. Tilly had about 15,000 men with him, 3,000 less than Mansfeld. The Liga advance guard threw Mansfeld’s cavalry into confusion as they tried to cover the crossing of the rest of the army. Cohesion was lost as men raced for the bridge and the road became clogged with abandoned wagons. Tilly’s Croats set the village on fire, but a Protestant Swiss regiment held it long enough for the fugitives to regroup on a hill to the south. Mansfeld and Frederick had gone on ahead, but now returned and rode along the lines exhorting the men to redeem the honour lost at White Mountain. Tilly attacked over the bridge as his infantry arrived that afternoon, but Mansfeld counter-attacked with his cavalry from behind the hill and chased Tilly’s troops back through Mingolsheim until they were halted by the Schmidt infantry regiment of Liga veterans. Mansfeld’s rearguard remained on the hill until dusk, before following the rest of the army that had already retreated having lost 400 killed. Discipline was collapsing. Many of Mansfeld’s men had lost their shoes scrambling across the marshy stream and spent the afternoon stripping the dead. Tilly’s losses were greater, possibly 2,000, and he retired east to Wimpfen.
The first round had been a draw, but the advantage of numbers still lay with the paladins as Georg Friedrich joined Frederick and Mansfeld at Sinsheim on 29 April to give them a total force of 30,000. They wasted time besieging the small town of Eppingen, failing to crush Tilly before he was joined by Córdoba who had crossed the Rhine with 5,300 men. Short of supplies, Mansfeld marched to attack the Spanish garrison in Ladenburg that cut the road between Mannheim and Heidelberg, leaving a few regiments to give Georg Friedrich 12,700 men. Tilly dissuaded Córdoba from departing to save Ladenburg and persuaded him instead to attack the margrave, who was overconfident and unaware of the Spaniards’ arrival. They spent the night of 5 May 1622 deploying on a wooded hill south of Wimpfen. As he served a king, Córdoba took the place of honour on the right, while Tilly’s 12,900 Liga troops occupied the left. The overnight rain had cleared, leaving hot and sunny weather the following morning. The men rested in the shade, fortifying themselves with breakfast and a wine ration, while their artillery shelled the Baden army deployed to the south. Georg Friedrich had chosen a bad position in the right-angle formed by the Neckar and the marshy Bölliger stream that was to his rear, with a wood on his left and his right flank next to Ober Eisesheim village, just west of the Neckar. The entire front was covered by 70 wagons, some mounting small cannon, protecting 2,000 musketeers, with the remaining infantry drawn up behind. It appeared strong, but left little chance for retreat if things went wrong.
Tilly and Córdoba began a general advance at 11 a.m., but were forced back by heavy fire and retired to the shade of the trees. Georg Friedrich also broke for lunch, recalling his outposts, including those in the wood to his left. Córdoba immediately occupied this with Spanish musketeers. The battle resumed as Georg Friedrich sent infantry to retake the wood, while launching most of his cavalry in a surprise attack from Ober Eisesheim. Their advance was screened by the thick clouds of smoke from the ineffectual cannonade and dust thrown up by skirmishers riding about the plain between the two armies. Several Liga units broke and the entire left began to give way as Georg Friedrich’s riders fanned out along the hill, capturing the artillery. Men of the Schmidt regiment saw one of their comrades, who had left the ranks to relieve himself, suddenly ‘come running, holding his trousers in his hand and shouting: The enemy! The enemy!’ The regiment quickly formed a defensive hedgehog, pikes pointing in all directions, while some of its musketeers rushed to man four cannon to their left that the gunners had just abandoned.
Georg Friedrich’s cavalry lost cohesion as some swirled around the immovable Schmidt regiment, while others dashed after the units that had broken earlier. His infantry were still stuck behind their wagons, too far away to assist. Meanwhile, Córdoba’s musketeers had worked their way round the far end of the line and were threatening its rear. Numbers and experience eventually prevailed as the Liga and Spanish cavalry regrouped and pushed their opponents off the field by the late afternoon. The infantry launched a final assault around 7 p.m. on the wagon line. At that moment, some powder wagons to the rear exploded, sending more smoke into the evening sky and creating the myth of the white-robed woman urging the Catholics to victory. Despite being mainly militia, the Baden infantry resisted stoutly, the final detachment surrendering at 9 p.m. The assault cost Tilly and Córdoba 1,800 casualties, but Georg Friedrich’s army had ceased to exist. A quarter were illed or captured, and around half dispersed, leaving barely 3,000 to join Mansfeld, who finally captured Ladenburg on 8 May.
Mansfeld temporarily re-crossed the Rhine to chase away Archduke Leopold who was threatening his new base of Hagenau in Alsace. Duke Christian’s army at last approached the Main, but its route south to join Mansfeld lay through the lands of the ostensibly neutral, but secretly pro-imperial landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt. Mansfeld returned from Alsace in early June and seized the landgrave to force him to give Christian passage. Córdoba re-crossed the Rhine with most of his men in the other direction, but Tilly was more than compensated by the arrival of General Caracciolo’s other Spanish corps from Bohemia, as well as Anholt who had been shadowing Christian’s march from Westphalia. This gave him 30,000 men, the largest force he had yet commanded. Having blocked Mansfeld’s march north at Lorsch on 10 June, Tilly boldly abandoned the area south of the Main to cross at Aschaffenburg and move past Frankfurt to catch Christian as he was crossing at Höchst, just west of the city on 20 June.
Mansfeld had managed to reinforce Christian with 5,000 men, but he was still outnumbered two-to-one. This time there was no repeat of the mistakes at Mingolsheim. Tilly methodically isolated the 2,000 infantry Christian had left at Sossenheim to delay him, relying on panic to do its work. The Höchst bridge became clogged with wagons and collapsed after only 3,000 had crossed. Christian ordered his cavalry to swim across, but many drowned. Disorder increased with the appearance of a Liga cavalry regiment sent just for that purpose. Höchst castle held out until 10 p.m., but Christian lost a third of his army, while many of the survivors were without weapons. Tilly repaired the bridge and continued the pursuit southwards the next day. Christian joined Mansfeld, who lost another 2,000 men covering their combined retreat to Mannheim. The rest of the baggage was captured, while Christian’s cavalry regretted the fine Westphalian hams they lost as they ditched their saddle-bags to get away.
The battle sealed the Palatinate’s fate. Georg Friedrich had already opened negotiations for a pardon, disbanding his remaining troops on 22 June, abdicating in favour of his son and returning the land taken from his relations. Mansfeld and Christian retreated to Hagenau. Under pressure from King James to placate the emperor, Frederick cancelled Mansfeld’s contract on 13 July 1622. Sending Anhalt in pursuit of Mansfeld, Tilly remained east of the river, retaking Ladenburg and finally capturing Heidelberg (on 15 September) and Mannheim (on 2 November) after long sieges. Duke Maximilian now held the entire eastern half of the Lower Palatinate and installed Heinrich von Metternich as governor.
Harried by Anhalt, Leopold and the 9,000 Cossacks who had just arrived, Mansfeld evacuated his loot from Hagenau and retreated with Christian through neutral Lorraine to Sedan. Relations between the two commanders were tense and they came close to fighting a duel. Renewed negotiations with all parties resulted in their gaining a contract to enter Dutch service for three months on 24 August. Ambrogio Spinola had concentrated 20,600 men to besiege Bergen-op-Zoom, the fortress that secured the Dutch salient south of the Rhine and supported the crippling blockade of Antwerp. The two paladins were supposed to assist in its relief, but this necessitated their dashing across Spanish territory. They had already lost 11,000 deserters since leaving Alsace and were down to 6,000 cavalry and 8,000 infantry, most of whom were mutinous and barely under orders. Córdoba had marched after them. He now overtook their columns and blocked the way at Fleurus, west of Namur, with 9,000 foot and 2,000 horse on 29 August. After repeated attacks, the Spanish right gave way and all who could sped past. The paladins lost all their baggage and artillery, and most of their infantry, but many of the cavalry reached Breda the next day. Wounded, Christian had his lower left arm amputated to the accompaniment of martial music, and he issued a commemorative medal inscribed Altera restat: I’ve still got the other one! Like Mingolsheim, the battle was hailed as a great Protestant victory, but it made little difference to the siege of Bergen, which was finally abandoned by Spinola on 4 October when it became obvious the Dutch could resupply the garrison by sea.