The army of the Catholic Liga and the Bavarian army

Maximilian I von Wittelsbach parading through his troops after the Battle of Melnik, AD 1619

If neither the Danes nor the Dutch made use of what could properly be seen as military enterprisers, developments in the Liga/Bavarian army led to a very different relationship between state power and private capital and organization.

The army of the League of Catholic German states (the Liga) had been formed in 1610 through the direct initiative of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, whose duchy also provided the majority of the troops and funding. This imported into the army Maximilian’s characteristic concern with direct control and accountability, which he was as anxious to apply to an expensive army as he had been to the financial and legal institutions of his duchy. In this concern he was abetted by his close working relationship with his lieutenant general, Jean T’Serclaes de Tilly. Tilly shared decision-making about all aspects of military policy with Maximilian in person, and with the duke’s senior military commissioners, who stood at the head of an elaborate pyramid of administrators, which reached down to the level of the individual regiments and handled issues connected with food and munitions supply and aspects of civil-military discipline. In the early 1620s the resources of Maximilian’s Bavaria and the wealthy Rhineland territories that made up the other key Liga states were sufficient to meet a high proportion of the costs of the army via self-imposed military taxes.

It might seem then that the Liga army was a straightforward precursor of the state-financed, state-directed military force, in which both officers and men were paid employees of the ruler and his state administration, where control and accountability was maintained by salaried state officials on commission, and the commanding officer himself was a willing servant of a ruler who considered that all major military decisions should fall under his purview. But underlying all of this, the essential character of the Bavarian army remained that of a force composed of enterpriser-colonels. Although they might be vetted for their Catholic credentials, and although Maximilian took a strong personal interest in the military capacities of his senior officers, the terms of the Bestallung, or recruitment contract, are recognizably those made with military enterprisers. The parallels with the Bavarian military system are not those of a modern, state-run army, but more closely those of the contemporary Venetian armies and galley fleets, based on hired mercenaries and contracted service, but supervised by state officials – the proveditore – and with a substantial element of state oversight and control over military policy-making and execution. The colonel in the Liga army received full discretion to appoint junior officers, allowing these officers in turn to recruit as they saw fit to produce good-quality recruits, a process which could well include paying above the specified recruitment sums to attract better soldiers. The colonel also held full administrative and judicial rights over his men, and had responsibility for the provision of their weapons, equipment, clothing and, in the case of cavalry, horses, much of which he would recover from their subsequent wages. Above all, although it was masked by the military successes and the relatively easy access to funds from various forms of taxes and contributions in the 1620s, the enterpriser-colonel was still entering into a financial agreement with Maximilian and the Liga in which he would, if required, advance his own capital to raise more troops, to maintain his existing forces or to meet other shortfalls.

What the Liga achieved in the financially ‘good years’ of the 1620s was control over the growth of military enterprise and the extent to which capital could be invested in the army. This was seen most clearly in the decision that none of the colonels in the Liga army should be allowed to acquire command of more than a single regiment. Such a stipulation could not be more different from the case with the armies of Wallenstein or the Swedes, where multiple contracting was the norm and colonels regularly invested in units whose actual command was placed in the hands of the lieutenant colonel. The Liga army did not wholly forbid multiple proprietorship: the cavalry general Jan de Werth, for example, held three regiments. The restriction was more concerned with the practicalities of military administration, with preventing the development of powerful interests and too much financial exposure amongst the senior officers. In a similar spirit, the Liga army stipulated at ten the maximum number of companies in a regiment. Both these policies had the same basic aims: to ensure that the colonels were present in person with the army and controlled their units directly, and that the force that they commanded and might need to finance was of a manageable size – both adminstratively and financially. The weekly salary for a colonel in the army of the Liga in 1629 was 62 talers (approximately 85 florins), while in the same period Wallenstein’s colonels were receiving 400 florins a week, rising to 500.

There were certainly opportunities for the Bavarian colonels to recover some of their investment and to meet the costs of making their units up to strength; even in the difficult winter of 1632/3, the ordinance for winter-quartering accorded the Bavarian colonels billeted on Liga territories 400 florins per month.50 Most of this was intended to assist with the recruitment and reconstruction of the regiments, but doubtless allowed the colonels some element of reimbursement for previous expenditure.

This financial structure based on moderate but regular pay was subject to slippage, above all as the Bavarian and other Liga territories suffered the blows of invasion, devastation and occupation by the Swedes in 1631–4 and again later in the war. But the major army reforms following on the Peace of Prague (1635), which abolished the Catholic Liga army but permitted the Bavarians to retain an independent army under the overall authority of the Emperor, reiterated the principles of restricted investment and a strong administrative-supervisory presence with the army. The advantages of this may have been less apparent in the campaigns of the late 1620s and early 1630s when the armies of Wallenstein, the combined forces of Christian of Denmark and the armies of Gustavus Adolphus were briefly pushing totals of troops under arms into the hundreds of thousands, but in the longer run the Liga/Bavarian model of a small and high-quality army was to prove the optimal solution to the challenges of waging the Thirty Years War, with its logistical constraints and the need to promote sustainability of financial commitments both at the level of exactions from territory and populations and from the military enterprisers themselves.

Over the period 1635 to 1648 by far the largest proportion of the financing of the army came from agreed military contributions levied by local authorities on the Bavarian and Swabian Circles. This was not a system that depended on conquest, occupation and near-confiscatory contribution demands to meet its own military costs. Between 1635 and 1648 the contributions and other local taxes levied across the two Kreise amounted to 11.7 million florins, a huge amount by the standards of pre-war taxation, but spread out across relatively prosperous territories and imposed over fifteen years, it was a sustainable burden. State-sanctioned financial support, coupled with an administrative presence within the armies, permitted the maintenance of the Bavarian system of ‘restricted enterprise’, encouraging the colonels to invest in their units, but at a sustainable level compared with the central sources of funding. This had a particularly significant consequence in maintaining the long-term existence of a significant number of Bavarian regiments.56 While the Bavarian army was not unique in its capacity to maintain a strong core of experienced career soldiers under arms, it was certainly one of the most successful of the armies of the Thirty Years War in this respect. Contemporaries largely agreed that the numbers and quality of veteran soldiers were the key to military effectiveness, and it was unsurprising to them that the Bavarian army, despite its small numbers, had an impressive military reputation.

The limits of military enterprise

The Liga/Bavarian army, with its state-funded and ultimately state-directed military organization which nonetheless recognized distinct financial and organizational benefits in encouraging regimental proprietorship and regulated private interest, is an important model in the evolution of early modern military institutions. However, its emergence depended on the particular circumstances of leadership from the ruler of the one financially robust major state in the Holy Roman Empire, on substantial financial support from other relatively wealthy fellow members of the Catholic Liga, and a political context which for the most part allowed the Liga army more initiative and latitude in deciding on its military commitments and the military scale of its responses than other powers in the war. Other states were in less favourable positions, and the temptation to establish a very different balance between the public and private elements of their military organization was correspondingly greater. The two obvious belligerents pursuing an expansionist approach to the involvement of military enterprise in their war effort were the Habsburg Imperial army and the Swedish forces operating in Germany.