The deteriorating situation throughout 1619 at least encouraged Ferdinand’s potential supporters to accept his appeals as serious. The Habsburg monarchy was at breaking point. Ferdinand found himself with 20 million florins of debts on his accession. Crown revenue was only 2.4 million, but much of this was now controlled by the rebel Estates whose taxes, worth 3 million fl. annually, he was also denied. The imperial army consumed 5 million fl. in pay, provisions and munitions in the ten months to June 1619, whereas revenue, forced loans and Spanish and papal subsidies provided just 3 million. When pay arrears and other liabilities were included, the military deficit reached 4.3 million fl., in addition to the monarchy’s existing debt.

Ferdinand might struggle on with further expedients, while the Poles might yet eliminate Bethlen, but he could never defeat all his opponents without substantial additional help. From his imperial coronation he launched a concerted effort to secure this. Spain, France and the papacy were approached for cash and diplomatic assistance in deterring the Protestant Union from intervening, while Bavaria and Saxony were asked to provide direct military support.


Duke Maximilian saw his chance to achieve his long-cherished ambitions. He ignored Habsburg appeals for help throughout 1618 while quietly preparing to re-establish the Liga they had forced him to disband. Frightened by the Bohemian crisis, the former members welcomed the chance to strengthen their security. Maximilian was careful not to show his hand, allowing Mainz to take the lead in reviving the organization that was essentially active again from August 1619. Ferdinand’s visit to Munich in October on his way back from Frankfurt and his election enabled Maximilian to move to stage two, seeking not merely confirmation for the Liga but the promise of concessions at the Palatinate’s expense. The growing crisis at Vienna forced Ferdinand to accept ‘the Bavarian devil to drive out the Bohemian beelzebub’. In the Treaty of Munich of 8 October 1619, Ferdinand recognized the Liga and requested its assistance, thereby establishing the legal basis for all future Bavarian action. As the emperor’s auxiliary assisting to restore the imperial public peace, Maximilian was entitled to proper compensation. Though the entire Liga would assist, only Bavaria’s expenses were covered, in a separate arrangement that promised the duchy part of Austria until Ferdinand could repay Maximilian.

The Liga met in Würzburg in December, its first congress since 1613, and agreed to raise an army of 25,000 funded by members’ contributions. The previous organization was re-established, with south German and Rhenish Directories under Bavaria and Mainz respectively. Membership was exclusively Catholic and predominantly ecclesiastical, as the smaller imperial counties and cities abstained or only participated intermittently. Salzburg learned from Raitenau’s fate in 1611 and cooperated, but still refused formal membership. Maximilian secured exclusive direction of the Liga’s military affairs, underpinned by his efficient bureaucracy and Jean Tserclaes Tilly as an experienced field commander. Mainz declined to replace Bavaria when Maximilian’s term of office expired at the end of 1621, leaving the duke in charge of the general direction of the Liga throughout its remaining existence. Ferdinand of Cologne, Maximilian’s brother, refused to join, but nonetheless cooperated with the Liga and became the real head of the Rhenish members.

For Maximilian, war was a demonstration of power (potestas), not violence (violentia). He had himself painted as a warrior prince in full armour, but had little interest in personal glory. He dutifully accompanied his army in 1620, but left actual command to Tilly in whom he had complete trust. Operations were to be the legally sanctioned, controlled application of force for precise objectives. He refused to move until the emperor took the necessary steps to sanction Bavarian intervention and provide cast-iron guarantees that Maximilian would receive his reward. Ferdinand had already annulled Frederick’s election as Bohemian king on 19 January 1620. At Maximilian’s insistence, he issued an ultimatum to surrender the crown by 1 June or face the imperial ban. This would make Frederick an outlaw, entitling the emperor to confiscate his possessions and reassign them to whoever he chose. Five days after the deadline expired, Ferdinand authorized Maximilian to intervene in Bohemia, which he followed by a similar mandate on 23 July against the Upper Austrian rebels.

With typical caution, Maximilian sought additional confirmation from Spain and the papacy. Frederick’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown finally convinced the pontiff that the situation was serious and he doubled his existing subsidy to the emperor. In all, Pope Paul V sent 380,000 florins between 1618 and 1621, equivalent to a mere single month’s pay for the imperial army. He proved more generous towards Maximilian, because the Liga’s existence allowed him to prove his Catholic credentials without directly assisting the Habsburgs. However, he refrained from digging into his own pockets, imposing instead a special levy on the German and Italian clergy that raised 1.24 million fl. across 1620–4. Contributions from the Liga’s other members in the same period totalled 4.83 million, while Paul spent more than six times as much on building projects and nepotism. For him, this clearly was not a religious war.

The approach to Spain had rather more significant consequences. Maximilian generally opposed Spanish involvement, but needed it now. He could not move against the Austrian and Bohemian Confederates without exposing the Liga territories to potential reprisals from the Protestant Union forces. Spanish intervention on the Rhine would pin these down and free the Liga army under Tilly to turn eastwards. Spain had been slow to respond to the situation after Emperor Matthias’s death because this coincided with a long-planned state visit to Portugal intended to bolster the monarchy. Absent since April 1619, Philip III fell ill on his return in September and never fully recovered. Many still opposed intervention in Germany, but Frederick’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown was considered such an affront to the Casa d’Austria that it could not go unpunished.

The complex nature of Spanish involvement takes some unravelling. Just over 2 million florins were sent in 1619–21 to subsidize the maintenance of the imperial army and help pay the Polish Cossacks. Imperial officers were allowed to recruit new units in Spanish possessions, chiefly 6,000 Walloons raised after January 1619. Some additional help came from Spain’s Italian allies, notably the grand duke of Tuscany who financed Dampierre’s regiment of Germans and Walloons whose arrival in the Hofburg so startled the Lower Austrians. Other units were sent directly under Spanish command and pay, though many of these were newly recruited since the monarchy had only about 58,000 soldiers at this point. Like Bavaria, Spain presented its involvement as upholding the imperial constitution. The first column of 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse under Marradas and Johann VIII von Nassau marched from the Netherlands as ‘Burgundian Kreis troops’, ostensibly fulfilling the region’s obligations under the public peace legislation. They deliberately avoided Union territories as they crossed from Alsace to Passau and thence to join Bucquoy in Upper Austria in July 1619. A second column of 7,000 Italians crossed the St Gotthard pass and moved down the Etsch valley to reach Innsbruck on 15 November 1619. Four thousand continued down the Rhine to bring the Army of Flanders back up to strength, leaving only 3,000 under Verdugo and Spinelli to march north over the Golden Track into Bohemia in January. A third column of 9,000 Spanish and Italians marched north from Italy later in 1620, but were sent along the Chérzery valley to reinforce the Army of Flanders. This was the last use of the western stretch of the Spanish Road that had become too exposed through Savoy’s defection to France. It was part of a wider strategy to rebuild Spain’s offensive capacity as the Twelve Year Truce with the Dutch neared its end, and by June 1620 the Army of Flanders mustered 44,200 foot and 7,000 horse.

The Final Pieces

Failure of Saxon mediation forced Johann Georg to change tack and join Ferdinand in the hope his participation would keep the crisis contained to Bohemia. He used his influence in the Upper and Lower Saxon Kreise to frustrate efforts by Union activists to recruit troops, though he was unable to prevent his Ernestine relations in Thuringia from sending several units to Bohemia. The elector of Mainz and Maximilian refused to drop demands that the Protestants return church land taken since 1552, but they did compromise with Saxony and Hessen-Darmstadt at a meeting in Mühlhausen in March 1620. Johann Georg accepted Bavaria’s interpretation that Frederick had broken the public peace. In return, Bavaria and Mainz promised not to use force to recover the former bishoprics, provided their current Lutheran administrators remained loyal to the emperor.

Maximilian pressed Ferdinand to complete the process and place Frederick under the imperial ban in March, but backed away once he realized this was blatantly exposing his ambitions to supplant his cousin as elector. It was agreed to wait until a clear victory established a more suitable opportunity. Ferdinand also addressed Johann Georg’s concerns over the legitimacy of Saxon intervention by specifically commissioning him in April 1620 to restore order in Lusatia. The commission was revised in June at his request to include special safeguards for the Lutheran inhabitants, while a month later Ferdinand agreed Saxony could retain both parts of Lusatia until he could refund its expenses.

Neutralization of the Union removed the final obstacle to action. Another Union congress in June 1619 had authorized the mobilization of 11,000 men for home defence. The activists agreed privately to raise more but had still only mustered 13,000 under the margrave of Ansbach at Ulm in May 1620, having failed to intercept the Spanish reinforcements. They had been completely out-recruited by the Liga, now massing 30,000 troops opposite them at Lauingen and Günzburg. Nonetheless, Maximilian wanted to be sure the Union would not attack once Tilly headed east into Bohemia. Talks opened on 18 June with the intention of avoiding violence altogether in Germany, and France finally intervened as Louis XIII sent the duc d’Angoulême to mediate. Ferdinand had sought French support, claiming that, like the Huguenots, the Bohemians represented a religious and political threat to Catholic monarchy; however, Louis rejected the call for solidarity in favour of asserting what he regarded as his country’s proper role as European arbiter. With Angoulême’s assistance, the Liga and Union agreed a truce on 3 July, promising not to fight each other in Germany but leaving Maximilian free to intervene in Bohemia, while the Union activists could oppose Spain if they wished. Angoulême hoped to extend this into a general peace, but Ferdinand seized the opportunity to attack.



The Habsburg Offensive

Ferdinand’s offensive involved six separate armies. Bucquoy left Dampierre to hold Vienna with over 5,000 men against Bethlen, and advanced from Krems with 21,500 to eject Anhalt from his foothold in Lower Austria. Maximilian placed 8,600 men to guard his frontier with the Upper Palatinate, and accompanied the main army of 21,400 drawn from the troops that had blocked the Unionists at Ulm to enter Upper Austria on 24 July. Spain joined in by invading the Lower Palatinate, leaving Johann Georg no choice but to start operations against Lusatia in September. These moves were the necessary preparatory steps to the final assault on Bohemia itself.

The Confederates’ lacklustre campaign during the first half of 1620 disillusioned the Lower Austrians whose homes were being wrecked in the fighting. Ferdinand split the opposition by giving the verbal assurance he would respect the religious privileges of individual nobles provided they paid homage: 86 Lutheran lords and knights joined 81 Catholics and the representatives of 18 crown towns in accepting Ferdinand as the legitimate ruler of Lower Austria on 13 July. The remaining 62 Protestant nobles fled to Retz on the Moravian frontier from where they issued a declaration of defiance. The peasant militias offered only minimal resistance in the Upper Austrian mountains as the Bavarians poured in, capturing Linz on 3 August. Tschernembl and the radicals fled, leaving the moderates to surrender on 20 August, placing their 3,500 regular troops at the Liga’s disposal. Ferdinand now declared 33 of the Retz signatories outlaws. A couple of Austrian regiments remained with Anhalt’s army, but effectively both provinces had been lost to the Confederate cause. Adam von Herberstorff was left to hold Upper Austria with 5,000 men, while Maximilian and Tilly headed east along the Austrian–Bohemian frontier to join Bucquoy. Despite the Protestant majority among their inhabitants, both Austrian provinces had been recovered permanently for the Catholic Habsburgs without a single battle.

The situation grew even more serious for Frederick along the Rhine where his supporters were collecting to oppose Spain. After leaving Ulm, Ansbach marched north-west to Oppenheim, between Mainz and Worms, to cover the right half of the Lower Palatinate that protruded west of the Rhine. Together with 5,700 local militia, he now mustered 21,800 troops, and was joined by a further 2,000 English volunteers under Sir Horace de Vere in October, convoyed south by 2,000 Dutch cavalry under Prince Frederick Henry, Maurice’s younger brother. Sir Horace was one of the ‘Fighting Veres’ family with long experience of the Dutch wars, including the siege of Jülich. His regiment was the second British contingent, arriving five months after Grey’s regiment. Despite his numerical superiority, Ansbach was reluctant to fight, pinning his hopes of British mediation.

Luis de Velasco and 18,000 men were concentrated in Flanders to deter the Dutch, while Spinola left Brussels on 18 August with another 19,000, heading east through the electorate of Trier. Having secured Koblenz, Spinola rapidly overran Palatine territory west of the Rhine, taking Kreuznach and Alzey. Apart from brief skirmishes between the cavalry, Ansbach avoided contact. Nonetheless, Spinola remained concerned at the possibility of more substantial Dutch intervention with only a few months remaining until the end of the Truce, while his Italians refused to undertake another siege given the lateness of the season and the worsening weather. Ansbach retained the principal fortresses of Oppenheim, Heidelberg, Mannheim and Frankenthal as both sides retired into winter quarters in December. The Dutch went home, disgusted with the lacklustre Union leadership.

These operations dispelled Johann Georg’s hopes of a mediated settlement and he began his own advance, despite the obvious lack of enthusiasm among his officers. Count Wolfgang von Mansfeld, a distant relation of Frederick’s general, concentrated 8,300 soldiers and 3,000 militia at Dresden, prompting the Bohemians to halt grain sales to Saxony. Having summoned the Lusatian Estates to meet him, Johann Georg finally invaded on 3 September 1620, overrunning the western half of the two provinces. The margrave of Jägerndorf still held the east and had put 2,000 men into Bautzen. A Saxon defeat would destroy Johann Georg’s remaining credit in Protestant Germany and give the Bohemians a much needed boost. Despite obstruction from his subordinates, Wolfgang Mansfeld pressed on, forcing Bautzen to surrender on 5 October after a short bombardment that destroyed most of the town. Most of the Lusatian nobles and towns now accepted the Saxon guarantee for their privileges in return for renouncing the Confederation, but Jägerndorf still held out in Görlitz in the south-eastern corner of the province and it was now too late in the season to begin operations against Silesia further east.

The main Confederate army had been paralysed by three pay mutinies from the end of June, which finally ended on 2 August when the government extorted more money from the Prague Jews. This denied Anhalt the last opportunity to crush Bucquoy before Maximilian joined him. Abandoning his positions in Lower Austria, he retreated north into Moravia, thinking his opponents were heading in that direction. This had been Bucquoy’s intention but Ferdinand overruled his own general, placing him under the command of Maximilian who followed Tilly’s advice to march directly on Prague. Maximilian had received 5,000 additional Liga troops, but his army already had 500 sick before it left Bavaria and was now gripped by ‘Hungarian fever’, a form of typhus or cholera depending on the contemporary diagnosis, that would kill 12,000 Catholic troops before the year was out.

The epidemic is an indication that the full horrors of war were present from the outset, and were not a product of escalating barbarity. The irregular forces on both sides were already infamous for their cruelty. The first group of Cossacks crossing Moravia in January 1620 had disrupted a wedding, kidnapping the bride after murdering the groom. Ferdinand informed the Saxon elector after the siege of Vienna that the Hungarians had devastated, plundered and burned everything where they had stayed, and (it is said), stripped the people to their last threads, ruined, cut them down and dragged a large number of them as prisoners, subjected them to unheard of torture to find money and property, dragged away numerous lads of twelve to sixteen years old, and so ill-treated pregnant women and others, that many of them were found dead everywhere on the roads. They pulled ropes around the men’s necks so tight that their eyes popped out of their heads.

Ferdinand concluded with a remark that became the standard refrain throughout the war: ‘Indeed, the enemy has behaved so terribly everywhere, that one can almost not remember whether such tyranny was ever heard of from the Turks.’

The Liga troops behaved terribly during their invasion of Upper Austria, despite being well-supplied. The violence may partly have been revenge for the peasant resistance along the frontier, but there was already disorder on the march through Bavaria and the targets were indiscriminate, the men plundering Catholic monasteries and convents as well as Protestant homes. Catholic diarists depict such breaches of discipline as divine punishment for the heretical rebels, and clearly many senior figures used this as an excuse, ignoring the duke’s efforts to maintain order, like his courtiers who helped ransack Schloss Greilenstein in Lower Austria. Religious hatred was fanned by a large crowd of priests accompanying the combined imperial-Bavarian army, including the superior general of the barefoot Carmelite order, Domenico à Jesu Maria. Born Domingo Ruzzola in Aragon, he already had a reputation for prophesy and had won Maximilian’s confidence after curing an eye infection and other ‘miraculous’ acts.

Realizing his mistake, Anhalt hurried west to block the invasion from a position at Tabor as the imperial-Bavarian army reached Budweis. Thurn was still sulking at being replaced by Anhalt, while Count Mansfeld resented Hohenlohe’s promotion to field marshal and refused to cooperate, marching south-west in a futile attempt to distract Maximilian by threatening Bavaria. The duke bypassed Tabor to the west, storming Prachatice on 27 September, and moving through Pisek to reach Pilsen on 5 October. Mansfeld raced back, arriving just in time, while Anhalt followed to Rokycany a short distance to the east. Mansfeld opened the first of what would prove an almost continuous series of secret talks over possible defection. Maximilian and Bucquoy thought it was a ploy to gain time – supplies were running short and the duke was allegedly reduced to eating black bread while Tilly snatched an apple from a passing Dominican friar. It grew so cold that some soldiers froze to death at night.

Determined to maintain momentum, Tilly had no intention of being stuck outside Pilsen all winter and, backed by Maximilian, overruled Bucquoy to march north towards Prague. Marradas was left to blockade Pilsen, while Wallenstein was sent with a small imperial detachment into north-west Bohemia to establish contact with the Saxons still beyond the mountains. Anhalt dashed north to block the way to Prague, to an important road junction at Rakovnic. Possibly influenced by Maximilian’s example, Frederick now joined his troops, confirming Anhalt’s authority and temporarily boosting morale. The soldiers agreed to suspend another pay protest and dig into a wooded ridge behind a marsh. Maximilian was stuck in front of this position from 27 October. Bucquoy was badly injured in a skirmish on 3 November, but a supply train arrived the following day, reviving morale. Maximilian and Tilly knew they had only a short time to force a battle before winter suspended operations and gave Frederick a reprieve. Covered by morning mist and some noisy musketeers left to distract the Confederates, the army slipped round the ridge on 5 November and raced towards Prague. Anhalt only realized the danger later that evening, but force-marched his men to overtake his opponents and reach the White Mountain, about 8km west of the city, at midnight on 7 November.


The Battle of White Mountain

The coming battle was the first major action of the war and proved to be the most decisive. Anhalt’s position was relatively strong. The White Mountain ridge, taking its name from chalk and gravel pits, ran north-east to south-west for about 2km, rising about 60 metres from the surrounding area. It was strongest at the northern (right) end where the incline was steepest. This end of the ridge was covered by a walled, wooded game park containing the Star Palace, a small pavilion where Frederick and his wife had stayed prior to their triumphal entry to Prague a year earlier. The marshy Scharka stream lay about 2km in front of his position, but was deemed too far from the hill to be defended.

Anhalt had 11,000 foot, 5,000 cavalry and 5,000 Hungarian and Transylvanian light cavalry. He wanted to entrench the entire length of the ridge, but his mutinous soldiers were exhausted and said digging was only for peasants. Frederick went on to Prague, persuading the Estates to find 600 talers to buy spades, but it was too late and the soldiers managed to make only five small sconces. Most of the artillery had not caught up, and the ten cannon with the army were distributed along the line. Johann Ernst of Weimar held the Star Palace with his infantry regiment, while the rest of the Confederate army drew up along the ridge in two lines in the Dutch manner, interspersing cavalry squadrons in close support between the infantry battalions. The light cavalry were dispirited, having been surprised earlier that night and most were positioned fairly uselessly as a third line in the rear, while some covered the extreme right. Despite obvious shortcomings, Anhalt remained optimistic, believing the enemy would simply stall in front of his position as at Rakovnic, and Frederick remained in Prague to eat breakfast.

Thick fog obscured the imperial-Bavarian approach on the morning of Sunday 8 November. The advance guard secured the two crossings over the stream, followed by the rest of the army that deployed from 8 a.m. The Liga regiments drew up on the left opposite the northern end of the ridge, while Bucquoy’s Imperialists took station on the right. Together, they had 2,000 more men and two more cannon than their opponents, and they were in better spirits. Both halves of the army deployed in the Spanish fashion, grouping the 17,000 foot into ten large blocks, accompanied by small cavalry squadrons.

The commanders conferred while their men took up their positions and heard mass. Bucquoy wanted to repeat the earlier trick and slip past to Prague, but Maximilian and Tilly were convinced it was time for the decisive blow. The dispute was allegedly resolved by Domenico bursting in and brandishing an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been poked out by Calvinist iconoclasts. If this is true, it was a calculated act, because the Carmelite had found the icon in a ruined house over three weeks before. The Catholic troops were elated when they received the order to attack; they were tired of chasing the Confederates across Bohemia and savoured the prospect of plundering Prague.

The artillery had been firing for some time to little effect. At about fifteen minutes after midday all twelve guns fired simultaneously to signal the advance. The Imperialists had less ground to cover to reach the ridge than the Bavarians who also faced a steeper climb. Anhalt decided on an active defence, sending two cavalry regiments down the slope to drive off the imperial cavalry screening the flanks of the Italian and Walloon infantry spearheading the assault. Thurn’s own infantry regiment then moved down to engage the enemy foot as they laboured up the slope. Seeing their own horsemen retiring, the Thurn regiment fired a general salvo at extreme range and fled. Anhalt’s son tried to retrieve the situation with his own cavalry regiment from the Confederate second line, his men using their pistols to blast their way into one of the imperial tercios. For a brief moment it looked as if the Confederates might yet snatch victory, but more imperial horse came up, and even Bucquoy arrived, despite his earlier wound, to rally the infantry. Anhalt junior was captured and within an hour of the main action starting the Confederate horse were in full retreat, many units pulling out of the line without even engaging the enemy. The Bohemian foot followed soon after, while the Hungarians fled, some dismounting in order to escape through the vineyards covering the way to Prague. Despite claims of their being spooked by Domenico’s sudden appearance through the smoke, the panic stemmed from reports that Bucquoy’s Polish Cossacks had ridden round the south-west end of the ridge and were already at the rear. Schlick’s Moravians on the right lasted longer, largely because of the time it took Tilly to reach them, but they too gave way around 1.30 p.m. A few survivors resisted for another half hour in the Star Palace before surrendering.

Frederick stayed in Prague all day and was tucking into lunch when the first fugitives arrived. Many drowned in the Moldau in their desperation to escape. The imperial-Bavarian army lost 650 killed and wounded, mostly to young Anhalt’s brave attack. The Confederates left 600 dead on the field, with a further 1,000 strewn on the way to Prague, as well as 1,200 wounded. The losses were severe, but most had escaped. Prague was a large, fortified city and it was unlikely the enemy could besiege it with winter approaching. It was here that Tilly’s strategy of relentless pressure paid dividends, transforming a respectable battlefield success into a decisive victory. Already weakened by Tilly’s vigorous campaign, Confederate morale collapsed. Even Maximilian was surprised at the extent of the enemy’s demoralization, expecting defiance when he summoned Prague to surrender. Confederate leadership was utterly pathetic. Tschernembl and Thurn’s son, Franz, tried to organize a defence on the Charles Bridge to stop the Bavarians crossing the river. Frederick hesitated, but Anhalt and the elder Thurn thought the situation hopeless. Queen Elizabeth, heavily pregnant with her fifth child, left early the next morning. Her husband feared angry citizens might prevent him escaping if he took the crown with him, so he left it behind, along with his other insignia and numerous confidential documents, and joined the refugees streaming eastwards out of the city.

Collapse of the Confederation

Imperialists were already entering the western side of the city, catching the tail of the royal baggage train. Many Confederates were still loitering, demanding their back pay, but they dispersed once Maximilian granted them amnesty on 10 November. Those foolish enough to remain were murdered over the next few days. The city was stuffed full of valuables, cattle and other property brought there for safekeeping prior to the battle and now abandoned in the precipitous retreat. Along with empty mansions and houses, it was too tempting for the victorious troops who began seizing what they found in the streets, then breaking into homes, and finally robbing with violence. ‘Those who have nothing, fear for their necks, and all regret not taking up arms and fighting to the last man.’

Under these conditions, further pursuit was impossible. The winter was also exceptionally cold, with even the Bosporus said to have frozen over. Mansfeld still held most of western Bohemia, while Jägerndorf was in Silesia and Bethlen in Hungary. Yet nothing could slow the collapse of Frederick’s regime as moderates distanced themselves from the revolt. The Moravian Estates already paid homage to Ferdinand at the end of December. Frederick fled east over the mountains into Silesia in the middle of November, but was given a frosty welcome by a population angry at his perceived Calvinist extremism. Fearing the Saxons would block his escape to the north, Frederick hurried on down the Oder into Brandenburg in December, leaving the Lusatians and Silesians to surrender to Johann Georg after prolonged negotiations completed in March 1621.

Bethlen had finally renounced his truce with the emperor on 1 September, advancing again with 30,000 horsemen to overrun Upper Hungary and retake Pressburg, where he intended to hold his coronation with the St Stephen’s crown he had captured the year before. Most of the Polish Cossacks arriving during 1620 had been attached to Dampierre’s command and deployed to cover the harvest against Transylvanian raiders. A Liga regiment arrived at the end of September 1620, as well as Croats and the private retainers of Magyar magnates tired of Bethlen’s depredations. The Inner Austrian Estates mobilized 2,500 men, while their Lower Austrian counterparts sent a Protestant regiment that had not joined the Confederate army. Dampierre advanced to disrupt Bethlen’s coronation, and though he was to be killed on 9 October he had managed to burn the Pressburg bridge, denying access to the south side of the Danube. Bethlen sent another 9,000 troops to help Frederick, but these arrived too late for White Mountain and retreated rapidly through Moravia in November.

Though the grand vizier ratified the alliance agreed with Frederick in July, it became clear that the sultan was only using this to pressure Ferdinand to adjust the 1606 truce. News of White Mountain reached Constantinople in January, removing any doubts about the wisdom of avoiding a breach with the emperor. Meanwhile, the Ottoman pasha of Buda seized the Hungarian border town of Waitzen long claimed by his master. This alarmed the Magyar nobility, exposing the consequences of their internecine struggle and Bethlen’s inability to protect them from the Ottomans. The leading families either declared for Ferdinand or at least joined the French ambassador in pressing Bethlen to reopen talks at Hainburg in January 1621.


Austro-Hungarian Submarines

The Austro- Hungarian navy was comparatively late in ordering submarines, their first not being launched until 1908. Initially they were known simply by a number in Roman style, and later the U designator was added but by the middle of the war the roman numerals had given way to Arabic ones, thus duplicating the numbers of some of the German boats.

At the outbreak of war the Austrian sub- marine fleet consisted of seven boats. Of these the first six belonged to three different types each pair being built at either Fiume or Pola. I-IV were badly over-engined ­and suffered from excessive vibration when running at high speed on the surface with their Korting paraffin engines. They were all fitted with three 45-cm (17.7-in) torpedo tubes. As commander of V Kapitanleutenant von Trapp was responsible for sinking the French ­armoured cruiser Leon Gambetta in the Strait of Otranto on April 27, 1915, with two torpedoes fired during a daring and skilful night attack.

In 1914 an order for the next five subm­arines (VII-XI) was awarded to the Germania Yard at Kiel. They were to helve been larger diesel-engine boats armed with five 50- cm (19.7-in) torpedo tubes, but they were taken over by the Germans and eventually commissioned as U 66-70.

Thus the seventh boat of the Austrian navy at the outbreak of war was XII, built originally as a private venture by Whithead’s at Fiume, and added to the Austrian navy in late 1914. She was sunk off Venice on August 11, 1915, and later salvaged by the Italians. No submarine was numbered XIII, but XIV was the French submarine Curie which became caught in the nets off POLA in December 1914  refitted ­and entered into the navy and given to command by von Trapp.

By early 1915 the Germans held developed the small Type UB coastal submarines and Type UC small minelayer which could be built rapidly ­and if necessary, transported by rail in section for assembly elsewhere. Some of the UB-Boats were taken to Pola for assembly ­and initially manned by their German crews. In June 1915 they began to be formally handed over to the Austrians, UB 1 becoming X and UB 15 as XI. Later in the year three of the Type UC became XV, XVI and XVII. XVIII was the Italian Giacinto Pullino which was captured in August 1916, refitted and entered into the Austrian navy.

XIX-XXIII were five boats completed in Austrian dockyards in 1917 and were generally similar to the Danish Havmanden Class. XXIV-XXVIII were completed in 1918. From time to time other boats were transformed or loaned from the Germans, mostly the Types VB or UC, and in 1916 VB 43 became the XLIII. In some cases the flag change m­ay have been nominal with the original German crew staying with the boat, which later reverted to the Germany. This may in part have been due to the complication that until August 1916 Italy was at war with Austria-Hungary but not with Germany. With transfer of flag the boats were given Austrian numbers with, among others VB 48 becoming LXXIX ­and VB 105 becoming XCVII.

During the war the Austrians lost seven ­submarines, including both III and VI of the prewar boat­s. Two more were badly dam­aged.


Ferdinand’s Army

The structure of Ferdinand’s army: Wallenstein

In theory, Ferdinand, as Kaiser, had at his beck and call a Reichsarmee but this concept was not worth the paper on which it was written. The German princes who made up the patchwork of the Holy Roman Empire had long had local forces to support their own interests but the ‘right’ of the Kaiser to require the supply of a contingent was a frequent source of contention. The circumstances of the Reformation forced the Kaiser to appoint two Field Commanders, one Catholic and one Protestant.

Such contradictions did not make any easier the so-called Simplum whereby a minimum of 40,000 soldiers were in theory available to the Emperor. Other difficulties arose from the fact that the local nobility and the Church were reluctant to part with their staff and workers who contributed so much to the upkeep of their estates. As a result, the Landesaufgebot (contingent) rarely materialised.

Thus the Kaiser was really only able to establish his own army if he was prepared to finance it exclusively himself. But such an army required logistics and money, both of which were lacking as Ferdinand II at the beginning of his reign found himself confronted with a vast conflict. Unsurprisingly he panicked and called for international support, thus helping transform a local dispute into a full-scale European war.

The presence of the ‘usurper’ Frederick of the Palatinate and his English wife, Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England (the Winter Queen, as she became known) on the throne of Bohemia further widened the conflict. Frederick’s father-in-law sent two British regiments to support him though they never ventured beyond Berlin where they became, fortunately for Ferdinand, ‘horribly drunk’.

As these forces gathered against him, the absence of the essentials of war put the Habsburg in a precarious position. He had either to remain a dependant of the Catholic League, whose leader the King of Bavaria was a Wittelsbach and therefore also potentially a rival of the Habsburg family, or he had to make peace somehow with the rebels. Or there was a third way: he could find a warlord prepared to organise his war effort in return for Imperial ‘favour’.

In Alfred Eusebius Wallenstein (1583–1634), who was raised to the rank of Duke of Friedland in 1625, Ferdinand was fortunate to find a man who was prepared to build an army for the Emperor from entirely private funds. Wallenstein, the scion of a cadet branch of the Waldstein family, had fought against the Turks and had converted to Catholicism under Jesuit instruction. Marrying a wealthy widow with impeccable connections he had defected to the Imperial cause in 1619, shortly after Dampierre’s cuirassiers had saved Ferdinand in Vienna.

Through the Jesuits, Wallenstein came to be trusted by the Archduke. The first encounter between this inscrutable monarch and the blunt warlord cannot have been easy for either party. Wallenstein had a reputation for violence: he had flogged half to death one of his servants when he was a student. Ferdinand, on the other hand had learnt from the events of June 1619 that in an age of violence he was defenceless without troops. Might Wallenstein be the answer to his prayers?

This ‘soldier under Saturn’, as a later biographer called him, as well as being the greatest commander of his age also offered the Habsburgs a way of making war which was truly new, relying on artillery and cavalry to an unprecedented extent. Discipline and leadership were organised along strict lines of command indifferent to the religious controversies of the time. In return Wallenstein sought not money, for Ferdinand’s treasury was empty, but the one thing the Habsburg had in abundance, thanks to the turmoil in Bohemia: land and titles.

As the conflict in Bohemia progressed through the 1620s it provided a once in a lifetime opportunity for a radical reorganisation of wealth and a comprehensive redrawing of the aristocracy. The revolt of the Bohemian nobles brought the House of Habsburg the power of redistribution on a vast and hitherto unprecedented scale. It is estimated that some 670 estates changed hands as vast tracts of Bohemian territory were stripped from the rebels and given to 200 adventurers and officers prepared to embrace the Catholic faith. These included such men as the Friulan Collalto and Strassoldo, the Italian Gallas, Colloredo, Montecuccoli and Piccolomini (who received respectively Reichenberg, Nachod and Opočno) as well as such Celtic miscreants as Leslie and Butler (Neustadt and Hirschberg).

None benefited more from this unique redistribution than Wallenstein himself, who set about erecting at the heart of Europe, along the strategically vital Bohemian and Saxon frontier, a territory which would furnish him not only with prestige but with the wealth in agriculture and minerals needed to sustain a vast army. No costs were to be incurred by the Imperial house. All Wallenstein sought was the required charter of authority and the freedom to choose his officers and recruitment depots. The charter was quickly granted by Ferdinand, who also gave Wallenstein the impressive designation of ‘General-Colonel-Field-Captain of the Imperial Armada’.

Armed with this title and his logistical genius, Wallenstein set about granting recruitment patents to various warlords and landowners who pledged to equip and dress their ‘regiments’, whereupon they would be assembled for the Kaiser’s strategic wishes. At this point the Kaiser undertook to pay the soldiers. But even when the Kaiser failed to pay, Wallenstein, supported by a network of financiers, raised the vast sums necessary to create the conditions which enabled him to be the closest Europe north of the Alps had ever seen to the ‘Condottiere’ warlords of the early Renaissance. Throughout the 1620s, Wallenstein’s financial architecture kept the bankers of Europe in business.

With money came a new organisation. Each regiment had its Obristen or colonels, each of whom was assigned an area for recruitment. The local civilian administration was ordered by the Emperor to support the recruitment as best they could. Once the recruits had received their ‘hand-money’ they were no longer under civilian law but governed by the rules of war. This system proved most effective but it led invariably to abuses. The financing of the system through the 1620s commercialised every aspect of the art of war. Equipment and soldiers became commodities to be speculated with by consortia of usually canny civilian tradesmen who well knew that the colonels had an interest in keeping their numbers of recruits as high as possible. Perhaps this explains why some accounts have tended to set the size of the armies at about 35 per cent above the actual figure.

The feats of logistics hinted at here could not have been achieved without the help of the tax system, which fell with remarkable consistency through the 1620s on the crown lands of the House of Habsburg. For example, Upper Austria needed to pay 53,000 gulden (in modern values $53 million, at a rate of 10 gulden = $1,000). Silesia needed to finance the equipment for 28 regiments while in Lower Austria a poll tax was levied which cost every landowner 40, every priest 4, every doctor 30 and every craftsman 6 gulden. Even servants contributed, though only15 kreutzer (100 kr. = 1 gulden). In this way a regiment of foot soldiers cost about 260,000 gulden a year while a regiment of cavalry was 450,000 gulden a year, each regiment consisting of between 1,200 and 2,000 men. Each foot soldier cost the Kaiser 8 gulden while each cavalry-man cost a staggering 20 Reichthaler ($20,000: 10 gulden = 1 Reichthaler). These costs were of course dwarfed by that of the new technology: artillery. Twelve guns and their crews cost at least 600,000 gulden a year.

Wages reflected rank but were modest. The Colonel received 185 gulden, his Lieutenant-Colonel 80 and so on down to the ordinary foot soldier who received 3.5 Reichthaler a year. According to a document dated 1623 from Znaim (Znojmo) each foot soldier received 2 pounds of bread, one pound of meat, 2 pints of beer or one pint of wine each day. A cavalry captain by contrast was entitled to 20 pounds of bread and 12 pounds of meat, two hens, half a sheep or cow, 8 pints of wine and 12 pints of beer (!). These ‘rations’ of 1623 contain the concluding sentence signed by Field Marshal Tilly that troops ‘requiring more than this should pay for supplies out of their own money’.

Tilly and the evolution of tactics

Count Jean Tserclaes Tilly (1559–1632) was another outstanding product of Jesuit training. First seeing service in Spain, the Walloon learnt the art of war from the age of 15, serving under the Duke of Parma in his war against the Dutch. In 1610, he was appointed commander of the forces of the Catholic League, established in 1609 as a loose alliance of Catholic principalities and minor states. Like Wallenstein, Tilly brought in important reforms, especially from his experience of the formidable Spanish infantry. Nicknamed the ‘monk of war’, he soon proved to be a highly capable organiser of infantry tactics, which were quickly adopted by Ferdinand’s troops.

The infantry at this stage still consisted of pikemen and musketeers. The pikemen wore armour and carried a pike, which at that time was between 15 and 18 feet long, made of ash with a sharp metal point. Their officers carried shorter pikes with coloured ribbons. The musketeers were a kind of light infantry with a light metal helmet, later replaced by a felt hat. The heavy musket they carried needed to be rested on a wooden pole with an iron fork to be fired. The ‘ammunition’ was contained variously in a bandolier, a flask of gunpowder and a brass bottle of combustible material, the so-called Zundkraut as well as a leather bag containing small metal balls. A small bottle of oil was also carried to ensure that the ‘alchemy’ required to fire the weapon functioned smoothly. This was far from straightforward. A hint of the complexity of firing this primitive musket is given by the fact that ninety-nine separate commands were needed to fire and reload the weapon.

A further forty-one commands existed for dealing with the musket at other times. As this suggests, the need to increase the rate of fire and simplify the munitions were priorities for all commanders throughout the Thirty Years War. These problems would only be solved with the advent of the Swedes, who entered the fray against the Habsburg in 1630. They had a modern solution to many of these problems: the introduction of small cartridges wrapped in paper.

The only tactical unit at this time was the company, which was deployed in a large square made up usually of between 15 and 20 companies. This formation was 50 men deep with its flanks protected by 10 rows of musketeers. Despite much practice at marching to form such elaborate formations as the so-called ‘Cross of Burgundy’ or ‘Eight-pointed Star’, it takes little imagination to realise that manoeuvring in such formations was virtually impossible. The idea of marching to a single beat of the drum had still to be widely introduced and cohesive movement was only possible by extended rank.

Where Tilly proved so successful in organising infantry tactics, Wallenstein proved no less formidable in handling cavalry. Cavalry like infantry were divided into heavy and light. The heavy cavalry were cuirassiers and lancers, both armoured down to their boots. In addition to their main weapon, lancers were also armed with a sword and two pistols, symbols of their privileged status as bodyguards to the commanders in the field. The cuirassiers carried the heavy straight sabre or ‘pallasch’, which was designed to cut as well as thrust.

The horsed ‘carabiniers’ were organised as light cavalry as their only armour was a metal helmet and a light breastplate. Equipped with a shorter musket and 18 cartridges, these horsemen also carried pistols and a short sword. The dragoons were also equipped with a short musket and were indeed originally horsed musketeers. As the barrels of their muskets were often decorated with a dragon, they became known as dragoons. Deployed as advance guard cavalry they carried an axe with which, in theory, they could batter down doors and gates.

To these conventional groupings Wallenstein added new elements. An important part of the horsed advance guard was the ‘ungrischen Hussaren’, or Hungarian hussars. Together with the Croats they formed the irregular elements of the army who could be deployed to plunder and terrorise their opponents as well as perform scouting and reconnaissance.

The origin of the term ‘hussar’ to this day is a source of debate. The word most likely stems from the Slavic Gursar or Gusar. Other theories link the word to the German Herumstreifender or Corsaren; this last with its imagery of piracy perhaps being nearer to the truth than many a Hungarian would care to admit. Famous for giving their enemies no quarter, they became the nucleus of what would become the finest light cavalry in the world.

As with the infantry, the cavalry were grouped into companies. Often these were called Cornetten and hence the title of the junior officer of each such company was ‘Cornet’. As these were formed into a square, the custom arose to call four of these companies a ‘squadron’ from the Italian quadra, meaning square. In theory every cavalry regiment consisted of ten companies each of a hundred riders but in reality no cavalry regiment had more than 500 men.

Drill of these formations was aimed at disordering infantry by charging the last 60 paces at the enemy’s pikemen or cavalry. There was to be no firing from the saddle until the cavalry could ‘see the white in the eye of the foe’ (‘Weiss im Aug des Feindt sehen thut’). Led by such Imperial officers as Gottfried Pappenheim, famous for his many wounds and refusal to be impressed by titles, or the redoubtable Johann Sporck, a giant of a man with hair like bronze, perhaps the most feared cavalry general of his time, the Imperial cavalry was trained in shock tactics relying on aggression and surprise to demoralise their opponents.

The artillery remained a strict caste apart. Each unit of artillery was in theory organised to have 24 guns of different calibre. Mortars and other guns were added to each unit. Every gun had as its team a lieutenant and eleven gunners. These were supported by the so-called Schanzbauern or Pioneers, who were organised into units as large as 300 under an officer of the rank of Captain. The unit had its own flag made of silk which displayed as its badge a shovel and its men were also skilled carpenters able to strengthen bridges, not just demolish them.


Imperialist versus Rebel – Thirty Years’ War

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia

The Battle of Stadtlohn was fought on 6 August 1623 between the armies of Christian of Brunswick and of the Catholic League during the Thirty Years’ War. The League’s forces were led by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly.

Such an army for all its appearance was not in any way comparable to the armies of later years. There was no obvious way of telling one army from another. As any army advanced across the ravaged plains of Germany during the horrors of the Thirty Years War, it was accompanied by bands of irregulars, bandits and marauders, including spies and other n’er-do-wells who plundered the local landscape like locusts.

Armies learnt to distinguish each other by what would in modern parlance be called ‘call signs’. At Breitenfeld in 1631, a battle which threw into sharp relief the energy and skill of the Swedes under their king, Gustavus Adolphus, the Imperialists under Tilly shouted ‘Jesus-Maria’ as they fought while the Swedes used the phrase: ‘God with us’. As battles were fought and won, it became the custom to reward the officers and men with financial gifts. Thus after Lutzen, General Breuner was given 10,000 gulden while the brave Colloredo regiment was awarded collectively 9,200 gulden.

The names of the Imperial officers came from two sources. The aristocrats who had preferred to convert to Catholicism took full advantage of the political support Ferdinand offered them. Many of the names we encounter here for the first time will pop up again and again in our story: Khevenhueller, Trauttmannsdorff, Liechtenstein, Forgách, Eggenberg and Althan (these last two left behind them world-class works of architecture to commemorate their position and wealth: Schloss Eggenberg, on the outskirts of Graz, and Vranov – Schloss Frein – in Moravia). Then came a group whose careers were made in the long Turkish wars. These included not only Ferdinand’s enemies Thurn, Hohenlohe, Schlick and Mansfeld, but a large number of his most important military commanders from Wallenstein downwards.

By 1620, Ferdinand was ready to move on to the attack. He now had no fewer than five separate armies with which to renew the offensive. Dampierre held Vienna with 5,000 men. Bucquoy was advancing along the Wachau with 21,000; from Upper Austria, the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian, advanced alongside Tilly with 21,000, while a Spanish army invaded the Lower Palatinate. The previously Protestant lands of Lower Austria and Upper Austria were cleared of the rebels and more than sixty Protestant noblemen fled to Retz with their families. Half of these would be proclaimed outlaws. Both provinces had been recovered for Ferdinand and the Church with barely a shot being fired.

As the armies advanced into Lusatia and Moravia, the irregular forces of the Emperor began to introduce a far more brutal and indiscriminate warfare. Plundering, rape and other atrocities became widespread, especially among the Cossacks sent by the Polish Queen who was Ferdinand’s sister. On the rebels’ side Hungarian irregulars proved no less capable of atrocities and had in Ferdinand’s own words ‘subjected the prisoners to unheard of torture …’ killing pregnant women and throwing babies on to fires. Ferdinand would later note: ‘So badly have the enemy behaved that one cannot recall whether such terror was the prerogative of the Turk.’

These acts of cruelty set the tone for much of what occurred later. On 7 November 1620 Maximilian and Tilly finally reached the outskirts of Prague where they faced the new rebel commander, Prince Christian of Anhalt, who had taken up a potentially strong defensive position exploiting the advantage of the so-called White Mountain, in reality more of a hill, a few miles to the west of Prague.

Anhalt’s forces consisted of about 20,000 men of whom half were cavalry. Some 5,000 of these were Hungarian light cavalry. His artillery consisted of only a few guns. The entrenching tools to convert his position into something more formidable never arrived. Thus was the stage set for destruction of the Bohemian rebels. The Imperial forces were superior in artillery, but more importantly in morale. The commanders were divided on what they should do next and it was only when an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been burnt out by Calvinist iconoclasts was brandished in front of Wallenstein’s ally Bucquoy that he suddenly ordered the attack.

Anhalt deployed his cavalry but they made no impact on the Imperial horsemen and they fled after an initial skirmish. The Bohemian foot followed rapidly and even the feared Moravian infantry dissolved when Tilly appeared in front of them. The Battle of the White Mountain was over by early afternoon. The Imperial forces had suffered barely 600 casualties and the rebels more than 2,000 but what turned this skirmish into a decisive victory was Tilly’s determination to keep up the momentum against a demoralised enemy. Prague, despite its fortifications, surrendered as rebel morale everywhere collapsed. Frederick joined the fugitives streaming out of the city to the east, leaving his crown behind him along with the hopes of a Protestant Europe. As the Czech historian Josef Pekař rightly observed, the Battle of the White Mountain was the clash between the German and Roman worlds and the Roman world won. Had the German world won, Bohemia would have rapidly been absorbed by Protestant Germany and Czech culture would have ceased to exist.

For Protestantism, with the departure of the Winter King and his wife into exile in Holland, the tide of history which had seemed to run in the direction of the new faith in the sixteenth century now appeared to have turned irrevocably. Increasingly perceived as divisive, unhistorical and radical, Protestantism unsettled those who feared anarchy and extremism. The population of Prague sought refuge in the old certainties and comfortable verities of the Catholic Church and within a year the Jesuits had made the city into a bulwark of the Counter-Reformation.

As Professor R.J.W. Evans has pointed out, the demoralised forces of the new faith had little reply to the intellectual and practical solutions of the Society of Jesus. Those who sought refuge in the occult and Rosicrucian view of the world were ‘qualified at best only for passive resistance to the attacks of the Counter-Reformation’.

Moreover not only did Ferdinand’s personal piety inspire his subjects through the widespread dissemination of the Virtutes Ferdinandi II penned by his Jesuit confessor Lamormaini, but the international flavour of the new orders, like Ferdinand’s army, was a powerful intellectual weapon. At the opening of the Jesuit University of Graz the inaugural addresses had been given in eighteen languages. When Ignatius Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 he had from the beginning conceived it as a ‘military’ formation led by a ‘general’ who expected unhesitating obedience and the highest intellectual and spiritual formation among his recruits. These principles guided Ferdinand’s vision of his army. The offensive of the intellect was supported by more practical steps. In 1621, all of the ringleaders of the Bohemian rebels were executed on Ferdinand’s orders in the Old Town Square in Prague.

It was typical of Ferdinand II that while these ‘Bohemian martyrs’ were brought to the gallows, the Habsburg went on a pilgrimage to the great Marian shrine of Mariazell in his native Styria specifically to pray for their souls. In the years that followed, prayer and sword moved in perfect counterpoint for the Habsburg cause. If Ferdinand was the spearhead of spiritual revival, on the battlefield the corresponding military reawakening was to be organised by Wallenstein.

Wallenstein stood out from the newly minted nobility around Ferdinand because of his logistical skills, which he deployed with unrivalled expertise despite his physical disabilities. Plagued by gout which often forced him to be carried by litter, Wallenstein ceaselessly instructed his subordinates to organise his affairs to the last detail. Agriculture was virtually collectivised under his control to ensure that every crop and animal was nurtured efficiently to supply his armies. A fortunate second marriage to the daughter of Count Harrach, one of Ferdinand’s principal advisers, brought him yet more support at court. In April 1625, Ferdinand agreed to Wallenstein raising 6,000 horsemen and nearly 20,000 foot soldiers. Wallenstein’s force gave the Emperor freedom of manoeuvre. He now had formidable forces to counterbalance the armies of the Catholic League led by Tilly, who always showed signs of answering in the first instance to his Bavarian masters rather than to the Emperor Ferdinand.

Imperial pikemen, Thirty Years War

Wallenstein’s ‘system‘

At Aschersleben, Wallenstein created a depot for some 16,000 troops. More would follow. By 1628 the Imperial armies would number 110,000, of whom a fifth would be cavalry. From 1628, Wallenstein’s prestige grew and he was given control of all forces in the Empire with the exception of those in the crown lands and Hungary. Many foreign soldiers of fortune, including English, Irish and Scottish officers and even well-known German Protestants such as Arnim, joined Wallenstein as the Imperial army rapidly expanded. Despite the religious feuds of his era, the ‘Generalissimus’ was indifferent to the faith of his commanders. What he valued above all was loyalty and ability.

Wallenstein is largely credited with mastering the logistics of war on a scale hitherto not achieved. By forcing officers to be responsible for the upkeep and pay of their men, Wallenstein obliged villages and towns to contribute to war, thus allowing the impoverished Ferdinand to wage war without regard to the sorry state of his treasury. By levying contributions from enemy states his forces occupied, Wallenstein systematised plunder. In addition, thanks to his own vast resources, he constructed an elaborate system of loans and financing to assist his hand-picked officers with their quotas and his senior commanders with their expenses. By 1628 a colonel in one of Wallenstein’s regiments was receiving 500 florins (approx. $500) a week, more than an officer in other armies received in a month. The normal pay for a foot soldier was at this time barely 8 florins a month.

The imposition on the local population defied both convention and even Imperial law. According to this soldiers could demand lodging but were expected to pay for food. In practice this was impossible, owing to the scale of Wallenstein’s forces and their vast cohort of camp-followers. The villages and unfortified towns were ruined, with those houses refusing to pay levies often being torched. More funds could be acquired by ‘tributes’ from wealthy parts of the country, which could be exempted from supplying troops or occupation in return for large payments. Many of these sums were significant; for example Nuremberg paid half a million florins. But the cost, however great, was considered preferable to the destruction that accompanied occupation. Large swathes of Germany thus existed in a state of near-perpetual extortion in which Imperial decrees and laws appeared utterly overtaken by the rules of war. From Saxony to Brandenburg and Pomerania, from Mecklenburg to Württemberg expropriation became the order of the day. Elsewhere, in the crown lands, the ‘Soldier Tax’ became a weekly feature of urban life.

This ‘system’, such as it was, could be open to abuse. At a time of mercenary recruitment the commercial possibilities of all these activities were not lost along the many links of the chain. Bribes, ‘Spanish’ practices such as drawing supplies for non-existent soldiers, flourished in an era where the drawing up of accounts left much to be desired. Nor were these crimes the exclusive prerogative of any one army. For the populace of Germany, the Thirty Years War was truly a terrible era.

Elsewhere in the Habsburg domains taxation was used to preserve the great armouries in the cities of Inner Austria and maintain the Military Frontier which had developed in the late 1570s into a ragged line of frontier posts stretching some fifty miles alongside the Ottoman frontier. This was extended to include the approaches to Graz along the Drave around Varaždin and the area around Karlstadt (Karlovac) in Croatia proper as well as the three sections of the Hungarian frontier. Central funds from the Reichstag covered the costs of the principal garrisons (1.2 million florins a year) but elsewhere families were encouraged to take on the responsibility of particular areas of land, leading eventually to the creation of a warlike caste of military families with their own laws, customs and indeed dialect (Militärgrenze-Deutsch, for example ‘Ist Gefällig’ for ‘Izvolite’, which was heard around Koprivnica in eastern Croatia/Slavonia up to the mid-1970s).

That Wallenstein’s ‘system’ was capable of functioning at all was the result of his bankers, notably Jan de Witte who deploying an extensive network raised money for Wallenstein in sixty-seven cities between London and Constantinople. The powerful financiers of the time, de Witte and Fugger, would lend to Wallenstein when they would never lend to a Habsburg, their fingers having been burnt too often in the past by Ferdinand’s family’s hopelessness with money. But the financial architecture these resourceful and able men now constructed was only possible through generous interest rates and as their financing system came more and more to resemble a giant pyramid scheme it could be sustained only by the sale of vast estates enabled by royal prerogative. Ferdinand dealt with Wallenstein’s bills the only way he could – by ceding yet more land to the warlord.

Imperial musketeer and caliverman of the Thirty Years’ War.

The strategic tide was flowing in Ferdinand’s direction. Everywhere the anti-Habsburg coalition was faltering. As the 1620s wore on, Tilly dealt with the Danes at Lutter where in 1626 for 700 casualties he routed an army under Prince Christian, inflicting thousands of dead, wounded and captured. At one point the battle appeared to be turning in the Danes’ favour but the dispatch of 700 of Wallenstein’s heavy cavalry turned the tables with dramatic effect.

Wallenstein meanwhile had negotiated a truce with the Hungarian rebel leader Gabor Bethlen, a zealous Calvinist who claimed to have read the Bible twenty-five times and who had led an anti-Habsburg insurrection one of whose victims indeed had been the cavalry officer Dampierre. But though the Hungarian Protestants harboured many grievances against the Habsburgs, without external support there was little they could hope to achieve.

At the same time the Danes had retreated, leaving Saxony and Silesia to Wallenstein’s mercy. In May 1627 Wallenstein received the Duchy of Sagan instead of 150,850 florins owed to him by the Emperor, who now continued to write off any further debts to Wallenstein through granting him land. Titles fell to Wallenstein as rapidly as his opponents on the battlefield. He was elevated to Reichsfurst (with its concomitant right of access to the Emperor) and enfeoffed as a duke (Mecklenburg). Even his own coinage began to circulate, to the irritation of the court in Vienna.



5 June 1619 and the ‘Kaiserliche Armee’

The ‘Kaiserliche Armee’ (Emperor’s army) was a name that stuck to the Habsburg forces until their dissolution in 1918. It was a title fashioned in the extraordinary crisis of June 1619. Before that moment no one had thought of the Habsburgs’ troops as the personal property of the sovereign. A few dramatic moments changed all that and thenceforth a bond was formed between soldier and monarch which endured for three centuries. The strength of this new relationship was quickly tested in the Thirty Years War. When that conflict threw up in the shape of Wallenstein the greatest warlord of his time, the issue of loyalty became critical. The dynasty was eventually able to rely on its soldiers to eliminate the threat. By the end of this period the Kaiserliche Armee was an undisputed reality.

The first week of June takes Vienna in a haze of heat and dust. Throats become parched as the warm wind raises small clouds of dirt along roads and tracks. The Viennese, irritable at the best of times, fractiously push each other and the stranger aside, addictively and automatically seeking shade and shelter. While the clouds become darker the stifling humidity immobilises even the pigeons, which gather dozily on the surfaces of the dusty courtyards of the Hofburg, the Imperial palace whose apartments were, are and always shall be synonomous with the House of Habsburg.

In June 1619, Vienna had not yet reached its unchallenged position as capital of a great European empire. True, the Habsburgs had come a long way since 1218, when a modest count by the name of Rudolf had brought the family out of the narrow Swiss valleys of his birth and, through a series of battles and later dazzling dynastic marriages, had propelled a family of obscure inbred Alpine nonentities into the cockpit of Europe whence they would become the greatest Imperial dynasty in history. Other countries might have many families over the years to supply their monarchs – the case of England leaps to mind – but the story of Austria and the heart of Europe is really the story of one, and only one, family: the Habsburgs.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Habsburgs as a world power were already past their zenith. The Empire ‘on which the sun never set’, with its domains across Spain, Latin America and Germany, had split into two on the retirement of Charles V in 1556. The Spanish domains had gone to Charles’s son Philip II while the Austrian domains enmeshed with the fabric of the Holy Roman Empire had passed to Charles’s nephew Ferdinand. Even England in 1554 when Philip married Queen Mary at Winchester Cathedral had seemed destined to be incorporated permanently into this family’s system.

But while the Spanish domains were a more cohesive entity, the Austrian branch, assuming its ‘historic’ right to the crown of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, was a rich tapestry of principalities, Lilliput kingdoms and minor dukedoms in which different races owed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor. The title was not hereditary, however much the Habsburgs may have thought it their own. The Emperor was elected by a council of seven princes who gathered at Frankfurt am Main. The Habsburg claim to this title, which from 6 January 1453 they perceived as almost a family right, arose from the possession of their crown lands in Central Europe and above all their title to the Kingdom of Bohemia. Although the Austrian Habsburgs could never really aspire to the global status their family had achieved under Charles V a generation earlier, they were to assume a powerful position in European history.

A half-century after the great division of Charles’s Habsburg spoils, Vienna still had rivals. Graz to the south and east and Prague to the west and north were both cities of importance to the Habsburgs. In the latter Rudolf II, philosopher, astrologer and occultist, had set up his capital in 1583, tolerating the ‘new’ Reformation theologies. In the former, the Archduke Ferdinand after his childhood in Spain and a Jesuit education in Bavaria had ruled the Styrian lands of ‘Inner Austria’ in a different manner. Between these two very different poles of authority Vienna still had not yet come of age. But in the hot days of June 1619, Vienna was to establish now an unrivalled ascendancy, becoming for a few moments the fulcrum of a pivotal conflict.

On 5 June, as the soporific wind carried the dust across the Hofburg palace towards the great Renaissance black and red ‘Swiss Gate’, a heated exchange could be heard through the open shutters of the dark masonry above. A sullen and armed mob numbering about a hundred had gathered below to await the outcome of this exchange, intimidating the guards and cursing the name of Habsburg.

In the dark vaulted rooms above the Schweizer Tor the object of all this hostility sat at his desk, facing the mob’s leaders, his frame defiant; his expression inscrutable. Diminutive in stature and stiff in countenance Archduke Ferdinand of Graz seemed unequal to the men who, unannounced, had burst into his rooms. These men were tall and rough; their hands large, bony and unmanicured. Their faces were twisted into angry and threatening expressions and the virtue of patience, if they had ever experienced it, was not uppermost in their minds.

They were a gang of Protestant noblemen who had defenestrated two of Ferdinand’s representatives, Slawata and Martinic, from the great window of the Hradčany castle in Prague barely a year before, initiating the violent challenge to Habsburg authority which became the Thirty Years War. Their leader, Mathias Thurn, was a giant of a man who had used the pommel of his sword to smash the knuckles of his victims as they held on for dear life to the ledge of the window. That both men had cried for divine intervention and – mirabile dictu – had fallen safely on to dung heaps had not in any way been due to Thurn’s going easy on them. Moderation was not his strongest suit. And now on this stifling day in Vienna, Thurn was again in no mood for negotiation. His large-boned fists crashed down on the desk in front of him. He may have been Bohemia’s premier aristocrat but he was passionate, hot-headed and violent.

Martin Luther’s ‘Reformation’ a hundred years earlier with its challenging practicalities, rejection of Papal corruption, increasing anti-Semitism and radical challenge to the authority of Rome had spread its tentacles across Germany into Bohemia and the new faith had fired the truculence and latent Hussite sympathies of the Bohemian nobility. Two hundred years earlier Jan Hus, the renegade Czech priest, had roused the Bohemians to revolt and he had been burned at the stake in Prague for heresy against the Catholic Church. Now, under Thurn, Hus’s legacy of a Bohemian challenge to Catholic Habsburg authority had been reinvigorated with all the pent-up energy of the ‘Reformation’. These sparks were literally about to set Europe ablaze.

Ferdinand of Graz

Ferdinand was a pupil of the Jesuits, one of the new orders established in 1540 by the Vatican to combat heresy and invigorate the Church. In 1595, at the age of 18, he had arrived in ‘Reformation’ Graz on Easter Sunday. When he celebrated Mass in the old faith that day, inviting the population to join him, he was dismayed to find that not a single burgher of Graz appeared. Styria at the end of the sixteenth century was overwhelmingly Protestant. Ferdinand with all the dignity of his upbringing showed no outward sign of disappointment but he immediately set about radically changing this state of affairs.

His Spanish upbringing and his devotion to the Jesuits could only produce one practical result. There were to be no half-measures. Ferdinand publicly proclaimed that he would rather live for the rest of his life in a hair shirt and see his lands burned to a cinder than tolerate heresy for a single day. Within eighteen months, Protestantism ceased to exist in Styria; every Protestant (and there were tens of thousands of them) was either converted or expelled, among the latter the great astronomer Kepler, who travelled to Prague. Every Protestant text and heretical tract was burned, every Protestant place of worship closed. Two weeks was allowed to the population to choose exile or conversion. As an exercise in largely bloodless coercion Ferdinand’s measures have no equal. The Styrian nobility capitulated. When during the following Easters, Ferdinand celebrated Mass, the entire population of the city turned out to join him. To this day, as Seton-Watson, the historian of the Czechs and the Slovaks, observed, there is ‘no more dramatic transformation in the history of Europe than the recovery of Austria for the Catholic Faith’.

But in 1619 Vienna was not Graz and the Bohemian nobility with their Upper Austrian supporters were not to prove as pliant as their Styrian counterparts. On 5 June 1619, Ferdinand, now 41 years of age, might have been forgiven for believing his Lord had deserted him. Inside the palace, Ferdinand’s supporters appeared demoralised and despondent. Ferdinand and his Jesuit confessor alone remained calm. For several hours, as they had awaited Thurn, the Archduke had prostrated himself before the cross. It seemed a futile gesture. The rest of Europe had already written Ferdinand off. France, the leading Catholic power, had withdrawn any offer of help. In Brussels, in the Habsburg Lowlands, members of Ferdinand’s family spoke of replacing the ‘Jesuitical soul’ with the Archduke Albert, a man altogether less in thrall to the vigour of the gathering forces of the Counter-Reformation. Even Hungary, of which, like Bohemia, Ferdinand was theoretically King, appeared to be on the brink of open rebellion.

Ferdinand had abandoned his ill and dying son to hurry to Vienna from Graz towards the end of April in 1619 to meet the emergency in Bohemia head-on and rally the Lower Austrian nobility. But in the seven dry and hot weeks of the spring of 1619 his journey had been less of a pageant and more of a via dolorosa. Everywhere he had encountered refugees from Bohemia and Moravia where, following the defenestration, the rebels had seized church property. Many were monks and nuns from plundered churches and convents. The Catholics, hunted out of Upper Austria, fell to their knees as their Emperor passed but few imagined this slight man could save them from the perils of their time. When Ferdinand reached Vienna at the end of May 1619, the hot weather had contributed to another pestilence to add to heresy: the plague.

As the Bohemian rebels, Starhemberg, Thurn and Thonradel smashed their way into the Hofburg they could be confident that all the strong cards were in their hands. How could this little Archduke hope to resist their demands? They would intimidate him and force him to sign documents that would restore their freedom to worship in the new faith, confirm their privileges and above all compel the hated Jesuits to leave the Habsburg crown lands of Styria and Bohemia. If he resisted, well the windows were large and high enough in the Hofburg and, as Thurn must have noticed with satisfaction as he raced up the stairs of the Schweizer Tor, there was no dung heap here to cushion a fall.

For what seemed might be the last time the Habsburg withdrew to his private oratory, and once again prostrate in front of the cross Ferdinand quietly prayed that he was ‘now ready if necessary to die for the only true cause’. But, Ferdinand added, ‘if it were God’s will that he should live then let God grant him one mercy: troops’, and, he added as the noise rose without, ‘as soon as possible’.

As the Bohemian ringleaders burst into Ferdinand’s rooms, one of their number, Thonradel, seized the collar of Ferdinand’s doublet. According to one account, Thonradel forced the Archduke to sit down at his desk. Taking a list of their demands out of his own doublet, the rebel placed them on the desk in front of the Archduke and screamed in Latin: ‘Scribet Fernandus!’

What would have happened next had these men remained undisturbed and allowed to continue this rather one-sided dialogue will never be known for at precisely this moment the sound of horses’ hooves and the cracked notes of a distant cavalry trumpeter brought the confrontation to an abrupt halt.

As the clatter of horsemen wheeling below brought both the Archduke and his persecutors to the window, no one was arguably more surprised than Ferdinand. Below, to the consternation of the crowd, were several hundred Imperial cuirassiers under their colonel, Gilbert Sainte-Hilaire. The regiment was named after their first proprietary colonel: Count Heinrich Duval de Dampierre.

Count Heinrich Duval de Dampierre

Sainte-Hilaire had been sent to the Archduke’s aid by the only member of Ferdinand’s family not to have deserted him: his younger brother, Leopold, from Tyrol. The cuirassiers had ridden hard from the western Alps and reached Vienna via Krems. Their timing was impeccable. Ferdinand straightened himself up and noticed that the confidence of even the most brutal of his opponents had evaporated. Thurn was too much of a realist to try to settle accounts with Ferdinand surrounded by loyal cavalry. As Sainte-Hilaire’s men dismounted and with swords drawn raced up the stairs to the Habsburg, the rebels adopted almost instantly a very different mien. No more blood, they insisted, should be spilt. Thurn and his men bowed and withdrew.

Whatever the precise sequence of the encounter – and modern Jesuit historians challenge some of the details – there can be little doubt that had Ferdinand yielded that June day of 1619, the Counter-Reformation in his lands would have stalled and the Habsburgs would have ceased to play any further meaningful part in the history of Central Europe. With Bohemia and Lower Austria lost, the keys to Central Europe would have been surrendered. It is even likely that Catholicism would have become a minority cult practised north of the Alps only by a few scattered and demoralised communities.

For the army and the dynasty, the events of 5 June 1619 were no less critical. They had forged the umbilical cord which would bind them until 1918. Henceforth dynasty and army would mutually support each other. From this day there would be, for three hundred years, a compact between Habsburg and soldier, indivisible and unbreakable through all the great storms of European history. The army first and foremost would exist to serve and defend the dynasty.

For the next three centuries the generals of the Habsburg army would have the events of 5 June 1619 burnt into their subconscious and no commander would risk the destruction of his army, because without an army the dynasty would be put at risk. It was always better to fight and preserve something for another day than to risk all to destroy the enemy. This unspoken compact would snap only in November 1918 on the refusal of the last Habsburg monarch to use the army in a way that would risk their being deployed against his peoples.

The army benefited in many ways from these arrangements. As a symbol of this bond, Ferdinand II granted the Dampierre cuirassiers (and their successor regiments) the right to ride through the Hofburg with trumpets sounding and standards flying. Nearly two hundred years later, in 1810, the Emperor Francis I confirmed the privilege. The regiment could ride through Vienna and set up a recruitment office on the Hofburg square for three days. In addition the colonel of the regiment was to enjoy accommodation in the Hofburg palace whenever he wished and had the unique right of an unannounced audience with the Emperor at any time in ‘full armour’ (‘unangemeldet in voller Ruestung vor Sr. Majestät dem Kaiser zu erscheinen’).

These privileges were a modest recompense. The arrival of the Dampierre cavalry not only saved Ferdinand, it marked the turning of a tide. Five days later, on 10 June 1619 in Sablat near Budweis (Budějovice) in southern Bohemia, the Imperial forces under Buquoy defeated Mansfeld, the most able of the Protestant commanders, in the first Catholic victory of the conflict. This victory resonated throughout Europe and Ferdinand, having been written off barely a month earlier, now found himself receiving pledges of support not only from Louis XIII of France but from the many German princes who had earlier misinterpreted the winds of change blowing against the Habsburgs and had dismissed Ferdinand’s claims to the title of Holy Roman Emperor.

This title to which the Habsburgs had been elected since the fifteenth century carried mostly prestige. The Empire itself was, for all its insistence on its links with Charlemagne and before him the old western Roman Empire, an incoherent tapestry of different entities. In a world where influence was as important as power, the presence of a Habsburg as Holy Roman Emperor gave that family a dominating say in the affairs of the Germans. If Ferdinand could secure the Imperial title, which became vacant on the death in 1619 of his more tolerant cousin Mathias, it would cut the ground from beneath those rebels who had opposed his receiving the crown of Bohemia in 1617 and the crown of Hungary in 1618, men who with reason feared the Catholic orthodoxy which was Ferdinand’s touchstone.

Already, the Kurfürst (Elector) of Trier supported Ferdinand’s claim to the leadership of the Holy Roman Empire. The Catholic League led by Maximilian of Bavaria also declared itself for Ferdinand. At the last moment, the news in the autumn of 1619 came from Prague that the rebels in a desperate step had elected as their king the Protestant Elector Palatine, Frederick, a 25-year-old Calvinist and mystic who believed in a Protestant Union of Europe. But it was too late: Ferdinand had been elected two days earlier unanimously (even with the votes of the Palatinate) as Holy Roman Emperor or Kaiser. The new Kaiser set about impressing his authority on his domains immediately.