Historical Tales: 5—German - Charles Morris

The Fortunes of Wallenstein

Wallenstein was in power, Wallenstein the mysterious, the ambitious, the victorious; soldier of fortune and arbiter of empires; reader of the stars and ally of the powers of darkness; poor by birth and rich by marriage and imperial favor; an extraordinary man, surrounded by mystery and silence, victorious through ability and audacity, rising from obscurity to be master of the emperor, and falling at length by the hand of assassination. In person he was tall and thin, in countenance sallow and lowering, his eyes small and piercing, his forehead high and commanding, his hair short and bristling, his expression dark and sinister. Fortune was his deity, ambition ruled him with the sway of a tyrant; he was born with the conquering instinct, and in the end handed over all Germany, bound and captive, to his imperial master, and retired to brood new conquests.

Albert von Wallenstein was Bohemian by birth, Prague being his native city. His parents were Lutherans, but they died, and he was educated as a Catholic. He travelled with an astrologer, and was taught cabalistic lore and the secrets of the stars, which he ever after believed to control his destiny. His fortune began in his marriage to an aged but very wealthy widow, who almost put an end to his career by administering to him a love-potion. He had already served in the army, fought against the Turks in Hungary, and with his wife's money raised a regiment for the wars in Bohemia. A second marriage with a rich countess added to his wealth; he purchased, at a fifth of their value, about sixty estates of the exiled Bohemian nobility, and paid for them in debased coin; the emperor, in recognition of his services, made him Duke of Friedland, in which alone there were nine towns and fifty-seven castles and villages; his wealth, through these marriages, purchases, and gifts, steadily increased till he became enormously rich, and the wealthiest man in Germany, next to the emperor.



This extraordinary man was born in an extraordinary time, a period admirably calculated for the exercise of his talents, and sadly suited to the suffering of mankind in consequence. It was the period of the frightful conflict known as the Thirty Years' War. A century had passed since the Diet of Worms, in which Protestantism first boldly lifted its head against Catholicism. During that period the new religious doctrines had gained a firm footing in Germany. Charles V. had done his utmost to put them down, and, discouraged by his failure, had abdicated the throne. In his retreat he is said to have amused his leisure in seeking to make two watches go precisely alike. The effort proved as vain as that to make two people think alike, and he exclaimed, "Not even two watches, with similar works, can I make to agree, and yet, fool that I was, I thought I should be able to control like the works of a watch different nations, living under diverse skies, in different climes, and speaking varied languages." Those who followed him were to meet with a similar result.

The second effort to put down Protestantism by arms began in 1618, and led to that frightful outbreak of human virulence, the Thirty Years' War, which made Germany a desert, but left religion as it found it. The emperor, Ferdinand II., a rigid Catholic, bitterly opposed to the spread of Protestantism, had ordered the demolition of two new churches built by the Bohemian Protestants. His order led to instant hostilities. Count Thurn, a fierce Bohemian nobleman, had the emperor's representatives, Slawata and Martinitz by name, flung out of the window of the council-chamber in Prague, a height of seventy or more feet, and their secretary Fabricius flung after them. It was a terrible fall, but they escaped, for a pile of litter and old papers lay below. Fabricius fell on Martinitz, and, polite to the last, begged his pardon for coming down upon him so rudely. This act of violence, which occurred on May 23, 1618, is looked upon as the true beginning of the dreadful war.

Matters moved rapidly. Bohemia was conquered by the imperial armies, its nobles exiled or executed, its religion suppressed. This victory gained, an effort was made to suppress Lutheranism in Upper Austria. It led to a revolt, and soon the whole country was in a flame of war. Tilly and Pappenheim, the imperial commanders, swept all before them, until they suddenly found themselves opposed by a man their equal in ability, Count Mansfeld, who had played an active part in the Bohemian wars.

A diminutive, deformed, sickly-looking man was Mansfeld, but he had the soul of a soldier in his small frame. No sooner was his standard raised than the Protestants flocked to it, and he quickly found himself at the head of twenty thousand men. But as the powerful princes failed to support him he was compelled to subsist his troops by pillage, an example which was followed by all the leaders during that dreadful contest.

And now began a frightful struggle, a game of war on the chess-board of a nation, in which the people were the helpless pawns and suffered alike from friends and foes. Neither side gained any decisive victory, but both sides plundered and ravaged, the savage soldiery, unrestrained and unrestrainable, committing cruel excesses wherever they came.

Such was the state of affairs which preceded the appearance of Wallenstein on the field of action. The soldiers led by Tilly were those of the Catholic League; Ferdinand, the emperor, had no troops of his own in the field; Wallenstein, discontented that the war should be going on without him, offered to raise an imperial army, paying the most of its expenses himself, but stipulating, in return, that he should have unlimited control. The emperor granted all his demands, and made him Duke of Friedland as a preliminary reward, Wallenstein agreeing to raise ten thousand men.

No sooner was his standard raised than crowds flocked to it, and an army of forty thousand soldiers of fortune were soon ready to follow him to plunder and victory. His fame as a soldier, and the free pillage which he promised, had proved irresistible inducements to war-loving adventurers of all nations and creeds. In a few months the army was raised and fully equipped, and in the autumn of 1625 took the field, growing as it marched.

Christian IV., the Lutheran king of Denmark, had joined in the war, and Tilly, jealous of Wallenstein, vigorously sought to overcome his new adversaries before his rival could reach the field of conflict. He succeeded, too, in great measure, reducing many of the Protestant towns and routing the army of the Danish king.

Meanwhile, Wallenstein came on, his army growing until sixty thousand men—a wild and undisciplined horde—followed his banners. Mansfeld, who had received reinforcements from England and Holland, opposed him, but was too weak to face him successfully in the field. He was defeated on the bridge of Dessau, and marched rapidly into Silesia, whither Wallenstein, much to his chagrin, was compelled to follow him.

From Silesia, Mansfeld marched into Hungary, still pursued by Wallenstein. Here he was badly received, because he had not brought the money expected by the king. His retreat cut off, and without the means of procuring supplies in that remote country, the valiant warrior found himself at the end of his resources. Return was impossible, for Wallenstein occupied the roads. In the end he was forced to sell his artillery and ammunition, disband his army, and proceed southward towards Venice, whence he hoped to reach England and procure a new supply of funds. But on arriving at the village of Urakowitz, in Bosnia, his strength, worn out by incessant struggles and fatigues, gave way, and the noble warrior, the last hope of Protestantism in Germany, as it seemed, breathed his last, a disheartened fugitive.

On feeling the approach of death, he had himself clothed in his military coat, and his sword buckled to his side. Thus equipped, and standing between two friends, who supported him upright, the brave Mansfeld breathed his last. His death left his cause almost without a supporter, for the same year his friend, Duke Christian of Brunswick, expired, and with them the Protestants lost their only able leaders; King Christian of Denmark, their principal successor, being greatly wanting in the requisites of military genius.

Ferdinand seemed triumphant and the cause of his opponents lost. All opposition, for the time, was at an end. Tilly, whose purposes were the complete restoration of Catholicism in Germany, held the provinces conquered by him with an iron hand. Wallenstein, who seemingly had in view the weakening of the power of the League and the raising of the emperor to absolutism, broke down all opposition before his irresistible march.

His army had gradually increased till it numbered one hundred thousand men,—a host which it cost him nothing to support, for it subsisted on the devastated country. He advanced through Silesia, driving all his enemies before him; marched into Holstein, in order to force the King of Denmark to leave Germany; invaded and devastated Jutland and Silesia; and added to his immense estate the duchy of Sagan and the whole of Mecklenburg, which latter was given him by the emperor in payment of his share of the expenses of the war. This raised him to the rank of prince. As for Denmark, he proposed to get rid of its king and have Ferdinand elected in his stead.

The career of this incomprehensible man had been strangely successful. Not a shadow of reverse had met him. What he really intended no one knew. As his enemies decreased he increased his forces. Was it the absolutism of the emperor or of himself that he sought? Several of the princes appealed to Ferdinand to relieve their dominions from the oppressive burden of war, but the emperor was weaker than his general, and dared not act against him. The whole of north Germany lay prostrate beneath the powerful warrior, and obeyed his slightest nod. He lived in a style of pomp and ostentation far beyond that of the emperor himself. His officers imitated him in extravagance. Even his soldiers lived in luxury. To support this lavish display many thousands of human beings languished in misery, starvation threatened whole provinces, and destitution everywhere prevailed.

From Mecklenburg, Wallenstein fixed his ambitious eyes on Pomerania, which territory he grew desirous of adding to his dominions. Here was an important commercial city, Stralsund, a member of the Hanseatic League, and one which enjoyed the privilege of self-government. It had contributed freely to the expenses of the imperial army, but Wallenstein, in furtherance of his designs upon Pomerania, now determined to place in it a garrison of his own troops.

This was an interference with their vested rights which roused the wrath of the citizens of Stralsund. They refused to receive the troops sent them: Wallenstein, incensed, determined to teach the insolent burghers a lesson, and bade General Arnim to march against and lay siege to the place, doubting not that it would be quickly at his mercy.

He was destined to a disappointment. Stralsund was to put the first check upon his uniformly successful career. The citizens defended their walls with obstinate courage. Troops, ammunition, and provisions were sent them from Denmark and Sweden, and they continued to oppose a successful resistance to every effort to reduce them.

This unlooked for perversity of the Stralsunders filled the soul of Wallenstein with rage. It seemed to him unexampled insolence that these merchants should dare defy his conquering troops. "Even if this Stralsund be linked by chains to the very heavens above," he declared, "still I swear it shall fall!"

He advanced in person against the city and assailed it with his whole army, bringing all the resources at his command to bear against its walls. But with heroic courage the citizens held their own. Weeks passed, while he continued to thunder upon it with shot and shell. The Stralsunders thundered back. His most furious assaults were met by them with a desperate valor which in time left his ranks twelve thousand men short. In the end, to his unutterable chagrin, he was forced to raise the siege and march away, leaving the valiant burghers lords of their homes.

The war now seemingly came to its conclusion. The King of Denmark asked for peace, which the emperor granted, and terms were signed at Lübeck on May 12, 1629. The contest was, for the time being, at an end, for there was no longer any one to oppose the emperor. For twelve years it had continued, its ravages turning rich provinces into deserts, and making beggars and fugitives of wealthy citizens. The opposition of the Protestants was at an end, and there were but two disturbing elements of the seemingly pacific situation.

One of these was the purpose which the Catholic party soon showed to suppress Protestantism and bring what they considered the heretical provinces again under the dominion of the pope. The other was the army of Wallenstein, whose intolerable tyranny over friends and foes alike had now passed the bounds of endurance. From all sides complaints reached the emperor's ears, charges of pillage, burnings, outrages, and shameful oppressions of every sort inflicted by the imperial troops upon the inhabitants of the land. So many were the complaints that it was impossible to disregard them. The whole body of princes—every one of whom cordially hated Wallenstein—joined in the outcry, and in the end Ferdinand, with some hesitation, yielded to their wishes, and bade the general to disband his forces.

Would he obey? That was next to be seen. The mighty chief was in a position to defy princes and emperor if he chose. The plundering bands who followed him were his own, not the emperor's soldiers; they knew but one master and were ready to obey his slightest word; had he given the order to advance upon Vienna and drive the emperor himself from his throne, there is no question but that they would have obeyed. As may be imagined, then, the response of Wallenstein was awaited in fear and anxiety. Should ambition counsel him to revolution, the very foundations of the empire might be shaken. What, then, was the delight of princes and people when word came that he had accepted the emperor's command without a word, and at once ordered the disbanding of his troops.

The stars were perhaps responsible for this. Astrology was his passion, and the planetary conjunctions seemed then to be in favor of submission. The man was superstitious, with all his clear-sighted ability, and permitted himself to be governed by influences which have long since lost their force upon men's minds.

"I do not complain against or reproach the emperor," he said to the imperial deputies; "the stars have already indicated to me that the spirit of the Elector of Bavaria holds sway in the imperial councils. But his majesty, in dismissing his troops, is rejecting the most precious jewel of his crown."

The event which we have described took place in September, 1630. Wallenstein, having paid off and dispersed his great army to the four winds, retired to his duchy of Friedland, and took up his residence at Gitschen, which had been much enlarged and beautified by his orders. Here he quietly waited and observed the progress of events.

He had much of interest to observe. The effort of Ferdinand and his advisers to drive Protestantism out of Germany had produced an effect which none of them anticipated. The war, which had seemed at an end, was quickly afoot again, with a new leader of the Protestant cause, new armies, and new fortunes. Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, had come to the rescue of his threatened fellow-believers, and before the army of Wallenstein had been dissolved the work of the peace-makers was set aside, and the horrors of war returned.

The dismissed general had now left Gitschen for Bohemia, where he dwelt upon his estates in a style of regal luxury, and in apparent disregard of the doings of emperors and kings. His palace in Prague was royal in its adornments, and while his enemies were congratulating themselves on having forced him into retirement, he had Italian artists at work painting on the walls of this palace his figure in the character of a conqueror, his triumphal car drawn by four milk-white steeds, while a star shone above his laurel-crowned head. Sixty pages, of noble birth, richly attired in blue and gold velvet, waited upon him, while some of his officers and chamberlains had served the emperor in the same rank. In his magnificent stables were three hundred horses of choice breeds, while the daily gathering of distinguished men in his halls was not surpassed by the assemblies of the emperor himself.

Yet in his demeanor there was nothing to show that he entertained a shadow of his former ambition. He affected the utmost ease and tranquillity of manner, and seemed as if fully content with his present state, and as if he cared no longer who fought the wars of the world.

But inwardly his ambition had in no sense declined. He beheld the progress of the Swedish conqueror with secret joy, and when he saw Tilly overthrown at Leipsic, and the fruits of twelve years of war wrested from the emperor at a single blow, his heart throbbed high with hope. His hour of revenge upon the emperor had come. Ferdinand must humiliate himself and come for aid to his dismissed general, for there was not another man in the kingdom capable of saving it from the triumphant foe.

He was right. The emperor's deputies came. He was requested, begged, to head again the imperial armies. He received the envoys coldly. Urgent persuasions were needed to induce him to raise an army of thirty thousand men. Even then he would not agree to take command of it. He would raise it and put it at the emperor's disposal.

He planted his standard; the men came; many of them his old followers. Plenty and plunder were promised, and thousands flocked to his tents. By March of 1632 the thirty thousand men were collected. Who should command them? There was but one, and this the emperor and Wallenstein alike knew. They would follow only the man to whose banner they had flocked.

The emperor begged him to take command. He consented, but only on conditions to which an emperor has rarely agreed. Wallenstein was to have exclusive control of the army, without interference of any kind, was to be given irresponsible control over all the provinces he might conquer, was to hold as security a portion of the Austrian patrimonial estates, and after the war might choose any of the hereditary estates of the empire for his seat of retirement. The emperor acceded, and Wallenstein, clothed with almost imperial power, marched to war. His subsequent fortunes the next narrative must declare.