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Albrecht von Wallenstein

Albrecht von WallensteinAKA Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein

Born: 24-Sep-1583
Birthplace: Hermanice, Bohemia
Died: 25-Feb-1634
Location of death: Eger, Bohemia
Cause of death: Murder

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Military

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Attempted to unite Germany

Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, properly Waldstein, duke of Friedland, Sagan and Mecklenburg, German soldier and statesman, was born of a noble but by no means wealthy or influential family at Hermanice, Bohemia, on the 15th of September 1583. His parents were Lutherans, and in early youth he attended the school of the Brothers of the Common Life at Koschumberg. After the death of his parents he was sent by his uncle, Slawata, to the Jesuit college of nobles at Olmütz, after which he professed, but hardly accepted, the Roman Catholic faith. In 1599 he went to the university of Altdorf, which he had to leave in consequence of some boyish follies. Afterwards he studied at Bologna and Padua, and visited many places in southern and western Europe. While in Padua he gave much attention to astrology, and during the rest of his life he never wavered in the conviction that he might trust to the stars for indications as to his destiny. For some time Wallenstein served in the army of the emperor Rudolph II in Hungary, which was commanded by a methodical professional soldier, Giorgio Basta. His personal gallantry at the siege of Gran won for him a company without purchase. In 1606 he returned to Bohemia, and soon afterwards he married an elderly widow, Lucretia Nikossie von Landeck, whose great estates in Moravia he inherited after her death in 1614. His new wealth enabled him to offer two hundred horse, splendidly equipped, to the archduke Ferdinand for his war with Venice in 1617. Wallenstein commanded them in person, and from that time he enjoyed both favor at court and popularity in the army. His wealth and influence were further increased by his marriage with Isabella Katharina, daughter of Count Harrach, a confidential adviser of the emperor Matthias.

In the disturbances which broke out in Bohemia in 1618 and proved to be the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, advances were made to Wallenstein by the revolutionary party; but he preferred to associate himself with the imperial cause, and he carried off the treasure-chest of the Moravian estates to Vienna, part of its contents being given him for the equipment of a regiment of cuirassiers. At the head of this regiment Wallenstein won great distinction under Buquoy in the war against Mansfeld. He was not present at the battle of the Weisser Berg, but he did brilliant service as second-in-command of the army which opposed Gabriel Bethlen in Moravia, and recovered his estates which the nationalists had seized. The battle of the Weisser Berg placed Bohemia at the mercy of the emperor Ferdinand, and Wallenstein turned the prevailing confusion to his own advantage. He secured the great estates belonging to his mother's family, and the emperor sold to him on easy terms vast tracts of confiscated lands. His possessions he was allowed to form into a territory called Friedland, and he was raised in 1622 to the rank of an imperial count palatine, in 1623 to that of a prince. In 1625 he was made duke of Friedland. Meantime he fought with skill and success against Gabriel Bethlen, and so enhanced his reputation at the dark moment when Vienna was in peril and the emperor's general Buquoy dead on the field of battle. At this stage in his life the enigma of his personality is complicated by the fact that he was not only the cold, detached visionary with vast ambitions and dreams, but also the model ruler of his principality. In everyday matters of administration he displayed vigor and foresight. He not only placed the administration of justice on a firm basis and founded schools, but by many wise measures developed agriculture and mining and manufacturing industries. At the same time he enlisted in the service of his ambition and his authority a pomp and refinement in his court which contrasted forcibly with the way of life of the smaller established rulers.

When the war against the Bohemians had become a widespread conflagration, Ferdinand found he had no forces to oppose to the Danes and the Northern Protestants other than the Army of the League, which was not his, but the powerful and independent Maximilian's, instrument. Wallenstein saw his opportunity and early in 1626 he offered to raise not a regiment or two, but a whole army for the imperial service. After some negotiations the offer was accepted, the understanding being that the troops were to be maintained at the cost of the countries they might occupy. Wallenstein's popularity soon brought great numbers of recruits to his standard. He soon found himself at the head of 30,000 (not long afterwards of 50,000) men. Campaigns were fought in 1625, 1626, and 1627 against Mansfeld, the Northern Protestants, and Bethlen.

Having established peace in Hungary, Wallenstein proceeded, in 1627, to clear Silesia of some remnants of Mansfeld's army; and at this time he bought from the emperor the duchy of Sagan, his outlay in the conduct of the war being taken into account in the conclusion of the bargain. He then joined Tilly in the struggle with Christian IV, and afterwards took possession of the duchy of Mecklenburg, which was granted to him in reward for his services, the hereditary dukes being displaced on the ground that they had helped the Danish king. He failed to capture Stralsund, which he besieged for several months in 1628. This important reverse caused him bitter disappointment, for he had hoped that by obtaining free access to the Baltic he might be able to make the emperor as supreme at sea as he seemed to be on land. It was a part of Wallenstein's scheme of German unity that he should obtain possession of the Hanseatic towns, and through them destroy or at least defy the naval power of the Scandinavian kingdom, the Netherlands and England. This plan was completely frustrated by the resistance of Stralsund, and even more by the emperor's "Edict of Restitution" that not only rallied against him all the Protestants but brought in a great soldier and a model army, Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedes.

At the same time the victory of the principles of the League involved the fall of Wallenstein's influence. By his ambitions, his high dreams of unity and the incessant exactions of his army, he had made for himself a host of enemies. He was reported to have spoken of the arrogance of the princes, and it appeared probable that he would try to bring them, Catholics and Protestants alike, into rigid subjection to the crown. Again and again the emperor was advised to dismiss him. Ferdinand was very unwilling to part with one who had served him so well; but the demand was pressed so urgently in 1630 that he had no alternative, and in September of that year envoys were sent to Wallenstein to announce his removal. Had the emperor declined to take this course, the princes would probably have combined against him; and the result would have been a civil war even more serious than that which had already brought so many disasters upon the country. Wallenstein perfectly understood this, and he therefore accepted the emperor's decision calmly, gave over his army to Tilly, and retired to Gitschin, the capital of his duchy of Friedland. There, and at his palace in Prague, he lived in an atmosphere of mysterious magnificence, the rumors of which penetrated all Germany. The enigma of his projects was intensified, and the princes who had secured his disgrace became more suspicious than ever. But before long the emperor was forced by events to call him into the field again.

Shortly before the dismissal of Wallenstein, Gustavus Adolphus had landed in Germany, and it soon became obvious that he was far more formidable than the enemies with whom the emperor had yet had to contend. Tilly was defeated at Breitenfeld and on the Lech, where he received a mortal wound, and Gustavus advanced to Munich, while Bohemia was occupied by his allies the Saxons. The emperor entreated Wallenstein to come once more to his aid. Wallenstein at first declined; he had, indeed, been secretly negotiating with Gustavus Adolphus, in the hope of destroying the League and its projects and of building his new Germany without French assistance. However, he accepted Ferdinand's offers, and in the spring of 1632 he raised a fresh army as strong as the first within a few weeks and took the field. This army was placed absolutely under his control, so that he assumed the position of an independent prince rather than of a subject. His first aim was to drive the Saxons from Bohemia -- an object which he accomplished without serious difficulty. Then he advanced against Gustavus Adolphus, whom he opposed near Nuremberg and after the battle of the Alte Veste dislodged. In November came the great battle of Lützen, in which the imperialists were defeated, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed.

To the dismay of Ferdinand, Wallenstein made no use of the opportunity provided for him by the death of the Swedish king, but withdrew to winter quarters in Bohemia. In the campaign of 1633 much astonishment was caused by his apparent unwillingness to attack the enemy. He was in fact preparing to desert the emperor. In the war against the Saxons he had offered them as terms of peace the revocation of the Edict. Religious toleration and the destruction of the separatist regime, as well as not inconsiderable aggrandisements for his own power, formed his program, so far as historians have been able to reconstruct it, and becoming convinced from Ferdinand's obstinacy that the Edict would never be rescinded, he began to prepare to "force a just peace on the emperor in the interests of united Germany." With this object he entered into negotiations with Saxony, Brandenburg, Sweden and France. He had vast and vague schemes for the reorganization of the entire constitutional system of the empire, and he himself was to have supreme authority in determining the political destinies of his country. But as the mere commander of mercenaries he was trusted by no one, and could only play the part of Cassandra to the end.

Irritated by the distrust excited by his proposals, and anxious to make his power felt, he at last assumed the offensive against the Swedes and Saxons, winning his last victory at Steinau on the Oder in October. He then resumed the negotiations. In December he retired with his army to Bohemia, fixing his headquarters at Pilsen. It had soon been suspected in Vienna that Wallenstein was playing a double part, and the emperor, encouraged by the Spaniards at his court, anxiously sought for means of getting rid of him. Wallenstein was well aware of the designs formed against him, but displayed little energy in his attempts to thwart them. This was due in part, no doubt, to ill health, in part to the fact that be trusted to the assurances of his astrologer, Battista Seth. He also felt confident that when the time came for his army to decide between him and the emperor the decision would be in his own favor.

His principal officers assembled around him at a banquet on the 12th January 1634, when he submitted to them a declaration to the effect that they would remain true to him. This declaration they signed. More than a month later a second paper was signed; but on this occasion the officers expression of loyalty to their general was associated with an equally emphatic expression of loyalty to their emperor. By this time Wallenstein had learned that he must act warily. On the 24th of January the emperor had signed a secret patent removing him from his command, and imperial agents had been laboring to undermine Wallenstein's influence. On the 7th two of his officers, Piccolomini and Aldringer, had intended to seize him at Pilsen; but finding the troops there loyal to their general, they had kept quiet. But a patent charging Wallenstein and two of his officers with high treason, and naming the generals who were to assume the supreme command of the army, was signed on the 18th of February, and published in Prague.

When Wallenstein heard of the publication of this patent and of the refusal of the garrison of Prague to take his orders, he realized the full extent of his danger, and on the 23rd of February, accompanied by his most intimate friends, and guarded by about 1000 men, he went from Pilsen to Eger, hoping to meet the Swedes under Duke Bernhard, who, at last convinced of his sincerity, were marching to join him. After the arrival of the party at Eger, Colonel Gordon, the commandant, and Colonels Butler and Leslie agreed to rid the emperor of his enemy. On the evening of the 25th of February Wallenstein's supporters Illo, Kinsky, Terzky and Neumann were received at a banquet by the three colonels, and then murdered. Butler, Captain Devereux and a number of soldiers hurried to the house where Wallonstein was staying, and broke into his room. He was instantly killed by a thrust of Devereux's partisan. Wallenstein was buried at Gitschin, but in 1732 the remains were removed to the castle chapel of Münchengrätz.

No direct orders for the murder had been issued, but it was well understood that tidings of his death would be welcome at court. The murderers were handsomely rewarded, and their deed was commended as an act of justice.

Wallenstein was tall, thin and pale, with reddish hair, and eyes of remarkable brilliancy. He was of a proud and imperious temper, and was seldom seen to laugh. He worked hard and silently. In times of supreme difficulty he listened carefully to the advice of his counsellors, but the final decision was always his own, and he rarely revealed his thoughts until the moment for action arrived. Few generals have surpassed him in the power of quickly organizing great masses of men and of inspiring them with confidence and enthusiasm. But it is as a statesman that Wallenstein is immortal. However much or little motives of personal aggrandisement influenced his schemes and his conduct, "Germany turns ever to Wallenstein as she turns to no other amongst the leaders of the Thirty Years War... Such faithfulness is not without reason... Wallenstein's wildest schemes, impossible of execution by military violence, were always built upon the foundation of German unity. In the way in which he walked that unity was doubtless unobtainable... But during the long dreary years of confusion which were to follow it was something to think of the last supremely able man whose life had been spent in battling against the great evils of the land, against the spirit of religious intolerance and the spirit of division."

Wife: Lucretia Nikossie von Landeck
Wife: Isabella Katharina

    Treason 18-Feb-1634
    Exhumed 1732

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