A bloody religious war broke out in Germany in 1618, and as it lasted until 1648 it is called "The Thirty Years' War." This war was one of the most dreadful that ever raged in Europe. It was a struggle between the Catholic and Protestant parties, like that in France which we have read about in the story of Henry of Navarre.
Many Catholics and Protestants opposed each other because they wished to defend their belief as well as to convert others to it. But many of the princes and nobles used the disturbed religious conditions to increase their power. Thus religion and politics were closely united, and the lines were drawn between two great parties, the Catholic League and the Evangelical Union. Therefore all through those thirty years the Catholics and the Protestants of Germany strove with all their might to overcome and destroy one another.
Of course this great war required great leaders. The ablest general on the Catholic side was Albrecht von Wallenstein (fon wol' en stin), who was born in Bohemia in 1583. His parents were Protestants. They died while he was yet a child; and he was brought up by an uncle who was a Catholic.
This uncle sent him for his early education to the Jesuit College at Olmutz (ol' mutz), and afterwards to the universities of Bologna and Padua. While at the Jesuit College, Wallenstein became a Catholic, and this changed his whole career.
Wallenstein inherited from his father a large estate and an immense sum of money. By his marriage with an aged widow his wealth was nearly doubled; and when his uncle died and left him his property, Wallenstein became one of the richest men of his day.
His aged wife did not live long after their marriage, and he took for his second wife a daughter of the Count of Harrach. By this second marriage his wealth was again increased; and through his wife's father, he gained much influence and many friends at the court of Vienna.
After completing his education he traveled through Italy, Spain, France, and Holland. He served for a short time in Hungary in the army of the Emperor Rudolf who was then at war with the Turks. But as yet he did not display any marked ability as a soldier.
Beginning of the Thirty Years' War
With a part of his wealth he purchased from the emperor of Austria, a vast territory in Bohemia and Moravia, at a cost of over seven million florins. To this territory he gave the name of Friedland, that is, Land of Peace.
The emperor gave him the title of Duke of Friedland; and he managed his duchy wisely and well. Justice was so faithfully administered in the courts that all men had their rights; and the farmers, miners, and manufacturers were properly cared for.
When the "Thirty Years' War" broke out Wallenstein raised a regiment of dragoons to aid the cause of the emperor. He was also the means of saving the money in the imperial treasury from falling into the hands of the enemy.
As Wallenstein came more fully into notice his ambition steadily increased. In all that he did, he seemed to have an eye to his own advantage.
After the war had been going on for some time, the emperor found himself sorely in need of a better army. Then Wallenstein called upon him and said, "My liege, you shall have such an army as you require. I myself will bear the expense of equipping it. I make, however, this condition, that I shall have the right to compel the people in any part of the empire where my troops may be fighting to supply them with provisions;" and to this condition the emperor agreed.
Living off the country.
Wallenstein soon made for himself a reputation as a great commander. There were plenty of men in Germany who were ready to fight for pay and plunder, and he therefore soon raised a force of over thirty thousand soldiers. He himself went with them to the front.
During the first two years Wallenstein and his men were everywhere successful, but at length they met with a severe check. They had laid siege to a large commercial city called Stralsund (stral' soond). This was one of the wealthiest ports on the Baltic. It exported a great deal of grain and other produce, and vessels flying its flag were seen in every harbor of Europe.
Wallenstein determined to capture Stralsund. His soldiers knew that if he succeeded, they would get a vast amount of plunder, and an abundance of provisions for their future use.
Wallenstein had more in mind than that. He planned to turn the merchant vessels of Stralsund into battle ships, and thus secure a fleet which would enable him to carry on the war by sea as well as by land. He would then attack the other great ports of Germany, such as Lubeck, Hamburg and Bremen.
All these ports had large fleets of merchant ships. He planned that after taking these he would make his navy the largest in the world. He even dreamed of capturing the ships of England, Sweden, and the Netherlands, and thus making himself master of the sea.
It was with these thoughts in his mind that Wallenstein laid siege to the great port of Stralsund. He swore that he would capture it "even if he found it to be fastened to heaven with chains of gold."
But Stralsund was well supplied with provisions; and, for eleven weeks, the brave citizens repelled his attacks. Wallenstein's men began to suffer for lack of food; and at last the great commander was forced to abandon the siege.
Every year a festival of rejoicing is still held in Stralsund to commemorate the day on which Wallenstein and his starving army retreated, baffled and angry, from before its walls.
Wallenstein had won so many victories that some of those who fought on his side had become jealous of him. As soon, therefore, as he met with this great reverse at Stralsund, his enemies persuaded the emperor to take the command of the army away from him.
They made the emperor believe that he was a very dangerous man, and that with his large army which had grown very fond of him, he meant to rule all Germany, and lord it over every prince and duke in the empire.
The emperor at once wrote him a letter ordering him to give up his command. Although greatly surprised, Wallenstein took his dismissal in silence. He bade farewell to his troops, and went to live quietly in the capital of his duchy.
Not long after Wallenstein had left the army the emperor found that he had made a mistake. Instead of hearing of victory after victory, he now received news of one defeat after another. His second-best general was fatally wounded; and he had no one like Wallenstein to put in command of the army.
After suffering a number of disastrous defeats the emperor sent to Wallenstein and begged him to take command once more. He gave him permission to choose his own officers, and to carry on the war just as he thought best. He also promised that, in future, no one should interfere with him.
On these terms Wallenstein again accepted the emperor's offer, and was soon back in the field at the head of an army of forty thousand men.
By this time, however, a greater general than even Wallenstein had become the leader of the Protestant forces. This was the famous Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, whose bravery had already been shown on many a bloody field.
The two commanders and their armies met near a place called Lutzen (loot'sen), in Saxony, and there a fearful battle was fought.
In this battle Gustavus lost his life, but his army fought on nobly and won the day. The victory at Lutzen is always spoken of as the greatest victory of the "Thirty Years' War."
When Wallenstein found that the Protestant army had won the battle in spite of the loss of its commander, he became greatly troubled, and scarcely knew what to do. He seemed afraid to meet such an army again.
He doubtless saw that it was useless to continue the war, and hoped that the emperor would make terms to the Protestants, and so establish peace.
Assassination of Wallenstein
Wallenstein's enemies again appeared before the emperor with the old story that he was simply fighting for himself, and was determined to make himself ruler over the entire nation.
Strange as it may seem, the emperor again believed them. He even went so far as to call Wallenstein a traitor, and he caused him to be publicly disgraced and again removed from command.
With a guard of about a thousand men, and accompanied by several of his leading officers, Wallenstein left the camp and once more started for his home. He supposed that all who accompanied him were his faithful friends. But it was not so. Four of the men whom he thus trusted had already agreed to assassinate him. Having first murdered his real friends, they hurried to the house where Wallenstein was staying, broke into his room, and killed him as he was retiring to rest. It is said that, for this shocking crime, the murderers were handsomely rewarded by the emperor.
Wallenstein ranks as one of the world's greatest soldiers, rather than as one of its greatest heroes. His work was a hindrance rather than a help to human progress, and this it is which so largely dims his fame.