1902 Encyclopedia > Albrecht von Wallenstein

Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein
Bohemian soldier and politician

ADALBERT EUSEBIUS VON WALLENSTEIN (properly WALDSTEIN), (1583-1634), duke of Friedland, Sagan, and Mecklenburg, was born on the hereditary estate of his family, Hermanic, in Bohemia, on 15th September 1583. His parents were Protestants, 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 at Olmiitz, where he joined the Koman Catholic Church. In 1599 he went to the university of Altdorf, which he had to leave in consequence of some boyish folJies. Afterwards he studied at Bologna and Padua, and, according to the custom of the young nobles of the time, visited many places in southern and western Europe. While in Padua, he gave much atten-tion to astrology, and during the rest of his life he seems never to have 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. In 1606 he returned to Bohemia, and soon afterwards he married a rich widow, Lucretia Nikossie von Landeck, whose lands in Moravia he inherited after her death in 1614. Supporting the arch-duke Ferdinand in his war with Venice, he became favour-ably known at court, and his influence was 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 —disturbances which 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, for which he repeatedly fought with marked success. In 1620 he was made quartermaster-general of the army of the League, com-manded by Tilly. Wallenstein was not present at the battle of the Weissenberg (1620), but soon afterwards he did brilliant service as second in command of the army which opposed Bethlen Qabor in Moravia.
The battle of the Weissenberg placed Bohemia absolutely at the mercy of the emperor Ferdinand; and Wallenstein, who was a man of insatiable ambition, knew how to turn the prevailing confusion to his own advantage. Through no very honourable means he secured the inheritance of 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 and palsgrave, in 1623 to that of a prince. In 1625 he was made duke of Fried-land. In the government of his principality he displayed much vigour and foresight. He not only placed the ad-ministration of justice on a firm basis, but by many wise measures developed agriculture and mining and manufac-turing industries.
The early successes of the emperor Ferdinand in the Thirty Years' War were due chiefly to the army of the League, which he could only indirectly control. When he was threatened with a coalition of the Protestant powers, with Christian IV. of Denmark as his most active enemy, he was anxious to have an army of his own, which should be more devoted than that of the League to the interests of his dynasty. He had not, however, the means of secur-ing the fulfilment of his wish. In these circumstances Wallenstein saw that he might have an opportunity of playing a great part in the events of the age ; and accord-ingly, early in 1626, he offered to raise an 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 had always been a popular com-mander, and great numbers of recruits flocked to his standard, so that he soon found himself at the head of an army of 30,000 men. With this force he marched north-wards for the purpose of co-operating with Tilly against Christian IV. and Mansfeld. No engagement was fought in 1625 ; but on April 25, 1626, Wallenstein defeated Mansfeld at the bridge of Dessau, and later in the year Christian IV. was defeated by Tilly at Lutter. Wallenstein pursued Mansfeld into Hungary, where the Protestant general effected a junction with Bethlen Gabor. Before the end of the year Mansfeld died, and Bethlen Gabor came to terms with the emperor.

Having established peace in Hungary, Wallenstein pro-ceeded, 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 was his first important reverse, and it caused him bitter disappointment, for he had hoped that by obtain-ing 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 that he should ob-tain possession of the Hanseatic towns, and through them destroy the naval power of the Scandinavian kingdom, the Netherlands, and England. This .plan completely broke down when he was compelled to withdraw his troops from the brave city which he had sworn to take even if it were bound with chains to heaven. Notwithstanding this check, the imperial cause prospered; and early in 1629 Christian IV. was obliged to accept terms of peace. About the same time Ferdinand issued the famous edict of restitution, which excited deep resentment in every Protestant state in the realm.
Meanwhile Wallenstein had made for himself a host of enemies among the princes of the empire. They regarded him as an upstart, and complained of the incessant exactions of his army. Moreover, it was by no means clear what he intended to do with the great force he had gathered around him. He was sometimes heard to speak ominously of the arrogance of the princes, and it appeared probable that he might try to bring them, Catholics and Protestants alike, into rigid subjection to the crown. Again and again, there-fore, the emperor was advised to dismiss him from his command. Ferdinand was very unwilling to part with one who had served him so well; but the demand was pressed so urgently by the electors in 1630 that he had no alter-native, 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. This was perfectly understood by Wallenstein, who therefore accepted the emperor's decision calmly, and retired to Gitschin, the capital of his duchy of Friedland.
Some months before the dismissal of Wallenstein, Gustavus Adolphus had landed in Germany, and it soon became obvious that he was by far the most formidable of the enemies with whom the emperor had yet had to con-tend. Tilly was defeated at Breitenfeld and in the battle of the Lech, where he received a mortal wound; and Gustavus advanced to Munich, while Bohemia was occupied by his allies the Saxons. After the battle of Breitenfeld 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 that he might thus be able to maintain his hold over his great possessions. In the end, however, he accepted the offers made to him by Ferdinand, and in the spring of 1632 he took the field with an army of more than 40,000 men. This army was placed absolutely under his control, so that he assumed the position of an independent prince rather than of an ordinary subject.
His first aim was to drive the Saxons from Bohemia, —an object which he accomplished without serious diffi-culty. Then he advanced against Gustavus Adolphus, who attacked him near Nuremberg on the 3d of September, but was driven back. On the 16th of November 1632 a decisive battle was fought at Lützen, in Saxony. In this battle the imperialists were routed, 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. The truth was that he was preparing to desert the emperor. That he sincerely desired to secure for Germany the benefits of peace is probable enough, but it is certain that he was also resolved to make for himself a position of command-ing importance. He entered into negotiations with Saxony, Brandenburg, Sweden, and France; and one of his condi-tions was that the possession of the kingdom of Bohemia should be guaranteed to him. He had vast and somewhat vague schemes for the reorganization of the entire constitu-tional system of the empire, and he himself was to have supreme authority in determining the political destinies of his country.
Irritated by the distrust excited by his proposals, and anxious to make his power felt, he at last assumed the offensive, and in October he defeated the Swedes at Steinau. Soon afterwards he entered Lusatia and took Görlitz and Bautzen, and despatched a troop of cavalry as far as Berlin. He then resumed the negotiations, and pressed for a full and final acceptance of his plans. 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 he trusted to the assurances of his astrologer, Seni, with whom he often conferred. 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 favour.
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 had too easily allowed himself to be lulled into a sense of security, and that he needed to act warily. On the 24th of January the emperor had signed a secret patent remov-ing him from his command and requiring the army to obey Count Gallas; and imperial agents had been labouring to undermine Wallenstein's influence. Another 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 February, and published in Prague.
"When Wallenstein heard of the publication of this patent, he realized the full extent of his danger, and on the 23d February, accompanied by several of his most intimate friends, and guarded by about 1000 men, he went from Pilsen to Eger, hoping to obtain the protection of the Protestant general Bernard of Weimar. 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 25 th February Wallenstein's supporters Illo, Kinsky, Terzky, and Neumann

were received at a banquet by the three colonels, and murdered by several dragoons. Butler, accompanied by Captain Devereux and a number of soldiers, then hurried to the house where Wallenstein was staying, and broke into his room. He had just taken a bath, and was standing in his shirt ready to go to bed. He was instantly killed by a thrust of Devereux's partisan. The body was taken to the citadel, and laid beside those of his murdered comrades. Wallenstein was buried at Gitschin, but in 1732 the remains were removed to the castle chapel of Miinchen-gratz.
No direct orders for the murder of Wallenstein had been issued, but it was well understood that tidings of his death would be welcome at court. The murderers were handsomely rewarded for what they had done, and their deed was commended as a necessary 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 invariably acted on the motto that if speech is silvern silence is golden. 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 organiz-ing great masses of men and of inspiring them with confidence and enthusiasm ; and as a statesman he was distinguished for the boldness of his conceptions and the liberality of his sentiments. All his good qualities were, however, marred by a furious lust for power, in the gratification of which he allowed no scruples to stand in his way.
See Fbrster, Albrecht von Wallenstein (1834); Barthold, Geschichte des grossen
deutschen Kriegs (1842-43); Aretin, Wallenstein (1846); Helbig, Wallenstein und
Arnim, 1632-3L (1850), and Kaiser Ferdinand mid der Jlerzog von Friedland,
lesS-SU (1853); Hurter, Zur Geschichte Wallensteins (1855); Fiedler, Zur
Geschichte Wallensteins (I860); L. von Kanke, Geschichte Wallensteins (3d ed.,
1872); Gindely, Geschichte des dreissigjahrigen Kriegs (1869). (J. SI.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries