The Peace of Westphalia

With the death of Gustavus, the Protestant interest ended. Though the two parties continued the struggle, and Germany was still deluged with blood, the moral goal of the conflict was lost to view.

Count Oxenstierna

With the passing of Gustavus Adolphus, the great chancellor and statesman, Oxenstierna, sprang to the helm. After Gustavus, he was most able to guide the State. Of all the survivors he was the best fitted by his genius, his lofty patriotism, and his undoubted Protestantism, to carry out the views of his late master. The Senate of Sweden was equally valorous and in a meeting in Stockholm on March 16, 1633, and passed a resolution “to prosecute the war. The deceased king had able generals in the field who had trained under him. And, it was not on the leaders only that Gustavus had left the impress of his image; he had infused his spirit into the common soldiers.

Wallenstein advised Ferdinand to meet the Protestant States with an unqualified amnesty; and had the emperor done so he would very likely have broken their union, and brought back the more pliant and wavering. But blinded by bigotry and the prospect of triumph, which he imagined Gustavus’ fall had opened to him, he prepared for battle.

Victory still followed the standards of the Swedes. They crossed and recrossed Germany, scattering the imperial armies, capturing the enemy’s fortresses, and wresting from him the keys of all his important cities. One who knew no better might have thought that Gustavus Adolphus was still at the head of the Swedish warriors.

Swedish arms approached the Austrian frontier, and it seemed as if a few marches and one or two battles would carry them to the gates of Vienna. Wallenstein lay encamped in Bohemia, with 40,000 soldiers under him, apparently an uninterested spectator of the disasters befalling the empire. Ferdinand sent message after message, each more pressing than that which had preceded it, commanding him to put his army in motion against the invaders. At last he marched to Munsterberg, where he formed an entrenched camp. The Swedes offered him battle, but he declined it. The two armies remained nine days within musket-shot of each other, but neither stirred from their entrenchments. At last the mystery of Wallenstein’s inactivity was made plain. Count Terzky, attended by a trumpeter, appeared in the Swedish camp, with proposals of peace. Wallenstein offered to join the allies, and turn his arms against the emperor, on condition of being made King of Bohemia. He further promised that, should the Bohemian crown be placed on his head, he would recall the exiles, restore the confiscated estates, and establish toleration in that country.

The Swedes, not knowing what to make of this strange proposal, fearing it to be an artful trap to seize their army and deliver it up to the emperor, rejected it. The real intentions of Wallenstein still remain a mystery; though it is likely that he was then meditating some deep revenge on the emperor, whom he had never forgiven for dismissing him, and that he was not less desirous of striking a blow at the Jesuits, who he knew cordially hated him, and were intriguing against him at the court of Vienna. Whatever his plans may have been, it alarmed the Pope, excited the jealousy of Richelieu, intensified the hatred of the Jesuits, and made them combine to effect his destruction.

Wallenstein was now living at Eger. On the evening of February 25, 1634, the officers of the garrison who remained loyal to Ferdinand invited the four leading conspirators of Wallenstein to dine with them. Wine was circulating freely when one of the company rose and gave as a toast, “The House of Austria, Long live Ferdinand!” It was the prearranged signal. Thirty-six men-at-arms rushed in and in a few minutes Wallenstein’s partisans lay dead and dying. This was only a beginning. Devereux, followed by twelve halberdiers, proceeded to Wallenstein’s residence, and was at once admitted by the guard, who were accustomed to see him visit the duke at all hours. Wallenstein had retired; but hearing a noise he arose and going to the window he opened it and challenged the sentinel. He had just seated himself in a chair at a table in his nightdress, when Devereux burst open the door. The man whom armies obeyed, and who was the terror of kings, fell before them without uttering a word. His designs, whatever they were, he took with him to his grave. The wise man had said long before, “As passeth the whirlwind, so the wicked.”

After the death of Wallenstein, the tide of success now began to turn against the Swedes. They had already lost several important towns, and their misfortunes were crowned by a severe defeat which they encountered under the walls of Nordlingen. Some 12,000 men lay dead on the field, 80 cannon and 4,000 wagons fell into the hands of the imperialists. The Swedes had lost their superiority in the field; dismay reigned among the members of the Protestant Confederacy; and Oxenstierna, to save the cause from ruin, was obliged, as he thought, to seek protection from Richelieu. As the price of France’s help, he gave her the province of Alsace. This put the key of Germany into her hands, and her armies poured along the Rhine, and, under pretext of assisting the Swedes, plundered the cities and devastated the provinces.

And now a more devastating blow befell the Swedes than even the defeat at Nordlingen. John George, the Elector of Saxony, deserting the cause, entered into a treaty of peace with the emperor. The weakness of the Protestant cause, all along, had not lain in the strength of the imperialists, but in the divisions of the German princes, and now this blow was dealt it by the defection of the man who had so largely contributed to the cause of the war, by helping the League to take Prague, and suppress the Protestantism of Bohemia.

All the Protestant States were invited to enter this peace along with the emperor and elector. It effected no real settlement of differences; it offered no effectual redress of grievances; and, while it swept away nearly all that the Protestants had gained in the war, it left undetermined innumerable points which were sure to become the seeds of conflicts in the future.

This treaty, termed the Peace of Prague, was scornfully rejected by the Swedes. They loudly protested against the princes who had made their reconciliation with the emperor, as guilty of a shameful abandonment of themselves. They had come into Germany at their invitation; they had vindicated the Protestant rights and the German liberties with their blood, and life of their king, and now they were to be expelled from the empire without reward, without even thanks, by the very men for whom they had toiled and bled.

Oxenstierna, in this extremity, turned to France, and Richelieu met him with offers of assistance. The Swedes and French formed a compact body, and penetrated into the heart of the empire. The Swedes fought with a more desperate bravery than ever. The battles were bloodier. They fell on Saxony and in devastation and slaughter avenged the defection of the Elector. They defeated him in a great battle at Wittsbach, in 1636.

Following this battle, victory alternated from side to side between the imperialists and the Swedes. At length there appeared a new Swedish generalissimo, Bernard Torstenson, a pupil of Gustavus Adolphus, who nearly approached his great master. He transferred the seat of war from the exhausted provinces to those which had not yet tasted the miseries of the campaigns. He led the Swedish hosts into the Austrian territories which by their remoteness had essentially been exempted from the tragedies under which Germany groaned

By his great victory at Jancowitz, where the emperor lost his best general, Hatzfeld, and his last army, the whole territory of Austria was thrown open to him. The victorious Swedes, pouring over the frontiers, spread themselves like a flood over Moravia and Austria. Ferdinand fled to Vienna to save his family and his treasures. The Swedes followed hard presenting themselves before the walls of Vienna.

Over the years that intervened since the war began, “whole armies had sunk into the German plains. All the great leaders had fallen in the war. Wallenstein, Tilly, Count Mansfeld, and dozens of inferior generals had gone to the grave. Monarchs, as well as men of lower degree—the great Gustavus and the bigoted Ferdinand—had bowed to the stroke of fate. Richelieu too slept in the marble in which France lays her great statesmen, and the “odor” in which Rome buries her faithful servants.

Banquet at Nuremberg

Now there arose a universal cry for peace. Even Maximilian of Bavaria had grown weary of the war and negotiations for peace were opened. These negotiations proceeded slowly. The many conflicting interests that had to be reconciled, as well as the deep-seated jealousies, antipathies, and bigotries that had to be conquered, were innumerable. The demands of the negotiating parties rose and fell according to the position of their arms. But at last the peace was achieved. The armies were exchanging the last shots on the very spot where the first had been fired, namely at Prague, when a messenger brought the news that a peace had been concluded on the 24th of October, 1648.

The new treaty confirmed the old ones of Passau and Augsburg. Moreover, the new advanced a step beyond the old treaties, and extended toleration to Calvinists as well as Lutherans. This was the crowning blessing which rose out of these hard fought fields.

“The peace was celebrated in Nuremberg by a great banquet, at which imperialists and Swedes sat down together at the same table, and mingled their rejoicings under to same roof.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, book 21, chapter 11