The Thirty Years War: Swedish Intervention (1630-34)


Figure 1.--The photos were taken in the town of Dinkelsbühl (Bavaria, Germany) during the traditional historical event "Kinderzeche". This event celebrates the city's surrender to Swedish troops during the Thirty Years' War. Every July, the town celebrate Kinderzeche (Children’s Feast) According to legend, in 1632, a girl named Lore, along with the children of the town, pleaded with the Swedish commander, Col. Klaus Dietrich von Sperreuth, to spare the city. It saved the town from destruction. A festival play celebrating the event has been performed since 1897.

Sweden was a major Baltic power and played a critical part in the Thirty Years War. Gustavus Adolphus had been reared from early childhood to be both king an a military leader. The young prince at age 6 began accompanying the Swedish army on campaigns. The country as an early convert to Protestantism. And intervened to support the German Protestant princes. King Gustavus Adolphus landed in Germany with a well-trained professional army (July 4, 1630). He soon demonstrated his abilities as a innovative military commander, becoming known as the "Lion of the North". He placed great emphasis on mobility. Gustavus Adolphus withdrew north closer to his supply bases and supportive northern German Protestants. The King and Wallenstein clashed again, this time at Lützen. King Gustavus Adolphus scored a great victory, but he was killed in the battle (May 1634). What followed was a murky interlude in European history that is intensely debated by historians. Many contemporary observers have their views colored by their religious or national beliefs. King Gustavus Adolphus's death gave the Catholic cause renewed hope. There was, however, discession within the Catholic camp, especially the rivalry between Maximilian and Wallenstein. The Imperial army even without Wallenstine forces defeated the Swedes at NördlingenSeptember (1634). The Swedes were not totally destroyed, but the their force was badly crippled. This left Ferdinand in control of Germany.

The Protestant Reformation: Scandinavia (1520s-30s)

The Protestan Revolution was the religious struggle during the 16th and 17th century which began as an effort to reform the Catholic Church and ended with the splintering of the Western Christendom into the Catholic and Protestant churches. While the Reformation began in Germany, Sweden would play an important role. Protestantism moved north into Scandinavia from northern Germany. Here the process was much more peaceful than in Germany and more parlitarian. Luther's ideas reached Sweden almost immediately (1520). The advent of the printing press (15th century) mean that ideas could be rapidly spread. The monarchies in both Denmark and Sweden came to support the Reformation. These were the only states outside Germany where Lutheranism became the state religion. Olaus and Laurentius Petri helped spread the Lutheran faith in Sweden. The Swedish Diet at an early stage of the Refotrmation adopted Luthernism with the support of King Gustavuis I (1527). The Reformation in Sweden was closely associated with the moce toward independence. A full translation of the Bible into Swedish soon folowed (1541). The process was much the same in Denmark. A Danish national assembly revoked the authority of Catholic bishops (1536). As Denmark at the time controlled Iceland and Norway, they were also affected. King Christian III requested that Johann Bugenhagen, a friend of Luther, organize a Danish Lutheran Church on the basis of the Augsburg Confession. The conversion of Svandinavia was important to the success of the Reformatuion in Germany. Not only were the northern German princes not surrounded by Catholics, but they now had potential northerm allies. The Reformation also made inroads in Estonia. Parts of Estonia requested protection from Sweden. After a war with Poland, Sweden acquired all of Estonia.

Peace of Augsburg (1555)

Emperor Charles V's efforts to stamp out thReformation and Protestantism in Germany failed. It was clear that military force had failed and a negotiated settlement was the only possible way of ending the fighting (early 1550s). The result was the Peace of Augsburg (155). It was a victory for the German princes andcweakened the authority of the Emperor. The Treaty recognized both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in Germany. It was left to each prince within the Empire to decide the religion to be practiced by his people. It was not a recognition of religious tolerance, but it was the first step as the pope and Roman Catholcism no longer dominated Western Christianity. Subjects who were not of the ruler's faith were to be allowed to move and take their property with them. Disputes which would inevitaly arise between the two religions were to be settled in court. Because both Catholic and Protestant forces were strong in Germany and religion a still powerful force, Peace was a continued step toward particularism preventing the formation of a nation state at a time when other nationalities (Denmark, England, France, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden) were forming strong, centralized states. This was a development of enormous importance, as Germany located at the center of Europw was potentially the nost powerful European nation. Not only were the German princes strengthened, but the Protestant princes in particular obtained several important nenefits. They obtained the extensive Church lands in their realms. The lands did not go to the new Lutheran Church, but to the princes. And their authority was strngrthened because they became the head of the estanlished church. Catholic princes benefitted because the Catholic Church began to offer greater support to continue resisting the spread of Protestantism. Thus the Peace did not settke the religious issue. It was rather a truce between two armed camps. It did, nhowever, permit Protestantism to become established in northern Germany. Ans Protesrantism in northern Germany shielded the spread of Protestantism in Scandanavia. This mean that when a showdown came it portened to be a dreadful struggle between two poweful groups of states, a struggle which would mix both nationalism and religion.

Swedish Interests in Germany

Sweden was a country of substantial military potential. Sweden would not look kindly on the supression of their fellow Lutherans. King Gustavus Adolphus also had strong territorial cocerns. Gustavus was unprepared to allow the Emperor reimpose Catholcism in norther Germany or gain control of the Baltic ports. Swedish or German Protestant control of the Baltic ports guaranteed Swedish security. The Swedes for their part had dreams of turning the Baltic into a Swedish lake. As it was the Swedish economy was highly dependant on commerce with the southern Baltic ports. Much of the royal income came from Baltic commerce. The religious issue was also important. Not only because Protestantism in Sweden was threatened, but because Gustavus Adolphus and other Swedes were disturbed about the tales of actions against Protestants in Germany.

Germany at a Crossroad (1627-29)

Now Ferdinand had to make a fatefull decission. He could either move to unify Germany politically or religiouly. He did not have the military force to achieve both objectives.
Political unity: Wallenstein' adviced the Emperor to use the power he had acquired to build a centralized German state like te states that had begun to form in Europe (Denmark, England, France, Spain, and Sweden). This choice had the disadvantge of alienating Maximilian and other Catholic princes who were opposed to any increase in Imperial authority at thei expense of their soverignity.
Religious unity: Bavria and the Catholic League demanded that Ferdinand move in another direction and begin to unify Germany religiously. The Catholics demanded the restoration of Church lands seized by the Protestants since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. This alternative would threaten the remaining Protestant princes, some of whom had remained neutral in the fighting with te Danes. Ferdinand was unsure as to which choice he should make. Finally he chose Catholicism over political unity. Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution (1629) which required the restoration of the former and very extensive ecclesiastical territories to Church authorities. Ferdinand also dismissed Wallenstein. This decission ws urged upon him by Maximillian, but Ferdinand was also concerned about the dangers of leaving the Imperail army in Wallenstein's hands. This left Ferdinand dependant on Maximilian and the Catholic League. The result proved to be two more decades ot terribly destructive war and a divided Germany for two centuries.

King Gustavus Adolphus (1611-32)

Sweden was as an early convert to Protestantism. Gustavus Adolphus had been reared from early childhood to be both king an a military leader. The young prince at age 6 began accompanying the Swedish army on campaigns. He began to sit in at councils of state and ask questions and give opinions at age 10. He was receiving foreign ambassadors as a teenager. He rose to the throne in 1611 and demonstrated comsiderable ability both as a monarch and military commander. His territorial ambitions had already involved him in sucessful wars with Poland. A range of concerns drew Sweden into the War after Wallenstin's victories over the German Protestants and Danes. Gustavus Adolphus was determined on preventing the Catholics and Habsburgs to consolidate the hold that Wallenstein had obtained for them on the the southern Baltic coast and possibke maritime designs. Sweden at the time was the dominant Baltic power and this was a substantial challenge to their dominance of the Baltic. There was always the concern that Ferdinand would eventually use the Baltic ports to attack Sweden which would if successful destroy Protestantism in Europe. Another concren was Catholic Poland, an ally to Catholic Germans. And his devotion to Protestantism should not be dismissed.

Swedish Intervention

King Gustavus Adolphus declared against the emperor. He first secured an understanding with with Catholic France. Cardinal Richelieu was also concerned about the growth of Haosburg power. Swedish troops marched into Germany. Ferdinand had been convinced by court advisers to dismiss Wallenstein (1630). Tilly took command of the imperial forces. He took Magdeburg. The Protestant princes were at first hesitat to join the Swedes. John George of Saxony, vacillating. He was unsure whether to join Tilly or Gustavus Adolphus. Hecfinalled decided on Gustavus Adolphus who offered attractive terms.

Swedish Victories (1630-34)

King Gustavus Adolphus landed in Germany with a well-trained professional army (July 4, 1630). He soon demonstrated his abilities as a innovative military commander, becoming known as the "Lion of the North". He placed great emphasis on mobility. Conventional military tactics involved massing forces for pitched battles. Gustavus developed a tactic of deploying his cavalry and infantry in a series of alternating small squares. This greatly improved mobility because they could turn easily and move in any desired direction. Gustavus also preferred lighter artillery so it could be move rapidly as part of mobil forces. He organized his musketeers in files of five. Thus while one file the others could reload and prepare to fire. This enabled the Swedish to maintain a constant field of fire. These tactics proved very successful. Gustavus Adolphus' army achievd a great victory over the Tilly and Imperial army at the battle of Breitenfeld (1631). This refained northern Germany for the Protestants. Gustavus Adolphus advanced deeper into Germany and defeated Tilly in the battle of the Lech (1632). Tilly was fatally wounded. The now desperate Emperor was forced to recall Gustavus Adolphus moved south. An indecisive battle occurred at Nuremberg. Gustavus Adolphus withdrew north closer to his supply bases and supportive northern German Protestants. Wallenstein defeated the Saxon forces. The King and Wllenstein clashed again, this time at Lützen (November 1632). Lützen was one of the most importantb battles of the Thirty Years War. It was a major Protestant victory, but cost them their most able commander. Gustavus Augustus gained a great victory the Imperial forces, but he was killed in the battle. This meant that the Protestant anti-Hapsburg troops no longer had a strong leader. Lützen was Wallenstein's great defeat and was unable to mount any major offensive. He did entered into protracted negotiations with the Protestants. Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, part of the anti-Imperial coalition took Regensburg (1633).

Killing of Wallenstein

What followed was a murky interlude in European history that is intensely debated by historians. Many contemporary observers have their views colored by their religious or national beliefs. King Gustavus Adolphus's death gave the Catholic cause renewed hope. There was, however, discession within the Catholic camp, especially the rivalry between Maximilian and Wallenstein. Wallenstein was personally offended by both Maximillian and Ferdinand over his earlier dismissal. We know he began plotting with the Swedes and French. What is not known with any certainty is what Wallenstein wanted. Here theories aboud. One theory contends that he wanted to establish a central European empire in which people could freely choose to be Catholic or Protestant. I know of no actual documentation to confirm this. Another theory is that he desired to restablish an independent Bohemian kingdom. Ferdinand learning of Wallenstein's plotting decided that he could no longer be trusted. He declared him a traitor. A disloyal unit murdered him in his bedroom (May 1634).

Swedes Defeated

The Imperial army even without Wallenstine forces defeated the Swedes at Nördlingen (September 1634). The Swedes were not totally destroyed, but the their force was badly crippled. This left Ferdinand again in control of Germany.

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Created: 2:42 AM 2/9/2010
Last updated: 7:02 AM 3/11/2010