Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Albrecht von Wallenstein

From volume 15 of the work.


Born at Hermanic, Bohemia, 24 September, 1583; died at Eger, Bohemia, 24 February, 1634. He belonged to a Czech noble family of Bohemia who were members of the Bohemian Brethren. He studied at the Lutheran university at Altdorf, travelled in France and Italy, became a Catholic apparently at the Jesuit college at Olmutz, and married an elderly widow, whose large fortune he inherited in 1614. He had a strong liking for military life. In 1617 he aided Ferdinand of Styria, who became emperor in 1619, against Venice, and in 1618 against the revolting Bohemians. In 1621 he received for the first time an independent command and fought against the prince of Transylvania, Bethlen Gabor, who had invaded Moravia. In return for large advances of money to Ferdinand he received after the battle of the White Mountain so many of the confiscated estates of the Bohemian insurgents that his possessions in northern Bohemia formed the territory of Friedland, which Ferdinand in 1624 raised to a principality. His relations with the Jesuits were most friendly. Determined to become the champion of the Habsburgs and of the Church in the empire, he offered to raise an army of 20,000 men, upon which Ferdinand appointed him, 7 April, 1625, "Captain over all the imperial forces in the Holy Roman Empire and the Netherlands", and in June raised him to the rank of a duke. Wallenstein was very successful in collecting his army and late in the autumn appeared at the scene of war in the circle of Lower Saxony. He occupied at once the Dioceses of Magdeburg and Halberstadt, the richest and most important territories strategically, and secretly sought to secure the election of a son of the emperor as their future bishop. On 25 April, 1626, he was attacked at the bridge of Dessau over the Elbe by the enemy he most feared, Ernst von Mansfeld. Mansfeld, completely defeated but not pursued, gathered new troops and marched through Silesia to join forces with the prince of Transylvania. Fear of losing the territories on the Elbe kept Wallenstein from action for a long time, and when he finally attacked Mansfeld he was unsuccessful and lost large numbers of his men. He was able, though, to justify himself before the emperor in November, 1626, by proving that a much larger army was necessary. In 1627, therefore, he raised an army which finally numbered almost 150,000 men, which he supported by assigning definite territories of the empire to its different divisions, including those both of Catholic princes and of Protestant rulers who were friendly to the emperor. There was but little discipline and the greed of the generals and colonels was great. In a short time consequently angry accusations were made against Wallenstein.

In the mean time during 1627 he drove Mansfeld's troops out of Silesia, united with Tilly for a campaign against Holstein, in which he advanced as far as Jutland and also occupied Mecklenburg. In January, 1628, the emperor granted him the Duchy of Mecklenburg in fief for life and in June, 1629, as a hereditary possession. Thus he became one of the most prominent princes of the empire. The other princes holding this rank hated him, fearing that he would overthrow their freedom and subject them once more to the supremacy of the emperor. He had now reached the highest point of his successes. He made the vain boast that in three years he would conquer Constantinople, and sought unsuccessfully to form an alliance between the emperor and Gustavus Adolphus; he also endeavoured to persuade the Hanseatic towns to form a union with the empire. He even planed a canal uniting the German Ocean and the Baltic Sea. But he was unable to collect a fleet, or to occupy and close the whole of the German coast along the Baltic. He failed in the siege of Stralsund in the summer of 1628, and to take Gluckstadt, without which his position in Holstein was insecure. He accused others for his lack of success, and objected in particular to the Edict of Restitution of March, 1629, and the war carried on by the Habsburgs in Upper Italy to maintain their power over Mantua. At his insistence the emperor now made a treaty of peace with Denmark (4 June, 1629), by which the Danes received back all the territory taken from them, but rejected Wallenstein's proposal of an alliance with the emperor, promising, however, not to interfere with the execution of the Edict of Restitution in northern Germany.

Wallenstein had always been opposed to giving imperial aid to the Spaniards in their war against the Netherlands, but when he himself deemed it necessary to send troops the aid came too late. The same fate attended the despatch of troops to Poland against Gustavus Adolphus. Wallenstein felt the ground shaking under his feet, and sought at least to secure in northern Germany the most important point of passage over the Elbe, the city of Magdeburg, by blockading it, before the Swedes entered the empire. At the same time he exerted himself to come to an agreement with the head of the princes of the empire, Maximilian of Bavaria, but was not able to carry out these plans. In June, 1630, he went to southern Germany in order to advance, if necessary, into Italy. In August the princes of the empire were able to secure his dismissal; Wallenstein accepted his removal without resistance.

After this his life was mainly a series of intrigues. His character, which had never been noble, now gave way completely. He was perhaps more embittered over the loss of Mecklenburg than over the loss of the rank of commanding general. As early as the spring of 1631 he negotiated through Bohemian refugees with Gustavus Adolphus; which side began the negotiations is a disputed point. When, after the battle of Breitenfeld, Gustavus Adolphus continued his campaign and the emperor in October appealed again to Wallenstein, the latter was willing to listen to him but did not come to terms until April, 1632. The conditions of the agreement were such as to inevitably lead to new disputes. Wallenstein received the right to fill all positions in the army, to negotiate with foreign governments, and troops not under his command were not to be permitted in the empire by the imperial party. From the first his aim was, in co-operation with the emperor, to draw away Saxony from alliance with the Swedes, but he did not obtain his object. On 25 May, 1632, he again took Prague, then opposed his army to that of Gustavus Adolphus before Nuremberg; in September the Swedish king attacked him but was driven back. In order to force Gustavus to retreat Wallenstein advanced toward Saxony. On reaching the boundary of Bavaria, Maximilian of Bavaria and his troops turned back, a loss which weakened Wallenstein's strength. On 16 November a battle was fought with the Swedes at Lutzen in Germany. Wallenstein was not defeated, but neither was he the victor; and he suffered such heavy losses that he ceased operations. He continued the was by means of diplomacy, and made one truce after another with Saxony. He only consented at the last moment that Spanish troops should be permitted to enter the empire to rescue Breisach, which protected the Upper Rhine from the enemy, and permitted Ratisbon, a most important point, to fall into the hands of Bernard of Weimar in November, 1633.

During this entire period he fought but one battle himself, that at Steinau in Silesia, where in October he defeated the Swedish troops. He grew more and more involved in negotiations which finally led him into treason against the emperor. Sometimes he was engaged in negotiations with the Swedes, sometimes with Saxony against Sweden and the Habsburgs, and finally even with France. At one time he desired, by combining with the estates of the empire, to establish peace. Probably the impelling force was largely the desire for revenge. His inactivity and double dealing brought the emperor into a position which might easily have become dangerous. In addition the Spanish ambassador at Vienna urged his removal. During these later years the Jesuits were opposed to him, and the army fell away from him. Prague and Pilsen deserted him and went over without a struggle to the emperor as soon as the latter took the first measures against Wallenstein. His fate was soon decided. He was murdered at Eger by two Protestant Scotch officers and one Catholic Irish officer, all belonging to his own army.

Wallenstein's importance as a general is a matter of dispute. He was boastful, fond of display, and haughty; his bearing was striking. His preference was for great undertakings planned on a large scale, and he had an extraordinary power of attraction both for officers and for common soldiers. He was undoubtedly a skillful strategist, and when he ventured a battle he was cool and vigorous. On the other hand, he carried on war very slowly, was often wrong in his estimate of his opponents, and frequently made fatal mistakes. He lacked almost entirely the most important quality of great commanders, the will to undertake decisive battles. He was greatly influenced in his conduct by astrology. He proved himself an excellent ruler of the states which he had formed, especially in Friedland and the Silesian Duchy of Sagan. Like most great conquerors he took much pleasure in affairs of state, was a very skillful political economist, and did much to improve the civilization of his territories. In his plans for civilization he worked with the Jesuits, of whom he was a large benefactor. Measured by the standards of his era he was indifferent in religion. To carry out politics and war for religious ends was distasteful to him. He intentionally gave many important positions in his army to Protestants. He showed much skill in diplomatic negotiations but finally by their means brought about his own fall.

At present the Bibliography of Wallenstein embraces some 2000 titles. Lists of them may be found in the Mitteilungen des Vereins fur Geschichte der Deutschen in Bohmen, beginning with XVII (1879). A very copious biography has been lately written by HALLWICH, Geschicte Wallensteins (1910), III reaches the year 1625.