Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leslie, Walter
LESLIE, WALTER, Count Leslie (1606–1667), soldier of fortune and diplomatist, second son of John Leslie of Balquhain, by his third wife, Jean, daughter of Sir Alexander Erskine of Gogar, and sister of Thomas, first earl of Kellie, was born in Scotland in 1606. His family, which bore the motto 'Grip Fast,' was among the proudest and the poorest of the nobility of Aberdeenshire, and Leslie as a younger son went abroad to push his fortunes. Though bred a Calvinist he entered the imperial service, received his baptism of fire in Flanders, and fought his way to an ensign's commission in Italy, during the war of the Mantuan succession, in 1630. He afterwards served with distinction in Germany, and in 1632 held the rank of major in one of Count Terska's musketeer regiments. This corps, composed largely of Scotchmen, and commanded by a Scotchman, Lieutenant-colonel John Gordon, bore an honourable part in the campaign by which the Saxons were driven out of Bohemia, and in the subsequent operations round Nürnberg displayed extraordinary gallantry in the defence against numerical odds of a difficult position on the road to Freystadt 8 Aug. (N.S.) 1632. On this occasion Leslie was taken prisoner, but was released without ransom and with a handsome compliment by Gustavus Adolphus. After the battle of Lützen, 16 Nov. (N.S.) 1632, he was quartered with his regiment in the fortress of Eger, on the western frontier of Bohemia, where Wallenstein arrived on 24 Feb. (N.S.) 1634, soon after he had been deposed from the office of commander-in-chief by the emperor, and while he was engaged in treasonable intrigues. In the measures taken to defeat them Leslie look an active part [see Butler, Walter, Count]. On the morning of 25 Feb. Count Ilow, Wallenstein's adherent, tendered in Wallenstein's name an oath of allegiance to Leslie, Buller, and other officers at Eger. From motives of policy they evaded rather than refused to take it. At the same time Ilow issued orders to Leslie to summon for the following morning a meeting of the burgomaster and town council for the administration of a similar oath to them.
It was immediately after this overt act of rebellion that Leslie met the officers whom Wallenstein had not gained to his side in a council of war, and on Leslie's motion it was then resolved for the first time to 'kill the traitors' (cf. Apologia of Leslie and his brother officers, issued at Eger, 6 March 1634). Leslie gave the signal for the commencement of the bloody work, which resulted in the slaughter of Wallenstein and his friends. He maintained order in the town during the anxious interval between the aasassination of the suite and that of their chief, and rode to Vienna with the news. His fidelity and energy were at once rewarded with the office of imperial chamberlain, the command of two regiments, a captaincy in the king of Hungary's bodyguard, a seat in the imperial council of war, and the lordship of Neustadt on the Mettau, formerly Count Terzka's; in 1637 the title of count was awarded him by a patent couched in unusually honorific terms.
Leslie fought at the siege of Ratisbon, and after its fall, at the decisive battle of Nordlingen (7 Sept. N.S. 1634), when his desperate valour was rewarded by the Cardinal Infant Ferdinand with a liberal largesse and ownership of a regiment of foot, to which the king of Hungary added another of dragoons. He served under Savelli before Rheinfelden and Breisach in 1638, and in the campaign of the following year in Bohemia and Saxony. In July 164O he was the bearer of an imperial rescript to Neustadt in Franconia, and a year later in the same capacity he passed through Eger on his way to Ratisbon. In 1645 he was employed in negotiating loans for the emperor in Rome and Naples, in 1646 he was made master of the ordnance, in 1650 vice-president of the council of war, and warden of the Sclavonian marches, with the rank of field-marshal, and in 1655 he was sworn of the privy council. Then years later he was invested with the order of the Golden Fleece, and appointed ambassador extraordinary to the Ottoman Porte for the purpose of completing the treaty of Vasmar by the formal exchange of ratifications at Constantinople. He left Vienna on 25 May (N.S.) 1665, with a large and splendidly equipped retinue, and accompanied by his friend, Lord Henry Howard, afterwards sixth duke of Norfolk [q. v.] A flotilla of six-and-thirty gaily decorated barges of state bore the party down the Danube to Belgrade. The rest of the journey was performed in coaches. Constantinople was reached early in September, and the imperial cortège was met outside the gate by the train of the English ambassador, Heneage Finch, second earl of Winchilsea [q. v.], and the principal English merchants. During his stay at Constantinople Leslie was treated by the sultan with great distinction. He left about Christmas, and arrived at Vienna loaded with presents, with sixty liberated prisoners in his train, and a quartan ague on his person, on 27 March (N.S.) 1666. He died in the Roman catholic faith, which he had adopted after the assassination of Wallenstein, on 3 March (N.S.) 1667, and was buried with great pomp in the Scottish Benedictine Abbey at Vienna.
Leslie married in 1640 Anna Francesca, daughter of Maximilian, prince of Dietrichstein, by whom he had no issue. He amassed a considerable fortune, out of which he made remittances to his brothers in Scotland to help them to clear off incumbrances on the family estates. The rest, with his landed estate, he devised to his nephew, Colonel (afterwards General) Leslie, who by an imperial patent of 31 May (N.S.) 1662 inherited his title.
[Antiq. of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (Spalding Club), i. 528–9; Maurice's Le Blason des Armoiries de tous les Chevaliers de l'ordre de la Toison d'Or, No. cccl.; Colonel Leslie's Records of the Family of Leslie, iii. 241 et seq.; Grant's Memoirs of Sir John Hepburn, pp. 188–90; Apologia und Verantwortungs-Schrift auss hohen wichtigen und fürdringenden Ursachen von etlichen redlich und getrewen Käys. Kriegs Obristen und Cavaliren, &c., 1634, 4to; Aussführl. und Gründtl. Bericht der vorgewesst. Fridtländtsch. und sein. Adhaerent. abschewl. Prodition, Vienna, 1634, 4to; Alberti Fridlandi Perduellionis Chaos sive Ingrati Animi Abyssus, 1634, 4to; The Relation of the Death of that great Generalissimo (of his Imperial Majesty) the Duke of Meckleburg (sic), Fridland, Sagan, Glogaw, &c., London, 1634, 4to; Archivio Storico Italiano (nuova serie), iii. 99, 101; Abelin's Theatr. Europ. iii. 183 et seq. iv. 369, 613, vol. v. pt. i. p. 575; Khevenhüller's Ann. Ferd. xii. 1156 et seq.; Chemnitz's Königl. Schwedisch. in Teutschland geführt. Kriegs Th. ii. 329, 532; Förster's Albrechts von Wallenstein ungedruckte Briefe (Berlin, 1828–1829), iii. 308 et seq.; Burbury's Relation of a Journey of the Right Hon. Lord Henry Howard and his Brother, the Hon. Edward Howard, from London to Vienna, London, 1671; Tafferner's Cæsarea Legatio quam mandante … Leopoldo I ad Portam Ottomannicam suscepit perfecitque … Walterus S. R. I. Comes de Leslie, Vienna, 1672; Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 23125, f. 134; Rycaut's State of the Ottoman Empire, 3rd ed., Epist. Dedicat.; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, also authorities cited under Butler, Walter, Count. Recent writers who have endeavoured to rehabilitate Wallenstein's character, and have consequently sought to prove Leslie and his associates at Eger in 1634 as hired assassins, are Hallwich, Wallenstein's Ende, Leipzig, 1879, 8vo, and Schebek, Lösung der Wallensteinfrage, Berlin, 1881. Cf. also Hallwich's article on Leslie in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. Ranke justifies Leslie's act.]