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Emilie Heldenstein (The Kalmar Union)

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Emilie Heldenstein
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Emilie Heldenstein (The Kalmar Union)
Portrait of Emilie Heldenstein

Born: 18th September, 1581
Differdang, Luxembourg
Died: 2nd February, 1642
Rochefort, Luxembourg
Profession: General

Emilie Heldenstein was 'generalissimo' of the Catholic forces during the first half of the Fifty Years War.

Emilie's parents were Jindřich Heldenstein, a Bohemia-born lawyer who had left Bohemia following the Austrian takeover of the kingdom, and Lydie Theis whose family are a little obscure, Emilie himself said she was from a farming family. Born in 1581 Emilie was the second son of the couple, the sixth child in all. Thorough his father's connections he would enter the household of Adam von Harrach, a German Bohemian lord. Von Harrach was heirless and adopted Emilie almost as a son. Emilie showed considerable talent as an organiser and by 1610 was captain of Von Harrach's small army with experience of fighting with, and perhaps more importantly, funding an army on the plains of Northern Italia.

After the revolt of Bohemia in 1618 Heldenstein and Von Harrach remained aligned to Austria and would fight several small engagements with the Protestant rebel armies, maintaining a secure hold on the Karlovy region over the summer. When the Austrians returned in the Autumn their achievements were well regarded and rewarded; Von Harrach received some land, Heldenstein the job of organising Bohemia's armies, or that is, raising mercenary forces for the kingdom's defense. It was a job he took to with aplomb.

After the Schmalkaldic Empire declared war against Austria Heldenstein retreated his Bohemian mercenary army into Austria, offering the entire force to the Emperor. His loyalty proven he fought several engagements against the Protestant forces in Bohemia and, in 1621, was lucky enough to capture much of Bohemia's treasury in a convoy and with this built up a considerable cavalry army. However he still was not given a role in the Austian army equal to the level of his ambition. Offering to raise an entire army for Luxembourg he was put in charge of what remained of the Brandenburg army. From a poor start he won success after success and attracted financing and political backing. By 1628 he was in clear command of 35,000 men and was largely dictating the movement of the Imperial armies.

Battle of Ahaus (The Kalmar Union)

The Battle of Ahaus, July 1629 between Catholic forces under Heldenstein and Protestants under Rudbeck.

Despite Heldenstein's main force remaining in the North facing the Schmalkaldic forces under Johann Toll and the Svealanders under Rudbeck (whom he admired and maintained a fierce rivalry with) he would slowly bring the other theatres under his aegis, single handedly negotiating the switching of sides of Burgundy and for his services was raised to a count. Massive battles such as Ahaus in July 1629 burnished his reputation yet were mostly inconclusive and he mistakenly believed France's entry into the war on the Protestant side would not alter the course of the wider war; instead it brought him a logistical headache which he would never adequately solve.

While a fine general, his real talents lay in his ability to continue raising the armies needed to pursue the Catholic war aims. At the time armies were usually raised as mercenaries and then supplied from what they could glean from the land and occupied towns. Heldenstein realised this was no longer sufficient and was largely critical of the endless cycle of sacking towns. Instead he suggested that states would have to foot the bill for war through taxation. He would be killed before he had a chance to implement any of his ideas and the remainder of the war would fought on existing theories of supply.

He would however push the Schmalkaldic forces to breaking point over the course of the 1630s and the breakaway empire would effectively cease to exist by 1639. Turning prematurely to deal with France (with Denmark and Svealand still very much unbroken) he would be forced by Toll to waste time, men and money on pointless marches across the Low Countries and at one point even having to relieve a siege of Luxembourg City.

Both Charles IV and Rudolph II were keen to retain his services and showered him with titles and land, this mostly confiscated from Protestant Bohemian lords. Equally Charles III of Luxembourg rewarded him handsomely with land. Heldenstein was not merely sated with gifts however, he bought up considerable land too, attracting the accusation he was using the war to line his own pockets. His estates spanned Bohemia and Luxembourg and after the purchase of Lichtenberg (now in Hanau) petitioned Vienna to have this recognised as an immediate state, i.e. he was no longer just content to serve others; he wished his own state to rule.

The purchase of this last estate seemed the final straw to his critics and enemies. His fast rise and grip on the army had left many nobles jealous of his success. He also had access to both the Austrian Emperors and Luxembourg kings in a fashion most other lords could only dream of. While he continued to organise the war efforts of half the continent several lords began to conspire and whisper against him.

In the winter of 1641/2 rumours that Heldenstein was about to defect to Protestant side reached Vienna. Seems to have had no basis but he had certainly approached the French and Danish kings with peace proposals. Afraid the Catholic war effort would be undone by his favoured general Emperor Rudolph II ordered his capture. In the end he and his guard would be killed in his winter lodgings by a Flemish mercenary company in February 1642. His titles, mostly made up just for him were promptly abolished, his lands, now inherited by his only legitimate child Elizabeth, were reduced to a small rump, while his widow was put on a relatively small pension. The Luxembourg army was soon operating separately once more from the Austrian, but none of his successors would match his flair and skill on the battlefield.

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