First came the Greycoats to eat all my swine, Next came the Bluecoats to make my sons fight, Next came the Greencoats to make my wife whore, Next came the Browncoats to burn down my home. I have naught but my life, now come the Blackcoats to rob me of that. - Anonymous Poem
Art thou Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist or Hussite? God may care but I care not. As long as you can carry a pike and shoot straight you are all the same in my eyes - Emilie Heldenstein, Generalissimo of Luxembourg's Grand Army.
Such a madness we have wrought. God forgive me. - Attributed to Catholic Emperor Charles IV on his deathbed.
The Fifty Years' War was the defining event of the early modern period. A man-made cataclysm that took decades, if not an entire century to recover from. Indeed, many German communities never fully recovered at all.
The war itself was originally merely over the future of Bohemia whether it would be attached to the Catholic crown of Austria, or a Protestant one. However it soon evolved into a fight between Catholicism and Lutheranism over the future of the Holy Roman Empire as a whole. This however is too simple a divide between the two opposing sides. Many Protestant states, most notably Luxembourg, fought alongside the Catholic Empire, whilst Catholic Aragon virtually bankrolled the Protestant armies for several decades. What had begun as a limited war to help or crush a Bohemian rebellion soon spiralled out of control as the opposing sides sought to shake each other's grasp of vital German and Italian territory. As the major powers weakened so more peripheral states joined in, eager to enjoy the spoils of war, further their own national and dynastic ambitions or be dragged into the morass.
The two Schmalkaldic Wars (1540-1547) & (1551-1558) had resulted in a divided Empire. The defeat of Charles V split the Empire in half; the Protestant or Schmalkaldic Empire fell under the Danish kings who had largely achieved the victory, the Catholic states and those Protestant ones unaligned to the Schmalkaldic League fell under the Austrian kings. The Northern Emperors enjoyed by and large a religious uniformity. The later spread of Calvinism disrupted this and caused minor revolts but this did not spill outside its own sphere. The Southern Catholic Emperors had no such uniformity. Their lands, though mostly Catholic also contained large minorities of Lutherans and Calvinists. The Calvinists were unrecognised by the Peace of Augsburg which had divided the Empire and were forming large minorities in the independent cities, Geneva and parts of the Swiss Confederation. Due to underlying the religious tension, which occasionally erupted into wider violence such as in 1606 when the Lutheran majority of Donauworth prevented their Catholic neighbours celebrating the Markus procession, the Southern Emperors were conciliatory, unwilling to see any more of their Empire cede away. Despite constant urging from the papacy they were religious pragmatists and largely allowed 'their' states to practice whatever religion they saw fit.
This was especially prudent in Bohemia. Long a hotbed of religious dissent the religious position in the kingdom was careful maintained. The slight Protestant majority jealously guarded their influence over several important organs of state and any decrees from Vienna that upset these could lead to fatal violence. This would take its final form in June 1618 as Charles VI's growing religious intolerance resulted in the sudden removal of all Bohemian Protestants from power.
A secondary cause, at least in terms of lengthening the war unnecessarily was Aragon's long-held desire to reclaim its lost Italian possessions. It had long been aided in this by disunity between the Italian states. While they were embroiled in petty disputes which their relative meant could be fought out with huge mercenary armies Aragon could slowly sink its claws into various states. However in 1613 Charles VI defeated the Florentine and Tuscan armies and forced the Peace of Lodi on the whole peninsula. This effectively redirected all disputes to the Austrian Imperial Circle and meant most of Aragon's client states no longer looked to it for protection. To secure its grip on Italia once again Aragon would now have to face Austria and the Catholic Empire. It did not take long for an alliance with the Schmalkaldic Empire to be offered.
To this can be added Denmark's long standing desire to secure its southern border with a wide belt of German and Pomeranian land, extremely capable rulers in both Svealand and France eager to undo centuries of wasted opportunities, an insecure Poland-Lithuania torn between looking Westward or Eastward and the three Swiss states eager to shake off all forms of overlordship from their neighbours.
And finally the sheer wealth flowing through many European capitals should not be underestimated. The Iberian states, Denmark, Luxembourg and France were flush from a century of unimpeded trade with Leifia and Mexica. Mexic silver had long sustained the abnormally large Iberian armies. The Italian maritime cities still carried the vast majority of Mediterranean trade and were beginning to involve themselves in the trading stations of West Africa. Internal trade boosted the coffers of the Imperial treasury whilst bankers could always be found who would extend credit to the states for future returns.
The riots that greeted Charles VI's heavy handed treatment of Protestant ministers initially resembled nothing more than a repeat of the Hussite Wars of 1415-1440 that shook the Empire in the wake of Jan Hus's execution. Protestant nobles quickly formed an army, but unlike the Hussites the troops now assembled were not the match of the Imperial forces now forming to dispatch the rebellion. In Autumn 1618 the Imperial forces of Austria and Bavaria entered Bohemia, quickly swatting away the hastily gathered Protestant force and reoccupying Prague.
The rebel leaders mostly escaped Northward into the Schmalkaldic Empire and were largely forgotten about. Had it merely ended there with the restoration of Austrian authority and a return to the status quo arrangements then history may have been quite different. As it was, Charles VI saw an opportunity to eradicate Protestant thought in the kingdom, an act that might help 'persuade' Lutherans in Austria to come back to the Catholic church as well. The crackdown on Protestant churches and priests began in October and caused waves of unrest. New peasant armies formed and, unlike the earlier noble-led armies, who were seen as merely acting out of self-preservation, these enjoyed real widespread support. Still, they mostly could not compete with the well-equipped Catholic armies. The bloodbath that resulted led to appeals to the Schmalkaldic Empire to intervene and save the Protestant population from retribution.
The Kalmar dominated Schmalkaldic Diet saw an opportunity to further undermine Austria's grip on Germany and hopefully extend their rule over the remaining Protestant states. And so as winter approached the armies of the Schmalkaldic Empire were slowly gathered for the invasion of Bohemia. These were formed largely of a German core gathered from various Schmalkaldic states with a large Kalmar backbone formed from several states. The soldiers were not mercenaries in the true sense in that they largely remained loyal to their respective alliance/state however they were nowhere near the national armies that would evolve in the next century. Armies had a liability of melting away as Autumn and the harvest neared so money and quarters were needed to keep these men in the field through the winter. The main tactic used by both sides was the so-called 'Luxembourg square', a deep mass of pikemen into which musketeers were placed. which in theory gave them cover from cavalry. The armies were expected to finance themselves, i.e. they ate what they could glean from the land and paid the soldiers from what they could plunder. Even now when the war had not even really started Ducal Saxony complained of unruly troops sacking villages when the main army passed through on the way to Prague.The wider war could still have been averted. Luxembourg appealed to the Schmalkaldic Empire. It if would honour Luxembourg's claims on the Bohemian throne, then they would intervene on the Protestant side. What was really on the cards however was a Protestant Empire centred on Antwerp rather than Copenhagen. Rather than give away their advantage Emperor Eric II dismissed the Luxembourgoise diplomats and instead invited Prince William-George of Oldenburg to occupy the throne, massaging his election through the Prague Diet.
He immediately removed all Catholics from power, a move, that while undoubtedly popular amongst his fellow rulers and the Bohemian Protestants, effectively crippled the country. The treasury melted away and by the end of 1619 he was almost solely reliant on the Schmalkaldic army camped outside of Prague for his authority.
In January 1620 Luxembourg allied with Austria. A secret clause in their agreement would split Bohemia upon the liberation of Prague. Bohemia Proper and its crown would go to Luxembourg, the Margrave of Moravia to Austria. Its Brandenburg army was soon marching on Prague while an Austrian-Bavarian army skirted around the West to tackle Ducal Saxony.
A third army was slowly building from Holland and directed against Brunswick. Furthermore, Poland-Lithuania joined the Imperial side What had been expected to be an easy victory turned into a rout as the Schmalkaldic army, led to the very able William II of Brunswick proved a match for the advancing Brandenburgers. Meanwhile, a second Schmalkaldic force invaded Brandenburg itself, overrunning it. By August 1620 the Margravate was in Schmalkaldic hands and a puppet regime under Anna of Nassau was established.The need to protect multiple fronts against three separate Imperial armies led to the Schmalkaldic armies being split. Whilst those under Johann Toll and William II of Brunswick distinguished themselves foiling Imperial designs to capture Baltic ports those in Bohemia under King William-George were defeated, pinned between the Austrian and Polish army. Prague was captured in August 1621 and William-George with it. Imprisoned in Vienna he became a figurehead of the wider war and a rallying call to many Protestants. Anglia, although very opposed and in no fit state to join the war directly offered subsidies to Denmark while, unbeknownst to them, Wessex-Normandy was offering subsidies to various Catholic parties in the Empire.
Folding itself into the Imperial force the Luxembourgoise Brandenburg army was taken apart and doubled in size by the extremely capable mercenary general Emilie Heldenstein. He had taken much of the treasury of Bohemia after destroying a convoy in 1621 and with it began to build a significant cavalry force. Offering to raise an entire army for the Luxembourgoise king he was given command of what was left of the Brandenburg force. His success with this army led to more and more financiers clamouring to offer him support and by 1628 he was in command of 35,000 men and was largely dictating the movement of the Imperial armies.
Italia & the Swiss Lands
As 1622 dawned the Imperial position looked good. It had successfully recaptured Bohemia. It had pierced, briefly, deep into the Schmalkaldic heartland the previous year before being stopped. And the Luxembourg army to the West had made good inroads into the Rhineland. However the Schmalkaldic Empire had so far largely relied solely on its German core, Scandinavia had not yet been tapped. And nor had Aragon which was beginning to see its chance to make headway into Italia while Austria was busy. It had already begun to fund the Schmalkaldic Empire in late 1620 but now Denmark was advocating full involvement.
And so, in June Aragon invaded Arles, opening a new front to the war and forcing Austria to divert precious troops southward, more than offsetting the Protestant loss of Gothenland and Brandenburg who broke off from the main Schmalkaldic force to began the War of Prussian Succession. This was manifested most clearly by the Battle of Cercany in August which gave the Schmalkaldic troops free run of Bohemia once more, and the Battle of Osnabruck which saw the powerful Army of Holland held and routed by the Western Schmalkaldic army under Johann Toll. William II of Brunswick's forces were mauled at Trest by the Poles but a brief Danish brokered cease-fire between Brandenburg and Gothenland set them against Poland instead of each other for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile to the South, Milan restarted its war against the Swiss Confederation and Geneva in May to little effect, however this partly disrupted the flow of money from the wealthy Italian bankers to the Imperial coffers. Even worse it prevented Austria from re-inforcing Arles. The intermiable Venetian-Grey League War barred the way to the East.
With the Milanese army acting separately to the remaining Italian forces and very little in the way of re-inforcement, it allowed Aragon to rack up a series of confident victories, though its ability to actually seize and hold strongholds was less impressive. Burgundy joined the war in 1623 eager to help destroy its old enemy Arles and by 1626 the two allies had the Imperial army of Italia on the run, laying siege to Milan and Genoa. Burgundy would soon find itself under intense pressure from Luxembourg and Aragon would soon have to retreat to Arelat strongholds, but despite this it had effectively conquered Sardinia and Sicily by 1630.
Burgundy was throughly defeated by Luxembourg's second in command, Hans-George of Soleuvre, in 1628 and it was forcably made to switch sides by the Peace of Auxonne. Although it would never field the same strength forces for the Catholic side as it had for the Protestants this mattered little. Their neutralisation allowed Austria and Luxembourg easy access to Arles, though the Auvergnese army attempted to disrupt this to middling effect, as well as another angle on Geneva and the Swiss Confederation. Swiss defiance lasted another year before Austria laid siege to Zurich and they offered peace, Geneva had little choice but accept occupation and devastation for the remainder of the war as a nominal alliance switch to Austria's side invited Aragonese troops northward and led to the cantons repeatedly changing hands. Luxembourg had, however, nearly bankrupted itself to defeat Burgundy.
Though the German campaigns still sapped the time, money and efforts of the alliances, the war in Italia proved to be a powerful sideshow that prevented either Austria or Luxembourg from really getting to grips with the Protestant armies of the North. They seemed more desperate to actually keep their troops in the field, sacking Imperial cities in the Rhineland for food and money. The Schmalkaldic armies were little better. Cologne fell to Toll in October 1628 leading to a fortnight of pillage, of which the troops were themselves eventually sickened by. Toll was removed from command a month later but reinstated the following year when his replacement drank himself to death.
Burgundy was not the only Francian state to receive Aragonese subsidy. France joined the war in 1623 though its first forays into Luxembourgoise Champagne were bogged down by lengthy sieges. However, it did split the Luxembourg's Army of Holland (briefly before it came to the conclusion it could never hold Brandenburg as well as the Netherlands and Heldenstein was brought westward), and a feignt to the south by William II of Brunswick allowed Toll's force to enter Holland. The appearance of supremacy on the battlefield was not however shared behind the lines. Several Schmalkaldic states had had enough of the war already. Ansbach had already spent most of the war under siege and Hesse-Darmstadt had lost almost half its tax revenues as a result of constant Luxembourg incursions. Why the Schmalkaldic army could not protect all of the Schmalkaldic states was a constant source of discord.Svealand was finally convinced to join in 1625. Svealand, the 'Lion of the North', had honed an impressive domestic policy since its independence. While Denmark had wasted potential farming its taxation out to its regions, Svealand had centralised its state boosting tax revenues and . And the power of the nobility was lessened, allowing the lower tiers of society to enter court and military service. Carl Rudbeck, the son of a baker, was given command of the Svealandic army in Germany, and bolstered by a considerable Livonian, Scots and Anglian mercenary force, it deployed new and innovative tactics that prized a mobile artillery over massed ranks of pikemen. Although they would campaign separately from the Schmalkaldic force for the entire duration of the war they provided an instant boost to the fortunes, and morale of the Protestant side. Rudbeck and Heldenstein would become great rivals, clashing several times beginning with the inconclusive Battle of Ahaus in July 1629. Meanwhile the Luxembourg army doubled in size, paid for by vast quantities of Guyanan gold shipped to Europe by Luxembourg's navy. However the entry of Svealand, plus the increase in the size of Luxembourg's army only increased the pressure on the Rhineland cities and central German states. Heldenstein's marshalling of resources and succession of victories meant he was raised to a count after the peace with Burgundy, which he single-handedly negotiated. However he was less able to deal effectively with France. The French king Charles VI was 35, and had quietly built on his father's reforms that in many ways mirrored those occurring in Svealand at the same time. The French kings had been stung by a string of humiliating defeats at the hands of their nominal vassals and had spent most of the 16th century quietly reigning in the powers of their direct lieges strengthening their own domain to better engage those other lords less inclined to obey Paris. By 1618 France had reorganised its regions allowing a more efficient taxation and conscription process. The inheritance of Saintonge with its port of La Rochelle in 1598 had finally given France access to the sea and a small but dedicated navy was beginning to visit the Norse Leifian nations. Meanwhile various universities had been setup and endowed with land and wealth.
It was a disappointment therefore when France's army, and that of Auvergne, made little impression on the wider war. While Heldenstein had confidently knocked Burgundy out he saw no particular threat from France and left Hans-George of Soleuvre to deal with them while he concentrated on Germany. And indeed, Hans-George seemed to be able to contain them but he was constantly pulled eastward into the Palatinate to deal with the Schmalkaldic Army under Toll.
PrussiaThe death of Prince Albert II of Prussia in 1622 began a sideshow that would take both Brandenburg and Gothenland out of the wider war. Both Anna of Nassau and King Karl VI of Gothenland had a good claim on the Prussian throne and so began the War of Prussian Succession. The Schmalkaldic Empire had envisioned Brandenburg to be a neutral space where the other armies could be rested and re-inforced. However, the new regime had other ideas and had raised a significant army by middle of 1622. Upon hearing that King John III was intending to claim the throne they advanced into Pomerelia and began besieging Gothenlandic fortresses. Gothenland had no choice but to reroute the men going to the Westphalian front to Pomerelia, causing a shortage which Luxembourg exploited.
The leadership in Denmark were furious. The supposed allies were at war and draining money and men away from the main fronts. The conflict raged off and on for 13 years. Even after the 1635 Treaty of Danzig which settled the Prussian succession in favour of Gothenland, Brandenburg frequently attacked Pomerelia in an attempt to revise its terms.
The main effect of this sideshow was to knock Poland out of the war. Its armies were fine and distinguished fighting alongside Imperial troops, however left to their own devices did not appear to be able to score victories against the Brandenburg or Gothenlandic forces, even if they appeared more interested in fighting each other. The death of King Jan II in 1634 flung the Sejm into a period of introspection and faced with a long minority of the 6 year old King Augustus sued for peace. To many in the Sejm it seemed as though the rebalancing of power that had begun following the 2nd Schmalkaldic War had not gone far enough and Poland would be tied up for much of the duration of the wider war fraught with deep internal conflicts.
With the repeated failure of the war in Prussia Brandenburg turned in on itself. The Brandenburg Civil War (1653-1659) effectively permanently took it out of the Fifty Years' War and barred access for foreign armies. Those that weren't set upon were co-opted for sieges in return for passage, a process which severely slowed their movement. 1659 saw the execution of the ruling Margrave, George I, and the creation of a radical republican 'Commonwealth'. This would last until 1664 when the Danes entered Potsdam and broke up the diet. The experience of the civil war and the commonwealth left Brandenburg in as bad a state as much of the rest of North Germany.
Upon the Peace of Lodi in 1613 Venice became the sole North Italian state unaligned to the Empire. Though it was on largely good terms with Austria to the North long standing disputes with the Grey League and the other Italian states threatened to overwhelm it now that there was a more united front. And so, to complement its navy, still the pre-eminent force of the Mediterranean it began restructuring its army in a series of reforms that would echo those begin advocated in Scandinavia. By the 1630s it had a large force which, possibly the most well-provisioned on the Peninsula and was well led by veterans of decades of Italian wars.
Hungary meanwhile had spent the early 1600s dealing with internal revolt slowly bringing its nobles and more independently minded regions into line. In 1634 with his reign secure King Louis III looked to reclaim all the historic lands of St Stephen and that meant removing Venice from the Dalmatian coast. With Hungary's normal adversaries; Byzantium, Poland and Austria busy elsewhere Louis felt the time was right. Zara was besieged, as was Split, but as Venice could supply the cities by sea the sieges dragged on intermiably bogging down the Hungarian army.
Meanwhile Venice came to an agreement with Austria; if the Venetian army was allowed free passage eastward across Austrian territory then Venice would join the Catholic side in the wider war once a peace had been agreed with the Hungarians. The deal was kept quiet, Austria had no intention of getting into a direct war with Hungary, allowing yet another front to open up in the East.
Landing one small army on the Dalmatian coast whilst pushing its main forces through Austrian Carinthia the Venetians caught the Croatian army at the Battle of Bjelovar routing it. A showdown with the larger Hungarian army would take longer and it would not be until 1637 that a convincing victory was achieved. By the terms of the Treaty of Zara Venice received a small sprinkling of Dalmatian islands. Austria had conselled its neighbour not to push too hard in the peace negotiations for fear it would only hand Hungary to the Protestants. Indeed, once the dust settled Hungary received several entreaties to join both sides in the ongoing war. The Protestants began promising various Venetian territories to the Hungarians upon victory. Meanwhile, Rudolph III hoped to persuade Hungary to enter in on the Catholic side with less concrete offers of help .
Venetian forces meanwhile were, as agreed, deployed against the Aragonese armies in Italia from early 1638, helping restore a slight Imperial advantage, while its navy severely constricted Aragonese room for maneuver and would lead to the evacuation of Sicily. Austria, meanwhile, devastated Grey League defenses and they agreed to a punishing peace in 1641, opening yet another route for Imperial forces southward.
Tver had spent much of the 16th century fighting its way to maintain its independence. While Vladimir was expanding rapidly to the East to the cost of the various Horde-successor states, Tver faced the more settled and powerful kingdoms of Europe. The city itself was burnt twice by Poland in the second half of the 1500s but since then Tver had been largely left to its own devices. Increasingly it was eager to modernise and its rulers believed the only way to do so was to gain access to the sea. Poland blocked the way to the Black Sea but it saw an easy way to the Baltic through weak Livonia. It believed both Kalmar and the Empire too weak and divided to stop them so declared war on the Bishop of Riga in May 1630. While Svealandic tactics were giving the Protestant armies the edge in Germany politicians at home were aware they were largely reliant on Finnish and Livonian peasantry to bulk out their armies and were in no mood to allow another nation access to the Baltic. Therefore Svealand spent the years 1630-1660 pursuing several low-key wars against Tver, occasionally in tandem with Poland, in an effort to protect Livonia and its own interests there. Although never intense enough to really draw significant troops away from the German campaign the war against Tver, mostly fought on Livonian soil, allowed the Svealandic generals to hone their techniques. It also helped prevent Poland rejoining the Imperial side as Svealandic help against Tver was seen as more in keeping with Poland's 'destiny' than involving itself in the intermiable workings of Germany.
As Svealand largely took over Livonia for itself during the conflict it also had the effect of lessening what the parties were willing to hand it in Germany at the Treaty of Copenhagen, leaving it annoyed at its former allies and sowing the seeds for later conflict.
The Middle of the War
William-George, the king of Bohemia, died in 1629 still imprisoned in Vienna. His daughter the nine-year old Catherine of Oldenburg toured Northern Germany at the behest of several courts, and was widely proclaimed Queen of Bohemia. The same year there was a change at the top, the Schmalkaldic Emperor and Danish king, Eric XII died. His son, Christopher III, had less enthusiasm for the his Schmalkaldic allies variously calling them whingers and lazy Calvanists. The future Christopher IV was married to Catherine of Oldenburg in March 1637.
While this provided a certain galvanising effect within the Kalmar states, as now Denmark was fighting directly for 'its' kingdom, in the Catholic states the young couple were derided as the 'Emperor with no Empire and his Queen with no Kingdom'. In fact the war itself lost much of its religious zeal. In its place came a feeling that is was a struggle between the authoritarian Austrian Emperors versus the 'modernist' Kalmar and French regimes.
The leadership of the Catholic side changed in 1631 with the death of Charles IV. His son Rudolph II was quickly declared Emperor and, having seen action in Bohemia, was greatly impressed by the tactics of Svealand and the other Protestant armies slowly copying it. Though still dominated by the old 'Luxembourg Square' formations flourishes of the new methodology began to creep in.
Hopes that other states could be inticed to join either side were made more likely by the end of the 1st Mexic-Leifian War in 1632. Portugal possessed the only navy capable of disrupting the Luxembourg fleet and its exports and was broadly friendly with the Kalmar states, but it was wary of threatening its homeland with a war in Iberia. Anglia too remained aloof, worried what a general war with Wessex might do. This however increased the volatility of Fryslân whose population was insensed that Anglia was not supporting its co-religionists.
The continued pressure of the Luxembourg, Bavarian and Austrian armies on the various Schmalkaldic armies finally caused them to snap in early 1639. One after another the Schmalkaldic states were overrun and forced to sign the Peace of Heilbronn in September. This gave an amnesty to all the rulers who had taken up arms against their rightful Emperor as well as guaranteeing freedom of religion in all the Schmalkaldic states. The treaty effectively disbanded the Schmalkaldic Empire. Christopher III would vainly continue to use the title until 1646.Heldenstein assumed the German war was now over and turned to face France which had so far proved difficult to break. However the Kalmar and Svealandic armies held the reduced Catholic armies on the Elbe so they never signed the Peace. And the death of the Saxon Elector led it to switching sides as the new Elector felt cheated by the terms of the treaty (his father has been promised all or at least part of Ducal Saxony for his participation. Further grumblings were manifested as the Emperor reneged on the recently signed terms to seize various ex-ecclesiastical properties and restore them to the Catholic church. As Austria peeled away to deal with its one time ally the Bavarian army was severely neutered at the Battle of Buxtehude. Just before winter set in Toll took the Kalmar army to the very gates of Luxembourg City. Far from being given time to handle France Heldenstein was dragged back into the German fray wasting men and money on pointlessly marching across Flanders.
But in reality the French phase was only just beginning. Wessex-Normandy declared war on France in September. This led to official declarations of war by Auvergne, Armagnac and Navarre on Wessex, Luxembourg and Austria. Almost fully indebited to an Aragon that was barely able to pay its own troops still messily engaged in Arles and Milan the three southern states under the command of Duke Alexandre of Auvergne invaded Burgundy to break the 'Arles Road' forcing the Catholic states to once again split their resources. The Kalmar navy, sailing around the North of Britannia to avoid Luxembourg patrols managed to cripple the Wessex navy in April 1640, momentarily stunting its ability to conduct war on the continent.
Heldenstein himself would be removed in February 1642. Having amassed a huge fortune, a string of titles and land confiscated from Lutherans and being named the Catholic supreme commander, he had also gained several powerful enemies, chiefly noblity put out by his fast rise. Rumours that he was about to defect to the Protestant side began circulating Whether he was or not is debatable but he had certainly put out feelers for a peace with Kalmar. He was assassinated in his winter lodgings at Rochfort on 16th February as he sat planning out the year's campaign by a Flemish mercenary. Hans-George of Soleuvre was put in charge of Luxembourg's army whilst Austria and Bavaria's went to. Hans-George died in 1643, leaving command in the hands of Prince Charles of Utrecht. But none of the commanders matched the skill and nerve of Heldenstein and later successes appeared to owe more to copying Protestant tactics than actual leadership flair.The Protestant leadership also changed. Toll died not long after his dramatic though pointless advance to Luxembourg city. In his place came the less brilliant Christian of Münzenberg. Carl Rudbeck had died in 1642 only a week after his great rival Heldenstein and was replaced by Gabriel Bååt. But by 1645 broadly the Protestant armies were once again in the ascendant. As more and more Schmalkaldic states were liberated so pressure increased on the Emperor to sue for peace. And indeed, Rudolph II was putting feelers out to the Aragonese, seeing their demands as the lesser of two evils. The logic went that if Aragon and its treasury was no longer a factor the North German states would be isolated. Two battles in the late Summer of 1646 convinced him there would be no need to rush into a hasty and expensive peace. The Battle of Dronero on 3rd September saw an Milanese-Venetian army meet and crush the Aragonese, who lost some 20,000 men, though a follow-up was stymied by numerous fortifications built by the Aragonese over the previous twenty years. The Battle of Gottingen some three days later saw a Saxon-Kalmar army obliterated by Luxembourg.
Seeing their chance the Imperial forces attempted to seize the Pomeranian bridghead which allowed the Svealandic army, essentially the only full strength force still operating on the Protestant side,access to Germany. The Svealandic army managed to win the Battle of Jilhlava but Gabriel Bååt, the last great Protestant commander, met his end. By May 1647 the Austrians were besieging Prague, and while Bavaria mopped up various duchies still holding out, Luxembourg headed toward Jutland to force Denmark into submission. The Two Saxonies, tired, bankrupt and broken sued for peace soon after Prague fell. The Peace of Jena gave them amnesty and allowed Ducal Saxony, already split into four parts thanks to a disputed inheritance, to come to to terms with its change in status and rebuild its shattered cities. The ravaging of Bohemia, an atrocity of unparalleled scope between 1648-1650 led to the deaths of some 200,000 Protestants.France however was very much still a unbroken force. Hopes that Wessex would be able to offset France were unfounded and Charles VI himself led the force that beat them at the Battle of Orbec on 5th June 1647 and captured Caen in August. Normandy would remain occupied for the remainder of the war. Meanwhile his preferred general, the competant but unimaginative Henri-Jean of Châteauroux, successfully took several towns in Champagne before the king forced him to help their allies by invading the Palatinate. Minor engagements with Bavaria and then Austria effectively stopped the total collapse of the Protestant position and allowed Denmark to rebuild the Kalmar army.
The cost both monetarily and material of this fighting reduced army numbers. On average the armies deployed by the late 1630s and 40s were only perhaps 60% the strength of those deployed in 1618-1623. While it certainly reduced the pressure on the purse-keepers it increased the pressure on the land and the peasantry. With smaller numbers the armies could force their way into cities less easily meaning their hungry soldiers preyed on the countryside.
By 1649 the conditions in Germany had grown so bad that revolt consumed both sides almost bringing a halt to the war. Both Catholic and Protesant forces had to spend most of the year retaking previously friendly cities to stop their lines collapsing. The revolt of Holland bled into Anglian Frisia which was soon occupied by Danish troops to both protect its new government from Anglian reprisals and prevent Luxembourg invading. The revolt of Holland was brutally crushed by Prince Charles of Utrecht but he appeared much less able to deal with the Kalmar armies than his own countrymen.
The Final Years
The final phase of the war could be said to start in 1654 with the capture of Regensburg, intact, by the Svealandic army. This bulwark into the South was complemented by the Swiss declaring war on Luxembourg after one of their ill-disciplined armies sacked Selesat. After a relative lull in the hostilities following the major revolts of 1649-50 the armies once again grew in size. But the defining feature of this phase was not the military aspect, it was the sheer abject misery suffered by the majority of the populace. Starvation, disease and brutal repression decimated the population. Tax revenues dwindled. The Lutherans in Austria rebelled and at various points in 1653-5 looked close to seizing Vienna. The war in Italy had moved decisively westward into Provence bringing the same misery that had been forced on the Italian states to the Aragonese and Occitan states.Still however the armies could not achieve a decisive victory on the battlefield. The French and Luxembourgoise armies danced around each other for a year before meeting at the inconclusive Battle of Betzenburg in 1660. The Imperial army failed in a daring attempt to capture Lubeck in 1662 and in retaliation ravaged Danish Pomerania but could not hold any of its fortresses for long.
In October 1667 the Svealandic army under Mansfeld reached Vienna itself. Brushing off a desperate Bavarian army sent to relieve the city they settled in for the Winter. Rudolph III, his lines of credit now exhausted, was forced to admit the war could no longer be won.
Treaty of Copenhagen
While small treaties between combatants profilerated through the war major peace discussions eluded statesmen. Proceedings had been started and abandoned twice prior to the final treaty the main stumbling block being the refusal of the Emperor to come to the table. Rudolph fervently believed that either Hungary or Poland would rejoin the war or that continued arguments in the Protestant camp would lead his forces to victory. Beyond that the main discussions in Münster and Bonn from October 1664 onward were constantly disrupted as the movement of armies and continued fighting changed the bargaining positions of the delagates. The Siege of Vienna changed this however as the Svealandic army cut the Emperor off from relief. With no immediate hope of and the populace of Vienna ready to riot he sued for peace. The Protestant camp was fully aware of its own precarious position however and so moderated their demands.
The peace proceedings moved northward in March 1668 to Copenhagen, perhaps the only capital almost unaffected by the war, as the inhabitants of Münster, itself badly damaged and famine hit, were beginning to tire of the nobles and the slow peace process.
The Treaty of Copenhagen was signed on 21st May, officially ending the war. The main points were as follows:
- Those territories previously part of the Schmalkaldic League shall rejoin the Empire and declare their allegiance to the Emperor. No mention was made of the Schmalkaldic Empire, nor how much Denmark's territory was included in this.
- Those ecclesiatical lands secularised before 1600 shall remain so. Those secularised after that date shall be restored to their rightful owners. This largely meant all of the secularisations carried out by Luxembourg, the Swiss Confederation and Denmark were confirmed as legal. In effect it was simply carrying out the terms of the Peace of Heilbronn which had been broken by Rudolph II. Many of the secularisations that occurred during the war were ignored as well, most notably Denmark's seizure and secularisation of the Archbishopric of Bremen in 1627.
- Those imperial cities, previously free, and able to defend themselves shall be returned to immediacy. Those whose walls are no longer fit for purpose shall be annexed by their neighbours as is seen fit by this committee. This caused a brief stone shortage in the empire as cities rushed to rebuild their walls to prevent being swallowed up. Around a half of all Imperial cities were de-established and integrated into their neighbours.
- Aragon shall administer Sardinia and Sicily but retreat to the West bank of the Rhine. This largely fulfilled Aragon's war aims and this clause's insertion removed their blockage of the other points. In fact, despite a crippled economy and vast debts that would haunt and fracture government for another 70-odd years, Aragon was the one country which could actually be said to 'win' anything out of the war.
- All inheritance of land shall be respected. Chiefly put in to ensure Denmark's annexation of Oldenburg but also kept alive its claim to Bohemia.
- With the exceptions of the above all states and borders of such states shall be restored to rightful rulers as of 1558. Unlawful seizure of property shall be rectified. Attempted to reset all the various seizures and counter-seizures of property that had occurred due to Catholic rulers converting to Protestant creeds and vica versa.
- The Imperial Diet shall be restored and given power to uphold this committee's decisions. Its first decision was in fact to ensure the election of John to the Bohemian throne. Cases arguing for and against the seizure of property clogged up the Diet for a century. Francis Medici was elected Emperor in 1748 precisely because he had no claims related to the war and was an impartial judge. The last property claim related to the Fifty Years War was settled in 1811, after which Emperor Joseph declared the subject closed, to much relief.
- Five new electorates shall be raised by this committee as to be decided. This was chiefly to keep Austria on side and redress the balance between Catholic and Lutheran electorates. The five new electorates were only finalised in 1676.
- Citizens of the Empire are universally free to practice whichever Christian creed they wish, and rulers have no right to compel their subjects to follow their own. This again was a modification of the Peace of Heilbronn. It largely satisfied the ex-Schmalkaldic states and reconciled them to their former enemies. How much this applied to lands nominally part of the Empire but administered by other parties was open to debate. It did however ignore Jewish citizens and a clause protecting them and their property had to be retroactively inserted in 1672.
- The papacy shall no longer influence policy to the detriment of the Empire. While the committee respects its power in Rome it does not accept it has any temporal power in the Empire as a whole.
The treaty was accepted by all temporal powers present though Emperor Rudolph III 'took ill' and left his ministers to sign. The Pope's delegates walked out of the reading of the terms and refuse to sign. Several ecclesiastical states wavered and would only later sign once the balance of electorates had been resolved.
The Treaty of Copenhagen reinvigorated the Imperial Diet. As part of the reforms the Imperial Circles which had divided the Empire up into managable smaller Diets in the early 16th century were replaced by a single Diet sat in Frankfurt. Each sovereign state was meant to send two representatives to the Diet. This was meant to give weigh to the mass of smaller states which in turn led to a Empire less in thrall to the large powers that ringed its outskirts and in theory less subject to the whims of the Emperor. For the first time the Italian territories were properly represented. Any fears of radicalism were quickly submerged under the weight of conservative ecclesiastical states and a backload of property claims and counter-claims stemming from the war which prevented little other reform happening. In fact the real power shifted to the individual states. No longer able to rely totally on their respective spheres to wholly back them in any future war the larger states began forming their own alliances both inside and outside the Empire. This in the long term meant that disputes which started in the Empire rarely remained the Empire's business for long.
The Diet gave the empty Bohemian throne to Luxembourg, partially to offset the loss of Brandenburg, partially to restore what many thought was the rightful dynasty, but many leading Bohemians were still reeling from the shock of the Austrian ravaging in 1648-1650. Also as the terms of the Austro-Luxembourg alliance had become public knowledge many Diet delegates were scandalised by the casual division of the kingdom by Austria. Luxembourgoise rule over Bohemia lasted until a period of illness confined John IV to his bed. Fearful that the reactionary Prince Charles of Utrecht would succeed him the Prague Diet ejected the Luxembourgoise court from the city and quickly elected the moderate Austrian Archduke Rudolph III king. This led to Luxembourg declaring war on Austria in 1680. The crippling debts that both sides still carried limited the scope and scale of the war. France declined to intervene and, after several inconclusive battles in the Palatinate and rumblings from Copenhagen, Luxembourg sued for peace in 1681, renouncing its claim on Bohemia. In a pragmatic move to pacify the Empire again John IV of Luxembourg would be elected Emperor John II on Rudolph III's death in 1687. Danish claims to the kingdom however remained until the Wolfenbüttel War (1737-1739).
With the peace largely maintaining the religious patchwork and even raising Calvinism to recognition some of the Catholic states of Europe who had not been so heavily involved sought to redress the balance of power. In this respect Wessex, whose army had been largely ineffectual against the bloated but well-led French army in 16-16 began covertly funding Catholic peasant armies in the North in the 1680s, severely disrupting the Brunswick duchies. This in turn led to the Wessex-Kalmar War of 1686-1701 that began the 18th century slump in Kalmar's fortunes. Once the peasantry was pacified and reconciled to religious equality the Catholic vs Protestant angle virtually disappeared from German politics. Though there was a religious angle to a couple of subsequent wars most future wars would be more driven by dyanstic ambition and national pride.
Many family's fortunes were changed by the war. Tiny Monaco was raised to a principality thanks to Augustine II's inspired defense of Regensberg in 1639. The Liechtensteins and Wantzenaus benefitted greatly from the confiscation of property in Bohemia from both denominations.
Away from the political sphere the vast peasantry had suffered immeasurably during the war. The constant movement and depredation of armies had destroyed vast tracts of farmland. In many districts, especially in the Palatinate, Rhone valley and Champagne, the peasantry simply vanished as they fled maurauding armies or escaped religious persecution. Many previously thriving cities such as Magdeburg were reduced to rubble by successive sieges, their populations starved into submission or plague ridden. Those cities absorbed as part of the treaty by larger states were mostly inhabited by a mere fraction of their pre-war population and many universities closed through lack of students and money. The disruption of both farmlands and cities led to a breakdown of trade all around Europe which only began to recover once the armies dissipated. The loss of farmland, plus the death or movement of vast numbers of peasantry led to widespread famine within the Empire, Francia and parts of Denmark, Aragon and Britannia. Plague, excerbated by poor diet and the sheer numbers of soldiers crossing the continent, became endemic. The cities of the Rhineland, Holland and Northern Germany were badly affected as refugees flooded into them during the grimmest years of the war. So too were those of the North Italian plain where bubonic plague raged repeatedly. In Venice, which escaped direct devastation from the war, the influx of refugees barely made good the losses from disease and the population in 1668 was half that of 1630. The average family dropped in size from seven to four for two decades severely impacting on long term population growth and the recovery of Germany.
Although impossible to be certain, it is believed that some 21 million people died during the course of the war as a result of war casualties, disease and famine, a death toll unmatched by any European conflict before or since. The population of the Empire is believed to have declined by almost a third.