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Johann Toll (The Kalmar Union)

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Johann Toll
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Johann Toll (The Kalmar Union)
Portrait of Johann Toll

Born: February 1584
Grevenbroich, Julich
Died: 26th December 1639
Profession: General

Johann Toll was the Schmalkaldic commander of the Western Army during the Fifty Years War.

Born in Grevenbroich in the Duchy of Julich in 1584 Toll entered the service of the Duke at an early age. The Duchy had the unenviable position of being a Protestant island separated from the rest of the Schmalkaldic Empire by the powerful and influential Archbishop of Cologne. Through a combination of good fortune and hard-earned contacts he slowly built up enough political capital to be confirmed as the duchy's general in 1614.

This meant he had the unenviable task of defending Julich in 1620 during the early stages of the Fifty Years War. After Luxembourg joined Austria's side all hell broke loose on the western end of the Empire. Cologne advanced on Julich eager to wipe out the Protestant salient. Toll carefully masterminded the relief of Monchengladbach but could not stop the fall of several crucial fortresses. At the Battle of Niederzeir he mauled the Archbishop's forces but recognised the situation was hopeless now that Luxembourg's Army of Holland was moving out of Maastricht. Escaping from the Archbishop's forces he brought a considerable cavalry force with him to Hanover. Here he was quickly given the task of assisting in raising a new army to defend Brunswick as most of the Schmalkaldic forces were now invested in Bohemia and Saxony. Then he found himself in command, following the death of Duke Henry. Emperor Eric II invested him himself.

Initially many of the high-born generals were extremely sceptical that this commoner had the brains to pull off a coherent campaign but Toll proved more than capable and defeated the Army of Holland at the Battle of Osnabruck in September 1622. Methodical but attuned to the needs of his troops, he allowed them to sack the baggage train before resting. Only then did he commence with his main aim: bludgeoning his way towards the Rhine, eager to retake Julich and crush Cologne. This objective would take another six years and his initial successful advance was soon redirected by his superiors into a less successful slow invasion of Holland. He soon got used to besieging a fortress, sacking it, fighting off relief forces and then carefully restocking the city before moving off to the next one. His superiors thought him competent but too slow at delivering results. In reality they seem to favour the faster moving armies operating in Bohemia and Saxony and as a consequence Toll was constantly short of funds.

Finally in 1628 Toll was authorised to head for Cologne and after the massive Battle of Luttringhausen the city fell in October. His troops fell over themselves to sack the city and the pillaging lasting for a fortnight. Despite his dislike of Cologne apparently he wept as he finally entered the city in the aftermath of the sacking, appalled at the carnage. High-minded as ever, leaving his aide, Franz Wierdt, in charge he travelled to Copenhagen and handed in his commission to the Emperor in person. Put to work recruiting Danes for the war Toll married his second wife Elizabeth Brant and wrote a treatise on siege warfare. He would not be allowed to remain away from the front for long however. Wierdt drank himself to death in May 1629 and Toll was re-instated as commander of the Western Army.

Forced to fight a rear-guard action Toll watched as the Dutch fortresses, carefully captured over six years, fell to Luxembourg over the course of one. He held on to the massively depopulated Cologne for four years however before having to fall back. By 1639 the Schmalkaldic Empire, pushed to breaking point by the combined weight of the Catholic armies, ceased to exist. Still, Toll held a massive Catholic army at Bremen, denying it the opportunity to cross the Weser and soon pushed it back to. Praised, he was invested with command over all Kalmar forces left in Germany though crucially this did not include Svealand's considerably able force.

There appeared to be a certain degree of rivalry between Toll and the Svealandic commander, Rudbeck. Indeed Heldenstein, the Catholic generalissimo, appeared to consider Rudbeck his greatest adversary and made sure he was personally present at all clashes with him. Toll was still the pre-eminent German commander and in charge of a great deal more troops than Rudbeck, however the knowledge that he was constantly fighting the second or third rank generals of the Catholic armies annoyed him greatly. In 1639 Toll formulated a plan to capture Heldenstein's attention once more, pulling the Luxembourg army out of the Palatinate and Saxony. His army penetrated the Dutch provinces once more but quickly found itself stuck due to the concentration of high-grade fortresses. Toll left the main army bogged down around Nijmegen picking up units in Cologne, then turned southwards and advanced on Luxembourg City itself. Outside the city walls Toll's force succumbed to the onset of Winter but it had done the trick. Heldenstein himself was now headed northwards to deal with the threat breaking off his advance on Paris.

Toll would die soon after the retreat back to Cologne and would never have the pleasure of meeting Heldenstein on the battlefield. Some contemporaries blame his death on a Dutch prostitute, a Catholic, who stabbed him in his bedchamber though it is not known where this story came from. He would be replaced by Christian of Münzenberg, a commander with less flair but lucky enough to be caught up in a general upswing in the Protestant fortunes.

In contrast to many of his peers Toll gained little in the way of land or titles through his service, and therefore did not attract the envy of the noble-born commanders of the armies like those such as Heldenstein did. His wife and young son were granted a fine town house in Malmo whilst the exiled ducal family of Julich would grant them several estates in the duchy once it was finally restored in 1668.

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