Billeder på siden

tunate in bringing all his embarrassing wars to a conclusion, and on terms advantageous to his country. Much of this success was owing to the great discipline he maintained in his army, and to his skill in every species of military manoeuvre. Governing his army as well as his kingdom with rigorous justice and paternal care, he was universally beloved by his subjects; and already, while still a young man, he was known all over the north of Europe as a genius of no ordinary kind, whom it would be dangerous to provoke.


At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Germany consisted of numerous states, each of which, governed by a king, duke, or elector, as the case might be, possessed sovereign and independent jurisdiction within its own territories. The whole were united in a confederacy for general protection, and the united body, which had 'occasional diets or sittings, was headed by a personage styled Emperor of Germany. This emperor was elective, and the honour fell on any king who commanded most interest in the diet.

The Germanic confederacy never wrought well. It was (and still is) an ill-assorted association; the lesser states tyrannised over very much by the larger ones, and there being at all times causes of mutual jealousy and hatred. The Reformation of Luther, in the early part of the sixteenth century, had added a fertile source of discord. Some states embraced the doctrines of the reformers, others held pertinaciously to the principles and practice of the Roman Catholic church. Germany became now distracted with leagues and counter-leagues, and contentions had risen almost to open war, when the Emperor Charles V., in 1555, patched up a peace between the two great parties. By this treaty of pacification Roman Catholics and Protestants were to enjoy equal civil rights. Charles's immediate successors had the good sense to respect this peace; and for fifty years the empire enjoyed a tolerable degree of tranquillity. The peace proved ultimately to be only a hollow truce. At the close of the sixteenth century, bitter animosities and brawls began to break out. The growing strength of Protestantism was a provocation to measures for its suppression. These measures, adopted in the bishoprics of Würzberg and Bamberg, led to retaliations upon the Roman Catholics in the Protestant states. The idea of returning good for evil-a fundamental principle in the religion about which all were contending-seems never for a moment to have been entertained. From 1600 to 1618 there were many disturbances, much forming of confederacies and leagues, much oppression, much unchristian vengeance-no progress of a sound and temperate view of the matters in dispute.

Things came first to a head in Bohemia, where the reformed doctrines had taken deep root. Matthias, king of Bohemia and emperor of Germany, having thrown himself into the Catholic

league, gave great offence to his Protestant subjects by arbitrarily shutting up two of their churches. "A universal commotion among the Protestants," says Schiller, "was the consequence of this step. At the instigation of Henry Mathias, Count Thurn, proprietor of large estates in Bohemia, and a zealous Protestant, a meeting of deputies was called from every circle in the kingdom, to concert measures against the common danger. It was here resolved to petition the emperor. The emperor's reply reproached them with refractory and rebellious conduct, justified the shutting up of the churches by an imperial mandate, and contained some threatening passages. Count Thurn did not fail to increase the bad effect which this imperial edict had upon the states. He pointed out to them the danger to which all those who signed the petition were exposed. To rise in arms against the emperor was, as yet, too bold a step: by degrees, however, he led them to it. For this purpose he laid the blame first upon the emperor's counsellors. The public hatred was principally directed against the imperial deputy, Slavata, and Baron Martinitz, who, in the place of Count Thurn, had been elected burgrave of Carlstein. Among all the Catholic proprietors of estates, these two acted with most severity against their Protestant vassals. They were accused of hunting these unfortunate beings with dogs, and forcing them, by a renunciation of baptism, marriage, and the funeral service, to embrace Popery. On the 23d of May 1618, the deputies assembled in arms, and in great numbers, at the emperor's palace, and forcibly entered the room where the counsellors Sternburg, Martinitz, Lobkowitz, and Slavata were sitting. With a threatening tone they required a declaration from each of them whether they had a share in the emperor's proclamation, or had given their consent to it. Sternburg received them with moderation; Martinitz answered with disdain. This decided their fate. Sternburg and Lobkowitz, less hated, and more dreaded, were shown out of the room; while Slavata and Martinitz were dragged to a window, and flung down a height of eighty feet. The secretary Fabricius was thrown after them. This violent action—somewhat astonishing to civilised nations—the Bohemians justified as a mere national custom; and what surprised them most was, that the sufferers escaped with so little mischief. A dunghill, on which they had fallen, had saved their lives."

The incident here recorded was the commencement of "the thirty years' war." The rupture between Matthias and his Bohemian subjects was too wide to be healed; and, accordingly, the latter openly cast off their allegiance, organised a new government for Bohemia, and, in concert with the Protestant Union, levied forces to resist the emperor. Matthias, on the other hand, prepared to vindicate his authority, and to punish the insurgents; but before he could effect anything decisive, he was cut off by death on the 20th of March 1619. He was succeeded in the empire by Ferdinand II., who had previously


been nominated his heir to the Bohemian throne. At this time Ferdinand was in his forty-first year. As his character gave a tone to subsequent events, and, in fact, determined, more than any other cause, the progress and duration of the war, we shall here present a summary of it from the pen of Archdeacon Coxe in his History of the House of Austria. "We cannot but admire," he says, in Ferdinand II. the great qualities which have distinguished the greatest men of every age and nation-penetration and sagacity, unbroken perseverance, irresistible energy of character, resignation and fortitude in adversity, and a mind never enervated with success. But these great qualities were sullied and disgraced by the most puerile superstition, inveterate bigotry, and unbounded ambition. In many features of his public character Ferdinand resembled his relative Philip II. in his talents for the cabinet, no less than his incapacity for the field; in elevation of mind, as well as in bigotry, persecution, and cruelty; in fortitude in adverse, and arrogance in prosperous, circumstances. In his private character, however, he differed essentially from the gloomy tyrant of Spain. He was a good and affectionate father, a faithful and tender husband, an affable and indulgent master; he was easy of access to the meanest of his subjects; and compassionate and forgiving where his religious prejudices were not concerned. His failings may be attributed to the prejudices instilled into him by the Jesuits, which strengthened with his years, and grew up with his growth. Had he not been influenced by the narrow and jaundiced views of superstition and bigotry, he might have maintained the peace and happiness of his hereditary dominions; might have ruled the empire, not as the head of a sect or the chief of a party, but as the sovereign and the friend of all; and might have saved Germany and Europe from thirty years of anarchy, persecution and terror, devastation and carnage. In fine, the defects of education and erroneous principles rendered him the misfortune of his family, the enemy of his country, and the Scourge of his age." This character of Ferdinand, we may mention, is more favourable than that given by other writers.

Justly fearing the consequences of admitting such a man as Ferdinand to the government of their country, the Bohemians formally declared their throne vacant, and looked about for some Protestant prince upon whom they might confer it. Their wishes rested upon Frederick V., the Elector Palatine, who had succeeded his father as the recognised head of the Protestant Union of Germany. This prince, whose misfortunes have rendered him famous, possessed good natural abilities, and had received an excellent education; but in accepting the throne of Bohemia, and thus defying the emperor to a contest, he was attempting to perform a part above his strength. Six years before this period, and while yet a mere youth, he had gone to England, and married Elizabeth, the daughter of James I.

[ocr errors]

"Universal joy," says Harte, "seized the English nation upon this occasion; the balls, carousals, and feastings were innumerable. The very poets were called in from every quarter; such magnificence hath rarely been beheld in the most expensive and extravagant times. Ben Jonson and Davenant held the pen; Lawes composed the music; Inigo Jones contrived the theatrical entertainments; and the best painters on this side the Alps garnished the scenes with their pencils. These honours, to which the Order of the Garter was added, lulled Frederick into a sort of dream, and rendered him a visionary in ambition. He forgot his own dominions, and caught incautiously, though honestly, and with some diffidence, at what he imagined to be a most plausible acquisition-the crown of Bohemia." In taking this step, he had no encouragement from his father-in-law, James I.; whose aversion to a drawn sword displayed itself through life in his keeping aloof from continental disputes, and who on this occasion assured Frederick in direct terms that he need expect no assistance from him. James's daughter, the wife of Frederick, was a woman of extraordinary parts and firmness, a devoted Protestant, and superior in genius and generosity of character to all the other children of James; but she was affected by an insatiable ambition, which contributed to ruin her husband. The Palatinate was a state of considerable size in Germany, its lower division lying on the Rhine, and the whole generally fertile. The title of Palatine, nearly equivalent to that of prince, was, however, distasteful to the proud Elizabeth. Born the daughter of a king, she resolved that she should also be the wife of one-she would be a queen.

Alas for the result of such miserable aspirations! The struggle between Ferdinand and Frederick for the crown of Bohemia was not of long duration. Assisted by Spain and the pope, and having the advantage of employing such able military commanders as Spinola and the celebrated Count Tilly, the Emperor Ferdinand speedily reduced the Bohemians, with their allies, to extremities; and on the 8th of November 1620, the last hopes of the Protestants were shattered by a total defeat which they sustained under the walls of Prague. Frederick fled from this city, and finally quitted his kingdom altogether, and took refuge in Holland, where he lived for many years on public charity; his father-in-law, in the quaint words of Harte, "supplying him only with peaceable advice and scholastic quotations instead of money and legions."

The Bohemians were severely punished by Ferdinand for their insurrection. Many of their nobles were beheaded; the estates of others were confiscated; the Lutheran and Calvinistic clergy were banished; and the Jesuits were appointed to the sole superintendence of the entire system of national education. The inhabitants of the Palatinate, the hereditary dominions of the unfortunate Frederick, shared these calamities. Frederick having been


put under the ban of the empire, his possessions were divided among those who had distinguished themselves by their zeal for the cause of the emperor. The larger part of them, with the dignity of Elector, was conferred on the Duke of Bavaria. Latterly, a portion of the Palatinate, including Heidelberg, a favourite residence of Elizabeth, has fallen to the share of the grand-dukedom of Baden.

The severities of Ferdinand, together with the dread that the influence of his bigotry would soon extend itself over the rest of the empire, occasioned a reaction in favour of Protestantism. Foreign nations too, both Catholic and Protestant, looked on with no small interest. One of the most general and most respected political doctrines of that time, was the doctrine of the balance of power in Europe; and for many years the utmost jealousy had prevailed in France, England, Denmark, &c. with respect to the perpetual growth and aggrandisement of the house of Austria, so fatal, it was imagined, to this balance of power. Consequently, there was a strong disposition throughout Europe to encourage and blow up any flame of disaffection within the empire, which would occupy the emperor, and prevent his power from becoming so gigantic in reality as it was in appearance. This is the secret of the perpetual interference of foreign powers in the affairs of Germany during the seventeenth century. Germany was, as it were, a huge conflagration, into which other nations were perpetually throwing fuel, sometimes apparently with no other motive than to keep up the blaze.

Scarcely was Bohemia subjugated, when Ferdinand found himself engaged in a war with others of the states, assisted by the king of Denmark. An army of sixty thousand men was raised by the Protestant party, and placed under the command of Christian, Duke of Brunswick, and the able Count Mansfeldt. The imperial forces under Tilly were unable, without reinforcements, to cope with such an enemy; and as Ferdinand's resources were exhausted by the expenses of former campaigns, his position was one of great difficulty. In this emergency the empire was saved by the prompt appearance on the stage of a man famous above almost all men of his time, Albrecht of Waldstein, more commonly known by the name of Wallenstein. This extraordinary man was the son of a German baron, and was born in 1583. By birth a Protestant, he was converted in early youth to the Catholic faith. He was remarkable from the first for his haughty, aspiring disposition, and his strange eccentricities. After serving for some time in the imperial armies against the Turks, he returned to Bohemia in 1606, and married a wealthy widow, somewhat advanced in life, who, dying in 1614, left him all her property. In 1617 he raised a body of horsemen, at his own expense, to assist Ferdinand of Gratz, then at war with the Venetians. In this war his munificence, the liberality with which he paid his soldiers, and his military abilities, obtained

« ForrigeFortsæt »