With the defeat of Halberstadt’s army, Tilly’s army was the master of northwest Germany, save for East Friesland which was occupied by the Dutch. Although there was no enemy in sight, Tilly’s army camped menacingly close to the borders of the Lower Saxon Circle.
The Habsburg triumph led inevitably to greater opposition, both within and without the Empire. The foreign powers who were ultimately to be the arbiters of Germany by war’s end, were beginning to interest themselves in Imperial affairs.
During the entirety of the Palatine wars, the Dutch had been the only international opponent of expanded Habsburg power in Western Germany. They had served as sole paymaster for the failed Protestant armies, and for their pains found themselves almost surrounded by Spanish garrisons in the Empire.
The French had in 1623 begun to abandon their pacific policies, sending some subsidies to Mansfeldt. On 26 April, 1624, Richelieu was appointed to the Royal Council and a vigorously anti-Habsburg policy began.
The English meanwhile had also turned against the Spanish and entered into a treaty with the Dutch and French.
The first joint venture of the new allies did not give grounds for optimism. The English commissioned Mansfeldt to recruit an army in England and, with French consent, in France. James I of England wanted the army used to recover the Lower Palatinate and for no other purpose.
With the Spanish besieging the great Dutch fortress of Breda, the French and Dutch demanded the army be diverted to its defense. The French withdrew their permission for free passage of the army, while the Dutch refused to let it land. In the event, the army rotted from desertion and starvation, and even after the pitiful remnants were finally diverted to Breda, the city fell to the Spanish anyway.
Both England and Georg-Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, were eager to include Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Christian IV of Denmark in the grand coalition. This was thoroughly unrealistic in light of the traditional Suedo-Danish rivalry.
Nonetheless, the English attempted to determine the terms on which these kings would lead the attack on the Habsburgs.
Gustavus demanded cession of a port on the Baltic and one on the North Sea. He required a large fleet to be furnished by the Dutch and English. He required an army of 50,000, one third of whose upkeep should be paid by the English. He required money in hand before he would bestir himself.
With Gustavus’s price so high, the English determined to seek alliance with Christian IV of Denmark. Finding Christian’s terms less onerous, in March 1624 the English anointed the Dane as Protestant champion.
Upon appointment of Christian IV to lead the allied forces, Gustavus thereupon refused any further part in the venture and went off to prepare for a new war with Poland.
With Gustavus went Georg-Wilhelm of Brandenburg, who also immediately lost interest in participation in the grand alliance.
Christian IV was not only King of Denmark but, as Duke of Holstein, a Prince of the Empire as well. He viewed the Lower Saxon Circle as his sphere of interest. By the time of the war, his house controlled, or were heirs apparent, to the bishoprics of Bremen, Verden, Halberstadt and Schwerin. He also had blockaded the Hanseatic League city of Hamburg into acknowledging his suzerainty.
These advantages were not unalloyed: the other nobility of the Lower Saxon Circle resented his monopolization of the episcopal sinecures while the Hanseatic cities viewed the submission of Hamburg with alarm.
Christian was blessed with a considerable income, largely from tolls levied on ships passing through the Baltic. Thus, unlike his royal peers, he could act as he willed, without negotiating with importunate estates or suspicious creditors.
Christian was thus free to intervene in Germany under color of right and against the opposition of the Danish nobility.
In April 1625, Christian held at Lauenberg a conclave of his supporters within the Lower Saxon Circle. They determined to raise an army to be placed under Christian’s command.
When this news reached Lüneberg, where the diet (Kreistag) of the Lower Saxon Circle was then in session, the diet promptly elected Christian director (Kreisoberst) of the Circle.
At another meeting of the diet at Brunswick in May, 1625 war was resolved on.
Christian’s success was not unalloyed. The Emperor succeeded in convincing the Hanseatic towns, as well as the dukes of Brunswick-Wölfenbuttel and Lüneberg, to remain neutral in the coming conflict.
Early in 1625 Maximilian I of Bavaria, alarmed by the warlike combination forming in opposition to the Habsburgs and, more importantly, his Catholic League, advised the Emperor to raise an army of his own.
Wallenstein, who had grown rich from the confiscations and currency manipulations following White Mountain, offered to field an army for the Emperor. The army would be raised at Wallenstein’s cost, but its ongoing expenses would be chargeable to Vienna.
Wallenstein received his patent in April, 1625 and began to levy troops. By September, 1625, his army of 20,000 left their assembly point at Eger in northern Bohemia and marched west to Germany.
On 15 July, 1625, at the orders of Maximilian I of Bavaria and with the consent of the Emperor, Tilly crossed the Weser into the Lower Saxon Circle.
Tilly’s forces rapidly advanced as far as Hameln and Minden, leaving a trail of unexampled devastation behind.
By October, 1625 Wallenstein and his troops had reached the Lower Saxon Circle. However, Wallenstein soon retired into winter quarters, occupying the rich Protestant bishoprics of Halberstadt and Magdeburg.
Over the winter, the Danes, English and Dutch formalized their alliance at the Hague, where a treaty among the allies was signed at the Hague in November, 1625. It obliged Christian to maintain an army of 30,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry in the field, while the English undertook to pay a subsidy of 300,000 florins per month, and the Dutch 50,000 florins.
None of the other putative members of the grand coalition joined in this league. Further, Charles I of England was embroiled in disputes with Parliament: he had not paid the subsidies he had previously promised the Danes, nor was he ever to pay these new ones.
In January, 1626, Christian sought and received assurances from Bethlen Gabor that the Transylvanian would make his customary diversionary attack into Moravia and Silesia.
Even as the Hague meeting prepared for war, the Emperor and the League on the one hand and Christian and the member of the Lower Saxon Circle on the other were engaged in desultory peace negotiations at Brunswick. These talks which commenced in October, 1625 and were arranged and mediated by the Johann-Georg of Saxony had no effect whatsoever.
The campaigning season of 1626 found Tilly’s vise tightening on Christian. Christian sent a flying column into Osnabrück; he sent Halberstadt to try to rouse Hesse-Cassel to his cause.
All in vain. The only thing the adventure to Hesse-Cassel accomplished was to give Halberstadt the opportunity to contract the fever which, on 6 June, 1626, laid him in his grave.
Early in 1626, Mansfeldt, unwilling to operate in conjunction with Christian, had marched his army from Friesland through Lübeck and was now operating on the east bank of the Elbe.
Wallenstein too was operating along the Elbe. He had strongly fortified the bridge over that river at Dessau. The place was held for Wallenstein by his lieutenant, Aldringen.
At the beginning of April, 1626, Mansfeldt determined to besiege the crossing. Aldringen, although outnumbered, was well fortified and supplied with artillery. He was able to keep Mansfeldt at bay. Finally, Wallenstein himself came up with reinforcements from his headquarters at Aschersleben.
On 25 April, 1626, Mansfeldt and his besieging troops were attacked and routed. Having lost nearly half his force, Mansfeldt and his remnant troops took up quarters in Brandenburg.
Continuing to tighten the noose on Christian, Tilly captured Göttingen on 5 August 1626. The loss of this strong position left Christian’s army, which had moved forward to relieve the place, exposed. Christian made haste towards his base at Wölfenbuttel with Tilly in hot pursuit.
On 27 August, 1626 at Lutter-am-Bamberg, Christian turned at bay to confront his pursuer. Outnumbered by Tilly’s forces (which had been reinforced by 8,000 of Wallenstein’s soldiers seconded to Tilly), Christian’s army was utterly destroyed.
Christian abandoned Brunswick and moved his headquarters to Stade. His weakened forces still retained Holstein, Bremen and Mecklenburg, however temporarily.
Wallenstein, on the Elbe, was in position to support Tilly’s attacks against the main Danish forces in the Lower Saxon Circle. However, Bethlen Gabor was once again rising to play the role as author of all diversionary attacks.
Demonstrating for one final time his Antean powers of recovery, Mansfeldt managed to recruit his army back up to 10,000, almost the same size it had had prior to the disaster at Dessau Bridge.
Further Christian, hoping to divert Wallenstein’s forces away from the western theater of operations, seconded 7,000 troops under Johann-Ernst of Saxe-Weimar to Mansfeldt’s service.
Thus reinforced, in June, 1626 Mansfeldt moved into Silesia. He marched his army rapidly south on the east bank of the Oder, attempting to make junction with Gabor. The Silesians rose up to welcome the invader and delivered many strong places into his hand, particularly in Upper Silesia.
On 8 August, 1626, Wallenstein sent his armies from Zerbst along the west bank of the Oder in pursuit. Marching 18 or more miles a day, his army, diminished by the rigors of the march, caught up with Mansfeldt in Moravia. Mansfeldt fled across the border to Upper Hungary. There he joined with Gabor, who had risen in rebellion in early August.
Wallenstein followed, but although the two forces were cheek-by-jowl neither had sufficient supplies to hazard battle. By October, 1626, Wallenstein had contrived to negotiate a truce.
Gabor’s Ottoman paymasters had suffered defeat at Persia’s hands before the walls of Baghdad. Deprived of the Porte’s support, Gabor sued for peace, which was, on 28 December, 1626, given by the Treaty of Pressburg (Bratislava).
Mansfeldt, whilst on a mission to recruit the Venetians into becoming the new paymaster for his army, died on 29 November, 1626 in a village outside of Sarajevo. Johann-Ernst soon followed him to the grave. The tattered, leaderless remnants of the Mansfeldt forces retired to their redoubt in Upper Silesia.