The Fall of the Heilbronn League and the Peace of Prague

Bernhard Retreats

Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar fled the field of Nördlingen, hoping to hold the line of the Rhine with the remnants of his shattered army. On 9 September, 1634 he met reinforcements under Rhinegrave Otto-Ludwig at Göppingen. Together, they fled westward to Heilbronn and thence to Frankfort-am-Main, where the Heilbronn League remained in congress.

Bernhard continued to retreat, in October, 1634 reaching Mainz and thence across the Rhine to the Lower Palatinate. The League princes retreated with their army from Frankfort-am-Main to Mainz. By then, Imperial forces had occupied most of the lands of the League’s members. The Heilbronn League, which was to have been the bulwark of the Corpus Evangelicorum was reduced to a band of landless refugees.

The Imperial Advance

Into the vacuum left by Saxe-Weimar’s retreating forces, the triumphant Habsburgs advanced. After Nördlingen the armies divided, for although Ferdinand of Hungary wished his Spanish cousin to aid him in Germany, the Cardinal-Infante insisted on marching toward the Low Countries.

Franconia, Swabia and Württemberg fell to the Spanish and Imperial forces almost without a shot fired. Ferdinand of Hungary led his armies westward across Würtemburg: on 15 September, 1634 they took Göppingen, on the 16th, Heibronn, and on the 20th, the Würtemburg’s capital of Stuttgart.

The Spanish, assisted by German’s under Piccolomini, moved equally swiftly toward the Rhine: they took Rothenburg on 18 September, 1634, Aschaffenburg on the 30th and Schweinfurt on 15 October. The remaining anti-Imperial forces in northern Germany were thus separated from their allies to the southwest, a condition which was to persist for years.

The French Garrison the Rhineland

In their weakness the Swedes, the Heilbronn princes and the Rhineland towns could only look to France for aid. The French sought to strengthen their position in the Rhineland by negotiating separately with the disorganized remnants.

French Diplomacy

On 9 October, 1634, Colmar and the Alsatian cities agreed to occupation by French garrisons under Marshal de La Force. The Swedes and Heibronners had sent an embassy to Paris to drive a hard bargain in return for Alsace, but faced with the 9 October treaty, they were forced to make concessions.

The Treaty of Paris

On 1 November, 1634, the French, Swedes and Heilbronn members entered into the Treaty of Paris. The French promised a current subsidy of 1,000,000 livres and military assistance. Further, if France finally went to war with the Emperor, it would put an army of 12,000 men into Germany. In return, the Heilbronners agreed to countenance Catholicism wherever it existed in 1618, to refrain from warring on such princes as France should call friend and to recognize the rights of the French to garrison Alsace.

Oxenstierna refused to ratify the treaty and continued to negotiate with the French, seeking better terms.

The net result was that the French were left as masters of the Alsace and the Rhineland. This they were not long to enjoy.

Further Imperial Advances

The Swedes and French are Penned on the Left Bank of the Rhine

The Imperials continued to press forward. Charles of Lorraine and Johann von Werth threatened the French positions in Lorraine. To meet this threat, de la Force pulled his troops back, leaving the Rhineland dangerously exposed.

The Imperialists were swift to take advantage of this weakness. On 24 January, 1635 they took Phillipsburg, and on 2 February, Speier. On 22 February, 1635, the remnant French forces moved to the left bank of the Rhine followed swiftly by Saxe-Weimar’s troops. The Franco-Swedish troops were able to recover Speier on 21 March, 1635. Nonetheless, they found themselves confined to the left bank of the Rhine. It was to be years before they could establish themselves across the river again.

The Treaty of Compeignes

Oxenstierna’s patience in negotiating with Richelieu was rewarded when the Franco-Swedish Treaty of Compeignes was signed on 19 April, 1635. While similar to the Treaty of Paris, it granted significant additional rights, including recognition of Swedish suzerainty over Worms and Mainz and toleration for Protestantism.

The French Declare War on Spain

The Kidnapping of the Elector of Trier

Phillip-Christopher von Sötern, Elector of Trier and Bishop of Speier, had placed himself under French protection early in 1632. As the situation in the Rhineland grew more chaotic, Spanish forces stationed in Luxembourg decided to strike at this French ally. On 26 March, 1635, Spanish raiders captured both Trier and its Elector.

France’s Declaration

Such an attack on a prince under French protection could not go unanswered. The French determined to declare war on Spain. On 26 May, 1635 a herald appeared in Brussels and read out a declaration of war. France and Spain were to remain at war until 1659.

The Peace of Prague

The Preliminaries of Pirna

Johann-Georg of Saxony had never been a willing opponent of the Emperor. At the instance of his brother-in-law, Georg of Hesse-Darmstadt, he had opened negotiations with the Emperor at Leitmaritz. He had continued to negotiate even while his armies had invaded Bohemia in the summer of 1634. The invasion had required the negotiations be moved to Pirna when the Swedes took Leitmaritz, but still the talks went on.

These negotiations finally bore fruit in a tentative agreement, the “Preliminaries of Pirna,” agreed on 24 November, 1634. An armistice between the Saxon and Imperial forces was reached at Laun the same day.

Ferdinand II Determines to Abandon the Edict of Restitution

The talks broke up in January, 1635. While the talks were suspended, the Emperor determined whether to accept the weakening of the Edict of Restitution required by the Preliminaries.

The one great difference between Elector and Emperor had always been the Edict of Restitution. While the Emperor’s confessor, Lamormaini, had insisted that Ferdinand’s very soul depended on recovering every foot of Church land, the Empress’s confessor, Quiroga, took a more flexible view.

Ferdinand, after consulting with a score of theologians and the Catholic Electors, finally decided that the Edict could be abandoned in part. Neither the objections of Lamormaini and the Jesuit theologians, nor of Maximilian I of Bavaria and his brother the Elector of Cologne, dissuaded Ferdinand from making the peace.

The Final Treaty

The Pirna talks resumed on 2 April, 1635 at Prague. The final treaty, the “Peace of Prague” was agreed on 30 May, 1635 and ratified on 15 June, 1635.

Continued deterioration in the anti-Imperial military situation between November, 1634 and the date of signing led to the Emperor’s terms being stiffened somewhat, but the basic terms of the Peace were the same as those of the Preliminaries.

Terms of the Peace

The basic terms of the Peace were a forty-year suspension of the Edict of Restitution, restoration of some lands taken under it, amnesty for rebels who would adhere to the Peace, and concession of Lusatia to the Elector of Saxony. In return, armed leagues among Imperial subjects and treaties with foreign powers were alike forbidden and adherents to the Peace were obliged to place their military forces at the Emperor’s disposal.

The Edict of Restitution

Under the terms of the Peace, the Edict was abandoned in part, with recovery of lands held by Protestants in November, 1627 suspended for 40 years. The selection of 1627 as the normaljahre protected the Northern German Protestant princes (whose lands had not then been reclaimed) while abandoning the interests of the South German Protestants. However, not all was lost for the Roman Church. The bishoprics of Halberstadt, Bremen and Verden were to remain in the hands of the Habsburg and Wittelsbach bishops who held them.

Accession and Amnesty

The Peace was open to almost any ruler who cared to sign on to its terms. In return, amnesty and restoration of titles would be given them. The sole exceptions were princes in arms against the Emperor prior to Gustavus’s landing. Practically this excluded only the heirs of the Winter King and of Baden-Durlach.

Concessions to Saxony

Saxony was rewarded with the permanent cession to it of Lusatia, which it had held in mortgage for expenses incurred in the invasion of Bohemia in 1621, in return for cancellation of the Emperor’s duty to pay those expenses. In addition, the rights of Lutheran worship in Silesia were confirmed. Johann-Georg also received certain lands previously held by the Bishopric of Magdeburg, and confirmation of one of his relatives as administrator.

Accessions to the Peace

By late summer 1635, most of the German rulers and cities had acceded to the peace. Only Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel refused and he was maintaining a wary neutrality.

{Home}