The Bohemian Rebellion Crushed
The Golden Bull of 1365 fixed in minute detail the election of a Holy Roman Emperor and the precedence of his electors. Matthias was dead, and the chaos in his eastern realms would not prevent the election of his successor. As his duty demanded, the Elector-Archbishop of Mainz sent out the summons for the meeting of the Electors, the Kürfurstentag, to be called to order on 28 July 1619 at Frankfort-am-Main.
Ferdinand, in his capacity as King of Bohemia, was an Elector. In his capacity as Habsburg he was also the leading candidate; it had been centuries since anyone other than a member of the House of Austria had ascended the Imperial throne. Accordingly, Ferdinand set out from Vienna on 11 July 1619.
He arrived in Frankfurt on 28 July 1619, having endured on his journey the importunings of Lord Doncaster, dispatched by James I of England with offers of unwelcome mediation in the Bohemian quarrel.
The Electors, like the Empire, were divided in religion. The three religious electors, the Electors of Mainz, Trier and Cologne were Catholic, as was Ferdinand. The Elector of Saxony was a Lutheran; the Electors of Brandenburg and the Palatinate Calvinist.
The Elector Palatine tried to delay the election, fearing (rightly) that an Imperial Ferdinand would put an end to the Bohemian rebellion. Firstly he sought to have the Kürfurstentag adjourned, and when that failed, he sought to have the Bohemian matter settled as a precursor to the election. This delayed matters, but not for long. Ferdinand consented that the Electors should mediate between him and the Bohemian Estates. The date of the election was set for 28 August 1619.
When the day came, each of the Electors (other than the Elector Palatine) cast his vote for Ferdinand. In the end, isolated, even the ambassador of the Palatinate cast his vote for Ferdinand. Ferdinand of Styria, by unanimous vote, had become Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor.
The Imperial dignity was among the most powerful weapons in Ferdinand's arsenal. Over the ensuing eighteen years, he ruled entirely by Imperial fiat. He punished his foes and rewarded his allies based entirely on his expansive view of his Imperial powers.
As the Imperial election was getting underway, Frederick’s diplomats were attempting to procure allies for the Bohemians.
Frederick was head of the Protestant Union, a military alliance of some of the more militant German Protestant principalities. The Union met in June 1619 in Heilbronn. The Bohemians petitioned them for aid, but received no more than a guaranty of a 200,000 florin loan and a promise to raise troops to impede the passage of Imperial troops from Flanders.
Charles-Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, had been one of the few supporters of the Bohemian cause to actually do something. He had supplied Mansfeldt’s army and had secretly served as its paymaster until his role was discovered after the battle of Záblati. Frederick attempted persuade him to restore his support. Since none of the greater European powers was willing to embrace the Bohemian cause, Savoy was willing only to supply limited support, which was conditioned on the Palatinate supplying the Bohemians an army and supporting Savoy in a bid for the Bohemian throne.
On 8 July 1619, another meeting of the Bohemian Estates was opened. It was also attended by representatives of Moravia, Silesia and the Lusatias. All of these states agreed on 31 July 1619 to the “Act of Confederation” which bound their states together as on a loose federal basis. The constitutions of the confederates were also adjusted to give all of the states a right to elect the Bohemian King and to strictly circumscribe the authority of that King once elected.
That done, the estates turned to the fate of the King they had.
On 19 August 1619, the Estates of Bohemia, Lusatia, Moravia and Silesia declared Ferdinand deposed as their King. There were three possible candidates for the newly vacant throne: Charles-Emmanuel of the Savoy, who both desired the throne and had served the Bohemian cause with arms and gold; Johann-Georg, who claimed not to want the throne at all and Frederick Elector Palatine, who had intrigued for the Bohemians (most unsuccessfully) and would be given the throne in the hope that at least one of his relatives (who comprised most of the Protestant rulers of Europe) would assist him and his new Kingdom.
Frederick polled his potential supporters. Frederick’s ownProtestant Union, assembled at Rothenburg on 12 September 1619, produced but few who approved of his taking the throne. None of his relatives, particularly his father-in-law James I of England, would support him.
The Estates offered the Elector Palatine the crown of the realms on 26 August 1619. He hesitated on the edge of the abyss, but urged on by his Calvinist God and his ambitious wife, he finally accepted the proferred diadem on 25 September and was crowned on 4 November 1619.
Of the other candidates, the Savoy withdrew its support immediately. Johann-Georg’s revenge would come later.
Transylvania marched on the lands of both the Ottoman Turks and the Habsburgs. As such, it was controlled by neither. Its ruler was Gabriel Bethlen, known to history as Bethlen (or Bethlem) Gabor. Gabor was a Calvinist as well as an opportunist, and his interests as both such were aroused by the Bohemian rebellion.
In August, 1619 he raised and army and pressed into Habsburg Hungary. The Hungarians were both Protestant and discontented with Ferdinand’s rule. Gabor was thus able to take Kaschau on 5 September 1619 and Pressburg (Bratislava) on 12 October. At the news that Hungary was lost, the Emperor fled Vienna to the greater safety of Gratz.
After the battle of Záblati, Bucquoy and the Imperial armies had been advancing inexorably into Bohemia. On 29 September 1619, Bucquoy heard of Gabor’s advance and immediately marched south. He joined with Dampierre’s army in Moravia and headed for Vienna. The Imperial forces were pursued by Hohenloe’s unpaid and mutinous Bohemian army and Moravian forces under Thurn. The armies clashed and Ulmkirchen on 24 October 1619. Bucquoi crossed the Danube on 25 October 1619 and, by destroying the bridges, kept the rebels at bay beyond the river while he took up a defensive position near Vienna.
Hohenloe and Thurn then went to Bratislava to cement their alliance with Bethlen Gabor. The Transylvanian dispatched an envoy to Prague, who made extreme demands for money now and titles later. Despite this unsuccessful embassy, the Bohemian forces and Bethlen’s army determined to unite. On 21 November 1619, the Bohemian and Moravian armies crossed the Danube at Bratislava and, combined with Bethlen’s forces marched on Vienna. By the end of November, the armies were outside the city walls.
The siege of Vienna was abruptly lifted on 5 December 1619, as armies of Bethlen Gabor and the Bohemians retreated to Bratislava. Gabor had been told that Transylvania was being invaded by Cossacks raised in Poland. Bethlen found such a threat to his rear was unsustainable, and he was compelled to retreat.
The Bohemain forces fell back into Upper Austria, whose Protestant populace promptly joined them in rebellion. The Habsburg forces and the rebels spent the winter there in a destructive and ultimately pointless back and forth war.
Bethlen fell back on Bratislava, where, on 15 January 1620, he strengthened his hold over Hungary by contriving to have himself elected Prince. The Emperor determined to negotiate with the Transylvanian. Since Bethlen could not extract support from the Bohemians, he also was willing to treat.
On 16 January 1620 the peace was made, on terms humiliating to the House of Austria. Bethlen received two thirds of the Kingdom of Hungary and a promise from Ferdinand that he would cease warring against the Bohemians and Austrians whenever Bethlen should command it.
The Emperor now had breathing room in which to prosecute his diplomatic offensive.
Maximilian I of Bavaria was the leader of the German Catholics. In 1609, he had organized the Catholic League as a counterweight to the Elector Palatine’s Protestant Union. As the war in Bohemia stretched on, he revived the moribund League. Maximilian was willing to assist the Emperor in the defense of their Catholic faith. He was not, however, willing to do so unreimbursed.
On 8 October 1619, the Emperor and the Bavarian Duke entered into the Treaty of Munich, in which the Bavarian made available his army and the penurious Emperor pledged his ancestral lands for its upkeep.
When the Catholic League convened at Würzberg on 5 December 1620, Maximilian (whose creature the League was) persuaded the League to raise an army, to be employed as the Duke should see fit.
Philip III of Spain had been providing Ferdinand with limited troops and money since the inception of the Bohemian revolt. On 12 January 1620, he agreed to increase his support by an additional 12,000 elite Spanish troops and to pay for an additional army as well.
The Emperor had thus solidified the support of the most powerful Catholic princes without and within Germany. He even received alms from His Holiness Pope Paul V himself; 20,000 florins a month to support the arms of the Prince of Peace.
The enmity between France and the House of Austria had been the one constant of European politics since the Italian Wars of the Fifteenth Century. Nonetheless, the Emperor dispatched an embassy under Fürstenberg to seek assistance from Louis XIII of France.
Louis had Calvinist rebels of his own. In December 1619, against the advice of his council, the French king impetuously announced that he would dispatch an army in aid of his fellow Catholic monarch. Later, this offer was rescinded and the promised army was replaced with a passel of diplomats to mediate between the warring factions.
Ferdinand attempted to rally the Protestant princes to his cause. The only interested parties were Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt and his kinsman the Elector Johann-Georg of Saxony. These were Lutherans of an old fashioned type, fearing Calvinists more than Catholics and willing to submit themselves to Imperial authority.
However, these principles would go only so far. Thus in January, 1620 Johann-Georg began negotiating with the Emperor and his allies in the Catholic League to procure assurances that the secularized bishoprics of the Lower Saxon Circle would not be returned to Catholic rule. The Elector also demanded a mortgage over the Lusatias to defray his expenses and some vague comfort that Lutherans would be protected from the Imperial wrath.
These negotiations culminated in a meeting among the Emperor, the Elector and the League at Mülhausen. On 11 March 1620 all agreed that the Protestant possessors of the Lower Saxon bishoprics should be molested neither by arms nor lawsuit (although they were not conceded a right to vote in the Diet, as their Catholic predecessors had been).
Thus strengthened, on 30 April 1620, the Emperor issued a mandate ordering Frederick to depart Bohemia or face the Imperial ban, a friendless outlaw with each man’s hand turned against him.
The Bohemians had selected Frederick as their King in the hopes that he would attract international support to their cause. The result was the opposite of that intended: the desire of the Spanish and Bavarians for Frederick’s strategic Rhenish lands and exalted Electoral title attracted them to the Imperial banner. Frederick’s attempt to rally support to his new Kingdom were abysmal failures.
Frederick’s father-law, James I, was furious that Frederick had taken the throne. He grudgingly permitted his rabidly Protestant populace to raise aid from their pulpits and permitted passage of a volunteer force under Howard Vere. He would do no more. His Dutch uncles provided more concrete support: 50,000 florins a month, but this is all the Low Countries, racked by dissension and preparing for resumption of the Spanish War, could spare.
The Protestant Union, meeting in Nuremberg in November 1619, expressly refused to ally themselves with the Bohemians or Austrians. They were German princes who would confine their interests to Germany, in whose defense they determined to arm. Consistent with this position, they did state that they would protect Frederick’s Rhenish possessions.
Over the autumn and winter, the Protestant Union and Catholic League had both raised armies. By early May 1620, their forces were engaged in a tense standoff in Southern Germany, with the League forces at Donauwörth and the Union forces twenty miles away at Ulm.
The League and Union began to negotiate. As these negotations progressed, a French embassy appeared at Ulm. These were the diplomats dispatched by Louis XIII in lieu of the army he had originally promised the Emperor.
The French, thinking to defuse the crisis, acted as mediator. On 3 July 1620, the League and Union signed the Treaty of Ulm. The treaty provided that neither League nor Union attack the other within the Empire, although each remained free to make war outside it, in particular in Bohemia. Since the Spanish were not signatories to the treaty, they remained free of any constraints at all. The German Protestant princes had been neutralized.
The result of the diplomatic campaign made the results of the military one a foregone conclusion.
On 24 July 1620, the Catholic League forces under Tilly entered Upper Austria and rapidly suppressed the Bohemians’ rebel allies, taking Linz on 4 August. On 8 September, Tilly entered Lower Austria and joined with the Imperials under Bucquoy. The Imperials dispatched a blocking force under Dampierre into Hungary to distract Bethlen. The main Imperial and Catholic League forces crossed the Bohemian border on 20 September 1620 and struck for Imperial-held Budweis. Joining with Marradas forces there, they pressed on. On 5 October 1620, they by-passed Mansfeldt’s mercenaries, who lay quiescent in Pilsen and struck for Prague.
The Bohemian field army under Thurn had retreated from Moravia into Bohemia. The Imperial forces and the Bohemians met at Rokycany, where they skirmished in late October. The Imperials then eluded the rebels and marched for Prague on 5 November 1620. The Bohemians were constrained to follow.
In late August, 1620 Johann-Georg of Saxony executed his part in the Imperial plan by moving against Lower Lusatia. The Lusatias and Silesia had united their armies under Johann-Georg of Jägerndorf. However, the margraviates capitulated almost without a shot fired. The only action of note was a brief siege of Bautzen, which capitulated to the Saxons on 5 October 1620.
It was not only in his Bohemian lands that Frederick faced defeat. The Spanish army of Flanders, under its great captain, Ambrogio Spínola attacked the Rhenish Palatinate in September, 1620. The Protestand Union forces left to defend the Palatinate were powerless to stop or even hinder the Spanish Army of Flanders, the greates army of the age. Spínola crossed the Rhine on 5 September 1620 and took Kreuznach 10 September 1620 and Oppenheim 14 September.
English volunteers managed to garrison Frankenthal and Mannheim, while a Germano-Dutch garrison held Heidelberg. Other than these remnants, the Palatinate was swiftly passified. Spínola returned to the Netherlands leaving a small force under Cordoba to keep it so.
As the Imperial and Catholic League forces marched toward Prague, the Bohemians under Anhalt tried desparately to catch up and interpose themselves between the enemy and the capital. This they managed to do, taking up a fortified position on a rise near Prague known as the White Mountain.
On 8 November 1620, Tilly at the urging of a Dominican preacher and against the advice of his fellow generals, ordered an assault on the place. The friar proved correct and the rebel army disintegrated within an hour of the attack. The Bohemian rebellion was over and its unfortunate monarch earned his nickname of “Winter King”—Frederick had held his kingdom for little more than that season.