by Franz Mehring
Table of Contents
- Preface to the second edition
- I. Introduction
- II. Jesuitism, Calvinism, Lutheranism
- III. The periods of the German Reformation
- IV. The Thirty Years’ War
- V. Gustavus Adolphus’ Swedish Policy
- VI. Gustavus Adolphus’ German campaigns
- VII. Gustavus Adolphus’ historical position
- VIII. The end of the thirty years
- IX. The Gustavus Adolphus cult
Preface to the second edition
When fourteen years ago the three hundredth birthday of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus excited the ruling classes in Germany to fiery hymns to this ravager and devastator of the German lands, while the same ruling classes at the same time set up a roaring campaign of laws of exception against the working class, I believed that through this little pamphlet I could bring forth the historical truth.
At that time some thirty thousand copies of it were distributed, but it has long since disappeared from the book market, so that the publishing house, since there has been repeated demand for it lately, considers a new print to be advisable.
The external causes which brought this pamphlet into being no longer apply, and so the question arose as to whether I should completely remove the traces of its origin and expand it into a detailed history of the Thirty Years’ War. Only after careful consideration I came to the conclusion that I should answer this question in the negative. Without a doubt, the Thirty Years’ War is of much interest for the working class as the final conclusion of the German revolution, which reached its peak in the great peasant war, but precisely for this reason it seems to me to be more useful to explain the main features of the historical connections between the years 1525 and 1648 and thus to uncover the inner fabric of the whole tragedy than to describe its last act in detail; especially since the terrible catastrophe of this last act as such is shocking and instructive, but monotonous in its horrific details, that is after Gustavus Adolphus and Wallenstein left the historical stage.
If my writing was directed against the proposed “Anti-Coup-Law” [Umsturzvorlage] when it first appeared, it was then chosen by the Public Prosecutor in Potsdam as a guinea pig for the sharpness of the reactionary weapons that were to be forged against the proletariat. He charged the Brandenburger Parteiblatt with a violation of Section 131 of the Criminal Code because it had printed some of my sentences which showed that the Hohenzollerns had used the “pure doctrine” [the Lutheran doctrine that is] as a pretext to confiscate church property. According to Paragraph 131, a fine or prison sentence of up to two years is to be imposed on anyone “who publicly asserts or disseminates fabricated or distorted facts, knowing that they are fabricated or distorted, in order to make state institutions or orders of the authorities contemptible”. The Public Prosecutor in Potsdam claimed that the defendant’s violation of this paragraph was as clear as day. The tendency of Social Democracy, he says, is to abolish the monarchy; the fact that dead Hohenzollerns had carried out church robbery under religious pretexts cast a bad light on the living Hohenzollerns, thus the accused wanted to ridicule the state institutions of the monarchy. The accusation of church robbery itself was supposedly fabricated or distorted, which an expert summoned by the Public Prosecutor would confirm under oath. This expert, a Professor Heidemann from the Gray Monastery in Berlin, affirmed under oath that Joachim II had been completely honest and pious when he ransacked church property in the Mark Brandenburg.
For the accused, the responsible editor of the Brandenburger Zeitung, who had been put under pressure with accusations of treason and through highly embarrassing house searches in the editorial office and in his private apartment, the matter seemed all the worse as he had not found a single lawyer who wanted to plead other than “poor education” on behalf of the accused. At the last moment, however, a judicial councilor from Potsdam took over the defense, an elderly gentleman from those happy times when civil education was still a fact and not a phrase. He warned the Tribunal not to expose itself by ruling on historical questions on which it was neither formally nor materially entitled to a judgment, and ruthlessly dishevelled the so-called expert’s report. The criminal chamber acquitted the accused, “because it had gained the impression from the advisory opinion that the research on these historical questions had not yet been concluded, but that Paragraph 131 had not been violated even if the expert had been right about the historical facts”. Since then, as is well known, the Leipzig judiciary has made enormous progress that is decidedly necessary for the reputation of the German administration of justice – it has recognized that uttering historically incontestable but morally unpleasant facts about dead majesties is a criminal offense against their living descendants.
At the same time, a venerable clergyman of the regional church undertook a more harmless, but not more ingenious attack on my writing – he published an endless series of articles against them in some church or district newspaper and repeated the old chatter for the ten-thousandth time about the “religious hero” Gustavus Adolphus, who had come to Germany to save the Protestant religion.
The Amsterdam professor Kernkamp was again irked by the historical-materialistic method, which he tried to refute by example of my writing in his 1901 inaugural address: “Over de materialistische Opvattung van de Geschiedenis”; I read about it in the “Nieuwe Tijd”, the weekly newspaper of our Dutch comrades, happy to deal with him, but his objections are too familiar to the German readers for me to dwell on them again.
In Germany, the bourgeois criticism, insofar as it wanted to actually deal with my writings, was disgruntled by the fact that I wanted to make a “national hero” out of Wallenstein. This criticism itself is again a bit disingenuous; I had expressly objected to the meaning of “national heroes” in the common, modern sense of the word, which I made clear: “as far as a national hero was even at all possible at that time”. Even now I cannot accept the common wisdom of bourgeois historiography, according to which Wallenstein was a “homeless condottiere”, a “historical adventurer”. Wallenstein strived for the same thing for Germany that Richelieu achieved for France at the same time: the establishment of an absolute monarchy on national soil as a secular unit that stood above the ecclesiastical contradictions. Here, too, one must judge man according to his actions, not the actions according to the man. Wallenstein was not an adventurer or a fantast who only knew how to play with big things, but because the big things that he pursued in deeply elaborated and broad plans were impossible in Germany, he got involved in adventurous and fantastical politics that drew him into a tragic downfall.
Richelieu was no more an ideal figure than Wallenstein, and as a “traitor” in the sense of loyal historiography, he could easily compete with him. Like Wallenstein, he held a splendid court and also paid his own guard, at whose head he appeared before the king. Of course, his kinsman was a much more depressing individual than that of Wallenstein, but instead, Richelieu had an all the more fierce opponent in the energetic mother of the weak-headed king, and the confessors of the Paris court schemed against him no less than the confessors of the Viennese court schemed against Wallenstein. Richelieu, like Wallenstein, was, in spite of his priestly dignity, generalissimo of the army, which he led in armor and with pistols in holster, according to his will and not according to the will of the king. The two men had such a different fate because Richelieu only had to bring to an end the half-completed centralization that was deeply rooted in the economic conditions of France, while Wallenstein was unable to reverse a half-completed decentralization that was deeply rooted in the economic conditions of Germany.
To a certain extent, there is another criticism related to this, which was expressed to me by friends as well, namely that I have painted Protestantism versus Catholicism with all too gloomy colours. I do not necessarily want to assert the baselessness of this blame; if one grew up in purely Protestant areas and was educated in Protestant schools, as soon as one comes to understand these religious contradictions one judges slightly milder the punches which one did not feel oneself. In this respect, it is probably no coincidence that those party comrades who accuse me of being too biased against Protestantism grew up in purely Catholic areas and were educated in Catholic schools, so perhaps judge Protestantism too favourably on their part. In the meantime, I do not want to resist this accusation for long, especially since the praise of the opponents convinces me even more than the rebuke of the friends: My little pamphlet was distributed by the Austrian Ultramontanes in order to fight the Away-from-Rom movement, a cause which I did not strive for and which I deeply regret, and I have gladly emphasized the sins of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in this new print with a few heavier strokes.
In the essence of the matter, of course, I cannot change my opinion. Protestantism once entered history as the religious disguise of a bourgeois and even plebeian revolution; to that extent it undoubtedly represented a historical advance which it would be unjust and imprudent to obscure or diminish. But it was just the ideological superstructure of an economic development that took place in the most varied of ways, not without serious setbacks, and accordingly also reshaped its world of thought. Conversely, Catholicism proved its tried and tested skill of adapting to the most varied economic conditions and also of providing historical developments with the intellectual material they needed. In order to understand these centuries-long struggles, one cannot get by with the tired template: Here Catholicism! Here Protestantism! It is not enough to praise or blame the one or the other, but one must try to understand the one and the other according to the spinozist word, and that is precisely what I have tried in my writing. I may have only succeeded to a more or less modest degree, but I still consider the method to be correct, and I cannot agree if one of my social democratic critics, Comrade Hugo Schulz in Vienna, in his excellent and highly readable work: Blood and iron, especially in the portrayal of the Thirty Years’ War, argues that Protestantism undoubtedly contains elements of freedom that Catholicism completely lacks; he says, the educational tendencies of Protestantism, for all the intellectual poverty of its leading minds, had a popular, broader character; the Jesuits, on the other hand, had deliberately neglected popular education, while the Protestant ideal that everyone should be able to read the Bible favoured the populus at least relatively.
In my opinion, these general propositions are insufficient as yardsticks for historical judgment; they apply more or less under certain historical conditions, but not at all under other historical conditions. Where did the bourgeois enlightenment fight its mightiest battles and win its most brilliant victories? Not in Protestant Germany and not even in Protestant England, but in Catholic France. The view of Comrade Hugo Schulz can be explained by the fact that he judges unilaterally from the Austrian point of view and ascribes effects to Catholicism and Protestantism as religious worldviews which they did not have as such, but which they only covered as religious banners of secular struggles and, if one may use the overly flattering expression, have transfigured. The in itself indisputable fact that the bourgeois enlightenment, insofar as it came into being in Germany, was rooted in the Protestant but not in the Catholic areas of the country can easily lead to great misunderstandings, although a glance at France shows that this phenomenon had a different cause than that supposed freer world view of the Protestants.
The last chance to establish Germany as a secular monarchy above denominational differences had failed forever in the Thirty Years’ War. The religious quarrel remained, so to speak, a constituent element of German anarchy; secular despotism was based on the church, and it was church power through which it sought to establish itself in the innumerable sovereign states into which Germany was split up after the Peace of Westphalia. This was no different in the Protestant territories than in the Catholic ones, only with the difference that the Catholic world church provided completely different means of power than the Protestant regional churches so that the large Austrian state could do business with the Catholic means of power very differently than the medium-sized and small states with the curses of their parsons. The Catholic reaction in Austria was a machine of oppression which far surpassed anything that could be achieved by the Protestant reaction both in hideousness and in effectiveness, and it is perfectly understandable that Austrians are still full of violent anger when looking back at this shameful time.
But despite this, it should not be overlooked that the Protestant despots and their spiritual accomplices in Germany did not lack the will, but only the power to successfully emulate the Catholic model. The descendants of Luther were much more obedient royal servants than the Catholic prelates, and they were as little inferior to them in fanatical intolerance as they were in clerical narrow-mindedness. While discerning Jesuits such as Friedrich Spee had already opposed the witch trials, a famous intellectual of the Protestant University of Leipzig sent 20,000 witches to the stake, but read the entire Bible fifty-three times while doing so, which shows the intellectual and moral effect of such reading quite plainly. Later, of course, another Leipzig professor, Christian Thomasius, became the most effective fighter of the witch trials, but he too declared that it was the princes’ right to chase all the countrymen who, in their view, were heretical-minded, across the border, and that was precisely what then justified the disgraceful deeds of the Austrian Jesuits.
In practice, this Catholic and Protestant addiction to persecution could only not be carried out in the same magnitude because the Protestant zealots could not allow themselves the luxury of depopulating the more or less narrowly limited possessions of the Protestant despots – the Jesuits on the other hand had no problem with depopulating the Salzkammergut and other Austrian landscapes. There were of course other compelling reasons for this protestant “tolerance”; because the Prussian king was recruiting in bulk in those regions, “everyone in his states” could be spiritual in line with their own beliefs. The mutual jealousy between these petty despots also played a major role in this; when Thomasius was thrown out of Leipzig by the Orthodox Lutherans, his Prussian neighbour settled him in his hall, not out of enlightenment convictions but rather in order to lure the Leipzig students across the border. Soon after, Professor Christian Wolff was expelled from Leipzig in a much more disgraceful manner than Thomasius – namely with immediate punishment – because of a harmless philosophical sentence that was misunderstood by the Prussian king.
So, if the bourgeois enlightenment was able to penetrate only into the Protestant, but not into the Catholic regions of Germany, and especially not into Austria, it is not due to any “elements of freedom” that Protestantism has over Catholicism, but rather the fact that Protestant intolerance was unable to close off the borders of the territories over which it ruled as hermetically as Catholic intolerance was able to. How, by the way, Protestantism mistreated the bourgeois enlightenment, from Thomasius and Wolff to Kant and Lessing, is well known. Braunschweig’s Protestants have devastated Lessing’s old age just as much as the Württembergian Protestants Schiller’s youth; the Protestant Zealots have done no less in denouncing Herders and Kant; they even attacked one of our classics, Winckelmann, to such an extent that he only knew to throw himself into the arms of the Catholic Church, which then enabled him to develop his abilities.
But there may be enough of these hints. They show how little Protestantism in itself and once and for all deserves a preference over Catholicism; It always depends only on the classes or the class factions that fight with one another under this religious flag – and the German princes who wrestled with one another at the time of the Thirty Years’ War, as before and after it, were equal to one another in their Catholic and Protestant factions, even if otherwise it is not easy to show a rabble in history that would be equal to both.
So I left the text unchanged in all essentials, but carefully looked through it stylistically and also expanded or improved some of the factual details.
Steglitz-Berlin, March 1908. F. M.
On December 9, 1894, three hundred years will have passed since Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus was born. The ruling classes in Sweden want to celebrate Remembrance Day with a so-called national festival, and the ruling classes in Germany are preparing for a similar cultural act. The Prussian minister of culture has ordered prayers for the day in the churches as well as commemorative speeches in the schools, and whatever the organs of the liberal bourgeoisie can still concede in breathing time after their violent cries for laws of exception against the working classes, they spend on glorifying Gustavus Adolphus, whom they celebrate as “Lion of Midnight”, as “Liberator of Germany”, as “Savior of the Gospel”, as “Valuable Fighter for God”. It is true: one bourgeois party is not participating, namely the Ultramontane; they scold Gustavus Adolphus as wholeheartedly as the conservative, liberal and, last but not least, semi-governmental papers praise him. But it is only a protest of a minority that is not currently in power, and what matters most to them are religious questions with which the proletariat has nothing to do.
But – one might ask – what does all this spectacle have to do with the German workers? None of them will hear the memorial sermons about Gustavus Adolphus in the churches. And if the working-class children in the schools on December 9th get to hear some nonsense about the Swedish king, it will evaporate in the bright minds of the proletarian spawn just as quickly as all the other fairy tales that are given to them as supposed history lessons. In addition, the Gustavus Adolphus cult already has the ultramontane barb in the flesh; shouldn’t the proletariat also say what Ulrich Hutten said about the monks’ bickering of his time: eat yourselves so that you may be eaten by one another? We can only answer these questions thoroughly at the end of our presentation; For the time being, it will suffice to point out that the German working class, at the current level of development, must not allow any opportunity to pass by to prove their intellectual superiority over the ruling classes. It can achieve, which neither the Catholic nor the Protestant historical architects can achieve, that is to measure a historical figure like Gustavus Adolphus with a scientific standard.
In addition, the socialist literature still lacks an investigation of the Thirty Years’ War on the basis of the materialist conception of history, and we shall see how much clarifying light such an investigation throws on the struggles of the present.
II. Jesuitism, Calvinism, Lutheranism
It has become common to call the Thirty Years’ War a religious war. But even a cursory glance at its external course shows that this opinion is untenable. The European outcome of the war was the replacement of Spanish by French supremacy, and France was as much a Catholic power as Spain. The Protestant princes in Germany were under the protection of the Catholic King of France and even the Great Turk in Constantinople. When Gustavus Adolphus broke into Germany, ostensibly to save Protestantism, the Protestant Netherlands denied him their alliance, but the Pope’s blessing was at his side. And so there are dozens of cases in which Catholics fought against Catholics, Protestants against Protestants, Catholics for Protestants, Protestants for Catholics.
But one would spill the baby with the bath water if one were to say that religion had nothing to do with the Thirty Years’ War. Numerous rallies by the fighters contradict this. Countless people have died enthusiastically for the Holy Mother of God or for “pure doctrine” or some other religious symbol that we no longer understand today. If dozens of cases can be cited in which co-religionists fought with one another, then dozens of cases can also be cited in which the religious denomination divided or united. England and Holland fought under the Protestant banner against Catholic Spain, while Jesuitism linked Spain with Austria. The claim that one must leave religion out of the game in order to properly appreciate the Thirty Years’ War is as perverse as the claim that this war was a religious war. Historical materialism in no way denies, as perfidious or ignorant people accuse it of, that religious enthusiasm had played a big part in the story. Rather, it fully recognizes this mainspring of historical development. It only asserts that it is no more than any other ideology the ultimate reason for this development, which can only be sought in the economic field.
In this guide you will find the way out of that hopeless thicket of contradictions that everyone must get into who wants to take the religious point of view either exclusively or not at all into account when judging the Thirty Years’ War. According to Marx, it is important to distinguish between the material upheaval in the economic conditions of production and the ideological forms in which people become aware of this conflict and fight it. These forms were predominantly religious in the seventeenth century, no longer as strongly religious as in the sixteenth, but much more religious than in the eighteenth century, at the end of which the French Revolution first threw off the religious shell completely and took place in purely secular forms of thought. But if one asks why the European classes and peoples from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century became aware of their material contradictions in religious form, the answer is: because in the collapse of the Roman world empire, the Christian church left the remnants of ancient culture for these classes and peoples saved, because for a millennium it directed the entire material life of the European West, because it had thus also completely permeated this life with religious spirit.
The medieval church was an economic power under religious forms. This power had to disintegrate as soon as its particular conditions of production disintegrated: namely, the feudal. The feudal conditions of production collapsed, the faster the capitalist mode of production grew. Since the Communist Manifesto, this world-historical process has been presented so thoroughly and so frequently in socialist literature that we can assume that our readers are familiar with it. A tremendous upheaval in the mode of production fundamentally changed the attitude of the European peoples towards the medieval church. From a lever of feudal relations, this church turned into an obstacle to capitalist production. She no longer performed her previous services, but still claimed the compensation for these services. The more the law that had once stood behind this power dissolved in an empty haze, the more stubbornly it clung to its power. The Roman Curia sucked the last drop from the veins of the peoples, the last marrow from the bones. For all of them, a confrontation with the papacy became an inexorable necessity.
This struggle with an economic power that ruled under religious forms could only take place as an economic resistance under religious forms. In the Middle Ages, theology had permeated all thinking, all teaching, all sciences, insofar as they could then be spoken of. The beginnings of a purely secular education arose in humanism, but they were caviar for the people. Humanism could not even provide the ruling classes with the necessary civil servants; they still relied on clergy for their governmental and administrative purposes. Even more: the decline of the medieval church initially led to an increase in religious passion. The Catholic clergy are just as right in their own way when they say that the “pure doctrine” of the Reformation led to the ungodliness of social democracy, just like the Protestant clergy are right in their own way when they say that “pure doctrine” has brought about an internalization and deepening of religious feeling, not least in Catholicism. Except that the Catholic clergy see a little further than the Protestant.
The more capitalism developed and with it the science of society and nature, the more the secrets of the social and natural life process were revealed, and with it the roots of all religion withered. But these roots initially took on new sap when the medieval natural economy began to succumb to the devastation of the modern monetary and industrial economy amid terrible horrors and the peoples could not explain this revolution, which whipped them with fiery rods, other than by a criminal judgment of supernatural powers. The result was a gloomy and cruel fanaticism of faith that the cheerful Catholicism of the Middle Ages had never known in this way. It seemed to make the European West into a madhouse, which was set on fire in all four corners by its bewitched inmates during the Thirty Years’ War. In the long run, however, it had to disappear with the development of the capitalist mode of production, and by the time of the Thirty Years War the ruling classes more or less already knew that economic facts rule the world and not its religious reflections.
But if the conflict of the European peoples with the papal universal monarchy of the Middle Ages took place under religious forms, these forms had to change depending on the type and strength of the resistance. And what applies to the individual peoples, that applies within the peoples to the individual classes. From the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries there are innumerable churches and sects, all of which settle accounts with Rome, but carry out this settlement in the most varied of ways, depending on the material interests behind them. Any attempt to portray the religious history of these centuries from an ideological point of view as a pure intellectual struggle leads to the most delightful or even hopeless confusion, not least when Catholicism is supposed to play the role of the devil and Protestantism the role of the angel. The nations that remained Catholic had fought Roman supremacy, as did the nations that became Protestant, and professing Catholicism could just as easily represent a high degree of civilization as professing Protestantism could represent a high degree of barbarism. In general, the common contrast between Catholicism and Protestantism in the sense of the old and the new church, of the Middle Ages and the modern age, is quite meaningless, as is immediately apparent when we examine the religious contrasts of the Thirty Years’ War.
The three major religious currents in the first half of the seventeenth century were Jesuitism, Calvinism, and Lutheranism. All three were new churches, differing from the old church like the capitalist from the feudal mode of production. All three grew out of a common ground. Calvinism and Lutheranism differ ideologically only through dogmatic hair-splitting: whether bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper represents or actually is the flesh and blood of Jesus and the like. Loyola came to the foundation of the Society of Jesus through the same mental strife that led Luther to his religious break. Both opposed the thievery of the old monastic orders, both rejected the excess of religious exercises. What is said about the Jesuits in matters of blind obedience is found just as intensely or even more so within the Lutheran Church Fathers. On the other hand, Loyola demanded the “freedom of the Christian” just as intensely or even more so than Luther, because despite all the strict discipline, the Society of Jesus favored and promoted the individual independence of its members. To slaughter millions and millions of people over these religious differences seems to only be possible in a madhouse. But behind these religious differences stood the economic contradictions of Europe at that time.
Jesuitism was Catholicism reformed on a capitalist basis. In the most economically developed countries, such as Spain and France, the needs of the capitalist mode of production had given rise to great monarchies, to which nothing was closer than to free themselves from Roman exploitation, but also nothing further than to break with Rome. After the French and Spanish kings had emancipated themselves economically from Rome, so that the popes were not allowed to withdraw a penny from their countries without their permission, they remained loyal sons of the church in order to exploit ecclesiastical power for their own purposes. Hence the endless wars of the French and Spanish kings for possession of Italy. Meanwhile, if the Roman Church was to remain fit for world domination, it had to be put from its feudalist onto capitalist feet, and that was done by the Society of Jesus. Jesuitism adapted the Catholic Church to the new economic and political conditions. It reorganized the entire school system through classical studies, the highest education that existed at that time; it became the largest trading company in the world, which had its offices as far as the earth was discovered; it provided advisers to the princes who ruled in service. In a word, Jesuitism became the driving force of the Roman Church, while the papacy sank into an Italian principality which, a plaything of the secular powers, sought to extract as much as possible from their conflicting interests for its own secular interests.
Loyola and his first allies came from Spain, for a long time Europe only knew the Jesuits by the name of the Spanish priests. And that’s easy enough to explain. Spain was the first world power in the sixteenth century. The Spanish King Charles also wore the German crown, he was powerful in Italy, he owned the treasures of both the West and East Indies. Although he did not succeed in bequeathing the German crown to his son, Philip still remained the most powerful monarch of his time; in Germany he also kept the rich Netherlands and the Free County of Burgundy, today’s Franche-Comte. As the first world power, Spain had to be the most absolute monarchy, and it became the most absolute monarchy through ecclesiastical power; in particular, the inquisition was a formidable weapon of royal power under religious forms. But what allowed the Spanish monarchy to outgrow its French rival so quickly also destroyed the actual sources of its strength. Absolutism corresponded only temporarily, by no means permanently, to the interests of the capitalist mode of production. To the rich cities it was not an end but a means, and as soon as it thought of establishing itself they strongly reminded it that it was only existing because of their grace. In this struggle, the gain for absolutism could be even more disastrous than the loss. Under Philip, the Spanish world power began to bleed to death in the revolt of the Dutch cities, but fifty years earlier the victory that Charles had achieved over the Spanish communes at Villalar and the devastation of the Spanish cities, with which the Inquisition complemented this victory, created the conditions that should remove Spain from the ranks of the great European powers.
The religious banner under which the Dutch cities began their fight against Spanish absolutism was Calvinism. It was also the religious banner of the French cities against French absolutism. A child of the wealthy trading city of Geneva, it corresponded to the interests of the most advanced city citizens through its democratic church constitution. Compared to the absolutist-capitalist Society of Jesus, one can call it the bourgeois-capitalist religion. This in no way contradicts the fact that parts of the nobility in France and the Netherlands professed Calvinism. They had more or less common interests with the rebellious cities and therefore fought under the same flag. But wherever Calvinism is an inspiring and fanatical power, it is rooted in the cities, and bourgeois interests are in the foreground. When Richelieu took control of the rudder of the French state six years after the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, he easily won over the noble elements of the Huguenots, but he had to wage a persistent war with their urban elements until he captured their main fortress, Rochelle, in 1628 after a fortnightly siege. Although a cardinal of the Roman Church, Richelieu was at a disproportionately higher level of historical development than the Spanish King Charles a hundred years earlier. He did not smash the French cities after he had overthrown them, but rather reconciled with them by satisfying the political claims which they could make according to the state of the economic balance of power. This was the deepest reason why France quickly wrested European supremacy from its Spanish rival.
Finally, Lutheranism was the religion of the economically backward countries which had been most heavily exploited by Rome, but could least think of ruling Rome or destroying Rome, which therefore had to break completely with it, but in the great contests for it’s heritage could not intervene at all or only indirectly. Lutheranism prevailed in northern and eastern Germany, in Denmark, in Sweden. They are countries with a relatively low urban development and a strong supremacy of the nobility. Capitalist development is only slowly working its way out of the feudal chaos. It does not yet create a revolutionary bourgeoisie, on the other hand it turns the landowner into a squire and the knight into a producer of goods; the church pays with its goods and the peasant pays the bill of “pure doctrine” with boundless misery. The monarchy is not absolute, but limited by estates; in the robbery of church property, the prince must share with the nobility; Soldiers and taxes, the two arms of absolutism, are only granted by the squires insofar as it suits their interests; Under otherwise favourable circumstances, the class struggle between the princes and squires develops into that one-sided military monarchy as we see it in Sweden of the seventeenth and Prussia in the eighteenth century. In accordance with these backward conditions, Lutheranism is a backward religion. Calvin’s main doctrine of the choice of grace and Luther’s main doctrine of salvation through faith alone both reflect the impression of the fact that the capitalist mode of production overturns, undermines, and turns all traditional conditions upside down: man’s fate does not depend on the actions of man, but from God’s counsel, which is inexplicable to human beings. But Calvin’s teaching is historically much more developed. His choice of grace leaves man with absolutely no choice; God decides whether man is born for eternal salvation or for eternal damnation, and therein lies an ingenious premonition of what Lassalle says of the capitalist mode of production: “The one is cast up in this game that the unknown and thusly more uncontrolled powers play with him, high up into the lap of wealth: Hundreds of others are plunged deep into the abyss of poverty, and the wheel of social relationships is crushing them regardless of their actions, their diligence and their labour.” On the other hand, Luther’s doctrine of faith alone without good works, exposes the goods of the church, which are intended for such good works, to the predatory greed of the princes and squires, and takes away the donations of the faithful from the church; but this doctrine does offer the Christian a little gate to salvation through his own will: namely when he believes, when he tramples the “whore called reason” with his feet, when he follows what the Lutheran priests in the service of the squires and princes ask of him. For the princes are the bishops, the squires the patrons of the Lutheran Church. In this, too, Lutheranism differs immensely from the democratic, even republican, church constitution of Calvinism. After that, not much needs to be said about the “spiritual life” of the Lutheran Church: it was a stupid clerical bickering, which the Dutch Calvinists rudely but accurately called a “more than beastly stupidity”.
So much for the major religious currents at the time of the Thirty Years’ War. Emphasis is to be put on the fact that they were conditions of that particular time. For just as the economic conditions are in eternal flux, so are the religions in which they find their ideological expression. Not everything that is true of one religion at one time is true of the same religion at another time. For our task it was only a matter of determining the content of Jesuitism, Calvinism, and Lutheranism in a certain period of time, in a historical cross-section as it were. But in order to prove the correctness of our view, if I may continue the expression, also by means of a longitudinal section, let me take a brief look at England. Like France and Spain, England had achieved its economic emancipation from the Roman chair relatively early on, and accordingly, like those countries, it wanted to rule Rome, but not to break away from Rome. King Henry VIII wrote an angry pamphlet against Luther. But his power was not remotely close to that of the French or the Spanish; he could not force the Pope, who was mostly in Spanish hands, to do his will. So he declared himself head of the English state church, plundered its property for himself and his courtiers, founded a state church in Catholic form, but according to the Lutheran principle, which greatly strengthened his despotism and was associated with the most unbearable evils for the masses. Therefore, under his daughter and successor Marie, a restoration of Roman Catholicism took place as a completely voluntary popular movement. But this Catholicism had now fundamentally changed its inner being; it no longer meant the old jolly England, but the Spanish supremacy, with which the English commercial interests were in ever increasing conflict. Queen Marie tried in vain to blur this contrast through a waterfall of heretic blood; only her early death protected her from being overthrown as cruelly as she was at first joyfully upheld. Her sister and successor Elisabeth immediately restored the state church to everyone’s cheer, i.e. she hoisted the English Protestant flag against the Spanish Catholic flag. Under her long reign, England came to vigorously rule the seas. Hence the indestructible enthusiasm of the English bourgeoisie for the “virginal and Protestant queen,” although this clever person placed only as much value on her religion as on her virginity, namely none at all. But the faster the English naval rule developed, the faster it developed the power of the English cities, which under the limited despotic successors of Elizabeth sought to throw off the yoke of absolutism in general and planted Calvinism as the religious banner of their republican tendencies. They called themselves Puritans because they sought to cleanse the state church from its Catholic and Lutheran components. The bourgeois revolution ended in a compromise; the aristocracy and cities created a new monarchy. Accordingly, the state church remained, but it was strongly Calvinized.
After this exposition on the general basic forms of the religions of the time, we now turn to the German situation.
III. The periods of the German Reformation
The development of the German Reformation depends on two economic facts. First, the conflict of economic interests in different parts of Germany prevented the emergence of a singular nation. The conflicting interests between northern and southern, eastern and western Germany were so great that no unified central authority in the modern sense could develop. Unlike Spain, France and England, the crown did not carry it over the great vassals of the feudal period, but instead the great vassals took advantage of the beginnings of the capitalist mode of production and constituted themselves as modern princes, so to speak, while the empire disintegrated into feudal helplessness. However, the development of the production of goods led to the search for new markets and trade routes, to those great geographical discoveries that shifted world trade from the shores of the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and thus initiated the decline of the northern and southern German cities, and in general the rapid impoverishment of Germany. Without the consideration of these economic facts one will never arrive at a correct understanding of the German Reformation.
It is divided into four periods, the first of which extends until 1525, when the great peasant uprising was crushed. This period includes the shedding of the Roman yoke, which all classes, right down to the clergy, had a more or less great interest in, as well as the futile attempts of some of these classes to establish a national empire in light of the liberation from Rome at the same time. The first requirement for this was to break the power of the partial princes, and this prerequisite would have been fulfilled if the cities had been strong enough to lead the battle to subsequently raise all other elements hostile to the princes – the lower nobility, the peasants, the urban plebeians – around the common goal. But the cities had neither the strength nor the will to do so; they swayed helplessly to and fro. The isolated uprisings, first of the lower nobility under Hutten and Sickingen, then of the peasants and urban plebeians, succumbed to the power of the princes.
The second period of the German Reformation extends from 1525 to 1555, up to the Peace of Augsburg. It includes the victorious princes’ raids and plundering and their complete emancipation from imperial power. The Catholic Church was very rich in Germany; so at least the third part of landed property belonged to her. The “Reformations” of the princes are consequently the robbery of church treasures. Until the terrible bloodletting of the Peasants’ War, a revolutionary train had gone through the German Reformation, from which Luther had not withdrawn; a not even particularly resourceful public prosecutor could, according to today’s criminal law, and by the standards with which the Social Democratic press is measured, easily calculate from Luther’s writings a few hundred years in prison and a few dozen years in a mental institution. In this first period the princes were by no means at the forefront of the Reformation; even Luther’s protector, the prince elector Friedrich of Saxony, was very suspicious of the movement of the masses, and he was still by far the most decent of that society: he was the only one who did not take part in the filthy bargain with which the other electors were selling the German imperial crown to the highest bidding foreigner, just at the same time as a powerful enthusiasm for national independence flamed through the populus. Only when the revolutionary fire in the blood of the peasants was extinguished, did the princes begin to “reform”, that is, to declare themselves supreme bishops of their regional churches, to have Lutheranism developed by their court preachers to become a religion of the feeble-minded and subservient, and above all, to bag the rich church estates.
To take one example, let’s take a look at the Hohenzollern! At the beginning of the sixteenth century, this German dynasty split into two lines: the Brandenburg line and the Frankish line, which ruled in the area of Ansbach and Bayreuth. The Brandenburg line consisted of Joachim I, the prince elector of Brandenburg, and his brother Albrecht, the Archbishop and prince elector of Mainz. They were involved in the sale of letters of indulgence against which Luther spoke up, and therefore remained papal. With the blade of the executioner, Joachim I tried to maintain the Catholic religion in the people of Brandenburg, which, poor as they were, had immediately withdrawn from Roman exploitation and become Protestant. He was plagued by an insatiable greed and in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, the church property was not valuable enough in his eyes that it could have outweighed the splendour of the papal, French and Spanish finances. The desperate French and Spanish negotiators called him the “father of greed” because he, defiling his princely honour over and over, successfully pitted them against each other in the trade for the German crown. His brother Albrecht of Mainz, who, according to Joachim’s unsuspicious testimony, was “only looking for money and profit by all means” was just as mischievous. He neither remained loyal to the Roman Curia, nor was he unfaithful to it, or, as Luther put it, he balanced his religious affiliation “on two shoulders”. As a cardinal of the Roman Church and first spiritual prince of the empire, he took from Rome what he could take from Rome, and he bled out his German lands as much as he could, especially by allowing them to exercise the Lutheran creed against payment of their debts or other payment of large sums of money.
In contrast to the Brandenburgians, the Franconian Hohenzollerns became Protestant very early on. Their head was the Margrave Friedrich, an old gentleman, but of an indestructible health that appeared to his hopeful sons as an unforgivable crime. They attacked him one fine evening and threw him into the hunger tower, whereupon the eldest brother Casimir took over the government. Incidentally, this type of accession to the throne enjoyed a certain popularity among the German princes at the time; Ludwig of Wittelsbach, the one with the hump, did a rather similar thing to his father. Meanwhile the masses were not amused by such princely policy, and for fear of his grumbling subjects Casimir “approved” “the preaching of the Gospel according to right and true understanding”. In return, the first Protestant Hohenzoller refreshed his treacherous cravings all the more thoroughly in the peasant war that broke out immediately afterwards. He first conspired with the rebellious peasants and then betrayed them treacherously; his executioner’s specialty was gouging out the eyes of the captured peasants and throwing them helplessly onto the country road. Of his seven brothers, some remained Catholic and the other became Protestant as it was better for business. The third brother Albrecht made the best deal from them. He was elected Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who ruled over today’s East Prussia, but then, in breach of his oath, bagged the state of the Order as a secular duchy and, as a German and Protestant, hid himself under the rule of the catholic King of Poland to secure the robbed church property – with the ingenious reasoning that “such masquerades could be done with a clear conscience in order to promote the teachings of God”.
In the meantime, the “teachings of God” had also enamoured the Brandenburg Hohenzollerns. When Joachim I died in 1535, he left Mark Brandenburg to his two sons. Joachim II received the actual Kurmark, Hans die Neumark. This younger brother found himself to been given the short end of the stick, as a contemporary put it, an “insatiable hunger and thirst for spiritual good” consumed him; he immediately became Protestant, although he had promised his father “with princely dignities, honours and loyalties in lieu of a right sworn oath” to remain Catholic. It was not that simple for the older brother. Joachim II was a prince of whom, if he had been a Guelph, Wettin or Wittelsbacher, the Hohenzollern historian Treitschke would have said that he “squandered the wealth of his country in sinful waste”. His love of splendour, his hunting for animals, his buildings, his gold-making, and his mistresses devoured immeasurable sums of money. In the course of five years Joachim II had not only wasted the treasures his father had bagged together, but had also piled up a debt of six hundred thousand guilders, which was enormous for the time. That is why Joachim II felt a lively appetite for spiritual goods, and this appetite was even more strongly stimulated by the estates; i.e. the squires, who refused to cover the sovereign debts if Joachim did not share the church treasures with them. There was another issue: Joachim was a son-in-law of the King of Poland, from whom, out of consideration for his relatives with the first Duke of Prussia, who had no sons, he wished to receive the loan for this latest acquisition of the House of Hohenzollern. In order to be able to become dukes of Prussia, the prince-electors of Brandenburg had to be Protestant; as Catholics, of course, they could not rule a land stolen from the Catholic Church.
Such considerations on the one hand now contrasted with considerations on the other. Here the consideration for the mercy and favour of the emperor Charles V, who, as Joachim II knew from the life and deeds of his father, had ample resources, there the consideration for King Sigismund of Poland, who was a strict Catholic and for whom the apostasy of his Daughter’s husband would have been so embarrassing that he would not have granted him the loan for the Duchy of Prussia. You can see how difficult this task was. In order to be Duke of Prussia, Joachim II had to swear to the Protestant faith; in order to finance this accession, he had to remain with the Catholic Church. Nothing is more amusing than to read in the books of the Hohenzollern historiographers how Joachim II, a thoroughly depraved libertine, studied the dogmatic hair-splitting of the clerical quarrels as a deep thinker and finally, by virtue of his creative religious genius, is said to have produced a Brandenburg church reform that was built on Rome as well as on Wittenberg. In fact, the task was to devise a church order that had to be “Protestant” for the bagging of homely spiritual goods and incorporation of Prussia, as well as “Catholic” because of the otherwise feared injustice of Emperor Charles and King Sigismund. Struggling through these conflicting interests resulted in the comical monstrosity of the Brandenburg Reformation and the “providential Protestant mission” of the Brandenburg-Prussian state.
Secretly like a thief in the shadows of night, Joachim II took the Lord’s Supper under both kinds in the Nikolaikirche in Spandau, which at that time was considered the outward form of conversion to the Protestant church, and at the same time wrote to King Sigismund that he was not thinking to part with the Catholic Church. Accordingly, he sent on the one hand a “visitation commission” through the country, which had the order to take the clergy’s hard cash, mortgage notes, gold and silver treasures, clerical fiefs, church property, immovable monastery property and deliver it to the prince-electoral officials. On the other hand, he issued the new Brandenburg church ordinance, according to which episcopal power, spiritual justice, church processions, the last unction, Latin chants, masses and other “papist ceremonies” should stop. The prince-elector’s spiritual advisor during this “Reformation” was the court preacher Agricola, of whom Luther wrote: “Master Grickel can take on any buffoon. My advice was that he should abstain from preaching for all time and rent himself out as a buffoon; He is not at all suitable for teaching. We are glad that we got rid of these vain and silly people”. Joachim II shared the stolen church property with the squires, to whom he also granted the right to expropriate peasants. In return, the squires took over his debts and granted new taxes, with the proceeds of which Joachim was able to continue his vicious life. Eight years after this glorious “Reformation”, Joachim II accepted about ten thousand guilders, which were paid to him by Catholic princes, and a considerable “hand ointment” which was slipped to his court preacher Agricola, in order to carry out the so-called interim – he swore to carry out a Catholic reaction in the Mark Brandenburg, which only failed because of the resistance of the populus. In spite of all these profitable businesses, the “reformer” of the Mark Brandenburg, to whom a memorial was erected in Spandau some time ago for his “epoch-making cultural act”, left a debt burden of around four million thalers on his death.
It would go far beyond the scope of this little pamphlet if the same evidence that has just been given for the Hohenzollern should also be given for the other princely families in Germany. In spite of all the differences in external conditions, the princely “Reformations” always came down to the same thing in essence: The victorious principality was plundered and looted, insofar as this was limited by estates, including the squires and the town patricians, of course, the robbery of the church property did not benefit the masses, the peasants and the urban plebeians; they were ever more ruthlessly exploited, the more the atrocities of the feudalists were replaced by the atrocities of capitalist exploitation.
But how did the imperial power react to this autocratic development of the principality? In 1519, the Spanish king won the battle for the German crown over the French king. Charles V’s opinion on the German Reformation, depending on whether the papacy was docile or defiant to him, depending on his plans for European rule, depending on his struggles with France and the Great Turks, was sometimes more, sometimes less, but basically always a negative one. As world ruler, he was not allowed to break with Rome, nor as German emperor, nor even as lord of the Austrian hereditary lands in Germany, whose government he had ceded to his brother Ferdinand as German king early on. The German Empire has always been closely linked to the Roman papacy, and the chaotic tangle of the Austrian hereditary lands was held together all the more by the Catholic religion as they formed the front wall of Germany against the Turkish onslaught. It was not until 1545, when peace agreements with France and Turkey had given him a degree of freedom, that Charles could think of establishing imperial power in Germany by overthrowing the partial principality or, to put it ideologically, to restore the religious unity of Germany in the Catholic sense. But as soon as he got ready to do this, the Protestant princes showed their allegiances in an edifying way. The pack of wolves split up, and some joined the emperor, fearful of his power or hoping for new prey. That is what all the Hohenzollern and they were joined by Duke Moritz of the Wettins, the head of the Albertine line, who wished to inherit the more powerful Ernestine line in a timely manner. Under these circumstances the emperor easily dispersed the resistance at the battle of Mühlberg, which was mainly comprised of the prince-elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony and the landgrave Philip of Hesse. He captured both princes and gave Duke Moritz the electoral dignity and, for the most part, the lands of his Ernestinian cousins. This Wettin line was reduced to a few small scraps of land.
The imperial power thus seemed to have been restored very quickly, but it rested on an unstable base. The partial principality was rooted far too deeply in the economic conditions of Germany for it to have been overturned without further ado. This was immediately apparent when Emperor Charles plucked the fruits of his victory and initially intended to secure the German imperial crown for his son Philip. The same princes who had won him the victory now rose up against him, such as the newly introduced prince-elector Moritz of Saxony and the Franconian Hohenzoller Albrecht, the son of that patricidal and peasant executioner Kasimir and he himself one of the most dangerous murdering arsonists of his time. Their own power was, of course, too weak to force the emperor under their will, and King Ferdinand, who was speculating on the German imperial crown for himself, could at most grant them secret support. So they bought the alliance of the French king through shameful betrayal of the empire, through the surrender of the German dioceses of Metz, Toul and Verdun to France. Now Moritz of Saxony pushed against Charles V, who was staying in Innsbruck, with such force that the ageing and ailing emperor had to save himself over the Brenner with great difficulty. As soon as it had risen, the imperial power collapsed again. In the Treaty of Passau and then in the Augsburg Religious Peace, freedom of religion was stipulated for the imperial estates, that is to say for the regional authorities. It remained with the church split, it remained with the princely sovereignty. Soon afterwards Charles V abdicated and the Habsburg world power split. Its core fell to Charles’ son Philipp, while Charles’ brother Ferdinand, as lord of the Austrian hereditary lands, was now also elected German emperor.
The third period of the German Reformation extends from 1555 to 1618, from the Peace of Augsburg to the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. In it, Germany was completely eliminated from the great world trade that was fought out in western Europe between Spain, France, the Netherlands and England; The German princes took part at most as mercenary leaders who were lusting for loot, and could be bought by any power that could pay in cash. Almost more disgusting than these ruffians were the drunkards who looked after the refuse at home; “was full again yesterday, today I swear I won’t drink for a quarter of a year” writes a prince-elector of the Palatinate, who was by no means the worst of his own kind. All in all, a depraved species, tainted with dark misdeeds, wading in the mud of the most disgusting fornication. Many historians have hailed this period of the German Reformation as a happy time of religious tolerance, but nothing can be more crude than such a distortion of history.
The Augsburg Religious Peace was limited to Catholics and Lutherans; it excluded the Calvinists. Calvinism was represented in western Germany in particular, in the Rhenish regions, which were at a comparatively high level of culture and, due to their geographical location, were drawn into western European world trade. Here, too, Calvinism was rooted only in the cities; the city of Wesel immortalized itself in the Jesuit rhymes with its brave demeanor:
Geneva, Wesel and Rochelle
are the devil's other hell
There were also Calvinist princes: The prince-electors of the Palatinate, who were involved in the Dutch-Spanish trade due to the situation of their country, swore off Lutheranism twice in sixty years, both times in order to wear a Calvinist mask. And when a Palatine-Wittelsbach line got into an inheritance dispute over Rhenish regions with the Brandenburg prince-elector, the Lutheran Wittelsbach quickly became Catholic, for the support of the Spaniards, and the Lutheran Hohenzollern quickly became Calvinist to win the support of the Dutch. In and of itself, Calvinism was deeply hated by the German princes, and especially the Lutheran ones, because of its bourgeois republican content; the Lutheran court priests declared the faith of the “sacramenters” to be worse than the Turkish. It was the ideological expression of the fact that the princes had a protector in the Great Turk, while they hated the urban bourgeoisie as their mortal enemy. So Calvinism was excluded from the Augsburg religious peace.
But it is still very imprecise to say that this peace was limited to Catholics and Lutherans. Rather, it limited itself to the agreement of the Catholic and Lutheran imperial estates not to harass each other because of religion. Every imperial class, every national authority received the right to establish religion in its territory as they pleased. The peace was based on the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, whoever owns the land may also determine the religion of the inhabitants of the country. The religious peace granted the subjects nothing but the right to emigrate if their conscience was oppressed by the violent “beatification” of their sovereign, which was very precarious under the legal migration conditions of the time and also still restricted in many ways. It is a ruse of the Protestant historians to brand this “salvation” as an invention of the Jesuits. It was precisely the Protestant princes who had enforced the principle of cuius regio, eius religio in their interests, and in all truth King Philip of Spain invoked the fact that in his persecution of heretics he only did exactly what the Protestant petty despots in Germany claimed to be their right according to the Augsburg religious peace.
But now this peace had a big hole. It stopped the previous looting of churches by the Protestant princes, but how was it to be kept from now on with the spiritually lead areas, of which there were still a large number in Germany? According to Lutheran demands, the principle of cuius regio, eius religio should not apply to these areas; its Lutheran residents should be allowed to live their faith without a care in the world. On the other hand, the Catholics wanted the spiritual imperial estates to have the same rights as the secular ones. This was the one disagreement that could not be settled. The other, however, consisted of the so-called “ecclesiastical reservation” demanded by the Catholic side. According to this, every spiritual imperial estate, elector, archbishop, bishop, abbot, who fell back to “pure doctrine” should lose their spiritual offices and dignities. The Lutheran princes did not want to know anything about this, as this would have cut off the most convenient way of collecting church treasures. The high benefices of the clergy had long since become sinecures of the high nobility, and we already saw from the example of the Prussian monastic state that it only took a little “masquerade” to make large spiritually lead areas disappear into the pockets of Lutheran royal houses. With both questions unresolved, the great hole through which the Thirty Years’ War came was carved in the peace of Augsburg.
In fact, in the sixty years after the peace, the “masquerades” of the Lutheran dynasties, disregarding the “ecclesiastical reservation”, managed to get hold of over a hundred religious monasteries and abbeys, especially in northern Germany, including areas as large as the archbishoprics and Dioceses of Magdeburg, Bremen, Minden, Verden, Halberstadt, Lübeck, Ratzeburg, Meißen, Merseburg, Naumburg, Brandenburg, Havelberg, Lebus, Kammin. On the other hand, the spiritual princes who remained loyal to the Church, felt in no way bound by the obligation to let their Lutheran subjects live carefree of the Lutheran faith. A Venetian envoy calculates that in the middle of the sixteenth century seven tenths of the German population had professed Lutheranism, two tenths to various sects and only one tenth to Catholicism. But now began, led by the Order of Jesus, a Catholic counter-reformation with the most lasting effects. It was primarily the work of the Jesuits, although by no means, as the Protestant whitewashers claim, were violence and cunning the only or even the most effective weapons of the order.
This legend has been scorned even by Protestant historians who have known how to keep themselves free from all too blind prejudices against the papacy. Treitschke speaks of the “priests of the Lutheran Church” who “in Byzantine fanaticism and Byzantine poverty of thought” have cursed one another into the depths of hell over the question whether original sin still persisted in the bodies of the deceased until the last day, so that even Melanchthon sighed in his last remaining hour: May I be redeemed from the immense and irreconcilable hatred of theologians! “It is no different, the Lutheranism of those days was not only politically but also morally deeply inferior to the rejuvenated Catholicism, which had just gathered all its confessors like an army of faith in the strong fortress of its old, now reorganized hierarchy … The immoral doctrine of suffering obedience sucked the marrow of will out of the bones of the Lutherans.” Not quite as drastic, but factually all the more detailed, Ranke writes it in his History of the Popes.
He proves that the Jesuits’ most effective weapon was the reform of the school system. “Most of all, they worked in universities. They had the ambition to vie with the calls of the Protestants. All scholarly education of that time was based on the study of ancient languages. They did the same with fresh enthusiasm, and for a short time, it was believed that at least here and there the Jesuit teachers could be placed at the side of the restorers of these studies. They also cultivated other sciences: Franz Koster presented astronomy in Cologne in a pleasant and instructive manner. The main thing, however, as is understood, remained the theological disciplines. The Jesuits read with the greatest diligence, even during the holidays; they reintroduced the disputation exercises, without which, as they said, all teaching was dead; the disputations that they held in public were decent and rich in content, the most brilliant that one had ever experienced … The Jesuits devoted no less diligence to the management of the Latin schools. It was one of their chief tenets that the lower grammatical classes should be well filled. The first impression a person receives is what matters most for his entire life … The Jesuits succeeded in doing this to astonishment. It was found that the youth learned more from them in half a year than from others within two years; even Protestants called their children back from distant schools and turned them over to the Jesuits.”
These concessions by Protestant historians are all the more trustworthy as the historical development of things shows clearly enough why it had to happen that way.
Since the German Reformation fell into the hands of the princes, it led back into a terrible barbarism. The cultured and richer parts of Germany received an irresistible impetus to return to Catholicism, to heal the rift that separated them from the most developed countries, from Italy, France and Spain. The swift return of almost all German humanists to the bosom of the Roman Church is characteristic. The Jesuits did not create this situation, but exploited it with an admirable skill. In 1551 they still had no permanent place in Germany; in 1566 they already held Bavaria and Tyrol, Franconia and Swabia, a large part of the Rhineland. It is true that the history of Jesuitism, like the history of capitalism in general, is written with blood and tears, but through the Lutheranism of the sixteenth century it achieved its success as a bearer of higher culture. The Jesuits triumphed through the reforms of the school system, through an education that was ecclesiastical but infinitely superior to stupid Lutheranism; they occupied the three ecclesiastical electoral principalities of Mainz, Cologne, Trier, the Franconian bishoprics of Bamberg and Würzburg, the ecclesiastical seats in Bavaria with their most capable students, with educated men to whom the Lutheran court preachers could not hold a candle in character and spirit.
They caught a major catch in the most powerful princes of southern Germany, the Bavarian dukes. These princes were subject to the same impulses as their entire class in Germany, and they were initially inclined towards the Reformation when Jesuitism intervened strongly. The church granted the Bavarian dukes a tithe of the property of the clergy and thereby made them independent of their estates; it granted them a kind of spiritual supervision; the church opened the prospect of the highest ecclesiastical seats to their later sons; it happened that the Bavarian dukes regarded the monasteries as chamber property and subjected them to secular administration. With the same economic interests that had caused the apostasy of so many princes, Jesuitism now tied the Bavarian dukes to the church. With devout fervor they surrendered to this benefactor and miracle worker. It helped them a great deal; At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Bavarian Duke Max, a pupil of the Jesuits, stood among the German princes like a man among mourners.
Thus new explosives had piled up under the protection of religious peace. Secular rulership interests fought under religious forms. In 1607, the pious Duke Max of Bavaria used some religious quarrel as an excuse to grab the free imperial city of Donauwörth by the throat and put it in his knapsack.
The bold coup gave the first signal to collect the armies. Some of the Protestant princes joined together to form the union, under the leadership of the Electoral Palatinate, whereupon the Catholic princes formed the League under the leadership of Bavaria. The Union remained a stillborn child; not even the first Lutheran imperial estate, the Elector of Saxony, joined it; he was paralyzed by jealousy of the Electorate Palatinate, by fear of the revenge of the Ernestine cousins so shamefully betrayed, by greed for the country, which he hoped to see satisfied by the emperor. The League, on the other hand, became a real power; it had a determined head in Duke Max, and a large number of ecclesiastical imperial estates, the three ecclesiastical electoral principalities in the lead, formed her solid skeleton.
In this state of affairs, an internal crisis in the Austrian hereditary lands opened the fourth period of the German Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War.
IV. The Thirty Years’ War
A similar development had taken place in the Austrian hereditary lands as in the German Empire. Nobility and cities fought under the Protestant banner against the monarchical power, which was chained to the Catholic Church. Just as seven rebellious provinces in the Netherlands rose against the Spanish line of the House of Habsburg, so seven rebellious provinces rose against the Austrian line of this house: Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Upper and Lower Lusatia, Upper and Lower Austria. But here, too, the Jesuit restoration celebrated brilliant triumphs. The Austrian hereditary lands protected the European Occident from the attacks of the Turks; if they disintegrated, a tremendous and much more wide reaching destruction of German lands was inevitable. Both internal disputes in the ruling house and rebellions of the individual countries and their classes meant the Austrian lands were on the verge of collapse at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The great successes achieved by the Jesuits in these lands were rooted in this grave danger. Their fanatical pupil, the Archduke Ferdinand of Styria, a whole man in his own way, just like the Bavarian Duke Max, restored the unity of the ruling house and the close alliance with the Spanish line of the Habsburgs; for him there was no mediation with the mutinous provinces; he knew only one policy: taming them in the unity of the Catholic faith. Despite his well-known attitudes, he was also elected German Emperor by the Protestant prince-electors; the Habsburg power was once again preparing to seize the reins of world domination, which it had almost lost.
In the old Hussite country of Bohemia the first battle was fought. The Bohemian estates had declared that Ferdinand forfeited the german crown because of his Catholic restoration attempts and elected prince-elector Friedrich of the Palatinate, one inattentive bloke, to be king, in the hope of receiving the support of the Union. But the Union proved utterly incapable of action. In a contract that it signed with the League in Ulm, it guaranteed to refrain from any interference in the Bohemian clashes; it declared that it was only obliged to support the Palatinate if they should be attacked in their hereditary lands. How much it let itself be duped in doing so is already evident from the fact that Duke Max of Bavaria, as head of the League, negotiated with the emperor at the same time and received the Palatinate electoral dignity, as well as the Upper Palatinate from him as a price for the League’s confederation – in addition to pledging Austrian possessions. In spite of all piety, the Bavarian duke’s dynastic interests were paramount, and least of all he thought of bailing out the emperor for the sake of his beautiful eyes or even for the sake of the imperial authority.
He therefore first had Count Tilly, a Walloon mercenary general whom he had taken into his service, cross the Austrian border with 30,000 men in order to secure his contractual pledge, and only then to move into Bohemia to drive out the new king in order to acquire the Palatinate electoral dignity and the Upper Palatinate. On November 8, 1620, the decisive battle took place on the White Mountain, at the gates of Prague, in which Tilly won with little difficulty. The prince-elector fled and also abandoned his hereditary lands in order to save himself in Holland. With this one blow, Bohemia fell back into the hands of the emperor, who now mercilessly subjected it to a bloody political and religious restoration. “The heads of the Bohemian aristocracy and the Protestant bourgeoisie were executed in their hundreds in Prague, most of their property was confiscated and sold to aristocratic partisans of various nationalities for mockery. German, Spanish, Italian, French and Scottish favorites of the emperor shared the rich booty among themselves, and the list of names of the feudal lords who still protect the throne and altar in Bohemia today is like a sample map of all nations.” (Hugo Schulz.)
The fires of war would now have broken out if the emperor’s allies had not demanded their rewards from the estate of the long gone Palatinate prince-elector, who had been ostracized by the emperor. The Spaniards sent troops to the Electoral Palatinate, which was ideally situated between their German possessions, while the Bavarian Duke, as head of the League, claimed the Palatinate electoral dignity and the Upper Palatinate. If Ferdinand agreed to this, as German Emperor he would pay the debts that he had incurred as King of Bohemia. Even the outlawry that he arbitrarily imposed on the fugitive was bound by the existing imperial law to the consent of the prince-electors; If he now ruled on the Palatinate possessions through his imperial power, he put the axe at the roots of princely sovereignty. It was also not to be overlooked that with the transfer of the Electoral Palatinate to Bavaria, the denominational balance in the electorate council was completely shifted; there were then only two Protestant votes (Brandenburg, Saxony) against four Catholic votes (Bavaria, Mainz, Trier, Cologne); the seventh prince-electorate belonged to the emperor as king of Bohemia. In spite of such urgent matters, the Protestant princes were far too cowardly, far too self-centered to stand up for their own collective interests. Only a few small gang leaders, such as Count Mansfeld and Christian of Braunschweig, acted as the knights of the fugitive elector, but less to protect his lands and more to rob and plunder the spiritually lead areas. Tilly blew their ranks apart without much effort, and in 1623 the Emperor transferred the Palatinate electoral dignity to the Duke of Bavaria at a Reichstag in Regensburg – amid impotent protests from the Brandenburg and Saxon electors.
Now the European powers were mobilized. The House of Habsburg had reached a level of power akin to the time of Charles V; in transferring a Protestant prince-electorate to a Catholic prince, Emperor Ferdinand had even dared more than his ancestor after the battle of Mühlberg; Spain established itself in the Electoral Palatinate and renewed hostilities against Holland. European opposition to the Austro-Spanish advance was inevitable. Richelieu was just coming to power in France, but the internal turmoil still tied his hands in European politics. So England and Holland took the lead. They formed a protective and defensive alliance for naval wars against Spain and supported the King of Denmark with funds to set up an impressive army on the Elbe and Weser rivers as a gathering point and base for the Protestant princes in Germany. In a more loose relationship, the anti-Habsburg coalition extended to Turkey, which gave permission to its vassal Bethlen Gabor of Transylvania, a very pious Lutheran who composed hymns and read the Bible no less than twenty-six times, to invade the Austrian hereditary lands. On the other hand, however, the emperor was now strong enough to set up his own war alliance; he accepted the offer of the Bohemian magnate Albrecht Wallenstein to build him a large army, and Wallenstein solved his task far beyond his promise. The Lower Saxon-Danish War began in 1625, followed by the wars for Bohemia and the Palatinate, the third period of the Thirty Years’ War. After four years it ended with enormous successes for the emperor: In the Treaty of Lübeck, Denmark guaranteed not to interfere in German affairs and Imperial soldiers ruled over northern Germany.
First and foremost, the emperor owed these successes to his general. We are used to seeing the great warlord above all in Wallenstein, but it has been objected, not without reason, that Wallenstein was not a soldier and basically not even a military man. “Wallenstein was able to become a powerful general personality without actually being an excellent strategist.” (Hugo Schulz.) However, one must not go so far as to say that Wallenstein was below average in the purely military aspects of his tasks; On the contrary, he had already fully understood the theory of war that Clausewitz developed in the nineteenth century: For him, war was only a means of politics, the pursuit of political ends by violent means where peaceful tactics failed. His military mistakes can as such be explained by the erroneous assumptions of his politics, thus more or less relieving General Wallenstein of blame in this regard.
Wallenstein’s political goal, however, the same as Richelieu’s in France, was the highest goal that was to be achieved at the stage of European development at the time: the secular monarchy as a national unity, free from all religious ghosts, mediating the conflicting interests of the individual classes, and vigorously turning them against foreign countries. If Richelieu achieved this goal, but Wallenstein perished miserably, the difference in their fates was due to the difference between the French and German conditions. It is not what some call his breach of faith in the emperor that makes Wallenstein a genuinely tragic figure, but the self-deception in which he intended to tame the “common reality of things” through superior strength. The fantastical trait that went through his actions arose not from his clear and deep understanding, but from the necessity to reckon with fantastical factors if he wanted to reverse a century long historical development in order to establish a German monarchy.
When Wallenstein raised an army for the emperor, he is reported to have said that he could keep not just twenty thousand men in the field, but fifty thousand. The anecdote is not authenticated, but it doesn’t matter whether Wallenstein spoke like that or not: In no case did he mean to say, as has been put forward so often, that he could plunder all the more thoroughly with a larger army. On the contrary, he recognized the military weakness of the rampant system of looting and robbery, of which the Protestant gang leaders had only just committed the most hideous of examples. He was the first military leader to initiate the strategy of the eighteenth century, which systematically built warfare on military discipline and economic care for the army, so that peasants and citizens could survive. This does not mean that he succeeded in doing this immediately and that Wallenstein’s troops did not plunder at all, nor that Wallenstein would have shied away from harsh confiscations and contributions if they served his political purposes. The more heavily the German princes felt the burdens of war, the sooner he forced them to peace, he forced them under imperial authority. Wallenstein stated frankly that the emperor could not survive the war with the power of his hereditary lands; for that he needed the German Empire. In the interior he had to raise a mighty and numerous army, which would keep all enemies of the emperor in check and should never be put in danger of being worn out in sieges or battles. The House of Austria must not want to make any conquests with this army; only then would it hold together, since the available colonels themselves were for the most part Lutherans. One then had to establish and preserve peace in the kingdom; then the emperor’s presence would be intimidating to all sides. So Wallenstein presented his program to the first minister of the emperor, and afterwards he acted, unaffected by the religious quarrel, deeply averse to all clergy; although himself a Catholic, he supposedly said that there would be no peace in the empire until a bishop’s head was laid at his own feet.
His policies bore fruit. He systematically occupied the whole of northern Germany with his military camps, displaced the League’s army that fought next to him under Tilly, did not show the slightest consideration for the rulers of the country, regardless of whether they were Catholic or Protestant, in his march throughs, requisitions, and army advertisements. He confiscated the lands of the princes, the goods of the squires, who were in arms against the emperor, furnished his generals and colonels with these lands, had himself been given Mecklenburg and was appointed admiral of the Baltic Sea. From then on, the emperor’s sceptre would rule over the Baltic Sea. In these days, when nothing seemed unreachable to him, Wallenstein must have drawn up a far-reaching plan for the conquest of Constantinople and the expulsion of the Turks from Europe. But with all his genius he could not counter the economic causes that determined the course of the German Reformation. He did not find the limit of his triumphs on the walls of Constantinople but on the walls of the “town” of Stralsund.
As deep as the power of the German Hanseatic cities had sunk, their help was indispensable for the emperor if he wanted to rule over the Baltic Sea. But less than a hundred years earlier these cities had the courage to pursue an independent policy. They were not against the emperor, whose help they often enough claimed where it could be of use, such as in Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck when they were harassed by Denmark. But neither were they in favour of the emperor when his friendship threatened to be costly. The interest of the sweet trade was paramount to them. At a Hansa conference in Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Cologne, Braunschweig, Lüneburg, Magdeburg, Stralsund, Rostock, and Wismar rejected the emperor’s request to provide him with ships; Nor did they enter into the trade treaty with Spain, which the emperor proposed to them, “since this could affect their relationship with the potentates, who were ruling the sea and whose routes they would have to use”. Any means of amicable persuasion, all offers of advantages, which were not lacking in either the Austrian or the Spanish line of the House of Habsburg, failed. And when Wallenstein wanted to force Stralsund to take up an imperial garrison, the city resisted him victoriously, thanks to the Danish and the Swedish aid which it received by sea. The imperial rule over the Baltic Sea proved for the time being a phantom, of course, as long as the Mecklenburg-Pomeranian Baltic coast remained in imperial power, it was still a clearly visible phantom.
In the same days that Wallenstein was in front of the ramparts of Stralsund, Richelieu besieged Rochelle. His victory was not only as exemplary for French fortunes as Wallenstein’s defeat was for the Germans: it also gave a decisive turn to European politics. France now had its hands unbound in regards to its foreign interests, and it waged the war against the House of Habsburg all the more emphatically when King Charles of England, who was just now engaged in a fateful struggle with Parliament, made an inglorious peace with Spain. Richelieu used an inheritance dispute over the Duchy of Mantua to resume the old struggle in Italy with Austria-Spain; he succeeded in getting the little Italian princes in northern Italy on his side; He was in close agreement with Pope Urban VIII, the son of a Florentine trading house, who felt himself to be an Italian prince and had long thought to shake off Spanish supremacy. Richelieu paid the Netherlands substantial aid to encourage them to continue the war with Spain. He lured the League’s princes in Germany with the sweetest promises; at the Munich court, he indicated that it was time to swap the Habsburg imperial crown for a Wittelsbach one. At last, he tried to settle the war between Poland and Sweden so that the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus would be free to attack the German Empire. Everywhere, on the Po, on the Rhine, in the Netherlands and on the Baltic Sea, he wanted to break down Habsburg power.
The “absolute dominance” over the German Empire, which Wallenstein was striving for the emperor, was hit by the emperor himself no less hard than by the French attack and the failure of Stralsund. Pressed by the League, advised by Jesuit confessors, more beguiled by petty territorial self-interest than enlightened by the imperial crown, Ferdinand II issued the edict of restitution at the same time as the Peace of Lübeck, which again expressly excluded the Calvinists from the Augsburg religious peace, but then ordered that all mediate church property expropriated since the Treaty of Passau and all imperial immediate church property that had been reformed since the Augsburg Religious peace should be returned to the Catholics. The edict decreed a complete upheaval in the existing property relations, especially in northern Germany, regardless of whether these relations existed rightly or wrongly, regardless of whether the emperor had the right to issue the edict or not, he could do nothing more foolish than to order such restitution. The edict stood in stark contrast to Wallenstein’s policy, which wanted to establish a strong empire built above religious contradictions and the quarrelling princes; With the edict, the emperor sided with the princes; he himself speculated in particular on Magdeburg and Halberstadt. Instead of appeasing the League, the edict swelled its arrogance and made it all the more insubordinate to imperial authority. After the union had long since melted away and the Protestant prince-electors of Brandenburg and Saxony had behaved neutrally in the Lower Saxon-Danish war, the edict brought them back into action because it threatened to rob them of their best domains. It particularly aroused the Protestant population, who had seen in the Austrian hereditary lands what the emperor understood by Catholic restoration. Wallenstein rhymed at the time:
The emperor's needless reformation
takes away from my reputation,
costs the emperor his Roman crown,
and Bavaria will also frown.
He complained that the emperor did not need reforms, but recruits; Only the Swedes, the Turk and Bethlehem (Bethlen Gabor) are happy about the edict. His officers, most of whom were Protestants, thought the same. Even Tilly, the general of the League, is said to have declared the edict to be very untimely in view of the “foreign potentates planning an invasion”.
So in northern Germany there was a violent tension when Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden landed in Pomerania on June 26, 1630, with his 13,000 men.
V. Gustavus Adolphus’ Swedish Policy
What prompted the King of Sweden to invade Germany was exclusively a secular question of power: the question of who should rule the Baltic Sea. Gustavus Adolphus himself never gave any other reason in his correspondence with his Chancellor Oxenstierna or in his negotiations with the Swedish estates. To save the Protestant faith in Germany, he would not have sacrificed a man or a thaler. What he sacrificed for this ideal purpose, were a few bales of worthless writings in which he acted as the patron of Protestantism in order to exploit the fermenting mood of the German Protestants for his purposes of conquest. Very much akin to what the Prussian Frederick did for similar purposes more than a hundred years later. The Prussian king says this in the instruction booklet for his generals: “One accuses the enemy of the worst intentions if he has the country. Is a country Protestant like Saxony, one plays the role of a protector of the Lutheran religion; if the country is Catholic, one speaks of nothing but tolerance. What is left for you in this is fanaticism. If one can encourage a people because of their freedom of faith, and can also tell them that they are oppressed by the priests and devotees, then one can safely count on these people; that actually means putting heaven and hell in front of your interests”, the Swedish king understood this intuitively.
Of course, the Swedish kings were faithful Lutherans. They had to be for political reasons. Sweden had had little good, but much bad, from the medieval church. The Catholic clergy were as rich as the country was poor. Hardly any resistance arose when Gustav Vasa founded the new monarchy in the sixteenth century on the robbery of their great estates. He had to share with the powerful nobility. The cities were still on a low level; they had nothing but a pile of archipelago boats and other poor things which, as Gustav Vasa said, promised neither help nor consolation. He could not yet consider taking on the inheritance of the decaying Hansa, thus rule over the Baltic Sea. When he died in 1560, only 62 Swedish ships were engaged in foreign trade. In his will, Gustav Vasa declared the Lutheran religion to be the basis of the Swedish monarchy and obliged his descendants never to deviate from it.
The necessity of this council was put to the test when Eric, his eldest son and successor, was overthrown by Johann, a younger son of Gustav Vasa, with the help of the nobility and poisoned after a long imprisonment. Johann was chased into the arms of the Jesuits by a sentimentality that was very strange in a prince at the time, because of remorse over his fratricide. He ran a Catholic restoration and had his son Sigismund elected King of Poland. A Polish-Swedish empire seemed to surely guarantee rule over the Baltic Sea. But the great bulk of the Swedish population was tied to the Reformation with their economic interests. When Sigismund arrived after the death of John of Poland to take on his Swedish inheritance and to continue his father’s attempts at Catholic restoration, he encountered insurmountable resistance. His uncle Charles, the youngest son of Gustav Vasa, snatched the crown from him, to put it on his own head. It remained that whoever wanted to rule Sweden had to be a faithful Lutheran.
A faithful Lutheran, because like the prerequisites for Jesuitism, the prerequisites for Calvinism were also lacking in Sweden. The nobility were overwhelming and had made excellent use of the disputes within the royal family for their own purposes. The Swedish peasants were not serfs in the Middle Ages; they in the first row had raised Gustav Vasa to the throne. But just as he had already rewarded them with disgraceful ingratitude, so his successors forcibly forced them into the servitude of the nobility. The cities did not come close to the power of the squires. The successors of Gustav Vasa had entered into the struggle for rule over the Baltic Sea, and King Eric had acquired Estonia from the bankruptcy of religious order rule in the Baltic provinces, while Livonia fell to Poland and Courland was bagged by a master of the order as a secular duchy. But the internal turmoil prevented a development of strong outward-facing power, and when King Charles had restored the Lutheran monarchy, he threw the empire into new disruption by the impossible attempt to tame the nobility through bloody means and to gain control of the Baltic Sea in the struggle with Denmark, Poland and Russia.
Charles died in 1611 and was followed by his son Gustavus Adolphus at the age of 17. He began his reign miserably enough with the Peace of Knäröd, which he bought on humiliating terms from the Danes who had penetrated deep into the Swedish empire. But old battles with Poland and Russia were still persisting, even the Polish King Sigismund had not yet given up his claims to the Swedish crown and he treated Gustavus Adolphus as a usurper. The young king had only one way to secure his crown: he had to legally recognize the power that the Swedish nobility actually possessed. He gave the Swedish knighthood the decisive word at the Imperial Diets, he gave them new rights over the peasants, he gave them officer positions in the army, and he did not take a step in foreign policy without their consent – in short, the Swedish squires won such an overwhelming position that because of these “profound privileges” they looked down contemptuously on the German nobility as a “slave of the princes” and compared themselves with the immediate princes of the German Empire. The comparison was flawed, for small Sweden had the conditions of national unity that great Germany lacked; the Swedish squires needed the monarchical power which the German princes continually sought to destroy. But in their complete domination of this power, they might well consider themselves the real sovereigns of the country.
Gustavus Adolphus himself did exactly the inevitable with his concessions to the Swedish knighthood. The Swedish monarchy had to have a strong army if it did not want to become the prey of the other Baltic Sea states in the long run. In Sweden, however, a strong army could only be founded on the estates. The absolute kingship that Gustavus Adolphus’ predecessors had strived for had proven impossible; Swedish kingship was only possible as a military monarchy based on the power of the squires. While the Swedish squires were not averse to the king’s wars, they were of course not at all inclined to bear the burdens of war on their own shoulders. Whenever possible, they passed these burdens on to the classes they controlled. Taxes rose to immense levels; Anyone who did not own an apartment and worked for wages was likely to be drafted; otherwise, there was a kind of conscription system for the male population between the ages of 18 and 30, the main burden of which fell on the rural population. One must not overlook the fact that Gustavus Adolphus’ wars were not yet unpopular among these controlled classes though. All of them, and especially the cities, had a keen interest in Swedish rule over the Baltic Sea. In addition, victorious campaigns brought great wealth to the country. The wars of that time were systematic raids; like the Huguenots, like Queen Elizabeth of England, Gustavus Adolphus was a pirate on a large scale. It was his method, in particular, of conquering busy ports, of fortifying them strongly, and of levying enormous tariffs on both outgoing and incoming ships. Military service was not yet as shamed as it was a hundred years later; at least for the poor proletarian, it was a game of chance that contained some profit. You have to keep these relationships in mind to understand how a poor country with a population of one and a half million – and Sweden had nothing more in 1630, including all conquests made up to that point – could wage bloody wars for decades and bear the heaviest burdens and why the Imperial Diet, at which the citizens and peasants also had a certain representation, accompanied Gustavus Adolphus’ entry into Germany.
Gradually, Gustavus Adolphus spread around the Baltic coast. He had conquered Sweden, Finland and Estonia from his father, from Russia he conquered Kexholm, Kardia and Ingermanland, from Poland Livonia and Prussian coastlines, namely Memel, Pillau, Elbing, as well as the right to tax, within the port of Danzig, all outgoing goods with 3% of their price. Memel and Pillau were the main ports of the Duchy of Prussia and belonged under Polish sovereignty to Gustavus Adolphus’ brother-in-law, the Elector of Brandenburg, who had never caused him the slightest harm. To give an example of Gustavus Adolphus’ warfare, let us briefly describe the conquest of Pillau. On a fine summer day in 1626, Gustavus Adolphus appeared in front of Pillau with a strong navy and told the unsuspecting commander of the weak crew that he should decide whether he wanted to be a friend or a foe. He, Gustavus Adolphus, came as a friend and would not take a handful more earth from the territory of his brother-in-law than this poor sandy place which he needed for a while for his support; at the slightest hostility, however, if only one shot was fired, he would be the public enemy of this country and would righteously attack it. In vain did the commandant ask for a delay, but in vain did the Prussian authorities and cities send embassies asking them to wait for the prince-elector’s arrival: Gustavus Adolphus refused them, as an old script says, “with harsh, sharp speech, threatening bloodshed and cutthroats”. He took the “miserable sandy place” and made a gold mine out of it, which he never gave back. In 1629 the Swedish customs in Pillau brought in half a million thalers, just as much as the Danish Sundzoll, which enjoyed the proverbial reputation of a gold mine in Europe at that time.
If one ignored Denmark, with whose king Gustavus Adolphus had fallen out with, despite the Lutheran religious and Germanic tribal unity, only the Mecklenburg-Pomeranian coast of the entire Baltic Sea region was free from Swedish supremacy. For this very reason, however, as soon as Wallenstein established a strong imperial power in these areas with the stated purpose of seizing the rule over the Baltic Sea, the Swedish military monarchy was asked the question: to be or not to be. For years, Gustavus Adolphus had been watching the progress of imperial arms in northern Germany with the greatest interest. He had even made himself available as field captain to the anti-Habsburg coalition that was formed in the mid-twenties; At that time the Danish king had overtaken him, not least because, as Duke of Holstein, he was also a German prince and was thus able to kindle the fire of internal war better than the Swedish king, who had absolutely nothing to do with the German Empire. Despite his jealousy of Denmark, Gustavus Adolphus then made common cause with him to save Stralsund from Wallenstein. In his Polish war, he also pursued anti-Habsburg tendencies, for Poland was linked to the House of Habsburg by a number of interests, of which only the threat of the Turkish attacks will be mentioned here. Wallenstein had sent auxiliary troops to the Poles and ruthlessly rejected the Swedish ambassadors when Gustavus Adolphus wanted to have a say in the negotiations on the Peace of Lübeck. The antagonisms were already strong when Richelieu undertook his campaign against the House of Habsburg. He had no issue getting Gustavus Adolphus interested when he offered to mediate between Poland and Sweden and advised the Swedish king to attack German territory. He only said what Gustavus Adolphus himself had long considered.
It was nonetheless a dangerous undertaking. France was fully involved in the Italian war and could only provide aid. The war with Spain had made the Netherlands much too strained to be inclined to war against the emperor, just as Gustavus Adolphus wanted to fight with the emperor, but not with Spain. In addition there was strong trade jealousy; The Netherlands allowed nothing but secret conscription advertisements that Gustavus Adolphus was allowed to make in their territories, and even for those they put up the greatest obstacles. There was nothing more to be expected from England than permission to advertise for conscription. Denmark was struck down, which, given the mutual resentment, was more of an advantage than a disadvantage for Sweden. If Gustavus Adolf could have reached his goal in an amicable way, he would certainly have preferred it. He even postponed the formal agreement to the alliance with France to try amicably negotiating again. For him, however, the goal was always the withdrawal of imperial power from the Baltic coast and from the north German lowlands in general. He never spoke of religious questions. The idea that a king could wage war in order to protect the subjects of another monarch in their freedom of belief and conscience was completely outside the range of ideas in which those in power at that time were moving. The same is true for all rulers, now and then, except that at that time hypocritical pretences of this kind were not even understood. But even if that hadn’t been the case, where were the sufferings of the German Protestants for whom Gustavus Adolphus supposedly wanted to draw the sword? It was the right of the emperor to carry out the Catholic restoration in his hereditary lands in a merciless manner, and Gustavus Adolphus’ Protestant fellow believers had ensured that it was properly legally certified. What, however, took insurmountable offense against Gustavus Adolphus, namely the establishment of imperial power in northern Germany, happened without any oppression of the Protestants; Wallenstein’s policy was based precisely on an equalization of religious contradictions. And even the edict of restitution cannot be used in this context. Before it was issued, Gustavus Adolphus had already decided to go to war and even drafted the later published war manifesto; after it was issued, he resumed amicable negotiations with the emperor, without any reference to the edict, always with the program: Away with the imperial power from the Baltic coast, and I want to keep peace.
Now neither the emperor nor his general were the people to submit to such an ultimatum. Rather, Wallenstein pressed the Hansa cities more and more violently. The war was inevitable and the only question was how it should be fought. In the last days of October of 1629 Gustavus Adolphus discussed the whole question again with the Swedish Imperial Councils, the leaders of the Swedish squires, at Uppsala Castle. Again, there is no word of religion in these talks. It says: The burden was placed on them not through their fault, but through the emperor’s fault, in that he had come too close to Sweden. They would either succumb or take action; either await the emperor in Kalmar or visit him in Stralsund. The offensive war was then decided on, mainly because they decided Sweden should not bear the costs of the war and Germany would have to bear them instead. Gustavus Adolphus declared that the German war must be fought with German blood and German money. He exclaimed: If the king wins, the Germans will be the booty. He said the German people would have to fight against their own fatherland and against their own authorities. What a lovely program for the “dear warrior of God” who, out of tender concern for the troubled conscience of the German Protestants, wanted to rescue them from the Jesuit claws!
A few more figures may illuminate this royal program. In the three years that Gustavus Adolphus himself was still waging the war, these were the Swedish military numbers:
|military budget||size of the army (nominal)|
|1630||9,535,625 thalers||40,000 men|
|1631||5,568,407 thalers||79,700 men|
|1632||2,220,198 thalers||198,500 men|
As you can see, the bigger the army, the lower the military budget. The military budget refers to the entirety of the Swedish army, including the troops left behind in Sweden, Finland and the Baltic provinces, which amounted to 37,000 men in 1630, while the army size given here is limited to the Swedish armies fighting in Germany. These armies were recruited in Germany and fed by Germany. If, on the other hand, one counts the enormous pillage and contribution sums that Gustavus Adolphus imposed on the German princes and cities as soon as they fell into his power, and the income from the tariffs that were immediately levied in the conquered ports and, according to contemporary information, “amounted to not just 15-30% but rather 40%, yes even 50% of the total”, the complaint of a German pamphlet from 1636 is immediately clear: “You brought copper out of your country, but gold and silver into it. Sweden was before this war wooden and covered with straw, now it is made of stone and splendidly decorated.” Incidentally, a pamphlet that is not written from a one-sided party standpoint, but rather as the “German Brutus” of the dawning clarity of the German masses about the oh so wonderful saviours who rose to them from the sky, formulated the right and dry expression: In sum, everyone, whoever he may be, was only looking for his own best.
VI. Gustavus Adolphus’ German campaigns
The shimmering soap bubbles of the Gustavus Adolphus legend also include a phrase about the “small army of heroes” with which the king is said to have “saved the gospel”. He landed in Pomerania with only 13,000 men, but with timely replenishment, he ensured that his army soon rose to 40,000 men, a very respectable force for the time. With them, he began the “cleaning of the sea edge”, the conquest of Pomerania and Mecklenburg, the expulsion of the imperial troops from the Baltic coast.
He owed these first successes both to his superior art of warfare and to the betrayal of German princes: by no means though or at least not primarily to the betrayal of Protestant princes. German contemporaries viewed Gustavus Adolphus’ incursion into Germany for what it was: the war of conquest of a foreign king. They were not fooled by his beautiful sayings about the salvation of the gospel, which he now began to throw around violently. The open support of a foreign conqueror on German soil was a felony with which the dark pages of German princely history had not yet been tainted. Even the Duke of Pomerania, a feeble-minded old man who, as Gustavus Adolphus said, “wanted to drink his beer in peace,” only submitted to the arms of the Swedish conquerors.
The Protestant prince-electors of Brandenburg and Saxony, whose decision initially mattered, wanted nothing to do with an alliance with Gustavus Adolphus. Only in the Hanseatic cities has there been a Swedish faction since it was severely oppressed by Wallenstein. It was victorious in Magdeburg. In this important prince-archbishopric, a dominant place in northern Germany, for which the Hohenzollern and Wettin princes quarrelled, the implementation of the Edict of Restitution had made a brutal start, and the emperor claimed archbishopric dignity for one of his younger sons. The city of Magdeburg itself was torn because of the many factions, the old town was filled with the commercial jealousy of the suburbs and the patrician and plebeian elements were separated by sharp class antagonisms. In these confused circumstances the Hohenzollern claimant Christian Wilhelm, a very miserable person who became a Catholic two years later and defected to the emperor, succeeded in a coup d’état to bring Magdeburg into the hands of the Swedish party. Gustavus Adolphus then sent one of his most trusted officers, the Court Marshal and Colonel of Falkenberg, to hold the city until he could come and occupy it himself. In the meantime, the Brandenburg and Saxon resistance prevented him.
Contrary to the common tale, it was the Catholic princes who not necessarily supported Gustavus Adolphus, but, and this amounted to the same thing, disarmed the emperor and the empire. At the same time that Gustavus Adolphus landed in Pomerania, the emperor went to a prince-electors’ council in Regensburg to win the support of the prince-electors for the war with France and Sweden and, in particular, for the election of his son as his successor. Max of Bavaria and the ecclesiastical prince-electors appeared in person, the Protestant ones were represented by envoys who played an entirely secondary role. The Protestants demanded that the edict of restitution be lifted, which the emperor and the League equally rejected. The actual deal was made between the emperor and the League. The League had promoted the strengthening of imperial power as long as that power worked in their interests; but it had changed its opinion when Wallenstein put the emperor’s power on its own feet and stepped away from the Catholic princes as well as the Protestant ones. Reduction of the imperial army and removal of the “harmful man, the Friedlander” from the supreme command: that was their first demand. Then the prince-elector of Bavaria, as head of the League and general of the emperor, was to wage war against the Swedish invaders. The Leagues’ princes wanted to hear nothing about a war with France. They had long been allied with Richelieu; they had promised him the disarmament of the empire and the end of the Mantuan war; at their instigation, French ambassadors appeared in Regensburg to negotiate the peace. One of these envoys was Richelieu’s most trusted advisor, Father Joseph, who with diabolical skill represented the French interests on this German prince-electors’ council.
Meanwhile, Wallenstein himself was still living in his great plans. He did not fear war with France and had prepared for it; He even threatened the French-friendly Pope as he said: Rome had not been plundered for a hundred years, now it must be far richer than it was then. It was a tempting goal to bring the dioceses of Metz, Toul and Verdun, lost through treachery, back to the empire by the force of imperial arms; Wallenstein supposedly even spoke of his future headquarters in Paris. But with all these fantastic dreams he was by no means a dreamer. As soon as the imperial troops had stormed Mantua and restored the imperial reputation in Italy and as soon as Gustavus Adolphus’ invasion of Germany was inevitable, Wallenstein advised an honourable peace with France in order to break up the anti-Habsburg coalition: “If there is peace in Italy, then all of the enemies of the House of Austria are bound”. Wallenstein did not know – and it is no shame for him that he did not even suspect it – how deeply the Catholic prince-electors had already gotten involved with France. After the compromise with France, he wanted the imperial troops who had fought in Italy to drive the Swedes back across the Baltic Sea with irresistible force: then imperial power would have been restored more brilliantly than ever in Germany.
As once it failed because of the cities, now it failed because of the prince-electors. At the crucial moment, particularist interest struck again. What was the use of monarchical power to the House of Habsburg if it could not be passed on from father to son? And the son could only follow his father by prince-electoral choice. The League’s majority of the prince-electors declared, however, that if Wallenstein were not dismissed, they would rather choose the French king as the emperor’s successor. The emperor had no choice: he had to dismiss Wallenstein and thus his part of the imperial army. It was with great difficulty that he managed to ensure that the rest of his troops were not placed under the leader, but under the general of the League; Tilly was to command the imperial League troops against Sweden. Thus, the princes refused to give the emperor anything in return: his son was not elected as successor. Furthermore, although peace was made with France, Richelieu refused to approve the agreements made by his Regensburg plenipotentiaries. The emperor had to continue the Italian war, and since that was impossible due to Gustavus Adolphus’ rapid advance, he was, as he complained, forced to an “uncomfortable, utterly disgusting peace” with France. France itself negotiated the long-planned alliance treaty with Sweden, not to protect the Protestant religion, but to secure the Baltic Sea for Sweden, to secure German disunity, to destroy imperial power; Gustavus Adolphus expressly agreed to maintain friendship or at least neutrality with Bavaria and the League, if they would do the same.
The terrible defeat of the emperor on the Regensburg council was the real cause of Gustavus Adolphus’ victorious advance into Germany. When the ultramontane press scolds Gustavus Adolphus as the devastator of Germany, it must be repeated that Gustavus Adolphus could only devastate Germany through the betrayal of the Catholic princes to the emperor and empire. As long as the quarrel raged on in Regensburg, it was not in any way difficult for Gustavus Adolphus to defeat the individual divisions of the imperial troops on the Baltic coast with his well-equipped army. After that, no equal opponent and no equal power faced him, he would only have found one without the League’s betrayal of Wallenstein and his armies. Rather, the discharged troops of Wallenstein’s army ran over to the Swedish king and strengthened his ranks. Tilly himself was a brave warrior and by no means the rough and furious man whom the Protestant historians have made out of him, but he was a mediocre general, bowed down by age, without any political insight, the helplessly swaying servant of the emperor and the League, two factions with very different interests. The letters of his clever and daring lieutenant Pappenheim are a devastating criticism of his pathetic warfare. Instead of throwing himself at Magdeburg with full force or turning against Gustavus Adolphus, he tried one thing and the other with insufficient strength. After wasting precious energy and time, he finally decided that defeating Magdeburg was the easier task. On May 10, 1631, he stormed the city, thanks to Pappenheim’s art of war and also thanks to the traitors within the city walls, but the reward fell apart like crumbling tinder in his hand. Magdeburg went up in flames, and the bloody fiery glow of this terrible catastrophe illuminated the Swedish path to ever new victories.
Two issues are linked to the fall of Magdeburg, about which entire libraries, mostly of very worthless waste, have been put together. The first question is: Could Gustavus Adolphus have liberated the city? This question basically dissolves into the other question: Was Gustavus Adolphus a hero of faith or a conqueror? If he was a hero of faith, it was not only possible for him, but not even a particular risk, to liberate the city. If he was a conqueror, for whom the Swedish interest was above everything and the Protestant interest below zero, then it can be easily understood when he defended himself by saying that such actions as he had taken with regards to Magdeburg “should not be seen as absurd, that he otherwise would have blundered blindly, endangered himself and his state in vain and thus would not just have not liberated the good city but ruined it and himself at the same time”. To be seen as “absurd” is the bad luck of the glorious conquerors, and to “see as absurd” is the misfortune of the people who believe in their loud-mouthed promises. The other question is: Who set Magdeburg on fire? It cannot be decided with the certainty of judicial evidence, but with the historical certainty with which today everyone says: The Russians, not the French, set fire to Moscow in 1812, and so it must be answered: The Swedes, not the imperials, are the arsonists of Magdeburg. Or more precisely: it was the Swede, Colonel Falkenberg, Gustavus Adolphus’ trusted adjutant.
Tilly was no genius, but he would have been a complete fool if he had laid ashes to such an important place which he had just conquered with the utmost effort. He had the city plundered like Gustavus Adolphus plundered Frankfurt (Oder) and Würzburg: The looting of stormed places was barbaric, but general soldiers’ law at that time. In Magdeburg, of course, there was still more murder and plundering than usual at the time, but only because the fire flaring up everywhere loosened the last remnants of discipline in the storming army. Tilly didn’t light this torch. He himself held the besieged responsible for the arson in Magdeburg, by name even according to the prisoners, and the correctness of his view is now recognized by all serious Protestant historians. Falkenberg fell in the fight, but not much is lost apparently in this historical witness. Such “heroic deeds” are of a dicey nature, and their authors are therefore not historical witnesses. Rostopchin, the governor of Moscow, in the frenzy of the first success, boasted loudly that he had caused the fire in Moscow and claimed medals and honours for it but in later years, even in confidential letters, he stiffly and firmly asserted that Napoleon set fire to the city and, against his better judgment, blamed him for the horrific deed. There is no evidence that Falkenberg was instructed to set fire to Gustavus Adolphus but it fit perfectly into the general framework of his warfare, and he has reaped its fruits.
For the tension that had already been provoked by the Edict of Restitution in the masses of the Protestant population was intensified in an unpredictable way by the Magdeburg catastrophe. The fear of the “Magdeburgising” of the imperials, the worry that “the Magdeburg tragedy would be acted out” everywhere in northern Germany, put everyone into fear. This mood did not directly benefit the Swedish conquerors; At first, it even harmed them, because the distrust against Gustavus Adolphus grew because he was accused by the Protestant side of not having paid Magdeburg support. But the insurmountable horror of the imperial-league soldiers, in the long run, benefited the supposed only saviour from these enemies. The whole situation had worsened; there were no clear decisions to be made.
The electors of Brandenburg and Saxony could no longer maintain the neutral stance with which they had previously tried to manoeuvre between the duty to the empire and the fear of Gustavus Adolphus. Gustavus Adolphus publicly laid the guilt for the fall of Magdeburg on their head; their ambiguous position prevented him from breaking through to Magdeburg. After the use of some violence, the Brandenburgian surrendered, trembling and hesitant, because he was a sad weakling who already knew from Pillau the “friendly” ways of his brother-in-law and at the same time had the most sincere respect for the emperor’s long arm. Personally, the Saxon was of the same calibre: the “Beerjörgel”, as he was generally called, of whom the people said he preferred his Merseburg beer barrels to the pious Protestant, and whom a diplomat praised as a miracle of divine omnipotence, if he ever did awoke from his eternal sore to a sober moment. He had all the attachment to the imperial family that had inspired the Saxon electors since the betrayal of their Ernestine cousins, and the emperor held out Lusatia as bait. Only the Edict of Restitution wanted to take away from him the dioceses of Meißen, Naumburg and Merseburg, where such beautiful beer was brewed, and the Archdiocese of Magdeburg threatened to slip away from him before he could get it proper. So he staggered back and forth until the rude threat to his countries from Tilly’s hordes made him run into the Swedish arms. The Saxon troops united with the Swedish army; on September 7, 1632, the decision was made at Breitenfeld. The mighty pike squares in which Tilly still fought in the old Spanish way easily crushed the Saxon regiments, and “Beerjörgel” fled breathlessly from the battlefield, but Gustavus Adolphus saved the battle with his tried and tested troops; with their agile tactics, he threw the shapeless mass of the imperial Bavarian army into a hopeless defeat. It was a decisive blow. Gustavus Adolphus ruled northern Germany, and southern Germany lay before him like defenseless prey.
He was reproached for not taking advantage of this brilliant situation and marching on Vienna to dictate peace to the emperor with sword in hand. In this form, the accusation is exaggerated, because the power of the Swedish king did not reach that far to finally overthrow Austria. If he had embarked on this path, sooner or later he would have experienced his Kolin, like more than a hundred years later the Prussian king, who believed he had defeated the House of Austria in the battle of Prague and swayed in the deceptive delusion, to be able to dictate peace on the ramparts of Vienna.
But even if exaggerated, that reproach contains the correct idea that Gustavus Adolphus had to seek peace after the battle of Breitenfeld. He had achieved what he could possibly achieve; he had swept the imperial arms out of northern Germany and freed his kingdom from the pressures that threatened to take his breath away; he could force the emperor to renounce the Edict of Restitution and thus keep the north German princes permanently chained to his interests. And even if he had been a “hero of faith”, he would now have been able to guarantee Protestantism full equality with Catholicism. But he did not think about that, but his wild predatory nature now threw off the last covers; he undertook a great raid on even though there was a double danger that he thereby endangered his alliance with France and gave the emperor the necessary time to gather new strengths that the Swedish were no longer able to cope with.
After the Battle of Breitenfeld, Gustavus Adolphus openly appeared as a conqueror. He sent the Saxon army to the Austrian hereditary lands in order to keep the feud between the prince-elector and the emperor fresh; he himself broke into the “Pfaffengasse” across the Thuringian Forest to Franconia, against the rich ecclesiastical monasteries in the Main areas. It was a raid of immeasurable profit, but tedious monotony; in the Thuringian possessions of his Saxon ally, Gustavus Adolphus devastated just like in the areas of the bishops of Bamberg, Würzburg and Mainz; in response to the prince-elector’s complaints, he simply declared: War is war, and soldiers are not monastery virgins. Wherever he encountered resistance, he threatened “singeing, burning, looting and murdering”, a program that he carried out diligently if the resistance was not given up. Neutrality was considered hostility. Timely submission was rewarded by heavy contributions, delivery of provisions and recruits, delivery of permanent positions, etc..
Monasteries were outlawed under all circumstances. Its inmates were driven out, their often colossal treasures emptied down to the last penny, their landed property given away to the king’s creatures. The Bishop of Würzburg’s precious collection of books and manuscripts went to the University of Uppsala, where many similar loots were still to be found. The conquered territories had to pay homage to the Swedish crown, the king disposed of it as a Swedish fiefdom, and established new authorities, in short, there is no conceivable plague that Gustavus Adolphus did not impose on the conscience and welfare, the spiritual and physical well-being of the happy populations which, according to his credible assurance, he freed “from the undue deceit and the blind pressures of the papists”.
In the winter of 1631 to 1632 the king held a splendid court in Mainz. However, it was here that the first warnings struck him that he had exceeded the height of his successes. France was, as in general with the all too strong growth of its power, especially dissatisfied with the fact that he had carried the war into the “Pfaffengasse”, into the League areas. The League was France’s protégé no less than Gustavus Adolphus was; Both were stakes in the Habsburg flesh. From the beginning, Richelieu had tried to maintain friendship or at least neutrality between Gustavus Adolphus and the League, and now he resumed these efforts. But Gustavus Adolphus did not think of giving up his conquests in the “Pfaffengasse” easily; The League could not accept his tough conditions. The negotiations only led to the breakup of the League. The clergy princes, insofar as they were not driven out by Gustavus Adolphus, fled under France’s protection, while the prince-elector of Bavaria joined Austria in order to continue the war against Sweden. Otherwise, there was no lack of anger between Sweden and France, whose envoy Gustavus Adolphus supposedly once threatened with the fact that he still had a good friend in the Great Turk.
Indeed, at the suggestion of Sweden, Turkey was preparing to invade the Austrian hereditary lands. And at the same time, the Pope refused to cast the ban beam against Gustavus Adolphus. What rare luck for an evangelical champion of God to have two equally benevolent protectors in the Pope and the Sultan! Austria had tried in vain to look for new alliances all over Europe; only with Spain had it succeeded in tying the old knot even more firmly, and it now wished that the Pope would charge the weapons of the old Catholic powers against the heretic king. But Urban VIII was adamant. In vain did Cardinal Paßmann as Austrian ambassador and Cardinal Borgia as Spanish ambassador present him with violent accusations in a public meeting of the cardinals; The Pope insisted that the war was not a religious war, and of Gustavus Adolphus, he said: God himself raised him to protect us! After Gustavus Adolphus’ death, the Pope held a funeral mass for his soul in the Vatican. The emperor acted smarter than wasting his efforts for papal blessing by reappointing Wallenstein as his generalissimo. The League’s prince-electors had left the alliance, and the Bavarian was crumbling. Wallenstein took over his old office with far more extensive powers; a second council of Regensburg was not to threaten him; this time he wanted to carry out his program with or without the emperor and, if necessary, against the emperor as well.
As soon as Wallenstein appeared on the scene, Gustavus Adolphus’ luck was fading. He betrayed Tilly again, who wanted to prevent him from invading Bavaria and fell in this fight, and in Bavaria once again acted like a vandal. But then he had to take up the fight against Wallenstein. Wallenstein’s war plan was as simple as it was obvious. With his amazing organizational genius, he had quickly raised a new army and driven the Saxon army out of Bohemia; He now intended to advance into Saxony in order to draw Gustavus Adolphus from southern and western Germany for the protection of the prince-elector, or, if he did not come, to persuade the already doubtful prince-elector to join the emperor. In either case, Gustavus Adolf’s southern German conquests were threatened.
It would exceed the scope of this text to follow the king’s affairs and tribulations under the impression of the impending danger; it was definitely Wallenstein who dictated the course of the war. They met each other twice in open battle. Gustavus Adolphus unsuccessfully tried taking Wallenstein’s camp in Nuremberg and at Lützen on November 6, 1632, he was killed in a wild scuffle.
VII. Gustavus Adolphus’ historical position
We know relatively little about Gustavus Adolf’s personality. But the little we know is not unfavourable. He was free from the common vices in whose pools the German dwarf despots wallowed, and in education, he stood high above them. Of course, it doesn’t get any worse because the assumption of his admirers that he broke into Germany like some errant hero of faith is a strange imagination. If he had done or even wanted to do what “the world admires in him”, the Swedish squires would have locked him in a fool’s house.
His historical position is determined by the historical circumstances in which he lived. The military monarchy based on the power of the squires is a backward form of society and government; it was to a certain extent already in Gustavus Adolf’s time. But it was still an advanced form of government in relation to the Polish aristocratic democracy, which was rotting in feudal swamps, and in relation to the native barbarism of the Russians. In the struggle with Poland and Russia, Sweden rose to become a great Baltic power. In the struggle with Denmark, which was on the same cultural level, it won no laurels. Both countries had to come to terms with the German claims on the Baltic Sea. Historically, the question was not whether Denmark or Sweden were strong enough to overthrow Germany because that was out of the question. Rather, the question was whether the internal dissolution process of the German Empire could ever flourish enough to surrender it to the lustfulness of Denmark or Sweden. When Denmark attacked, the empire was still held together in its joints. it could no longer withstand the Swedish attack because it was disarmed by its own members. But under no circumstances was Germany to be ruled by Sweden. Sweden could only rob Germany, and from this robbery, it created a very ephemeral position of great power. Because robbery is not, as the bourgeois economy has wanted to teach us, a mode of production. As quickly as it was won, so it melted away, and pitifully enough, Sweden fell from the barely climbed peak of power. Its historical position in the seventeenth century was quite episodic.
Accordingly, Gustavus Adolphus’ historical position was as well episodic. Nothing is more foolish than to compare him with historical figures who carried out great social revolutions. Napoleon’s conquests melted away in his hands, but he swept away masses of feudal rubbish, which threatened to suffocate European culture, with an iron broom, and with regard to this he was allowed to say on his lonely island: Anyone who reviles my memory bites Granite. But what remotely similar thing could be praised in Gustavus Adolphus? Do you say that he saved Lutheranism in Germany? Well, first of all that is not true, but secondly, if it were true, Gustavus Adolphus would have perpetuated a system of unfortunate intellectual degeneracy for a few centuries for Germany, so thank God he didn’t!
As a general and statesman, Gustavus Adolphus was the executive arm of the Swedish knighthood. In general, he listened when his Chancellor Oxenstierna shouted at him not to make any “confused” plans that could not be carried out. Just as he discussed the plan of the German expedition in advance with the squires to the greatest extent possible and assured himself of their full approval in every detail before he carried it out, so he also collected the approval of his squires while on his campaigns and from these correspondences one can refute the fairy tale of his religious heroism down to the smallest atom. Gustavus Adolphus’ dependence on the squires left his possible little room for manoeuvre for his supposed “ingenious individuality”, but even what is discovered about it does not make an inspiring impression.
Although the fact that as a general he had a strong streak of the pirate, one might ascribe this not to his personal character, but to the whole warfare of the Swedish military monarchy. Unfortunately, however, he does not seem to have seen this sad compulsion as such. When he threatened to “scorch, burn, plunder and murder”, it was done with voluptuous ease that does not attract modern civilized people. One might call it “heroism” that he found his death in the midst of the turmoil of the battlefield, that he came up to the enemy outposts on the Bavarian campaign and teased them with the question: Monsieur, what is old Tilly doing? – through this Gustavus presented himself as a very lowly general, even for his time; he placed himself far below Wallenstein, who was superior to him in everything and never waged war for the sake of war. Whenever his political ends allowed, Wallenstein drew peace over war. In contrast to him, Gustavus Adolphus was a ruthless daredevil and thief, a sea king who plundered lands and seas, not a conqueror who founded new empires.
It is also not his, but Wallenstein’s merit, to have, even if not carried out, at least strived for a higher and more humane kind of warfare. Gustavus Adolphus promoted warfare through tactical reforms, which mostly resulted in greater mobility for the army. But he couldn’t even think of touching the roots of the warfare at that time. What has been praised in this respect is based on a thorough misunderstanding. Military monarchies always lead to technical improvements in the craft of war; it is the one-sided virtuosity that handles a particular tool more skillfully the longer it is used with it. Military monarchies, on the other hand, can never overturn the warfare of their time, which is rooted in the same historical circumstances as they themselves. King Frederick brought the warfare of his time to the highest conceivable peak, but before the Prussian army could accept another warfare, the Frederickian monarchy had to be thrown overboard.
The notion that Gustavus Adolphus had stormed against the imperial mercenaries at the head of an army of god-loving Swedish peasants does not withstand any serious criticism. When he set out for Germany, half of his army consisted of mercenaries who had been recruited from all over the world; On German soil it was recruited from Germany according to Gustavus Adolphus’ program, from forcibly pressed or starved peasants and craftsmen or from that international mercenary who served under this flag today and under that flag tomorrow, and that since the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War had grown into a terrible plague. Prisoners were immediately hired as soldiers. It may well be true that, after all, hardly the tenth man in the Swedish armies was a Swede. Of course, Gustavus Adolphus’ famous discipline is essentially a fable, especially on the moral side. That he tried to limit the huge entourage of the armies of the time as much as possible on his campaigns of conquest and therefore did not want to tolerate any women in the army, that he overflowed with solemn assurances when breaking into foreign countries that his soldiers would not bother peaceful inhabitants, that was general understanding anyway, and one has to almost admire the sheer humility of the people who see a Protestant saviour in these most common conqueror practices. But all of this had a very narrow limit on one hand due to the circumstances and then also due to the will of the king.
As long as he was not in agreement with Brandenburg and Saxony, he had an urgent interest in maintaining the strictest discipline in his army, and he was certainly very serious about the orders he issued for this reason. Already at that time, he wrote in a confidential letter to Oxenstierna that his army was in the saddest condition, that he had no means to satisfy the infantry and cavalry, that he had to let go of all excesses with great annoyance and yet was daily in danger of mutiny. After the battle of Breitenfeld, however, he no longer had the will to urge his soldiers to practice any discipline; we have already heard the winged words with which he rejected the complaints of his Saxon ally about the Swedish looting in Saxon areas. When Wallenstein near Nuremberg got him into a bad fix, he certainly became a devilish servant of God. He authorized a deputation from the city of Nuremberg, whose assistance he urgently needed, to immediately hang any plundering commons; He assured them how tragic it was for him, that with all these lootings in allied lands it was always said that the Swede did this, the Swede did that. Incidentally, an involuntary admission that “the Swede” already had the proverbial meaning of murderer-arsonist. But Gustavus Adolphus said to his German officers: “I dislike it so much here that I would rather tend the pigs in my kingdom than deal with such a perverse nation.” As a Protestant hero of faith, Gustavus Adolphus must have had a good dash of Protestant hypocrisy. You have to look at his fists, not at his mouth, said Wallenstein.
Gustavus Adolphus is just as mediocre as a statesman, insofar as he was able to demonstrate individual abilities as such, as he is as a general. The protracted argument about his ultimate political goals is completely irrelevant because he had no such goals at all. The decision of the Swedish military monarchy not to allow a strong power to emerge in northern Germany was, from their point of view, straightforward; Gustavus Adolphus never got a clear picture of how it was to be carried out. He never thought seriously about the reasons for his successes and its limits. Politically, he lived from hand to mouth, again very different from Richelieu and Wallenstein, who had a big clear goal in mind, which they tailored their political actions to achieve. It is a wasted effort to deny that Gustavus Adolphus speculated on the German imperial crown; one of its official negotiators explicitly stated it in an official negotiation. But of course, he did not pursue this imaginary idea with any consistency. According to Oxenstierna’s claim, he wanted to found a large Scandinavian empire that would include Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Baltic countries, which was hardly less of a dream of the future than the German imperial crown. Gustavus Adolphus himself most clearly said that he wanted to capture Pomerania and Mecklenburg, but as the German imperial prince and director of a corpus evangelicorum, i.e. the Protestant princes and cities, which would have meant the permanent disruption of Germany. As a reward for this clean plan, German historians have praised him all too much because he wanted to create a somewhat strong Germany.
Only in one way is Gustavus Adolphus’ historical position splendid and completely incomparable. He has achieved what no conqueror before and after him has done. A great people, whose mortal enemy he was and whose bones he crushed and whose blood he spilled, celebrates him as their hero. In order to work this miracle, of course, a “people of poets and thinkers” first had to appear on the historical stage.
VIII. The end of the thirty years
Gustavus Adolphus’ death, of course, did nothing to change the general course of events. He had passed the height of his career as a conqueror. The Swedish knighthood, which from now on also formally took over the leadership of the Swedish military monarchy, since Gustavus Adolphus only left one underage daughter, provided diplomats and generals enough who were well suited to the king. Their class interests bound them together tightly enough, more tightly than they had been with the king, whose romantic imperial ambitions and other “confused” plans had rather disturbed their circles. The setback that the Swedish affair experienced was in the nature of things himself; Sweden could not overthrow Germany, and Gustavus Adolphus would not have changed anything if he had lived longer.
But neither could the imperial power be established. German affairs were so hopelessly divided that the champion of a strong imperial power, Wallenstein, fell into the daggers of imperial assassins a little over a year after Gustavus Adolphus’ death. Of all the parties that wrestled with each other on German soil, none could be victorious. The reins of war fell into France’s hands. The Swedish War, the fourth period of the Thirty Years’ War, was followed by the French War as its longest and final period. The Swedish conquerors were no more than the mercenaries of a power as alien to them as to the Germans. But even here, a longer life for Gustavus Adolphus would not have changed anything. He himself had already gone into bondage in France in order to devastate Germany; he had at times known how to deceive himself and the world about this relationship but was never able to undo it. His death did not create dependence on France in the first place; he only saved him the bitter humiliation of openly professing it.
The Swedish squires lived on German soil for over half a generation and earned the fame of being the worst among the looters and thieves of the German nation. With an inexhaustible imagination, they invented new tortures to find the hiding place of the last treasures. The “Swedish drink”, which a poor Protestant clergyman, who was subjected to this torture, sang about in pitiful verses, still enjoys a gruesome reputation today:
Manure and of it a-plenty
they poured as you would with a barrel,
into my body for hours some many
while four men with rope kept me in peril
Other tortures were: unscrewing the stones from the pistols and forcing the peasants’ thumbs in their place; to rub the soles of the feet with salt and let the goats lick them; after tying the hands with a perforated awl, pulling a horsehair through the tongue and gently moving it up and down; tying a rope with buttons around the forehead and twisting it with a knot at the back; To tie two fingers together and to drive up and down with a ramrod in between until the skin and flesh were burned to the bones, to say nothing of the hideous crimes, which in civil language could not be expressed at all, that were perpetrated against the female population. It was then that the nursery rhyme, which is still remembered today, was born: pray ‘, child, pray’, tomorrow the Swede ‘comes. A Swedish general Count Königsmark brought so many wagon loads of gold and valuables to Sweden that he left his family an annual income of 130,000 thalers, in proportion to the price of one million marks of our money. When another, a Wrangel, received news of the peace at last, he trampled angrily on his general’s hat. He still didn’t have enough.
The historical work is still missing, which calculates in every detail what the Thirty Years’ War has cost the German people on the basis of the available and critically examined material. Only this stands firmly above any doubt: never has a great civilized people suffered such destruction. According to the most reliable estimates, more than three quarters of the population has perished: The number of inhabitants has decreased from seventeen to four million in the thirty years. Thus had to follow the annihilation in all areas of economic life. Germany was set back in its development by two hundred years; it took two hundred years to return to the economic level it had at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. The German monarchy lay there, mutilated in every limb and even a rotting corpse. It was not even remotely the worst that the Netherlands and Switzerland were torn from their last loose connection with the Empire. In the west France grabbed the richest stripes, in the north Sweden stole the mouths of the Oder, Elbe and Weser rivers, and both countries were given the right to interfere in German affairs. The last authority of the emperor and empire was irretrievably gone. In the torn Edict of Restitution, the House of Habsburg received the well-deserved receipt for its suicidal policy. The economic causes of the German Reformation continued to work; the “liberty of the estates” triumphed all along the line. In the unconditional sovereignty of the princes, which extended to the right to build alliances with foreign countries, the German people finally received a cheerful pledge that with all this unheard of misery, with all the boundless shame, the cup of misery is far from being emptied to the ground.
IX. The Gustavus Adolphus cult
Like the spiritual, the secular government also needs its legends. Moltke, who knew this like few, declared it a duty of piety and patriotism to cultivate military legends, even if one knew that they were frauds. This touches on the first cause of the German Gustavus Adolphus cult. Foreigners and the German princes – including the Habsburgs, insofar as they were sovereigns because in the Austrian hereditary lands the Edict of Restitution remained – had emerged victorious from the Thirty Years’ War. Foreign countries could not care how the German people came to terms with this fact, not so the German princes. They needed their legend to portray the wretched sovereignty they established on the charred ruins of the German Empire as God’s inexplicable advice and the work of valiant hero swords. We do not have to investigate here how the Catholic princes came to terms with this necessity; In any case, they had the rich legends of the Catholic Church to choose from.
The Protestant princes found themselves in a much less favourable situation. Luther, the man of God, was only a pear for the thirst; at most he covered the religious expenses of the necessary legend. But how could their military side be covered? The Protestant princes, who had lived from the end of the Peasants’ War to the Peace of Westphalia, were such terrible people that a sea of whitewash was hardly enough to hide the bloody stains soaking their cloaks. A legendary figure could not be carved out of any of these greyish goblins. So there was only Gustavus Adolphus, who had played the patron of German Protestantism, admittedly only in appearance, in order to plunder Germany all the more systematically, but in a “heroic” stance, so to speak. It was precisely the north German Protestant princes who owed him sincere thanks because of his real purpose of maintaining the turmoil of the north German lowlands! The court preachers of these princes cultivated the Gustavus Adolphus cult, and their court professors wrote the Gustavus Adolphus legend; Since the Peace of Westphalia, a bag-hungry pirate has been venerated in church and school as the hero Gideon of the Protestant church.
So far the matter is understandable and easy to understand. The Gustavus Adolphus cult of the bourgeoisie appears less plausible. As soon as the bourgeois classes gained strength in Germany, they had to demand national unity and consequently revolt against the dwarf despots and their legends. There was also no lack of beginnings. In his mighty drama “Wallenstein” Schiller showed with ingenious understanding that not Gustavus Adolphus, but Wallenstein is the national hero of the Thirty Years’ War, as far as a national hero was possible at that time. Schiller was already in his classicistic epoch and did not have the full freshness of his bourgeois revolutionary beginnings when he wrote “Wallenstein”. But in much of what he put into the mouth of his hero, he used the most admirable instincts to anticipate the historical information that was only gleaned from the dust of the archives about Wallenstein long after his death.
In the meantime, it all remained at the beginning. The German bourgeoisie could not get rid of the fear of princes which had been drilled into them with such terrible thoroughness. And when, in order to gain power at all, it had to take refuge under the bayonets of the partial German state in which Joachim II had inoculated the “providential Protestant mission”, it had to include the Gustavus Adolphus cult in its spiritual inventory. If the Lutheran Orthodox had made Sweden the protector of “freedom of belief and conscience”, the liberal bourgeoisie made him a protector of “freedom of thought”. Without Gustavus Adolphus, there was no German Protestantism, without German Protestantism, there would be no classical literature and philosophy, so that in the end the old Swede still launched Hegel’s phenomenology. However, Lessing and Goethe, Heine and Humboldt showed a certain sympathy for Jesuitism rather than Lutheranism, not out of religious enthusiasm, but rather out of sensible affinities. And if conversely, the good Nicolai and his spiritual descendants did and still do the “Jesuitenschnoperei” already scourged by Goethe, this has nothing to do with “spiritual freedom” or “spiritual bondage”, but is simply the biting business envy of bankrupt petty traders who are never solvent against a wholesaler who has long since gone bankrupt but was once very solvent.
But with this berserk logic, even gods would fight in vain. May the English bourgeoisie glorify Queen Elisabeth, the French bourgeoisie Cardinal Richelieu, and the Swedish bourgeoisie King Gustavus Adolphus: They at least stick to their own. But with its Gustavus Adolphus cult, the German bourgeoisie once again proves the well-known fact that it is the most narrow-minded bourgeoisie of the century. The most narrow-minded and therefore the most perfidious in its nature. The same liberal papers that sing the Gustavus Adolphus hymns most fervently are the loudest advocates for new exceptional laws against the working classes. They have looked at their hero deeply and studied the way he cleared his throat and spat: It is a matter of using the salvation of the supposedly most sacred interests as a cover in order to plunder the masses down to the bare life. What Wallenstein said of Gustavus Adolphus also applies to this Gustavus Adolphus cult: You have to look at his fists, not at his mouth.
By celebrating one of the most violent overthrowers history can tell, they scream for “the fight against the overthrowers”; By glorifying a foreign looter of Germany, they unfold the “national” banner in the legal struggle against the German working class that wishes for a humane existence. Do we then need to explain in detail what interest the German proletariat has in the forthcoming Gustavus Adolphus celebration? We hope it is clear enough from our entire presentation and it is important enough to justify the appearance of this little writing.
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Originally published as: Franz Mehring: “Gustav Adolf. Ein Fürstenspiegel zu Lehr und Nutzen der deutschen Arbeiter”, 2nd edition, Leipzig, 1908 [1st edition published in 1894]
Translation from German into English by an anonymous comrade based on the Infopartisan.net-Scan