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Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein

Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein

The Bohemian soldier of fortune Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (1583-1634) was one of the major figures in the Thirty Years War. His administrative and financial talents made him one of the richest and most powerful men in Europe.

Albrecht von Wallenstein was born on Sept. 24, 1583, at Hermanitz in Bohemia of noble family. Reared in the Utraquist (Protestant) faith, he converted to Catholicism before 1606 and attached himself to the court of the Hapsburg archduke (later emperor) Matthias, with whom he shared a strong interest in astrology. Marriage with a rich widow in 1609 added large Moravian estates to his possessions.

In 1618, when the Protestant Bohemian nobles rebelled against Matthias's aggressively pro-Catholic successor, Ferdinand II, Wallenstein remained loyal to the Hapsburgs. Although he did not participate in their decisive victory in 1620 near Prague, wholesale confiscation of rebel property enabled him to purchase the vast estates of Reichenberg and Friedland. By 1622 he was one of the largest landholders in the kingdom, a status Ferdinand II recognized in 1624 by granting him the title Duke of Friedland. Wallenstein's second marriage, in 1623 to Isabella von Harrach, brought him into the Emperor's most intimate circle.

Wallenstein's astonishingly rapid acquisition of enormous wealth and influence resulted from his ability to grasp every possible advantage from a political system dependent on mercenary armies. From the beginning, he organized his own estates to provide recruiting areas and supporting industries for equipping his regiments, whose services he offered at great profit. He was coldly calculating, shrewdly acquisitive, and enormously ambitious. But his talents as a commander in the field were mediocre.

Wallenstein was named imperial commander against the allied Protestant German and Danish forces in 1625. His first campaigns were disappointing in spite of the astonishing speed he had shown in raising and equipping the army. In 1627, with larger forces at his disposal, he swept the Danes out of Silesia and northern Germany, and by 1629 the Emperor could impose peace on Germany. Wallenstein's price for his services included payment of his debts, large new grants of land, and the duchy of Mecklenburg, this last making him a sovereign prince of the empire.

Overestimating the security of his position in Germany, Ferdinand II dismissed Wallenstein from command in 1630. The Swedish invasion of the same year, however, undid the earlier victories, and Ferdinand II again had to call on Wallenstein's services. The Emperor was at his general's mercy, and the price was exorbitant. The terms of their agreement are still a mystery, but they included, in addition to money and new estates, virtual independence from political or religious interference in territories won back from the Protestant forces. Wallenstein began his last campaign in 1632 by driving the Saxons from Bohemia and then forcing Gustavus II (Gustavus Adolphus) to withdraw from Bavaria. On Nov. 16, 1632, the Swedish army struck Wallenstein's forces at Lützen. Wallenstein withdrew from the field, abandoning his artillery, but Gustavus himself was killed, and the Swedish army retired leaderless.

Wallenstein had been incredibly lucky, and at this point he contemplated using his unprecedented powers as commander in chief to impose a peace on Germany with terms which fell far short of fulfilling Ferdinand's own policies. Wallenstein's own intentions are unfathomable, but both sides feared him as both competed for his allegiance. It is quite possible that he hoped to gain the Bohemian crown for himself. Whatever his motives were, he had decided by the end of 1633 to break with Ferdinand II, and he began negotiating with the Protestant princes. The Emperor again ordered Wallenstein's dismissal in January 1634 and, to prevent betrayal, ordered loyal officers to imprison him and bring him to Vienna, or if necessary, to kill him. Worn down by illness and enmeshed in the tangle of his own conspiracies, Wallenstein could not complete his negotiations with his former enemies before he was caught by officers loyal to the Emperor at the fortress of Eger in Bohemia. These officers shot Wallenstein on the night of Feb. 25, 1634.

Further Reading

The two standard works on Wallenstein are in German. The best study in English remains Francis Watson, Wallenstein: Soldier under Saturn (1938). Extensive material on Wallenstein is in Cicely Veronica Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (1939).

Additional Sources

Liddell Hart, Basil Henry, Sir, Great captains unveiled, New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.

Mann, Golo, Wallenstein, his life narrated, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976. □

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Wallenstein, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von

Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (wäl´ənstīn, Ger. äl´brĕkht vĕn´tsəl oizā´bēŏŏs fən väl´ənshtīn, vält´shtīn), 1583–1634, imperial general in the Thirty Years War, b. Bohemia. He attended the Lutheran academy at Altdorf but at the age of 20 converted to Roman Catholicism. He advanced his fortune by marriage to a wealthy widow, and for his support of Archduke Ferdinand of Styria (Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II) before, during, and after the Bohemian revolt that started the Thirty Years War, he was well rewarded, becoming prince and then (1625) duke of Friedland. He built up a magnificent estate in Bohemia, expanding his fortune at the expense of the Bohemian Protestants, whose lands he confiscated with Ferdinand's authorization. In 1625, Wallenstein raised a large army for Ferdinand II and became chief imperial general, cooperating with the general of the Catholic League, Count Tilly, in the Danish phase of the war. Wallenstein in 1626 defeated Ernst von Mansfeld at the Dessau bridgehead, and some of his men helped Tilly to defeat the Danish king Christian IV at Lutter. The next year Wallenstein destroyed the remnants of Mansfeld's army and later defeated Christian IV's forces. Now at the height of his wealth and power, Wallenstein, having driven the dukes of Mecklenburg from their lands, was granted that duchy as a hereditary fief from the Holy Roman emperor. He was also given the title of admiral, but his hopes of founding a maritime empire were set back by the failure of the siege of Stralsund (1628) on the Baltic. Wallenstein had powerful enemies, particularly among the German princes, from whom he had extorted money for the support of the army. Finally, in 1630, they prevailed on Ferdinand to dismiss him. The failure of his successor, Tilly, against King Gustavus II of Sweden brought Wallenstein back to power (1632). With a huge army he cleared Bohemia and began a contest with the Swedish king that ended at Lützen (1632), where Wallenstein was defeated and the Swedish king was killed. Embittered by his earlier dismissal, Wallenstein was then determined to become more powerful than ever, controlling not only military decisions, but imperial policy also. His secret negotiations with the enemy brought down on his head accusations of treason. A number of his generals, including Matthias Gallas and Ottavio Piccolomini, were drawn into a conspiracy against him. Ferdinand secretly removed Wallenstein from command on Jan. 24, 1634. Wallenstein renewed his attempts to negotiate with the Swedes and with a few hundred troops fled to Eger (Cheb), where he was treacherously murdered (Feb., 1634). His assassin later had the emperor's favor. Wallenstein is the central figure in a dramatic trilogy by Schiller.

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"Wallenstein, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Wallenstein, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wallenstein-albrecht-wenzel-eusebius-von

Wallenstein, Albrecht Eusebius Wenzel von

Wallenstein, Albrecht Eusebius Wenzel von (1583–1634) German general. During the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), he was commander of the armies of the Holy Roman Empire. He won a series of victories in the late 1620s, but lost the Battle of Lützen in 1632. He was later convicted of treason, dismissed, and then assassinated.

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"Wallenstein, Albrecht Eusebius Wenzel von." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wallenstein-albrecht-eusebius-wenzel-von