Mühlberg, Battle of

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Mühlberg, Battle of

A battle between the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League, a band of Protestant German princes opposed to the emperor's authority in their domains. By the evening of April 23, 1547, the Schmalkaldic commander, John of Saxony, had gathered about eight thousand foot soldiers and three thousand cavalry on the eastern bank of the Elbe River, in what is now northeastern Germany. Charles and his commander, the Duke of Alba, had about thirteen thousand foot soldiers and five thousand cavalry. This force of Spanish, Flemish, and German soldiers took up their lines on the river's western bank. With the advantage in numbers, Charles decided to take the initiative and attack on the morning of April 24, 1547.

Early that morning, men of the imperial army armed with muskets and harquebuses forded the Elbe and created a strong bridgehead on the eastern shore. Maneuvering in a thick fog, and told of an easy ford of the river by a local peasant, a large squadron of Spanish cavalry followed, throwing the forward scouts of the Schmalkaldic League into a panic. Several hundred yards to the east, John of Saxony then drew up his forces, with infantry flanked by cavalry, to face the assault. Alba, forming a squadron of heavy cavalry, charged the left flanks of the Protestant position and threw its men into a panic. In the meantime, the harquebusiers and lancers were attacking the Saxon horses on the other wing, causing the horses to break and run into a nearby forest. The Protestant infantry remained to face flanking attacks on both sides. The battle continued for two hours before the Saxon foot soldiers finally broke and retreated from the field.

With the defeat at Mühlberg, the Schmalkaldic League lost two of its most important leaders, John of Saxony and the Duke of Brunswick, as prisoners. The league broke apart and submitted to Charles V, but the dispute between Protestant rulers and the emperor would continue for eight years before the Treaty of Augsburg would temporarily settle their differences.

See Also: Charles V