Tilly, Johann Tserclaes of (1559–1632)

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TILLY, JOHANN TSERCLAES OF (15591632), general of the army of the Catholic League (16201632). Johann Tserclaes of Tilly was probably born in February 1559 (we do not know the precise date) in Brabant (in the Spanish Netherlands), the son of Martin Tserclaes and Dorothea von Schierstädt. Because his father had been involved in the uprising of the Dutch noblemen (known as the "Gueux") against the Spanish crown, he spent his early years in exile. With his brother Jacob, young Tilly attended the Jesuit College at Cologne for a brief period. He did not join the order, but became a fervent supporter for the rest of his life.

After his family reconciled with the Habsburgs, Tilly entered military service. He began as a private but soon rose to higher ranks. Having fought under Alexander Farnese, duke of Parma, against the rebellious Dutch, he went to Hungary and led an imperial regiment against the Turks. He supported Rudolf II (ruled 15761612) in his struggle with his brother, Archduke Matthias (who succeeded Rudolf as emperor in 1612 and ruled until 1619), but in 1610 he left Prague and entered Bavarian service. Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria made him general lieutenantcommander in chief. In the Thirty Years' War, Tilly led the army of the Catholic League, while Maximilian was its political spirit.

Although we know little about his early years, the details of Tilly's life become more accessible with the beginning of the Bohemian campaign (1620). In the 1620s his victories helped to establish the military and political dominance of the imperial-Catholic rule throughout most of the Old Reich. He won the Battle of White Mountain (at Prague, 8 November 1620), had several encounters with Ernst of Mansfeld (he lost at Wiesloch/Mingolsheim, 27 April 1622, but won at Wimpfen, 6 May 1622), crushed the army of Christian of Brunswick twice (Höchst near Frankfurt am Main, 20 June 1622, and Stadtlohn near the Dutch border, 6 August 1623), forced the Danish King Christian IV (ruled 15881648) to retreat (Lutter am Barenberge, 27 August 1626), and gained control of northern Germany. After A. W. E. von Wallenstein's dismissal in 1630, he took command of the imperial troops as interim general. In the Swedish campaign of 1631 he captured Magdeburg (20 May), but lost the battle of Breitenfeld against Gustavus II Adolphus (17 September). Trying to stop the Swedish invasion of Bavaria, he was defeated again at Rain am Lech (15 April 1632), where he was fatally wounded (he died at Ingolstadt on 30 April 1632).

Tilly's fame as a general derived from his successful campaigns throughout the 1620s, when he developed a unique battle-seeking strategy. The disastrous outcome of the Swedish war, however, tarnished his military reputation. Though he is normally characterized as belonging to the Spanish school (regarded as obsolete at the time) of military strategy, his failure against the Swedish cannot be adequately explained by invoking the more modern tactics of the Swedish army. Those defeats were at least partly due to the political tensions within the Catholic party, which prevented him from executing his planned offensives.

Tilly was also blamed for the sacking and burning of Magdeburg (20 May 1631), a catastrophe that did not reflect well on his military skills. Contemporary critics held him responsible for this disaster, but modern historians have refuted this verdict, pointing out that he would never have willingly destroyed a stronghold of such importance to his forthcoming campaigns.

Tilly can be regarded as a transitional figure, balanced between the classic type of military enterpriser and the emergent type of modern officer. Along with Wallenstein, he developed intooneofthe most successful enterprisers to make his fortune in a time of war. For his services, Tilly was remunerated with money and property (the most important was Breitenegg, a lordship in the Upper Palatinate), and in 1623 he was made a count. In contrast to Wallenstein, he confined himself strictly to military affairs and did not try to gain political influence. He remained absolutely loyal to his prince and was willing to obey even in controversial matters. Maximilian of Bavaria, as the undisputed political leader, and Tilly, as successful military commander, formed one of the most successful teams in the Thirty Years' War.

Because he never married and remained childless, Tilly's nephew Werner von Tilly continued his line in Bavaria.

See also Gustavus II Adolphus (Sweden) ; Matthias (Holy Roman Empire) ; Parma, Alexander Farnese, duke of ; Rudolf II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) ; Wallenstein, A. W. E. von .


Junkelmann, Marcus S. "Feldherr Maximilians: Johann Tserclaes Graf von Tilly." In Um Glauben und Reich: Kurfürst Maximilian I. Beiträge zur Bayerischen Geschichte und Kunst 15731651, edited by Hubert Glaser, pp. 377399. Munich, 1980.

Kaiser, Michael. Politik und Kriegführung: Maximilian von Bayern, Tilly und die Katholische Liga im Dreißigjährigen Krieg. Münster, 1999.

. "Tilly in Köln: eine biographische Episode im Kontext der Traditionsbildung." Geschichte in Köln, 41 (August 1997): 529. Especially useful for its discussion of Tilly's early years; also includes a bibliography on biographical works from the seventeenth century to the present.

Klopp, Onno. Der dreißigjährige Krieg bis zum Tode Gustav Adolfs 1632. 4 vols. Paderborn, 18911896. As there is no English biography yet, this German one remains the most comprehensive.

Michael Kaiser

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Tilly, Johann Tserclaes of (1559–1632)

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