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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 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

WALLENSTEIN, ALBRECHT EUSEBIUS WENZEL VON

Duke of Friedland, Sagan, and Mecklenburg; b. Hermanice, Bohemia, Sept. 24, 1583; d. Eger, Bohemia, Feb. 25, 1634. Wallenstein, a member of the noble, but not rich, Waldstein family, was sent by his uncle, Heinrich von Slavata, to the Jesuit college at Olmütz where he converted to Roman Catholicism. After studying also at Altdorf, Bologna, and Padua, where he acquired his lifelong interest in astrology, Wallenstein joined the army of George Basta, an imperialist general of Rudolph II. Wallenstein's bravery in the Hungarian campaign against the Turks won him command of a company (1605). After returning to Bohemia, he married (1609) an elderly Moravian widow, Lucretia von Vičkov, whose estates he inherited at her death in 1614. The independently wealthy Wallenstein fought for the Emperor against the Venetians and, after the outbreak of the thirty years' war, against the Bohemian rebels. It was he who delivered the treasury of the Moravian Estates to Vienna, later using the money to raise a regiment in the imperial cause. He fought against Bethlen Gabor, the Transylvanian ally of the rebels, and against Count Ernst Mansfeld, and consequently was not present at White Mountain (November 1620), the crucial defeat of the Bohemian cause. Wallen-stein proceeded to amalgamate his estates with his conquests, and some purchases from Emperor ferdinand ii. He was appointed imperial count palatine (1622), prince (1623), and then duke of Friedland (1624); he quickly won favor at court and with the army. Wallenstein married Isabella Harrach, the wealthy daughter of a close imperial advisor, and used his riches to lend money to the Emperor and to extend his influence. He seems also to have been a firm ruler and capable administrator who took a sincere interest in the welfare of his subjects.

When Christian IV of Denmark declared war on Ferdinand II, Wallenstein joined forces with Johann Tserclaes of Tilly, general of the Catholic League, against the Danes. An army of more than 20,000 men flocked to Wallenstein's banner, attracted by his reputation and the promise of spoils. The campaigns of 1625, 1626, and 1627 witnessed Wallenstein's defeat of Mansfeld, and Gabor, and the conquest of Silesia and Mecklenburg. He was granted the latter in 1628, and named hereditary duke of Mecklenburg in June 1629. His siege of Stralsund was unsuccessful and his effort to extend Hapsburg power to the Baltic was thwarted. Eventually, Wallenstein urged Ferdinand II to sign a treaty with the Danes and at that time also expressed his opposition to the Edict of restitution (1629). Wallenstein's ambition made enemies for him at court and among the princes of the Catholic League. On Aug. 13, 1630, Ferdinand II dismissed Wallenstein from the imperial service. Upon returning to Friedland, Wallenstein quietly negotiated with Gustavus II Adolphus, King of Sweden and new leader of the Protestant cause. The Swedish victories at Breitenfeld (1631) and Lech (1632), as well as the death of Tilly, forced Ferdinand to recall Wallenstein. Reluctantly, Wallenstein returned, but eventually he launched a full-scale campaign against the Protestants. Wallenstein's victories at Prague and Nuremberg were followed by his defeat at Lützen, (November 1632). King Gustavus was killed in the battle, however, and the Swedes were demoralized. Wallenstein failed to attack the Swedes, preferring negotiations with Saxony, France, Brandenburg, and Sweden to fighting against them. It would appear that he was contemplating desertion of the imperial cause, and preparing a personal coup, which portended some reorganization of the Empire. By October 1633, however, these negotiations were broken off and Wallenstein renewed his campaign against the Saxons.

By this time, Ferdinand II, influenced by the Spanish ambassador and by Wallenstein's enemies, was determined to dismiss him. In January 1634, the Emperor signed a secret patent removing him. On February 18, Wallenstein was accused of high treason. While on his way to an intended meeting with Duke Benhard of Saxe-Weimar, Wallenstein was murdered by some Irish and Scots officers in the imperial army who were led by Col. Walter Butler and Capt. Walter Devereux. Haughty, boastful, and ambitious, Wallenstein was a skillful strategist, a brave soldier, and a clever diplomat. Sharp controversy over his motives and principles still rages among historians. Sometimes called a traitor to Catholicism, he has been hailed by others as a herald of German nationalism, by still others as a ruthless and calculating condottiere. As Friedrich Schiller wrote in his dramatic Wallensteins Tod, "his portrait fluctuates in history."

Bibliography: j. pekar, Wallenstein 16301634: Tragödie einer Verschwörung, 2 v. (Berlin 1937). c. v. wedgwood, The Thirty Years' War (New Haven 1939). h. von srbik, Wallensteins Ende (Vienna 1920). f. watson, Wallenstein: Soldier under Saturn (London 1938). c. j. friedrich, The Age of the Baroque, 16101660 (New York 1952). w. pickel, Gustav Adolf und Wallenstein in der Schlacht an der Alten Veste bei Nürnberg, 1632 (Nuremberg 1926). g. mann, Wallenstein, ed., c. kessler (New York 1976). h. diwald, Wallenstein (Munich 1969).

[p. s. mcgarry]

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