Albrecht von Wallenstein

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Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein
Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt - Portrait of the Duke of Wallenstein.jpg
Portrait of Wallenstein, Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt
Born (1583-09-24)24 September 1583
Heřmanice, Kingdom of Bohemia
Died 25 February 1634(1634-02-25) (aged 50)
Cheb, Kingdom of Bohemia
Allegiance  Holy Roman Empire
Years of service ? – 24 January 1634
Battles/wars Long Turkish War, Uskok War, Thirty Years' War

Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (About this sound pronunciation ; Czech: Albrecht Václav Eusebius z Valdštejna;[1] 24 September 1583 – 25 February 1634),[2] also von Waldstein, was a Bohemian[lower-alpha 1] military leader and politician, who offered his services, and an army of 30,000 to 100,000 men during the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. He became the supreme commander of the armies of the Habsburg Monarchy and a major figure of the Thirty Years' War.

An imperial generalissimo[3] by land, and Admiral of the Baltic Sea from 21 April 1628, who had made himself ruler of the lands of the Duchy of Friedland in northern Bohemia,[4] Wallenstein found himself released from service on 13 August 1630 after Ferdinand grew wary of his ambition.[5] Several Protestant victories over Catholic armies induced Ferdinand to recall Wallenstein, who again turned the war in favor of the Imperial cause. Dissatisfied with the Emperor's treatment of him, Wallenstein considered allying with the Protestants. However, he was assassinated at Eger/Cheb in Bohemia by one of the army's officials, Walter Devereux, with the emperor's approval.

Early life

Isabelle von Harrach, Wallenstein's second wife

Wallenstein was born on 24 September 1583 in Heřmanice, Bohemia, into a poor Protestant branch of the Waldstein (Wallenstein, Valdštejn) family who owned Heřmanice castle and seven surrounding villages.[2][6] His mother Markéta (née Smiřická of Smiřice) died in 1593, his father Wilhelm (Vilém) in 1595.[7] They had raised him bilingually – the father spoke German while his mother preferred Czech – yet Wallenstein in his childhood had a better command of Czech than of German.[8] The religious affiliation of the parents was Lutheranism and Utraquism.[8]

After the death of his parents, Albrecht for two years lived with his maternal uncle, Jindřich Slavata of Chlum and Košumberk, a member of the Unity of the Brethren (Bohemian Brethren), and adopted his uncle's religious affiliation.[8] His uncle sent him to the brethren's school at Košumberk Castle in Eastern Bohemia. In 1597, Albrecht was sent to the Protestant Latin school at Goldberg (now Złotoryja) in Silesia, where the then German environment led him to hone his German language skills.[8] While German became Wallenstein's everyday language, he is said to have continued to curse in Czech.[9] On 29 August 1599 Wallenstein continued his education at the Protestant University of Altdorf near Nuremberg, Franconia, where he was often engaged in brawls and épée fights, leading to his imprisonment in town prison.[8]

In February 1600,[8] Albrecht left Altdorf and travelled around the Holy Roman Empire, France and Italy,[10] where he studied at the universities of Bologna and Padua.[11] By this time, Wallenstein was fluent in German, Czech, Latin and Italian, was able to understand Spanish, and spoke some French.[8]

Wallenstein then joined the army of the Emperor Rudolf II in Hungary, where, under the command of Giorgio Basta, he saw two years of armed service (1604–1606) against the Ottoman Turks and Hungarian rebels.[11] In 1604, his sister Kateřina Anna married the leader of the Moravian Protestants, Karel the Older of Zierotin.[12] He then studied at the University of Olomouc (Graduated 1606). His contact with the Olomouc Jesuits was partly responsible for his conversion to Catholicism in the same year.[10] The contributory factor to his conversion may have been the Counter-Reformation policy of the Habsburgs which effectively barred Protestants from being appointed to higher offices at court in Bohemia and in Moravia, and the impressions he gathered in Catholic Italy.[13] However, there are no sources clearly indicating the reasons for Wallenstein's conversion, except for a subjunctive anecdote by his contemporary Franz Christoph von Khevenmüller about the Virgin Mary saving Wallenstein's life when he fell from a window in Innsbruck.[10] Wallenstein was later made a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

In 1607, based on recommendations by his brother-in-law, Zierotin, and another relative, Adam of Waldstein, often mistakenly referred to as his uncle, Wallenstein was made chamberlain at the court of Matthias, and later also chamberlain to archdukes Ferdinand and Maximilian.[14]

In 1609, Wallenstein married Czech Lucretia of Víckov, née Nekšová of Landek,[15] rich widow of Arkleb of Víckov[16] who owned the towns of Vsetín, Lukov, Rymice and Všetuly/Holešov (all in eastern Moravia).[17] She was three years older than Wallenstein, and he inherited her estates after her death in 1614.[11] He used his wealth to win favour, offering and commanding 200 horses for Archduke Ferdinand of Styria for his war with Venice in 1617, thereby relieving the fortress of Gradisca from the Venetian siege.[18] He later endowed a monastery in her name and had her reburied there.

In 1623 Wallenstein married Isabella Katharina, daughter of Count Harrach. She bore him two children, a son who died in infancy and a surviving daughter.[11] Examples of the couple's correspondence survive. The two marriages made him one of the wealthiest men in the Bohemian Crown.

Thirty Years' War

The Wallenstein Palace in Prague

The Thirty Years' War began in 1618 when the estates of Bohemia rebelled against Ferdinand of Styria and elected Frederick V, Elector Palatine, the leader of the Protestant Union, as their new king. Wallenstein associated himself with the cause of the Catholics and the Habsburg dynasty. Sympathizing with the Bohemians, he used his position as commander of the troops of the Moravian estates to escape with the Moravian treasure-chest to Vienna. There, however, the authorities told him that the money would go back to the Moravians — but he had shown his loyalty to Ferdinand, the future Emperor.

Wallenstein equipped a regiment of cuirassiers and won great distinction under Charles Bonaventure de Longueval, Count of Bucquoy in the wars against Ernst von Mansfeld and Gabriel Bethlen (both supporters of the Bohemian revolt) in Moravia. Wallenstein recovered his lands (which the rebels had seized in 1619) and after the Battle of White Mountain (8 November 1620) he secured the estates belonging to his mother's family and confiscated tracts of Protestant lands. He grouped his new possessions into a territory called Friedland (Frýdlant) in northern Bohemia. A series of successes in battle led to Wallenstein becoming in 1622 an imperial count palatine, in 1623 a prince, and in 1625 Duke of Friedland.[19] Wallenstein proved an able administrator of the duchy[20] and also sent a large representation to Prague to emphasize his nobility.

Self image Wallenstein depicted as Mars, the God of war, riding the sky in a chariot pulled by four horses. Ceiling decoration in the main hall of the Wallenstein Palace

In order to aid Ferdinand (elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1619) against the Northern Protestants and to produce a balance in the Army of the Catholic League under Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, Wallenstein offered to raise a whole army for the imperial service following the bellum se ipsum alet principle, and received his final commission on 25 July 1625. Wallenstein’s success as a military commander brought him fiscal credit, which in turn enabled him to receive loans to buy lands, many of them being the former estates of conquered Bohemian nobles. Wallenstein also used his credit to grant loans to Ferdinand II, who then repaid him through lands and titles.[21] Wallenstein's popularity soon recruited 30,000 (not long afterwards 50,000) men.[22] The two armies worked together over 1625–27, at first against Mansfeld.

Having beaten Mansfeld at Dessau (25 April 1626), Wallenstein cleared Silesia of the remnants of Mansfeld's army in 1627.[22][23] At this time he bought from the emperor the Duchy of Sagan (in Silesia). He then joined Tilly in the struggle with Christian IV of Denmark,[24] and afterwards gained as a reward the Duchies of Mecklenburg, whose hereditary dukes suffered expulsion for having helped the Danish king. This awarding of a major territory to someone of the lower nobility shocked the high-born rulers of many other German states.[25]

Wallenstein assumed the title of "Admiral of the North and Baltic Seas". However, in 1628 he failed to capture Stralsund, which resisted the Capitulation of Franzburg and the subsequent siege with assistance of Danish, Scottish and Swedish troops, a blow that denied him access to the Baltic and the chance of challenging the naval power of the Scandinavian kingdoms and of the Netherlands.[23] Though he succeeded in defeating Christian IV of Denmark in the Battle of Wolgast and neutralizing Denmark in the subsequent Peace of Lübeck,[26] the situation further deteriorated when the presence of the Imperial catholic troops on the Baltic and the Emperor's "Edict of Restitution" brought King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden into the conflict.[23] He attempted to aid forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, which were fighting Sweden in 1629; however, Wallenstein failed to engage any major Swedish forces and this significantly affected the outcome of the conflict.[27]

Engraving of Albrecht von Wallenstein

Over the course of the war Wallenstein's ambitions and the exactions of his army had made him a host of enemies, both Catholic and Protestant princes and non-princes. Ferdinand suspected Wallenstein of planning a coup to take control of the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor's advisors advocated dismissing him, and in September 1630 envoys were sent to Wallenstein to announce his removal.[19] Wallenstein gave over his army to General Tilly, and retired to Jičín, the capital of his Duchy of Friedland. There he lived in an atmosphere of "mysterious magnificence".[28]

However, circumstances forced Ferdinand to call Wallenstein into the field again.[19] The successes of Gustavus Adolphus over General Tilly at the Battle of Breitenfeld and on the Lech (1632), where Tilly was killed, and his advance to Munich and occupation of Bohemia, demanded action.[28] In the spring of 1632, Wallenstein raised a fresh army within a few weeks and took to the field. He drove the Saxon army from Bohemia and then advanced against Gustavus Adolphus, whom he opposed near Nuremberg and after the Battle of the Alte Veste dislodged. In November, came the great Battle of Lützen, in which Wallenstein was forced to retreat but in the confused melee, Gustavus Adolphus was killed. Wallenstein then withdrew to winter quarters in Bohemia.[28]

In the campaigning of 1633, Wallenstein's apparent unwillingness to attack the enemy caused much concern in Vienna and in Spain. At this time the dimensions of the war grew more European. Wallenstein had, in fact, started preparing to desert the Emperor: he expressed anger at Ferdinand's refusal to revoke the Edict of Restitution. Historic records tell little about his secret negotiations; but rumors told that he was preparing to force a just peace on the Emperor in the interests of united Germany, at the same time hesitating — as he used to do in other respects — and trying to stay loyal to the Emperor as far as possible. With this apparent "plan" he entered into negotiations with Saxony, Brandenburg, Sweden, and France. But, apparently, the Habsburgs' enemies tried to draw him to their side. In any case, he gained little support. Anxious to make his power felt, he at last resumed the offensive against the Swedes and Saxons, winning his last victory at Steinau on the Oder in October. He then resumed negotiations.

Treachery and death

The Killing of Wallenstein in Eger/Cheb.

In December Wallenstein retired with his army to Bohemia, around Pilsen (now Plzeň). Vienna soon definitely convinced itself of his treachery, a secret court found him guilty, and the Emperor looked seriously for a means of getting rid of him (a successor in command, the later emperor Ferdinand III, was already waiting). Wallenstein was aware of the plan to replace him, but felt confident that when the army came to decide between him and the Emperor the decision would be in his favour.[28]

On 24 January 1634 the Emperor signed a secret patent (shown only to certain officers of Wallenstein's army) removing him from his command. Finally an open patent charging Wallenstein with high treason was signed on 18 February and published in Prague.[19] In the patent, Ferdinand II ordered to have Wallenstein brought under arrest to Vienna, dead or alive.[29] Losing the support of his army, Wallenstein now realized the extent of his peril, and on 23 February with a company of some hundred men, he went from Plzeň to Eger/Cheb, hoping to meet the Swedes under Duke Bernhard. After his arrival at Cheb, however, certain senior Scottish and Irish officers in his force assassinated him on the night of February 25.[28] To carry out the assassination, a regiment of dragoons under the command of an Irish Colonel Walter Butler[30] and the Scots colonels Walter Leslie and John Gordon first fell upon Wallenstein's trusted officers Adam Trczka, Vilém Kinsky, Christian Illov and Henry Neumann whilst the latter banqueted at Cheb Castle (which had come under the command of John Gordon himself), and massacred them. Trczka alone managed to fight his way out into the courtyard, only to be shot down by a group of musketeers.[25] A few hours later, an Irish captain, Walter Devereux, together with a few companions, broke into the burgomaster's house at the main square where Wallenstein had his lodgings (again courtesy of John Gordon), and kicked open the bedroom door. Devereux then ran his halberd through the unarmed Wallenstein, who, roused from sleep, is said to have asked in vain for quarter.

The Holy Roman Emperor may not have commanded the murder, nor even desired it, but he had given free rein to the party who he knew wished "to bring in Wallenstein, alive or dead." After the assassination, he rewarded the murderers with honour and riches.[31]

Wallenstein was buried at Jičín.

Significance and legacy

The Czech National Museum produced a large exhibition about Wallenstein at the Wallenstein Palace in Prague (current seat of Senate) from 15 November 2007 till 15 February 2008. He is also the subject of Schiller's play trilogy Wallenstein. One of the episodes in Erich Kästner's "The 35 May" depicts Wallenstein in his afterlife being engaged in a fierce war with Hannibal and emphasizes both generals' callous disregard for the lives of their soldiers - underlining Kästner's pacifist views. Wallenstein is also a main figure in Alfred Döblin's eponymous novel from 1920.

Wallenstein's particular genius lay in recognizing a new way for funding war: instead of merely plundering enemies, he called for a new method of systematic "war taxes". Even a city or a prince on the side of the Emperor had to pay taxes towards the war. He understood the enormous wastage of resources that resulted from tax exactions on princes and cities of defeated enemies only, and desired to replace this with a "balanced" system of taxation; wherein both sides bore the cost of a war. He was unable to fully realize this ambition; and in fact his idea led to the random exploitation of whole populations on either side, until finally, almost fifteen years after his death, the war had become so expensive that the warring parties were forced to make peace. In any case, Wallenstein's idea inspired many, among them, Colbert, to "pluck the goose with a minimum of screeching".

Composer Bedřich Smetana honored Wallenstein in his 1859 symphonic poem Wallenstein's Camp, which was originally intended as an overture to a play by Schiller.[32]

Wallenstein has also been examined by economists, notably Arthur Salz in his book Wallenstein als Merkantalist (Wallenstein as Mercantilist).



  1. "In Wallenstein were embodied the fateful forces of his time. He belonged to the men of the Renaissance and the world of the Baroque, but also he stood above these categories as an exceptional individual. He went beyond Czech or German nationality, beyond Catholic or Protestant denominations. ... He was a Bohemian and a prince of the German Empire."Rabb, Theodore (1964). The Thirty Years' War: Problems of Motive, Extent, and Effect. Boston: Univ. of Am. Press. p. 123.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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  35. Genealogics


External links

  • The Thirty-Years-War
  • An Exhibition at Prague, Czech Republic, Europe - Dedicated to Albrecht von Wallenstein
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Spahn, M. (1913). [ "Albrecht von Wallenstein" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  •  [ "Wallenstein, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). [ "Wallenstein, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius Von" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopedia Americana.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>