Major Player: Christian of Brunswick

The fantasy version of this guy wasn’t going to come into play until the second book, but he’s just too much fun to leave out. Christian, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg and Bishop of Halberstadt, was the same age as Frederick and Elizabeth and one of their key supporters. Unfortunately for them, he didn’t enter the action until after the Battle of White Mountain– when it was too late for them to keep Bohemia-but he was certainly instrumental in keeping the conflict going when it might otherwise have fizzled out after such a crushing defeat.

christian of brunswick

Christian the Younger of Brunswick, age 21

Christian was the third son of the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, but was educated by his uncle, Christian IV of Denmark. At only seventeen, he became the Bishop of Halberstadt, after his brother-who’d previously held the position- died. It was a Lutheran administrative post, and in Christian’s case, became a piggy bank to finance a career in the military. He really didn’t seem to be clerical material in any case.

He got his first military experience in the army of Maurice of Nassau, helping fight the Spanish in the Netherlands. It seems he only did this for a year or so before raising his own army to fight on behalf of Frederick V. No one knows exactly why he rallied to Frederick when it looked like all hope was lost, but Christian claimed to be in chivalric love with Elizabeth and was apparently, playing the part of romantic hero. Awww! I mean honestly, this guy is just too good to be true, for authorly purposes at least.

He was very bad news for Catholics everywhere, since he was fond of plundering all over the countryside and scored some pretty big treasure from wealthy Catholic bishoprics in Westphalia. Hey, if you can’t have the girl, you might as well try for the bling! He was accused of considerable atrocities, and nicknamed “The Mad” (der Tolle), though it’s hard to know how much was true and how much was imperial propaganda.

Living dangerously like this, Christian managed only three major military engagements in his life. The first was the Battle of Hochst, against the ubiquitous Count Tilly, leading the armies of the Catholic League. This was technically a defeat for Christian, although he managed to escape across a river while under heavy fire, thereby saving most of his army, but losing his baggage, in which I suspect most of the plundered treasure was stashed. Even though the Catholics claimed a victory, Christian still achieved his goal of linking up with Ernst von Mansfeld, commanding the remnants of the Bohemian rebel army.

Together, they moved into Alsace, on the German/French border, plundering as they went. This was distinctly unhelpful to Frederick, since it left his erstwhile capital of Heidelberg to fall to yup, you guessed it- Count Tilly- and meant that Frederick was out of the war for good, with both of his bases now gone.

From Alsace, they heard of the Spanish besieging the Dutch city of Bergen op Zoom (which is where and when The Matchlock Gun was used- one of my favorite children’s books).The Battle of Fleurus was Christian’s most famous victory. He and his cavalry charged the Spanish lines four times and were repulsed four times. But being possessed of the requisite German hard head, Christian tried one more time and succeeded in breaking the Spanish lines and relieving the city. In the process, he lost most of his infantry and one of his arms, but that’s a small price to pay for glory.

The next year, a grandiose plan to take back Bohemia fell apart, leaving Christian stranded in Lower Saxony at the business end of Tilly’s army. Christian made a break for the Netherlands, but was forced to make a stand at the Battle of Stadtlohn. Outflanked, outmaneuvered and facing a far more disciplined force, Christian refused to back down, and lost 13,000 of his 15,000 troops and 50 of his top officers. He managed to escape with his remaining 2,000 troops to The Hague. By then, Frederick and Elizabeth were there as well. That might have been an interesting meeting, especially because Frederick signed a truce with Ferdnand II only three days after the battle.

This ended the “Palatine Phase” of the Thirty Years War, and the Protestants weren’t able to regroup until Denmark (and Christian’s Uncle Christian) entered the war. With Danish backing, Christian headed southeast with an army, but was quickly stopped by his arch-nemesis, Tilly. Already sick at the beginning of the campaign, Christian retreated without fighting- for the first time ever!- and died at Wolfenbuttel at the age of twenty-six.

Isn’t it nice when interesting characters practically write themselves?

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