Major Player: Albrecht von Wallenstein

WallensteinThis guy! Wallenstein is one of the more interesting historical figures to emerge from the Thirty Years War and possibly the most notorious. Even Schiller felt moved to write a few plays about him.

Born into the Bohemian nobility, Albrecht von Wallenstein was a gifted military commander from his early twenties. By his thirties, he added social-climbing to his accomplishments. He married a wealthy widow and inherited her considerable fortune when she died, then quickly converted that money into influence. He became adept at forming effective armies and offering them to Emperor Ferdinand at opportune moments.

The Protestant defeat at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 was a windfall for Wallenstein, since he was able to recover some family land that had been taken by the Protestants in addition to receiving huge tracts of land confiscated from them. Though firmly in the Catholic camp, Wallenstein was no religious fanatic and opposed Ferdinand’s Edict of Restitution. He served with Count Tilly in the early years of the Thirty Years War and was largely successful. But when Gustav Adolf invaded from Sweden, many of the German Catholic princes didn’t care for Wallenstein’s arrogance and pressured Ferdinand into removing him from command.

Wallenstein turned his armies over to Tilly and went into temporary retirement. Tilly proceeded to suffer a catastrophic loss to Gustav Adolf at the Battle of Breitenfeld, then was killed while fighting him in Bavaria. With Gustav occupying Munich, there was no one to keep him from marching on Vienna, directly threatening the emperor. Ferdinand was forced to grovel and was able to persuade Wallenstein to return as supreme commander.

Wallenstein quickly went to work on Gustav’s unreliable Saxon allies, besieged the Swedes at Nuremberg and dealt them a defeat at Alte Veste. Undeterred, Gustav chased Wallenstein into Saxony and the two great commanders met in battle at Lützen. This battle was a defeat for Wallenstein, but Gustav was killed, thus ending the short phase of Swedish dominance.

Sweden and France continued to offer enough opposition that victory was far from assured; in fact, the war dragged on another sixteen years. Wallenstein began secret talks with Sweden though he never did come to an agreement which would bring him over to their side. Unfortunately for him, Ferdinand caught wind of the talks and convicted Wallenstein of treason in absentia.



Wallenstein found out about this and tried to make a run for it. He managed to reach Eger, in Bohemia when plotters working for the emperor caught up to him. Scottish and Irish officers in his own army orchestrated a dinner party in which they planned to murder Wallenstein and those loyal to him. Wallenstein had a cold and stayed in his room, so his followers were slaughtered first. Walter Devereux then found the general in his bedroom and killed him there.

On a personal level, Wallenstein was a strange guy. He was generally considered power-hungry and unpleasant; only concerned with his own advancement. He was also very much into astrology, consulting the stars before he made any major decisions. This might have factored into his walking into the trap that ended his life. He was concerned that the emperor knew of his communication with Sweden, but his horoscope told him he was safe for the time being, and that he could trust his officers. At the last minute, he extracted loyalty oaths from a number of them, but it wasn’t enough.

He’s without a doubt, an enjoyable person to fictionalize!

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