PoDs of the Thirty Years War: Part Two

By Alex Richards


Frederick V of the Palatinate

In my last article I introduced the possibility of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II being killed by the Burghers of Vienna when he was just plain-old Ferdinand III of Austria in June 1619. When we left off, it was with Frederick V of the Palatinate sitting relatively secure and legitimised on the throne of Bohemia, Hungary slipping from the Habsburg grasp and the Bavarians and Spanish battling for supremacy in the Court of Ferdinand's young heir. But if the short term consequences of such an event would have been drastic, the long term ones could have profoundly affected much of the course of European history. It is to those longer-term consequences we now turn.

Who Becomes Emperor

At the time of our PoD, the Emperor Matthias had recently died and the Electors were gathering to decide his successor. Historically of course this was Ferdinand II, but in the event of his death the list of potential candidates would have been blown wide open and become highly susceptible to the newly emerging power dynamics in Central Europe brought about by Frederick V having a relatively uncontested position as King of Bohemia in comparison to the historical situation.


The actual process of how a Holy Roman Emperor was selected is worthy of an article in and of itself, but to briefly surmise, three Ecclesiastical electors- the Archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier, and four secular electors- the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine and the Prince-Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony- would gather on the death of the previous Emperor and choose his successor. Historically the Austrian Habsburgs had made this an essentially hereditary position by the 1610s, but still spent much time bargaining with the electors to ensure this stayed the case.

The election of Matthias in 1612.

With Ferdinand dead, his immediate heirs would be a 13 year old who historically would be dead within 6 months, and an 11 year old, who historically would have gone on to become the Emperor Ferdinand III. While the Imperial title was essentially dynastic at this point, an underage Emperor would not have been tolerated by the Electors, especially at a time when a strong leader was needed to settle the likely religious consequences of the events in Bohemia.

The easiest 'Continuity' candidate would therefore have been the Archduke Albert, younger brother of the Emperor Matthias who was ruling as co-Soveriegn of the Spanish Netherlands with the Infanta Isabella. However he was old, childless and in ill health, to the extent that he had already abdicated his inheritance rights in Austria in order to allow Ferdinand to inherit. Ferdinand II did have two younger brothers- Karl and Leopold, but both were serving churchmen, Karl as Bishop of Breslau (Wroclaw) and Leopold as Bishop of Passau and Strasbourg. Historically Karl would die in 1624 and Leopold would renounce Holy Orders in 1626 to become Archduke of Tyrol, but even assuming that the latter leaves the Church earlier- likely to serve as regent for his nephew- it's unlikely that either would have been considered suitable for the Imperial title at this point. This leaves the Spanish Habsburgs, where the prospect of a personal union with King Phillip III of Spain would have been soundly rejected, and his children were all underage.

With the Habsburgs effectively out of the question, the hopes of Catholics in the Empire would have been pinned on Maximilian I of Bavaria, historically leader of the Catholic League. He would likely have had the backing of the three Archbishops- most notably his brother Ferdinand, Archbishop-Elector of Cologne.

However this would not be enough without at least one of the Secular electors. Here matters run into the issue of what, exactly, the union of the Palatinate and Bohemia in one person might have meant for the Electoral Council, particularly one as convinced of his own destiny as Frederick V. Fuelled by Calvinist millenarian beliefs, Frederick V spent most of his life historically convinced that he would be the one to lead Calvinism to a final victory in the religious struggle of the day, and the apparent divine retribution against Ferdinand of Austria and his subsequent elevation would only have fuelled this. We can be certain he would have pushed the view that he had two votes in the Electoral College, and would have been promoting his own candidacy for the Imperial title as well.

John George of Saxony. With a dog. Not a midget.

However, while Frederick might have been able to get Prince-Elector John Sigismund of Brandenburg, a recent convert to Calvinism himself, onside, it's unlikely that the much more pragmatic Lutheran John George of Saxony would have backed his candidacy, or at least not without Frederick V signing over Upper and Lower Lusatia, which would have been antithetical to his personality and likely to provoke uproar in the Bohemian Estates as well.

The Great Compromise

John George, in fact, may well have emerged as the ideal compromise candidate. A Lutheran pragmatist desirous of peace and willing to work with Catholics and without any potential foreign entanglements, it's possible he could have brought even the Archbishop-Electors of Mainz or Trier on side if he was already likely to secure the support of a majority vote. To do so would require Frederick V to abandon his immediate ambitions for the Imperial title- an unusually pragmatic move for him, though not impossible. Of course this would still raise the question of whether he had one vote or two- essentially whether the votes were tied to titles or individuals. Here another potential compromise comes into play as the Dukes of Bavaria had long desired an Electoral title themselves. It's quite possible that, in return for recognising the union of the Palatinate and Bohemia as a single entity and withdrawing his candidacy, Maximilian I could have been granted a new electoral title by John George who would, with the backing of the Ecclesiastical Electors, not have required the support of Frederick V in any case.

If the guarantee of a Catholic majority among the Electorates (the three Archbishops and Bavaria against Brandenburg, Saxony and Bohemia-Palatinate) would have been the compromise guarantee offered to the Catholics, and the election of the Elector of Saxony the guarantee for the Lutherans in the Empire, the compromise offered to the Calvinists- now in a position of significant power and influence for the first time- would likely have been the reopening of the Peace of Augsburg.

The Peace of Augsburg

Dating from 1555, the Peace of Augsburg had ended several decades of intense conflict in the Empire between Catholics and Lutherans by establishing three principles- that a secular Prince could choose which of these faiths to switch to and his subjects would be required to follow it, that the ecclesiastical territories did not follow this rule, and that certain Free Cities and Imperial Knights were exempt from the requirement of uniformity. Naturally problems had arisen from this, most notably the fact that only Lutheranism had been given equal status to Catholicism. In the new situation, it would have been unimaginable for Calvinists not to be granted the same rights and privileges as Lutherans and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, which historically they wouldn't get until the Peace of Westphalia.




Giving Peace a Chance?

It's unlikely, however, John George would have been able, or necessarily willing, to address all the concerns and issues arising from Augsburg and the religious settlements of the Empire. As such, while the immediate pressure may have been reduced, it remains quite possible that a religious conflict would still have broken out in the Empire in the 1620s. This is especially likely if whatever settlement that resolves Bohemia doesn't included the Archduchy of Austria as well. Even if they renounced Bohemia, it seems impossible to think that the Austrian Habsburgs would give up Vienna itself, and we could well see a long running 'Austrian Revolt' mirroring the Spanish conflict against the Dutch. In this they probably would have had Bavarian backing, but while Tyrol (likely under the rule of Leopold as historically) and its silver mines would have been secure, the large Lutheran populations of Inner Austria mean that any long-running conflict would be just as likely to see loss of territory as regaining the Archduchy. There's an interesting sting in the tail as well- historically Austria Austria was pawned to Bavaria in return for crushing a protestant revolt there. It's quite possible a similar event occurs- either in Upper Austria or one of the remaining Lutheran territories of Inner Austria such as Carinthia- and its Bavaria that ends up reclaiming territory from the Bohemians. The one thing that remains very unlikely, however, is the Bohemian/Austrian revolt successfully pushing through Inner Austria to the coast.

If continuing clashes in Austria represent one spark for a general war, Spanish politics represents the other. The collapse of the Austrian Habsburgs and the rise of a Calvinist Bohemia-Palatinate would have put pressure on Spanish supply lines to the Netherlands, especially as Frederick V is likely to give support to the Dutch their half-century long revolt against Spanish rule. This is likely to see Spain giving support- financial and otherwise- to Bavaria, putting pressure on Lorraine and the Swiss for access, and potentially leading to war to open up the Rhine to Spanish troops. The latter is particularly likely if Frederick V also tries to reopen the question of the Julich-Berg inheritance which saw his cousins in Palatinate-Neuburg claim the Duchies of Jülich and Berg for the Catholic cause. Whatever the Spanish actions, however, it's likely the Dutch have an easier time of things than historically- avoiding the Fall of Breda in 1625 for example.

The Surrender of Breda

The course of any potential war is difficult to predict, but with more time to prepare the Bohemian army is likely to perform better than it historically did in 1619-21. Bavaria and the Catholic forces would start on the back-foot in comparison to where they were historically, but with people like Count Tilly and Wallenstein likely to remain in the service of Spain or Bavaria this is no guarantee of failure.

Looking Further

Beyond the Empire things the potential consequences get both more diffuse and more difficult to trace. The potential avoidance, or radical change, in the war would have had significant effects for Denmark, France and Sweden as the men, money and attention they put towards interventions in the Germanies historically could have been directed in alternative directions. For example it could be that we see another Danish-Swedish war over the fate of Norway.

To the South, the fall of the Austrian Habsburgs would have given the French more opportunities to influence affairs in Italy (though they would still have had the Spanish to contend with), but more crucially transform the nature of Ottoman expansion in Hungary would have been transformed. Having successfully backed Gabriel Bethlen, the Calvinist prince of Transylvania, to become King of all Hungary in 1620, the Hungarians would have initially been mere puppets of the Ottomans, but it's likely such a large territory would have asserted its independence relatively quickly. While not having the rest of Germany to call aid from, the reduced ability to play Transylvania against Hungary proper would have put this new Hungary in a better position to build her strength and, while probably not managing to reclaim territory against the Ottomans initially, could perhaps have seen the historic successes of 1699 achieved earlier by a native Hungarian, Calvinist dynasty ruling over a largely Lutheran nobility and spreading the Protestant and Reformed faiths to the lower classes. This is especially the case if Bohemia-Palatinate is in a state of peace and able to lend their own military assistance, and it could be that Frederick V would turn his attentions from Catholics to a 'new Crusade' against the Turk if forced to compromise in 1619, the results of which could be either beneficial or disastrous depending on how effective his newly expanded army is.

Frederick, however, may have had other distractions in the form of the English Civil War. While historically it was Frederick V who was petitioning his father-in-law, James I and VI, for assistance after being driven out of both Bohemia and the Palatinate after 1621, here his more secure position would make him a natural figure for Calvinists in England to rally towards- either as an alternative to the Crypto-Catholic tendencies of Charles I or as a model for their own reforms. Assuming a Civil War does still break out in England, Prince Rupert of the Rhine could be leading a larger contingent of troops in support of the Stuart monarchs, or potentially might not be involved in the conflict at all. And should Charles I still have fared as badly in this world as he did historically, then the court of Frederick V would have been a much more likely place of exile than that of Louis XIV.

And a world where England's Stuart claimants are spending their exile in Heidelberg- the palace known widely as the Calvinist Versailles- and Prague rather than St. Germain is one where the future of Britain, and all that entails, will be very different indeed.


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