By Alex Richards
With the close of the 1645 campaigns by Sweden and France, the strategic division of effort that had been emerging in the previous few years at least reached its full flowering- the French attacking through the Rhineland and Swabia towards Bavaria, the Swedes down the Elbe and Oder into Saxony and the Habsburg Crownlands of Bohemia and Silesia. It is from this point, for the final few years of the conflict that one can truly talk about a unified campaign by the two anti-Imperial powers, a situation that would soon give significant results both on and off the battlefield.
The Beginning of the End
The triple blows of the Swedish managing to reach Vienna, the Bavarian defeat at Allerheim and, most crucially, Johann Georg of Saxony finally surrendering to the Swedes produced immediate effects in both the Habsburg court and the smaller states of the Empire. Negotiations in Westphalia had been stalled for several years after the initial preliminary negotiations over exactly who would attend and in what capabilities. The delegations from Lorraine, the Portuguese and the Catalonians had been easily rebuffed, but while the Emperor was willing to have the Imperial Estates- i.e. the component realms of the Empire such as Württemberg or Saxony- present as observers, the French and Swedish were eager to expand their role to full negotiators, aiming to reduce Habsburg power in this way.
Initially they had been rebuffed by all but Amalie Elisabeth of Hesse-Kassel, who thus added the concept of ‘German Liberty’ to both her support for the restoration of the Electoral Palatinate and for Frederick V’s old policy of the Estates meeting in confessional ‘corpuses’ rather than the old colleges based on the hierarchy of nobility. France and Sweden were cautious on supporting any individual policy too firmly, but soon emphasised these ideas in their negotiations, supporting Amalie Elisabeth’s call for the estates to attend regardless of the Emperor’s permission while concealing the expanding extent of their territorial ambitions. While most were cautious to send official delegations to the negotiations initially- the Catholic powers in particular fearing that accepting a French summons to attend was tantamount to accepting their demands- by 1644 most were reaching the end of their ability, or desire, to rebuff such demands to attend. The newly elected Bishop Johann Philip von Scönbronn of Würtzburg was the first significant neutral party to break ranks, persuading the Franconian Circle to officially back the call to send delegates, soon followed by the Swabians. By the time of the Battle of Jankau the Emperor was having to confirm his desire for peace against earnest demands from the princes to make concessions for this. By 1645 even Maximilian of Bavaria had changed his mind, suggesting that the Emperor invite all the estates, including the Imperial Cities which had a significant Catholic Majority to help sway the voting.
Ferdinand finally acceded to this on August 29th 1645, followed by sending secret instructions to the Imperial plenipotentiary in Westphalia regarding what order in which to make concessions. These would start from surrendering the Baltic coast to Sweden and, in a major abandonment of the Peace of Prague, surrendering Bremen-Verden to the Swedes and the bishoprics of Magdeburg and Halberstadt to Brandenburg. The second offer would be to surrender Alsace to France, which Maximilian believed would be required to sate Mazarin’s desires. A formal abandonment of the principle of restitution, resetting the clock on the confessional balance outside the Habsburg Crownlands, and the restoration of the Palatinate, either as an alternating title between the Wittelsbach branches or as a new title represented the third and fourth stages, with an agreement to abandon the Spanish alliance being the last thing that the Emperor would consider surrendering.
While for the most party simply acknowledging the facts on the ground, the simple decision to authorise making concessions was perhaps the act which most defined the new situation in Europe. Ferdinand II had believed he would be able to simply impose his will on the Empire. His son had finally acknowledged that this was no longer possible.
The Alsatian Surrender
Maximilian of Bavaria meanwhile was acutely aware of both the increasing fragility of his ownership of the Palatinate, and perhaps more importantly his own mortality. At 73, his son and heir was a mere boy of 9 and the erstwhile Elector was eager to settle his legacy while he still lived. To this end, he swung behind Mazarin’s aims to take Alsace, presenting it as an opportunity to create a united Catholic front against Sweden- though his true motivations were transparent to all involved. The Imperial negotiator-in-chief Maximilian von Trauttmannsdorff thus found himself trying to exploit the relative lack of French awareness over the territory they had conquered- only in March 1646 did France finally acquire a map of Alsace, which they were forced to supplement with information on land ownership from Bavaria. In this he was successful, conceding the impressive sounding, though highly fragmented, Landgraviate of Upper and Lower Alsace and the Sundgau, along with garrison rights in the fortress of the Philippsburg. Carefully phrased terms confirmed sovereignty over the Three Bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, but left the status of the Bishopric of Strasbourg and the Decapolis vague. Nonetheless, the French negotiators agreed a draft treaty on 13th September 1646 to pay 3 million thalers in compensation to the Tirolean Habsburgs and accept two-thirds of the debt attached to the new territories. For this they abandoned their claims to the Breisgau and the Forest Towns, and quietly accepted Bavaria’s promises to do nothing unless Turenne crossed the Rhine once more.
It is clear from this period the effect of both the loss of Franz von Mercy on Bavaria’s mood, and the lack of information on the end results. Had Mercy still been a going concern, it seems likely that the Bavarians would have remained more cautious- perhaps offering less to France while appearing to be a more significant threat. More significantly the poor information on Alsace the French had to hand undoubtedly meant that they agreed to a much weaker deal than they could have gained in the circumstances. With more time, or information, it seems likely that France would have secured the concession of either the Breisgau or explicit sovereignty over the smaller territories of Alsace, a situation which historically took until the 1679 Treaty of Nijmegen to resolve.
Ferdinand held off on ratification for the moment however, still hoping to salvage the situation militarily or by splitting the Franco-Swedish alliance. The hopes of the former would prove to be dashed by the 1646 campaign in the Empire.
Alex Richards is the author of Tippecanoe and Wallace Too, published by SLP