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PODs of the Thirty Years War XLIV

By Alex Richards

Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria as painted by by Pieter Thijs

With the conclusion of the Ulm Truce of 1647, and the continuation of the concurrent negotiations in Westphalia, the area of active in hostilities in the Holy Roman Empire had shrunk to two key points- Habsburg Bohemia, and the zone around the Spanish Netherlands. Yet with this closing of hostilities, the fundamental differences in international policy between nominally allied states came once more to the fore. As the final close of the war approached, it was on the negotiating tables that the battles were increasingly being fought.

Military Preparations

While the signing of the Ulm Truce effectively ended operations in southern Germany, both Wrangel and Turenne aimed to use the situation as an opportunity to attack elsewhere. For Wrangel, the target was Bohemia, moving his army through Franconia into the Upper Palatinate- which had been specifically excluded from the truce for this purpose- and waiting at Eger while he summoned a further 7,000 troops from Silesia to bolster his troops.

For France, however, it was the Spanish Netherlands which were of chief consideration. The successive Spanish defeats against the Dutch over the 1630s and 40s, coupled with the continued impenetrability of Antwerp, had produced two contrasting, but complimentary, viewpoints in the two countries. For the Spanish, there was an increasing belief that her European Empire was at risk of crumbling and the situation in the Netherlands could only deteriorate if a final peace treaty was delayed. Meanwhile the capture of positions over the Rhine had successfully removed the pressure on the southern provinces in the Dutch Republic, leading to many of the strongest supporters for continuing the war moderating their position, if not abandoning it outright. The two sides thus signed a peace treaty in January 1647.

The situation was for Spain was made yet more serious by the confluence of events that seemed to suggest that the Empire in Europe was on the brink of collapse- King Philip IV of Spain was already facing revolts in Portugal and Catalonia, the Dutch War, the Franco-Spanish War and involvement in the Thirty Years War. Now a major revolt in Naples was added to the many areas calling for Spain’s finite military resources, while the death of the King’s wife, younger brother and only son in quick succession meant that by October 1646 the Emperor Ferdinand III was now the direct heir to the Spanish Empire. As such, the preservation of the Austro-Spanish alliance had become even more crucial to the Emperor, and the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm had been named governor of the Spanish Netherlands.

Mazarin was thus increasingly concerned about the possibility of Spanish forces in the Netherlands striking south, and to counter this gave Turenne secret orders to head north from his positions in Swabia and attack into Luxembourg.

In this, however, both Mazarin and Turenne had misjudged the mood of their German troops. Much as the French troops had come to believe that crossing the Rhine was a death sentence, the same was true in the other direction for most of the German troops fighting under French command. When coupled with the fact that the ex-Bernhardine officers had come to regard the area around Breisach as effectively ‘home territory’ and were reluctant to travel too far from their compatriots maintaining the garrison there, and the fact that rumours were circulating that the intention was actually to march all the way to Catalonia, a full-on mutiny of the German regiments occurred when Turenne’s troops reached Saverne on 15th June. By the following month, the mutinous troops were re-crossing the Rhine forcing the advance into Luxembourg to be abandoned. While General Bönninghausen was able to convince 300 to defect with him back to the Imperial side, Turenne was soon on the attack, routing the troops in a surprise attack, though 1,650 survivors would go on to bolster Königsmarck’s army. French efforts in the Netherlands were, barring the Siege of Lens, effectively postponed until the following year.

The Bavarian Mutiny

Peter Melander, Graf von Holzappel

The Ulm Truce had not only been of benefit to the Franco-Swedish armies however. Peter Melender, formerly one of Amalie Elisabeth’s leading generals until he had defected to the Imperial side in 1640, had been leading the Imperial armies in Westphalia until the Truce forced their effective cessation of hostilities. While the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne in particular was eager to find a way of resuming Imperial military activity in the area, feeling that he had been forced into the truce against his will, and hostilities between the two Hesses were still ongoing, Melander was summoned to straighten out the Imperial army in Bohemia, replacing Gallas on April 17th barely a week before the general died.

His reforms were both wide ranging and extremely basic – corrupt and incompetent officers were punished, supply chains strengthened and higher discipline imposed. It is a testament to both Gallas’ poor leadership and the general expectations of the army in this period that these were still viewed as a significant success.

While the 3,000 men from Turenne’s force would have been greatly welcomed by the Imperial army if they had been successfully convinced to defect en masse, this was scarcely the only recruiting coup the Emperor was attempting in this period. Bavaria’s sudden neutrality left the 18,700 men of the army under Jan van Werth at something of a loose end, and moves had been started to slowly disband the troops. Neither Melander nor the Emperor were particularly keen to lose such an experienced force, and while officially aimed only at those recently disbanded troops it was clear to all that the Emperor’s declaration of May 8th calling for the troops to return to Imperial authority was an attempt to peel the entire army away.

While Elector Maximilian of Bavaria viewed this as a direct attack on his own authority, he was to some extent protected by the strong personal loyalty the troops had to him as their territorial overlord- a situation sufficient to create a genuine conflict within the army as to the correct direction. For Werth, who had opposed the truce strongly in the first place, there was no such debate. Spurred by the personal slight of having been passed over to replace Mercy as the head of the Bavarian army, he moved 12 regiments to Passau, ostensibly to seek reinforcements but in reality in an attempt to reach Melander in Pilsen.

Maximilian recognised the threat immediately, going so far as to place a bounty on Werth’s head of 10,000 thalers, but while Bavarian officials refused to give him transport or supplies, the loyal elements of the army refused to attack the mutineers, merely avoiding them. In the end, Werth’s downfall came not from military defeat or the actions of his opponents, but from his own men. Reluctant to cross into Bohemia- where supplies were notoriously poor after decades of conflict- and already wavering between loyalty to Werth as their commander and loyalty to Maximilian as their Elector, the majority of the army was easily convinced to counter-mutiny by General Christoph Heinrich Gayling von Altheim. Werth continued on to the Imperial army- where he was soon feted by the Imperial court and made a Count, but for all the Emperor’s grand ambitions he had only been able to secure a few garrisons in Swabia and Westphalia, Werth himself, General Johann von Sporck and 800 dragoons. Maximilian, meanwhile, appointed Gayling to be Werth’s replacement and was steadfast in his refusal to forgive the general.

Melander, having waited for Werth, was thus prevented from securing Eger before Wrangel arrived, though he was swiftly able to block any further advance up the valley into Bohemia. A new round of conflict between Sweden and the Emperor in Bohemia was fast approaching. How far it would spread was to be determined by the course of the year’s negotiations.


Alex Richards is the author of Tippecanoe and Wallace Too, published by SLP


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