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1618 - 1648

Thirty Years War



The Thirty Years' War was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history, lasting from 1618 to 1648. Fought primarily in Central Europe, an estimated 4.5 to 8 million soldiers and civilians died as a result of battle, famine, and disease, while some areas of what is now modern Germany experienced population declines of over 50%. Related conflicts include the Eighty Years' War, the War of the Mantuan Succession, the Franco-Spanish War, and the Portuguese Restoration War.


Until the 20th century, historians generally viewed the war as a continuation of the religious struggle initiated by the 16th-century Reformation within the Holy Roman Empire. The 1555 Peace of Augsburg attempted to resolve this by dividing the Empire into Lutheran and Catholic states, but over the next 50 years the expansion of Protestantism beyond these boundaries destabilised the settlement. While most modern commentators accept that differences over religion and Imperial authority were important factors in causing the war, they argue its scope and extent were driven by the contest for European dominance between Habsburg-ruled Spain and Austria, and the French House of Bourbon.


Its outbreak is generally traced to 1618, when Emperor Ferdinand II was deposed as king of Bohemia and replaced by the Protestant Frederick V of the Palatinate. Although Imperial forces quickly suppressed the Bohemian Revolt, his participation expanded the fighting into the Palatinate, whose strategic importance drew in the Dutch Republic and Spain, then engaged in the Eighty Years' War. Since rulers like Christian IV of Denmark and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden also held territories within the Empire, this gave them and other foreign powers an excuse to intervene, turning an internal dynastic dispute into a broader European conflict.


The first phase from 1618 until 1635 was primarily a civil war between German members of the Holy Roman Empire, with support from external powers. After 1635, the Empire became one theatre in a wider struggle between France, supported by Sweden, and Emperor Ferdinand III, allied with Spain. This concluded with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, whose provisions included greater autonomy within the Empire for states like Bavaria and Saxony, as well as acceptance of Dutch independence by Spain. By weakening the Habsburgs relative to France, the conflict altered the European balance of power and set the stage for the wars of Louis XIV.

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1600 Jan 1

Prologue

Central Europe

The Protestant Reformation began in 1517, but its effects were to last far longer. The authority of the Catholic Church in Europe was in question for the first time in a long time, and the continent divided into Catholics and Protestants. While some countries were more clearly Protestant, such as England and the Netherlands, and others remained staunchly Catholic like Spain, still others were marked by acute internal division. Martin Luther’s Reformation sharply divided German princes within the Holy Roman Empire, leading to conflict between the Catholic Hapsburg emperors and the princes (primarily in the northern part of the Empire) who adopted Lutheran Protestantism. This led to several conflicts that ended with the Peace of Augsburg (1555), which established the principle of cuius regio, eius religio (whoever reigns, his religion) within the Holy Roman Empire. According to the terms of the Peace of Augsburg, the Holy Roman Emperor renounced the right to enforce a single religion throughout the “Empire” and each prince could choose between establishing Catholicism or Lutheranism in the lands under his own control.

1618 - 1623
Bohemian Phaseornament
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1618 May 23

Second Defenestration of Prague

Hradčany, Prague 1, Czechia

The Second Defenestration of Prague was a key event leading up to the Thirty Years War. It took place on May 23, 1618, when a group of Protestant rebels threw two Catholic imperial regents and their secretary out of the window of the Bohemian Chancellery. This was a symbolic act of protest against the Catholic Habsburg monarchy and its religious policies in the region. The regents survived the fall, which further infuriated the Protestants. Immediately after the defenestration, the Protestant estates and Catholic Habsburgs started gathering allies for war.

Battle of Pilsen
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1618 Sep 19 - Nov 21

Battle of Pilsen

Plzeň, Czechia

After the Defenestration of Prague, the new government formed of Protestant nobility and gentry gave Ernst von Mansfeld the command over all of its forces. Meanwhile, Catholic nobles and priests started fleeing the country. Some of the monasteries as well as unfortified manors were evacuated and the Catholic refugees headed for the city of Pilsen, where they thought that a successful defence could be organised. The city was well-prepared for a lengthy siege, but the defences were undermanned and the defenders lacked enough gunpowder for their artillery. Mansfeld decided to capture the city before the Catholics were able to gain support from the outside.


On 19 September 1618 Mansfeld's army reached the outskirts of the city. The defenders blocked two city gates and the third one was reinforced with additional guards. The Protestant army was too weak to start an all-out assault on the castle, so Mansfeld decided to take the city by hunger. On 2 October the Protestant artillery arrived, but the calibre and number of the cannons was small and the bombardment of the city walls brought little effect. The siege continued, with the Protestants receiving new supplies and recruits on a daily basis, while the defenders lacked food and munitions. Also, the main city well was destroyed and the stores of potable water soon depleted. Finally, on 21 November, cracks were made in the walls and the Protestant soldiers poured into the city. After several hours of close hand-to-hand combat, all of the town was in Mansfeld's hands. The Battle of Pilsen was the first major battle of the Thirty Years' War.

Ferdinand becomes King of Bohemia
Emperor Ferdinand II ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1619 Mar 20

Ferdinand becomes King of Bohemia

Bohemia Central, Czechia

On 20 Mar 1619 Matthias died and Ferdinand automatically became the King of Bohemia. Ferdinand was also subsequently elected Holy Roman Emperor as Ferdinand II.

Battle of Sablat
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1619 Jun 10

Battle of Sablat

Dříteň, Czechia

The Battle of Sablat or Záblatí occurred on 10 June 1619, during the Bohemian period of the Thirty Years' War. The battle was fought between a Roman Catholic Imperial army led by Charles Bonaventure de Longueval, Count of Bucquoy and the Protestant army of Ernst von Mansfeld. When Mansfeld was on his way to reinforce general Hohenlohe, who was besieging Budějovice, Buquoy intercepted Mansfeld near the small village of Záblatí, about 25 km (16 mi) km NW of Budějovice, and brought him to battle. Mansfeld suffered defeat, losing at least 1,500 infantry and his baggage train. As a result, the Bohemians had to lift the siege of Budějovice.

Battle of Wisternitz
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1619 Aug 5

Battle of Wisternitz

Dolní Věstonice, Czechia

Budweis (České Budějovice) was one of the three towns which remained loyal to King Ferdinand of House Habsburg when Bohemia revolted. After the Habsburg victory at Sablat, the Bohemians were forced to raise the siege of České Budějovice. On 15 June 1619, Georg Friedrich of Hohenlohe-Neuenstein-Weikersheim retreated to Soběslav where he awaited reinforcement by Count Heinrich Matthias von Thurn.


After taking control of the strong places of southern Bohemia, Ferdinand sent a force under Dampierre to Moravia, which had chosen the side of the Bohemian rebels. However, Dampierre was defeated at Dolní Věstonice (German: Wisternitz) by Moravian forces under von Tiefenbach (brother of Rudolf von Tiefenbach) and Ladislav Velen ze Žerotína in August 1619, which left Moravia in the Bohemian camp.


The Battle of Wisternitz or Dolní Věstonice was fought on 5 August 1619 between a Moravian force of the Bohemian Confederation under Friedrich von Tiefenbach (Teuffenbach) and a Habsburg army under Henri de Dampierre. The battle was a Moravian victory.

Frederick V becomes King of Bohemia
Frederick V of the Palatinate ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1619 Aug 26

Frederick V becomes King of Bohemia

Bohemia Central, Czechia

The Bohemian rebels formally deposed Ferdinand as King of Bohemia and replace him with the Palatine Elector Frederick V.

Battle of Humenné
Siege of Vienna ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1619 Nov 22 - Nov 23

Battle of Humenné

Humenné, Slovakia

A lot of nations of the Holy Roman Empire saw the Thirty Years' War as a perfect opportunity to (re)gain their independencies. One of them was Hungary led by Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania. He joined Bohemia in the anti-Habsburg Protestant Union. In a short period of time, he conquered northern Hungary and Bratislava, and in November he started a siege of Vienna - the capital city of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. The situation of Emperor Ferdinand II was dramatic. The emperor sent a letter to Sigismund III of Poland, and asked him to cut the supply lines of Bethlen from Transylvania. He also sent George Drugeth, count of Homonna - former rival of Bethlen, now Lord Chief Justice of Royal Hungary - to Poland, to hire forces for the Habsburgs.


The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth did not want to participate in the war, so it remained neutral. But the king being a strong sympathizer of the Catholic League and the Habsburgs, decided to help the emperor. Though he didn't want to send forces directly, he allowed Drugeth to hire mercenaries in Poland. Drugeth hired around 8,000 Lisowczycy led by Rogawski, who joined his own 3,000 men. The joined army included around 11,000 soldiers, but this number is disputed.


The Lisowczycy faced George Rákóczi's corps near Humenné in the Carpathian Mountains in the evening on 22 November. Walenty Rogawski did not manage to hold the cavalry together and it split up. Next day, on 23 November, Rákóczi decided to send his infantry in order to pillage the enemy's camp. While it was doing so, Rogawski finally gathered his troops and unexpectedly attacked the Transylvanians. In a short time, Rákóczi had to announce a retreat. The battle was won by the Polish.


When Bethlen found out about Rákóczi's defeat, he had to break the siege, gather his soldiers and return to Bratislava, and sent about 12,000 cavalry to northern Hungary led by George Széchy, in order to secure it against the Lisowczycy. Ferdinand II made him sign a cease-fire and on 16 January 1620 they signed a peace treaty in Pozsony (now Bratislava).


The battle of Humenné was an important part of the war as the Polish intervention saved Vienna - the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire - from Transylvania. That is why some Polish sources call it the first Vienna relief - the second being the famous Battle of Vienna in 1683.

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1620 Nov 8

Battle of White Mountain

Prague, Czechia

An army of 21,000 Bohemians and mercenaries under Christian of Anhalt was defeated by 23,000 men of the combined armies of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, led by Charles Bonaventure de Longueval, Count of Bucquoy, and the German Catholic League under Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria and Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, at Bílá Hora ("White Mountain") near Prague. Bohemian casualties were not severe but their morale collapsed and Imperial forces occupied Prague the next day.

Battle of Mingolsheim
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1622 Apr 27

Battle of Mingolsheim

Heidelberg, Germany

The Battle of Mingolsheim was fought on 27 April 1622, near the German village of Wiesloch, 23 km (14 mi) south of Heidelberg, between a Protestant army under General von Mansfeld and the Margrave of Baden-Durlach against a Roman Catholic army under Count Tilly. Early in the spring of 1621, a mercenary force under the command of Georg Friedrich, Margrave of Baden-Durlach, crossed the Rhine River from Alsace to junction with a force under Ernst von Mansfeld. Combined, the armies aimed to prevent a link-up between Count Tilly and Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, arriving with an army 20,000 strong from the Spanish Netherlands under orders from General Ambrosio Spinola. Tilly met the Protestant army at its rear guard and drove upon it. This attack was successful until he engaged the main Protestant body, and was then rebuffed. Tilly retreated and bypassed the stationary Protestant army to link up with de Córdoba later that month. After the battle, Mansfeld found himself at a distinct disadvantage until the armies of Christian of Brunswick could arrive from the north. The two armies would engage later in the month at the Battle of Wimpfen.

1625 - 1629
Danish Phaseornament
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1625 Jan 1

Danish Intervention

Denmark

After Frederick's deposition in 1623, John George of Saxony and the Calvinist George William, Elector of Brandenburg became concerned Ferdinand intended to reclaim formerly Catholic bishoprics currently held by Protestants. As Duke of Holstein, Christian IV was also a member of the Lower Saxon circle, while the Danish economy relied on the Baltic trade and tolls from traffic through the Øresund.


Ferdinand had paid Albrecht von Wallenstein for his support against Frederick with estates confiscated from the Bohemian rebels, and now contracted with him to conquer the north on a similar basis. In May 1625, the Lower Saxony kreis elected Christian their military commander, although not without resistance; Saxony and Brandenburg viewed Denmark and Sweden as competitors, and wanted to avoid either becoming involved in the Empire. Attempts to negotiate a peaceful solution failed as the conflict in Germany became part of the wider struggle between France and their Habsburg rivals in Spain and Austria.


In the June 1624 Treaty of Compiègne, France had agreed to subsidise the Dutch war against Spain for a minimum of three years, while in the December 1625 Treaty of The Hague, the Dutch and English agreed to finance Danish intervention in the Empire.

Battle of Dessau Bridge
Danish army charging across a bridge, Thirty Years War- by Christian Holm ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1626 Apr 25

Battle of Dessau Bridge

Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

The Battle of Dessau Bridge was a significant battle of the Thirty Years' War between Danish Protestants and the Imperial German Catholic forces on the Elbe River outside Dessau, Germany on 25 April 1626. This battle was an attempt by Ernst von Mansfeld to cross the Dessau bridge in order to invade the headquarters of the Imperial Army in Magdeburg, Germany. The Dessau bridge was the only land access between Magdeburg and Dresden, which made it difficult for the Danes to advance. The Count of Tilly wanted control of the bridge in order to prevent King Christian IV of Denmark from having access to Kassel and to protect the Lower Saxon Circle. The Imperial German forces of Albrecht von Wallenstein handily defeated the Protestant forces of Ernst von Mansfeld in this battle.

Battle of Lutter
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1626 Aug 27

Battle of Lutter

Lutter am Barenberge, Lower Sa

Christian's campaign plan for 1626 consisted of three parts; while he led the main army against Tilly, Ernst von Mansfeld would attack Wallenstein, supported by Christian of Brunswick. In the event, Mansfeld was defeated at the Battle of Dessau Bridge in April, while Christian of Brunswick's attack failed completely and he died of disease in June.


Outmanoeuvred and hampered by torrential rain, Christian turned back to his base at Wolfenbüttel but decided to stand and fight at Lutter on 27 August. An unauthorised attack by his right wing led to a general advance which was repulsed with heavy loss and by late afternoon, Christian's troops were in full retreat. A series of charges by the Danish cavalry enabled him to escape but at the cost of at least 30% of his army, all the artillery and most of the baggage train. Many of his German allies abandoned him and although the war continued until the Treaty of Lübeck in June 1629, defeat at Lutter effectively ended Christian's hopes of expanding his German possessions.

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1628 Jan 1 - 1631

War of the Mantuan Succession

Casale Monferrato, Casale Monf

The War of the Mantuan Succession (1628–1631) was a related conflict of the Thirty Years' War, caused by the death in December 1627 of Vincenzo II, last male heir in the direct line of the House of Gonzaga and ruler of the duchies of Mantua and Montferrat. These territories were key to control of the Spanish Road, an overland route that allowed Habsburg Spain to move recruits and supplies from Italy to their army in Flanders. The result was a proxy war between France, who supported the French-born Duke of Nevers, and Spain, who backed his distant cousin the Duke of Guastalla.


Fighting centred on the fortress of Casale Monferrato, which the Spanish besieged twice, from March 1628 to April 1629 and from September 1629 to October 1630. French intervention on behalf of Nevers in April 1629 led Emperor Ferdinand II to support Spain by transferring Imperial troops from Northern Germany, who captured Mantua in July 1630. However, French reinforcements enabled Nevers to retain Casale, while Ferdinand withdrew his troops in response to Swedish intervention in the Thirty Years' War, and the two sides agreed a truce in October 1630.


The June 1631 Treaty of Cherasco confirmed Nevers as Duke of Mantua and Montferrat, in return for minor territorial losses. More importantly, it left France in possession of Pinerolo and Casale, key fortresses which controlled access to passes through the Alps and protected their southern borders. The diversion of Imperial and Spanish resources from Germany allowed the Swedes to establish themselves within the Holy Roman Empire and was one reason for the Thirty Years' War continuing until 1648.

Siege of Stralsund
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1628 May 1 - Aug 4

Siege of Stralsund

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, German

The Siege of Stralsund was a siege laid on Stralsund by Albrecht von Wallenstein's Imperial Army during the Thirty Years' War, from May to 4 August 1628. Stralsund was aided by Denmark and Sweden, with considerable Scottish participation. The lifting of the siege ended Wallenstein's series of victories, and contributed to his downfall. The Swedish garrison in Stralsund was the first on German soil in history. The battle marked the de facto entrance of Sweden into the war.

Battle of Wolgast
Christian IV of Denmark-Norway with his navy. The painting by Vilhelm Marstrand depicts him at the Battle of Colberger Heide, 1644. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1628 Sep 2

Battle of Wolgast

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, German

Danish forces of Christian IV of Denmark-Norway had made landfall on Usedom and the adjacent mainland, and expelled the imperial occupation forces. An Imperial army commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein left besieged Stralsund to confront Christian IV. Ultimately, the Danish forces were defeated. Christian IV and a fraction of his landing force were able to escape by ship.

Treaty of Lübeck
Wallenstein's camp ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1629 May 22

Treaty of Lübeck

Lübeck, Germany

In the Treaty of Lübeck Christian IV retained Denmark but had to stop his support for the Protestant German states. This gave the Catholic powers the opportunity to take more Protestant land during the next two years. It restored to Denmark-Norway its pre-war territory at the cost of final disengagement from imperial affairs.

1630 - 1634
Swedish Phaseornament
Swedish Intervention
Gustavus Adolphus ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1630 Jan 2

Swedish Intervention

Sweden

Sweden’s Protestant king, Gustavus Adolphus, decided to get involved in defending the Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire. However, France’s Catholic chief minister and Catholic Cardinal Richelieu were getting nervous about the increased power of the Hapsburgs. Richelieu's helped negotiate the Truce of Altmark between Sweden and Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth , freeing Gustavus Adolphus to enter the war.

Swedish troops lands in the Duchy of Pomerania
Gustavus Adolphus' landing in Pomerania, near Peenemünde, 1630 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1630 Jun 1

Swedish troops lands in the Duchy of Pomerania

Peenemünde, Germany

The king made no formal declaration of war against the Catholic powers. After the attack that had taken place on Stralsund, his ally, he felt that he had sufficient pretext to land without declaring war. Using Stralsund as a bridgehead, in June 1630 nearly 18,000 Swedish troops landed in the Duchy of Pomerania. Gustavus signed an alliance with Bogislaw XIV, Duke of Pomerania, securing his interests in Pomerania against the Catholic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, another Baltic competitor linked to Ferdinand by family and religion. Expectations of widespread support proved unrealistic; by the end of 1630, the only new Swedish ally was Magdeburg, which was besieged by Tilly.

Securing Pomerania
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1630 Jul 20

Securing Pomerania

Stettin, Poland

The king then ordered that the defenses to Stettin be improved. All of the people of the city as well as villagers were rounded up and the defensive works were quickly completed.

Battle of Frankfurt an der Oder
Battle of Frankfurt an der Oder, 1631 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1631 Apr 13

Battle of Frankfurt an der Oder

Brandenburg, Germany

The Battle of Frankfurt was fought between the Swedish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire for the strategically important, fortified Oder crossing Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg, Germany. The town was the first major Imperial stronghold attacked by Sweden outside the Duchy of Pomerania, where Sweden had established a bridgehead in 1630. After a two-day siege, Swedish forces, supported by Scottish auxiliaries, stormed the town. The result was a Swedish victory. With the subsequent clearance of nearby Landsberg (Warthe) (now Gorzow), Frankfurt served to protect the Swedish army's rear when Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden proceeded further into Central Germany.

Sack of Magdeburg
Sack of Magdeburg – The Magdeburg maidens, 1866 painting by Eduard Steinbrück ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1631 May 20 - May 24

Sack of Magdeburg

Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

After two months of siege Pappenheim finally convinced Tilly, who had brought reinforcements, to storm the city on 20 May with 40,000 men under the personal command of Pappenheim. The Magdeburg citizens had hoped in vain for a Swedish relief attack. On the last day of the siege, the councillors decided it was time to sue for peace, but word of their decision did not reach Tilly in time. In the early morning of 20 May, the attack began with heavy artillery fire. Soon afterward, Pappenheim and Tilly launched infantry attacks. The fortifications were breached and Imperial forces were able to overpower the defenders to open the Kröcken Gate, which allowed the entire army to enter the city to plunder it. The defence of the city was further weakened and demoralised when commander Dietrich von Falkenberg was shot dead by Catholic Imperial troops. The Sack of Magdeburg is considered the worst massacre of the Thirty Years' War resulting in the deaths of around 20,000. Magdeburg, then one of the largest cities in Germany, having well over 25,000 inhabitants in 1630, did not recover its importance until well into the 18th century.

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1631 Sep 17

Battle of Breitenfeld

Breitenfeld, Leipzig, Germany

The Battle of Breitenfeld was fought at a crossroads near Breitenfeld approximately 8 km north-west of the walled city of Leipzig on 17 September 1631. It was the Protestants' first major victory of the Thirty Years War. The victory confirmed Sweden's Gustavus Adolphus of the House of Vasa as a great tactical leader and induced many Protestant German states to ally with Sweden against the German Catholic League, led by Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria, and the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II.

Swedish Invasion of Bavaria
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1632 Mar 1

Swedish Invasion of Bavaria

Bavaria, Germany

In March 1632 King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden invaded Bavaria, with an army of Swedish soldiers and German mercenaries. Adolphus planned to move his forces parallel to the Danube River, moving eastward to capture the fortified cities of Ingolstadt, Regensburg, and Passau - so that the Swedes would have a clear path to threaten Vienna and the Emperor. However these fortified cities on the Danube were too strong for Adolphus to take.

Battle of Rain
Battlefield view from the east: River Lech flows from right to center, then flows west (up) into Donau river. Town of Rain center top; Donauwörth town top left. Swedish artillery is firing across the river from the south (left), Swedish cavalry is crossing it bottom center. On the other side of the river the Imperial army is retreating north (right) amidst clouds of smoke from the artillery barrage. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1632 Apr 5

Battle of Rain

Rain, Swabia, Bavaria, Germany

Outnumbered and with many inexperienced troops, Tilly built defensive works along the River Lech, centred on the town of Rain, hoping to delay Gustavus long enough for Imperial reinforcements under Albrecht von Wallenstein to reach him. On 14 April, the Swedes bombarded the defences with artillery, then crossed the river the next day, inflicting nearly 3,000 casualties, including Tilly. On 16th, Maximilian of Bavaria ordered a retreat, abandoning his supplies and guns.


The Battle of Rain took place on 15 April 1632 near Rain in Bavaria. It was fought by a Swedish-German army under Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and a Catholic League force led by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly. The battle resulted in a Swedish victory, while Tilly was severely wounded and later died of his injuries.


Despite this victory, the Swedes had been drawn away from their bases in Northern Germany and when Maximilian linked up with Wallenstein found themselves besieged in Nuremberg. This led to the largest battle of the war on 3 September, when an assault on the Imperial camp outside the town was bloodily repulsed.

1632 Jul 17 - Sep 18

Siege of Nuremberg

Nuremberg, Germany

In July 1632, rather than face the numerically superior combined Imperial and Catholic League army under the command of Albrecht von Wallenstein and Bavarian Elector Maximilian I, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered a tactical retreat into the city of Nuremberg. Wallenstein's army immediately started to invest Nuremberg and laid siege to the city, waiting for hunger and epidemics to cripple the Swedish force.


It proved difficult for the besiegers to maintain the siege because the city was large and needed a large force to man the circumvallation. In Wallenstein's camp, there were 50,000 soldiers, 15,000 horses and 25,000 camp followers. Foraging to supply such a large static besieging force proved to be extremely difficult. Gustavus' army grew through reinforcements from 18,500 to 45,000 men with 175 field guns, the largest army he ever led in person.


With poor sanitation and inadequate supplies, both sides suffered from hunger, typhus and scurvy. To try to break the deadlock, 25,000 men under Gustavus attacked the Imperial entrenchments in the Battle of the Alte Veste on 3 September but failed to break through, having lost 2,500 men compared to 900 Imperials. Eventually, the siege ended after eleven weeks when the Swedes and their allies withdrew. Disease killed 10,000 Swedish and allied troops, with an additional 11,000 deserters. Gustavus was so weakened by the struggle that he sent peace proposals to Wallenstein, who dismissed them.

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1632 Sep 16

Battle of Lützen

Lützen, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

The Battle of Lützen (16 November 1632) was one of the most important battles of the Thirty Years' War. Though losses were about equally heavy on both sides, the battle was a Protestant victory, but cost the life of one of the most important leaders of the Protestant side, the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, which led the Protestant cause to lose direction. The Imperial field marshal Pappenheim was also fatally wounded. The loss of Gustavus Adolphus left Catholic France as the dominant power on the "Protestant" (anti-Habsburg) side, eventually leading to the founding of the League of Heilbronn and the open entry of France into the war. The battle was characterized by fog, which lay heavy over the fields of Saxony that morning. The phrase "Lützendimma" (Lützen fog) is still used in the Swedish language in order to describe particularly heavy fog.

Arrest and Murder of Wallenstein
Wallenstein ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1634 Feb 5

Arrest and Murder of Wallenstein

Cheb, Czechia

Rumours were circulating that Wallenstein was preparing to switch sides. The Eger Bloodbath was the culmination of an internal purge in the army of the Holy Roman Empire. On 25 February 1634, a group of Irish and Scottish officers acting under the approval of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, assassinated generalissimo Albrecht von Wallenstein and a group of his companions in the town of Eger (today Cheb, Czech Republic). The assassins were equated to executioners by a royal decree and rewarded with property confiscated from the families of their victims. The purge continued through the persecution of other high-ranking military personnel who were seen as Wallenstein's supporters.

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1634 Sep 6

Battle of Nördlingen

Nördlingen, Bavaria, Germany

By 1634, the Swedes and their Protestant German allies occupied much of southern Germany and blocked the Spanish Road, an overland supply route used by the Spanish to funnel troops and supplies from Italy to support their ongoing war against the Dutch Republic. In order to regain control of this, a Spanish army under Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand linked up with an Imperial force led by Ferdinand of Hungary near the town of Nördlingen, which was held by a Swedish garrison.


A Swedish-German army commanded by Gustav Horn and Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar marched to its relief but they significantly underestimated the number and calibre of the Imperial-Spanish troops facing them. On 6 September, Horn launched a series of assaults against earthworks constructed on the hills to the south of Nördlingen, all of which were repulsed. Superior numbers meant the Spanish-Imperial commanders could continually reinforce their positions and Horn eventually began to retreat. As they did so, they were outflanked by Imperial cavalry and the Protestant army collapsed.


Defeat had far-reaching territorial and strategic consequences; the Swedes withdrew from Bavaria and under the terms of the Peace of Prague in May 1635, their German allies made peace with Emperor Ferdinand II. France, which had previously restricted itself to funding the Swedes and Dutch, formally became an ally and entered the war as an active belligerent.

1635 - 1646
French Phaseornament
France joins the war
Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu a few months before his death ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1635 Apr 1

France joins the war

France

A serious Swedish defeat at Nördlingen in September 1634 threatened their participation, leading France to intervene directly. Under the April 1635 Treaty of Compiègne negotiated with Axel Oxenstierna, Richelieu agreed new subsidies for the Swedes. He also hired mercenaries led by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar for an offensive in the Rhineland and declared war on Spain in May, beginning the 1635 to 1659 Franco-Spanish War.

France invades the Spanish Netherlands
French soldiers pillaging a village ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1635 May 1

France invades the Spanish Netherlands

Netherlands

After invading the Spanish Netherlands in May 1635, the poorly equipped French army collapsed, suffering 17,000 casualties from disease and desertion.

Peace of Prague
Peace of Prague ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1635 May 30

Peace of Prague

Prague Castle, Masarykova, Rud

The Peace of Prague ended Saxony's participation in the Thirty Years War. The terms would later form the basis of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Other German princes subsequently joined the treaty and although the Thirty Years War continued, it is generally agreed Prague ended it as a religious civil war within the Holy Roman Empire. Thereafter, the conflict was largely driven by foreign powers, including Spain, Sweden, and France.

Spain invades Northern France
Travellers attacked by soldiers, Vrancx, 1647. Note devastated landscape in background; by the 1640s, shortage of supplies and forage for horses drastically limited military campaigns ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1636 Jan 1

Spain invades Northern France

Corbie, France

A Spanish offensive in 1636 reached Corbie in Northern France; although it caused panic in Paris, lack of supplies forced them to retreat, and it was not repeated.

France formally enters the War
Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1636 Mar 1

France formally enters the War

Wismar, Germany

In the March 1636 Treaty of Wismar, France formally joined the Thirty Years War in alliance with Sweden;

Battle of Wittstock
Battle of Wittstock ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1636 Oct 4

Battle of Wittstock

Wittstock/Dosse, Germany

The Holy Roman Emperor, with his Saxon and Roman Catholic allies, was fighting for the control of northern Germany against the Swedes and an alliance of Protestant princes opposed to Habsburg hegemony. The Imperial army was larger in strength than the Swedish army, but at least one-third of it was composed of Saxon units of questionable quality. The Swedish artillery was considerably stronger, leading the Imperial commanders to maintain a largely defensive position on the hill tops. A Swedish-allied army commanded jointly by Johan Banér and Alexander Leslie, later 1st Earl of Leven decisively defeated a combined Imperial-Saxon army, led by Count Melchior von Hatzfeld and the Saxon Elector John George I.

First and Second Battle of Rheinfelden
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1638 Feb 28

First and Second Battle of Rheinfelden

near Rheinfelden, Germany

Having been pushed to the west bank of the Rhine by the Imperial advance, Bernhard's army had settled in Alsace during 1635 and had done little except help repulse the Imperial invasion of France under the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand and Matthias Gallas in 1636.


Early in February 1638, having been prodded by the French government, Bernhard advanced his army of 6,000 men and 14 guns to the Rhine in order to find a crossing. Arriving at an important crossing point at the town of Rheinfelden, Bernhard prepared to invest the town from the south.


In order to prevent this, the Imperialists, under the Italian mercenary Count Federico Savelli and German general Johann von Werth, moved through the Black Forest to attack Bernhard's army and relieve the town. Bernhard was beaten in the first battle but managed to defeat and capture Werth and Savelli in the second.

Siege of Breisach
Death of Gustavus at Lützen by Carl Wahlbom (1855) ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1638 Aug 18

Siege of Breisach

Breisach am Rhein, Germany
The Battle of Breisach was fought on 18 August — 17 December 1638 as part of Thirty Years' War. It ended after several unsuccessful relief attemps by Imperial forces with the surrender of the Imperial garrison to the French, commanded by Bernard of Saxe-Weimar. It secured French control of Alsace and severed the Spanish Road.
Battle of the Downs
Before the Battle of the Downs by Reinier Nooms, circa 1639, depicting the Dutch blockade off the English coast, the vessel shown is the Aemilia, Tromp's flagship. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1639 Oct 21

Battle of the Downs

near the Downs, English Channe

The entry of France into the Thirty Years War had blocked off the overland "Spanish Road" to Flanders. To support the Spanish army of Flanders of Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, the Spanish navy had to ferry supplies by sea via Dunkirk, the last Spanish-controlled port on the North Sea coast.


In the spring of 1639, the Count-Duke of Olivares ordered the construction and assembly of a new fleet at A Coruña for a new relief jaunt to Dunkirk. 29 warships were assembled in four squadrons, soon joined by an additional 22 warships (also in four squadrons) from the Spanish Mediterranean fleet. Twelve English transport ships also arrived, contracted to carry the Spanish army under the flag of English neutrality.


From intelligence networks, the Dutch learned that the Spanish fleet might attempt to make for the anchorage known as The Downs, off the English coast, between Dover and Deal. The naval Battle of the Downs was a decisive defeat of the Spanish, by the United Provinces of the Netherlands, commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp.

Battle of Wolfenbüttel
Battle of Wolfenbüttel ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1641 Jun 29

Battle of Wolfenbüttel

Wolfenbüttel, Germany

The Battle of Wolfenbüttel (29 June 1641) took place near the town of Wolfenbüttel, in what is now Lower Saxony, during the Thirty Years' War. Swedish forces led by Carl Gustaf Wrangel and Hans Christoff von Königsmarck and Bernardines led by Jean-Baptiste Budes, Comte de Guébriant withstood an assault by Imperial forces led by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, forcing the Imperials to retreat.

Battle of Kempen
Merian engraving of the "Schlacht auf der Kempener Heide" ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1642 Jan 17

Battle of Kempen

Kempen, Germany

The Battle of Kempen was a battle during the Thirty Years' War in Kempen, Westphalia on 17 January 1642. It resulted in the victory of a French-Weimar-Hessian army under the French Comte de Guébriant and the Hessian Generalleutnant Kaspar Graf von Eberstein against the Imperial Army under General Guillaume de Lamboy, who was captured.

Second Battle of Breitenfeld
Battle of Breitenfeld 1642 ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1642 Oct 23

Second Battle of Breitenfeld

Breitenfeld, Leipzig, Germany

The Second Battle of Breitenfeld was a decisive victory for the Swedish army under the command of Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson over an Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire under the command of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria and his deputy, Prince-General Ottavio Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi.

Swedes captured Leipzig
©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1642 Dec 1

Swedes captured Leipzig

Leipzig, Germany

The Swedes captured Leipzig in December, giving them a significant new base in Germany, and although they failed to take Freiberg in February 1643, the Saxon army was reduced to a few garrisons.

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1643 May 19

Battle of Rocroi

Rocroi, France

The Battle of Rocroi, fought on 19 May 1643, was a major engagement of the Thirty Years' War. It was fought between a French army led by the 21-year-old Duke of Enghien (later known as the Great Condé) and Spanish forces under General Francisco de Melo, only five days after the accession of Louis XIV to the throne of France following his father's death. Rocroi shattered the myth of invincibility of the Spanish Tercios, the terrifying infantry units that had dominated European battlefields for the previous 120 years. The battle is therefore often considered to mark the end of Spanish military greatness and the beginning of French hegemony in Europe. After Rocroi, the Spanish abandoned the Tercio system and adopted the Line infantry doctrine used by the French. Three weeks after Rocroi, Ferdinand invited Sweden and France to attend peace negotiations in the Westphalian towns of Münster and Osnabrück, but talks were delayed when Christian of Denmark blockaded Hamburg and increased toll payments in the Baltic.

Torstenson War
The siege of Brno in 1645, by Swedish and Transylvanian forces led by Torstenson ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1643 Dec 1

Torstenson War

Denmark-Norway
Denmark had withdrawn from the Thirty Years' War in the Treaty of Lübeck (1629). After its victories in the war, Sweden felt it had to attack Denmark due to its advantageous geographical position in relation to Sweden. Sweden invaded in a short two-year war. In the Second Treaty of Brömsebro (1645), which concluded the war, Denmark had to make huge territorial concessions and exempt Sweden from the Sound Dues, de facto acknowledging the end of the Danish dominium maris baltici. Danish efforts to reverse this result in the Second Northern, Scanian and Great Northern wars failed.
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1644 Aug 3 - Aug 9

Battle of Freiburg

Baden-Württemberg, Germany

The Battle of Freiburg took place between the French, consisting of a 20,000 men army, under the command of Louis II de Bourbon, Duc d'Enghien, and Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Viscount de Turenne, and a Bavarian-Imperial army of 16,800 men under Field Marshal Franz von Mercy. On 3 and 5 August, the French suffered heavy casualties despite having greater numbers. On the 9th, Turenne's army tried to flank the Bavarians by heading to Glottertal through Betzenhausen and cut off their supplies, while Mercy moved to St. Peter where they faced off against each other. The Bavarians repelled the attack of the French vanguard and retreated while leaving behind parts of their baggage and artillery. Having resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, the French side claimed victory because of the Bavarian retreat but the battle is also often seen as a draw or a Bavarian tactical victory as the French army took much heavier casualties and failed their goal of relieving or retaking Freiburg. However, France gained a strategical advantage in the following campaign by leaving Freiburg behing and reaching the sparsely defended Upper Rhine region prior to Mercy and in consequence conquering large parts of it.


The confrontation between France and Bavaria continued, leading to the subsequent battles of Herbsthausen and Nördlingen in 1645. This series of battles lasting since Tuttlingen 1643 signalled the nearing of the end of the Thirty Years' War. The huge losses suffered in Freiburg weakened both sides and were a huge factor that led to the Battle at Nördlingen, where Von Mercy was killed. The successors of Mercy were not as adept and efficient as he was, which led to Bavaria suffering multiple invasions in the following years. Maximilian, in the wake of the devastating invasion of 1646 temporarily withdrew from the war in the Truce of Ulm 1647.

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1645 Mar 6

Battle of Jankau

Jankov, Czech Republic

The Battle of Jankau was one of the last major battles of the 1618 to 1648 Thirty Years' War, it was fought between Swedish and Imperial armies, each containing around 16,000 men. The more mobile and better led Swedes under Lennart Torstensson effectively destroyed their opponents, commanded by Melchior von Hatzfeldt. However, the devastation caused by decades of conflict meant armies now spent much of their time obtaining supplies, and the Swedes were unable to take advantage. Imperial forces regained control of Bohemia in 1646, but inconclusive campaigns in the Rhineland and Saxony made it clear neither side had the strength or resources to impose a military solution. Although fighting continued as participants tried to improve their positions, it increased the urgency of negotiations which culminated in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.

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1645 Aug 3

Second Battle of Nördlingen

Alerheim, Germany

The Imperials and their main German ally Bavaria were facing increasingly severe pressure in the war from the French, Swedes and their Protestant allies and were struggling to prevent a French attempt to advance into Bavaria. The second Battle of Nördlingen was fought on August 3, 1645 southeast of Nördlingen near the village of Alerheim. France and its Protestant German allies defeated the forces of the Holy Roman Empire and its Bavarian ally.

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1648 May 17

Battle of Zusmarshausen

Zusmarshausen, Germany

The Battle of Zusmarshausen was fought on 17 May 1648 between Bavarian-Imperial forces under von Holzappel and an allied Franco-Swedish army under the command of Turenne in the modern Augsburg district of Bavaria, Germany. The allied force emerged victorious, and the Imperial army was only rescued from annihilation by the stubborn rearguard fighting of Raimondo Montecuccoli and his cavalry. Zusmarshausen was the last major battle of the war to be fought on German soil, and was also the largest battle (in terms of numbers of men involved; casualties were relatively light) to take place in the final three years of fighting.

Battle of Prague
Battle on Charles Bridge ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1648 Jul 25

Battle of Prague

Prague, Czechia

The Battle of Prague, which occurred between 25 July and 1 November 1648 was the last action of the Thirty Years' War. While the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia were proceeding, the Swedes took the opportunity to mount one last campaign into Bohemia. The main result, and probably the main aim, was to loot the fabulous art collection assembled in Prague Castle by Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1552–1612), the pick of which was taken down the Elbe in barges and shipped to Sweden.


After occupying the castle and the western bank of the Vltava for some months, the Swedes withdrew when news of the signing of the treaty reached them. It was the last major clash of the Thirty Years' War, taking place in the city of Prague, where the war originally began 30 years earlier.

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1648 Aug 20

Battle of Lens

Lens, Pas-de-Calais, France

Over the four years following the decisive French victory at Rocroi against the Spanish Army of Flanders, the French captured dozens of towns throughout northern France and the Spanish Netherlands. Archduke Leopold Wilhelm was appointed governor of the Spanish Netherlands in 1647 to strengthen Spain's Habsburg alliance with Austria, and began a major counteroffensive the same year. The Spanish army first found success recapturing the fortresses of Armentières, Comines and Landrecies.


The Prince de Condé was recalled from a failed campaign in Catalonia against the Spanish and appointed commander of the 16,000-man French army opposite the Spanish army of the Archduke and General Jean de Beck, the governor of Luxembourg. Condé captured Ypres but then the 18,000-strong Spanish-German force laid siege to Lens. Condé advanced to meet them.


In the Battle of Lens that ensued, Condé provoked the Spanish into giving up a strong hilltop position for an open plain, where he used the discipline and superior close-combat capabilities of his cavalry to charge and rout the Walloon-Lorrainer cavalry on the Spanish wings. The French infantry and cavalry in the center were attacked by the strong Spanish center, suffering heavy losses but holding their ground. The French cavalry on the wings, freed from any opposition, encircled and charged the Spanish center, who promptly capitulated. The Spanish lost half their army, some 8,000–9,000 men of which 3,000 were killed or wounded and 5,000–6,000 captured, 38 guns, 100 flags along with their pontoons and baggage. French losses were 1,500 killed and wounded. The French victory contributed to the signing of the Peace of Westphalia but the outbreak of the Fronde rebellion prevented the French from exploiting their victory to the hilt against the Spanish.

Treaty of Westphalia
Peace of Westphalia ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1648 Oct 24

Treaty of Westphalia

Osnabrück, Germany

The Peace of Westphalia is the collective name for two peace treaties signed in October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster. They ended the Thirty Years' War and brought peace to the Holy Roman Empire, closing a calamitous period of European history that killed approximately eight million people.

1648 Dec 1

Epilogue

Central Europe

It has been suggested the breakdown of social order caused by the war was often more significant and longer lasting than the immediate damage. The collapse of local government created landless peasants, who banded together to protect themselves from the soldiers of both sides, and led to widespread rebellions in Upper Austria, Bavaria and Brandenburg. Soldiers devastated one area before moving on, leaving large tracts of land empty of people and changing the ecosystem. Food shortages were worsened by an explosion in the rodent population, while Bavaria was overrun by wolves in the winter of 1638, and its crops destroyed by packs of wild pigs the following spring.


The Peace of Westphalia reconfirmed "German liberties", ending Habsburg attempts to convert the Holy Roman Empire into a more centralised state similar to Spain. Over the next 50 years, Bavaria, Brandenburg-Prussia, Saxony and others increasingly pursued their own policies, while Sweden gained a permanent foothold in the Empire. Despite these setbacks, the Habsburg lands suffered less from the war than many others and became a far more coherent bloc with the absorption of Bohemia, and restoration of Catholicism throughout their territories.


France arguably gained more from the Thirty Years' War than any other power; by 1648, most of Richelieu's objectives had been achieved. These included separation of the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs, expansion of the French frontier into the Empire, and an end to Spanish military supremacy in Northern Europe. Although the Franco-Spanish conflict continued until 1659, Westphalia allowed Louis XIV to begin replacing Spain as the predominant European power.


While differences over religion remained an issue throughout the 17th century, it was the last major war in Continental Europe in which it can be said to be a primary driver. It created the outlines of a Europe that persisted until 1815 and beyond; the nation-state of France, the beginnings of a unified Germany and separate Austro-Hungarian bloc, a diminished but still significant Spain, independent smaller states like Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, along with a Low Countries split between the Dutch Republic and what became Belgium in 1830.

Appendices



APPENDIX 1

Gustavus Adolphus: 'The Father Of Modern Warfare


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APPENDIX 2

Why the Thirty Years' War Was So Devastating?


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APPENDIX 3

Field Artillery | Evolution of Warfare 1450-1650


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APPENDIX 4

Europe's Apocalypse: The Shocking Human Cost Of The Thirty Years' War


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Characters



Ottavio Piccolomini

Ottavio Piccolomini

Imperial Field Marshal

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm

Austrian Archduke

Maarten Tromp

Maarten Tromp

Dutch General / Admiral

Ernst von Mansfeld

Ernst von Mansfeld

German Military Commander

Gaspar de Guzmán

Gaspar de Guzmán

Spanish Prime Minister

Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim

Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim

Field Marshal of the Holy Roman Empire

Alexander Leslie

Alexander Leslie

Swedish Field Marshal

Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu

First Minister of State

Gustavus Adolphus

Gustavus Adolphus

King of Sweden

Albrecht von Wallenstein

Albrecht von Wallenstein

Bohemian Military leader

George I Rákóczi

George I Rákóczi

Prince of Transylvania

Melchior von Hatzfeldt Westerwald

Melchior von Hatzfeldt Westerwald

Imperial Field Marshal

Johan Banér

Johan Banér

Swedish Field Marshal

Johann Tserclaes

Johann Tserclaes

Count of Tilly

Ferdinand II

Ferdinand II

Holy Roman Emperor

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

German Priest

John George I

John George I

Elector of Saxony

Louis XIII

Louis XIII

King of France

Bogislaw XIV

Bogislaw XIV

Duke of Pomerania

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