Wallenstein's death rendered necessary the appointment of a new generalissimo; and the Emperor yielded at last to the advice of the Spaniards, to raise his son Ferdinand, King of Hungary, to that dignity. Under him, Count Gallas commanded, who performed the functions of commander-in-chief, while the prince brought to this post nothing but his name and dignity. A considerable force was soon assembled under Ferdinand; the Duke of Lorraine brought up a considerable body of auxiliaries in person, and the Cardinal Infante joined him from Italy with 10,000 men. In order to drive the enemy from the Danube, the new general undertook the enterprise in which his predecessor had failed, the siege of Ratisbon. In vain did Duke Bernard of Weimar penetrate into the interior of Bavaria, with a view to draw the enemy from the town; Ferdinand continued to press the siege with vigour, and the city, after a most obstinate resistance, was obliged to open its gates to him. Donauwerth soon shared the same fate, and Nordlingen in Swabia was now invested. The loss of so many of the imperial cities was severely felt by the Swedish party; as the friendship of these towns had so largely contributed to the success of their arms, indifference to their fate would have been inexcusable. It would have been an indelible disgrace, had they deserted their confederates in their need, and abandoned them to the revenge of an implacable conqueror. Moved by these considerations, the Swedish army, under the command of Horn, and Bernard of Weimar, advanced upon Nordlingen, determined to relieve it even at the expense of a battle.
The undertaking was a dangerous one, for in numbers the enemy was greatly superior to that of the Swedes. There was also a further reason for avoiding a battle at present; the enemy's force was likely soon to divide, the Italian troops being destined for the Netherlands. In the mean time, such a position might be taken up, as to cover Nordlingen, and cut off their supplies. All these grounds were strongly urged by Gustavus Horn, in the Swedish council of war; but his remonstrances were disregarded by men who, intoxicated by a long career of success, mistook the suggestions of prudence for the voice of timidity. Overborne by the superior influence of Duke Bernard, Gustavus Horn was compelled to risk a contest, whose unfavourable issue, a dark foreboding seemed already to announce. The fate of the battle depended upon the possession of a height which commanded the imperial camp. An attempt to occupy it during the night failed, as the tedious transport of the artillery through woods and hollow ways delayed the arrival of the troops. When the Swedes arrived about midnight, they found the heights in possession of the enemy, strongly entrenched. They waited, therefore, for daybreak, to carry them by storm. Their impetuous courage surmounted every obstacle; the entrenchments, which were in the form of a crescent, were successfully scaled by each of the two brigades appointed to the service; but as they entered at the same moment from opposite sides, they met and threw each other into confusion. At this unfortunate moment, a barrel of powder blew up, and created the greatest disorder among the Swedes. The imperial cavalry charged upon their broken ranks, and the flight became universal. No persuasion on the part of their general could induce the fugitives to renew the assault.
He resolved, therefore, in order to carry this important post, to lead fresh troops to the attack. But in the interim, some Spanish regiments had marched in, and every attempt to gain it was repulsed by their heroic intrepidity. One of the duke's own regiments advanced seven times, and was as often driven back. The disadvantage of not occupying this post in time, was quickly and sensibly felt. The fire of the enemy's artillery from the heights, caused such slaughter in the adjacent wing of the Swedes, that Horn, who commanded there, was forced to give orders to retire. Instead of being able to cover the retreat of his colleague, and to check the pursuit of the enemy, Duke Bernard, overpowered by numbers, was himself driven into the plain, where his routed cavalry spread confusion among Horn's brigade, and rendered the defeat complete. Almost the entire infantry were killed or taken prisoners. More than 12,000 men remained dead upon the field of battle; 80 field pieces, about 4,000 waggons, and 300 standards and colours fell into the hands of the Imperialists. Horn himself, with three other generals, were taken prisoners. Duke Bernard with difficulty saved a feeble remnant of his army, which joined him at Frankfort.
The defeat at Nordlingen, cost the Swedish Chancellor the second sleepless night he had passed in Germany. — [The first was occasioned by the death of Gustavus Adolphus.] — The consequences of this disaster were terrible. The Swedes had lost by it at once their superiority in the field, and with it the confidence of their confederates, which they had gained solely by their previous military success. A dangerous division threatened the Protestant Confederation with ruin. Consternation and terror seized upon the whole party; while the Papists arose with exulting triumph from the deep humiliation into which they had sunk. Swabia and the adjacent circles first felt the consequences of the defeat of Nordlingen; and Wirtemberg, in particular, was overrun by the conquering army. All the members of the League of Heilbronn trembled at the prospect of the Emperor's revenge; those who could, fled to Strasburg, while the helpless free cities awaited their fate with alarm. A little more of moderation towards the conquered, would have quickly reduced all the weaker states under the Emperor's authority; but the severity which was practised, even against those who voluntarily surrendered, drove the rest to despair, and roused them to a vigorous resistance.
In this perplexity, all looked to Oxenstiern for counsel and assistance; Oxenstiern applied for both to the German States. Troops were wanted; money likewise, to raise new levies, and to pay to the old the arrears which the men were clamorously demanding. Oxenstiern addressed himself to the Elector of Saxony; but he shamefully abandoned the Swedish cause, to negociate for a separate peace with the Emperor at Pirna. He solicited aid from the Lower Saxon States; but they, long wearied of the Swedish pretensions and demands for money, now thought only of themselves; and George, Duke of Lunenburg, in place of flying to the assistance of Upper Germany, laid siege to Minden, with the intention of keeping possession of it for himself. Abandoned by his German allies, the chancellor exerted himself to obtain the assistance of foreign powers. England, Holland, and Venice were applied to for troops and money; and, driven to the last extremity, the chancellor reluctantly resolved to take the disagreeable step which he had so long avoided, and to throw himself under the protection of France.
The moment had at last arrived which Richelieu had long waited for with impatience. Nothing, he was aware, but the impossibility of saving themselves by any other means, could induce the Protestant States in Germany to support the pretensions of France upon Alsace. This extreme necessity had now arrived; the assistance of that power was indispensable, and she was resolved to be well paid for the active part which she was about to take in the German war. Full of lustre and dignity, it now came upon the political stage. Oxenstiern, who felt little reluctance in bestowing the rights and possessions of the empire, had already ceded the fortress of Philipsburg, and the other long coveted places. The Protestants of Upper Germany now, in their own names, sent a special embassy to Richelieu, requesting him to take Alsace, the fortress of Breyssach, which was still to be recovered from the enemy, and all the places upon the Upper Rhine, which were the keys of Germany, under the protection of France. What was implied by French protection had been seen in the conduct of France towards the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, which it had held for centuries against the rightful owners. Treves was already in the possession of French garrisons; Lorraine was in a manner conquered, as it might at any time be overrun by an army, and could not, alone, and with its own strength, withstand its formidable neighbour. France now entertained the hope of adding Alsace to its large and numerous possessions, and, — since a treaty was soon to be concluded with the Dutch for the partition of the Spanish Netherlands — the prospect of making the Rhine its natural boundary towards Germany. Thus shamefully were the rights of Germany sacrificed by the German States to this treacherous and grasping power, which, under the mask of a disinterested friendship, aimed only at its own aggrandizement; and while it boldly claimed the honourable title of a Protectress, was solely occupied with promoting its own schemes, and advancing its own interests amid the general confusion.
In return for these important cessions, France engaged to effect a diversion in favour of the Swedes, by commencing hostilities against the Spaniards; and if this should lead to an open breach with the Emperor, to maintain an army upon the German side of the Rhine, which was to act in conjunction with the Swedes and Germans against Austria. For a war with Spain, the Spaniards themselves soon afforded the desired pretext. Making an inroad from the Netherlands, upon the city of Treves, they cut in pieces the French garrison; and, in open violation of the law of nations, made prisoner the Elector, who had placed himself under the protection of France, and carried him into Flanders. When the Cardinal Infante, as Viceroy of the Spanish Netherlands, refused satisfaction for these injuries, and delayed to restore the prince to liberty, Richelieu, after the old custom, formally proclaimed war at Brussels by a herald, and the war was at once opened by three different armies in Milan, in the Valteline, and in Flanders. The French minister was less anxious to commence hostilities with the Emperor, which promised fewer advantages, and threatened greater difficulties. A fourth army, however, was detached across the Rhine into Germany, under the command of Cardinal Lavalette, which was to act in conjunction with Duke Bernard, against the Emperor, without a previous declaration of war.
A heavier blow for the Swedes, than even the defeat of Nordlingen, was the reconciliation of the Elector of Saxony with the Emperor. After many fruitless attempts both to bring about and to prevent it, it was at last effected in 1634, at Pirna, and, the following year, reduced into a formal treaty of peace, at Prague. The Elector of Saxony had always viewed with jealousy the pretensions of the Swedes in Germany; and his aversion to this foreign power, which now gave laws within the Empire, had grown with every fresh requisition that Oxenstiern was obliged to make upon the German states. This ill feeling was kept alive by the Spanish court, who laboured earnestly to effect a peace between Saxony and the Emperor. Wearied with the calamities of a long and destructive contest, which had selected Saxony above all others for its theatre; grieved by the miseries which both friend and foe inflicted upon his subjects, and seduced by the tempting propositions of the House of Austria, the Elector at last abandoned the common cause, and, caring little for the fate of his confederates, or the liberties of Germany, thought only of securing his own advantages, even at the expense of the whole body.
In fact, the misery of Germany had risen to such a height, that all clamorously vociferated for peace; and even the most disadvantageous pacification would have been hailed as a blessing from heaven. The plains, which formerly had been thronged with a happy and industrious population, where nature had lavished her choicest gifts, and plenty and prosperity had reigned, were now a wild and desolate wilderness. The fields, abandoned by the industrious husbandman, lay waste and uncultivated; and no sooner had the young crops given the promise of a smiling harvest, than a single march destroyed the labours of a year, and blasted the last hope of an afflicted peasantry. Burnt castles, wasted fields, villages in ashes, were to be seen extending far and wide on all sides, while the ruined peasantry had no resource left but to swell the horde of incendiaries, and fearfully to retaliate upon their fellows, who had hitherto been spared the miseries which they themselves had suffered. The only safeguard against oppression was to become an oppressor. The towns groaned under the licentiousness of undisciplined and plundering garrisons, who seized and wasted the property of the citizens, and, under the license of their position, committed the most remorseless devastation and cruelty. If the march of an army converted whole provinces into deserts, if others were impoverished by winter quarters, or exhausted by contributions, these still were but passing evils, and the industry of a year might efface the miseries of a few months. But there was no relief for those who had a garrison within their walls, or in the neighbourhood; even the change of fortune could not improve their unfortunate fate, since the victor trod in the steps of the vanquished, and friends were not more merciful than enemies. The neglected farms, the destruction of the crops, and the numerous armies which overran the exhausted country, were inevitably followed by scarcity and the high price of provisions, which in the later years was still further increased by a general failure in the crops. The crowding together of men in camps and quarters — want upon one side, and excess on the other, occasioned contagious distempers, which were more fatal than even the sword. In this long and general confusion, all the bonds of social life were broken up; — respect for the rights of their fellow men, the fear of the laws, purity of morals, honour, and religion, were laid aside, where might ruled supreme with iron sceptre. Under the shelter of anarchy and impunity, every vice flourished, and men became as wild as the country. No station was too dignified for outrage, no property too holy for rapine and avarice. In a word, the soldier reigned supreme; and that most brutal of despots often made his own officer feel his power. The leader of an army was a far more important person within any country where he appeared, than its lawful governor, who was frequently obliged to fly before him into his own castles for safety. Germany swarmed with these petty tyrants, and the country suffered equally from its enemies and its protectors. These wounds rankled the deeper, when the unhappy victims recollected that Germany was sacrificed to the ambition of foreign powers, who, for their own ends, prolonged the miseries of war. Germany bled under the scourge, to extend the conquests and influence of Sweden; and the torch of discord was kept alive within the Empire, that the services of Richelieu might be rendered indispensable in France.
But, in truth, it was not merely interested voices which opposed a peace; and if both Sweden and the German states were anxious, from corrupt motives, to prolong the conflict, they were seconded in their views by sound policy. After the defeat of Nordlingen, an equitable peace was not to be expected from the Emperor; and, this being the case, was it not too great a sacrifice, after seventeen years of war, with all its miseries, to abandon the contest, not only without advantage, but even with loss? What would avail so much bloodshed, if all was to remain as it had been; if their rights and pretensions were neither larger nor safer; if all that had been won with so much difficulty was to be surrendered for a peace at any cost? Would it not be better to endure, for two or three years more, the burdens they had borne so long, and to reap at last some recompense for twenty years of suffering? Neither was it doubtful, that peace might at last be obtained on favourable terms, if only the Swedes and the German Protestants should continue united in the cabinet and in the field, and pursued their common interests with a reciprocal sympathy and zeal. Their divisions alone, had rendered the enemy formidable, and protracted the acquisition of a lasting and general peace. And this great evil the Elector of Saxony had brought upon the Protestant cause by concluding a separate treaty with Austria.
He, indeed, had commenced his negociations with the Emperor, even before the battle of Nordlingen; and the unfortunate issue of that battle only accelerated their conclusion. By it, all his confidence in the Swedes was lost; and it was even doubted whether they would ever recover from the blow. The jealousies among their generals, the insubordination of the army, and the exhaustion of the Swedish kingdom, shut out any reasonable prospect of effective assistance on their part. The Elector hastened, therefore, to profit by the Emperor's magnanimity, who, even after the battle of Nordlingen, did not recall the conditions previously offered. While Oxenstiern, who had assembled the estates in Frankfort, made further demands upon them and him, the Emperor, on the contrary, made concessions; and therefore it required no long consideration to decide between them.
In the mean time, however, he was anxious to escape the charge of sacrificing the common cause and attending only to his own interests. All the German states, and even the Swedes, were publicly invited to become parties to this peace, although Saxony and the Emperor were the only powers who deliberated upon it, and who assumed the right to give law to Germany. By this self-appointed tribunal, the grievances of the Protestants were discussed, their rights and privileges decided, and even the fate of religions determined, without the presence of those who were most deeply interested in it. Between them, a general peace was resolved on, and it was to be enforced by an imperial army of execution, as a formal decree of the Empire. Whoever opposed it, was to be treated as a public enemy; and thus, contrary to their rights, the states were to be compelled to acknowledge a law, in the passing of which they had no share. Thus, even in form, the pacification at Prague was an arbitrary measure; nor was it less so in its contents. The Edict of Restitution had been the chief cause of dispute between the Elector and the Emperor; and therefore it was first considered in their deliberations. Without formally annulling it, it was determined by the treaty of Prague, that all the ecclesiastical domains holding immediately of the Empire, and, among the mediate ones, those which had been seized by the Protestants subsequently to the treaty at Passau, should, for forty years, remain in the same position as they had been in before the Edict of Restitution, but without any formal decision of the diet to that effect. Before the expiration of this term a commission, composed of equal numbers of both religions, should proceed to settle the matter peaceably and according to law; and if this commission should be unable to come to a decision, each party should remain in possession of the rights which it had exercised before the Edict of Restitution. This arrangement, therefore, far from removing the grounds of dissension, only suspended the dispute for a time; and this article of the treaty of Prague only covered the embers of a future war.
The archbishopric of Magdeburg remained in possession of Prince Augustus of Saxony, and Halberstadt in that of the Archduke Leopold William. Four estates were taken from the territory of Magdeburg, and given to Saxony, for which the Administrator of Magdeburg, Christian William of Brandenburg, was otherwise to be indemnified. The Dukes of Mecklenburg, upon acceding to this treaty, were to be acknowledged as rightful possessors of their territories, in which the magnanimity of Gustavus Adolphus had long ago reinstated them. Donauwerth recovered its liberties. The important claims of the heirs of the Palatine, however important it might be for the Protestant cause not to lose this electorate vote in the diet, were passed over in consequence of the animosity subsisting between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. All the conquests which, in the course of the war, had been made by the German states, or by the League and the Emperor, were to be mutually restored; all which had been appropriated by the foreign powers of France and Sweden, was to be forcibly wrested from them by the united powers. The troops of the contracting parties were to be formed into one imperial army, which, supported and paid by the Empire, was, by force of arms, to carry into execution the covenants of the treaty.
As the peace of Prague was intended to serve as a general law of the Empire, those points, which did not immediately affect the latter, formed the subject of a separate treaty. By it, Lusatia was ceded to the Elector of Saxony as a fief of Bohemia, and special articles guaranteed the freedom of religion of this country and of Silesia.
All the Protestant states were invited to accede to the treaty of Prague, and on that condition were to benefit by the amnesty. The princes of Wurtemberg and Baden, whose territories the Emperor was already in possession of, and which he was not disposed to restore unconditionally; and such vassals of Austria as had borne arms against their sovereign; and those states which, under the direction of Oxenstiern, composed the council of the Upper German Circle, were excluded from the treaty, — not so much with the view of continuing the war against them, as of compelling them to purchase peace at a dearer rate. Their territories were to be retained in pledge, till every thing should be restored to its former footing. Such was the treaty of Prague. Equal justice, however, towards all, might perhaps have restored confidence between the head of the Empire and its members — between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics — between the Reformed and the Lutheran party; and the Swedes, abandoned by all their allies, would in all probability have been driven from Germany with disgrace. But this inequality strengthened, in those who were more severely treated, the spirit of mistrust and opposition, and made it an easier task for the Swedes to keep alive the flame of war, and to maintain a party in Germany.