Chapter 50: A Year of Habsburg Misfortunes
The French intervention into the Spanish Netherlands completely changed the calculus of Catholic forces across Europe, especially for Albrecht von Wallenstein, who lost the 10,000 Spanish army that had joined him the previous year due to urgent orders from the Cardinal-Infante to return to the Low Countries. The Imperial Army’s supreme commander pressed on nevertheless in his endeavor to knock Saxony out of the war, sending a messenger to zu Pappenheim’s forces in the Netherlands to join up with him. Unfortunately for Wallenstein, however, the world around him reacted much faster to the French intervention, for the reinvigorated Dutch army and its leader Frederick Henry intercepted the combined Spanish-Imperial army in the Netherlands near the strategic fortress of Schenkenschans on April 15th and defeated it after a hard-fought battle. Pappenheim was left with a battered force of 10,000 men by the time he began to march towards Wallenstein’s position. Meanwhile, Gustavus Adolphus had spent the winter in Bavaria recovering from the Swedish defeat at Alte Veste, marching north in early March to rendezvous with Hessian troops led by Peter Melander besieging Hameln. It was shortly after his arrival and the hastened fall of Hameln where the king received intelligence on the recall of Leganes’ Spanish army back to the Low Countries and the French siege of Leuven. He quickly seized on this opportunity and immediately marched westwards towards Saxony and Wallenstein, who was preparing for a direct assault on Dresden, the capital of the electorate, after defeating a small Saxon army at Oschatz in April. The Swedish-Hessian army closed the gap between itself and the Imperial Army, forcing Wallenstein to the battlefield on May 1st just outside the town of Frankenberg before Pappenheim’s forces could arrive. His army of 21,000 therefore would face Gustavus’ combined force of 28,000. The Swedish king commanded the right wing while Prince Bernard of Saxe-Weimar led the left wing and the Hessians under Melander formed the center, with Frisian commander Dodo zu Innhausen und Knyphausen leading the reserves. On the Imperial side, Heinrich Holk commanded the right wing while Wallenstein oversaw the center and Bohemian commander Rudolf von Colloredo commanded the Catholic left wing.
Blue=Protestant, light orange=Catholic
The battle began with exchanges of cannonfire from both sides. Then, around 11am, the Swedish cavalry led by Gustavus Adolphus advanced and quickly pushed back the Croat and cuirassier cavalry on the Imperial left. Shortly afterwards, elite Hessian and Catholic infantry regiments met in the center under heavy musket and artillery fire, while Holk took the initiative and charged upon the Swedish left. Although the Hessians initially held the upper hand, Wallenstein ordered musketeers from the back line to advance and fill the gaps, stabilizing the center once again. Similarly, the Swedish right, which was on the brink of flanking and smashing through the entire Catholic army, was halted by cuirassiers from the reserves. Although partially flanked, Wallestein’s men fought fiercely and put the battle in a stalemate in the afternoon, with Holk slowly gaining ground on the Imperial right. Around 3:00pm, observing the state of the battlr, Knyphausen ordered in the reserves and tipped the balance solidly in favor of the Protestants. The Imperial center and left collapsed quickly, with the right faring a bit better under Holk’s command. Wallenstein and his surviving forces subsequently retreated to Bohemia, having suffered 10,000 casualties compared to the Swedes’ 3,000.
After freeing occupied towns in Saxony, Gustavus Adolphus followed Wallenstein into Bohemia along with John George I of Saxony with the exception of a contingent of 10,000 led by Prince Bernard, who joined Swedish field marshal Gustav Horn in defeating Pappenheim at the Battle of Lutzen. The Protestant forces in Bohemia swept through the countryside and besieged Prague, while Duke John Christian of Brzeg-Olawa raised an army and began to occupy surrounding Silesian lands. They faced little resistance as Wallenstein refused to move decisively against them due to both the former’s numerical superiority, the need to recruit more soldiers, and the Imperial commander’s secret reservations over continuing the war. Prague would thus fall in September 1633. Wallenstein received the blame for the city’s fall and would be replaced as supreme commander of Imperial forces by heir to the Imperial throne Ferdinand Ernst. This change in command, however, failed to reverse Habsburg fortunes after Ferdinand, encouraged by subordinates like Holk and field marshal Jobst Maximilian von Gronsfeld, took the offensive with an army of 20,000 and drew the Protestants into a pitched battle at Jankau ending in another Catholic loss. 1633 drew to a close with most of Bohemia and Silesia under Swedish-Saxon control and Maximilian I of Bavaria forced to sue for peace with French mediation after continual occupation of his lands by the armies of Gustav Horn and Prince Bernard.
Red line=Protestant frontline
The Spanish Habsburgs fared better than their Austrian counterparts in Europe, although their gains from the previous year were nonetheless erased as they faced armies from all sides. Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, joined by Leganes’ army of 10,000, managed to relieve Leuven and defeat the plague-weakened French army. However, the Cardinal-Infante’s forces were unable to pursue the French, especially with news of the Catholic defeat at Schenkenschans coming shortly after the liberation of Leuven. Despite their defeat, the French intervention distracted the Spanish long enough for the Prince of Orange to recapture Arnhelm and surrounding lands, reverting the state of the Dutch-Spanish conflict back to the beginning of 1632 by June 1633. Throughout the rest of the year, Spain was on the defensive as French armies under the commands of Henri, Prince of Conde and Charles de la Porte invaded the Duchy of Lorraine and Franche-Comte while Dutch ships blockaded the Spanish Netherlands. Pinned on multiple fronts, the Cardinal-Infante nevertheless rebuffed an attempt by Frederick Henry to retake Breda in the early fall, empowering the pro-peace party in the Dutch States-General to halt the Prince of Orange’s offensive approach and reduce war expenditures.
Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand depicted by Peter Paul Rubens, 1635
1633 proved to be a disastrous year for the Habsburgs, from the Protestant invasion of Bohemia and Silesia to the triumph of the Japanese-Dutch alliance in the Far East. Their struggles, as severe as they were, would only complicate when news of the Treaty of Gapan arrived in Europe in 1634.