Thirty Years' War: Albrecht von Wallenstein

Wallenstein and Tilly holding a council of war, 1626
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Born at Heømanice, Bohemia on September 24, 1583, Albrecht von Wallenstein was the son of a minor noble family. Initially raised as a Protestant by his parents, he was sent to a Jesuit school in Olmütz by his uncle after their death. While at Olmütz he professed to convert to Catholicism, though he subsequently attended the Lutheran University of Altdorf in 1599. Following additional schooling at Bologna and Padua, von Wallenstein joined the army of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Fighting against the Ottomans and Hungarian rebels, he was commended for his service at the siege of Gran.

Rise to Power

Returning home to Bohemia, he married the wealthy widow Lucretia Nikossie von Landeck. Inheriting her fortune and estates in Moravia upon her death in 1614, von Wallenstein used it buy influence. After splendidly fitting out a company of 200 cavalries, he presented it to Archduke Ferdinand of Styria for use in fighting the Venetians. In 1617, von Wallenstein married Isabella Katharina. The couple had two children, though only one, a daughter, survived infancy. With the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in 1618, von Wallenstein declared his support for the Imperial cause.

Forced to flee his lands in Moravia, he brought the province's treasury to Vienna. Equipping a regiment of cuirassiers, von Wallenstein joined the army of Karel Bonaventura Buquoy and saw service against the Protestant armies of Ernst von Mansfeld and Gabriel Bethlen. Winning notice as a brilliant commander, von Wallenstein was able to recover his lands after the Catholic victory at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. He also benefited from the favoritism of Ferdinand who had ascended to post of Holy Roman Emperor in 1619.

The Emperor's Commander

Through the emperor, von Wallenstein was able to acquire the large estates that had belonged to his mother's family as well as purchased huge tracts of confiscated land. Adding these to his holdings, he reorganized the territory and named it Friedland. In addition, military successes brought titles with the emperor making him an imperial count palatine in 1622, and a prince a year later. With the entry of the Danes into the conflict, Ferdinand found himself without an army under his control to oppose them. While the army of the Catholic League was in the field, it belonged to Maximilian of Bavaria.

Seizing the opportunity, von Wallenstein approached the emperor in 1625 and offered to raise an entire army on his behalf. Elevated to Duke of Friedland, von Wallenstein initially assembled a force of 30,000 men. On April 25, 1626, von Wallenstein and his new army defeated a force under Mansfield at the Battle of Dessau Bridge. Operating in conjunction with the Count of Tilly's Catholic League Army, von Wallenstein campaigned against Mansfeld and Bethlan. In 1627, his army swept through Silesia clearing it of Protestant forces. In the wake of this victory, he purchased the Duchy of Sagan from the emperor.

The next year, von Wallenstein's army moved into Mecklenburg in support of Tilly's efforts against the Danes. Named Duke of Mecklenburg for his services, von Wallenstein was frustrated when his siege of Stralsund failed, denying him access to the Baltic and the ability to confront Sweden and the Netherlands at sea. He was further distressed when Ferdinand announced the Edict of Restitution in 1629. This called for the return of several principalities to Imperial control and the conversion of their inhabitants to Catholicism.

Though von Wallenstein personally opposed the edict, he began moving his 134,000-man army to enforce it, angering many of the German princes. This was hampered by the intervention of Sweden and the arrival of its army under the gifted leadership of King Gustavus Adolphus. In 1630, Ferdinand called a meeting of the electors at Regensburg with the goal of having his son voted as his successor. Angered by von Wallenstein's arrogance and actions, the princes, led by Maximilian, demanded the commander's removal in exchange for their votes. Ferdinand agreed and riders were sent to inform von Wallenstein of his fate.

Return to Power

Turning his army over to Tilly, he retired to Jitschin in Friedland. While he lived on his estates, the war went badly for the emperor as the Swedes crushed Tilly at the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631. The following April, Tilly was defeated at killed at Rain. With the Swedes in Munich and occupying Bohemia, Ferdinand recalled von Wallenstein. Returning to duty, he swiftly raised a new army and cleared the Saxons from Bohemia. After defeating the Swedes at Alte Veste, he encountered Gustavus Adolphus' army at Lützen in November 1632.

In the battle that ensued, von Wallenstein's army was defeated but Gustavus Adolphus was killed. Much to the emperor's dismay, von Wallenstein did not exploit the king's death but rather retreated into winter quarters. When the campaign season began in 1633, von Wallenstein mystified his superiors by avoiding confrontations with the Protestants. This was largely due to his anger over the Edict of Restitution and his beginning secret negotiations with Saxony, Sweden, Brandenburg, and France to end the war. While little is known regarding the talks, he claimed to be seeking a just peace for a unified Germany.


While von Wallenstein worked to stay loyal to the emperor, it is clear that he was seeking to aggrandize his own power. As the talks flagged, he sought to reassert his power by finally going on the offensive. Attacking the Swedes and Saxons, he won his final victory at Steinau in October 1633. After von Wallenstein moved to winter quarters around Pilsen, news of the secret talks reached the emperor in Vienna.

Moving quickly, Ferdinand had a secret court find him guilty of treason and signed a patent removing from command on January 24, 1634. This was followed by an open patent charging him with treason which was published in Prague on February 23. Realizing the danger, von Wallenstein rode from Pilsen to Eger with the goal of meeting with the Swedes. Two nights after arriving, a plot was put into motion to eliminate the general. Scots and Irish dragoons from von Wallenstein's army seized and killed many of his senior officers, while a small force, led by Walter Devereux, killed the general in his bedroom.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Thirty Years' War: Albrecht von Wallenstein." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). Thirty Years' War: Albrecht von Wallenstein. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Thirty Years' War: Albrecht von Wallenstein." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).