II. The Bohemian crisis

Rudolf II displayed so intense an interest in alchemy and the occult that other members of the Hapsburg family began to doubt his sanity. In 1605 they tried to give real authority to Matthias. Rudolph and Matthias then began to vie for support amongst their nobles. Rudolph was forced to concede Austria and Hungary to Matthias, but held Bohemia.
To retain the support of the Bohemian Estates, who were on the verge of revolt, Rudolph issued (1609) a Letter of Majesty that granted toleration and local control to Bohemian Protestants.
Unhappy with the restrictions on his power, Rudolph raised an army, but he could not overcome both Matthias and the Bohemian nobility. In 1611, he was deposed and imprisoned at Prague.



Matthias who ruled as Holy Roman Emperor from 1612 to 1619 was comparatively moderate in his approach to Protestants. The same could not be said for his successor, Ferdinand II. Educated by the Jesuists, Ferdinand was zealously convinced of the truth of the Catholic cause. He immediately began to persecute Protestants in his territories.When Ferdinand extended his repressive polices to Bohemia, and the Archbishop of Prague tried to prevent Protestant worship, the Bohemian nobility rebelled. Led by the Count of Thurn on 23 May 1618, they marched on the royal palace (Hradschin) and attacked Ferdinand's two most trusted advisors William of Slavata and Jaroslav of Martinic These men, the two lieutenant governors, and a secretary were thrown out of a window.

Martinic and Jaroslav (cushioned in their fall by a dung heap)
survived the defenestration of Prague and escaped.


The Bohemians raised an army and looked around for foreign aid. They offered the crown of Bohemia to Frederick V, Elector Palatine, in the hope of getting help from Frederick relatives - Europe's Protestant monarchs.
The Hungarian Protestants were also in revolt against the Hapsburgs and turned for assistance to Bethlen Gabor, Prince of Transylvania.


Bethlen Gabor  (1580-1629), waged war on the Emperor repeatedly and was proclaimed king of Hungary. By championing the Protestant cause he won concessions for Hungarian Protestants; by deserting the cause he won land for himself.


Frederick moved to Prague and was crowned 4 November 1619. A year and four days later, at the Battle of the White Mountain, Frederick's forces were routed by the Bavarian and Imperial army led by Johann Tserclaes (Graf von/ Count of) Tilly (1559-1632).

Ferdinand II was also given help by the Spanish Hapsburgs, who in 1620 sent an army from the Spanish Netherlands under Ambrogio (Ambrosio) Spínola to invade the Lower (Rhenish i.e. on the Rhine) Palatinate. Maximilian of Bavaria occupied the Upper Palatinate, and Frederick V was forced to seek refuge in the Netherlands.

Some Protestant forces did continue to fight. Ernst, Count of Mansfeld (c. 1580-1626) was defeated in the Upper Palatinate but took refuge in the Lower (Rhenish) Palatinate and the Netherlands, and was able to defeat Tilly's army at Wiesloch in April 1622. Mansfeld was essentially a mercenary soldier, and his troops were almost as destructive to his allies' lands as to his enemies'.

Key battles in the opening phase of the Thirty Years War

Tilly went on to defeat Christian of Brunswick (1599-1626) at Stadtlohn in August 1623.


Christian of Brunswick was known as the "mad Halberstadter" : He was administrator of the Bishopric of Halberstadt, but his foul language and aggressive disposition little suited the office.


Most of Tilly's troops had been provided by Maximilian of Bavaria, whom Ferdinand II rewarded with the Palatinate. Maximilian also haggled for the title of Imperial Elector: when the correspondence relating to this was published by Frederick V's propagandists, it caused considerable scandal amongst the German nobility. In addition, the Protestant rulers of Europe were unhappy at this increasingly aggressive expansion of Catholicism in Germany.


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