final French phase
Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Viscount
Since the days of Emperor Charles V (1519-58), the prospect of Hapsburg
encirclement gave French statesmen their worst nightmares. Fear of
fighting alone against Spain and the Empire, led first Henry IV and then the
ministers of Louis XIII to conclude alliances with Denmark, Sweden, England, and
But by 1635, the policy of fighting the Hapsburgs by proxy was collapsing.
On 6 September 1634 at the Battle of Nördlingen
the outnumbered Swedish troops, commanded by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar,
were soundly defeated by the Imperial forces under the joint command
of Ferdinand II's son,
Ferdinand, and General
Matthias Count Gallas
(1584-1645). Within months, Saxony had agreed terms with the Emperor. In May 1635, Ferdinand
agreed in the Peace of Prague to modify the Edict of Restitution,
effectively granting Lutherans renewed toleration.|
Although Sweden's army in Germany was
defeated at the Battle of Nördlingen, the Swedes retained many heavily fortified citadels in
Germany. In 1648, the Swedes were able to obtain favorable peace
terms because of the 70,000 soldiers and 127 fortresses they
Sweden's setbacks and Saxony's withdrawal made a complete Hapsburg
victory seem likely, so France declared war (May 1635). France was
wealthy and its troops fresh, but they were also inexperienced. France
was forced to turn to the Lutheran prince and mercenary Bernhard of
Saxe-Weimar (1604-39) - recently defeated at Nördlingen. Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar
brought with him a personal army of 18,000.|
French and Dutch troops jointly invaded Franche-Comté
and the Spanish Netherlands, but met with little success. Indeed, the
Spanish army counter-attacked and entered France in 1636.|
The French also attacked in North Italy. In 1635 they sent troops
under Henri (Henry), Duke of Rohan (1570-1638) to help Swiss Protestants seize
Valtelline (or Valtellina) was an area of great
importance to both France and the Hapsburgs and they had
long contested for its control. Situated to the north of
Lombardy and south of Switzerland, the Hapsburgs saw it as a
vital link in the movement of their troops between Italy and
Central and Western Europe; the French saw it as the final block in a
wall of Hapsburg encirclement. In the 1620s Spain and
France fought a number of engagements for control of the
area, and in 1626 France had been forced to agree to its
free use by Spanish troops.
15 August 1636, the invading Spanish army captured the French town of Corbie on the River
Somme, just eighty miles from Paris. The Spanish held the town until 9 November, when the French
managed to regain possession.
The Swedish troops in North Germany were under the command of Johan
Banér (1596-1641) whose drunken,
depressive, plundering habits did not prevent him being a very
24 September 1636, Johan Banér's troops
attacked an Imperial army now supported by Saxon troops in hilly
wooded country near Wittstock. Banér
won a decisive victory, and seized field guns, equipment and supplies.
After initial setbacks, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar
achieved success over Imperial forces. Reinforced by Henri (Henry), Viscount
Turenne, in 1638 he laid siege to Breisach, a massive fortress
overlooking the Rhine. Imperial forces sent to relieve the garrison
were defeated and in December 1638, the starving defenders were forced
Medallion struck to commemorate the seizure of
[The legend reads Brisiaco capto coelis victoria venit
Bernhado tulit ex hoste trophaea duci]
1640, The French and Swedes mounted an
ineffective joint campaign in North Germany. The revolts in Portugal
and Catalonia against the Spanish crown proved a far greater setback
to the Hapsburg cause.
|Johan Banér died in
May 1641, but he was soon replaced by an equally able Swedish
general Lennart Torstensson (1603-51). Torstensson
rapidly defeated the Saxon army at Schweidnitz and marched on
Vienna. Ferdinand assembled a large army to defend his lands
and Torstensson's outnumbered army was forced to fall back to
On 2 November 1642, the Second Battle of Breitenfeld took place. With great
daring Torstensson attacked the Imperial forces before they
could organize and inflicted a major defeat - half the
Imperial forces were killed or captured.
France had two talented Generals in Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne,
Turenne (1611-75) and Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of
(1621-86). Aged only 22, Condé defeated the Spanish army at Rocroi,
19 May 1643.
|Highly trained Spanish tercios
(combined units of pikemen and musketeers) had dominated
European battlefields for over a century. Their decisive
defeat at the Battle of Rocroi marked the end of an era.
The massive loss of trained infantry that the Spanish
suffered here allowed France to invade Germany later in the year. In
November 1643, the French were themselves defeated at Tuttlingen
by a Bavarian army commanded by Franz von Mercy. Mercy followed up
this victory by taking Freiburg in July 1644.
The French sent reinforcements and
moved them into the Lower Palatinate. Fighting between the French and
Bavarians ended in the Second Battle of Nördlingen (3 August 1645).
Von Mercy was killed and the Imperial forces obliged to withdraw. The
following year, the French invaded Bavaria and ravaged its lands so
badly that Maximilian agreed to the Peace of Ulm (March 1647)
essentially capitulating to France.
The French army was enabled to move north
against the Spanish and inflict a massive defeat on the Spanish army
at Lens (20 August 1648).
The Swedish army was being equally successful against Imperial troops.
17 May 1648, the Swedes destroyed the Imperial army at the
Battle of Zusmarshausen (near Augsburg) marched into Bohemia and
reached the outskirts of Prague (July 1648).
Before Prague could fall, the Emperor agreed to sign the Peace of
Westphalia. A devastated Germany
finally knew peace.