Bohemia and the Start of the Thirty Years’ War

Bohemia and the Start of the Thirty Years’ War

The great confl ict fi nally came in 1618, with a revolt in Bohemia. The insurrection began when an aggressive Habsburg emperor, Ferdinand II (1578–1637), sought to force his subjects to accept the forced re-Catholicization of the territory.

Habsburg rule was resented in Prague, the city of Jan Hus, where the Bohemian aristoc-racy, including many Calvinists, sought to protect their traditional rights in the face of Ferdinand’s harsh Counter-Reformation cen-tralization efforts. Ferdinand II had been crowned king of Bohemia in 1617 and, with his Jesuit advisers, sought to restore the Catholic Mass in Bethlehem Cathedral, where Hus had once preached, enrag-ing the local Protestants.

The revolt began in earnest in 1618, with the famous “Defenestration of Prague,” when rebellious Protestant Bohemians cast a trio of royal offi cials representing the Catholic Habsburg Crown out of the window of the royal Hrad˘cany palace, the seat of the Habsburg government in Prague. The regents reportedly only survived because they fell on a dung heap in the moat.

The confl ict escalated in 1619, the same year Ferdinand II was elected Holy Roman Emperor, when an assembly of Protestant nobles in Prague issued a startling proclamation. Declaring that the Bohemian monarchy was elective, the nobles deposed Ferdinand. They chose as their new king the Calvinist Frederick V, the elector of the Rhineland Palatinate and head of the Protestant League, a military alliance of Protestant territories within the empire.

Frederick rashly accepted the Bohemian throne and was crowned in Prague in November 1619, infuriating Ferdinand. The Habsburg had been elected Holy Roman Emperor three months before and viewed Frederick’s coronation as an affront to his dynastic claims, as well as a challenge to his imperial authority.

Ferdinand raised an army in nearby Bavaria, a staunchly Catholic territory ruled by his ally, the Wittelsbach duke Maximilian I, and invaded Bohemia. Frederick’s Protestant allies refused to come to his aid, and the imperial forces overwhelmed Bohemia, crushing his army at the Battle of White Mountain outside Prague in November 1620.

Thus ended Frederick’s reign. Having ruled only a year and four days, he fl ed back to the Palatinate, and he was derisively called the Winter King. After imperial forces invaded the Palatinate, he was forced into exile in Holland. By imperial edict, Ferdinand II seized the Palatinate and in gratitude granted Frederick’s territories—and his position as an imperial elector—to Maximilian.

After his crushing victory at the Battle of White Mountain, and his successful invasion of the Rhineland Palatinate, Ferdinand II reasserted his control over Bohemia. He ruthlessly punished the Bohemians, restor-ing Catholicism by force and extracting a steady stream of revenue from the occupied kingdom.

As Ferdinand re-Catholicized Prague, with the help of the Jesuits, thousands of Bohemian Protestants fl ed their home-land. The victorious emperor appointed a minor Czech nobleman and military commander, Albrecht von Wallenstein, governor of Bohemia, who then began raising a massive mercenary army to serve the imperial cause. This new army was put to the test in the spring of 1525, when the forces of the Lutheran king of Denmark invaded Germany.