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The Battle of Lützen 1632 was a major battle in the Thirty Years War. It was fought between the Army of Sweden and their Protestant allies in Germany, led by King Gustavus Adolphus against the Imperialist Army led by Wallenstein. The battle saw the defeat of Wallenstein’s men at great cost to the Swedes and the death of their King, Gustavus Adolphus. Origins of The Thirty Years War are complex. The reformation and counter reformation left the Holy Roman Empire and Northern Europe split between Protestants and Catholics, defined by the Peace of Augsburg, 1555. Underlying religious and political tensions sparked the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, which played out the various factional interests. The trigger for this vast conflict, was the death of King Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia without an heir. The succession passed to Ferdinand II of Austria, but was contested by the Bohemian nobility, who threw representatives of Ferdinand out of a window in 1618 in the defenestration of Prague.

Such an insult could only lead to conflict. Underlying these causes was the Triptych of Turbulence; the interplay between Religion, Power and Dynasty.

Each would have its own contribution to the strife, which had distinct phases. The Bohemian Phase (1618 – 1621) marked the onset of the war, and its initial containment.

With the defeat of Frederick I, the Protestant cause in Bohemia was crushed at the Battle of the White Mountain. The victorious Imperialist and Catholic League army pursued Frederick into his homeland of the Palatinate. The Palatinate Phase (1621 – 1624) marked the spread of the war within the Holy Roman Empire.

Ferdinand II had deposed a threat from within the Holy Roman Empire and rewarded his chosen allies, and Catholic influence had grown at expense of the Protestants. The Danish Phase (1625 – 1629) began the start of foreign involvement in the war. Alarm had spread within the northern Protestant kingdoms at the growing success of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II.

Christian IV entered the war, partly to secure his own holdings within the Holy Roman Empire, and partly to reduce the power of the Catholics. Early success eventually gave way to failure, when his army was crushed by Count von Tilly at the battle of Battle of Lutter in 1626. He eventually signed the Peace of Lübeck in 1629, leaving the path clear for Swedish entry into the war. By this time, Wallenstein, the Imperialist Generalissimo held sway over a vast territory in the name of Ferdinand II. Such power was obtained at a terrible price, as “Der Krieg ernährt den Krieg / “War feeds itself” became a guiding principle for his army of mercenaries.

The Swedish Phase (1630 – 1634) began a new era of foreign involvement in the war. Wallenstein attempted to build a fleet with Spanish help to master the Baltic seas. This raised a threat to Denmark and Sweden, who overcame their traditional enmity to face the Imperial threat. The final casus belli was the Edict of Restitution. Catholics had urged the Holy Roman Emperor to take advantage of their relative strength during the war by restoring lands to the position of the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, in practice returning vast tracts of lands claimed by Protestants back to Catholicism. The Edict enshrined this principal, thus ensuring a Protestant reaction, led by John George of Saxony. The Diet of Regensburg , 1630, failed to reach agreement between the Imperial Electors and the Emperor, but led to the dismissal of Wallenstein. The path was now clear for Gustavus Adolphus to take his small, but highly trained army into the war.

The Protestant city of Magdeburg declared for Gustavus Adolphus after being declared re-Catholicized as a result of the Edict of Restitution. The city was surrounded in 1631 by Tilly and von Pappenheim. The Swedes made slow progress through Germany to relieve the city, allowing time for a siege by the encircling Catholic armies of Wallensten and Tilly.

News of the Swedish advance spurred Tilly on, and the Imperialist troops bombarded the city before storming it on 20 May 1631. The city fell and endured a terrible two day sack.

The news of the sack of Magdeburg sent shockwaves through Europe, stiffening religious emnity in the conflict. It also spurred on Gustavus Adolphus and his men.

The Battle of Breitenfeld 1631 was the first test of strength between the Imperialists and their mercenary army and the army of the Swedes and their German Protestant allies. Each side had differences in troop deployment (Order of Battle) and battlefield tactics in the three types of troops employed; cavalry, infantry and artillery. Habsburg Spain and Austria used an order of battle with cavalry on flanks, infantry in the centre in one or two lines formed in Tercios. Artillery was typically grouped across the infantry line, or on high ground. The Swedes and their allies had an order of battle with some cavalry on each flank, interspersed by musketeers. The infantry was placed in the centre in two lines, with a cavalry reserve between the two lines. Heavy artillery was grouped in the centre, with lighter artillery pieces attached to the infantry regiments for close support.

In terms of tactics, again clear distinctions can be made between the two armies. The Habsburg Spanish and Austrian armies had infantry formed into Tercios (Squares of Pikemen 10 ranks deep, with blocks of musketeers in corners). This was an unwieldy formation, but difficult to stop once moving forward. The cavalry engaged by the caracole; with the front line firing pistols, then wheeling behind the next rank and reloading. This was difficult to achieve on the battlefield as a fight descended into a sword fight, or mêlée. With artillery, heavy guns only were employed, with larger barrels than Swedish guns, however at a slower rate of fire. The Swedish army had infantry formed into regimental lines six deep, with pikemen in the centre, flanked by a greater number of muskeeters. They used lighter guns and cartridges, with ball and powder which ensured a greater rate of fire than the Imperialists. Their cavalry engaged directly with the sword in close combat, without bothering to fire pistols first, thus giving them a “shock” effect in combat. Artillery also saw developments with lighter ‘Regimental’ guns introduced, placed with the infantry. Their heavier guns were employed in large concentrated bateries, with emphasis placed on rate of fire. The Battle of Breitenfeld 1631 was a resounding victory for Gustavus Adolphus and his men.

The victory was celebrated across Protestant Europe.

Swedish troops now swept into the heartlands of the Holy Roman Empire, occupying the Palatinate.

The death of Count von Tilly at the Battle of Rain, 1632, led to the recall of Wallenstein to head the Catholic army under the Imperial banner.

Wallenstein detached Pappenheim’s force, and the Swedes closed in on the remainder of the Imperialists at Lützen on 15th November, 1632. Battle of Lützen 16th November 1632 Wallenstein, badly outnumbered by the Swedes and their Protestant allies, issued an urgent recall to Pappenheim’s force.

Pappenheim received the letter at midnight and began to move towards the battlefield with a cavalry by 2 am, with infantry and artillery to follow. A heavy fog covered the battlefield on the morning of 16th November.

The fog slowed the march to the battlefield and the Swedish troops deployment. The Swedish followed the same type of deployment as at Breitenfeld; mixed cavarly and musketeers on each flank, with infantry in the centre in double lines. Gustavus Adolphus commanded the Swedish and Finnish cavalry on the right wing, Brahe and Kynphausen the infantry in the centre and Bernhardt  the cavalry on the left wing. The badly outnumbered Imperialists also followed the same type deployment as at Breitenfeld; with cavalry on the wings (led by Wallenstein and Holk on the right, Piccolomini on the left) and deployed in echelons. Their infantry (led by Colloredo) was placed in the centre, but this time formed into lines, not tercios.

With the battle about to begin, Gustavus Adolphus ordered the singing of two hymns, a custom preceeding an attack by the Protestants.

The troops then sang Gustavus Adolphus‘s battle hymn, ‘Verzage nicht du Hauflein klein’ (O little flock, fear not the foe), Altenburg’s hymn written after the battle of Breitenfeld, 1631 as they began the advance. Soon extra Swedish cavalry were placed on their right flank, to ‘fan out the feathers’.

Wallenstein ordered Lützen to be burnt and the smoke asoon added to the confusion from the fog. Gustavus Adolphus led the Swedish right wing and soon scattered the Croat light horsemen opposing them, who were no match for the veteran cavalry interspersed with musketeers facing them.

At midday, Pappenheim and his Imperialist cavalry arrived on the battlefield. Wallenstein ordered him to counterattack on the Imperialist left flank, where the Swedes were still pressing hard. He led his men directly into the Swedish cavalry, who gave a volley. Pappenheim was severely wounded and the Imperialist counterattack stalled. He later died of his wounds.

In the rolling fog, Gustavus Adolphus led a small troop of cavalry forwards, but he was killed.

In the centre, the Swedish yellow and blue infantry brigades pressed forward. The Imperialists met them with stiff resolve and flank attacked them with cavalry, which decimated their attack.

The battle raged on all fronts.

The Imperialist right flank began to fall back after the death of Pappenheim, but their centre held.

Prince Bernhardt  renewed the attack on the left flank, with a view to capturing the area surrounding Lützen and the windmills atop the hill.

The attack failed, due to a counterattack from the Imperialists.

After being repulsed on the left and centre, and having suffered the loss of their King, the Swedes began slowly retiring back in confusion. The King’s Chaplain, Fabricus, sensing the urgency of the position began rallying men on the right flank by singing Lutheran hymns.

‘Retreat! The time for that is past. It is vengeance now!’ Bernhardt to Kynphausen.

From 3:00 until 3:30 both sides reorganised, preparing themselves for the final onslaught. The Swedes prepared to attack again.

The Swedes advanced once more onto the Imperialists line. By now, both sides had suffered many losses. ‘A fatal earnestness was seen and heard on both sides’ as quarter was either asked, nor given as the battle settled to push of pike in the centre.

Nearly all the Imperial commanders were wounded during this final stage of the battle as eventually the Swedes managed to push through and take the guns by the windmill as night fell.

The Imperialists retreated during the night and the battle had been won by the Swedes at great cost.

Wallenstein withdrew his army to Leipzig, then back into winter quarters in Bohemia. The Swedes had successfully driven the Imperialists out of Saxony at the loss of their King and many of their best troops. Protestant Europe mourned the loss of the Lion of the North.

The Imperialists failed to exploit this setback. Wallenstein failed to renew the initiative against the Swedes in 1633 and after intrigue was killed on the order of Ferdinand II in February 1634.

The Swedish army and the Imperialists, reinforced by Spanish troops met again on the field of Nördlingen 1634, with the Swedes being crushed. The war now entered a new phase; between Bourbon France and Hapsburg Spain. The war ended in 1648, with the Peace of Westphalia in an agreement little different to that proposed by Gustavus Adolphus in 1631. The full slide pack is available as a pdf file here. (7 Mb file!).

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