Bohemia Part 2: Battles in the Land of Beer

So, I jumped the gun a bit in my last post. Before the Bohemians could elect a new king, a bunch of other stuff happened.

When I first started to write my book, I wanted to cover all of this. But frankly, it’s a huge pain and makes for an unwieldy and confusing narrative. So, it will diverge pretty seriously from real events. Never fear- there will still be plenty of fighting and big battles, though! Just not these particular fights and battles.

This is what really happened:

Ferdinand II
Ferdinand II

By the time the Bohemians rebelled, the Habsburg Emperor Matthias was old and not very with it. As his presumed successor, future Ferdinand II  worried that the old guy would simply give in to the Bohemians. Matthias had been ruling with the help of Cardinal Khlesl, his chief minister. In a bloodless coup, Ferdinand simply had Khlesl arrested and locked up in an alpine castle. From then on, he was in charge.This ensured the support of Spain, Habsburg relatives who had long been concerned about the declining prestige of the Empire, as well as the decline in Catholicism.

Even though Savoy only sent 2000 troops to help the rebels, their commander was far more valuable. Ernst von Mansfeld was a very experienced mercenary commander, and quickly besieged and took the city of Pilsen in eastern Bohemia which had refused to join the rebellion.

Ernst von Mansfeld
Ernst von Mansfeld

With Spanish financial assistance, Ferdinand raised an army commanded by a Count Bucquoy. Bucquoy and Manseld jockeyed for position, but Mansfeld managed to trap Bucquoy inside Budweis (some people do find beer worth fighting over!) going on to threaten Austria proper before being forced to fall back for the winter. For a few months, more negotiations were attempted to stop the fighting, but in the spring, Emperor Matthias died, and all bets were off.

Ferdinand took over, but there were a lot of people in the Austrian hereditary lands that preferred Archduke Albrecht instead (It’s okay- you don’t need to know who he is). Some rebelled outright, some just complained, but in any case, Ferdinand had a lot of trouble on his hands.  Not least of which was the fact that Thurn (the Bohemian rebel military commander)  and the bulk of the rebel army stood at the gates of Vienna. Thurn wasn’t well-prepared for a siege and was hoping that restless nobles within Vienna would start an internal rebellion. Spanish forces arrived just in time, and Thurn was forced to fall back.

Once it was decided that Ferdinand would not do as king and that a Protestant prince should be chosen, the Bohemian Estates had to find someone willing to take the job. You’d think that a lot of people would jump at the chance to be king of a sizable country, but since anyone doing so was bound to really tick off the Emperor, the job was not in high demand.

The Bohemians initially hoped for someone powerful and experienced, like the Elector of Saxony, but he was not the least bit interested. After more hemming and hawing, the job was finally offered to Frederick, Elector of Rhineland-Palatine.  Frederick was considered senior among the electors although he was only 25. He was also head of the Protestant Union and his father-in-law was James I of England who was a potential powerful ally.

Frederick V as King of Bohemia
Frederick V as King of Bohemia

Frederick took the job, and at first the Bohemians were very excited about him and his glamorous young wife, Elizabeth. Enthusiasm soon wore off as it became clear that Frederick’s devout Calvinism clashed with local Lutheranism. In addition, neither he nor his wife, nor most of the court he brought with him from Heidelberg spoke Czech or understood any of the local customs. It was an uncomfortable fit. Still, it was better than the alternative, which was conquest and domination by the now very ticked-off Ferdinand.

You probably have a headache by now: I know I do! So, this will continue soon so you can find out what happened when a cocky youngster squared off with the Empire.  Just in case you’re wondering, Ferdinand does not turn out to be Frederick’s long-lost father. Although that would have been a tidy way to wrap things up.

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