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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Count Ernest of Mansfeld and Prince Christian of Brunswick


Ferdinand II. acted as might have been expected from his despotic and bigoted nature. The 8,000 Cossacks which he had borrowed from his brother-in-law, king Sigismund of Poland, had already closed all Protestant Churches and suppressed freedom of worship in Austria; he now applied the same measures to Bohemia, but in a more violent and bloody form. Twenty-seven of the chief Protestant nobles were beheaded at Prague in one day; thousands of families were stripped of all their property and banished; the Protestant churches were given to the Catholics, the Jesuits took possession of the University and the schools, until finally, as a historian says, "the quiet of a sepulchre settled over Bohemia." The Protestant faith was practically obliterated from all the Austrian realm, with the exception of a few scattered congregations in Hungary and Transylvania.

[Sidenote: 1621.]

There is hardly anywhere, in the history of the world, such an instance of savage despotism. A large majority of the population of Austria, Bohemia and Styria were Protestants; they were rapidly growing in intelligence, in social order and material prosperity; but the will of one man was allowed to destroy the progress of a hundred years, to crush both the faith and freedom of the people, plunder them of their best earnings and make them ignorant slaves for 200 years longer. The property which was seized by Ferdinand II., in Bohemia alone, was estimated at forty millions of florins! And the strength of Germany, which was Protestant, looked on and saw all this happen! Only the common people of Austria arose against the tyrant, and gallantly struggled for months, at first under the command of a farmer named Stephen Fadinger, and, when he was slain in the moment of victory, under an unknown young hero, who had no other name than "the Student." The latter defeated the Bavarian army, resisted the famous Austrian general, Pappenheim, in many battles, and at last fell, after the most of his followers had fallen, without leaving his name to history. The Austrian peasants rivalled the Swiss of three centuries before in their bravery and self-sacrifice: had they been successful (as they might have been, with small help from their Protestant brethren), they would have changed the course of German history, and have become renowned among the heroes of the world.

The fate of Austria, from that day to this, was now sealed. Both parties--the Catholics, headed by Ferdinand II., and the Protestants, without any head,--next turned to the Palatinate of the Rhine, where a Spanish army, sent from Flanders, was wasting and plundering in the name of the Emperor. Count Ernest of Mansfeld and Prince Christian of Brunswick, who had supported Frederick V. in Bohemia, endeavored to save at least the Palatinate for him. They were dashing and eccentric young generals, whose personal reputation attracted all sorts of wild and lawless characters to take service under them. Mansfeld, who had been originally a Catholic, was partly supported by contributions from England and Holland, but he also took what he could get from the country through which he marched. Christian of Brunswick was a fantastic prince, who tried to imitate the knights of the Middle Ages. He was a great admirer of the Countess Elizabeth of the Palatinate (sister of Charles I. of England), and always wore her glove on his helmet. In order to obtain money for his troops, he plundered the bishoprics in Westphalia, and forced the cities and villages to pay him heavy contributions. When he entered the cathedral at Paderborn and saw the silver statues of the Apostles around the altar, he cried out: "What are you doing here? You were ordered to go forth into the world, but wait a bit--I'll send you!" So he had them melted and coined into dollars, upon which the words were stamped: "Friend of God, foe of priests!" He afterwards gave himself that name, but the soldiers generally called him "Mad Christian."


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