This Week in History

November 16, 1632:
Death of a Gallant Young King
By 1629, it appeared that Emperor Ferdinand II and the Catholic League had broken the power of the German Protestant princes. But once again, foreign powers interfered. Fearing the possible destruction of the Protestant cause in Germany and hoping to seize some of the northern German states for himself, the Lutheran king of Sweden, Gustavus II Adolphus, decided to enter the war.

Emperor Ferdinand II
France had been encouraging Gustavus Adolphus to join the German Protestant cause.  Cardinal Richelieu thought that if the king of Sweden were successful against the emperor, the Protestant German states could separate from Austria and its Habsburg rulers. The empire then would be permanently divided and the Habsburg power weakened. At the same time he was trying to undermine the emperor, Richelieu made a treaty with the Protestant Netherlands, whose people were revolting against their overlord, the Habsburg king of Spain.

King Gustavus Adolphus
Gustavus Adolphus was a valuable ally to the Protestant German princes. He had equipped a new army of soldiers who were trained to use the most modern firearms and rapid horse-cavalry attacks. In June 1630, Gustavus’s army landed in Germany. To resist the Swedish king, Emperor Ferdinand needed the aid of the German princes — but even the Catholic princes had grown dissatisfied with Ferdinand. In particular they feared that, with Wallenstein and his powerful mercenary army, the emperor could become all-powerful in Germany. To enlist the princes’ support, Ferdinand agreed to dismiss Wallenstein. The command of the imperial and Catholic League forces went to Tilly, now an old and sickly man. In August 1630, the German electors agreed to support the emperor. Later, however, the Protestant electors, including the powerful elector of Saxony, withdrew their pledge and joined forces with the Swedes.

Cardinal Richelieu
In January 1631, Cardinal Richelieu agreed to fund Gustavus Adolphus if he pledged to carry on war against Ferdinand for a period of four years. But, at first, Gustavus Adolphus would not join battle with Tilly; so, instead of fighting the Swedes, Tilly laid siege to the important city and fortress of Magdeburg. On May 20, 1631, as Tilly stormed Magdeburg, the city went up in flames, possibly as a result of arson. The city’s destruction was so great that Tilly had no base and no food supply for his army, and he retreated toward southern Germany. Protestants blamed the fire on Tilly, who became known in central Germany as “the Butcher of Magdeburg.”

It was not until September 1631 that Tilly met Gustavus Adolphus on the field of battle, at Breitenfeld in Saxony. The combined armies of Gustavus Adolphus and the elector of Saxony destroyed Tilly’s army, opening the way for an invasion of Bavaria. After Tilly’s defeat, Ferdinand once again appointed Wallenstein as commander of the imperial army, leaving the Catholic League forces under Tilly’s command. But Wallenstein did nothing as Gustavus Adolphus’s rapidly moving army marched south toward Bavaria. The Swedish army drove Tilly’s forces from the field in a battle on the Lech River in Bavaria on April 15, 1632, and Tilly was mortally wounded.

Death of Gustavus Adolphus at Lützen
After Tilly’s death, Wallenstein alone was left to defend the imperial cause. But Wallenstein avoided fighting Gustavus Adolphus. It was not until November 16, 1632, that the Swedish king forced Wallenstein into battle at Lützen in Saxony. The fight, however, went against the Swedes. Shortly before noon that day, Gustavus Adolphus himself was struck in the arm by a musket ball as he led a cavalry charge. He fell to the ground — his men fled — and he was left on the field. The young king may have bled to death as he lay wounded, or he may have been killed by an enemy foot soldier. Only on the day following the battle did the Swedish army learn that Gustavus Adolphus had died. The Swedish king, who had become known for his gallantry and mercy to captives, had achieved the legend of a hero in his short lifetime. Catholic and Protestant Europe alike fondly remembered the dashing young king, mounted on his horse at the head of a cavalry charge.

Light to the Nations, Part I: Development of Christian Civilization (Textbook)
The above excerpt comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian CivilizationFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here

This Day in History

November 1, 1914
A Plea for Peace — Ignored 
Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World (Textbook) 
This week, we continue our commemoration of the centenary of World War I. The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.
Pope Benedict lost no time setting out to win the world for Christ. Four days after his election, he called on the warring European powers “to be satisfied with the ruin already wrought” and to make peace. On November 1, the Feast of All Saints, the pope issued his first encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, in which he laid out the “aim” of his reign – “to strive in every possible way that the charity of Jesus Christ should once more rule supreme amongst men.”

Benedict XV
The nations of Europe were at war, said Ad Beatissimi, because, “in the ruling of states,” governments had abandoned “Christian wisdom” and Christian moral ideals. Instead of seeking spiritual goods, men were “striving for transient and perishable things” — wealth, power, and false glory. These were “the causes of the serious unrest pervading the whole of human society.” But if these were the causes, what was the solution? A return to Christ and his charity. “All then must combine to get rid of [the causes of the unrest],” said the pope, “by again bringing Christian principles into honor.” Only through Christ would men “have any real desire for the peace and harmony of human society.”

The encyclical Ad Beatissimi was not the last time the pope spoke out about the war. Over the next four years, he called for peace while condemning the violence that was destroying Christendom. In several statements, Benedict called the war “an unparalleled scourge,” “a carnage which is without example,” “this monstrous spectacle,” “a horrible plague.” In December 1914, he called on the warring powers to observe at least a Christmas truce “to pierce this darkness of warring death with at least a ray, one ray of the divine sun of peace.”

World War I anti-German propaganda
But, instead of heeding the pope, the French and English criticized him because he did not condemn the Germans, and the Germans censured him for not condemning the French and English. Each side, in fact, thought the pope was supporting its enemy. Why did Benedict say nothing about the German invasion of Belgium, demanded the Allies? English newspapers had been printing accounts of horrible acts allegedly committed by Germans — why didn’t the pope condemn these? Benedict replied that since only the English and French were reporting German war crimes, he could not verify if the reports were true or not. (In fact, the reports of German  atrocities were greatly exaggerated.)

Neither the Allies nor the Central Powers accepted Benedict’s explanation that he had to remain an “impartial” judge between the warring sides. “The Roman Pontiff, as Vicar of Jesus Christ, who died for men, one and all, must embrace all the combatants in one sentiment of charity,” Benedict said on January 22, 1915. “And as the Father of all Catholics he has among the belligerents a great number of his children for whose salvation he must be equally and without distinction solicitous.” Benedict said he would condemn “openly every injustice by whatever side it may have been committed.”

Probably the chief reason the warring powers ignored the pope was because he called for “peace without victory.” All sides must lay down their arms, said Benedict, even if they were not victorious in the “murderous struggle” and gained nothing from it. Each side, however, would accept peace only when its enemy was defeated. They wanted a “German peace” or an “English” or “French peace,” not what the pope demanded — the peace of Christ.

Sidney Sonnino
A secret treaty signed in London on April 26, 1915, between the Entente and Italy gave the Allies another reason to ignore Benedict. In this treaty, the Allies agreed to recognize Italy’s claims to Trentino, the South Tyrol, Trieste, Istria, and northern Dalmatia (all Austrian lands) if Italy joined the Allies. But Italy’s foreign minister, Sidney Sonnino, made his own demand — that the pope have no say in any talks to end the war. The Allies agreed and included Sonnino’s demand in the secret treaty.

On May 23, 1915, Italy declared war on her former ally Austria-Hungary, thus abandoning the Triple Alliance and openly joining the Entente. The Entente powers now would not discuss peace with the pope, for it would violate their treaty with Italy. A third, Italian front against the Central Powers was very useful to the Allies, so they were quite willing to ignore the pope’s calls for a just peace.

The Music of an Eager Recruit  

When in August 1914, the French-Basque composer, Maurice Ravel, learned that war had been declared, he hastened to complete a composition at which he had, theretofore, been working at in dilatory fashion. He wanted to join the French army. He completed the piece, the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello in A minorin September and then, a month later, joined the army. Here is a recording of the trio, performed by the Amsterdam Chamber Soloists.