The Edict of Restitution

The cover to the Treaty of Lübeck 1629. Concurrently with the treaty, Adolphus had attempted to talk Christian into a joint invasion of Germany but the offer was rebuffed. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

While the Spanish bled out from a thousand financial cuts, Ferdinand II was busy incinerating any chance for lasting peace in a startling fit of hubris. After the success at Stralsund, Christian IV of Denmark had tried to land again with a new army in Germany, only to be beaten back again at the Battle of Wolgast. Surprised as his forces attempted to make landfall, Christian barely set foot in Germany before he was bundled off again. Finally chastened, Christian put out feelers for a peace deal and Wallenstein convinced Ferdinand to show a rare bit of leniency. In exchange for acknowledging imperial control in Holstein and ceding some German bishoprics to Catholic hands, Christian would be allowed to exit the war with his hereditary lands intact. Hardly ideal, but as Wallenstein put it, “if he has not lost his wits he will grasp at it with both hands”.[1] King Christian IV was many things, but stupid was not one of them; he signed the Peace of Lübeck in June 1629.

In theory, this was the moment to end the war. The remnant Protestants did not have an army in the field, not even a vagabond like Mansfeld to call their own. Certainly nothing was left to challenge Wallenstein’s staggering forces of 145,000 men, or even Tilly’s much more modest Bavarian troops. The massed Catholic armies were a drain on the treasury, and Wallenstein’s nasty habit of billeting his men at local expense everywhere except his own lands was coming at a high political cost as well. Perhaps a more pragmatic monarch would have taken the moment to draw down his forces, make a few symbolic shows of magnanimity, and set about consolidating his gains after a decade of war.

But Ferdinand II’s ardent Catholicism would not allow him to leave well enough alone. If anything, the relative ease in which Christian IV had been sent packing had emboldened him. In 1629 Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution, a disastrous attempt to retroactively redraw the boundaries of Germany to align with the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. Technically, Augsburg had included an Ecclesiastical Reservation that protected church lands from seizure and sale, but in practice no one, least of all the church itself, had respected this provision. For three generations, the Catholic Church’s lands in Germany had changed hands in Protestant territory. To start, the Archbishoprics of Magdeburg and Bremen, 12 lesser churches, and over a hundred ecclesiastical houses had all passed into Protestant hands. With these had come vast estates and farmlands, and the financial base of many wealthy families. Ferdinand intended to reappropriate all of these for the Church. Even cases where Church property had been legally sold were to be overturned. It was a staggering decree, and the largest territorial and human shift in nearly a hundred years. Even more unsettling to the Protestant electors in Brandenburg and Saxony was the implication lurking behind it. In spite of promises to the contrary, Ferdinand had already purged even Lutherans from open practice in Bohemia. After Restitution, there would likely be a further erosion of Protestant rights once Ferdinand was certain he could get away with it.

A copy of the Edict. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Needless to say, the Edict of Restitution was greeted with immediate and vocal opposition from all corners. Not only were the Protestant electors up in arms, but even Maximilian and Wallenstein had quietly spoken up in opposition to earlier drafts. The logistics of the plan were also suspect. Ferdinand had struggled to find enough Catholic nobles to take over the reconquered lands in Bohemia. There was no doubt that finding similar support in these areas, especially in north and eastern Protestant Germany where they were mostly located, would be challenging. This was also to say nothing of finding enough actual Catholic monks and church officials to shepherd their new flocks. A shortcoming that was compounded by the most astounding detail of the Edict. Still furious with the Hapsburgs over the Mantuan War, Pope Urban VIII was refusing to acknowledge any new bishops appointed by Ferdinand. Effectively, the Edict of Restitution was one of the largest unwanted gifts in history. It all but guaranteed the Protestants would support the enemies of the Empire when Adolphus finally came roaring down like some old time Viking.

Once again the final player that helped these stars align was the French. On October 29, 1628 the city of La Rochelle finally surrendered. Of the 27,000 inhabitants in 1627 the population had collapsed to just 5,000 from starvation and disease. The city’s garrison had resisted for 14 months, consuming everything that was edible or could be turned into something edible. Cats, rats, and dogs had gone into the cooking pots, and even leather goods had been boiled and consumed. But as multiple English and Dutch attempts to relieve the city failed there was no escaping the inevitable. Though Richelieu was magnanimous in the Peace of Alais to his defeated enemies, he ensured they could never again rise up or challenge him. Future French leaders were less kind, and by the end of the 17th Century Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes and outlawed Protestant religion in France.

For now though, France once again had the freedom to spend and men and resources towards the Mantuan War. Crucially for Richelieu, the Pope’s distress over the war was sufficient for the Cardinal to justify his choice of open alliance with Protestant Sweden against Catholic Hapsburgs. As a result, Richelieu jumped in as intermediary between Adolphus and the King of Poland, bringing their current war to an amicable peace and freeing up the Swedes for their invasion of Germany. Slowly, the French were edging towards full blown war with the Hapsburgs, but for now, Richelieu was happy to let the “Rising Sun” of Sweden take the lead.

To buy time and set the stage, Richelieu was also instrumental in driving a wedge between Maximilian and Ferdinand. Playing to Maximilian’s concerns for Wallenstein and Ferdinand’s growing authority, Richelieu convinced the Catholic League to sign a secret alliance with the French with the understanding that Sweden would leave Bavaria unspoiled. The alliance was a clever gambit by Richelieu, but it was predicated on the assumption that he could control Adolphus. He would soon be proven wrong.

Elector Johann Georg of Saxony was the closest thing to a moderate Constitutionalist in Germany. For a decade he had stayed out of the war, but the Edict would force him to finally choose a side. Photo Credit: Matthäus Merian

More fractures appeared in Ferdinand’s armies by 1630, as court intrigue forced him to remove Wallenstein from command. The Emperor had been backed into a corner over the ambitious Duke of Friedland and Mecklenburg. The man had been essential to Ferdinand’s success, bankrolling much of the war on his own credit and buying their victories in the blood of his own recruits. But his meteoric rise and generally unfriendly attitude had given him a laundry list of enemies. The problem for Ferdinand was that his own son wasn’t the clear successor yet, and needed to receive the formal title Emperor of the Romans. Also on his laundry list was a more permanent peace in Germany, enforcing his new Edict, and a promise to support the Spanish in the Netherlands as a thanks for their help thus far. None of the Electors were willing to hand any of this over without a fight, and Saxony and Brandenburg had even gone so far as to boycott the meeting. As a precondition to even discussing the title nod or any kind of lasting internal peace, they insisted that Wallenstein get the boot. Reluctantly Ferdinand agreed, and the mercenary lord went off like Achilles to sulk in his tent of Friedland. Tilly was given overall command of the Imperial forces, hamstrung though he was by the lack of Wallenstein’s resources and the secret treaties Maximilian had just signed with the French. The timing could not have been worse. As the Emperor tried to corral his electors Gustavus Adolphus made his landfall in Pomerania near his foothold at Stralsund with 13,000 men. The second phase of the War had begun in earnest.

[1] Wedgwood 2005


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