Meanwhile, in Denmark

Prince Frederick Henry and his family. While he was no longer the power he had been, his ties to England would pay off in later decades. Photo Credit: Gerard van Honthorst.

Part of the reason de Melo had been able to regroup after Rocroi had a lot to do with what the Dutch had been up to. Namely, not much in 1643. The Provinces were extremely tired by the nearly eighty years of on again, off again, war with Spain. With the power of the House of Orange on the wane the peace faction was finally gaining enough power to vote for negotiating a formal peace with Spain when their diplomats came calling again. It was the practical choice, especially now that many Dutch did not see Belgium as a potential threat, but a valuable buffer against a likely dangerous French neighbor. The French themselves had further roused Dutch suspicions when one of their diplomats had idly suggested that perhaps the Dutch could introduce universal tolerance for Catholicism in their territory. The mere suggestion prompted accusations of a French plot among the Dutch burghers in Amsterdam, and it put an edge to relations between the allies. Normally this would have been the point when the more moderate Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, would step in to assert some realist thinking, but the Prince’s star had been on the wane of late. He had opted to marry a child to the English line of King Charles, incidentally the same Charles who by 1643 had managed to spark the English Civil War with his stubborn life choices. Frederick Henry had backed his new in laws, while Dutch popular opinion sided with the firmly Protestant Parliament. Needless to say the result was a fractious and divided “United” Provinces that felt like doing very little for the year.

Denmark before its collapse in the latter half of the 17th Century. Skania, the portion of southern Sweden in Denmark, provided the key piece to its stranglehold on the Baltic. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Just as frustrating in 1643 were Torstenson and the Swedes, who had inexplicably marched off to punch Denmark in the mouth. Christian IV had been recovering from the devastating blow his forces had received more than a decade before. So much so that he had begun to pitch himself as the only true intermediary between the various factions fighting in Germany. On paper the credentials seemed appropriate, but Oxenstierna smelled a rat. Christian in the driver’s seat of any negotiation would all but guarantee an unfavorable peace for Sweden. Just as annoying was Christian’s increasing of the tolls for ships passing through the Øresund. At this time Denmark controlled both coastlines along the sound that separates modern day Sweden and Denmark, and levied a toll on the total value of any ship’s cargo passing through the Sound. Hiking the toll by another 2.5 percent to cover his own fiscal posterior was seriously damaging to the Swedes.[1] There had also been some ominous buildup by Christian in recent years, and Oxenstierna did not rule out a possible knife to the ribs from his old enemy. He decided a preemptive strike was in order. Or more cynically, perhaps Oxenstierna was looking for an easy victory and some fast profits to feed a seemingly endless cycle of war.

Without only a belated declaration of war and without even telling his own men where they were going, Torstensson led his men north from Bohemia to the Jutland Peninsula. Never mind that this “Swedish” army was half German and almost entirely funded on French cash.[2] Torstensson’s forces nevertheless crossed the border on December 16th, 1643. Simultaneously a second force attacked from Sweden proper, laying siege to the key city of Malmö along the Øresund. By January, the veteran Swedes had wiped out formal resistance in Jutland. Just to show how secularized the war was becoming in some ways, Ferdinand III dispatched Matthias Gallas and his own imperial forces to stop Torstensson and save his informal allies, even as Christian IV rallied his navy to hold off the invasion. Even as formal peace negotiations began, the war had sprawled more than ever.

[1] This wasn’t exactly an option. Failure to comply would get a ship sunk by cannon fire. To make sure no one tried to lowball the value of their goods, the Danish government reserved the right to buy anything on the ship at the estimated value.

[2] Regardless of their politics, the Germans in Torstensson’s army were looking forward to wintering somewhere that hadn’t been set on fire the year before.


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