The Thirty Years’ War was in full swing by the time Albrecht von Wallenstein began to take part in it. The Estates of Bohemia, which were Protestant, rebelled against the Catholic Ferdinand of Styria. They chose as their new king the Protestant Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Wallenstein – raised as a Protestant, a Catholic convert – took the side of Ferdinand II of the Habsburg monarchy. (It didn’t help the Protestant cause that the rebels had seized some of Wallenstein’s extensive land holdings in 1619.)
Wallenstein was a member of with (and equipped) a regiment that fought Gabriel Bethlen and Ernst von Mansfeld in battles that took place in Moravian territory. Following the famous Battle of Bílá Hora, at which the Protestant troops were so soundly defeated, he extended his land holdings with land taken from the Protestants.
Wallenstein proved himself so well in battle that he received a series of honors, culminating in being named Duke of Friedland in 1625. He was also extended several lines of credit, which he used to buy estates confiscated from Protestant owners. He even lent money to his emperor, Ferdinand II. (The emperor repaid him, though not in money. Instead, he gave land to Wallenstein, and conferred titles upon him.)
Wallenstein was such a popular fighter that he had no difficulty in raising a large army, which was sent to battle against Mansfeld’s troops in 1625 – 1627. This large army, in turn, successfully defeated Mansfeld’s army. Next, Wallenstein set his sights on targets further north; he hoped to control lands bordering the Baltic, and in so doing, pose a threat to the naval might of the Netherlands and the kingdoms of Scandinavia. Here, however, he learned that he had bitten off more than he could chew. The forces arrayed against him by the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and even Scotland, were larger than the army he commanded.
It might have been this attempt that raised suspicions in Ferdinand’s mind. Whatever the reason, the emperor began to entertain thoughts that his military commander was somewhat less than loyal to Ferdinand. He feared that Wallenstein planned a takeover, with the goal being to gain control over the entire Holy Roman Empire. As this could not be allowed, and on the advice of his advisers, Ferdinand dismissed Wallenstein from his service in 1630. Wallenstein, evidently, took the dismissal well. He retired to Jičín, then the capital of the Duchy of Friedland, where he lived a life of luxury.
His retirement did not last long. In 1632, Ferdinand was forced to call Wallenstein into service again. King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had a powerful army, and was making headway against the Catholic troops in Germany and Bohemia. One of Ferdinand’s top military men, General Tilly, had been killed in battle, and Ferdinand needed an experienced commander. Wallenstein was more than up to the task. He drove the Swedish forces (which had devastated Prague) from Bohemia. At the Battle of Lützen (in modern-day Germany), although Wallenstein’s troops were forced to retreat, King Gustavus Adolphus was killed in battle.
By 1633, Wallenstein was growing weary of war, and he objected to Ferdinand’s refusal to revoke his Edict of Restitution, which, in essence, took enormous power from Protestants and gave it to Catholics.
It also gave Catholics the authority to force Protestants to convert to Catholicism. Wallenstein met with representatives of various countries, including France and Sweden, always trying to remain as loyal to Ferdinand as possible; his moves were so secretive that uncertainty still surrounds his negotiations. However, he was unsuccessful in gaining support for a “just peace”. He soon returned to the battlefield, defeating the Saxons and Swedes at Steinau on the Oder in October, 1633.
Ferdinand II was still suspicious of Wallenstein, and a secret court in Vienna judged him guilty of treason. By now, Wallenstein was living near Pilsen (Plzeň), unaware of the gravity of the emperor’s plans.
On January 24, 1634, Ferdinand formally removed Wallenstein from his command via a secret patent. On February 18, an open patent was published in Prague; this patent charged him with high treason. Wallenstein was to be brought to Vienna, alive or dead. The seriousness of his situation finally dawned on Wallenstein, and he traveled to Cheb (now near the Czech/German border), hoping to meet with Swedish troops.
Wallenstein had men from Ireland and Scotland under his command. On the night of February 25, 1634, an Irish officer, Colonel Walter Butler, and two Scottish officers, Walter Leslie and John Gordon, murdered officers loyal to Wallenstein while their main target was at dinner. Henry Neumann, Christian Illov, and Vilém Kinsky were surrounded and cut down. One remaining officer, Adam Trczka, managed to fight them off long enough to get to the courtyard, where he was shot dead.
Wallenstein, completely oblivious to what was happening in the vicinity, ate dinner and went to bed at the burgomaster’s house in the main square of Cheb. A few hours later, another Irish officer, Walter Devereux, and a few other men forced their way into the house. Wallenstein awoke when the men kicked in the door of his bedroom. Unarmed, asking for quarter, he was run through by Devereux.
The assassins were richly rewarded by Ferdinand II, for whom Wallenstein had fought so long and so well. Wallenstein’s body was sent to Jičín, where it was buried. In 1785, his remains were exhumed and reburied in Mnichovo Hradiště, in a castle belonging to the Wallenstein family.
When things were going well for him, Wallenstein built a magnificent palace in Prague, in the Mala Strana district. The palace and magnificent gardens (Valdštejnská zahrada) still stand; the palace is now used by the Czech Senate. In the spring and summer, the gardens are open to the public.