Last week I reported on the outbreak of the Thirty Years War following the Second Defenestration at Prague, and the suppression of the Bohemian revolt in 1620-21–the end of the first phase of that protracted European conflict in the early modern period. In this third of my Krumlov-letters (for as the ’50s movie and song go, Krumlov Is A Many Splendored Thing), I will trace some further twists and turns in the ensuing years. Like Tina Turner, you might be wondering: What’s Krumlov Got To Do With It? Although the initial revolt was crushed, Bohemia–esp. Prague and along the German border–continued to be overrun with military strikes and counter-strikes; for the local population, this meant disease, famine, destruction, and untimely death.
Despite the gains made by the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II following the failure of the Bohemian revolt and the flight of ‘The Winter King’ Frederick–due in part to the disunity among Protestant princes–the Catholic forces were confronted with a new formidable enemy by the end of the 1620s: the King of Sweden, Gustav II Adolf. A brilliant, charismatic leader, Gustav saw an opportunity to assert Swedish hegemony in central Europe by championing the Protestant cause. The king’s enemies and rivals, including Protestant rulers who feared that they were being ‘delivered’ from Habsburg imperialism only to be squished into a Swedish meatball, may very well have called him King ‘Goose-step’ instead. The Swedes were thus as feared in the German states and Bohemia by Protestants as by Catholics.
Leona Lewis may have exaggerated when she sang about Bleeding Krumlov, but a profane Swedish graffito inside Krumlov Castle testifies to the scourge of early 17th-century Scando-invasions in the subsequent decades. The Swedes, in fact, swept through Krumlov twice during the Thirty Years War: IKEA-d you not. Fortunately, these days, the worst things we have to fear from the Swedes are Allen keys, generous social welfare programs, and ABBA revivals. Although one might think King Gustav would Take a Chance on ABBA’s military advice about The Name of the Game–e.g., The Winner Takes It All–to become a Super Trouper, he would surely spurn the insipid consolation that ‘I feel like I win when I lose’.
King Gustav, however, was killed in the 1632 Battle of Lützen. This was great encouragement to the Habsburgs, but they faced new problems, this time from within: the Bohemian nobleman Albrecht von Wallenstein (depicted above, amidst the miseries of the Thirty Years War, in a 19th-century painting by Ernest Crofts). Although Wallenstein, the subject of a drama by Friedrich Schiller, was a formidable military general who successfully led the Imperial army, his lofty ambitions and erratic behaviour threatened the Habsburgs’ plans. He was even thought to be suffering the effects of syphilis, though in fact this was due to a bizarre misinterpretation of treatment he received for his gout (I only hope I am not similarly and mistakenly ‘gouted’ as syphilitic!).
Wallenstein, whose splendid Baroque palace and gardens in the Bohemian capital sit next to Prague Castle and now house the Czech Senate, sought the Bohemian crown through a secret arrangement in 1631 with Swedish-supported anti-Habsburg Czechs. The Habsburgs’ spies eventually sniffed out the treachery, and the Emperor ordered his removal: in 1634, Imperial forces descended on the town of Cheb near the German border where Wallenstein had fled, dispatched his allies, and assassinated the enigmatic, thuggish general as he was about to go to bed. Early Modern Times’s Department of Bohemian Obscuranta has confirmed accounts of Wallenstein’s heavy drinking (no doubt contributing to his gout attacks) with the discovery of a knitted cosy to keep the ales in his beer mugs cold, made in a Southern Ontario city and decorated only with scenes from works by an early 20th-century German playwright: an ‘All-Brecht Vaughan Woolen-Stein.’
‘Til next Sunday,
Director, Early Modern Beer Cosy Studies Program