The Thirty Years' War

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Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar (1604-1639)

One of the champions of the Protestant cause during the Thirty Years' War, Bernard of Saxe-Weimar had a disastrous start to his military career: in 1622 he was on the losing side with the mercenary commander Mansfeld at Wiesloch, and again suffered defeat under Prince George of Baden at Wimpfen. Joining Christian of Brunswick, he then tasted defeat once more at Stadtlohn in 1623, at the hands of Tilly (q.v.) and his crack Bavarian troops. Bernhard then distinguished himself at Breitenfeld (q.v.), where he commanded the left wing under the orders of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. Then at Lützen (q.v.) he showed great determination after the death of the Swedish King, rallying the wavering German Protestant troops and capturing the Imperialist train.

After Lützen, Bernhard was appointed commander of the army of the League of Heilbronn, but contented himself with raiding and pillaging in Southern Germany. In 1634 he faced the Imperialists with the Swedish general Horn at Nordlingen, but failed to co-ordinate with his allies, and was roundly defeated. Bernhard beat a hasty retreat with a tiny rearguard. He managed to rebuild the shattered Protestant army, and resolved to co-operate with the French forces, who had entered the war against the Empire. In 1636 he defended the Eastern border of France, counter-attacking the following year, and crossing the Rhine into Germany. His success allowed him then to form an independent army and with this he attempted to establish his own principality around Breisach in Alsace. Richelieu (q.v.) was disturbed by the thought of such a large independent military power right on France's border, and blocked Bernhard's plan. He subsequently planned to work once more with his old allies the Swedes, but died in 1639 before he could come to any arrangement with them.

Bernhard was a tough and reliable military commander, who had showed his mettle at Lützen, and performed solid service for the Protestant cause, when competent commanders were in short supply.