After White Mountain, Ferdinand was in a very strong position in eastern Europe. However, his success caused alarm in western Europe. Ferdinand was known to be a hard-line Catholic who wanted to impose his authority across the Holy Roman Empire. Such an expansion would take him very near to the French border. A successful Austrian Habsburg could also stimulate a resurgence in Spain and, in France, that was seen as being against France alone. The United Provinces also had reason to fear a Spain riding on the back of the Holy Roman Emperor’s new found prestige.
In January 1621, Ferdinand imposed the Ban of the Empire on Frederick of the Palatinate. This meant that he was persona non grater in the Holy Roman Empire and all states within were forbidden to help him. Frederick, the most senior of the Electors, became an outcast. Maximillian was ordered to take over the Lower Palatinate as a reward for his support to Ferdinand during the Bohemian crisis. Such a cavalier treatment of a state greatly angered the German princes.
In February 1621, the princes and German free cities of the Protestant Union met at Heilbron and formally protested about the actions of Ferdinand. Understandably, Ferdinand ignored this complaint and ordered them to disband their army – he certainly had the military power to enforce this if needs be.
In May 1621, under the Mainz Accord, the princes and free cities complied with Ferdinand demand and on the 24th May 1621, the Protestant Union was formally dissolved.
However, three important princes refused to sign the Mainz Accord : the Margrave of Baden, Duke Christian of Brunswick and the Count von Mansfeld. None of these three were major ‘players’ in the Holy Roman Empire but Mansfeld took over what remained of the Protestant Union’s army. Many of these troops were mercenaries paid for with Dutch money. They were very undisciplined and feared by the people they were meant to be protecting.
Mansfeld fought a series of ad hoc campaigns against Tilly and defeated the victor at White Mountain at the Battle of Wiesloch in April 1622. However, this victory for Mansfeld was followed by defeats at Wimpfen and Hö chst. The army of the Catholic League occupied the Electoral lands on the right bank of the Rhine. Spain had already taken over the left bank. By the summer of 1622, the position of the rebelling German princes looked grim.
In September 1622, the ancient university city of Heidelburg fell to Tilly; Mannheim fell in November 1622 and Frankenthal in April 1623.
Maximillian took over control of these territories, re-imposed Catholicism and expelled Calvinist ministers. In February 1623, the Electoral title of the Palatinate was formally bestowed on Maximillian by Ferdinand. This action was taken at Regensburg at a meeting of the Electors and clearly threatened the German princes and their freedom. How did Ferdinand persuade the Electors to accept this decision ? Basically he appealed to their greed.
John George of Saxony was given Lusatia.
George William of Brandenburg was given rights over East Prussia.
The Catholic archbishops were told that the transfer of land gave Catholics a 5 to 2 voting majority for the position of King of the Romans (the three Catholic archbishops and the two votes held by Maximillian) and that this position would save Catholicism in Germany.
What of England ? James I remained lukewarm to intervention as Prince Charles was in the process of wooing the Spanish Infanta. Any anti-Habsburg policy would not have been very diplomatic. Also Parliament was not prepared to finance any military expedition. However, the humiliation of Charles at Madrid and the Duke of Brunswick’s heavy defeat at the Battle of Stadtholn in August 1623, changed matters. Once again, Tilly was victorious at this battle.
Mansfeld’s plea for help in London brought reward. James I gave him permission to raise 12,000 men in England. This move lead to England being far more involved in an already complicated political position.
France remained suspicious of Habsburg encirclement and did not accept Ferdinand’s belief that what was good for the Habsburgs was good for Catholicism. A dominant Habsburg power in Germany was too close for France but internal problems with the Hugenots kept France out of the issues being fought over in Germany until 1622 when the Treaty of Montpellier eased the problems in France.
France had never accepted her expulsion from Italy during the Habsburg-Valois War and sought to regain her previous position there. However, any Spanish position in the Valtelline challenged this desire.
In 1623, France signed the Treaty of Paris with Savoy and Venice to eject Spanish troops from the Valtelline. For years, the Spanish had tried to keep the Grisons tied to the Holy Roman Empire in an effort to keep open the Spanish Road but the area had suffered from economic depression and radicals such as George Jenatsch had stirred up anti-Catholic feelings.
The Treaty of Madrid (April 1621) had given the Protestants in the Valtelline some rights but these had not been upheld by the Catholics there and in 1622, they overturned the power of the Grisons and left the Pass free for the Habsburg to use at will. France could not accept this and the result was the 1623 Treaty of Paris.
The Paris treaty seemed to indicate that was imminent between the French and Spanish. The Spanish asked Urban VIII for protection with the result that Papal troops were sent to Spanish forts in the Pass. Such a stance by the pope brought a temporary reprieve for the region – but it was only temporary. Cardinal Richelieu’s return to political favour in 1624 changed the situation. Richelieu had two aims a) to restore royal authority in France b) to make France great abroad.
To fulfill his second aim would require a head-on clash with the Habsburgs. In 1625, French troops aided by Swiss Protestant troops (symbolic that religion was not a barrier to alliances) drove out the Papal garrisons and closed the Pass.
This action lost Richelieu support from ardent French Catholics : how could a cardinal approve of military action against the troops of the head of the Catholic Church ? These people – known as Dévots – undermined the position of Richelieu in Paris and Spanish troops from Milan re-occupied the Pass. Richelieu could do nothing as his position in the French court had been greatly weakened. Here was a man defending the position of France (by his reckoning) undermined by other Frenchmen !!
Richelieu had to agree to the Treaty of Monzon in March 1626 which allowed the Spanish to use the Pass as they wished. However, he had shown the way he wanted France to move and when his position was more secure, the peace with Spain was bound to be more short-lived.
In 1624, the Treaty of Compiegne was signed between England, France and the Dutch. It was a reaction to a resurgent Spain. One of the most senior generals in Spain, Spinola, launched an attack on the Dutch in 1625. The head of the Spanish government was Olivares. He wanted not just a military campaign against the Dutch but a commercial one. The fall of Breda in June 1625 was a major blow to the Dutch. The Dutch needed foreign help but did not turn to Gustavus Adolphus as he wanted too much money and, more worryingly for the Dutch, complete freedom of action in northern Europe. Christian IV of Denmark had offered his services. He had a good reputation as a military leader and he was cheaper than Gustavus. Christian was also related by marriage to England so, from the Dutch point of view, he was a better bet as his involvement might bring in English help. Christian had also been elected president of the Lower Saxon Circle (an administrative area of the Holy Roman Empire) and he had agreed to raise an army to defend German liberties against Tilly.
In December 1625, England, Denmark, the Lower Saxon Circle and the Dutch formed a coalition called the Coalition of the Hague. It had moral support from Frederick of the Palatinate (he could not offer military support) and Bethlan Gabor of Transylvannia. The coalition planned a three pronged attack on the Habsburgs which lead to the Danish War of 1626 to 1629.