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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > T > Johannes Tserclæs, Count of Tilly

Johannes Tserclæs, Count of Tilly

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Born at Brabant in 1559; died at Ingolstadt in April, 1632. He was a member of a noble family of Brabant named Tserclæs. His mother was a devoted Catholic; his father took part at first in the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain, but by 1574 became a loyal adherent of Philip II. The son was educated by the Jesuits at Cologne. Like all the great men who fought for the Church and the empire during the era of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, Tilly has long been calumniated by Protestant and rationalist historians. In reality he was a man of genuine piety, remarkable self-control, moderation, and disinterestedness, a "monk in the garb of a general". He was honest, even to the enemy, a father to his soldiers, and humane to the common people, whom he protected as far as he could against acts of violence. As a general he was celebrated for his caution, his able grasp of situations, for the excellent preparatory training he gave his troops, and his never-failing readiness to meet the enemy and force him to give battle. He learned the art of war under the celebrated general, Alexander Farnese; at a later date Tilly surpassed his teacher. Up to 1594 he took part in the wars, some political and some religious, which laid waste the country from the mouth of the Rhine to the Seine: the War of Cologne, the revolt in the Netherlands, the War of the Holy League. In 1594 Henry IV would have been glad to have Tilly as one of his generals. During the years 1600-08, Tilly served Emperor Rudolph II and fought in Hungary against the Turks; in 1604 he rescued Gran; in 1605 he was commander-in-chief of the imperial forces; but the quarrels in the House of Austria and Rudolph's mental decay made success impossible. During the period 1610-30 Tilly commanded the army of Maximilian of Bavaria. Maximilian was a man very similar to Tilly; they seemed made to work together. Tilly was to command the army of the newly-founded League of the Catholic States of the empire.

During the era of peace up to 1620, Tilly created the Bavarian army, the flower of the army of the League, and the first standing army in the empire that was paid and fed, not by plundering and enforced contributions, but out of the regular revenues of the State. With these troops as his mainstay he took part in the prolonged war in Bohemia and the empire during the years 1620-30. In 1620 the force of his attack gained the victory at the battle of the White Mountain (8 November) over the Bohemians who had revolted against the emperor. For four years Tilly was engaged in a contest with Ernst of Mansfeld and his confederates. Ernst transferred the war from Bohemia to the lands of the empire, so that Tilly was often hampered by political considerations. In 1622 Tilly forced Mansfeld to give battle at Wiesloch, but the result was indecisive. He then destroyed the army of George Frederick of Baden at Wimpfen, and that of Christian of Halberstadt at Höchst, and took Heidelberg and Mannheim. After this Mansfeld's army dispersed and Tilly had now the strategic control of the whole of southern Germany. But in the next year, Mansfeld and Christian entered northwestern Germany with fresh armies. As the estates of Hesse and some of those of Lower Saxony were still adherents of the imperial cause, Tilly was able to make an energetic advance against Mansfeld and to defeat him at Stadtlohn in 1623. Political considerations, however, prevented his pursuit of Mansfeld. The inhabitants of northwestern Germany were roused to fanaticism against Tilly by the suggestion that he would force them to become Catholics. The districts on the middle course of the Weser which he garrisoned after his victory at Stadtlohn yielded so little that, in spite of all his efforts to feed his army by orderly methods, the soldiers suffered privations and took to plundering, which increased still more the animosity against them. The danger that the King of Denmark would take part in the war led Tilly in 1625 to beg the emperor to raise an army in the empire and to place it under Wallenstein's command. Wallenstein kept all the prosperous territories for himself and limited Tilly more than ever to the districts poor in revenue of south-western Germany. Tilly now found it increasingly difficult to maintain discipline because Wallenstein collected mercenary soldiers by the promise of rich booty, and raised these troops on a larger scale and more successfully than any previous commander on account of his imposing personality. Moreover, from 1627, and especialy after the Edict of Restitution of 1629 Tilly was obliged to carry out numerous orders to restore to the Church lands which had been taken from it contrary to the religious peace; in this way he gained the reputation of being a bitter enemy of Protestantism. By force of character, however, he overcame all difficulties.

In 1626 Tilly prevented the union of the Danes with the Langrave of Hesse who had revolted, and later, in August, destroyed the Danish army at Lutter on the Barenberg. In 1627 he drove the Danes over the Elbe, but on account of a wound, which prevented him from partaking in the war, Wallenstein gained the honours of the victory in the campaign in Holstein. When he had recovered, Tilly took Stade at the mouth of the Elbe, and thus gained control over the whole of northwestern Germany excepting Bremen. He was not able to advance against this latter city on account of the effects of Wallenstein's failures about the same time at Stralsund and Magdeburg. The great success he had later led him to hope for a time that peace could be restored in the empire, but in this he was disappointed. Once more for political reasons he could not gain permission to attack the Dutch, who exerted themselves to keep alive the disorders in the empire. On the other hand, the leaders of the League, owing to their hostility to Wallenstein, refused to give Tilly permission to go to Wallenstein's aid at Stralsund, and thus to bar Gustavus Adolphus from entering the empire. They also obliged Tilly and Wallenstein to dismiss a large part of their troops, a course that aroused a bitter and suspicious feeling in the experienced general and politician. Shortly after the arrival of Gustavus Adolphus, Wallenstein was dismissed and Tilly was entrusted by the emperor with the command of the imperial army in addition to his own. It was a difficult task to reorganize the imperial troops which were in process of being disbanded. The last period of Tilly's activities as a general began when he took command of the imperial army. As usual, he took the offensive as soon as he could and began operations near the Baltic coast. Gustavus Adolphus, however, avoided a battle and sought to tire Tilly out by marching about so as to wrest the initiative from him. Tilly put an end to this by marching against Magdeburg in March, 1630; this was the boldest stroke of his entire career as a commander. Gustavus seized the opportunity to advance up the Oder into the territories ruled by the emperor; probably, however, Tilly's bold measures forced Gustavus to follow him, in order to relieve Magdeburg.

When Tilly stormed Magdeburg on 20 May, its Swedish garrison laid the city in ashes, and it lost its strategic importance; he was, therefore, obliged to retreat towards Thuringia. Gustavus Adolphus now showed himself to be superior to Tilly in tactics at the battle of Breitenfeld on 17 September. Tilly followed the methods of Alexander Farnese, but these proved unsuccessful against Gustavus Adolphus's more modern generalship. Tilly's army was nearly destroyed, and he, now seventy-two years old, was for a short time crushed by the blow. However, in the same autumn he advanced from the Weser with new troops to prevent the Swedes from marching into the territories of the chiefs of the League in Franconia. But on account of the insufficient means at his disposal, the fear of the Swedes, and the timidity of the emperor and of the Catholic estates, his army disbanded on the way. Undismayed, Tilly began again on a smaller scale. In March, after carefully making his arrangements, he stormed Bamberg, which had fallen into the hands of the Swedes, and gained here the first victory over them. He now planned to advance towards Eger in order to join Wallenstein, who had again entered the imperial service, but the latter kept him waiting. In the meantime Gustavus Adolphus had advanced from the Main towards Tilly. Abandoning Donauwörth, Tilly took up a position at the Village of Rain on the Lech, being supported by Aldringen, the imperial quartermaster-general. The battle took place 15 April, and at its very beginning Tilly and Aldringen were severely wounded; this gave Gustavus Adolphus the victory. Before his death Tilly provided for the timely garrisoning of Ingolstadt and Ratisbon by the Bavarian troops, a measure which proved of importance for the subsequent course of the war. Tilly was always victorious in every campaign in which he had sufficient resources. He died when the campaign against Gustavus had hardly begun. It is, therefore, unjust to judge of his ability as a commander by his failure at the beginning of this campaign. He was inferior to no commander of his own time.


Sources

KLOPP, Tilly im 30-jahrigen Kriege (Stuttgart, 1861); VILLERMONT, Tilly ou la guerre de trente ans (Tournai, 1860).

About this page

APA citation. Spahn, M. (1912). Johannes Tserclæs, Count of Tilly. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14724c.htm

MLA citation. Spahn, Martin. "Johannes Tserclæs, Count of Tilly." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14724c.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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