Albrecht of Wallenstein (or Waldstein) was without question one of the most important figures in 17th century Bohemia, a Czech nobleman and military leader who made his strongest mark as an Imperial commander in the Thirty Years War. This Thursday, the Waldstein Riding School sees the opening of an unprecedented new exhibition looking at his life and times. The show, called “Albrecht of Waldstein and his Era” brings together more than 700 items, from works of art (including busts, portraits, military scenes) to weapons, clothing and other artifacts from Wallenstein’s day.
“This exhibition about Wallenstein and his era is a ‘new’ view on this figure, who in the Czech Republic or former Czechoslovakia was often depicted in black and white, but he was far more complex. He was of course a very good military commander but he was also a [patron of the arts]: someone interested in music and fine art and in this exhibition [viewers will be able to see it all]!”
Organizers say there has never been an exhibition on Wallenstein as extensive as this one: it tells the story of his life in a number of “chapters”, from his Protestant schooling to Catholic conversion, to his rise to prominence through marriage to unrivalled success on the battlefield. Wallenstein fought on the side of the Imperial Army in the Thirty Years War. Exhibition co-curator Eliska Fucikova:
“Wallenstein began as a Czech Brother, was educated by Protestants, but converted. The conversion was, I think, ‘intentional’. He knew which way things were heading. Still, he himself remained tolerant, he kept the tolerance of the previous Rudolphine era, even inviting Kepler, who refused to convert, to make a print for him at one of his sites. So he was relatively tolerant but of course also a great supporter of the Catholic Church.”
Serving in the Imperial Army, Albrecht of Wallenstein was well-rewarded in due time by the Habsburg emperor, Ferdinand II. During the early Bohemian revolt in 1618 he won distinction under Buqouy. And after the Protestant forces in Bohemia were crushed at the Battle of White Mountain, Wallenstein continued to grow in stature, first being named a prince and later a duke. He centered his power in Frydlant in north Bohemia, where he was allowed to steadily build up his fortune through the confiscation of Protestant property. Meanwhile, Wallenstein’s success continued: in 1625 he was named Imperial general, raising an army of 50,000. A year later he defeated Ernst von Mansfeld and continued in successful campaigns until 1630, at which time he was recalled. Curator Eliska Fucikova again:
“He was definitely a person who tried to reorganize the army, to make the army professional. The trouble with bringing so many soldiers together in his day was that they were just ‘hired’ and they disappeared in the winter. It was very complicated for the whole country. There were hundreds of thousands of soldiers running around Europe, causing terrible trouble, including the spread of disease because there was not hygienic support. So I think he wanted to get rid of the hiring of people just for battles. They also weren’t properly trained, and one time they’d fight for the Catholics, the next season for – the Protestants. So I think he wanted to professionalize the military, to make the system more sophisticated I would say.”
Says Eliska Fucikova, had Albrecht of Wallenstein lived today, she would compare him most to Bill Gates – not, of course, for his exploits in battle - but at the very least for his overall organization and managerial skills. In the fields of finance, art and architecture as on the battlefield, Wallenstein was a man of real ambition, a force to be reckoned with.
“Wallenstein needed a lot of representation for himself and he was very proud of his enormous career, and I think that he set a standard that was an inspiration for other commanders and not only for them but also for the nobility in the country. This was a period when much great architecture was built: it was an outer-representation which was necessary. Also, the previous period under Rudolph II saw Prague become one of the main artistic centres in Europe. The Baroque was coming and he helped these changes in art. And Wallenstein used the artists, who were still here, to continue in their work in archictecture, painting and sculpture. He really helped very much.”
But Wallenstein’s unrivalled ambition ultimately hurt him. The emperor’s decision to dismiss him in 1630 was the result of growing distrust in the nobleman’s aims – and although he was reinstated in 1633 to fight against the Swedes and he successfully recovered Bohemia, he was defeated by Gustav Adolph at Lutzen and again dismissed. Aging, low in funds, Wallenstein began to secretly conspire with Protestant forces. Vienna ruled on the nobleman in secret, and in 1634 Ferdinand signed a document relieving Wallenstein of command. The actions were taken clandestinely, still Wallenstein knew he was in danger. Eliska Fucikova again:
“He was one, extremely rich, and two, extremely powerful and there were many important personalities at the Imperial Court, afraid of too much power in one person’s hands. Maximillian of Bavaria especially conspired against him, trying to persuade the emperor that Wallenstein wanted – at the very least – the Bohemian crown. I don’t think it was true, because he was quite happy with what he had and I think he wanted to leave the army and to continue to build on his fantastic possessions.
“There, he could be his own master. He didn’t need additional power at that point. Also, it happened at a point when he was already very ill and also at a time when he could no longer support the emperor as before. As the emperor needed funds, so in fact the confiscation of Wallenstein’s property saved the emperor for a time. The confiscation of Wallenstein’s property was a very welcome possibility.”
Wallenstein was assassinated by Scottish and Irish officers on February 25th, 1634, in the town of Cheb. He was caught unprepared, rising from his sleep, and is said to have asked for mercy before being run through with a halberd. For a man who reached such success in life, a most bitter end.
Viewers can visit “Albrecht of Waldstein and his Era” at the Waldstein
Riding School as of Thursday. Already it is being touted as THE cultural
event of the season, complete with a gorgeous publication and guidebook.
Audio and other material is available in a number of languages, including
of course English and Czech.