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Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar
|Bernhard, duke of Saxe-Weimar.|
He received an unusually good education, and studied at Jena, but soon went to the court of the Saxon elector to engage in knightly exercises. At the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War he took the field on the Protestant side, and served under Mansfeld at Wiesloch (1622), under the margrave of Baden at Wimpfen (1622), and with his brother William at Stadtlohn (1623). Undismayed by these defeats, he took part in the campaigns of the king of Denmark; and when Christian withdrew from the struggle Bernhard went to Holland and was present at the famous siege of Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) in 1629.
When Gustavus Adolphus landed in Germany Bernhard quickly joined him, and for a short time he was colonel of the Swedish life guard of horse. After the battle of Breitenfeld he accompanied Gustavus in his march to the Rhine and, between this event and the battle of the Alte Veste , Bernhard commanded numerous expeditions in almost every district from the Moselle to Tyrol. At the Alte Veste he displayed the greatest courage, and at the Battle of Lützen (1632), when Gustavus was killed, Bernhard assumed the command, killed a colonel who refused to lead his men to the charge, and finally by his furious energy won the victory at sundown.
At first as a subordinate to his brother William, who as a Swedish lieutenant-general succeeded to the command, but later as an independent commander, Bernhard continued to push his forays over southern Germany; and with the Swedish General Horn he made in 1633 a successful invasion into Bavaria, which was defended by the imperialist general Aldringer. In this year he was granted the former Franconian bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg, being granted the title of Duke of Franconia. He installed one of his many brothers as Stadthalter, and returning to the wars. A stern Protestant, he exacted heavy contributions from the Catholic cities which he took, and his repeated victories caused him to be regarded by German Protestants as the saviour of their religion. But in 1634 Bernhard suffered the great defeat of Nördlingen, in which the flower of the Swedish army perished.
In 1635 he entered the service of France, which had now intervened in the war. He was now at the same time general-in-chief of the forces maintained by the Heilbronn union of Protestant princes, and a general officer in the pay of France. This double position was very difficult; in the following campaigns, ably and resolutely conducted as they were, Bernhard sometimes pursued a purely French policy, whilst at other times he used the French mercenaries to forward the cause of the princes. From a military point of view his most notable achievements were on the common ground of the upper Rhine, in the Breisgau.
In his great campaign of 1638 he won the battles of Rheinfelden, Wittenweiher and Thann, and captured successively Rheinfelden, Freiburg and Breisach, the last reputed one of the strongest fortresses in Europe. Bernhard had in the first instance received definite assurances from France that he should be given Alsace and Hagenau, Würzburg having been lost in the debacle of 1634; he now hoped to make Breisach the capital of his new duchy. But his health was now broken. He died at the beginning of the campaign, and the governor of Breisach was bribed to transfer the fortress to France. The duke was buried at Breisach, his remains being subsequently removed to Weimar.
See JAC Hellfeld, Geschichte Bernhards des Grossen, Herzogs v. Saxe-Weimar (Jena, 1747); B Rose, Herzog Bernhard d. Grosse von Saxe-Weimar (Weimar, 1828-1829); Droysen, Bernhard, v. Weimar (Leipzig, 1885).
- This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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