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His goal was the re-catholicization of Germany

Bavaria's hour struck when, on May 23, 1618, two imperial councilors and a secretary were thrown out of a room in Prague Castle by angry nobles.

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His goal was the re-catholicization of Germany

Bavaria's hour struck when, on May 23, 1618, two imperial councilors and a secretary were thrown out of a room in Prague Castle by angry nobles. In order to be able to counter the rebellious estates of his Bohemian kingdom, Emperor Ferdinand II needed an army. But he didn't have that, and his coffers were empty, as always.

Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1573 to 1651) had been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Ever since he came to power in 1597, his goals had been to increase Bavarian power and re-Catholicize the empire; he had consistently worked toward this. After the Prague Defenestration, he was the only one among the Catholic imperial princes who had enough means and a powerful army to help the emperor. Maximilian gambled for more than a year, then Ferdinand reluctantly agreed to sign the contract in Munich on October 8, 1619, which contained the Wittelsbacher's maximum demands.

Posterity, especially Protestants, did not give Maximilian a good hair. Leopold von Ranke, the historian of the Prussian state, characterized him as a Jesuit Machiavellian with a head full of adventures. It took a long time for people to realize that Maximilian was a hands-on reformer and Realpolitiker who made early modern Bavaria the best-managed territorial state in the empire. It is not for nothing that he is now regarded as “probably the greatest of all Wittelsbachers”.

However, luck was on his side. His two predecessors had largely disempowered the Estates and solved the Protestant problem by rigorously stopping the Reformation. Maximilian, who was already acting as co-regent at the side of his father Wilhelm V at the age of 21, had recognized in good time that chronic underfinancing was the Achilles heel of all courts: “A prince who is not rich in this evil world, het khein authoritet nor reputation,” he explained the basic motive of his policy.

Therefore, despite his unstable health and hours of prayer exercises a day, he forced himself “to look at my things myself, read the bills myself, and whatever I found, sanded, took a report on, and remedied the things”. In this sense, he created a bureaucratic apparatus whose members were not given their posts by purchase or patronage, but were recruited on the basis of education and competence.

This gave Maximilian the financial leeway to maintain an army, which in turn made Bavaria an attractive partner for smaller Catholic principalities in the empire. In July 1609 the League was founded in Munich as a defensive alliance to defend Catholic interests. It saw itself as the counterpart to the Protestant Union, which, however, suffered from the internal opposition between Lutherans and Reformed.

The league also had a structural problem: the Habsburgs wanted to sideline the Wittelsbacher. Maximilian then resigned the presidency in 1616. However, when the signs pointed to war after the defenestration of Prague, he quickly succeeded in reviving the alliance. And he presented a general of international stature: Johann Tserclaes Tilly.

Time now played into Maximilian's hands. On August 26, 1619, the Bohemian Estates elected the Reformed Count Palatine and Elector Friedrich V as King of Bohemia. This was a declaration of war against the Habsburg Ferdinand II, who had worn the crown since 1617 and who had also ruled the Austrian hereditary lands since the death of Emperor Matthias in March 1619. On September 9th of that year he was elected the new emperor - even with the votes of the Palatinate - after Maximilian had been clever enough to refuse his candidacy. This gave Ferdinand the legitimation to take action against Bohemia, but no army.

In this situation, the new Kaiser made a stop in Munich on the return journey from Frankfurt. It was now easy for Maximilian to get Ferdinand's signature on the contract. In it, the Bavarian was confirmed as head of the league and "right hand man" of the Kaiser, which gave Maximilian considerable freedom. Should the league army of 18,000 soldiers and 2,600 horsemen be used outside the alliance, the emperor would pay for the financing. He would also compensate for Bavarian territorial losses with Austrian areas. Maximilian's wages were not recorded in writing: he was to keep his conquests and, in the event of a victory over Frederick of Bohemia, receive the Palatinate electoral dignity.

That was enough motivation for Maximilian. On November 8, 1620, the imperial league troops under Tilly's leadership - Maximilian was only formally in command - defeated the Bohemians on the White Mountain in front of Prague. Further successes ended the threat posed by the Protestants and allowed Ferdinand II to develop his vision of a re-Catholicisation of the empire. As a thank you, the Bavarian received the Oberpfalz in addition to the electoral dignity.

However, the intervention of Gustav II Adolf of Sweden in 1630 saved the Protestants. And from now on, Bavaria also became a battlefield.

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