July 18th in German History: The Death of Bernard of Saxe-Weimar

Bernard van Saksen-Weimar (1604-1639), by Michiel van Mierevelt.jpg
Bernard of Saxe-Weimar.

In this blog, I have discussed several German commanders who fought in the Second and First World Wars. However, three centuries before WWI broke out, Germany was embroiled in a war far more destructive, at least for the German population. I refer to the Thirty Years’ War, which itself produced numerous generals from France, Sweden, Spain, and, of course, Germany. One such general was Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, who died on July 18th, 1639.

Bernard was born on August 16th, 1604, and was the son of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, a region in Saxony. When the Thirty Years’ War broke out, Bernard left the University of Jena where he had been studying and joined the Protestant cause. He first fought in several battles- Mingolsheim, Wimpfen, and Stadtlohn- which ended in Protestant defeat. However, he joined the army of Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden, and commanded units in Protestant victories at Alte Veste and Breitenfeld. When Adolphus was killed at the Battle of Lutzen, Bernard assumed command and lead the Protestant army to victory. He then invaded Baaria and was given several titles and lands as a reward for his victory. However, in 1634 he was defeated by the Catholics at Nordlingen. He survived, however, and in 1635 joined the French armies, France had just entered the war on the Protestant side, and led French armies through successful campaigns along the Rhine. In 1638 he won a string of victories and took several fortresses. He was promised the territories of Alsace and Haguena as a duchy which he would rule. Unfortunately, he died before he could solidify his claim, and the lands went to France.

That Bernard of Saxe-Weimar is almost entirely forgotten shows just how little attention we, as a society, pay to history. While not the most skilled general of his time, that Bernard, who won numerous important victories and certainly strengthened the Protestant cause, now no longer receives a mention even in military history classes, is yet more evidence that the focus of our culture is skewed heavily towards transient icons and popular figures. Even the Thirty Years’ War, which saw the 1.4% of Europe’s population killed, compared to 1.7% in WWI, has vanished entirely from the public consciousness. As a culture, we focus intensely on people who contribute little and have a relatively minuscule long-term impact, and forget events and people who actually determined the course of history.

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