More Competent Winter King

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Doug M., Nov 13, 2007.

  1. Doug M. Well-Known Member

    Jul 3, 2007
    Yerevan, Armenia
    1617: Bohemia elects Ferdinand of Austria, Hapsburg and Catholic, as King. Bohemia is religiously mixed, with Catholics and three sorts of Protestant. The Bohemians know that Ferdinand is an ardent Catholic, but don't appreciate just how fanatical he is. Within months, he's given mortal offense to both Protestants and nationalists.

    1618: In the "Defenestration of Prague", the Bohemian petty nobility rises up and throws two of Ferdinand's closest advisors out of a window. They then declare him deposed as King. For nine months, the crown is unoccupied, but in 1619 the Bohemians offer it to Frederick, the Count Palatinate of the Rhine.

    Frederick is 23 years old and as ardently Calvinist as Ferdinand was Catholic. He has his own broad lands along the Rhine (only an Electorate, but it's as big as many kingdoms), is handsome, rich, and married to the daughter of the King of England.

    So ends the list of the qualifications of Count Frederick. "He was strong neither in body nor in spirit; and the gentle education which had been planned to stimulate his timorous nature, and to fit him for the arduous championship of a cause, had softened out of existence what little character he had." Weak, easily led, and dumb as a box of hair, Frederick will turn out to be a disastrous choice.

    1619: Frederick accepts the crown and moves to Bohemia.

    Holy Roman Emperor Matthias dies. Ferdinand is elected Emperor. He promptly declares Frederick -- who has snitched away his Bohemian crown -- rebel and outlaw.

    1620: Ferdinand cuts a pair of sordid little deals with Maximilian of Bavaria and John George of Saxony, the two most powerful independent princes in Germany. If they will join him in attacking Frederick's Bohemia, then both will be rewarded richly: John George will get Lusatia (a nice little province in northern Bohemia), while Maximilian will get the spectacular prize of Frederick's Palatinate along the Rhine. It works: John George marches in from the north, Maximilian from the west, and Ferdinand from the south.

    Meanwhile, Frederick's counter-diplomacy has been ineffective. The French, still in the dark days before the rise of Richelieu, are still more loyal to Catholicism than hostile to the Hapsburg. They stay neutral. So does the cranky old Scots father-in-law in London -- he grieves for his daughter, but will not risk British gold or troops on a wild escapade in the middle of Europe. No German princes show any enthusiasm for their reckless colleague who has dared to add a Kingdom to his Electorate -- while kicking the Hapsburg dragon, hard, in the snout. Frederick's only allies are the Dutch (always enemies of Austria and Spain) and Bethlen Gabor, a Hungarian rebel from Transylvania.

    The end comes quickly. At White Hill in November 1620, Frederick's army is crushed. He's forced to flee, becoming an exile in various European courts for the rest of his life. Although he ruled just over a year, he'll always be known as the "Winter King".

    Ferdinand reclaims Bohemia, and -- after purges that utterly devastate the economy, set the development of national culture back by a century or more, and send tens of thousands following the Winter King into exile -- establishes Catholicism, the Hapsburg dynasty, and royal absolutism so firmly that they'll hardly be challenged for the next 200 years. Maximilian and John George take their cuts.

    One consequence: with the Palatinate in the hands of a Catholic ally of Austria, all of the Rhine from Switzerland to Holland is now in Catholic hands. The Spaniards now have a clear shot at retaking their rebellious Dutch provinces. And the Thirty Years War is off and running, as France and the Protestant powers -- realizing too late that the balance of power in Central Europe has been fatally upset in favor of the Hapsburgs -- frantically scramble to fill the breach.

    So, the WI: Frederick is, instead, intelligent, hard-minded, and a natural leader and diplomat.

    -- Okay, a truly intelligent Frederick wouldn't go to Bohemia in the first place. The thing was always a wild gamble. Bohemia was a divided and turbulent kingdom, as hard to rule for a Protestant as for a Catholic. Taking the crown involved pitting his modest resources against the enraged dignity of the entire House of Hapsburg. Worse, it roused his fellow German princes to jealousy and greed.

    But it was a devout age; so let's say *Frederick feels that this is God's will, and sets out to make the best possible fist of it.

    Let's roll some dice. Since it's stipulated he's better than OTL Frederick, we'll use... oh, best three of four d6. 5 is awful, 10 is average and anything over 15 is hella good.

    Administration 16
    Diplomacy 14
    Judgment 10
    Military 11

    Not quite Gustavus Adolphus, but impressive enough. (By way of comparison, OTL Frederick would have been something like 8, 5, 5, 3.) We have a young King who's almost a Wallenstein for administration -- and that bears thinking about, considering what Wallenstein did with Bohemia just a bit later -- and who's a more-than-competent diplomat as well.

    He's not a good enough general to take command himself. Few 17th century monarchs were. (Gustavus Adolphus was a bit unusual.) But he's good enough to look over his generals' shoulders and make useful suggestions, instead of throwing parties and letting Mansfeld make mistakes.

    Now what? I have some ideas, but what do the rest of you think?

    Doug M.
  2. Sgt Detritus Member

    Feb 24, 2006
    If he's a better diplomat than IOTL maybe he'll have a better chance of getting help from father-in-law
  3. Doug M. Well-Known Member

    Jul 3, 2007
    Yerevan, Armenia
    I think that's unlikely -- James disliked wars and foreign adventures generally, and was deeply unenthusiastic about his son-in-law's wild adventure.

    That said, there were things a smarter *Frederick could have tried.

    Doug M.
  4. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    Such as? I think the main problem is that a smarter Frederick would have stayed away.
  5. Fearless Leader Donor

    Jan 2, 2004
    Central Control, Pottsylvania
    Here's an idea, what if Henry IV survived his assassination attempt in 1610 and proceeded to live for let's say another decade ('till 1620 for the sake of the scenario). With him in power the pro-catholic regency of Marie of Guise could be superseded as Richelieu rose to power. Thus when the Bohemian revolt breaks out France uses it as an excuse to kick some Hapsburg ass complicating things immensely....and altering the 30 years war entirely.

    Henry dies of old age in 1620 and is succeeded by his 18 year old son Louis the XIII who under Cardinal Richilieu continues his father's anti-Hapsburg policies.
  6. Doug M. Well-Known Member

    Jul 3, 2007
    Yerevan, Armenia

    [cracks knuckles] Let's play this out a little.

    Change #1: *Frederick moves faster, and gets elected King a week in advance of OTL. This means his claim to the crown is already on the table during the Imperial election to replace the late Matthias. (OTL the news arrived from Prague some hours after Ferdinand had been elected Emperor.)

    Clever *Frederick uses this as a full-court-press opportunity to woo John George of Saxony. Specifically, he asks John George to stand as a candidate for the throne, and pledges his two electoral votes in support.

    -- Here a brief digression on a will-o-wisp that fascinated the Protestants around this time. There were seven Electors: three Catholic Bishops, Brandenburg, Saxony, the Palatinate and Bohemia. Since Brandenburg, Saxony and the Palatinate were under Protestant rulers, a Protestant King of Bohemia raised the tantalizing possibility of a Protestant Emperor!

    Except not. John George was Protestand, but he was a conservative who didn't have strong objections to Hapsburg rule. The Elector of Brandenburg was worse... weak ruler of a weak state, lacking an army, and completely unable to resist Hapsburg pressure. The idea that these characters would do something as radical and daring as electing a Protestant was always a pipe dream. But it did capture the imagination of contemporary Protestants.

    So, *Frederick's campaign to set John George's Saxon fundament upon the Imperial throne is always doomed. But it's never intended to succeed. Rather, Frederick wants to make a splash with Protestants across Europe and -- more important -- score points with John George.

    (And there is precedent. John George's great-grandfather, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, actually won the Imperial election of 1519, exactly a century earlier. Frederick wisely declined the crown in favor of Charles V, of course. But a clever diplomat could have used this as a pitch to John George -- "let yourself stand, so you can reject the throne, just as your famously virtuous ancestor did.")

    Would it work? Well, JG was a conservative, a pedant, and a moral and physical coward. He was also a heavy drinker (even by the standards of then and there), physically unattractive, entirely lacking in charisma, and a droning bore. Think of the professor you hated most in college. It's strangely easy to imagine John George in a tweed jacket, wobbling his way through a faculty cocktail hour.

    Still... under the exterior of even the ugliest, most pompous, most utterly graceless and charmless ruler beats the heart of a little boy longing for love. Elections to the Imperial throne, like presidential elections today, could arouse wild hopes in the most unlikely of characters. So while I don't think JG would seriously try for the throne, I do think a charm offensive, built around the idea of him as a candidate, could turn his head a little.

    So: come Election Day, there's a contest. The preliminary question, of course, is who gets to cast Bohemia's electoral vote? To Ferdinand's annoyance, John George gives only tepid support on this point, suggesting that they should hold the election anyway. The reason for this becomes clear when Frederick's representative stands up and delivers a lengthy speech supporting John George... not as a Protestant, mind you, but as the hero of conservative constitutionalism. Worse comes when JG, torn between embarrassment and you-really-like-me simpering, announces that he can't possibly vote either or or against himself.

    Brandenburg, after some unseemly wriggling, folds like origami, so the outcome is never in doubt: four votes for Ferdinand to one for John George, with one contested vote (Bohemia) and one abstention. Still, it's a humiliation for the Hapsburgs, and drives a large wedge between them and the Saxon Elector.

    Meanwhile: *Frederick is in Prague. But before leaving the Palatinate, he makes preparations for war. First, he tries to get the Protestant Union on side. Alas, the Union is just as ineffective as iOTL, so no joy there. Second, he cranks up the taxes and buys himself some mercenaries. We've established that he's a good administrator. So, instead of the Palatinate being left utterly defenseless as iOTL, there are some hard men there pointing guns and pikes south towards General Spinola and his Spanish army.

    Plausible so far?

    Doug M.
  7. Fiver Curmudgeon

    Oct 28, 2007
    It is so far.
  8. arctic warrior Scandinavian die-hard

    Jan 10, 2006
    There is some other possibility for protestant support - King Christian 4 of Denmark-Norway.
    At this point the champion of having beaten the Swedes 1613 and still quite wealthy in respect to the day. At least able to finance an army for a couple of years. And the uncle of Elizabeth!
    Get Christian 4 to view himself as the champion of protestantism by supporting Frederick through Elizabeth and you have the finances in place - and keep Christian 4 himself out of German affairs!
    Your Frederick should be able to do so...
  9. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy Banned

    May 26, 2005
    Patarlagele/Bucharest, Romania
    Didn't he also rule the Franconian Palatinate (north of Bavaria)?

    Calling Bethlen a rebel would be misleading. He was the leader of a principality that had been free of Habsburg rule for most (but not all) of its history.
  10. Doug M. Well-Known Member

    Jul 3, 2007
    Yerevan, Armenia
    Playing it out a little more.

    *Frederick, being a crackerjack administrator, manages to squueze more money out of both the Palatinate and Bohemia in 1619-20. He also manages not to mortally offend all the Bohemian Catholics. OTL, Frederick foolishly ordered all Catholic churches stripped of ornaments, and discharged Catholics from the royal service. This turned the large Catholic minority firmly against him, and gave Ferdinand a ready-made foothold in the country. TTL, the die-hard fanatics will still be against *Frederick, but there's a larger group of Catholic moderates who don't really want a war. Religious tolerance doesn't win a lot of friends in 1620, but this group can at least be appeased into sullen neutrality.

    Intelligent administration also means he doesn't alienate the merchant classes, as Frederick did OTL. Though young, *Frederick has a keen sense of how to fleece the sheep closely without nicking the hide. So this important bloc -- rich and firmly nationalist -- stays on side instead of getting cranky and recalcitrant.

    By the autumn of 1620 *Frederick's position is serious but not desperate. He's being invaded from two sides... but not yet from three. He has a handful of traitors to deal with, but they're few enough to be easily isolated. And he's got enough money to hire plenty of mercenaries.

    Militarily, the invasion of the Palatinate begins much as iOTL. *Fred's modest levies can hold off Spinola or Maximilian of Bavaria, but not both. I think *Fred is a rather aggressive fellow, so he makes a startling decision: he abandons half the Palatinate to invade Bavaria from the west.

    "Invade" is an exaggeration, of course. It's really just a big raid, lasting less than two weeks and involving less than ten thousand men. It shouldn't have any strategic significance, except to accelerate the fall of the Palatinate by a bit. But it does, because it spooks hell out of Maximilian. The cautious, greedy Kingof Bavaria hates the idea that his precious land might be at risk. A few burning villages in northern Bavaria are enough to get Maximilian to recall Tilly.

    Ferdinand's frantic protests will eventually force Max to reconsider -- it's Ferdinand, after all, who will be able to hand out that precious Electorate -- but the result is that 1620 ends with *Frederick enjoying his second winter in Prague.

    Spinola continues a slow advance, though. France is still a hostile neutral, the fickle King of Denmark is distracted by northern concerns, and the Protestant League -- though still in existence -- seems unable to do anything but wring its hands.


    Doug M.
  11. arctic warrior Scandinavian die-hard

    Jan 10, 2006
    Said King was busy securing footholds for his brother and sons in Northern Germany using money and troops on gaining secularized bishoprics for them to rule...
    Also for some reason he didn't support his niece... could have done so... had the money... plenty of it actually... your Frederick should be able to have him do so...
  12. cerebus Aardvark

    Oct 5, 2007
    Remember his son was Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Yes that Prince Rupert,
    General, Admiral, scientist, artist, Prince Ruperts land, Prince Ruperts Drops, Prince's Metal etc etc etc.

    Clearly there was genius in the gene pool somewhere close.:D