Battle of Nördlingen (1634)

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Battle of Nördlingen
Part of the Thirty Years' War
Jan van der Hoecke - The Battle of Nordlingen, 1634.jpg
The Battle of Nördlingen by Jan van den Hoecke
Date5–6 September 1634 (N.S.)
Result Decisive Imperial-Spanish victory [1]
Destruction of the Swedish army [2]
Flag of Sweden.svg Swedish Empire
Heilbronn League

Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg  Holy Roman Empire

Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Spain
Commanders and leaders
Gustav Horn   (POW)
Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar
Johann Philipp Kratz von Scharffenstein   (POW) [3]
Crown Prince Ferdinand
Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand
25,000 [4]
16,000 infantry
9,000 cavalry
68 guns
33,000 [4]
20,000 infantry
13,000 cavalry
50 guns
Casualties and losses
21,000 killed or captured [4] 3,500 killed or wounded [4]
Bavaria location map.svg
Battle icon (crossed swords).svg
Location within Bavaria
Germany adm location map.svg
Battle icon (crossed swords).svg
Nördlingen (Germany)

The Battle of Nördlingen (German : Schlacht bei Nördlingen; Spanish : Batalla de Nördlingen; Swedish : Slaget vid Nördlingen) was fought in 1634 during the Thirty Years' War, on 27 August (Julian calendar) or 6 September (Gregorian calendar). The Roman Catholic Imperial army, bolstered by 15,000 Spanish soldiers, won a crushing victory over the combined Protestant armies of Sweden and their German-Protestant allies (Heilbronn Alliance).

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages that are most similar to the German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch, including Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Spanish language Romance language

Spanish or Castilian, is a Romance language that originated in the Iberian Peninsula and today has over 450 million native speakers in Spain and in the Americas. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

Swedish language North Germanic language spoken in Sweden

Swedish is a North Germanic language spoken natively by 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden, and in parts of Finland, where it has equal legal standing with Finnish. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and to some extent with Danish, although the degree of mutual intelligibility is largely dependent on the dialect and accent of the speaker. Written Norwegian and Danish are usually more easily understood by Swedish speakers than the spoken languages, due to the differences in tone, accent and intonation. Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples living in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. It has the most speakers of the North Germanic languages. While being strongly related to its southern neighbour language German in vocabulary; the word order, grammatic system and pronunciation are vastly different.


After the failure of the tercio system in the first Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, the professional Spanish troops deployed at Nördlingen proved the tercio system could still contend with the deployment improvements devised by Maurice of Orange and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in their respective troops.

<i>Tercio</i> Spanish military unit

A tercio or tercio español was a powerful Spanish infantry division during the time of Habsburg Spain known for its victories on European battlefields in the early modern period.

Battle of Breitenfeld (1631) the Protestants’ first major victory of the Thirty Years War

The Battle of Breitenfeld or First Battle of Breitenfeld, was fought at a crossroads near Breitenfeld approximately 8 km north-west of the walled city of Leipzig on September 17, or September 7, 1631. It was the Protestants’ first major victory of the Thirty Years War.

Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden Swedish king 1611–32

Gustavus Adolphus, also known in English as Gustav II Adolf or Gustavus Adolphus the Great, was the King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, and is credited for the founding of Sweden as a great power. He led Sweden to military supremacy during the Thirty Years' War, helping to determine the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe. He was formally and posthumously given the name Gustavus Adolphus the Great by the Riksdag of the Estates in 1634.


The Battle of Nördlingen was part of the Thirty Years' War, fought from 1618 to 1648. The chief belligerents were the Catholic Habsburg dynasties consisting of an Austrian and Spanish branch and their allies on one side. (The Austrian archduke also held the title of Holy Roman Emperor. For this reason, the Austrian Habsburgs are frequently referred to as the Imperialists.) Opposed to them were the Protestant nations comprising the Dutch, Denmark, Sweden, various German principalities and later, Catholic France.

After the Protestant victory at the Battle of Lützen two years before, the Swedes failed to follow up due to the death of their king, Gustavus Adolphus. As a result, the Imperial forces began to regain the initiative.

Battle of Lützen (1632) battle during the Thirty Years War, 1632

The Battle of Lützen was one of the most important battles of the Thirty Years' War.

In 1634 Protestant German and Swedish forces moved south and invaded Bavaria, threatening a major Habsburg ally. In response, the Austrian Habsburg commander, Ferdinand of Hungary (son of Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman Emperor) advanced west from Bohemia (today, the Czech Republic) threatening to cut across the supply lines of the Protestant armies. Consequently, the Protestant commanders quickly reversed course and headed north. They were aware that Spanish reinforcements under Ferdinand of Hungary's cousin, the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria, were en route from their dominions in Northern Italy. The Spanish army had marched through the Stelvio Pass trying to open a new "Spanish Road", and take their Commander to his Governorship in the Spanish Low Countries.

Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

Ferdinand III was Holy Roman Emperor from 15 February 1637 until his death, as well as King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia and Archduke of Austria.

Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands, Cardinal Infante, Archbishop of Toledo

Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand was Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Cardinal of the Holy Catholic Church, Infante of Spain, Infante of Portugal, Archduke of Austria, Archbishop of Toledo (1619–41), and military commander during the Thirty Years' War.

Northern Italy Place in Italy

Northern Italy is a geographical and cultural region in the northern part of Italy. Non-administrative, it consists of eight administrative Regions in northern Italy: Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. As of 2014, its population was 27,801,460. Rhaeto-Romance and Gallo-Italic languages are spoken in the region, as opposed to the Italo-Dalmatian languages spoken in the rest of Italy.

The Protestant commanders decided they could not ignore the threat of a union between the two enemy forces and combined their two largest armies near Augsburg on 12 July, which included the Swabian-Alsatian Army under Gustav Horn and the so-called Franconian Army under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Both armies were named after their main operation area and belonged to the Heilbronn Alliance (Sweden's German-Protestant allies under the directorate of the Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna). These forces mostly consisted of German recruits. Among them were the Blue brigade and some Scottish allies ("the Green brigade") with a few national Swedish/Finnish regiments (mostly cavalry) and one national Swedish infantry brigade ("the Yellow brigade"). [5] [6]

Gustav Horn, Count of Pori Swedish/Finnish politician

Count Gustav Horn af Björneborg was a Swedish nobleman, military officer and Governor-general. He was appointed member of the Royal Council in 1625, Field Marshal in 1628, Governor General of Livonia in 1652 and Lord High Constable since 1653. In the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), he was instrumental as a commander in securing victory at the Battle of Breitenfeld, in 1631. He was High Councillor of the realm in 1625, elevated to the rank of field marshal in 1628, and sometimes commander-in-chief of Swedish forces in Germany during Thirty Years' War. After the war, he served as Governor-General of Livonia 1652, President of War department and Lord High Constable in 1653. In 1651, Queen Christina created him Count of Björneborg.

Blue Brigade (military unit) a unit in the Swedish army during the thirty years war

The Blue Regiment or the Blue Brigade was an infantry regiment in the service of Gustav II Adolph during his campaigns in Germany in the Thirty Years' War. A large portion of the regiment was made up of German mercenaries, who were a common phenomenon on both sides. The regiment's name is derived from the blue colored uniforms worn by the soldiers.

The Protestants proved unable to prevent the fall of Regensburg to Ferdinand of Hungary and desperately pursued him westwards in an effort to prevent the merger of the two Habsburg armies. On 16 August the Cardinal-Infante crossed the Danube at Donauwörth. Despite their best efforts the Protestant armies were still behind when Ferdinand of Hungary set down to besiege the town of Nördlingen in Swabia and await the Cardinal-Infante, who arrived before the city on 2 September - three days before the Protestants. [7]

Regensburg Place in Bavaria, Germany

Regensburg is a city in south-east Germany, at the confluence of the Danube, Naab and Regen rivers. With more than 150,000 inhabitants, Regensburg is the fourth-largest city in the State of Bavaria after Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg. The city is the political, economic and cultural centre and capital of the Upper Palatinate.

Danube River in Central Europe

The Danube is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Donauwörth Place in Bavaria, Germany

DonauwörthGerman: [ˌdoːnaʊˈvøːɐ̯t]) is a town and the capital of the Donau-Ries district in Swabia, Bavaria, Germany. It is said to have been founded by two fishermen where the rivers Danube (Donau) and Wörnitz meet. The city is part of the scenic route called "Romantische Straße"


The cousins, Ferdinand, brother of the Spanish king and known as the Cardinal-Infante, and Ferdinand of Hungary, son of Ferdinand II, the Austrian Holy Roman Emperor, prepared for battle, ignoring the advice of more experienced generals such as Matthias Gallas. Most felt a full engagement against two of the most experienced Protestant commanders was reckless and unlikely to have positive results. However, the cousins were supported by Count Leganés, the Spanish deputy commander, who was confident in their superior numbers, including the reliable Spanish Infantry.

The Battle of Nordlingen by Cornelis Schut. Oil on canvas. Cornelius Schut Sieg bei Nordlingen.jpg
The Battle of Nördlingen by Cornelis Schut. Oil on canvas.

Bernhard and Horn also prepared for battle. Bernhard felt that no matter the odds, an attempt must be made to relieve Nördlingen. Horn seems to have been reluctant given the state of the Protestant armies, which were short of supplies. Bernard underestimated the numerically superior enemy forces despite information obtained from a prisoner. The Spanish reinforcements numbered closer to 20,000 not 7,000. In addition, the Austrian and Spanish Imperialists possessed 13,000 cavalry. By contrast, the combined Protestant forces numbered 16,000 infantry and 9,000 horse. Also critical was the fact that the terrain features of the battlefield convinced the Protestant commanders to abandon the 3 pounder guns normally attached to each of their infantry brigades, which at previous battles had provided a crucial firepower advantage. [8]

The two Ferdinands drew up their armies between the Protestant forces and the town of Nördlingen, with the left wing anchored at the base of a hill. In the center, Catholic German infantry were placed in front with the Spanish behind them. A contingent of Catholic Germans defended the hilltop. [9]

The Protestant commanders came up with a plan: With half the army, Bernard was to hold the main Imperialist force in check while Horn wheeled the remainder through some woods on the right with the object of taking the hill on the Imperialist left. Once the hill was seized, artillery could be placed on top that would subject the enemy flank to enfilade fire. That would force him to withdraw and relieve Nördlingen. [10]

At sunrise on September 6, Horn commenced his attack, which suffered every kind of bad luck. After laying out careful instructions to his subordinates, the cavalry attacked prematurely, leaving the infantry and artillery behind, when they were supposed to lead. Despite this blunder, the Catholic Germans holding the hilltop panicked, deserting their batteries. However, the wooded features caused two of Horn's brigades to mistake each other for enemy, and they began to exchange fire. Meanwhile, the victorious cavalry dissipated itself chasing down fugitives. [11]

The Battle of Nordlingen, by Jacques Courtois Battle of Nordlingen.jpg
The Battle of Nördlingen, by Jacques Courtois

Taking advantage of the confusion in Horn's forces, the Cardinal-Infante sent a detachment of Spanish foot and horse, which reclaimed the hill. Horn was able to rally his men, but by then the hilltop was impregnable. Fifteen assaults were made over the next few hours, all of which were beaten back. [12] Among the defending Spanish forces were the "Tercios Viejos" (Old Tercios), mainly those commanded by Fuenclara, Idiáquez, and Toralto with support from Ottavio Piccolomini's Italian cavalry. The Protestant attacks were led by the brigades Vitzthum, Pfuel and one of the Scots Brigades (Colonel William Gunn), supported by the brigade of Count Thurn (Black and Yellow Regiment).

Meanwhile, in the center, Bernard had avoided battle and prevented the Imperialists from reinforcing their threatened left by skillful use of his artillery. [13] However, the Imperial commanders observed the weakened condition of Bernhard's army, which had sent reinforcements to assist Horn on the right. At the opportune moment, a general advance was ordered that quickly put Bernard's forces to flight. Pursuit of Bernard's troops threatened to cut off any escape route of the Swedish units under Horn, who also promptly broke.

Gustav Horn of Björneborg was captured and his army destroyed. A small remnant of Protestants fled to Heilbronn.


The Victory of the Two Ferdinands, Peter Paul Rubens (1635) Peter Paul Rubens 121.jpg
The Victory of the Two Ferdinands, Peter Paul Rubens (1635)

The battle was one of the most crushing victories of the Thirty Years' War. With their forces substantially reduced and many German principalities refusing aid, the Swedes withdrew to Northern Germany where they remained inactive for two years. Consequently, the Protestant German princes made a separate peace with the Emperor in the Treaty of Prague. [14]

The Habsburg triumph at Nördlingen followed by the Treaty of Prague could have been decisive in ending the war, enhancing Habsburg dominance in Europe. Spanish forces were no longer engaged in Germany, and now posed a direct threat to France all along its frontier.

France had long been financing the enemies of the Habsburgs, but now they no longer were strong enough to be relied upon. France therefore intervened directly against the Habsburgs by declaring war against Spain on May 21, 1635. This opened a second front against the Spanish Netherlands. Bernard of Saxe-Weimar was given 12,000 French troops and extensive funding. [15]

The Swedes recovered. In 1636, two years after Nördlingen, they defeated a combined Imperial and Saxon army at the Battle of Wittstock, followed later by victories at the Second Battle of Breitenfeld, the battle of Jankov, and the battle of Zusmarshausen.

See also

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  1. William Guthrie (2002). Battles of the Thirty Years' War: from White Mountain to Nordlingen, 1618-1635 ISBN   0-313-32028-4
  2. The Popes: A History. p. 325.
  3. Wilson 2011, pp. 545–549.
  4. 1 2 3 4 The Encyclopedia of War.
  5. Julius Mankell. Uppgifter rörande swenska krigsmaktens styrka, sammsättning och fördelning, Stockholm 1865 p.198-202
  6. Peter Engerisser, Pavel Hrncirik (2009). Nördlingen 1634 p.252
  7. The Thirty Years' War, C.V. Wedgewood.
  8. "Cannon". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  9. "The Thirty Years War", Cecily V. Wedgwood, pp. 372–373.
  10. "The Thirty Years War", Cecily V. Wedgwood, p. 373
  11. "The Thirty Years War", Cecily V. Wedgwood, p. 374
  12. "The Thirty Years War", Cecily V. Wedgwood, pp. 374–375
  13. "The Thirty Year's War", Cecily V. Wedgwood, p. 375
  14. Cecily V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War, pp. 380, 385-386, 391
  15. Wedgwood, pp. 380, 390-391


Coordinates: 48°48′18″N10°29′34″E / 48.80500°N 10.49278°E / 48.80500; 10.49278