1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 27

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 27


May, 1636

The sudden blood of these men

Chapter 13

Lower Silesia, near Boleslawiec

By the time he got to the outskirts of Boleslawiec — or Bunzlau, as the town’s mostly German inhabitants called it — Jozef Wojtowicz was in a quiet rage. Once he’d gotten beyond Görlitz, which marked the easternmost outpost of Saxony, the area he was passing through had quickly come to resemble a war zone — and a very recent war, at that.

What infuriated him was that the destruction had not been caused by Poland’s enemies but by soldiers who were officially employed by King Wladyslaw to protect the area. That would be the army commanded by Heinrich Holk, a man who had one of the worst reputations of any mercenary in Europe — which was saying a lot, given how low that bar had been set by now.

Holk had been employed by the Elector of Saxony, John George, right up until the moment that Gustav Adolf invaded Saxony and John George had need of his services. At that point — he might have taken ten minutes to decide, but probably less — Holk immediately fled across the border into Lower Silesia and offered his services to the king of Poland.

Who, for reasons known only to himself and God, had chosen to accept them. Jozef’s best guess — which did not mollify his anger in the least — was that Wladyslaw had been preoccupied with the threat that Gustav Adolf posed to Poland and had no troops he was prepared to send into Silesia to deal with Holk. So, he hired him instead. In essence, he bribed Holk to leave him alone.

The up-timers had a term for this sort of arrangement. They called it a “protection racket.” Which wouldn’t perhaps have been so bad if Holk had been an honest criminal and satisfied himself with the bribe. Instead, he’d made no effort to keep his soldiers under control and they’d set about plundering the countryside.

And that was another thing which enraged Jozef. Silesia was a borderland between the Germanies and the Slavic nations, and had been for centuries. At one time or another Silesia or parts of it had been under the control of Poland, Bohemia and Austria. Its inhabitants were a mix of Germans, Czechs and Poles. The rough rule of thumb which held generally through most of the region was that the towns and cities were heavily German, sometimes with a Czech and/or Jewish element, and the countryside was mostly Polish.

The largest city in Silesia was Wroclaw, known to its mostly-German inhabitants as Breslau. By 1518, the city had joined the Protestant Reformation but a few years later, in 1526, it came under the control of the Catholic Austrian Habsburgs. Until the Bohemian revolt of 1618, however, the Habsburgs had allowed a considerable degree of religious freedom. Thereafter, Ferdinand II had imposed his harshly Catholic policies over the area, although the brunt of those policies had initially been borne by Bohemia more than Silesia.

The war itself — what the up-time histories called the Thirty Years War — didn’t reach Silesia until 1629, when it was invaded by a Protestant army under the command of the German mercenary Ernst von Mansfeld. In response, the Austrians sent their mercenary commander Albrecht von Wallenstein to drive Mansfeld out, which he did — and followed by imposing his own harsh rule.

And then, just five years later, Wallenstein himself rebelled against the Habsburgs and restored Bohemia’s independence with himself as the new king. At the same time, he laid claim to all of Silesia — but that had been mostly a gesture, since the Polish monarchy seized Lower Silesia and Wallenstein was too pre-occupied with the Austrian attempts to restore Habsburg rule to pay much attention. All he really cared about was Upper Silesia, anyway, which was still largely under his control.

And there things stood. Most of the peasants were Polish Catholics, who lived in reasonable amity with the inhabitants of the towns and cities, who were mostly German Lutherans. Both Poland and Bohemia claimed to rule Silesia, but the Bohemians made no attempt to enforce their claim except in some immediate border areas and the Polish claim was enforced by a German mercenary thug whose real allegiance was to lucre and liquor.

As stinky situations went in the already quite smelly continent of Europe, Silesia was a veritable cesspool.

The worst of it was born by the Polish peasants. The German towns and cities generally governed themselves and had sizeable militias at their disposal. Jozef thought Holk’s army was large enough and strong enough that it could have overrun any of the cities of Silesia except possibly Breslau — but only at a significant cost. That was the sort of cost in blood and treasure that even very competent mercenary commanders tried to avoid. Holk and his men satisfied themselves by extorting bribes from the towns to leave them alone and periodically ravaging the villages.


As he passed through one small and deserted village, Jozef’s angry musings were interrupted by an odd little sound. Turning quickly in his saddle, he saw a small foot vanish around the corner of a house — not much more than a shed, really — that hadn’t been as badly damaged as most of the village’s buildings.

That had been a child’s foot. He got off his horse, tied it to a nearby post, and went to investigate.

Coming around the corner, he saw the foot again — the foot and most of the leg — sliding under a pile of debris that looked to be the burned remains of another shed.

“Come out, child,” he said in Polish. “I won’t hurt you.”

Moving slowly, making sure to keep his hands outstretched a bit so the child could see that he held no weapons, he advanced on the shattered and burned wreckage.

As he got close, he heard a little whimpering sound. He leaned over and — carefully, he didn’t want to dislodge a pile of wooden slats to fall on whoever was hiding there — lifted the largest of the intact boards and peered beneath.

Looking up at him, their faces full of fear, were two small children. A boy and a girl. The boy was perhaps six years old, the girl no more than four. From the mutual resemblance, he was pretty sure they were brother and sister.

“Where is your family?” he asked.

The children stared up at him, mute and silent.

He moved the board entirely aside. “Come out, children. I won’t hurt you, and you must be hungry. I have some food.”

He glanced around the village square — such as it was, which wasn’t much — and saw there was no well. “And water,” he added. There was stream fifty yards away which the village had probably used as its water supply. But the children would have been too frightened to leave their hiding place except at night — and possibly not even then.


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7 Responses to 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 27

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    “by soldiers who were officially employed by King Wladyslaw to protect the area…

    …Holk immediately fled across the border into Lower Silesia and offered his services to the king of Poland.

    Who, for reasons known only to himself and God, had chosen to accept them….”

    Wow-wow-wow! By the *king*? This means the Sejm coughed up the dough for that. But… why?

    If you allow me a 5-minute tinfoil hat conspiracy theorizing, I’d say it’s been done deliberately by magnates. In the OTL in years prior to the Grand Design of Wladyslaw , i.e. his ambitious future war with Crimean Khanate and Turkey (which never came to life), he also spent absolutely humungous sums of money from Sejm, Venice and his own wife to hire German mercs. That was in 1646, mercs were quartered in Polish Silesia and their behavior was less than gallant. In the end, Sejm became too agitated over the issued demanded that the illegal migrant mercs would be punished and expelled from the PLC and that for his attempted “tyranny” king Wladyslaw would have the number of troops allowed to kept by him constantly reduced from 4000 to 1200. Very wise and clever move, panowie! It’s not like, there would be a Cossack rebellion in a couple of years afterwards to bite you back in the ass, right?

    Another thing that Jozef in his thought exposition totally forgets to mention was that Silesia was a two-way gate between the PLC and Germanies. Enter Lisovchiki. At first Ferdinand II employed them to “defend” Moravia from the Transylvanian prince Betlen Gabor. Such first experience probably made Habsburgs wish they’d employed someone else. Unfortunately for them they needed any mercs badly so in 1625 they issued the official call for more Cossacks. Not waiting any kind of official response from then PLC king Sigismund III Vasa about 30 000 of non-roster Cossacks rushed (plundering and pillaging as usual) to Silesia and keeping doing pretty much the same there and abroad. King Siggy issues some pro-forma noises about “muh subjects defying muh will!”, but was actually really happy about that. At that time the chair of Wroclaw’s bishop’s chair became vacant, so using bribes and the fact that an awful lot of Cossacks was still there he placed his own (13 y.o.) son as the new bishop of Wroclaw. All in the name to get rid of them – and quick.

    Afterwards Cossacks were officially employed – 6000 went north to fight against Mansfield, 5000 joined Pappenheim in his Italian campaign and the rest either wandered off or remained in Silesia. So, even before Holk’s arrival the place was pretty much one big post-apocalyptic FUBAR.

  2. Greg Noel says:

    At the risk of igniting the same debate that’s going on over in 1636: The Wars for the Rhine, shouldn’t King Wladyslaw’s be spelled ‘Władysław’? If so, shouldn’t all the Polish words be spelled correctly? (I have no Polish; the only reason I happened to recognize this is that I recently encountered ‘Władysław’ in a different context.)

    Whatever is decided about how to spell non-English words, it should be consistent across all of the 1632-verse.

    • Henrik Sørensen says:

      “Should”: Some hope!
      Transcribing the German umlauts have been wildly erratic in every single book and Gazette. Sometimes ä, sometimes ae. Sometimes ö, sometimes oe. Sometimes ü, and sometimes ue. There have been no constistency at all. I suspect it depends entirely on where the writer (be it Eric or anybody else) first encountered the word.

      • John Cowan says:

        Yes, but that’s allowed officially in German. Germans themselves spell their preeminent poet’s name “Goethe”, not “Göthe”. Writing “l” instead of “ł” in Polish is as illiterate as writing “tunder” instead of “thunder” in English (or, obviously, “Sorensen” instead of “Sørensen).

        But that’s Polish. When writing in English, we normally use the English names for things and people, and the English name for this particular king is Ladislaus (from his Latin name, Latin being an official language of the Commonwealth at the time). So you could use that.

        • Greg Noel says:

          (And here I þought it was spelled ‘þunder’!)

          I’d choose ‘Ladislaus’ over ‘Wladyslaw’, but my preference is still ‘Władysław’.

          (For those without the character set to display it, ‘þ’ is the Old English letter ‘thorn’, which turned into ‘th’ in modern English.)

          • Cobbler says:

            Some English printers replaced the thorn with the Y. Which gave us Ye instead of The. E.G. “Ye Old Computer Shop”

        • Andy says:

          The German I’ve seen in this series is so bad that I don’t really notice “inconsistency” in transcribing the umlauts.

          I think Goethe is spelled the way it is because this was how he wrote his own name, and in general, spelling was less consistent back then.

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