Name me a powerful and mighty ruler who, given the chance to cross the Rubicon, wouldn’t seize the moment and feel a sense of destiny. Wouldn’t it be nice to slog through the salty sea with determination, waves lapping against your legs, banner in hand, adjutants and retainers in tow, until you reach the shore and stab the flag into the sand claiming the territory by right of conquest? Conquerors from Alexander the Great to General McArthur have had the privilege. Likewise, the ambitious King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, armed with 5,000 troops and subsidized by French coffers, arrived on the Pomeranian coast in 1630, intent on protecting the Protestant faith from extinction and reaffirming the constitutional privileges of German princes. The King’s true intentions, not intended for public consumption, included more so the extension and consolidation of Swedish hegemony in the Baltic ports of Northern Germany.
The interconnection of politics and religion forms the long backdrop to the Thirty Years War. The Reformation of the 16th century shattered Latin Christendom forevermore, dividing up Germany into a patchwork quilt of Protestant and Catholic principalities. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) granted each prince the right to determine the faith of his realm. Cuius regio eius religio, which means “whose government, his religion,” became the slogan for this principle. One author has referred to the Peace of Augsburg as the “mother of modern [ethnic] cleansing.” That’s an exaggeration, but if someone didn’t submit to the faith of the land, they had to pick up and leave. Territorial churches emerged as an arm of the state to supervise the inculcation of Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed creeds. In what historians once referred to as “confessionalization,” the prince and his officials used religion to establish the realm’s territorial integrity and consolidate centralized power. We would be wrong to impose our modern, cynical sensibility and see the promotion of the faith as merely a means of governance—an “opiate of the masses.” Ruler and subject alike subscribed to these creeds in their heart of heart, albeit some were more devoted than others, and statesmen never let confessional issues dictate their diplomacy, to the chagrin of priests, chaplains and pastors. Political expedience and religious devotion went hand in hand.