This week, we take a look at one of the great generals of the Thirty Years War – the fanatically religious Father Tilly!
Johann Tserclaes was born in February 1559 to a devoutly Catholic Walloon family at Castle Tilly, Spanish Netherlands, in what is now Belgium. In his youth, he was raised with a deep-seated hatred of Protestantism as the Dutch revolt scarred his homeland. The hatred was reinforced by a Jesuit dominated education in Cologne. His devout faith was never to leave Tilly, and he was to become known as the ‘Monk in Armour’.
Sculpted by Matthew Bickley, this fantastic model bursts with personality. Tilly is shown advancing alongside his men, bible held aloft to illustrate the divine power that supports his cause. This striking pose also helps you pick him out on chaotic battlefields.
Naturally, for a Catholic Walloon noble, he joined the Spanish army when he was 15 and fought against the Dutch and was present at the successful siege of Antwerp in the ongoing 80 Years War. In 1594 Tilly joined the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, in the ‘Long War’ against the Ottoman Turks in Hungary and Transylvania.
Due to his part in the capture of Stuhlweissenburg in 1601, he gained the rank of Major General, shortly after he bought the colonelcy of a Walloon regiment and in 1604 was made General of Cavalry. By 1605 his meteoric rise was complete, and he was made Field Marshal of the Catholic League forces.
In 1601 Tilly was employed by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (the future Elector, Maximilian II) to command all Bavarian Catholic League forces. He showed his brilliance in military organisation by transforming this rabble into a professional force. In 1620 he led his army to a crushing victory over Bohemian rebels at White Mountain.
By 1622 he had formed a very strong double team with the Spanish general Gonzales de Cordoba and over the next two years won a string of victories against both Christian the Younger of Brunswick and the Margrave of Baden-Durlach.
Father Tilly in Pike & Shotte
Command Rating: 9
Father Tilly: Tilly was renowned for the care he took in looking after his soldiers and they repaid this with their loyalty. Any unit within 12″ of Tilly may re-roll any break test they are required to make.
After the successful battle of Hochst, he was made a Count. His victory at Stadtlohn, arguably the highpoint in his career, saw the surrender of Bohemia, a collapse of Protestant resistance in Germany and brought to a
close the ‘Palatinate phase’ of the Thirty Years War. It was during this period that Count Tilly became known as ‘Father Tilly’ to his soldiers. Although a traditionalist, rather than an innovator, he would use tactics to get the most out of his resources and made sure his men were taken care of (and heard the word of God).
This was not to stop the rampant pillaging that took place from his forces, however, and this was to have
serious repercussions on his reputation. In 1626 the Catholic League was at war with the Danes, and
more victories came at the siege of Munden and the decisive Battle of Lutter which forced the Danish King, Christian IV, to sue for peace.
However, Tilly’s rivalry with the other preeminent Catholic leader, Wallenstein, was beginning to take its toll. His army was starting to be drained away as Wallenstein offered to pay his soldiers more and supplies were being withheld. It was these circumstances that contributed to the most infamous action of the Count’s career. The siege of Magdeburg had dragged on through 1631 and the eventual sacking of the town was brutal.
Frustrated and close to starving, the furious soldiers rampaged through the town slaughtering 20,000 civilians. These soldiers were the Catholic forces of Tilly and Pappenheim, and this act led to a galvanising of
Protestant resistance and damaged Tilly’s reputation across Europe.
The new Protestant resurgence was led by Gustav Adolf, the dynamic Swedish king, and the Catholic forces were put on the defensive. Battle was joined at Breitenfeld in September 1631, where Tilly’s force was decisively beaten by the Swedes. Too late, Tilly was to receive reinforcements and supplies, but the Swedish army was rampant.
In early 1632 Count Tilly attempted to stop the Swedish army at the Battle of Lech but was wounded by a cannonball and forced to retreat. ‘Father Tilly’ died of tetanus 15 days later on 30th April 1632 at the age of 73.
Refight the great battles of the 30 Years War with the Devil’s Playground supplement for Pike & Shotte!