The general took astrology very seriously, even delaying a battle due to the stars
Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, one of the most significant generals of the Thirty Years’ War, had a strong belief in astrology, and that may have been his downfall. After gleaning much military success, as was predicted for him, he died at almost the exact time that had been foretold.
Wallenstein, known in Czech as Albrecht Václav Eusebius z Valdštejna, has left a big impression on Prague. His former palace is now the Senate building, and its statue-filled garden is a public park that features an original dripstone wall, complete with mysterious devil faces and an entire owlery (nowadays inhabited by eagle owls). His riding school is part of the National Gallery and a street is named after him.
The Tarot of Prague features several cards with references to Wallenstein, including The Knight of Swords that shows Wallenstein himself on his warhorse.
He was famously assassinated in Cheb (also called Eger) in the Karlovy Vary Region, and the room where it happened is now preserved and part of the local museum. Even his stuffed horse is on display.
Wallenstein had his horoscopes done by at least two leading astrologers of the time, Johannes Kepler and Giovanni Battista Seni. The latter is sometimes referred to as Zeno.
The National Museum in Prague has book-length horoscopes that Wallenstein had made covering events for every day from 1628 to 1638. The author is unclear, but it definitely was not Kepler, as it does not match his chart style. Seni has not been ruled out but also is not confirmed.
The book, found in the library of Kopidlno Castle (about 80km from Prague), is the most extensive horoscope of its type for the time it was made. The last four years were superfluous, though. Wallenstein died in 1634.
The general’s belief in astrology is well-documented. “Wallenstein … undertook no important work without first consulting Seni, his astrologer,” says the opening chapter of the 1901 book Practical Astrology: A Simple Method to Casting Horoscopes. The author of the illustrated pulp book was Comte C. de Saint-Germain, a pseudonym for an author (or authors) of similar books on palmistry and hypnotism.
In 1871, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine recounted Wallenstein’s fascination with horoscopes in detail. The piece by author S.S. Conant does a good job of setting the stage. “Prince, priest, and peasant — the most exalted and learned, as well as the most humble and ignorant — alike felt the influence of the superstition. No one could rest easy until he had learned what the stars had to say respecting the course of his life … and it was very common, even as late as the seventeenth century, to consult the stars before commencing an important enterprise,” Conant states, going into detail but with a skeptical eye.
Oddly, while Conant criticizes people for believing in astrology, the very same magazine had a horoscope section with predictions for its readers.
Conant adds that Wallenstein often wore a representation of his star chart over his chest. A sketch of the amulet was included with the article. “It is an exquisite piece of curious workmanship. The planets are represented on glass. The Lion, Wallenstein’s birth-sign, is a gilded wood carving. The rim and the four rings are of pure gold,” Conant states.
When Emperor Ferdinand II sent an envoy to ask Wallenstein to take command of the army for a second time, after having been sacked, Wallenstein showed the envoy his astrological charts. “By these I knew of your coming and your errand, and know also that my star dominates that of the emperor, so that I shall never have cause to be dissatisfied with him,” he said, according to the Harper’s New Monthly account.
Wallenstein’s horoscopes led him to many years of good fortune in the field. “So implicit was his confidence that in 1632 he avoided giving battle to the forces of Gustavus Adolphus until November, because Seni had predicted misfortunes for the Swedish king in that month. The prediction was only half verified. Gustavus was mortally wounded in the battle, but his army gained a decisive victory over the forces of Wallenstein,” Conant states.
The 1632 battle was the focus of another prediction. Saint-Germain in his book offers as proof of the validity of astrology a prediction Tycho Brahe made after a comet in 1577. Brahe said that a prince would be born in Finland who would lay waste to Germany and vanish in 1632. “Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, was born in Finland, overran Germany and … was killed, in 1632, in the battle of Luetzen,” Saint-Germain states.
A closer analysis of the facts shows that Swedish King Gustav II Adolf wasn’t born until 1594 in Stockholm, not 1577 in Finland. Saint-Germain, to create some mystery, adds that his body was never found, which is not true, though it was missing on the battlefield for a while as the riderless horse ran around. The battle is known for its thick fog.
The name that comes up most often in relation to Wallenstein’s horoscopes is Johannes Kepler, who made a chart for the general in 1608 and revised it in 1625. Kepler was the astronomer who actually worked out how planets revolved around the sun.
The Associated Press acknowledges Kepler’s dabbling in astrology. “Though Kepler’s fame grew from his discoveries and his position as the imperial mathematician to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, he had another, less well-known calling. He was also astrologer to Albrecht Wallenstein, the Bohemian general who was commander of the imperial armies in the Thirty Years’ War,” the news agency said in 1999, quoting a modern expert who said Kepler “was very much of a mystic, with one foot in medieval times and one foot in the scientific method.”
Kepler himself in his treatise Harmonics Mundi said: “The soul of the newly born baby is marked for life by the pattern of the stars at the moment it comes into the world, unconsciously remembers it, and remains sensitive to the return of configurations of a similar kind.”
He also said that by understanding the workings of the cosmos, people were understanding the thoughts of God.
Through an intermediary, Wallenstein first asked Kepler to do his horoscope in 1608. While this was intended to be anonymous, it seems Kepler guessed whom it was for. Kepler described the subject as an “alert, quick and industrious” man who has a “great thirst for glory and strives for temporal honors and power, by which he would make a great many dangerous, public and concealed enemies for himself but mostly he would overcome and conquer these.”
Kepler’s horoscope is often credited with predicting Wallenstein’s death down to the very month it happened.
What seems to have happened is that Kepler provided more horoscopes or raw horoscope data but would not make any predictions for or after March 1634. He said the date “will entail a terrible confusion in the country that will affect him.”
Wallenstein was killed by assassins on February 25, 1634. He apparently did not defend himself. By some accounts, he ripped open his shirt for the assassin’s halberd, as March was just days away.
Many have asked whether the prediction was self-fulfilling. Since he knew that tragedy awaited him at the start of 1634, he did not fight back. Without the horoscope, the outcome might have been different.
Kepler was reluctant to provide too many horoscopes for powerful people, as there could be serious repercussions for errors. Some historians have suggested that Kepler, after his initial chart, gave Wallenstein star and planet locations for others like Seni to interpret with predictions.
The horoscope book in the National Library collection, though, continues for four more years after 1634. Whether or not Wallenstein really thought that March 1634 was the end or thought he had more time will never be known. Once the story circulated that the prediction had been fulfilled there was no stopping it.
Many people have written historical books and novels about Albrecht von Wallenstein. There is a play by Calderón de la Barca’s called El Prodigio de Alemania and a trilogy of plays by Friedrich Schiller. Bedřich Smetana composed an 1859 symphonic poem called Wallenstein’s Camp.
Summing up the life of this larger than life figure in a few paragraphs is not easy.
Born in 1583, Wallenstein came from a noble Protestant family and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1606. Soon after, he married a wealthy Bohemian widow who died in 1614, leaving him a lot of land and money. Wallenstein then started a military career on the side of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, fighting for the Catholics against the Protestant Bohemian revolt in 1618. He got more land after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, a definite loss for Czech Protestants.
He had the title Count Palatine and the rank of generalissimo.
The general saw a series of victories, but Ferdinand II became concerned over his ambition and sacked him in 1630. The emperor called him back after some defeats. Even though he managed to kill King Gustav II Adolf in 1632, the battle was another loss and a setback.
Wallenstein was unhappy with Emperor Ferdinand II, and began secretly contacting the Protestants about switching sides, at least that is the story as it comes down to us.
He was assassinated with the emperor’s approval at Cheb in Northern Bohemia by Irish and Scottish officers. The emperor wanted him taken dead or alive; the assassins knew Wallenstein was a clever opponent, so they opted for dead.
There was some fighting between Wallenstein’s guards and the assassins’ forces before Irish Captain Walter Devereux and his crew broke into the mayor’s house at the main square and kicked open the bedroom door. Devereux killed the unarmed Wallenstein, who had been sleeping, by stabbing him with a halberd. There are various accounts, but most agree that he did not fight back and likely asked to be taken alive as he was unarmed.
Wallenstein had a complex relationship with Kepler, and tried to use the astrologer as a means of showing he was a patron of the arts as well as a military man. He tried to get Kepler to move to the German city of Rostock to teach at the university there.
While Kepler had been in Prague under Emperor Rudolf II and worked without problem, conditions had tightened by the reign of Ferdinand II. Now, the new emperor wanted him to convert to Catholicism if he was going to be part of the court.
A loophole let Kepler be based in some of Wallenstein’s lands in Silesia, near Poland, where Catholics and Protestants co-existed. From 1628, Kepler had a house there and access to a printing press, as well as a salary.
He also used Wallenstein to help him collect money that was owed to him by the emperor. He received a salary from the emperor, but in the form of a warrant for money that he had to collect himself from various towns. Many towns refused to pay if they thought they could get away with it.
Kepler was unhappy during his stint in Silesia, and tensions between Protestants and Catholics began to flare up there as well. He died in Regensberg, Germany, in 1630, and never saw his prediction about Wallenstein come true.
Main image: Wallenstein with his astrologer Seni, unknown artist, 19th century. Wikimedia commons / public domain