The struggles that first Turenne and then Condé had to endure were frequently referred to. It really did sound that a really frustrating time; neither Bavaria nor France had enough resources to really be fighting each other; Bavaria because it was exhausted and France because it was so preoccupied elsewhere. Catalonia and Flanders decimated Spain's ability to mount an effective military offensive after 1642, yet it also ensured France was permanantly entrenched in these areas. Just like the Dutch would expend countless monies in Brazil, ultimately to lose it, the goal was not really to hold onto the region (at least in the case of the whole of Catalonia, Flanders was a different animal altogether) but to bleed one's enemy white as they scrambled to reclaim the area. The Dutch would use this strategy perfectly in their war against the Portuguese, who despite splitting from Spain remained at war with the Republic for another few decades. The fighting mainly involved Portugal trying to claw back what it had lost, while the Dutch fighting a withdrawing battle across the South American country.
Undoubtedly Franz von Mercy was someone Maximilian of Bavaria relied upon as the crucial link holding Bavaria's fortunes together. As we saw, Ferdinand III's reliance on Max was because of Spain's own weakness; the Austrian Habsburgs could no longer count the Spanish Habsburgs as their greatest military ally in Europe. But Ferdinand's increased reliance on Bavaria was too little too late. Despite von Mercy's skills, he was merely stemming the tide, but Bavaria could not hold back France alone. Ferdinand's wasting of Gallas' army in the Danish debacle and the seemingly reckless way in which he threw his last remaining forces at the French while Torstensson lay on the Danube show that Ferdy was on his very last legs too. These Imperial acts were the last gaps of a doomed war effort on the verge of being overcome by superior resources and exhaustion. What mattered was not total victory though, it was the degree to which you could apply your battlefield successes into the negotiations taking place in the Westphalian cities.
French occupation of the Rhine region also had dramatic implications for Spanish planning because the Spanish Road had once ran through all three of the above provinces that were now mostly in French hands. Spanish Netherlands was now totally cut off on land, and without the opportunity to resupply the soldiers in Flanders were in an almost impossible position.
But it wasn't just the French thrusts into Bavaria that made headlines. Torstensson's forays into Denmark had ended by late 1644 and he was coming home in a big way. First he eliminated what remained of Gallas' forces and then focused his attention on the Empire proper. By 5th March 1645 Torstensson destroyed what remained of the Habsburgs' military integrity in the Holy Roman Empire. After this battle there simply wasn't a force in place adequate to combat the Habsburgs' enemies, and the allies of the Habsburgs would soon realise this.
In the battle of Mergentheim the following May though, French forces were again bloodied by Franz von Mercy as they attempted to follow up on their ally's successes in the Empire. The French failures were translated in Max of Bavaria's hilarious backtracking on his offers towards the French plennies at the two cities, which as we saw last time at one stage included France taking Bavaria under its protection. France soon regained what it had lost though. The battering of both sides at the Second Battle of Nordlingen in August spelled the end of Bavarian fortunes because von Mercy died on the field. His death meant that Max no longer had, not only the forces, but also the mind to control them. As French forces took Nordlingen, he was informed of Ferdinand's plan to send essentially the homeguard of the Habsburg heartlands on a daring dash across to the French position, to take the region back and relieve the pressure. It was daring not only because Ferdy was sending out his last line of defense, but also because Torstensson lay on the Danube apparently in reach of Vienna.
Yet the strike on Vienna would not come. Cardinal Jules Mazarin suspected foul play, and rumours began to emerge that the Swedes had been bought out. Yet the simple fact was that the Swedes, like the French, were human, and were using the siege of Brno as much to rest up as they were to take it from the Habsburgs. The fact that they were able to swing towards the French and remove them from the field yet again, sending them running back to Philipsburg, must have been immensely frustrating to Mazarin, because just when it seemed like France was on the verge of the kind of supremacy enjoyed by Sweden, it lost an important battle and thus lost ground at the bargaining table. As if seeking to blame someone else for the sting felt by their own inconsistency, French statesmen began loudly claiming Swedish foul play, yet Mazarin eventually put the kibosh on these rumours, which only gained so much ground in the first place because, as we saw, the French thought the Swedes were angry at them anyway for their secret Bavarian dealings. The fact is that they were, but Axe Ox was not so annoyed that he was simultaneously stupid; he knew Sweden had gained immeasurably since the French entry onto his side, he wasn't about to ruin the partnership now.
Nothing at the beginning of 1646 appeared certain, yet there was the certainty that Europe could not continue in its current state of war for much longer. The French nobility expected (accurately as it turned out) rebellion within the year, and the Swedes and Dutch all appeared to have their own agendas at the conference table that had to be made compatible with France so as to ensure the continuation of the working triple alliance. The Habsburgs were holding on, but at this stage it remained the goal of Ferdinand to acquire the best deal possible, with his trusty negotiator Trautmasdorff present in the two cities, while having to lose as little as possible. As we saw though, with the newly resurgent Ottoman threat, the loss of Saxony and the slow withdrawal of Bavaria, Ferdinand had begun to realise that in order to save his Empire, he must lose it first.
We'll see how all involved get involved next time, in episodes 25.96 and .98, due soon!
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