Archive for July 23rd, 2013

1635: Hans Ulrich Schaffgotsch, man in the middle

Add comment July 23rd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1635,* the German aristocrat and general Hans Ulrich [von] Schaffgotsch lost his head in Regensburg.

Schaffgotsch (German Wikipedia entry: most information about him online is in German) would have appeared to have won the birthright lottery. Sure, he was no king, but being born to a hereditary Silesian baron of distinguished blue-blood lineage, and being dynastically married to a princess, put him squarely within the 1 percent’s 1 percent.**

Schaffgotsch caught one very bad break: he was born to come of age during the Thirty Years’ War.

The Schaffgotsch family had different branches going, but Hans Ulrich’s was Protestant — and this was also the predominant faith in early 17th century Silesia. (It adhered to the unsuccessful Bohemian Revolt.)

Doctrinal differences aside, Schaffgotsch had favorable terms from the Catholic emperor. He also made himself good friends with a fantastically wealthy duke named Albrecht von Wallenstein. Wallenstein was a little shaky on the religion question himself; he’d been raised Protestant and converted to Catholicism for unknown reasons.

When the Thirty Years’ War came calling again late in the 1620s, Wallenstein used his capacious wealth to field a large army in service of Ferdinand, and Schaffgotsch went right along as the generalissimo’s able adjutant. But Ferdinand, who was short on both cash and troops to call his own, soon came to fear this capable general upon whom he overmuch depended. When the opportunity arose, the sovereign abruptly relieved Wallenstein of command in 1630 — only to have to reinstate him in 1632† when his replacement got killed.

It turns out Ferdinand did have good cause for suspicion. Wallenstein was dissatisfied with the emperor’s treatment as well, and covertly treated with the Protestant league to switch sides or overthrow the emperor and rule in Bohemia. The detection of these plans in Vienna led Ferdinand to have Wallenstein judged by a secret court, then assassinated in 1634.‡

As his aide, Schaffgotsch too was soon dealt with. Unlike the dangerous Wallenstein, Schaffgotsch was a small enough target to arrest and prosecute in the conventional way — which happened in 1635. Schaffgotsch obstinately refused under torture to admit any involvement in treason, but he was condemned to death all the same.

The Silesian aristocrat might have felt hard done by, but he relieved some annoyance with an old-fashioned shopping spree. Schaffgotsch went out in style (German link) by plumping for black drapings for the scaffold, ordering a custom coffin, doing up all his servants in black mourning garb, and bribing the executioner of Regensburg to behead him seated in a chair. (The lord rooted himself so firmly in his seat that his head flew off at the sword’s stroke without his body toppling over.)

Afterwards, Schaffgotsch’s body was laid out for last respects for two days in Regensburg Blauen Krebs inn, which still exists to this day. (And has the story on its website.)

* Gregorian date. With Catholic and Protestant powers both going at it, dating gets confusing in this period; it would have been July 13 per the Julian calendar still in use by most Protestants, and this date is also sometimes attributed.

** Click here for some appealing views of Kynast (Chojnik), one of Schaffgotsch’s castles.

† Wallenstein commanded Habsburg forces at the Battle of Lutzen in November 1632, where Sweden’s King Gustavus Adolphus was killed.

‡ Wallenstein’s treachery and death are the topic of Schiller’s play Wallenstein.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Habsburg Realm,History,Nobility,Poland,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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