1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tilly, Johann Tzerclaes, Count of
TILLY, JOHANN TZERCLAES, Count of (1559-1632), general of the Catholic League in the Thirty Years' War, was born in 1559 at the chateau of Tilly in Brabant. He was destined for the priesthood and received a strict Jesuit education. But, preferring the career of a soldier, he entered a Spanish foot regiment about 1574 as a volunteer, and in the course of several campaigns rose to the command of a company. This being reduced, he again became a simple pikeman, and as such he took part in the famous siege of Antwerp by Parma, whose army afforded the best training in the art of war then obtainable. He distinguished himself by his bravery, and the duke of Lorraine gave him the governorship of Dun and Villefranche, which he held from 1590 to 1594. Henry IV. made tempting offers, which were refused, to induce him to enter the service of France. Somewhat later he left the Spanish service for that of Austria to fight against the Turks. In 1602 he became colonel in the imperial army, and raised a regiment of Walloon infantry, which he commanded in the assault on Budapest, receiving a severe wound. In 1604 he was made general of artillery, and handled his new force with conspicuous success; the campaign of this year showed Tilly as a soldier of great capacity, and in 1605 he was made a field-marshal. His part in the dissensions in Austria, which preluded the Thirty Years War, was marked by unswerving loyalty and devotion to the emperor and the Catholic religion. In 1610 he left the service of the emperor to enter that of Maximilian, duke of Bavaria, the head of the Catholic League. It was not, however, until 1620 that he became lieutenant-general to Maximilian and commander-in-chief of the field forces.
With the great victory of the Weisser Berg near Prague (1620) the new army and its leader became celebrated throughout Germany, and the long and weary campaigns against Christian, Mansfeld and the Protestant princes of the north-west established their reputation. The chief battles were Wimpfen (1622), Stadtlohn (1623), Wiesloch (1622), Höchst (1622), the last being a great victory for the Catholic forces, and winning for Tilly the title of count, which was given by the emperor himself (1622). The military operations of the Thirty Years' War will be found described under that heading. With the intervention of the king of Denmark, the struggle entered upon a new phase, and on the imperial side a new army, that of Wallenstein, appeared on the scene, though it was the army of the League which won the great success of the war at Lutter-am-Barenberge (1626). Throughout these arduous campaigns Tilly had other than military difficulties with which to contend. The military superiority of his veterans, trained as they were to his own ideal of “a ragged soldier and a bright musket,” may be held to explain his victories over superior numbers, but the energy which he displayed in the midst of political difficulties was not less conspicuous than his leadership and strategy. On two occasions, at least, he was thwarted by orders from the League; once the Protestants were allowed to escape into Holland, once the army of Wallenstein was left to its own resources in the presence of the enemy. That the League achieved the successes which it actually did, was to the credit of Tilly and his men rather than to any action of the allied princes. It may be that Tilly cannot be considered as great a soldier as Wallenstein; it should, however, be borne in mind that the League army never possessed the prestige of an imperial force: that Tilly was repeatedly thwarted by political considerations, and that, even so, the hardest part of the task was achieved by the League army.
The defeat of King Christian was soon followed by the intervention of Gustavus Adolphus, a great captain at the head of the finest troops in Europe. But Tilly was the best general of the old school; the League troops were trained after the Spanish model, and the opening stages of the campaign did not display any marked superiority of the Swedes. At this time Tilly was commander of the imperial forces as well as of his own army. The first great contest was for the possession of Magdeburg (1631). After one of the fiercest struggles of the war the town was taken by storm on the 20th of May, and the sack which followed was accompanied with every sort of atrocity. For this the old general has been held responsible, yet it was rather the magnitude of the catastrophe than its special cruelties which made it the most striking example of military barbarity in modern history. Tilly's personal exertions saved the cathedral and other religious buildings from pillage and fire. Four months later Tilly and Gustavus, the representatives of the old and the new art of war, met in the battle of Breitenfeld (q.v.). The victory of Gustavus was complete, though the imperial general, severely wounded as he was, managed to draw off his men in good order. A few more months of campaigning brought the two armies to the Lech, where Gustavus was again victorious, and Tilly received a mortal wound. He died on the 30th of April 1632, in Ingolstadt, and was buried in the church at Altenötting in Bavaria.