Johann Ludwig von Erlach

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Johann Ludwig von Erlach as Lieutenant General in French service, around 1650
From Erlach's grave in the Schinznach-Dorf church

Johann Ludwig von Erlach (born October 30, 1595 in Bern , † January 26, 1650 in Breisach ) was a Swiss Protestant mercenary leader , warlord and officer of alternating employers during the Thirty Years' War .


Johann Ludwig von Erlach was born on October 30, 1595 as the son of the Bernese bailiff Rudolf von Erlach von Morges and his wife Katharina von Mülinen in Bern. In 1627 he married Margaretha von Erlach, a daughter of Ulrich von Erlach. He left Kasteln Castle , which he had rebuilt in 1643, to his three daughters. Catharina Susanna married the baron Johann Caspar von Dörringenberg from Hessen-Kassel, Maria Johanna married the Swedish colonel Axel von Taupadel and Johanna Louisa married the Swabian baron Friedrich von Stain. Sigmund von Erlach was a nephew of Johann Ludwig von Erlach.

Vocational training

After attending school in Geneva from 1608 to 1611, Johann Ludwig von Erlach became Page Christians of Anhalt .

Between 1620 and 1626 he gradually entered service as an officer in Anhalt, Brandenburg, Brunswick and Swedish. In 1620 he was wounded and taken prisoner in the battle of the White Mountains . After his ransom he took part in campaigns in Hungary , Germany and Flanders under the Margrave of Brandenburg-Jägerndorf and Christian von Braunschweig . In 1623 he entered the service of Gustav Adolf of Sweden , who sent him as Quartermaster General to Lithuania and Livonia , after he had previously demolished the Heilig Geist chapel and the hospital in Wildeshausen with his troops as a Braunschweig lieutenant colonel .

In the service of Bern

After his return to Bern, Johann Ludwig von Erlach was accepted into the Grand Council . In 1628 he was in charge of drafting the Bern army reform. In 1629, as a member of the Small Council , he wrote the first Federal Defensionale and in April 1630 participated as a colonel at the behest of the Diet in the siege of Casale in Piedmont by the French. In 1633 Johann Ludwig von Erlach was appointed as Colonel in command of the Bernese Aargau, a position of responsibility as the Swedes had broken into the neighboring Upper Rhine region and Alsace. According to the resolutions of the Diet, he was bound to neutrality. From October 1637, however, he always openly supported Bernhard von Weimar , whom he advised to attack the forest towns in the western part of Austria via the area of ​​the diocese of Basel. Johann Ludwig von Erlach supported Bernhard von Weimar's offensive against the four forest cities in January 1638 with reconnaissance, logistics and supplies. The capture of the Bernese colonel - from an Austrian perspective a combatant - on February 28, 1638 near Beuggen in the battle of Rheinfelden turned into a scandal . Johann Ludwig von Erlach was initially taken into custody in the Rheinfelden Fortress, but was released on March 22nd after Rheinfeld's surrender. After his justification to the Diet failed, his request for release was granted.

In the service of Bernhard von Weimar

In the summer of 1638 Johann Ludwig von Erlach entered the Swedish-Weimar service with the rank of major general . Bernhard von Weimar commissioned him to continue the siege of Breisach , whose commander Hans Heinrich von Reinach surrendered on December 17, 1638 after heavy casualties among the civilian population. Immediately thereafter, Bernhard von Weimar appointed von Erlach city governor.

In this position he quickly succeeded in assuming the role of a primus among the four Weimar generals. The dying Bernhard von Weimar appointed Ludwig von Erlach to execute his will in Neuenburg am Rhein and put him and three co-directors at the head of the troops. Contrary to the last decree of Bernhard von Weimar to hand over the conquered areas on the Upper Rhine to one of his brothers, Hans Ludwig von Erlach immediately entered into negotiations with Cardinal Richelieu .

In the service of France

Johann Ludwig von Erlach received a high gratuity for handing over the occupied territories to France, which, depending on the source, should have been up to 300,000 francs. He was also confirmed as governor of Breisach and the conquered Upper Austrian territories. He received the supreme command of the Swedish-Weimar troops and also the French nationality. However, Richelieu placed the Baron von d'Oisonville, a nephew of Minister Desnoyers, at his side as the king's lieutenant in the French regiments. After a decree by the king, Erlach had to give priority to the baron in 1641. With the funds he had gained, von Erlach had his property rebuilt Kasteln Castle near Schinznach from 1643 with magnificent furnishings and acquired a palace in the Basel suburb.

Erlach and d'Oisonville mostly operated in different regions. A vote on important points can, however, be accepted. In the spring of 1643, d'Oisonville stood in Mittelbaden and, according to contemporary sources, left heavy damage to the looted places and villages, including Gernsbach and Oberkirch.

Johann Ludwig von Erlach cooperated since 1638 with the former Württemberg commander and warlord of the Hohentwiel Fortress, Konrad Widerholt , with whom he attacked and plundered Überlingen and Tuttlingen in 1643 . The term Erlach rider became a synonym for bandit.

The collaboration with d'Oisonville turned out to be increasingly difficult. In March 1644, the French soldiers mutinied because d'Oisonville had embezzled funds for the salary and maintenance of the military facilities. Erlach's position improved in the mid-1640s. D'Oisonville was finally recalled after the fall of his uncle.

In 1647 Erlach's position was further strengthened by the fact that he rose to the highest ranking lieutenant general under the command of Turenne , although he was not on the best of terms with Turenne. As commander of the auxiliary troops, his intervention helped Condé near Lens on August 20, 1648 to victory.

A portrait made between 1647 and 1650 shows Erlach as Lieutenant General with the French command staff. Erlach was not, however, as is often rumored, appointed Marshal of France shortly before his death.

Erlach's influence on the peace negotiations in Osnabrück and Münster

Johann Ludwig von Erlach asserted his influence in Paris with repeated memoranda during the ongoing peace negotiations in Munster and Osnabrück. It initially aimed at annexing Alsace and the High Rhine Valley with the forest cities permanently to France. In doing so, he opposed the interests of the city of Basel , which in turn expressed an interest in the forest towns on the left bank of the Rhine and the Fricktal . Erlach's most important adversary on the Habsburg side, Baron Isaak Volmar von Rieden , on the other hand, had the task of restoring the pre-war borders.

Erlach already had close economic contact with Johann Rudolf Wettstein during his time as chief guild master. Wettstein succeeded in getting Erlach to trust and consent from 1646 onwards. From this point on, Erlach used his influence and connections in Paris to strengthen Wettstein's position in Münster and Osnabrück.

Sickness, death and burial

Erlach fell seriously ill at the end of 1649. Even a cure in the Griesbach Sauerbrunnen did not lead to any improvement. Johann Ludwig Erlach died on January 26th in Breisach. The body was transferred to its seat in Kasteln . During his lifetime he had a burial chapel built at the Reformed Church in Schinznach , his local church. A large and richly decorated epitaph tells the story of his life.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Gustav Schwab : Switzerland in its knight castles and mountain castles historically depicted by writers from the fatherland . Volume 3, Dalp, Bern, Chur and Leipzig, 1839, p. 196. ( Google Books )
  2. Der Schweizerische Geschichtsforscher, Volume 12, C. Kässer., 1844, p. 94
  3. Anton von Tillier, Friedrich A. Grauff: History of the Federal Free State of Bern from its origin [...] . Volume 4, Fischer, Bern 1838, p. 73
  4. Anton von Tillier, Friedrich A. Grauff: History of the Federal Free State of Bern from its origin [...] . Volume 4, Bern, Fischer, 1838, p. 92
  5. ^ André Corvisier: Histoire militaire de la France . Volume 2, p. 381
  6. ^ Peter Stadler in: The Westphalian Peace: Diplomacy, political caesura, cultural environment, history of reception . Volume 26, Oldenbourg Verlag, 1998, p. 377 ff.