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Soldiers of Fortune
Count Leslie of Balquhain

THOUGH "the Lion of the North and the Bulwark of the Protestant faith had a way of winning battles, taking towns, &c., which made his service irresistibly delectable to all true-bred cavaliers," the discipline was severe, the pay small and precarious, and the promotion slow. It was not often that an inferior officer dropped into such a good thing as Rittmaster Dalgetty when he commanded the whole stift of Dunklespiel. The Imperial service offered greater attractions to cavaliers of fortune, especially when they had left their consciences at home. There was Wallenstein, a living proof of what military talent and soaring ambition might attain to, and Tilly and Pappenheim were scarcely less famous. Did they want wealth, as they all did, had not Wallenstein within a few years of. his mark bought landed estates to the value of 8,000,000 florins. Yet he had long been maintaining the pomp of a Court and had given away as freely as he gathered. The secret was that soldiers of all ranks lived on contributions levied on the country. Gustavus, with only the scanty Swedish treasury to draw upon, from policy was bound to conciliate the states he overran and to respect the privileges and purses of the wealthy free cities. The Imperialists and the soldiers of the Catholic League cast all such scruples to the wind. Like Napoleon, they made the war support itself, but then it was Germans who preyed upon Germans. When Wallenstein, recalled into the field, sent his summons around for a second army, as when Bourbon raised his standard after Pavia, adventurers flocked to him from all quarters. As Mitchell remarks, they knew the terrible severity of his punishments, but they also knew how magnificent were his rewards. In his own camp the discipline was strict, and any breach of it was summarily punished, but that was due rather to pride than principle. Personally he set the worst possible example. Nothing can be more damning, or more illustrative of the misery of the provinces he had ravaged, than the charges brought against him by the Bavarian Elector and the Electoral College of Ratisbon. They were subscribed alike by Catholic and Protestant. They told how the Duke of Friedland in Pomerania had exhausted the revenues of the Duchy in keeping open house; they told of plundering and fire-raising; of men beaten, tortured, and murdered ; of women violated; and they wound up: "Turks and heathens have never behaved as the Imperial troops have done, nor could the devils have behaved worse."

Wallenstein had drained Pomerania to keep a sumptuous table when the Pomeranians were starving, and his officers in their degree imitated or surpassed his example when charged with local responsibility and released from restraint. The ordinary adventurer pillaged and squandered from hand to mouth; the more prudent or avaricious turned the screw that they might save against the day of their discharge; and between the two the citizens were ruthlessly fleeced and the helpless peasantry burned out and beggared. But there were men of birth, breeding, and talent, with broader views and definite ambitions. Deliberately careless of their lives and free of their money, they took Wallenstein or Pappenhcim for their models, and hoped to rise like them. Soldiers first, they could be courtiers on occasion, and at Vienna or Munich some happy chance might give them rapid promotion and the pay of the colonel of a regiment. Once well on the ladder they were fairly safe, unless tripped up by some court intrigue or the caprice of a court beauty.

The soldier of fortune when he had seen something of the wars was seldom more scrupulous than Rittmaster Dalgetty over his war cry. When he left his native islands he was generally influenced by religion or home politics, and he enlisted on the side whither friends had gone before him. The Catholic Irish had no hesitation; to a man they followed the standards of the Church and the Empire. The Scottish Presbyterians from the far North, like Munro, cast in their lot with Swedish Lutherans and German Calvinists, and at least so long as Gustavus lived they seldom changed their colours. But though in Aberdeenshire there were Forbeses, Frasers, and many others who were staunch to the blue of the Covenant, in the Gordon country and the Garioch the most of the gentry were High Church, High Tory—the epithet had not been invented then—and often Catholic. In the heart of the Garioch, "at the back o' Benachie," as the old song has it, stands one of the square, bartizaned towers scattered broadcast over Aberdeenshire, memorials of the days when every man's hand was against his nearest neighbours. The Leslies of Balquhain, who claimed to be heads of the name, had always been a fighting family. Poor as they were proud, it was only natural that a younger son, with little but his sword for an inheritance, should seek honour and fortune abroad. The Leslies were bred in prelatic surroundings, and it is singular that Walter, associated with a Gordon in the death of Wallenstein, should, like Gordon, have been bred a Calvinist. Judging by the subsequent careers of both, it is probable that religious tenets sat lightly upon them. None could have foreseen that the penniless youth who left the Garioch to trail a halberd in the ranks would have played the leading part in the death of the great captain, gone with the collar of the Golden Fleece as imperial ambassador to the Sultan, married the well-dowered daughter of a princely house, and died a Count of the Holy Roman Empire. Of all the foreign soldiers he had the most exceptional luck.

He left no autobiography, and the records of his rapid rise are fragmentary. Here and there some deed of daring or decision, some subtle piece of courtiership or sagacious stroke of policy, stands out conspicuous in the history of the war. He served in Flanders, where he saw hard fighting. He won his way to carrying a paline or ensign's colours in Italy in the war of the Mantuan succession. He distinguished himself with the Imperialists in Germany, and in 1632, when only twenty-six, was already major of musketeers. The regiment was chiefly Scottish with a sprinkling of Irish, and was commanded by the Colonel Gordon who played second to his subordinate in the Wallenstein tragedy. Both were special favourites of Wallenstein, who for his own sake knew how to appreciate and advance merit. Both had been always to the front in the campaign which drove the Saxons back over the Riesengebirge. Both were in the great camp where Wallenstein had gathered all his strength for the capture of the free city of Nuremberg. Swedes and Imperialists were alike on short commons ; their foragers swept all the adjacent country. Wallenstein had cut off a convoy escorting zoo waggons from Wurtzburg. Things were getting desperate with the citizens and the Swedes, when Gustavus ordered an attack in force on an imperial magazine, and detached a covering force of i000 musketeers and Boo horse to Bergtheim. James Grant, in his "Life of Hepburn," gives a spirited account of the affair. There was a sanguinary engagement between the covering force and the Imperialists under Sparre. The Imperialists were in superior strength, but the Swedish attack was irresistible. The action was fought out among rocks and ruins. "The imperial regiments were swept away in succession, and the musketeers of Gordon and Leslie alone stood firm, maintaining their posts behind every tree, rock, and wall with the most steady gallantry. Gustavus' frequently applauded their valour, and declared that if these were Scots and fell into his hands as prisoners, he would release them unransomed." They yielded to numbers, and he kept his word, though his Scottish officers were slow to carry out his orders. For five weeks they feted and feasted their countrymen, and at last gave them reluctant license to depart, when Gustavus made his final cast for victory.

When the Lion of the North had fallen at Liitzen, Leslie was in quarters at Egra on the western frontier of Bohemia. It had been better for his fame had he been elsewhere, but assuredly the supreme episode of the war found him at the crisis of his fortunes. The problem of Wallenstein's guilt or innocence is as little likely to be ever certainly solved as that of the identity of the man of the iron mask. There was no room then for two emperors. The situation was becoming impossible. Wallenstein, emphatically the soldier of fortune, had served himself in serving his master. He had raised himself a host of jealous enemies, headed and inspired by Maximilian of Bavaria. The immense rewards, at first bestowed by gratitude, had latterly been extorted by force or fear. He had dictated his own conditions when he had come to the imperial rescue the second time, and his overweening pretensions had never been forgiven. His sagacity warned him that he was doomed, and there is little doubt he had sought to make himself friends in the hostile camps, and had been intriguing with Swedes and Saxons, who naturally mistrusted his advances. There is written evidence of flattering offers from France; Richelieu corresponded with him, and Louis had written a letter under his own hand. Soldier of fortune in excelsis, when he had stripped the Dukes of Friedland of their hereditary dukedom he would scarcely have hesitated to rob his ungrateful master of Bohemia. He had become a danger and a terror, yet it was not possible to arrest him at the head of an army he had raised, who looked to him for pay in arrear, and who had rallied to him in solemn assurance of pillage. As he could not be sent to the block, and as no cage would hold such a bird, the only alternative was to remove him by violence.

As times were, policy might have justified the deed, and the Church would have readily absolved the Kaiser; but Leslie, whom he had loved, enriched, and advanced, was not the man to deal with his confiding benefactor. According to Schiller, "it was to Leslie Wallenstein confided his griefs and embarrassments when he had decided to cross the Rubicon and fly from the imperial dominions." Had Leslie acted simply as a soldier, obeying the orders of the Emperor as supreme in command, he might have saved something of his reputation by waiting patiently for his reward. In that case he would probably have gone without it, and like Wallenstein he was the soldier-adventurer who snatched at every chance. At Egra, Gordon, his colonel, seems to have hesitated when Butler disclosed the murderous and treacherous plan. Leslie had made up his mind at once, and if he was not one of the actual assassins of his great patron, he scoured the streets with a covering party while the crime was being perpetrated. Then, even anticipating his Irish accomplice, Butler, he rode post-haste to the Burg in Vienna, carrying the welcome news. For never was messenger more welcome. The delighted Kaiser showered immediate rewards upon him, and took sundry public occasions of showing him honour. He was made Imperial Chamberlain, Colonel of two regiments, Captain of the Bodyguard ; he was created at once a Count of the Empire, and enriched with estates in Bohemia valued at 200,000 or 3oo,000 florins.

In lavishly rewarding that timely piece of service, the Emperor had found a faithful and valuable servant. The honours so suddenly heaped upon Leslie were only the foretaste of others to follow, and these he well deserved. Thenceforth he is one of the most conspicuous figures of the time, and so far as we know, his honour thenceforth was unblemished. Courage he had in excess, but he was no ordinary soldier. He had brains and courteous manners as well as reckless daring, and distinguished himself in diplomacy and civil affairs as in sieges, storms, and campaigns. At the bloody battle of Nordlingen, having escaped death by a miracle, he was recompensed by the Cardinal Infant of Spain with a generous largesse in money, as was the fashion of the time, and with the lucrative ownership of two other regiments. He raised his reputation and increased his riches in the campaigns in Alsace, Saxony, and Bohemia. Then that versatile genius turned diplomat, financier, and money agent. In 1645 he was successfully negotiating loans for the needy Emperor in Rome and Naples, and then returning to military avocations he rose through a plurality of posts, as Master of the Ordnance, Vice- President of the War-Council, and Warden of the Sclavonic Marches. He had the rank of Field-Marshal besides, and was a leading member of the Privy Council.

In 1665 the fortunate Scottish cadet was a Knight of the princely Order of the Golden Fleece, and charged with an embassy to the Court of Constantinople for the ratification of the treaty of peace. The embassy was sent out with all the state and splendour fitted to impress the Oriental imagination. The Field-Marshal was attended by a magnificent suite, and accompanied by Howard, his intimate friend, heir presumptive to the premier dukedom of England. He was escorted down the Danube to the Turkish fortress of Belgrade by a flotilla of superbly decorated barges, and thence the rugged passes of the Balkans were crossed to Stamboul in an endless procession of torches. The journey, with all its adventitious luxury, must have reminded him of some of his roughest campaigning, but legions of peasants and serfs were sum-moned to cut or clear a road over the hills and through the forests, The reception on the Bosphorus of the cadet of Balquhain was befitting the scale of the embassage and the value of the presents he brought. The Sultan paid the highest honours to the imperial envoy, nor when he left was he sent away empty-handed. Unfortunately he brought back with him as well the seeds of a mortal illness, and next year (1666) he closed his career in the Kaiserstadt. Bred a Calvinist, he had seen the error of his ways, for he recanted after the assassination of Wallcnstein, and he died a good Catholic on the 3rd November 1667. He was interred with great pomp and all military honours in the Abbey of the Scottish Benedictines.

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