The Short Life but Memorable Loyalty of the ‘Mad Duke’

Not many soldiers in Europe’s bloody Thirty Years War were more
fearless than Christian the Younger, Duke of

For example, the 23-year-old German noble, dubbed “the Mad
Duke” by his enemies, led a half-dozen cavalry charges against Spanish
troops at the 1622 battle of Fleurus, Belgium. Enemy fire killed two of his
horses and shattered his left arm or hand. Records are not clear about where
Christian was shot, only the injury that followed. Even so, he refused to
relinquish command of his horsemen.

After the battle – Christian’s most famous fight – his
limb was amputated in grand style. He ordered the battered remnants of his army
to watch the operation, which was accompanied by drum rolls and blaring

When the ritual ended, he summoned a captured Spaniard.

“Tell your master that the ‘Mad Duke’ has indeed lost one
arm, but that … he has still another left, wherewith to avenge himself
… upon his own enemies and those of his adored Queen,” Christian was
quoted in an article published in the September 16, 1865, issue of The
United States Army and Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular and Volunteer

Christian meant Elizabeth of Bohemia – now known as the Czech
Republic. Her husband, King Frederick V, also elector, or ruler, of the German
Palatinate, was a Protestant leader in the Thirty Years War. Christian was one
of Frederick’s generals.

Series of wars

The complicated conflict’s antagonists were religion and
geopolitics. It consisted of a series of wars that began in 1618 and lasted
until 1648. Mainly centered in Germany, then the Holy Roman Empire, the
conflict ultimately involved most of Europe’s Protestant and Catholic

Christian was the Protestant administrator of the bishopric of
Halberstadt, Germany, when the war began. He enthusiastically joined the
Protestant side. Catholics called him “the Mad Duke” because of his
penchant for pillaging and looting their property.

But he was also known as a courageous commander in battle. Few generals
in the Thirty Years War “shine more conspicuous than Christian,” said
the Journal and Gazette article titled, “Duke Christian of Brunswick/A
Knightly Champion of the Olden Times.”


Christian remained loyal to Elizabeth and Frederick, though they reigned
only briefly before Catholic Spanish forces deposed them. He was anxious to
avenge the royal couple, especially Elizabeth, and get even with the Spanish.

Thus, he was glad to aid the Protestant Dutch in breaking the Spanish
siege of Bergen-op-Zoom in the Netherlands. Christian helped lead a 14,000-man
German force to save the beleaguered city. Another Spanish army, consisting of
8,000 men, blocked the Germans at Fleurus on August 29, 1622.

The article called Fleurus “one of the most furious conflicts of
this terrible war. The combat “lasted over 12 hours, during 6 of which the
victory oscillated and quivered in the balance.”

The Spanish, according to the article, resisted Christian’s half
dozen charges with “an impregnable rampart of steel.” Approximately
5,000 Germans were reportedly killed, wounded or captured. The defenders
suffered about 300 killed and 900 wounded.

  Christian the Younger was dubbed “the Mad Duke” because of his tendancies to pillage and loot property.
  Christian the Younger was dubbed
“the Mad Duke” because of his tendancies to pillage and loot
  Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Spanish troops, of course, won the battle. Nonetheless, elements of
the German army managed to reach Bergen-op-Zoom and help the Dutch force the
Spanish to retreat.

Ceremonial amputation

Meanwhile, in the days following the battle of Fleurus, Christian’s
wound became inflamed and gangrene set in. Surgeons determined the limb had to
be amputated. If not, he would die, the article said.

Christian insisted on the ceremonial amputation “to inspirit his
troops, and show them that he accounted it an honor thus to suffer in the cause
of a lady, to whose service he had devoted his life,” according to the

Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I of England and an ancestor of
Queen Elizabeth II, was “the idol of his affections,” the article
explained. In 1620, while sharing the Bohemian throne, she gave Christian
– or “he tore from her hand” – a glove as a token of her

“As no queen would otherwise have submitted to the forcible
acquisition of it is but fair to suppose Elizabeth had the fairest feelings
toward Duke Christian. Be this as it may, Christian decorated his helmet with
that glove, and by it swore to shed the last drop of blood in her

Following the amputation, Christian sent a message to Elizabeth –
she and her husband had fled to Holland – promising “though he had
lost one … arm in her service, he had another arm and a life remaining
… to use in her service,” according to the article. He added that
“he had another arm left to fight … God’s battles.”

An apt man

He strapped on a prosthetic arm that a Dutch physician crafted of iron,
or silver, according to some sources. Christian became “as apt with his
artificial, as he had been with his natural hand, and, as before, manifested
himself, at the head of his troopers, the ruling spirit of the battle,”
the article stated.

A fever cut short his life and military career, though some of his men
said an enemy agent poisoned him. Christian died in 1626 at age 26.

Christian’s death caused Elizabeth to suffer “a long
depression of spirits and a protracted sickness, and, although she recovered,
the loss of her gallant defender caused her the liveliest grief,”
according to the article. “Thus perished, in the budding flower of his
age, one of those disinterestedly devoted men of whom history presents such
rare examples, a hero animated by the purest chivalry whom danger, defeat nor
desertion could neither daunt nor dishearten.”


The article admitted that the “Mad Duke” was not a handsome

“But his face betokened a manly character and military genius. Of
all the warrior magnates of the period, he alone wore neither beard, moustaches
nor whiskers, and yet his boyish face had more of the stern resolution of the
soldier in its sharply defined features and piercing eyes than that of any
other leader on either side, though ‘bearded like a pard [lion].

His beloved Elizabeth died in 1662.

“Among the relics she had guarded with the greatest care, was a
small bracelet of diamonds, set in gold, with a locket bearing the initials C.
H., which stood for Christian of Halberstadt, the title by which her champion
was best known, and until death Christian wore in his helmet her glove, battle-
and blood-stained, and shriveled and rent by storm and combat, which he had
received from her in the hour of her greatest pride and happiness, in the
beautiful environs of her royal capital, Prague.”

In addition, the article conceded that Christian’s “conduct
was stigmatized by critics as having been characterized by personal bravery
rather than by good generalship. He was unfortunate, and consequently, whatever
may have been his talents, adversity damned him in the eyes of the world, as it
has every other unlucky commander. Even Elizabeth herself, however, seems to
have deemed him too rash.”

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