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Ottavio Piccolomini porträtterad 1649 av Matthäus Merian dy.jpg

Prince Octavio Piccolomini, 1st Duke of Amalfi (November 11, 1599 - August 11, 1656), Austrian Generalfeldmarschall, was born in Florence, and carried a pike in the Spanish service at the age of sixteen.

Two years later, on the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in Bohemia, he was appointed a captain in a cavalry regiment sent by the grand duke of Tuscany to the emperor's army, and he fought with some distinction under Bucquoy at the battle of White Mountain in 1620 and in Hungary.

In 1624 he served for a short time in the Spanish army and then as lieutenant-colonel of Pappenheim's cuirassier regiment in the war in the Milanese. In 1627 he re-entered the Imperial service as colonel and captain of the lifeguard of Wallenstein, duke of Friedland. In this capacity he soon fell into disgrace for practising extortion at Stargard in Pomerania, but his adroitness secured him, after no long interval, the rank of "colonel of horse and foot."

About this time the appointment of his younger brother to the archbishopric of Siena secured him a position of influence in the diplomatic world. Diplomatic talent was indeed almost the birthright of a member of an Italian family, that had seen two of its members occupying the papal chair, and Wallenstein freely made use of his subordinate's capacity for negotiation and intrigue. In the events of the Mantuan War Piccolomini took a prominent part in the dual role of the subtle diplomatist and the plundering soldier of fortune.

At this moment came the invasion of Germany by Gustavus Adolphus. Piccolomini was interned at Ferrara as a hostage for the ratification of a treaty, but he added his voice to the general call for Wallenstein's reappointment as commander-in-chief. He was not, however, included in the list of promotions that followed the duke's reappearance, and he served as a colonel under feldmarschal-leutnant Heinrich Holck, an officer brought in from the Danish service, in the preliminary operations and in the battle of Lützen.

Nineteenth century authors were so impressed by Piccolomini's role in the battle of Lützen that they quite falsely ascribed to him the command of the entire Imperial left wing. In reality he indeed played a pivotal role at the head of his cavalry regiment, leading numerous cavalry charges against both Swedish horse and foot, having five horses shot under him and receiving five painful bruises from musket balls that deflected off his armour. In his account of the battle he wrote immodestly: "If two other regiments had achieved what I had, the enemy would have been completely ruined." (1)

Piccolomini's ambition was gratified when, on reading the official report of the battle, the emperor made him a general-feldwachtmeister (a rank equivalent to Major-General). At the same time, however, Holck, who had played an even more crucial role in holding the Imperial army together at Lützen, was created a full field marshal at Wallenstein's insistence, much to his rival's chagrin.

In the campaign of 1633 Piccolomini held the command of an important detachment posted at Königgratz to bar the enemy's advance from Silesia into Bohemia. History repeated itself on the same ground in 1756, 1778 and 1866; in the first of these cases it was a Piccolomini, grand-nephew of Octavio, who commanded the Austrians; in the last the victorious Prussians passed over the estate of Náchod, which after 1635 was a hereditary possession of the family. In May Wallenstein entered Silesia with the main army with the unavowed object of compelling or persuading the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony to make common cause with the emperor against the Swedes. Piccolomini was with him, and, disapproving of the duke's policy, joined in a military conspiracy, out of which grew the drama that ended with the murder of Wallenstein on February 25, 1634. Piccolomini's own part in the tragedy has been set forth in fictionalised form in Schiller's Wallenstein. His reward was his marshal's baton, 100,000 gulden and the beautiful estate of Náchod in the Riesengebirge.

He was Wallenstein's pupil as well as his slayer, and had learned the art of war from that master. On the 5th-6th of September in the same year he distinguished himself amongst the foremost in the great victory of Nördlingen. He soon saw the necessity for following out the lines of military policy laid down by the duke, but neither he nor Gallas, the new lieutenant-general of the emperor, possessed the capacity for carrying it out, and the war dragged on year after year.

Piccolomini was in 1635 allied with a Spanish army, and bitterly complained that their sloth and caution marred every scheme that he formed. In 1638 he was made a count of the empire, and in 1639, having been fortunate enough to win a great victory over the French (relief of Thionville, July 7, 1639), he was rewarded with the office of privy councillor from the emperor and with the dukedom of Amalfi from the king of Spain. But instead of being appointed, as he hoped, Gallas's successor, he was called in to act as ad latus to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, with whom he was defeated in the second battle of Breitenfeld in 1642. After this he spent some years in the Spanish service and received as his reward the title of grandee and the order of the Golden Fleece.

Some years later, having re-entered the Imperial army, he was again disappointed of the chief command by the selection of the brave veteran Peter Melander, Count Holzapfel. But when in 1648 Melander fell in battle at Zusmarshausen, Piccolomini was at last appointed lieutenant-general of the emperor, and thus conducted as generalissimo the final weary and desultory campaign of the Thirty Years' War.

Three days after the commission for executing the peace had finished its lahours, the emperor addressed a letter of thanks to the Prince Piccolomini, and awarded him a gift of 114,566 gulden.

Piccolomini died on 11 August 1656. On 4 June 1651 he had married Maria Benigna Francisca of Saxe-Lauenburg (Ratisbon, *10 July 1635 – 1 December 1701*, Vienna), daughter of Duke Julius Henry of Saxe-Lauenburg. He left no children (his only son Josef Silvio, was murdered by the Swedes after the battle of Jankau in 1645, whilst his son Max in Wallenstein is a fictional character invented by Schiller), and his titles and estates passed to his brother's son.

With the death of the latter's nephew Octavio Aeneas Josef in 1757, the line became extinct.


(1) Richard Brzezinski, Lützen 1632, Oxford: Osprey, 2001, especially p.58 (includes early engraved portrait of Piccolomini), p.79 and p.90.



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