Ottavio Piccolomini

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Ottavio Piccolomini.

Ottavio Piccolomini (November 11, 1599 – August 11, 1656) was an Italian nobleman whose military career included service as a Spanish general and then as a field marshal of the Holy Roman Empire.

Early life[edit]

Piccolomini was born in Florence and received a military education as a young boy. He became a tercio pikeman for the Kingdom of Spain at the age of sixteen.

1618 saw the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. Piccolomini was appointed captain of a cavalry regiment in Bohemia, sent by the Grand Duke of Tuscany to the emperor's army. He fought with distinction under Count Charles Bucquoy at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 and later in Hungary.

Coat of Arms of Ottavio Piccolomini Pieri d'Aragona

In 1624 he served for a short time again in the Spanish army and then as lieutenant-colonel of Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim's cuirassier regiment in the war with the Milanese. In 1627 he returned to the Imperial service as colonel and captain of the personal guard of Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland. In this capacity Piccolomini fell into disgrace for attempting to extort money from people of Stargard in Pomerania. But his dedication and contrition saw him returned to the rank of "Colonel of horse and foot".

In 1629 his younger brother, Ascanio Piccolomini, was appointed Archbishop of Siena which secured the older Piccolomini brother a position of influence in the diplomatic world. Italians were at the centre of diplomacy in Europe (due in no small part to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church) and this was even more so the case for a family that had seen two of its members elected to the papal throne (Pope Pius II and Pope Pius III). Wallenstein made use of his subordinate's capacity for negotiation and intrigue. During the Mantuan War, Piccolomini took a prominent part in the dual role of subtle diplomat and plundering soldier of fortune.

In 1630 came the invasion of Germany by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Piccolomini was captured and held hostage at Ferrara for helping in unauthorised negotiations for peace with the Swedish Empire. Despite his support for Wallenstein, he was not included in the list of promotions when the Duke resumed action against Saxony, Brandenburg, Sweden and France. Thereafter, Piccolomini served as a colonel under Feldmarschallleutnant Heinrich Holk, a Danish officer, in the battle of Lützen and other operations.

Nineteenth century authors were so impressed by Piccolomini's role in the battle of Lützen that they falsely ascribed to him the command of the entire Imperial left wing. He did, though, play a pivotal role at the head of his cavalry regiment; leading numerous cavalry charges against the Swedish army, having five horses shot under him and receiving five painful bruises from musket balls that deflected off his armour.

As a commanding officer[edit]

Portrait of Ottavio Piccolomini by Anselm van Hulle, Collezione Luca Cristini.

Piccolomini's efforts at Lützen were recognised by his contemporaries too - on reading the official report of the battle, the emperor made him General-Feldwachtmeister (a rank equivalent to major-general). At the same time, however, Holk, who had played an even more crucial role in holding the Imperial army together at Lützen, was promoted to field marshal at Wallenstein's insistence, much to Piccolomini's chagrin.

In the campaign of 1633 Piccolomini was appointed commander of a detachment posted at Königgratz assigned to bar the enemy's advance from Silesia into Bohemia.[1] In May, Wallenstein entered Silesia with the main army in an attempt to compel the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony to join the Holy Roman Empire against the Swedes. Piccolomini was with Wallenstein but disapproved of his policy and joined in the military conspiracy to oust the Duke. The conspiracy developed into a plot to assassinate the Duke; Wallenstein was killed on 25 February 1634 at Cheb Castle. His reward was his marshal's baton, 100,000 gulden and the estate of Náchod in the Orlické mountains in East Bohemia. Piccolomini's part in the assassination was set out in fictionalised form in Friedrich Schiller's play, Wallenstein.

On 5 and 6 September of that same year, Piccolomini distinguished himself at the Battle of Nördlingen. By 1635, Piccolomini was again allied with a Spanish army but complained that their laziness and caution ruined every strategy he developed.

In 1638 he was made a Count of the Empire. In 1639, having won a great victory over the French (at the relief of Thionville, on 7 July), he was rewarded with elevation to the office of privy councillor and the dukedom of Amalfi from King Philip IV of Spain.

Following these illustrious rewards, Piccolomini had expected to be appointed as successor to Matthias Gallas. Instead of being appointed, though, he was called in to act as an assistant to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, with whom he served in the second battle of Breitenfeld in 1642. Thereafter he spent several years in the Spanish service and received the title of grandee and induction into the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Promotion to Generalissimo[edit]

Some years later, having re-entered the Imperial army, he was again disappointed with the chief command's selection of 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.

Death and legacy[edit]

Piccolomini died after an accident on 11 August 1656 (falling from a horse). On 4 June 1651 he had married Maria Benigna Francisca of Saxe-Lauenburg, daughter of Duke Julius Henry of Saxe-Lauenburg. He left no legitimate children (his only son Josef Silvio, was murdered by the Swedes after the battle of Jankov (near Votice, district Tábor) in the south Bohemia 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. He had two known illegitimate sons - Ascanio and Diego which had their descendants, one in Bohemia second in Italy. His son Ascanio died as a captain of infantry in the battle near Mirov in September 1643, while second son Diego died in Italy, gaining the title "don" and becoming a "noble" married to Nobile Donna Maria Anna Tarragona Ruxoto. Ascanio himself had an illegitimate son with Liduska Nyvlt.

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

References and notes[edit]

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

Sources and further reading[edit]