From Military History Quarterly, Summer 2010
The Swedes came at night, rushing through a gap in the walls protecting the Mala Strana neighborhood at the foot of Prague Castle. By the break of day on July 27, 1648, the invaders had captured the entire western side of the city, including the castle, with its famous collections of art, rare books, and astronomical instruments. Over the coming weeks, the Swedes tried several times to cross the Charles Bridge to seize the Old Town on the opposite bank of the Vltava River, but were repelled by a ragtag force of townspeople and Jesuit priests. Despite receiving reinforcements, the Swedes were stuck on their side of the river in November when news of the Peace of Westphalia reached the city. The Thirty Years War, one of the bloodiest conflicts in European history, had finally come to a close, ending Sweden’s campaign against the Holy Roman Empire. N The Swedish army had been denied control of the commercial side of town but had achieved its main objective: the capture of the renowned trove of art, treasure, and curiosities collected in Prague Castle by the late Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II. For decades prior to his death in 1612, Rudolf had directed a small army of agents to scour the known world for unusual objects. There were paintings by Albrecht Dürer and Pieter Brueghel, jewels, precious stones, and ancient coins from Italy, the Balkans, and the Middle East, exquisite clocks from the four corners of Europe, and statues in stone and bronze. There was a horn allegedly taken from a unicorn, the jawbone of one of the Sirens who tempted Ulysses, and even a pair of iron nails supposedly salvaged from Noah’s ark. Rudolf had commissioned a greenhouse in which his staff maintained a collection of exotic plants and a menagerie where they tended unusual beasts, including a live lion. His paintings alone took up seven halls of Prague’s sprawling castle complex.
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