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Linguas francas, Legal Affairs and Intra-Dynastic Communication in the Fiscal-Military States of the Habsburgs during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)

Linguas francas et communication intra-dynastique dans les États fiscalo-militaires des Habsbourg pendant la guerre de Trente Ans (1618-1648)

p. 129-148



Following the abdication of Charles V as Holy Roman emperor in 1556, the closest cooperation between the Habsburg lands was during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The composite monarchies of the two main family branches (headquartered in Madrid and Vienna) needed to overcome a number of linguistic difficulties in a wide range of back-office activities. These included the translation and verification of payment letters and financial records, the recruitment of troops, the management of muster places, military promotions, sensitive relations with the civilian population and the issuance of safe conducts, the setup of translation offices and smaller secretariats, the informal employment of intelligence officers and the printing of written propaganda. While French and German remained regional bridge languages, Spanish was the only candidate for becoming a pan-Habsburg language, but failed to do so. With these three languages proving unviable, Latin or Italian surfaced immediately as the only, all-embracing linguas francas that worked consistently and reliably.

Après l’abdication de Charles Quint en tant qu’empereur du Saint-Empire romain germanique en 1556, la coopération la plus étroite entre les territoires des Habsbourg eut lieu pendant la guerre de Trente Ans (1618-1648). Les monarchies composites des deux principales branches de la famille (dont les sièges étaient à Madrid et à Vienne) durent surmonter un certain nombre de difficultés linguistiques dans un large éventail d’activités administratives. Il s’agissait notamment de la traduction et de la vérification des lettres de paiement et des documents financiers, du recrutement des troupes, de la gestion des lieux de rassemblement, des promotions militaires, des relations sensibles avec la population civile et de la délivrance des sauf-conduits, de la mise en place de bureaux de traduction et de petits secrétariats, de l’emploi informel d’officiers de renseignement et de l’impression de la propagande écrite. Alors que le français et l’allemand restaient des langues régionales de transition, l’espagnol était la seule à pouvoir devenir une langue pan-habsbourgeoise, mais n’y parvint pas. Ces trois langues s’avérant non viables, le latin ou l’italien sont apparus immédiatement comme les seules linguas francas universelles qui fonctionnaient de manière cohérente et fiable.

Texte intégral


En lo de la comisión de la dieta considero por requisitos: […] que sepa muy bien la lengua alemana, o por lo menos la italiana, o muy corriente y con elegancia la latina, porque hablar a medias es hacerse ridículo entre los alemanes…

Pierre Roose, 1640.

1Pierre Roose, president of the Privy Council in Brussels, and principal councillor of the Junta of State and War of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, governor of the Spanish Netherlands (1634–41), and brother of Philip IV, king of Spain (1621–65), shared this view in September 1640 with Ferdinand1. The government needed to nominate someone on behalf of the Burgundian Circle of the Holy Roman Empire to the Imperial Diet of Regensburg, in present-day Germany. The minister emphasised that the candidate should speak German, Italian or Latin very well; otherwise, the envoy would make himself ridiculous amongst the demanding Germans. Roose and his peers had been discussing this subject for weeks. The diet had already started by then, and the pool of contenders was very small, since fluent German or Italian language skills were rare amongst politicians and councillors in the state. Roose did not know that a suboptimal choice had already been made by the Council of State in Madrid: Diego Saavedra Fajardo, diplomat and writer was sent to the diet. Neither he nor Antoine Brun (a Burgundian, the other representative who would arrive to Germany months later) spoke German, though both could speak fluent Latin.

2Saavedra Fajardo immediately encountered difficulties when he entered the first session, since he was not allowed to bring a chancery clerk (Kanzlist), who could have translated his votes from Latin to German. He suggested, as a workaround, the official nomination of an imperial minister as the other representative of the Burgundian Circle, namely Isaac Volmar, councillor of Leopold Wilhelm, the brother of Emperor Ferdinand III (1637-57)2, and future imperial diplomat at the Westphalian peace congress. In the end, within one week, the directorate of the diet provided Saavedra Fajardo with a person who could translate his votes and inform him about the content of the sessions3. His and Brun’s votes were registered in the official acts of the diet in Latin4.

3German language skills were not only rare in Brussels but in the lands of the Catholic king, Philip IV, in general5. Consequently, the translation activities in the governmental organs in Madrid were very intensive6. The Spanish king and his envoys in the empire rarely bothered to translate their letters, opinios and memorandums sent to the emperors and to his privy and war councillors. The family members of the Spanish branch and their diplomats and courtiers were famously unwilling to learn German, not even in Vienna, at the imperial court7.

4They could proceed this way since the situation was very different in the Central European lands of the dynasty. The majority of the Austrian princes spoke fluent or at least intermediate Spanish, either because of their personal trips or upbringing in Spain (and in general, because of their education), or because of their family situation, being the children or husbands of empresses and princesses who were born in the Spanish Monarchy. Thus, formal translation of Spanish was not that common and usually not necessary at all in the family-type intra-dynastic relationships8. It did not work the other way round: when the emperor or a family member sent a document in German to a Spanish diplomat, the Spanish Embassy in Vienna needed to translate it9.

5Italian became a lingua franca for important negotiations and communication of their results between the Spanish envoys and the principal councillors of Emperor Ferdinand III, such as Maximilian von Trauttmansdorff, president of the Privy Council between 1637 and 1650, or Heinrich von Schlick, president of the War Council between 1632 and 1649. They did not speak Spanish fluently and, most probably, did not let Spanish diplomats gain an advantage in their native language10. In some cases, Latin was used between the two branches of the dynasty in diplomatic practice, for example between Ferdinand III and the cardinal-infante11 or Spanish envoys12.

6Behind the front line of intra-dynastic relationships, that is, when the sender or the receiver was a Habsburg prince, similar patterns can be found in the diplomatic corps and between state councillors and diplomats. In Brussels, Humbertus Dhaem, an imperial agent corresponded with Trauttmansdorff in German, but the native Spanish speakers (such as the friar Juan de San Agustín, confessor of the cardinal-infante) sent him notes in Spanish13. Pierre Roose, according to his private correspondence and state papers referenced here in a number of footnotes, exchanged letters with politicians and military officers of Franche-Comté in French and submitted his opinios to the cardinal-infante mostly in Spanish.

7From 1643 to 1648, during the Westphalian peace congress the count of Lamberg, an imperial diplomat, exchanged letters almost exclusively in Spanish with the count of Peñaranda, head of the Spanish delegation; Diego Saavedra Fajardo; and the duke of Terranova, permanent ambassador of Philip IV in Vienna14.

8In Madrid, the representatives of the emperors at the Spanish Habsburg court were expected to speak Spanish: the official requests to the king and the answers were written in Spanish when the count of Khevenhüller (1617-31) served as ambassador. Under the count of Schönburg (1634-40), many documents were translated in Italian and sent to the emperors15.

9On the next pages more evidence will be presented about how the Habsburg sovereigns, princes, state officials, diplomats and military officers communicated with each other in a multilingual environment and on a European scale, navigating in their increasingly fiscal-military states16. What linguistic difficulties they encountered will also be addressed. The examples will shed more light on how the back office, that is, how finances, logistics, military propaganda, information gathering, and the reporting and mitigation of war atrocities worked. All of this will contribute to our understanding of the decision-making process of the courtly headquarters that processed and analysed the information coming from all corners of Europe. In this essay, I focus on written, formal and informal, communication.

Translating and interpreting financial and legal matters

Traducido de latín y lo castellano concuerda con su original. Por mí, don Francisco Gracián Verruguete, secretario de la Interpretación de las lenguas que por mandado de Su Majestad traduzco sus escrituras y de sus consejos y tribunales.

Francisco Gracián Berruguete, 163817.

10The famous Gracians, a family that had held the principal roles in the translation office of the Spanish Monarchy since the era of Emperor Charles V (1519-1556)18, were still key officials during the Thirty Years’ War. When in the mid-1630s the Spanish Monarchy accelerated its global warfare machinery, pumping money into the Central European branch of the dynasty19, one of its members, don Francisco Gracián Berruguete20, needed to translate a few cartas de pago (payment letters) from Latin to Spanish in Madrid. The documents were signed off by the Italian bankers and correspondents of the Spanish asentista Manuel de Paz (the Pestalozzi, headquartered in Augsburg, Holy Roman Empire21) and the count of Oñate, extraordinary ambassador of Madrid in Vienna, who received the money from the financiers22. Some of the documents had parts and translations in three languages in the same text: Spanish, Italian and Latin.

11It is not a coincidence that many payment letters were issued partially or entirely in Latin. These contracts were drafted and signed in Vienna, in the Holy Roman Empire, where Latin was one of its official languages. Judges ordinary, witnesses and imperial public notaries must have been present (their names are recorded in the same documents) and the texts had to be redacted in a language that could have been handled by the imperial administration. German was ruled out because it was not spoken by the signing parties.

12Financial transactions must have been verified and controlled not only in Vienna: Leonard Schwalen, the notary public of Cologne, needed to confirm the veracity of a document in Spanish that acknowledged receipt of a subsidy payment (40 thousand imperial thalers) sent by the accounting office in Brussels to the elector of Cologne23.

Concordat praecedens copia cum originali subsignato manu D. Michaelis de Nicolaeta, cuius manum et signum Ego, Leonardus Schwalenus, publicus, et apud amplissimum senatum Coloniensem immatriculatus notarius probe cognosco, atque proinde veram attestor …24

13Once cash was received, money must have been distributed according to the agreements made between the two branches of the dynasty and recorded accordingly. This process was done primarily in Spanish, and the records are now archived in Simancas25 and in Vienna26. In the case of the Franche-Comté, part of the Burgundian Circle of the empire (headed by the Spanish king), records were kept in French27. The bilingual nature of many documents (payment confirmations in Spanish translated into German, then signed), show clearly not only the different language skills of the readers, but more importantly that only those transactions recorded in Latin or German were legally valid and acknowledged in the Holy Roman Empire28.

14In matters of peace and war, when the imperial administration officially requested the removal of Saavedra Fajardo from his position in Münster during the Westphalian peace congress, the letter was issued in Latin, signed by Vice Chancellor Kurz29. When Jacques Bruneau, envoy of archduke Albert, worked on collecting debts on behalf of him in 1621, he exchanged documents in Latin with the Court Chamber (Hofkammer)30. Consequently, relations with the Imperial Aulic Council (Reichshofrat), supreme court of the Holy Roman Empire, were also intense. The Spanish Embassy in Vienna had its own lawyer in the 1630s and 1640s: Agustín Navarro Burena, who managed the relationship with this judicial organ31.

15Officers and diplomats representing the Catholic Monarchy needed to be in touch with the imperial General War Commissioner (Generalkriegskommissar), too, since both the recruitment of troops and discussions about the availability of muster places in the Holy Roman Empire needed special counsel in a complicated legal situation for the Spanish army in Germany32.

Military commands in the war rooms and on the battlefield

Cardinalis Infans credential für seine ministros, wegen Succurs33.

16The register books in German of the Imperial War Council (Hofkriegsrat) are filled with hundreds of entries about the requests, collaboration and payments connected to Spanish Habsburg diplomacy and the military, including in the Italian, Burgundian territories and the Netherlands. The original papers have been, for the most part, lost. The books are a valuable treasury revealing the linguistic diversity of the military administration. Mixed, polyglot wordings in the brief minutes, deliberations and executive orders issued during the sessions of the War Council – exemplified by the quotation at the head of this chapter – were typical. In this case the organ registered the official, written credentials sent by the cardinal-infante, empowering and authorizing his envoys in Vienna to negotiate about the terms and conditions of imperial military assistance to the Spanish Netherlands.

17The entries were filled with Latin and Neo-Latin words such as recroutirung, corpo di reservo, Operierung, remessa, salvaguardia, gravamina, proviant, guarnison, rebellion, directorio, pagador, munition, supplimentum, magazin, disciplin, marchese, armada, armistitium, salvus conductus, repartition, installation, attaquierung, fortification.

18Peter Burke called the army a ‘melting pot’, and highlighted some characteristics of an international military language, including official and technical terms and loanwords from several European languages (names of ranks, arquebus, bastione etc.). As he put it in 2004, though ‘armies of the period were polyglot, [and] extremely mobile, … military language seems to be relatively neglected by historians of early modern Europe and even by linguists’34. Since then, several important contributions have been made35.

19It seems that communication in the Habsburg military during the Thirty Years’ War was as much hindered by linguistic barriers as it was 300 years later in the First World War. Regarding the latter, more than ten regimental languages existed at the beginning of the twentieth century, and despite the efforts to create ethnically homogenous troops, an enormous number of bi- or multilingual regiments were present. This number grew in times of war, when due to the volume of human losses, troops could not always be replenished according to the original ethnic and linguistic patterns. Interruptions in communication could influence operations and supply procedures, military outcomes, the effectiveness of medical services, the execution of orders and even the loyalty of the troops36.

20The army of Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands, served by Spanish, Italian, Irish, Scottish, Burgundian, Walloon and Croatian-Hungarian37 infantry or cavalrymen, was particularly international compared to the other Habsburg armies across Europe. In the seventeenth century the strategies were manifold to reduce the risks of miscommunication within the army or between the army and the civilian population.

21One strategy was to promote or nominate officers and to replenish troops who were of the same nationality. This can be observed not only amongst the Spanish and Italian regiments, but in the Croatian-Hungarian cavalry, too. In 1641, despite the enormous physical distance between Flanders and the Kingdom of Hungary, Coronel Ludwig von Perwast was sent back to Hungary to enlist 300 replacement soldiers38. In the Central European lands of the dynasty, the many Croatian-Hungarian regiments were almost exclusively led by Croatian or Hungarian colonels39, and even in the Spanish Netherlands, seven years after the initial contracting of two regiments in 1637, most officers were from Eastern Europe40, even though more and more German officers were promoted. The promotions made by Perwast were communicated to the military administration in Brussels in Italian41.

22Another solution was to appoint native speakers in smaller, linguistically homogenous military units that were part of a bigger unit of a different dominant language. This happened with several Irish companies that were merged with a Spanish infantry unit (a tercio): in 1644, while in Spain, serving in the war against Portugal, an officer of a lower rank who spoke Gaelic was appointed to the Irish companies to help execute the orders42. For the Irish (and Scottish) regiments, translators were required and were paid for by the Spanish Crown43. Clergymen (priests, friars, field chaplains) assisted in foreign language communication with the civilian population and other armies in a time when usually only senior officers spoke Spanish, Latin or French44.

Diplomatic and military correspondence

Envío los artículos de la paz en Hungría así los que tocan a los estados del reino en general, como al Betlen Gabor en particular. El señor conde de Oñate los ha hecho traducir en español, […] pienso convener tenerlos también en latín como originalmente se han concebido y concluido. Falta en ellos la entrada y remate, que el embajador mismo no los ha alcanzado de otra manera. [… ] Y también espero de tener los de la paz de Polonia con el Turco, y un consejero del emperador que los tiene está ausente algunos días ha45.

23It is not a coincidence that Jacques Bruneau, archduke Albert’s envoy in Vienna, sent to Brussels the copy of two Central European treaties and detailed some of their linguistic aspects. Both the Peace of Nikolsburg, between the prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen, and Emperor Ferdinand II, and the Treaty of Khotyn, between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire, were signed at the end of 1621.

24First, Brussels was eager to receive news from the Eastern branch of the dynasty since the Twelve Years’ Truce between Spain and the Dutch United Provinces had expired in April 1621, and the parties resumed hostilities at full speed. The emperor’s willingness to assist the Spanish Netherlands depended heavily on whether he remained engaged in war with the prince of Transylvania. Second, Bruneau, like others in the Spanish Habsburg diplomatic corps, started his career as a translator (secretario de lenguas)46, then moved up the ladder and achieved many prestigious positions. Third, the translation activities in Brussels were less structured and sophisticated than in Madrid; therefore, the diplomat wanted to make sure that the secretariat in Brussels did not spend time unnecessarily on translating texts. He sent the first text in Spanish (translated from the original Latin) and sent the second in Italian a bit later, since the councillor of the emperor who possessed it was absent47.

25French was not an option here: because of the constant rivalry between the Habsburgs and Paris and the preponderance of German, Italian and Spanish speakers in Vienna, French was hardly used in the Central European lands of the dynasty. In contrast, both in the Franche-Comté and Flanders, French was widely used, including in the financial organs of the administration of the Spanish Netherlands, in official papers, and in diplomatic and military correspondence.

26German was not an option either. Language skills were lacking, and the administration of the Spanish Netherlands faced difficulties when they needed to find someone who understood or wrote in German. At one point in 1639, the official who used to translate the letters to the elector of Cologne on behalf of the cardinal-infante was on sick leave in Brussels while the prince and his court were away48. The secretary of state and war needed advice from a councillor, and in the end the letter was sent in Spanish49. A similar assessment can be made of translating activities in Madrid. One of the best-organized institutions in Europe at that time needed numerous German texts translated into Spanish – probably more than from any other languages besides Latin50.

27Here, there appears to be a political and psychological reason, too. Because the actors of the Spanish Monarchy sent their notes and correspondence to the emperors in Spanish, the emperors deliberately sent their letters in German (or Latin) to underscore their self-governance and their freedom from Spanish influence. After all, it would have been an act of submission if the head of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation had responded in Spanish (or Italian or French) to foreign princes or high-ranking military officers like Ottavio Piccolomini, who did not speak German. That said, in times of crisis, the emperors frequently wrote handwritten, personal and political notes in Spanish to Madrid, and this, on the contrary, highlighted their belonging to the same family and their leadership of a political coalition that followed a joint international agenda in matters of war and peace.

28Many in the diplomatic corps, not just Bruneau, held multiple jobs at once. The aforementioned Navarro Burena, a jurist, managed many diplomatic missions himself51 and later became the secretary of Empress Maria Anna, wife of Ferdinand III. Navarro Burena had to handle many documents in Latin, a language that continued as the primary lingua franca in Europe in general and was used in legally binding or formal documents and by many governmental bodies of the Holy Roman Empire.

29A lot of international alliances and treaties were still signed in Latin during the Thirty Years’ War52. It was also the most used language, besides Italian, during the Westphalian peace congress in Münster and Osnabrück53. The peace treaties in Münster between the emperor and the imperial estates, and France and Sweden were issued in Latin, although the third Westphalian peace treaty, between the United Provinces and the Spanish Monarchy, was bilingual: Dutch and French54.

30The texts of family alliances forged between Madrid and Vienna were formulated in Latin, for example the secret treaty signed in October 163455 and the alliance between the emperor, the Catholic king and Archduchess Claudia of Tirol in September 1639 (Ebersdorfer Vertrag)56. When the emperor and his councillors discussed a prospective alliance between England and Spain against France at the end of 1638, a corresponding Spanish and French document were both translated into Latin, probably to facilitate the talks and allow for comparison of the texts57.

31The more one travelled to the East or to North, the more Latin remained vital in diplomatic correspondences, since German, Italian and Spanish were much less spoken there. In the Kingdom of Bohemia, part of the Holy Roman Empire, this was not the case: the local elite corresponded frequently in German with the emperor and his councillors and in Spanish with the actors of the Catholic Monarchy. In contrast, in the Kingdom of Hungary, where Latin was an official language, aristocrats like Palatine Miklós Esterházy exchanged letters in Latin with the Spanish ambassadors in Vienna58 and with imperial politicians and councillors59. The Irish Confederation, then in very close relations with the Spanish Monarchy, sent its letters to Madrid in Latin, too60.

32Even further to the East, Latin language skills remained crucial in the relations with the Ottoman Empire. It is not a coincidence that the most formal translation service in Vienna belonged to the Imperial War Council and was responsible for the relationship with Constantinople (Hofkriegsratsdolmetscher)61. Oftentimes double translations were needed, as was the case with a letter, a copy of which is kept in Brussels, sent by the Ottoman governor of Budin (Buda), Karakaş Mehmed Pasha, to Gabriel Bethlen in 1620. It was translated first from Turkish to Hungarian, then from Hungarian to Latin, word for word: ‘ex Turcico in Ungaricum, et ex Ungarico in Latinum, de verbo ad verbum translata62.

33Italian remained a lingua franca and bridge language, too. It was the language of the Holy See and Venice, and of rich and important Italian states and cities like Milan or Florence. Key military non-German-speaking leaders in the imperial army communicated almost exclusively in Italian, like Ottavio Piccolomini, who used Italian with the presidents of the Imperial War Council and Privy Council or with the Spanish Habsburg military and diplomats63. Very rarely did a high-ranking foreign military officer learn, master and correspond in German as Walter Leslie, a Scottish general in imperial service, had done64.

Beyond the frontlines: propaganda, intelligence and coding, atrocities and safe-conducts

Ese papel he esparcido en alemán y sin nombre entre esguízaros […]

Yo le enviaré en español a Vuestra Alteza, porque después me ha

Parecido añadirle una carta fingida en latín de un holandés escrita

A un ministro de las provincias confederadas…65

34In 1641, Diego Saavedra Fajardo sent two of his pamphlets (Noticias del Tratado de neutralidad entre el Condado y Ducado de Borgoña and the Carta de un holandés escrita a un ministro de los estados confederados) to the cardinal-infante, asking him to send them to Antwerp so the first one could be printed. He wrote that it had already been printed and distributed in the Swiss cantons in German, and he would do the same with the second pamphlet in the United Provinces. Antwerp was at that time one of the main translation centres of the entire Spanish Monarchy, and French and Dutch were particularly important target languages of translation66.

35His attempt at arranging an Antwerp edition was probably unsuccessful because his career and prestige had taken a downward turn in the previous year, and his requests were repeatedly ignored. Three years later he tried again: he reported that he had had both texts printed in Frankfurt in Flemish (a dialect of Dutch, but in this case, Flemish simply meant Dutch) and had them sent to the United Provinces67. In the early modern period, the German city was one of the most important book markets in Europe, and for many decades it was also the headquarter of the Imperial Book Commission (Kaiserliche Bücherkommission), the official organ charged by the Holy Roman Empire with supervising the approvals and printing of books and manuscripts68.

36Saavedra was one of the few Spaniards who clearly understood in depth how book fairs and sales and the propaganda machinery of the European powers worked. He put much focus on printing his works in multiple languages in other instances, too. The creation of pro-Spanish works in Dutch was of strategic importance for obvious reasons. Producing such works in German was necessary because of the low esteem Madrid, as a foreign power, had earned in the Holy Roman Empire and also because of the small number of Spanish language books and pro-Spanish propaganda works available there69. Last but not least, the pamphlets printed on behalf of the emperors and his Catholic allies, representing their interests, understandably failed to highlight the benefits of the alliance with Madrid and the substantial assistance provided by the Spanish Monarchy70. The extremely popular pamphlet Secretissima instructio, written by an agent of Madrid, Kaspar Schoppe, in 1620 on the territory of the Duchy of Milan (part of the Spanish Monarchy)71, was created in Latin.

37Language skills, coding, intelligence and, subsequently, loyalty were closely interconnected. Many language secretaries, envoys and diplomats were, informally, intelligence officers and confidants of their masters72. They were present at confidential family events, built a personal and professional network, and cyphered and translated highly sensitive, ‘classified’ content.

38Antonio Ricardo had been serving for decades in the Holy Roman Empire when the head of the Spanish Habsburg delegation in Münster in 1645, the count of Peñaranda, hired him as secretario de lengua73, a move that reflected his ‘good parts of intelligence and secrecy’ and the sixteen years he had served Habsburg princes74.

39The Spanish Embassy in Vienna had its own language secretary, Marcos Putz. In 1639, he was sent to Palatine Miklós Esterházy to personally gather information about foreign affairs with the Ottoman Empire and Transylvania75. In this and other cases, the secretaries of state and war or of the smaller diplomatic corps who managed and processed international correspondence were simultaneously language secretaries. In 1637, Saavedra Fajardo reported about one of his secretaries who spoke French and German and cyphered his letters76.

40Sovereigns, princes, nobles and diplomats exchanged and maintained their codebooks regularly and carefully. This task became much more difficult, if sometimes impossible, in times of war because of the enormous number of actors (officers, administrators, commanders) and their forced mobility. In 1644, Spanish Habsburg diplomacy, via Hungarian aristocrats and the imperial court in Vienna, obtained intercepted diplomatic correspondence between the ambassador of France in Constantinople, the prince of Transylvania and the Swedish military (at that time both Sweden and Transylvania were allies of Paris)77.

41The countless atrocities and acts of violence committed by the armies against the unarmed or civilian population in the Holy Roman Empire resulted in grievances throughout Europe, which were reported to princes and monarchs. The reports also served as a rhetorical weapon, as part of a process of negotiation between the locals and the central government78.

42The representatives of the Duchy of Luxembourg summed up the atrocities the state had endured between 1633 and 1639 in a long report in French, which they attached to their letter to Brussels requesting that the soldiers be paid and food be provided to them and their horses79. The memorandum, translated into Spanish, listed the foreign troops and their commanders, from Gaston, Duke of Orléans, to Ottavio Piccolomini, and highlighted the cruelty of the Polish and Croatian light cavalry in 1635 and 1636.

43While the military achievements of the Croatian-Hungarian troops were continually praised by their superiors, their atrocities against local populations were reported regularly from all corners of Europe. Evidence of this can be seen in many languages and in many archival formats in the records of the Imperial War Council in Vienna80, the Privy Council in Brussels81 and the Municipal Archives of Besançon:82 examples include descriptive sources printed in French and German; William Crowne’s diary in English83, recorded during a diplomatic mission to Emperor Ferdinand II; and the picaresque novel by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Simplicius Simplicissimus. In certain German regions, 1637 was even labelled the ‘year of the Croats’ (Kroatenjahr).

44As a consequence, safety was of the utmost importance for people such as diplomats, who traversed hostile territories. The abovementioned diarist, William Crowne, received a letter of safe-conduct from local commanders, though he, and others who possessed such documents, still feared the Croats84. Letters of safe conduct were not only an early modern form of passport but sometimes a form of tax as well: they were systematically embedded in local regional mechanisms, including financial interactions, sales and record keeping85. Here again, imperial and Spanish Habsburg administration needed to cooperate: in the Electoral Palatinate, after Spanish Habsburg and Bavarian troops occupied the region at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, safe conducts were “imposed as a tax” on the Jewish population of Worms and could be purchased from the Spanish authorities86. Safe conducts (Schutzbriefe) were issued and managed, in the case of the empire, by the Imperial Aulic Council. Language considerations played an important role, as in 1626, when an officer requested a letter of safe conduct specifically in German from the archduchess Isabel in Brussels in order to facilitate his trip through the empire87.


45The Habsburg fiscal-military states had dozens of hubs during the Thirty Years’ War: courts, governments and offices in Brussels, Madrid, Vienna, Milan, amongst others; embassies and smaller diplomatic delegations; military camps and headquarters. They had different capabilities, resources, communication strategies and approaches in dealing with the language diversity amongst themselves, their own subjects and their counterparts.

46These were manifest not only in political and diplomatic relations, but in back-office activities as well. These included the translation and verification of payment letters and financial records, the recruitment of troops, the management of muster places, military promotions, sensitive relations with the civilian population (such as the issuance of safe conducts), the setup of translation offices and smaller secretariats, the informal employment of intelligence officers and the printing of written propaganda.

47In finances, Spanish assistance needed to be properly recorded and budgeted for military expenditures across Europe. Cash was secured via loan contracts with bankers, and these documents had to be compliant with imperial and Spanish protocols. In the army and politics, regular challenges were presented by the processing of the French speaking population’s grievances about military atrocities, the need for German-speaking diplomats and the demand for translating and publishing wartime propaganda. Linguistic considerations played a role in the management of safe conducts, office protocols and military correspondence. Analysis of several facets of the army of Flanders and the Croatian-Hungarian troops provides several examples that illustrate the subject.

48French and German remained important regional bridge languages, and in a number of situations, native Spanish Habsburg decision makers needed to adjust their day-to-day operations to local requirements, practices and traditions in the Holy Roman Empire, the Franche-Comté or Flanders.

49Spanish was the only candidate for becoming a pan-Habsburg bridge language, but it failed to do so. The political preponderance of the Spanish Monarchy had a deep impact in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Central Europe; however, since it lasted only a century and lacked economical structural roots, cultural networks slowly disappeared and the path to a soft type of acculturation ended with the conclusion of Spanish domination in Europe. In terms of common, everyday reality in the countryside, on the battlefield or in economic negotiations, Spanish rarely served as a natural vehicular language outside of the Iberian lands.

50When it became clear these three language options (Spanish, German, French) were not viable, Latin and Italian surfaced immediately as the only, all-embracing lingua francas that worked reliably and consistently during the Thirty Years’ War.

Notes de bas de page

1 His opinio dated in Tournai, 29 Sep 1640: National Archives of Belgium (NAB), Conseil Privé Espagnol (CPE), Papiers Roose et Pape 1512, fols. 311r-312r, here 311r.

2 Saavedra Fajardo to Ferdinand, the cardinal-infante, Regensburg, 29 Sep 1640. Archived amongst the papers of Roose: NAB, CPE, Papiers Roose et Pape, 1553, fols. 6r-7r.

3 Saavedra Fajardo to Ferdinand, the cardinal-infante. Regensburg, 6 Oct 1640. NAB, Secrétairerie d’État et de Guerre (SEG) 343, fol. 76r.

4 Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (ÖStA), Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (HHStA), Reichskanzlei, Reichstagsakten 109b, passim.

5 See the chapter “La repercusión de las lenguas germánicas en la Península”, in Ingrid Cáceres Würsig, La traducción en España en el ámbito de las relaciones internacionales, con especial referencia a las naciones y lenguas germánicas (s. xvi-xix), Doctoral thesis at the Complutense University of Madrid, 2000, p. 303-328. The thesis was published in a shortened format in 2004: Historia de la traducción en la administración y en las relaciones internacionales en España (s. xvi-xix), Diputación Provincial de Soria, 2004.

6 Between 1606 and 1711, at least six secretaries are known by name who translated from German to other languages in Madrid. Würsig, La traducción en España, p. 309.

7 Lindorfer Bianca, Cosmopolitan Aristocracy and the Diffusion of Baroque Culture: Cultural Transfer from Spain to Austria in the Seventeenth Century. Unpublished doctoral thesis, European University Institute, 2009, p. 5.

8 Reiter, Clara, In Habsburgs sprachlichem Hofdienst. Translation in den diplomatischen Beziehungen zwischen den habsburgischen Höfen von Madrid und Wien in der Frühen Neuzeit, PhD-Dissertation, University of Graz, 2015, p. 242.

9 See e.g., “Papel que el Emperador [Ferdinand III] ha mandado comunicar al marqués de Castañeda [permanent ambassador of Philip IV at the imperial court] sobre el estado presente de sus cosas. Traducido de alemán”, NAB, Secrétairerie d’État Allemand, 688, s.d. (1639 or 1640), s. l. (Vienna or Regensburg), s. f.

10 A request for winter quarters in the empire for Spanish troops, dated on 22 Oct 1640, can be found in Italian in the Trauttmansdorff Family Archive: ÖStA, Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv (AVA), Trauttmansdorff 132, fol. 397r-398r. The Spanish version of the text, submitted by the marquis of La Fuente, the Catholic king’s extraordinary envoy at the imperial court, was edited in Monostori, Tibor, Saavedra Fajardo and the Myth of Ingenious Habsburg Diplomacy. A New Political Biography and Sourcebook, 1637-1646, SIELAE, A Coruña, 2019, p. 191-2. A secret agreement concerning mutual assistance for the military campaign of 1641 between the emperor and the Spanish king was negotiated by Trauttmansdorff, Schlick and Francisco de Melo, extraordinary ambassador of Philip IV in the empire. The text, dated 29 Dec 1640 in Regensburg, can be found in Spanish amongst the family documents of the Habsburgs: ÖStA, HHStA, Hausarchiv, Familienakten, 106-1-12 and in Italian in the correspondence between the emperor and the cardinal-infante: ÖStA, HHStA, Belgische Korrespondenz 19/2, fol. 180rv. In the same year, Trauttmansdorff received a letter in Spanish from the cardinal-infante (Ghent, 29 May 1640) and drafted the reply in Italian: ÖStA, AVA, Trauttmansdorff 136, s. f.

11 Besides the Belgische Korrespondenz series in ÖStA, HHStA, see also ibid, Kriegsakten, 95-3 (1639) and 99-1 (1640), passim.

12 Antwort des Kaisers auf zwei Memoria des spanischen Botschafters wegen Waffenhilfe in Belgien und Schlesien. ” Ebersdorf, 14 Sep 1642. ÖStA, HHStA, Kriegsakten 109-176.

13 E.g., Oignies, 26 Aug 1640. ÖStA, AVA, Trauttmansdorff 132, fol. 377rv.

14 See their correspondence in Oberösterreichisches Landesarchiv, Linz (Austria), Familienarchiv Lamberg, HA Steyr, Alter Bestand 1222-4.

15 E.g., ÖStA, HHStA, Staatenabteilungen (SA), Spanien, Diplomatische Korrespondenz, Kart. 23, Mappe 453 (years 1635 and 36).

16 A fiscal military state refers to any state in early modern history that conducted long wars while needing to centralize state administration and manage more effectively and creatively its human and natural resources and financial system, including taxation and expenditures. I mention here three key works and a bibliography: John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1989; Jan Glete, Spain, the Dutch Republic and Sweden as Fiscal-Military States, 1500-1660, London, Routledge, 2002; Mark Knights, Fiscal-Military State (Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide), Oxford, OUP, 2011.

17 Madrid, 13 June 1638. Archivo General de Simancas (AGS), Contaduría Mayor de Cuentas (CMC), Tercera Época, 23, Cuentas de Manuel de Paz, de sus asientos sobre pagos de ejércitos en Flandes y Alemania y de embajadores. Años 1634-1636, s. f.

18 Ingrid Cáceres Würsig, “Breve historia de la secretaría de interpretación de lenguas“, Meta: Translators’ Journal, 49, 3, 2004, p. 609–28.

19 Rodríguez Hernández, Antonio José, “Financial and Military Cooperation Between the Spanish Crown and the Emperor in the 17th Century“, in Peter Rauscher (ed.), Kriegführung und Staatsfinanzen: die Habsburgermonarchie und das Heilige Römische Reich vom Dreissigjährigen Krieg bis zum Ende des habsburgischen Kasiertums 1740, Münster, Aschendorff, 2010, p. 575-605, here: p. 575-580.

20 His full name: Francisco Gracián Dantisco y Berruguete. He became the principal officer between 1656-1678 (secretario de la Interpretación de lenguas): Cáceres Würsig, La traducción en España, p. 140-1. This source shows that he started to hold the office earlier or that there might have been multiple officials employed at the same time.

21 Juan Bautista and Juan Esteban Pestalozzi (los Pestaluces). See Hildegard Ernst, Madrid und Wien 1632-1637. Politik und Finanzen in den Beziehungen zwischen Philipp IV. und Ferdinand II., Münster, Aschendorff, 1991, p. 269 and 271.

22 One of the later payments was dated Vienna, 27 June 1636 and translated two years later in Madrid, 13 June 1638. See n. 17.

23 The original receipt was dated Cologne, 3 Sep 1640. ÖStA, HHStA, Spanien, Varia 9-1, fols. 182r-183v.

24 Ibid., dated Cologne, 1 March 1641. There must have been a problem because the Spanish Embassy in Vienna reported the case in 1642.

25 AGS, CMC, Tercera Época 949.

26 ÖStA, HHStA, SA, Spanien, Varia 9-1: Rechnungen über A-Conto-Zahlungen für Truppen, die in Deutschland für Spanien geworben wurden and 10-1: Rechnungen und Quittungen über Lieferungen betreffend den spanischen Kommissär Van den Bergh.

27 ÖStA, HHStA, SA, Spanien, Varia 8, passim.

28 Reiter, In Habsburgs sprachlichem Hofdienst, op. cit., p. 237.

29 Ferdinand III to the marquis of Castel Rodrigo, governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Prague, 25 Feb 1645. The Spanish translation was edited in Monostori, Saavedra Fajardo, p. 235-6.

30 Memorial presentado por Jacques Bruneau a los de la Camera (sic) Aulica en 16 de junio 1621. NAB, SEA 430, fol. 31rv.

31 The marquis of Castañeda to Miguel de Salamanca, secretary of state and war of the cardinal-infante, Vienna, 21 March 1640. NAB, SEG 327, fols. 176r-179v, here 179r.

32 Ernst, Madrid und Wien, op. cit., p. 108-114, 183-192.

33 ÖStA, Kriegsarchiv (KA), Hofkriegsrat (HKR), Prot. Reg. Band 282, fol. 474r, nr. 58 (Sep 1640).

34 Peter Burke, Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, CUP, 2004, p. 129ff. For a recent contribution on loanwords in the military, see Robert A. Verdonk, “La aportación de la lengua española de Flandes al léxico del español general a finales del siglo xvi y durante el siglo xvii”, Scriptum Digital, 6 (2017), p. 112-126.

35 See the articles in Helmut Glück and Mark Häberlein (eds.), Militär und Mehrsprachigkeit im neuzeitlichen Europa, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2014. One essay deals specifically with the Thirty Years’ War: Andreas Flurschütz da Cruz, “Situationen des Sprachkontakts in Selbstzeugnissen aus der Zeit des Dreißigjährigen Krieges”, ibid., p. 47-64. See also Josef Ernst, “Die Institutionalisierung der Sprachausbildung im österreichischen Militär von der Zeit Maria Theresias bis zum Wiener Kongress”, ibid., p. 113-134, and Ernst’s contribution in this volume. For France, see: Tozzi, Christopher, “One Army, Many Languages: Foreign Troops and Linguistic Diversity in the Eighteenth-Century French Military”, in Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly (eds.), Languages and the Military. Alliances, Occupation and Peace Building, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p. 12-24.

36 Tamara Scheer, “Habsburg Languages at War: ‘The linguistic confusion at the tower of Babel couldn’t have been much worse”’, in Christophe Declercq & Julian Walker (eds.), Languages and the First World War (Volume 1: Languages and the First World War: Communicating in a Transnational War), Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2016, p. 62-78.

37 Historically the term ‘Croatian-Hungarian’ is much more accurate than ‘Croatian’, the latter being mostly used in these decades. The contemporary terminology used in Viennese administration to describe the nationality of the officers and soldiers both point to and support the amended term. See Tibor Monostori , ‘Egy magyar arisztokrata Spanyol-Németalföldön a Flandriai Hadsereg szolgálatában. Forgách Péter koronaőr lovasezredének szerződtetése 1637-ben’, Lymbus, Magyarságtudományi forrásközlemények, Budapest, 2019, p. 157-174. The troops included many other nationalities from Central and Eastern Europe. See also Michael Weise, “Die kaiserlichen Kroaten im Dreißigjährigen Krieg”, in Robert Rebitsch, Lothar Höbelt & Erwin A. Schmidl (eds.), Vor 400 Jahren, Der Dreißigjährige Krieg, Innsbruck, Innsbruck UP, 2019, p. 107-115.

38 NAB, SEG 40, fols. 67v–68r.

39 See the inventory of imperial troops (Kriegsliste) in Documenta Bohemica Bellum Tricennale Illustrantia, Janácek Josef, Josef Koci, Gabriela Cechová and Josef Polisensky (eds.) I-VII, Praha, Academia, 1971-81, especially Tom. III, p. 275 (year 1621); Tom IV, p. 423-4 (year 1626); Tom. V, p. 392 (year 1631), p 403-4, 416, 425 (year 1632), p 437, 442-3 (year 1633), p. 453 (year 1634).

40 See the list of officers of the ‘Croatian’ unit (650 soldiers) in Archivo Histórico Nacional, Estado, libro 978, s. f.

41 NAB, SEA, 747-753 (Papiers militaires divers), passim.

42 Eduardo de Mesa Gallego, Irish in the Spanish Armies in the Seventeenth Century, Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 2014, p. 209-10.

43 Reiter, In Habsburgs sprachlichem, op. cit., p. 213.

44 Ibid.; Flurschütz da Cruz, Situationen des Sprachkontakts, p. 55-7; Mesa Gallego, Irish in the Spanish Armies, op. cit., p. 72.

45 Bruneau to Antonio Suárez de Arguello, secretary of state, Vienna, 12 Jan 1622. NAB, SEA 430, fol. 193rv.

46 Reiter, In Habsburgs sprachlichem, op. cit., p. 172-3.

47 NAB, SEA 430, fol. 234r.

48Al elector de Colonia se le suele escribir en alemán, y el oficial que suele hacerlo se halla en Bruselas, adonde se ha retirado muy malo.Miguel de Salamanca to the marquis of Cerralbo. Dunquerque, 14 Oct 1639. NAB, SEG 560, fol. 99r.

49 The marquis approved the letter to be sent in Spanish, since it was from Salamanca to a resident of the elector, not directly to the elector. Ibid.

50 Reiter, In Habsburgs sprachlichem, op. cit., p. 282-315.

51 As in note 31, and see also his letter to the count-duke of Olivares listing some of his services. Genova, 31 May 1639. AGS, Estado, leg. 3595, 204rv.

52 See also Kay Peter Jankrift, “’Cuius religio, eius lingua?’ Die Bedeutung von Sprache bei Friedensschlüssen zwischen katholischen und protestantischen Mächten bis zum Ende des Dreißigjährigen Krieges”, in Heinz Duchhardt & Martin Espenhorst (eds.), Frieden übersetzen in der Vormoderne. Translationsleistungen in Diplomatie, Medien und Wissenschaft, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012, p. 19–34, especially 27-34.

53 Guido Braun, “Une tour de Babel? Les langues de la négociation et les problèmes de traduction au congrès de la paix de Westphalie”, in Babel Rainer (ed.), Le diplomate au travail. Entscheidungsprozesse, Information und Kommunikation im Umkreis des Westfälischen Friedenskongresses, München, Oldenbourg, 2005, p. 139–172.

54 Ibid., p. 145-6.

55 Edited in Heinrich Günter, Die Habsburger-Liga 1625–1635. Briefe und Akten aus dem General-Archiv zu Simancas, Berlin, Emil Ebering, 1908, doc. 151, p. 425-6.

56 Jean Du Mont, Corps universel diplomatique du droit des gens, Tom. VI, 1, Amsterdam, 1728, p. 180 and following.

57 ÖStA, HHStA, Kriegsakten 94-3-100 and 101.

58 István Hiller, Palatin Nikolaus Esterházy. Die ungarische Rolle in der Habsburgerdiplomatie 1625–1645, Vienna/Cologne/Weimar, Böhlau, 1992, passim.

59 Between 1625-27, with the count of Collalto (Documenta Bohemica, Tom. IV, item 7, [p. 46]), and between 1627-31, with Franz von Dietrichstein (Documenta Bohemica, Tom. IV, item 397, [p. 175]).

60 Mesa Gallego, Irish in the Spanish Armies, op. cit., p. 130, n. 77.

61 Reiter, In Habsburgs sprachlichem, op. cit., p. 179.

62 Buda, 18 July 1620. NAB, SEA 433, fols. 252r-253r.

63 See Documenta Bohemica, passim.

64 E.g., see his reports from 1640 in ÖStA, KA, Alte Feldakten 106/VII.

65 Saavedra Fajardo to the cardinal-infante, Regensburg, 6 May 1641. Edited in Monostori, Saavedra Fajardo, op. cit., p. 326-327.

66 Lieve Behiels, Werner Thomas, Christian Pistor, “Translation as an Instrument of Empire: The Southern Netherlands as a Translation Center of the Spanish Monarchy, 1500–1700”, Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, 47, 3, 2014, p. 113–127, especially p. 116-119.

67 Sònia Boadas, “La impresión de los panfletos políticos de Diego de Saavedra: Noticias del Tratado de Neutralidad y Carta de un holandés”, in Giovanni Ciappelli & Valentina Nider (eds.), La invención de las noticias. Las relaciones de sucesos entre la literatura y la información (siglos xvi-xviii), Trento, Colección Laberintini, 2017, p. 567-582, here: p. 571-2. A Dutch handwritten or printed version has not yet been located.

68 See Ulrich Eisenhardt, Die kaiserliche Aufsicht über Buchdruck: Buchhandel und Presse im Heiligen Römischen Reich Deutscher Nation (1496-1806). Ein Beitrag sur Geschichte der Bücher- und Pressezensur, Karlsruhe, C. F. Müller, 1970.

69 Peer Schmidt, Spanische Universalmonarchie oder ‘teutsche’ Libertet, Stuttgart, Franz Steiner, 2001, p. 393-438, especially p. 395-6.

70 As with the battle of Nördlingen in 1634, when Emperor Ferdinand II received very substantial military assistance from Madrid. See Göran Rystad, Kriegsnachrichten und Propaganda während des dreissigjährigen Krieges, Lund, 1960.

71 Gábor Almási, “Machiavellian Propaganda and Advice after the Bohemian Revolt: the Case of Kaspar Schoppe”, Acta Comeniana, 30, 2016, p. 89-117.

72 Reiter, In Habsburgs sprachlichem, op. cit., p. 150-152.

73 See his appointment in Münster, on 6 July 1645, in NAB, SEG 675, s. f.

74 ‘… una persona de mucha satisfacción en el ministerio de papeles, […] en Antonio Ricardo concurren estas y otras buenas partes y calidades de inteligencia y secreto, y teniendo también consideración a lo que ha servido a Su Majestad en Flandes por tiempo de dieciséis años en la secretaria de estado de las cosas de Alemania, […] siguiendo a la serenísima señora Infanta Isabel en las jornadas que hizo, y procediendo siempre con mucha aprobación en todo lo que se le encargó, como consta por sus papeles …’, Ibid.

75 Instancia de la plática que el virrey (sic) y palatino de Hungría ha comunicado al secretario Marcos Putz a primero de Marzo [1639] sobre las cosas de aquel Reyno, in Tibor Martí and Tibor Monostori (ed.), “A Spanyol Monarchia értesülései a Magyar Királyságról – Castañeda márki titkárának ‘interjúja’ Esterházy Miklós nádorral (1639)”, Lymbus, Magyarságtudományi forrásközlemények, Budapest, 2015, p. 123-139, here: p. 131-135.

76 Saavedra Fajardo to the cardinal-infante, Munich, 22 July 1637. NAB, SEG 391, fols. 102r-103r.

77 Tibor Monostori, “Transilvania en el horizonte político-ideológicode Saavedra Fajardo”, Res publica, 19, 2008, p. 351-366.

78 See also John Theibault, “The Rhetoric of Death and Destruction in the Thirty Years War”, Journal of Social History, 27, 2, 1993, p. 271-290.

79 The deputies of the Duchy of Luxembourg to the cardinal-infante, Luxembourg, 18 Nov 1639. NAB, SEG 553, fol. 209r. The report: fols. 207r-208r. The supportive opinio of Pierre Roose: fol. 203r.

80 ÖStA, KA, HKR, Prot. Reg. Band 277, fol. 84r, nr. 154 (16 May 1637).

81 NAB, CPE, 22/A (Jan-May 1640).

82 Archives Municipales de Besançon, Conseil Municipal, BB 71: Registre des délibérations municipales, 21 mai 1636 – 30 septembre 1636, fol. 27r.

83 William Crowne, A True relation of all the remarkable places and passages observed in the travels of the Right Honourable Thomas Lord Howard…, London, 1637.

84 Quentin Outram, “The Socio-Economic Relations of Warfare and the Military Mortality Crises of the Thirty Years’ War”, Medical History, 45, 2, 2001, p. 151-184, here p. 165.

85 Debra Kaplan, “Crossing Borders: Safe Conducts and Jews in Early Modern Germany”, Jewish Quarterly Review, 108, 3, 2018, p. 316-349.

86 Ibid., p. 326.

87 NAB, SEA 483, passim.

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