"Per aspera ad astra!" - "That was not verified at Fehrbellin.“

28 June 1675, during the Scanian War, Frederick William, the “Great Elector” of Brandenburg, and Field Marshal Georg von Derfflinger defeated an allegedly invincible Swedish army under Field Marshal von Wrangel at Fehrbellin, 40 miles north of Berlin.

“ELECTOR: What did you say? Look, what a crop mown for our glory here - That flag is of the Swedish Guards, is't not? ... Ah, indeed! And from the time of Gustaf Adolf too. How runs the inscription? ... DÖRFLING (Derfllinger) "Per aspera ad astra!" ELECTOR. That was not verified at Fehrbellin.“ (Heinrich von Kleist “The Prince of Homburg”)

 A mural at the Zeughaus (arsenal) in Berlin (today Berlin’s German Historical Museum) by the history painter Peter Jansen, glorifying the “Grand Elector” and the battle that was celebrated as purpose- and meaningful for Prussia’s glory during the 19th century’s rise of nationalism. (picture found onhttp://www.janssenart.de/pjalt/pjalt03.html)

Early in 1675, Swedish troops pushed from their Pomeranian possessions on the southern shores of the Baltic into Brandenburg-Prussia to relief the pressure on their French allies fighting along the Rhine from Amsterdam down to Strasbourg against the Protestant Dutch, the Austrians and the rest of the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire. Prince-Elector Frederick William and his army were busy in High Germany in Lower Franconia and General Wrangel’s famous Swedish troops began to occupy the Mark (Margraviate) Brandenburg, allegedly wreaking worse havoc on the civilian population than the mercenary armies of the Thirty Years’ War did fifty years before. During the Thirty Years’ War and the conflicts following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Swedish troops had indeed acquired a reputation of being almost invincible, Sweden was a major power in the 17th century and the invasion of a rather insignificant principality between the rivers Elbe and Oder seemed like a rather gruesome walkover for Wrangel and his troops. In fact, Swedish power was crumbling already, the state was bankrupt and the army deployed abroad lacked the discipline and fighting spirit they had under Gustavus Adolphus.

Der Große Kurfürst (Grand Elector) on a contemporary portrait, 
captured by Matthias Czwiczek in 1642

With half his principality occupied and the Swedes at the gates of Berlin, Elector Frederick William force-marched his 20.000 men north from the Main at Marktbreit over 350 miles into the Mark in three weeks, his Field Marshal defeating the Swedes at Rathenow on 23 June and Nauen four days later when the completely surprised Wrangel realised he had a full-scale counter offensive on his hands and had better gather his scattered troops and find some kind of defensive position. He chose to retreat back to the Oder. Leaving his musketeers a day’s march behind, Frederick William pursued Wrangel’s retreating column with 6.000 horse and horse artillery and Wrangel decided to block the advance with 7.000 foot and 4.000 horse at Fehrbellin.

Dismar Degen's imagination of the "Schlacht bei Fehrbellin" from 1740

Making excellent use of what he had at his disposal, Frederick William managed to drive the Swedes over the small river Rhin in a hard-fought engagement, the orderly Swedish retreat became a rout and Wrangel had to write off 4.000 of his men as dead or deserted and his reputation of invincibility went down the drain while Brandenburg-Prussia’s began to rise from a non-entity to one of the most successful and feared military organisations in Europe. The elector’s victory at Fehrbellin was indeed viewed as a turning point in history by contemporaries as well as posterity.

More on: