|During the Thirty-Years War (1641-1648), the Palatinate or Pfalz area west of the Rhine was
frequently raided by French armies who robbed, abused and plundered the peasants and, in the
manner of gangsters, collected tribute from the ruling Electors. In 1674, this area was once again
thoroughly devastated by Louis XIV’s armies under Marshal Turenne.
During the Second Ottoman Siege of Vienna in 1683, Poland, Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Swabia and
Franconia all answered the call for a Holy League supported by Pope Innocent XI. to save western
civilization and Christianity. Only Habsburg rival Louis XIV of France declined to help, thus
weakening the Emperor's forces in the east. Instead, he used the opportunity to ruthlessly annex
territories he coveted in western Europe such as Luxembourg and Alsace with Strasbourg. Because
of the ongoing war against the Turks, Austria could not lend support the interest of German allies in
the West, and France pounced at the chance. Had the Ottomans won, France would have been the
strongest nation in Europe.
Then, after the Imperial army defeated the Turks at the Battle of Mohács in August 1687, France
invaded the Palatinate in October 1688 before the Emperor's armies had redeployed from the East.
The French King sent Marshal Montclas with 50,000 men “that the Palatinate should be made a
desert.” This Commander gave the nearly one-half million inhabitants three days notice that they
must leave their homes, causing thousands to die of cold and hunger. Those who survived became
beggars on the streets of European cities. The French army devastated the area in technically one of
the few war crimes of this period.
One of the many victims of the French Army's ruthless destruction was the immense and ancient
Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schloss), above, now a famous ruin, then one of the most important
Renaissance structures north of the Alps. A castle here was first mentioned in the year 1225, and it
was successively improved upon and enlarged through the centuries. In September, 1688, French
troops marched into the Palatinate and in October moved into Heidelberg and the castle, which had
been deserted when the Elector fled. At war against the allied European powers, France's war council
decided to destroy all fortifications and to lay waste to the Palatinate. As the French withdrew from
the castle in March, they blew part of it up and set fire to it and portions of the town.
This would still not be enough for France. Immediately upon his accession in 1690, Johann Wilhelm,
Elector of the Palatine had the walls and towers rebuilt. When the French again reached the gates of
Heidelberg in 1691 and 1692, the town's defenses were so good that they did not gain entry. Angry,
the French were yet again at the town's gates in May of 1693 and, unable to take control of the
castle, they destroyed the town in attempt to weaken the castle's main supports. The castle's
occupants capitulated the next day and upon their quick departure from the town, the French used
the opportunity to finish off the work they started in 1689. The towers and walls that had survived
the last wave of their destruction were blown up with mines. Although its ruins were in a very small
part repairable, lightening strikes and fires later polished it off almost completely.
In 1707, yet another French army under the leadership of Marshal Villars came to invade, pillage and
destroy this area again. They had by now destroyed nearly every castle on the Rhine. His army
occupied the Palatinate for a year, sending plundered money and goods back to enlarge King Louis
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the ruined castle had become a symbol in Germany for
the patriotic movement against Napoleon. Only the Friedrich Building, whose interiors were fire
damaged, but not ruined, would later be restored from 1897 to 1900 at an enormous cost.