Schulenburg, Matthias Johann Baron von der

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Personalities >> Schulenburg, Matthias Johann Baron von der

Schulenburg, Matthias Johann Baron von der

Hereditary Lord of Emden and Dehlitz

Savoyard Major-General (1699-1702), Saxon Lieutenant-General (1702-1704), Saxon General of Infantry (1704-1711), Venetian Field-Marshal (1715-1747)

born 8 August 1661, Emden, Holy Roman Empire

died 14 March 1747, Verona, Republic of Venice


Detail of a portrait of Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg circa 1741 – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Matthias Johann came from the German noble family von der Schulenburg. In 1715, when Emperor Charles VI elevated him to the rank of Imperial Count, he was the first in the family with this title.

Matthias Johann was the son of Gustav Adolf von der Schulenburg and Petronella Ottilie née von Schwencken.

In 1685, after studying in Paris and Saumur, Matthias Johann entered the service of Duke Anton Ulrich of Brunswick as a chamberlain. From 1687 to 1688, he fought as a volunteer with the imperial troops in Hungary against the Turks and participated in the siege of Belgrade.

On his return to Brunswick, Matthias Johann was appointed Oberkammerjunker and captain of an infantry company. In the next few years, he rose rapidly in the military hierarchy of the duchy (major in 1690, lieutenant-colonel in 1692, colonel in 1693) and subsequently commanded ever-larger contingents of the Brunswick Army. At the same time, he worked for the duke in diplomatic missions.

In 1699, Schulenburg entered the service of Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy with the rank of major-general (and later colonel of a German regiment). The same year, he took part in the suppression of the Waldensian rebellion.

In 1701, at the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession, Schulenburg fought against Prince Eugène de Savoie on 1 September in the 1701-09-01 – Battle of Chiari, where he was seriously wounded in the leg.

In the winter of 1701-1702, Schulenburg travelled to Germany and resigned from the Duke of Savoy's service, as he did not want to fight his fellow countrymen in the service of a ruler allied with the French. The Duke of Savoy was not pleased by his resignation nor by the manner thereof and Schulenburg later regretted his decision when Savoy changed side.

In 1702, Schulenburg was accepted into the army of Augustus II of Poland with the rank of lieutenant- general and took part in the Great Northern War (1700–1721), fighting against the Swedes. On 20 July, he faced the Swedish King Charles XII for the first time as commander of the Saxon infantry at the Battle of Klissow and prevented the encirclement of the Saxon army, prudently retreating over the river Nida.

In 1703, Schulenburg commanded the Electoral Saxon contingent in the Upper Palatinate and on the Upper Rhine.

In 1704, Schulenburg was given command of the Saxon-Polish army near Warsaw by August II. Since he did not dare to fight against the advancing Swedes, he initially withdrew to Poznan, where he hoped to unite with a Russian contingent under Johann Reinhold von Patkul, which, however, was crushed by the Swedes on August 9. In face of the advancing Swedes under Charles XII, Schulenburg led the remaining Saxon troops through a well conducted retreat into Silesia. After he repelled a fierce attack of Swedish dragoons in the last battle at Poniec (28 October) a short distance from the Silesian border, his army withdrew across the Oder into Saxony. In recognition of his achievements, especially his steadfastness against the undefeated Swedish King Charles XII, Schulenburg was promoted by August II to general of the infantry.

In January 1706, Schulenburg again entered Poland at the head of a corps formed by Saxon and Russian troops. Before he could make a junction with the main contingent of August II, however, he was tricked into attacking the Swedes by a feigned retreat by the Swedish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Rehnskiöld. On 13 February, he was soundly defeated in the Battle of Fraustadt despite his numerical superiority as most of his troops panicked in the face of the resolute Swedish advance. Schulenburg was wounded in the hip during the battle. In his report to the king he blamed the "cowardly" conduct of his soldiers and especially the cavalry for the disaster and called for a strict court martial of the deserters, which the king actually held by ordering 30 dragoons to run the gauntlet and executing 14. After the Treaty of Altranstädt (24 September/19 December 1706), to which Saxony was forced by a Swedish advance to the Elbe, Schulenburg continued to work on diplomatic missions for August II.

In 1707, von der Schulenburg returned to active military service and fought in the War of the Spanish Succession in Flanders.

On 11 July 1708, without specific command, Schulenburg took part in the Battle of Oudenarde where he participated in the attack of the Hanoverian Bülow Dragoons under the Prince of Hanover (later King George II). From August to September, Schulenburg was present at the Siege of Lille.

In April 1709, Schulenburg took command of the Saxon troops in the Allied army and by June he Schulenburg was in command of all the infantry under Eugène de Savoie. From July to August, during the Siege of Tournai he commanded the troops tasked with the attack on the bastion "des sept fontaines". On 11 September, in the Battle of Malplaquet, Schulenburg commanded 40 battalions of Saxon and other imperial troops in the Allied centre attacking the French in the Bois de Sars. He then took part in the Siege of Mons.

In April and May 1710, Schulenburg took part, under Prince Eugène, in the Siege Douai, and from mid-July in the Siege of Béthune which was forced to surrender on 28 August.

In April 1711, the Saxon Crown granted Schulenburg's request for discharge from the army.

On 15 October 1715, after having vainly tried to enter imperial service, he was finally admitted in the service of the Republic of Venice with the rank of field marshal, initially for three years, later for life. At the same time he was elevated to the rank of Imperial Count by Emperor Charles VI.

The Serenissima had come under greater military distress due to the declaration of war by the Ottoman Empire in 1715 and the subsequent loss of the Morea Peninsula (Peloponnese), and Schulenburg was considered the appropriate man for the supreme command of the Venetian land army because of his defensive qualities. The defence of Corfu (from July 25 to August 20, 1716) against the Turks led by him is (according to Meyers 1888) one of the most famous achievements in modern war history. It was allegorically glorified by Antonio Vivaldi in the oratorio Juditha triumphans. It was followed by the capture of the Fortress of Butrinto and the occupation of Santa Maura.

In gratitude for his outstanding deeds, the Republic of Venice granted him a lifelong stipend of 5,000 ducats and a sword of honour, as well as a monument erected in his honour in front of the gateway to the Old Fortress in Corfu. The defence of Corfu was also commemorated in Venice with the erection of a fourth stone lion at the entrance of the Venetian Arsenal, with the inscription "anno Corcyrae liberatae". The marble statue was created by the sculptor Antonio Corradini.

In 1718, Schulenburg undertook an invasion of Albania with the help of the Venetian fleet, but had to withdraw as a result of the Peace of Passarowitz. The successfully initiated siege of the port of Dulcigno (present-day Ulcinj, Montenegro) – at sea and on land – was lifted, and the Venetian expeditionary army – with German, Swiss, Italian and Dalmatian troop contingents – re-embarked after suffering heavy losses, but in a disciplined manner.

For the next 29 years, Schulenburg was a constant figure in Venice's foreign policy. In a realistic assessment of the remaining forces, he focused his attention above all on securing the republic and its position in the Adriatic region through the expansion of fortresses (especially Corfu) and defensive forces.

Prince Eugène de Savoie and the Duke of Marlborough greatly appreciated the military skills of Matthias Johann von der Schulenburg and expressed this in their correspondence with the field marshal, which went far beyond military issues. The King of Prussia Frederick William I also appreciated him and in 1739 awarded Schulenburg the highest Prussian award, the Black Eagle Order.

During his stay in Venice for more than 30 years (he stayed at the Palazzo Loredan at the invitation of his comrade in arms from Corfu, Antonio Loredan, which later served as the residence of the envoys of the Holy Roman Empire), Schulenburg became an enthusiastic art collector and patron of contemporary artists, such as Sebastiano Ricci, Giambattista Piazzetta, Francesco Simonini, Giacomo Ceruti and Antonio Guardi. From 1736/37, his collection was successively sent in thirteen consignments to Berlin, where it was exhibited in the gallery of the newly built Berlin Palais von der Schulenburg at Wilhelmstraße 77 (later: Alte Reichskanzelei). In Germany, the "unsteady gallery" of the Field Marshal, as it has been called, was in direct competition with the princely collections of paintings. It was one of the largest, if not the most important collection of a non-ruling house and, in Prussia, the most important after the royal collection.

Matthias Johann Graf von der Schulenburg died on 14 March 1747 in Verona at the age of 86. Posthumously he was honoured by the Serenissima with a monument, which is mounted in the large atrium of the Arsenal of Venice. This funerary monument contains a marble portrait relief and comes from the important Venetian sculptor Giovanni Maria Morlaiter. In Verona there is a monument in the Cortile del Tribunale.

Schulenburg's sister Ehrengard Melusine became the Duchess of Kendal as mistress of the British King George I of Great Britain. His younger brother Daniel Bodo von der Schulenburg was a Saxon-Polish lieutenant-general.



Krellig, Heiner (et al.): Feldmarschall und Kunstsammler. Matthias Johann von der Schulenburg (1661–1747). An unknown collection of works of art from his collection in the possession of the Counts of Schulenburg-Wolfsburg. Konkol, Wolfsburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-931481-27-8 (Wolfsburger Beiträge zur Geschichte und Kunstgeschichte, 4)

Binion, Alice: The missing gallery of Marshal von der Schulenburg. A patron in eighteenth-century Venice. Electa, Mailand 1990, ISBN 88-435-3291-X (Ateneo Veneto 4).

Varnhagen von Ense, Karl August: Graf Matthias v. d. Schulenburg. In: Varnhagen: Biographische Denkmale. Part 1. G. Reimner, Berlin 1824, p. 130ff

Anon.: Leben und Denkwürdigkeiten Johann Mathias Reichsgrafen von der Schulenburg, Erbherrn auf Emden und Delitz, Feldmarschalls in Diensten der Republik Venedig, Vol. 2, Weidmann, Leipzig 1834

Schulenburg, Werner von der: Der König von Corfu. Westermann, Braunschweig u. a. 1950 (Historisch-biografischer Roman mit Schwerpunkt auf der Verteidigung Corfus).

Schulenburg, Dietrich Werner Graf von der, and Hans Wätjen: Geschichte des Geschlechts von der Schulenburg. 1237 bis 1983. Niedersachsen-Druck und Verlag Hempel, Wolfsburg 1984, ISBN 3-87327-000-5.

Zimmermann, Paul: Schulenburg, Matthias Johann (Graf) von der. In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Vol. 32, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1891, pp. 667–674.

Zedlitz-Neukirch, Leopold von: Neues preussisches Adelslexicon, Vol 2, p. 87.


Jörg Meier for the initial version of this article