Gustavus Adolphus

gustav Ii) (1594-1632. King of Sweden (1611-32) and one of the most influential leaders of the seventeenth century. Soon after his accession he was forced to lead his armies into battle, defeating in turn Denmark (1611-13), Russia (1613-17), and King Sigismund of Poland (1621-29). His goal was the establishment of a Swedish empire in the Baltic area. When the Thirty Years' War* was going badly for the Protestants, Gustavus decided to intervene (1630). At first the German Protestant princes were frightened by the Swedish armies, but after the sack of Magdeburg (1631) they rallied to his cause. With their support Gustavus defeated Tilly, the imperial commander, at the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631) and at the Lech River (1632). Following these victories he restored the freedom of the Protestants in S and SW Germany. The worried Holy Roman Emperor reinstated Wallenstein, the mercenary commander, who met the Swedish menace at the Battle of Lützen. Although victorious, Gustavus was mortally wounded and died on the battlefield.

He is considered among the greatest military leaders in history. His field tactics, including the use of small, mobile, well-disciplined units skilled in musketry, were revolutionary. Within Sweden itself, with the support of his chancellor, Oxenstierna, he reformed the judiciary, established schools, encouraged industry, and built a strong economy. His intervention in Germany has been described by some as an attempt to become emperor, while others have felt that the “Lion of the North” wished only to save Protestantism.

G.F. Macmunn, Gustavus Adolphus: The Lion of the North (1931); N.G. Ahnlund, Gustav Adolph the Great (tr. M. Roberts, 1940); M. Roberts, Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden 1611-1632 (2 vols., 1953- 58).