1902 Encyclopedia > King Gustavus II

Gustavus II
(also known as: Gustaf II; Gustavus Adolphus)
King of Sweden
(1594-1632)




GUSTAVUS II, or GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS (1594-1632), the hero of Protestantism in the Thirty Years' War, and the first king of Sweden who played a great role in European history, was the grandson of Gustavus Vasa, and the son of Charles IX. He was born at Stockholm in 1594, and received an excellent education. As we learn from his friend and chancellor Oxenstierna, he gained in his youth " a complete and ready knowledge of many foreign languages, so that he spoke Latin, German, Dutch, French, and Italian as purely as a native, and besides had some foretaste of the Russian and Polish tongue." Even during his busier years, after ascending the throne, it is said that he was fond of reading the great work of Grotius, De Jure Belli et Pacis; also that he knew Greek, preferring Xenophon as a military historian to any other. He was introduced to the business of government at an early age; when he was only ten, his father required his presence at meetings of council and at the audiences given to foreign ambassadors. This early experience was needed; for, his father dying in 1611, he ascended the throne of Sweden in his eighteenth year. His position was a difficult one; after fifty years of civil strife, Sweden had lost the strong and compact organization which it had received from Gustavus Vasa; the finances were exhausted, the nobles were discontented, and the spirit of the people had declined. Abroad, Sweden was surrounded with enemies, Denmark, Russia, and Poland being in a state of chronic hostility with it.

To the difficult task before him the young king applied himself with equal skill and resolution. He attached the nobles to himself by his respect for their privileges and his genial manner, showed them a more honourable field of activity in a patriotic war, and even induced them to bear their due share of its financial burdens. The administration was reformed in all its branches, industry encouraged, and education greatly improved. In this way the national spirit was wonderfully raised; and Sweden was gradually prepared to play for the first time a great part in Europe,—a part which seemed so disproportionate to her natural resources. At his accession Gustavus was engaged in a difficult war with Denmark, which, besides its supremacy over Norway, occupied what is now southern Sweden. The peace of 1613 left their respective frontiers very much as they had been before the war. The war with Russia ended much more advantageously for Gustavus in the peace of Stolbova (1617), by which Sweden was confirmed in the possession of the Baltic provinces stretching from Finland to Livonia. Gustavus clearly foresaw the advantage to Russia and the danger to Sweden if the former power were allowed to plant itself on the Baltic coast; and he now congratulated his country on a peace which assured her against such a risk. In 1620 Gustavus married a sister of the elector of Brandenburg, with whom he lived happily till his death. After being for many years engaged in an intermittent war with Poland, Sweden (1621) entered upon a more active conflict with that power. With some interruptions the struggle lasted till 1629, and proved an excellent training for Gustavus. Sigismund, king of Poland, was his cousin, and had at one time been king of Sweden, but had been forced to resign owing to his Catholic opinions. He still laid claim to the crown of Sweden. In this war Gustavus took Riga, and made many other conquests in Livonia as well as in Courland and Prussia, part of which he retained by the peace of Altmark, concluded under the mediation of Richelieu.

That great statesman wished to get Gustavus's hands free for a more important conflict, in which the king himself had long been eager to engage. While Gustavus had been involved in his Baltic war, the Catholic house of Austria had been swiftly raising itself on the ruins of German Protestantism to a position of absolute supremacy. In this early period of the Thirty Years' War which dates from 1618, the armies of Protestantism hadbeen everywhere overthrown by Tilly and Wallenstein. The latter, raising a host at his own cost and bearing desolation wherever he went, garrisoned Brandenburg and Pomerania, occupied Mecklenburg, and overran the continental dominions of Denmark. The only town that successfully resisted the imperial general was Stralsund; the king of Denmark was obliged to make peace. Such a colossus, with its gigantic force of oppression and devastation and its invincible armies, Gustavus now ventured to attack. It seemed a foolhardy undertaking which excited the laughter of his enemies, when in midsummer 1630 he landed on the coast of Pomerania with his little army of 15,000 men. Yet there were many things in his favour,—the despair of the Protestant princes, who saw a great part of their lands threatened by the Edict of Restitution ; the disunion of the Catholics, who forced the emperor to dismiss Wallenstein shortly after the landing of Gustavus; the help of Richelieu, who now inaugurated the French policy of weakening Germany by dividing it. This help was formally assured him by the treaty of Barwalde (January 1631). Yet the German princes showed no haste to join Gustavus ; the duke Boguslav reluctantly consented to receive the Swedish army into his capital—Stettin. But the marvellous discipline of the Swedes, so different from the wild barbarism of the imperial army, soon gained the confidence of the German people ; robbery and license were unknown; morning and evening the soldiers assembled for prayer round their regimental chaplains; such an army had never been seen in Europe. It was not less distinguished for its hardy bravery in war; keeping the field in winter as well as summer, it soon drove the imperialists out of Pomerania and the lower basin of the Oder, and stormed Frankfort-on-the-Oder. In the midst of those successes, Gustavus was greatly moved by the sack . of Magdeburg (May 1631). Fearful of being cut off from his basis of operations, he could not advance to the relief of the city without the co-operation or consent of the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony. During the delay thus caused, Magdeburg was taken by Tilly, and became a scene of the most fearful atrocities. Too late Gustavus forced the elector of Brandenburg to hand over to him the fortresses required; a desolating invasion of Saxony by Tilly compelled even the Saxon elector to seek the aid of Sweden. The union of the Swedish and Saxon forces was followed by the battle of Breitenfeld (near Leipsic), in which Tilly was completely overthrown, and the supremacy of Catholic Austria shattered at a single blow (September 1631). While the Saxons overran Bohemia, Gustavus, now hailed as the liberator of Protestantism, marched westwards towards the Rhine, gathering round him the friendly Germans, and driving out the imperial garrisons. Wiirtzburg and Frankfort were occupied; at Oppenheim he forced the passage of the Rhine against the Spaniards; he spent Christmas in the ecclesiastical city of Mainz. Early next spring he advanced into Bavaria, forcing the passage of the Lech in the face of Tilly (who was mortally wounded). Munich had to pay a war contribution to the Swede.





In this overwhelming reverse of fortune, the emperor Ferdinand was obliged to invoke the aid of Wallenstein, who soon changed the course of the war. He gathered a mighty host, cleared the Saxons out of Bohemia, and marching westwards threatened the wealthy city of Nuremberg. Afraid of a repetition of the horrors of Magdeburg, Gustavus hastened northwards and threw himself into the city with a small force. In the neighbourhood Wallenstein threw up a fortified camp resolving to starve his rival out; and here the great captains watched each other for several weeks. After drawing his scattered forces together, Gustavus offered battle to the enemy, and when that was declined assaulted his intrenched position, but without effect. Leaving a sufficient garrison to defend the exhausted city, he advanced a second time into Bavaria, where he hoped to draw Wallenstein after him, and thus transfer the seat of war to the enemy's country. But Wallenstein made a desolating march through Thuringia into Saxony, which he resolved to make his winter quarters; and again Gustavus was obliged to leave his Bavarian conquests to save his ally from such a cruel guest. On a misty November day (1632) he attacked the army of Wallenstein at Lützen (near Leipsic). The numbers engaged were not great: according to Ranke, the Swedes were 14,000, the imperialists only 12,000 at the beginning of the conflict; but the battle was one of the fiercest recorded in history. The Swedes had carried the strong positions of the enemy and turned his own cannon against him, when the cavalry of Pappenheim, which had left the main army shortly before the battle, appeared on the field. The Swedes were hurled back; and the king, too eagerly hurrying forward to reform the battle, was separated from his guards and shot. Wild with rage and sorrow the Swedes renewed the attack, overthrew the enemy, and won his artillery again. Without making any effort to recover it, Wallenstein retreated into Bohemia, while the Swedes carried the disfigured body of their king from the battlefield. It was laid to rest in the Riddarholm church at Stockholm.

Gustavus Adolphus is justly regarded as one of the noblest and greatest figures in history. Even in the art of war he made an epoch. To the huge and unwieldy masses of Tilly he opposed a light and flexible formation of three deep, which he manoeuvred with unwonted rapidity. The activity of his movements was equalled by the dexterity with which his artillery and muskets were handled; at Leipsic his guns fired three shots for the enemy's one. The political plans which Gustavus entertained have been the subject of some discussion. That he aimed at founding a Swedish empire of the Baltic, and succeeded in doing so, is certain; he meant also to unite under his protection the corpus evangelicum of Germany. Probably too he aspired to become a candidate for the empire; and if so, he had only one disqualification, that he was a foreigner. Even with this drawback it would have been the best course available for Germany ; to have enjoyed for a generation the rule of such a man would have been an unspeakable blessing, at any rate infinitely better than the supremacy of Austria, or that process of desolation and disunion which actually took place. In any case his premature death at the age of thirty-eight was an irreparable loss for German Protestantism. The Thirty Years' War, which for two years had been rendered heroic by his presence, degenerated again into a scene of the wildest barbarism, by which Germany was reduced to a wilderness, and flung back at least a century in the march of civilization.

See Geijer, History of the Swedes ; Fryxell, History of Sweden, English translation by Mary Howitt, Lond. 1844, and Geschichte Gustav Adolfs, Leipsie, 1852; Gfrorer, Gusiav Adolf, 4thed., edited by Klopp, Stuttgart, 1863; Droysen, Gustaf Adolf, Leipsie, 1869-70; Ranke, Geschichte Wallensteins, 3d ed., Leipsie, 1872; S. R. Gardiner, The Thirty Years' War; E. C. Otte, Scandinavian History, Lond. 1875 ; Felix Esquirou de Parieu, Gustave Adolphe, Paris, 1875. Schiller's Geschichte des dreissigjdhrigen Kriegs is a brilliant production, but written without a careful study of the sources. (T. K.)







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