1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gustavus II. Adolphus
GUSTAVUS II. ADOLPHUS (1594–1632), king of Sweden, the eldest son of Charles IX. and of Christina, daughter of Adolphus, duke of Holstein-Gottorp, was born at Stockholm castle on the 9th of December 1594. From the first he was carefully nurtured to be the future prop of Protestantism by his austere parents. Gustavus was well grounded in the classics, and his linguistic accomplishments were extraordinary. He may be said to have grown up with two mother-tongues, Swedish and German; at twelve he had mastered Latin, Italian and Dutch; and he learnt subsequently to express himself in Spanish, Russian and Polish. But his practical father took care that he should grow up a prince, not a pedant. So early as his ninth year he was introduced to public life; at thirteen he received petitions and conversed officially with the foreign ministers; at fifteen he administered his duchy of Vestmanland and opened the Örebro diet with a speech from the throne; indeed from 1610 he may be regarded as his father’s co-regent. In all martial and chivalrous accomplishments he was already an adept; and when, a year later, he succeeded to supreme power, his superior ability was as uncontested as it was incontestable.
The first act of the young king was to terminate the fratricidal struggle with Denmark by the peace of Knäred (28th of January 1613). Simultaneously, another war, also an heritage from Charles IX., had been proceeding in the far distant regions round lakes Ilmen, Peipus and Ladoga, with Great Novgorod as its centre. It was not, however, like the Danish War, a national danger, but a political speculation meant to be remunerative and compensatory, and was concluded very advantageously for Sweden by the peace of Stolbova on the 27th of February 1617 (see Sweden: History). By this peace Gustavus succeeded in excluding Muscovy from the Baltic. “I hope to God,” he declared to the Stockholm diet in 1617, when he announced the conclusion of peace, “that the Russians will feel it a bit difficult to skip over that little brook.” The war with Poland which Gustavus resumed in 1621 was a much more difficult affair. It began with an attack upon Riga as the first step towards conquering Livonia. Riga was invested on the 13th of August and surrendered on the 15th of September; on the 3rd of October Mitau was occupied; but so great were the ravages of sickness during the campaign that the Swedish army had to be reinforced by no fewer than 10,000 men. A truce was thereupon concluded and hostilities were suspended till the summer of 1625, in the course of which Gustavus took Kokenhusen and invaded Lithuania. In January 1626 he attacked the Poles at Walhof and scattered the whole of their army after slaying a fifth part of it. This victory, remarkable besides as Gustavus’s first pitched battle, completed the conquest of Livonia. As, however, it became every year more difficult to support an army in the Dvina district, Gustavus now resolved to transfer the war to the Prussian provinces of Poland with a view to securing the control of the Vistula, as he had already secured the control of the Dvina. At the end of 1626, the Swedish fleet, with 14,000 men on board, anchored in front of the chain of sand-dunes which separates the Frische-Haff from the Baltic. Pillau, the only Baltic port then accessible to ships of war, was at once occupied, and Königsberg shortly afterwards was scared into an unconditional neutrality. July was passed in conquering the bishopric of Ermeland. The surrender of Elbing and Marienburg placed Gustavus in possession of the fertile and easily defensible delta of the Vistula, which he treated as a permanent conquest, making Axel Oxenstjerna its first governor-general. Communications between Danzig and the sea were cut off by the erection of the first of Gustavus’s famous entrenched camps at Dirschau. From the end of August 1626 the city was blockaded, and in the meantime Polish irregulars, under the capable Stanislaus Koniecpolski, began to harass the Swedes. But the object of the campaign, a convenient basis of operations, was won; and in October the king departed to Sweden to get reinforcements. He returned in May 1627 with 7000 men, which raised his forces to 14,000, against which Koniecpolski could only oppose 9000. But his superior strategy frustrated all the efforts of the Swedish king, who in the course of the year was twice dangerously wounded and so disabled that he could never wear armour again. Gustavus had made extensive preparations for the ensuing campaign and took the field with 32,000 men. But once again, though far outnumbered, and unsupported by his own government, the Polish grand-hetman proved more than a match for Gustavus, who, on the 10th of September, broke up his camp and returned to Prussia; the whole autumn campaign had proved a failure and cost him 5000 men. During the ensuing campaign of 1629 Gustavus had to contend against the combined forces of Koniecpolski and 10,000 of Wallenstein’s mercenaries. The Polish commander now showed the Swedes what he could do with adequate forces. At Stuhm, on the 29th of June, he defeated Gustavus, who lost most of his artillery and narrowly escaped capture. The result of the campaign was the conclusion of the six years’ truce of Altmark, which was very advantageous to Sweden.
And now Gustavus turned his attention to Germany. The motives which induced the Swedish king to intervene directly in the Thirty Years’ War are told us by himself in his correspondence with Oxenstjerna. Here he says plainly that it was the fear lest the emperor should acquire the Baltic ports and proceed to build up a sea-power dangerous to Scandinavia. For the same reason, the king rejected the chancellor’s alternative of waging a simply defensive war against the emperor by means of the fleet, with Stralsund as his base. He was convinced by the experience of Christian IV. of Denmark that the enemies’ harbours could be wrested from them only by a successful offensive war on land; and, while quite alive to the risks of such an enterprise in the face of two large armies, Tilly’s and Wallenstein’s, each of them larger than his own, he argued that the vast extent of territory and the numerous garrisons which the enemy was obliged to maintain, more than neutralized his numerical superiority. Merely to blockade all the German ports with the Swedish fleet was equally impossible. The Swedish fleet was too weak for that; it would be safer to take and fortify the pick of them. In Germany itself, if he once got the upper hand, he would not find himself without resources. It is no enthusiastic crusader, but an anxious and farseeing if somewhat speculative statesman who thus opens his mind to us. No doubt religious considerations largely influenced Gustavus. He had the deepest sympathy for his fellow-Protestants in Germany; he regarded them as God’s peculiar people, himself as their divinely appointed deliverer. But his first duty was to Sweden; and, naturally and rightly, he viewed the whole business from a predominantly Swedish point of view. Lutherans and Calvinists were to be delivered from a “soul-crushing tyranny”; but they were to be delivered by a foreign if friendly power; and that power claimed as her reward the hegemony of Protestant Europe and all the political privileges belonging to that exalted position.
On the 19th of May 1630 Gustavus solemnly took leave of the estates of the realm assembled at Stockholm. He appeared before them holding in his arms his only child and heiress, the little princess Christina, then in her fourth year, and tenderly committed her to the care of his loyal and devoted people. Then he solemnly took the estates to witness, as he stood there “in the sight of the Almighty,” that he had begun hostilities “out of no lust for war, as many will certainly devise and imagine,” but in self-defence and to deliver his fellow-Christians from oppression. On the 7th of June 1630 the Swedish fleet set sail, and two days after midsummer day, the whole army, 16,000 strong, was disembarked at Peenemünde. Gustavus’s plan was to take possession of the mouths of the Oder Haff, and, resting upon Stralsund in the west and Prussia in the east, penetrate into Germany. In those days rivers were what railways now are, the great military routes; and Gustavus’s German war was a war waged along river lines. The opening campaign was to be fought along the line of the Oder. Stettin, the capital of Pomerania, and the key of the Oder line, was occupied and converted into a first-class fortress. He then proceeded to clear Pomerania of the piebald imperial host composed of every nationality under heaven, and officered by Italians, Irishmen, Czechs, Croats, Danes, Spaniards and Walloons. Gustavus’s army has often been described by German historians as an army of foreign invaders; in reality it was far more truly Teutonic than the official defenders of Germany at that period. Gustavus’s political difficulties (see Sweden: History) chained him to his camp for the remainder of the year. But the dismissal of Wallenstein and the declaration in Gustavus’s favour of Magdeburg, the greatest city in the Lower Saxon Circle, and strategically the strongest fortress of North Germany, encouraged him to advance boldly. But first, honour as well as expediency moved him to attempt to relieve Magdeburg, now closely invested by the imperialists, especially as his hands had now been considerably strengthened by a definite alliance with France (treaty of Bärwalde, 13th of January 1631). Magdeburg, therefore, became the focus of the whole campaign of 1631; but the obstructive timidity of the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony threw insuperable obstacles in his way, and, on the very day when John George I. of Saxony closed his gates against Gustavus the most populous and prosperous city in North Germany became a heap of smoking ruins (20th of May). Gustavus, still too weak to meet the foe, entrenched himself at Werben, at the confluence of the Havel and Elbe. Only on the 12th of September did the elector of Saxony, alarmed for the safety of his own states, now invaded by the emperor, place himself absolutely at the disposal of Gustavus; and, five days later, at the head of the combined Swedish-Saxon army, though the Swedes did all the fighting, Gustavus routed Tilly at the famous battle of Breitenfeld, north of Leipzig.
The question now was: In what way should Gustavus utilize his advantage? Should he invade the Austrian crown lands, and dictate peace to Ferdinand II. at the gates of Vienna? Or should he pursue Tilly westwards and crush the league at its own hearth and home? Oxenstjerna was the first alternative, but Gustavus decided in favour of the second. His decision has been greatly blamed. More than one modern historian has argued that if Gustavus had done in 1631 what Napoleon did in 1805 and 1809, there would have been a fifteen instead of a thirty years’ war. But it should be borne in mind that, in the days of Gustavus, Vienna was by no means so essential to the existence of the Habsburg monarchy as it was in the days of Napoleon; and even Gustavus could not allow so dangerous an opponent as Tilly time to recover himself. Accordingly, he set out for the Rhine, taking Marienberg and Frankfort on his way, and on the 20th of December entered Mainz, where he remained throughout the winter of 1631–1632. At the beginning of 1632, in order to bring about the general peace he so earnestly desired, he proposed to take the field with an overwhelming numerical majority. The signal for Gustavus to break up from the Rhine was the sudden advance of Tilly from behind the Danube. Gustavus pursued Tilly into Bavaria, forced the passage of the Danube at Donauwörth and the passage of the Lech, in the face of Tilly’s strongly entrenched camp at Rain, and pursued the flying foe to the fortress of Ingolstadt where Tilly died of his wounds a fortnight later. Gustavus then liberated and garrisoned the long-oppressed Protestant cities of Augsburg and Ulm, and in May occupied Munich. The same week Wallenstein chased John George from Prague and manœuvred the Saxons out of Bohemia. Then, armed as he was with plenipotentiary power, he offered the elector of Saxony peace on his own terms. Gustavus suddenly saw himself exposed to extreme peril. If Tilly had made John George such an offer as Wallenstein was now empowered to make, the elector would never have become Gustavus’s ally; would he remain Gustavus’s ally now? Hastily quitting his quarters in Upper Swabia, Gustavus hastened towards Nuremberg on his way to Saxony, but finding that Wallenstein and Maximilian of Bavaria had united their forces, he abandoned the attempt to reach Saxony, and both armies confronted each other at Nuremberg which furnished Gustavus with a point of support of the first order. He quickly converted the town into an entrenched and fortified camp. Wallenstein followed the king’s example, and entrenched himself on the western bank of the Regnitz in a camp twelve English miles in circumference. His object was to pin Gustavus fast to Nuremberg and cut off his retreat northwards. Throughout July and August the two armies faced each other immovably. On the 24th of August, after an unsuccessful attempt to storm Alte Veste, the key of Wallenstein’s position, the Swedish host retired southwards.
Towards the end of October, Wallenstein, after devastating Saxony, was preparing to go into winter quarters at Lützen, when the king surprised him as he was crossing the Rippach (1st of November) and a rearguard action favourable to the Swedes ensued. Indeed, but for nightfall, Wallenstein’s scattered forces might have been routed. During the night, however, Wallenstein re-collected his host for a decisive action, and at daybreak on the 6th of November, while an autumn mist still lay over the field, the battle began. It was obviously Gustavus’s plan to drive Wallenstein away from the Leipzig road, north of which he had posted himself, and thus, in case of success, to isolate, and subsequently, with the aid of the Saxons in the Elbe fortresses, annihilate him. The king, on the Swedish right wing, succeeded in driving the enemy from the trenches and capturing his cannon. What happened after that is mere conjecture, for a thick mist now obscured the autumn sun, and the battle became a colossal mêlée the details of which are indistinguishable. It was in the midst of that awful obscurity that Gustavus met his death—how or where is not absolutely certain; but it would seem that he lost his way in the darkness while leading the Småland horse to the assistance of his infantry, and was despatched as he lay severely wounded on the ground by a hostile horseman.
By his wife, Marie Eleonora, a sister of the elector of Brandenburg, whom he married in 1620, Gustavus Adolphus had one daughter, Christina, who succeeded him on the throne of Sweden.
See Sveriges Historia (Stockholm, 1877, 81), vol. iv.; A. Oxenstjerna, Skrifter och Brefvexling (Stockholm, 1900, &c.); G. Björlen, Gustaf Adolf (Stockholm, 1890); R. N. Bain, Scandinavia (Cambridge, 1905); C. R. L. Fletcher, Gustavus Adolphus (London, 1892); J. L. Stevens, History of Gustavus Adolphus (London, 1885); J. Mankell, Om Gustaf II. Adolfs politik (Stockholm, 1881); E. Bluemel, Gustav Adolf, König von Schweden (Eisleben, 1894); A. Rydfors, De diplomatiska förbindelserna mellan Sverige och England 1624–1630 (Upsala, 1890). (R. N. B.)