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Gustavus Adolphus - The Lion from the North - Reformation Society

Until Gustavus had always to reckon with the danger of a legitimist invasion from Poland and the attempted restoration of the elder Vasa line. Charles had also begun a war in Russia in an attempt to put forward his younger son, Charles Philip, for the vacant Russian throne and then, when his armies were deeply committed in Russia, had rashly provoked war with Denmark. Not only had Charles placed Sweden in a calamitous situation internationally, but he had left behind him a legacy of domestic troubles.

At his death the country was exhausted by constant warfare, the monarchy was generally unpopular, and the accession of a new king seemed to offer the opportunity to extort from the crown guarantees against a recurrence of misgovernment. Thus, in Gustavus had three foreign wars and a major constitutional crisis upon his hands. As the war with Denmark was as good as lost, he set about to end it on the best possible terms.

That indemnity entailed crushing taxation and, even with the aid of last-minute loans by the Dutch, was not paid off until The war left bitter hatred behind it, and Gustavus never forgot that Denmark was the national enemy and might be expected to take advantage of any Swedish weakness. The war in Russia was much more serious, and it was here that Gustavus, in a succession of difficult and indecisive campaigns, learned the rudiments of warfare.


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It dragged on until ended by the Peace of Stolbova in , by which time it had clearly changed its character. Charles IX had intervened in Russia to prevent the Poles from placing their own candidate on the Russian throne; the election of the Russian Michael Romanov in had ended that danger, and Gustavus continued the struggle with the deliberate intention of annexing as much of Russian territory as possible. In this last respect the outcome proved disappointing, but politically and strategically Stolbova was a treaty of European importance.

By annexing Ingria and Kexholm, Sweden came to possess a continuous belt of territory connecting Finland with the Swedish province of Estonia. It thus cut Russia off entirely from the Baltic, thrust it back toward Asia, and postponed its emergence as a major European power until the time of Peter the Great.

Meanwhile, the internal tensions that Gustavus Adolphus had inherited had been largely resolved. The charter that the Estates extorted from Gustavus when he became king in might well have entailed the virtual subjection of the monarchy to the council and the high aristocracy. The king observed the spirit of the charter. The aristocracy found in Gustavus a king favourable to their interests.

He enlisted the nobility in the service of the state and thus provided them with numerous economic benefits. It was one of the healthiest features of Swedish society during this period that the nobility served the state, prepared to sacrifice even its privileges in the interests of the country. Thus the long-standing constitutional struggle between crown and aristocracy was suspended during his reign, largely because of the personality of the sovereign and the unique collaboration between himself and Oxenstierna.

In this improved climate it was possible to undertake measures of sweeping reform.

Gustavus Adolphus – Battle of Lützen

The first decade of the reign, therefore, saw the creation of the Supreme Court and the establishment of the Treasury and the Chancery as permanent administrative boards , and by the end of the reign an Admiralty and a War Office had been created—each presided over by one of the great officers of state. The Form of Government of summed up these reforms in a general statute giving Sweden a central administration more modern and efficient than that of any other European country.


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Stockholm became a true capital with a permanent population of civil servants, the most important of whom were noblemen. And in the s a thorough reform professionalized local government and placed it securely under the control of the crown. The Council of State became, for the first time, a permanent organ of government able to assume charge of affairs while the king was fighting overseas.

An ordinance of fixed the number of estates in the Riksdag at four nobles, clergy, burghers, and peasants and regulated its procedures on a basis that lasted until And the decisions were always his, though they were usually arrived at after intimate consultation with Axel Oxenstierna.

He also promoted the Swedish economy through immigration and the infusion of foreign capital. Immigrants, such as Dutchman Louis de Geer, who founded the Swedish arms industry, came from Belgium, the Netherlands, England, and Germany and made important contributions to the economy. During the 17th century Swedish cannons enjoyed an excellent reputation and were sold to the Dutch, British, and French armies. In he married Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. In , taking advantage of a Turkish attack upon Poland, Gustavus renewed the war with Sigismund. His capture of Riga was followed by a gradual conquest of Livonia present-day northern Latvia and southern Estonia.

It was in pursuit of this policy that, in , he transferred the seat of war to Prussia: a stranglehold on the Vistula River , he hoped, would bring Poland to its knees.

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But already he was concerned with the larger question of the danger to German Protestantism entailed by the victorious campaigns of the Habsburg commanders, Johann Tserclaes von Till y and Albrecht von Wallenstein. He saw his Polish campaigns as one aspect of the general struggle of Protestantism against the Counter-Reformation : if Sigismund were restored to the Swedish throne, the re-Catholicization of Scandinavia would follow soon after, the Habsburgs and their allies would be able to close the passage into the Baltic to Dutch shipping, and the United Netherlands might then be unable to continue their struggle against Spain.

Thus, the fate of Europe was bound up with what happened in Livonia or Prussia. Protestant Europe was slow to appreciate the connection, but as the Protestant cause plunged to disaster in Germany , its leaders increasingly turned their eyes to Gustavus as a possible saviour. But before he was prepared to commit himself to any Protestant league and undertake a military campaign in Germany, Gustavus required adequate assurance of support.

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The disastrous defeat of Christian IV of Denmark, who had intervened in Germany without such an assurance, justified his caution, but it also made Swedish intervention inevitable. In this emergency, Gustavus and Christian joined forces to send an expedition to Stralsund, the last remaining Protestant bastion in Pomerania, which arrived just in time to prevent its capture by Wallenstein From this moment, full-scale involvement in the German war became simply a question of time.

The Polish war was resolved in by the Truce of Altmark, and Gustavus was at last free to turn his attention to Germany. The motives prompting his intervention have long been a subject of historical controversy. It is also possible that he sought security from dangers which seemed to threaten the Swedish state and the Swedish church; that he considered his actions essentially defensive; and that he had no precise long-range plans, either economic or political, when he landed on German soil.

He had, however, an army of unusual quality, fighting in a style new to Germany, and he combined tactical innovations with a grander concept of strategy than Europe had seen for many years. By reducing the size of the tactical unit, by opposing a flexible linear formation to the cumbrous massive formations of his opponents, by solving at least for his time the perennial problem of combining infantry and cavalry, missile weapons and shock, and, lastly, by producing the first easily maneuverable light artillery , he completed the transformation of the art of war begun by the Dutch commander Maurice of Nassau, prince of Orange, earlier in the century.

The vastness of his operations in Germany initiated a permanent increase in the size of European armies. The whole process had profound social effects on the history of Europe. Gustavus landed in Germany without allies. In September John George of Saxony, provoked by violations of his neutrality, formally allied himself with Sweden.

History of the Life of Gustavus Adolphus II., the Hero-General of the Reformation (Paperback)

In the ensuing months Gustavus swept triumphantly through central Germany, systematically consolidating his base areas as he advanced; by Christmas he had established himself at Mainz. It seemed that the fate of Germany lay in his hands. These developments forced Gustavus to reassess the limited and vague plans with which he had embarked on the expedition. In he had defined his aims as security and indemnity, the indemnity to be a cash payment to cover his war expenses, the security to be provided by a permanent Swedish alliance with Pomerania. By the close of , with most of northern and central Germany under his control and the liberation of the southern German Protestant states already in prospect, his plans had broadened.

He had always insisted that the German Protestant princes must work for their own salvation, and he saw the best hope for their future preservation in the creation of a comprehensive , permanent Corpus Evangelicorum or Protestant league. His experience of the feckless and selfish German princes convinced him that such a league could be effective only if it were organized and directed by himself, and military necessity in any case demanded a unified command that could not be directed by anyone other than himself. Security, then, was to be achieved by a Protestant league of which he would be patron, military director, and political head.

For indemnity he no longer claimed monetary compensation but large territorial cessions, particularly, the transference of Pomerania to Sweden. Thus, the old security had become the new indemnity. Many Germans feared, and some Swedish diplomats now believed, that a final settlement must probably entail the deposition of the German emperor Ferdinand II and the election of Gustavus as emperor in his place. It was a solution he must certainly have contemplated, but there is no firm evidence of his attitude; probably he considered it only as a last resort.

Certainly it would have alienated those German allies who had no wish to exchange a Habsburg domination for a Swedish one. Gustavus II. During the entire sixteenth century Sweden was torn by external wars and internal dissensions. Sweden, by the contract of Calmar, in , had become a dependency of Denmark. A trade among rulers had made a brave people the reluctant subjects of an alien power. Gustavus Vasa conceived the project of freeing his country from Denmark.

He made one ineffectual attempt, and after severe defeat, pursued by the oppressors, he fled to Delecarlia, whose citizens rallied about him, and, with the help of these sturdy and valiant mountaineers, the Danes were expelled from Sweden and his country was restored to liberty. His grateful countrymen elected him king. Gustavus Vasa saw the moral degradation of his land, and brought disciples of Luther to the country to instruct in both religious and secular learning.