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Who was Gustavus Adolphus?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632), King of Sweden (1611-32), who raised Sweden to the status of a great European power, was the son of Charles IX . He came to the throne at the age of seventeen and quickly recovered territory from Denmark lost by his father. In 1617 he ended a war with Russia, by which Sweden received a large part of Finland and Livonia. Next he defeated Sigismund of Poland in a long difficult war that ended in 1629, giving him possession of the Prussian Baltic ports and a foothold on the mainland of Germany. By now he had made the Baltic 'a Swedish lake'.

Meanwhile, this gifted king, with his minister Oxenstierna, reformed his country's government, developed its iron and copper industries and encouraged commerce and education. He himself was a brilliant linguist who spoke eight languages, a statesman who towered above his contemporaries, an energetic commander and a trainer of soldiers who influenced the arts of war. He provided his men with uniforms, organized them in small regiments, deploying the infantry in ranks only three deep and training them to march, load and fire faster than the enemy. He introduced lighter muskets and more mobile field artillery, while teaching his cavalry to charge home with the sword, instead of using pistols and retiring to reload.

In 1630 Gustavus entered the Thirty Years War as Protestant champion, partly because of his sincere religious views and partly because he feared that the imperial forces of the Catholic League, advancing across Germany, would threaten his Baltic possessions. By a series of spectacular victories he drove the imperialists back , beat their general, Tilly, at Breitenfeld (1631), took Mainz and, in the following year, pursued and killed Tilly at Ingolstadt. To save Vienna, the Emperor put Wallenstein at the head of a new army, which met the Swedes at Lutzen, near Leipzig. Fighting with heroic fury, the Swedes were victorious, but, as he led a counter charge, Gustavus himself was killed.

He left one child, his daughter Christina, who succeeded to the throne of Sweden.


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