Gustavus Adolphus II

Gustavus Adolphus II


Gustavus Adolphus was born in Stockholm in 1594, the son of King Charles IX of Sweden. He became king in his own right in 1611. Due to his youth — he was only 17 — he had to make a number of con¬ cessions to the Swedish nobles. He thereby won their loyalty, something he needed since the country would be at war during nearly the entire period he was on the throne.

Adolphus fought against Denmark (1611—1613) and lost. He fought against Russia (1613—1617) and succeeded in exclud¬ ing that country from the Baltic Sea area.This had implications for future Swedish- Russian relations (see nos. 56 and 57). Adolphus fought between 1621 and 1629. He captured the important city of Riga and con¬ cluded a truce with his enemies.

During his wars with Denmark, Russia and Poland, Adolphus thoroughly reformed his army. By compiling a roster of all Swedish men over the age of 15 and using a draft (the men were “drafted” into military service), he created the first national army in modern Europe. Most armies of the time were com¬ posed of mercenaries (hired killers without loyalty to the leaders they served).

He studied the Spanish tercio and improved upon it, establishing squadrons of 216 pikemen and 192 musketeers formed in ranks that were only six men deep. Two or three squadrons joined together made a battle group or brigade. Adolphus formed his caval¬ ry in groups that were only three ranks deep; the cavalry trained to charge at a trot and to use swords and pistols at close quarters.

Finally, Adolphus changed the artillery, mak¬ ing it much lighter and faster; his troops were probably the first Europeans to employ the three-pounder cannon.Adolphus brought this effective combina¬ tion of infantry, cavalry and artillery across the Baltic Sea to Germany in June 1630. A devout Lutheran, he entered the Thirty Years’ War to aid the Protestant cause.

The Swedes took up a strong position in northern Germany, but were attacked by the Imperial Catholic forces at Breitenfeld in 1631. Adolphus’s victory there won him the nick¬ names “Lion of the North” and “Savior of Protestantism.”He campaigned in southern Germany in the spring of 1632 and captured Munich in May.

On November 6, 1632, Adolphus led 16,000 men in the First Battle of Lutzen against the Catholic troops of Albrecht von Wallenstein (see no. 49), who had perfected the use of mercenary soldiers. The Swedes won the battle, but Adolphus was killed in the fighting with shots through his head, side, arm and back. Wallenstein left 3,000 men dead on the field in his first major setback of the war.