Gustavus II Adolphus (Sweden) (1594–1632; Ruled 1611–1632)

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GUSTAVUS II ADOLPHUS (SWEDEN) (15941632; ruled 16111632)

GUSTAVUS II ADOLPHUS (SWEDEN) (15941632; ruled 16111632), king of Sweden. Gustavus was the son of Sweden's Charles IX and Christina of Holstein-Gottorp. He grew up in a particularly troubled time in Sweden's history, during which his father led a successful rebellion to depose his nephew, Sigismund I Vasa, (1599) and then ruthlessly established his place as king. Gustavus was raised as his heir. He received a humanistic education, primarily from his tutor, Johan Skytte, and was schooled in the emerging Dutch ideas in warfare. Charles IX introduced him to political affairs early, and Gustavus represented the ailing king at the 1609 meeting of the parliament.

Only seventeen when his father died in October 1611, Gustavus's succession was not entirely secure. Sigismund, who was king of Poland as Sigismund III Vasa, still hoped to regain the throne, and his half-brother, John, also had a claim. Gustavus's younger brother, Charles Philip, was also a factor. More important, the high nobles were eager to recover the influence Charles IX had denied them. An ongoing war with Denmark made a decision vital. Gustavus paid for his recognition by agreeing to an accession charter that assured an elite in the nobility a share in governing through the Council of State (riksråd) and guaranteed the historic privileges of the noble estate, including tax exemption and a monopoly on offices. This deal embodied the ideas of aristocratic constitutionalism and was written by Axel Oxenstierna, the chancellor and a member of the council.

Two themes dominated Gustavus's reign: war abroad and developments at home to support war. Peace was concluded with Denmark at Knäred in 1613, but on unfavorable terms that included a huge ransom for the return of Älvsborg, Sweden's window on the west. War with Russia ended in 1617 with the Treaty of Stolbova, which assured Sweden's control of the Gulf of Finland. The sporadic conflict with Poland in the 1620s was suspended by a truce, negotiated in 1629, which recognized Sweden's gains on the south Baltic coast.

It was during this period that Gustavus introduced changes in recruitment, training, equipment, and battle tactics that earned him a place in the socalled military revolution of the seventeenth century. Realizing the problems inherent in mercenary armies, he created a force based heavily on Swedish provincial regiments, which were well trained and regularly paid. He adopted line formations in place of the traditional squares and drilled his troops for greater mobility. Firepower was crucial, he believed, and he increased the number of guns over pikes in the infantry and added numbers and mobility to his artillery. He preferred the defensive in battle, and his forces gained repeated victories by standing their ground and cutting attacking opponents to bits.

Alarmed by the Holy Roman Empire's gains in Germany, Gustavus entered the Thirty Years' War (16181648) in June 1630. At first his presence was unwelcome to the Protestants. Following the Battle of Breitenfeld (September 1631), however, he garnered more support and became increasingly central to the struggle. What he hoped to accomplish is unclear. Overthrow of the Habsburgs, the imperial crown, a Brandenburg-Vasa dynasty, security for Swedish interests in the Baltic, continued German disunity, territory, security for Germany's Lutherans, and the legitimacy of his own claim to the throne in Sweden are all on the list. Whatever the case, the issue became moot when Gustavus was killed in the Battle of Lützen in November 1632. He was succeeded by his only surviving heir, his six-year-old daughter Christina. Thereafter, direction of Sweden's policy in Germany fell to Axel Oxenstierna.

During Gustavus's reign, reforms that were designed to strengthen Sweden and provide the political and economic base for empire were instituted at home. A new royal court (Svea hovrätt, 1614) was introduced and similar courts created in Åbo and Dorpat. At the central level, government was organized around five "colleges" (chancery, treasury, justice, war, and navy). Regional government was based on districts (län) headed by governors to whom local officials were responsible. The organization and procedures of the parliament (riksdag), which increasingly became the point of contact between the king and the estates (ständer) (clergy, nobles, burghers, and farmers), were more carefully defined. New secondary schools (gymnasier) were established, and the country's one university at Uppsala given better support. Economic development, especially trade, mining, and manufacturing, was encouraged, as was immigration, particularly by experts in government, business, and technology.

Long a subject of debate is the extent of Gustavus's role in all of these developments. Excepting the army reforms, Axel Oxenstierna was probably the author of most of them, but they had Gustavus's support. The chancellor, who believed in a powerful aristocracy, and Gustavus, who believed in a strong monarchy, worked together in harmony, each contributing to Sweden's emergence as the major power in northern Europe.

See also Charles X Gustav (Sweden) ; Christina (Sweden) ; Military ; Oxenstierna, Axel ; Sweden ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) ; Vasa Dynasty (Sweden) .


Ahnlund, Nils. Gustav Adolf the Great. Translated by Michael Roberts. Princeton, 1940. Originally published in Sweden in 1932.

Oredsson, Sverker. Gustav Adolf Sverige och Trettioåriga kriget. Lund, 1992.

Ringmar, Erik. Identity, Interest and Action. A Cultural Explanation of Sweden's Intervention in the Thirty Years' War. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.

Roberts, Michael. Gustavus Adolphus. London and New York, 1992.

. Gustavus Adolphus and the Rise of Sweden. London, 1973.

Byron J. Nordstrom