Gustavus II (1594-1632) was king of Sweden from 1611 to 1632. He did much to make Sweden a major European power, and his military exploits were highly important in the history of Russia, Germany, Poland, and the Baltic Provinces.
The eldest son of Charles IX of Sweden and Christina of Holstein-Gottorp, Gustavus II was born on Dec. 9, 1594. Although his parents had Calvinist leanings, Gustavus received heavy doses of Lutheranism. History, government, warfare, and engineering were among the subjects he pursued, with special emphasis on language. Count Axel Oxenstierna, his most trusted adviser, said of his sovereign, "In his youth he obtained a thorough knowledge and perfect command of many foreign tongues, so that he spoke Latin, German, Dutch, French, and Italian like a native, understood Spanish, English, and Scotch, and had besides some notion of Polish and Russian." At 9 Gustavus was introduced into public life, and at 13 he was receiving petitions. At 15 he began to administer his duchy of Västmanland and opened the Riksdag at Örebro in his father's absence. On Aug. 15, 1609, he made his first speech to the Estates when he dismissed them after a stormy session, for his father was incapacitated by a stroke from which he never completely recovered. He henceforth was coregent until his father's death in October 1611.
A Dutchman described the new king as being "of lofty stature, of finely proportioned build, with a fair complexion, long face, blond hair, and pointed beard of an almost golden hue." As the years passed, the hair became more golden and the beard reddish, and in spite of his strenuous life, the King became corpulent and his features heavier. An engraving of 1616 confirms the rather elongated face, the large eyes, and the nose that gave him the nickname Gösta, or Hooknose. He suffered one serious physical defect:he was nearsighted, which hampered him on the battlefield and was a factor in his death.
Of an ardent and passionate nature as his relations with Ebba Brahe and the Dutch woman Margareta Slots would indicate, Gustavus was simple in his clothing and eating habits, often inspiring his troops by sharing their hardships. He was temperate in his drinking, not by inclination as his daughter Christina relates, but "of reasons of state." On the other hand, he delighted in the pageantry of ceremonial occasions. He was quick-tempered, impatient, intolerant, and strict and sometimes used wrath for a purpose.
Gustavus Adolphus believed strongly in honor, work, duty, and destiny. Knowing his own imperfections, he put his trust in God. He blended caution and constancy of purpose with a love of spontaneous action that attains its goal because of its unexpectedness. Active, energetic, and impervious to danger, he still had time to show interest in theology and was "a lover of all arts and sciences."
Such was the young king who took over a country at war with Russia, Poland, and Denmark. Kalmar had already fallen to the Danes, and soon Älvsborg capitulated. The newly built Göteborg (Gothenburg) was burned to the ground. Yet Stockholm held, and the armies of Christian IV encountered unexpected resistance from the Swedish people. Consequently a peace was signed at Knäred in January 1613 whereby Sweden agreed to pay Denmark one million riksdaler within 6 years and give up all claims to certain disputed Arctic regions. Älvsborg fort and the surrounding region were to be occupied by the Danes as pledge for payment. All other boundaries were to remain the same. Sweden did, however, retain exemption from the tolls at the Sound.
The struggle with Russia was aided by succession problems in the Muscovite state known as the "Time of Troubles." Playing off various succession candidates, Gustavus was able to conclude on Feb. 27, 1617, at Stolbova a favorable peace which excluded Russia from the Baltic. In autumn of that year Gustavus's long-delayed coronation took place in the Cathedral of Uppsala. On Nov. 25, 1620, he married Maria Eleanora of Brandenburg and thereby achieved "his first victory on German soil, " whose political rewards were obvious. Not so obvious was the Queen's emotional unbalance which made the King's domestic life difficult and which was passed on to their daughter Christina.
Less than 2 years before his death Gustavus wrote Oxenstierna:"If anything happens to me, my family will merit your pity, not for my sake only, but for many other reasons. They are womenfolk, the mother lacking in common sense, the daughter a minor—hopeless, if they rule, and dangerous, if others come to rule over them."
Gustavus inherited the throne by the Pact of Succession of 1604 and at the Estates of Nyköping in December 1611 was recognized king despite his youth. On the other hand, he was forced to concede certain powers to the Council and the Estates. Some of these concessions aided the Crown because Swedish administration was extremely complex.
The Charter of 1617 sanctioned all former privileges of the nobility and stipulated that all important crown offices be reserved to the nobility. No commoner could be employed in the central administration or serve as a judge or diplomat. By the Statutes of the Nobility of 1626 grades in the nobility were defined, and it became the right and the duty of the upper class to enlist in the civil service of the country. The nobility, however, was not a closed caste and was constantly recruited from below. Commoners with conspicuous abilities as soldiers and administrators were given the title commensurate with their positions. As time passed, a cleavage developed between the new aristocracy of service and the aristocracy of land and family. Furthermore, Gustavus gave the Estates considerable power and balanced the lower estates against the upper. The meetings of the Estates gradually were transformed into orderly discussions as opposed to the stormy and highly dramatic meetings held by earlier sovereigns. There were complaints over taxes, but the successful foreign policy of the King usually kept the Estates loyal.
Gustavus and his able chancellor Oxenstierna worked tirelessly to create a central organization to meet the country's administrative needs. Their efforts reached fruition in the 1634 å rs Regeringsform (Constitution). A central office, or college, was established for each of the chief administrative departments:war, justice, and so on. Over each college was an official with a seat on the Council, which most of the year sat permanently in Stockholm instead of meeting at the command of the King. On the local level, the country was divided into provinces with a crown official residing in the castle of the most important city of the province. It was this machinery that made it possible for government to function during the long absences of Gustavus and during the minority of Christina. Sweden was also fortunate in the number of able leaders it had to fill posts provided under the new arrangements.
The payment of the Ä lvsborg ransom, enlarged political responsibilities, and the heavy expenses of almost constant war put a strain on Sweden's finances that could not be maintained without adequately utilizing the natural resources of the country. An elaborate mercantilist system was erected which not only specialized arts and crafts within various cities but specialized cities themselves. Some cities were newly built or resurrected, but the only really successful one was Göteborg. Government policies were highly successful in the mining industries. Dutch capital, traders, and industrialists such as Louis de Geer established large new ironworks and reorganized old ones. Large numbers of Flemings and Walloons came into the country, and Calvinists mingled with the native Lutherans. Many characteristics of Low Country origin may be discerned in the areas in which they settled. Soon Sweden had sufficient ordnance for its army and navy plus some for export. Shipyards were busy building naval and merchant ships, and a Swedish colony in the New World was planned but not actually attempted until 6 years after the death of Gustavus. Although the results of the economic policy did not always reach government hopes and expectations, they must be regarded as fairly satisfactory because they enabled Sweden to carry successfully the heavy burdens imposed from the outside.
War and Diplomacy
For Gustavus Adolphus war and diplomacy intermingled. It has been said that he was the first man in modern times to reduce war to a system and to secure brilliant results by strict application of that system. He was skilled in military engineering and cartography and was a student of the scientific side of war. Some of his officers were trained by Maurice of Orange, and Gustavus took the tactics of the brilliant Dutchman and gave them his own twist by combining them with the best of the Spanish school. Consequently there developed through his efforts a general European system of fighting—formation in line.
Gustavus developed naval superiority since campaigns across the Baltic were impossible without it. The backbone of his army was Swedish and Finnish regiments drafted from each province, but a number of Germans and Scots served under him. His armies were usually outnumbered, but he substituted maneuverability for size. His highly mobile army was supplied with light up-to-date equipment with large stores of supplies kept in readiness for their needs. His artillery was capable of rapid fire, and his units coordinated the various arms into an organic whole possessing superior striking power. Gustavus paid close attention to detail and to instructing his officers personally. Consequently he developed a school of generals which included Swedes, Germans, and Scots.
Sigismund of Poland refused to recognize Gustavus's right to the throne partly because of his own claims and partly as an element of the Catholic offensive in Europe militarily underway since the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618. In 1621 Gustavus captured Riga and soon the rest of Livonia. From 1626 to 1629 he continued military operations against Poland. In these he built his military skills and trained his forces. He could not obtain sufficient guarantees to help Christian IV against the Catholics, and after the defeat of Christian in Germany by the Catholic general A. E. W. von Wallenstein, the Swedes were beaten at Struhm on June 29, 1629, by the Poles led by Stanislaus Koniecpolski aided by 10, 000 mercenaries of Gen. Wallenstein. This battle led to the Peace of Altmark, which left Gustavus free to cope with the German situation. Wallenstein meanwhile threatened Pomerania, and Gustavus sent aid to the besieged city of Stralsund. After much soul-searching, Gustavus decided to espouse the Protestant cause, motivated by religion highly mixed with a concern for Sweden's well-being.
On May 19, 1630, Gustavus formally took leave of the Estates, realizing he might never return to Sweden. On June 24 he landed at Rügen. He cleared Mecklenburg of imperial troops, and Pomerania soon followed. In the spring of 1631, strengthened by a definite alliance with France, the Treaty of Bärwalde, and aided by the dismissal of Wallenstein, Gustavus decided to relieve the city of Magdeburg, which was under siege by the imperial general the Count of Tilly. Brandenburg and Saxony refused his troops passage so Gustavus remained in Pomerania while Magdeburg was sacked. Tilly found Gustavus's fortifications at Verden too strong to attack so he moved into Saxony to compel its elector, John George I, to disband his army. This leader of the neutral princes in Germany appealed for aid, and Gustavus joined his troops to those of the Saxons, and on Sept. 7, 1631, at Breitenfeld battle was joined. Although the Saxon wing was shattered, the Swedes held firm and turned defeat into victory. This was the turning point in the war because never again did the imperial forces gain complete ascendancy.
Wallenstein was recalled to action, and Gustavus mobilized the whole of northern Germany to meet him. In 1632, when he received news that Wallenstein was threatening Protestant Nuremberg, Gustavus began a successful invasion of Bavaria. He was repulsed in his attempts to relieve that city and turned his troops toward Austria, hoping to draw off Wallenstein. In this he was successful. He then made a series of rapid marches, hoping to return to his base, but found Wallenstein entrenched in Saxony. On Nov. 6, 1632, the two met at Lützen. The Swedish troops won the battle but lost their king. Gustavus fought without armor because it irritated old wounds and was uncomfortable because of his weight. Somehow in the mists, the nearsighted king became detached from his troops and was slain. There was no one to take his place, and henceforth neither Catholics nor Protestants were able to gain a complete mastery over the other.
Gustavus's life was cut short when he stood at the height of his success. He has been called everything from a selfish Swedish nationalist who ruined Germany to a dreamer for a united Scandinavian-German empire. He has been hated and revered by posterity as he was in his own lifetime. There can be no doubt that he set his stamp on his age and that he is one of the outstanding examples of the importance of the personal factor in history.
Two excellent works in English on Gustavus are Nils Ahnlund, Gustav Adolf the Great (trans. 1940), and Michael Roberts, Gustavus Adolphus:A History of Sweden, 1611-1632 (2 vols., 1953-1958). Considerable accounts of Gustavus appear in Carl Hallendorf and Adolf Schück, A History of Sweden (1929; rev. ed. 1938), and Andrew A. Stomberg, A History of Sweden (1931). □
Gustavus II (Gustavus Adolphus), 1594–1632, king of Sweden (1611–32), son and successor of Charles IX.
Gustavus's excellent education, personal endowments, and early experience in affairs of state prepared him for his crucial role in Sweden and Europe. With the help of his great chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, he insured internal stability by granting concessions to the turbulent nobility, and he terminated (1613) the Kalmar War with Denmark by buying off the Danes. This enabled him to undertake a successful campaign against Russia, which was forced to cede (1617) Ingermanland.
Gustavus at first stayed out of the Thirty Years War, which had begun in 1618. However, his resumption (1621) of the intermittent warfare between the Swedish and Polish branches of the house of Vasa led to his entry into that vast conflict. His primary objects in invading Poland were to consolidate Swedish hegemony over the Baltic by acquiring Polish Livonia and to reduce the threat posed by the Catholic Sigismund III of Poland to Swedish Protestantism.
The victories of the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II in the Thirty Years War soon caused the king to draw closer to the German Protestant princes. In 1628 he promised his aid to Christian IV of Denmark in the defense of Stralsund. In 1629, through the mediation of Cardinal Richelieu of France, he obtained the truce of Altmark with Poland, gaining a large part of Livonia and several good Baltic ports; a secret treaty with France promised a French subsidy if Gustavus entered Germany.
For the Protestant cause and also to gain control of the S Baltic coast, the king landed in Pomerania with 13,000 troops in 1630; these were soon augmented until 40,000 were at his disposal. Gustavus's invasion of Mecklenburg failed when the Mecklenburgers refused to heed his appeal to rise against the chief imperial general, Wallenstein, who was their new ruler. Early in 1631 the Franco-Swedish treaty was openly ratified at Bärwalde, and after the fall of Magdeburg, Saxony and Brandenburg accepted the king's conditions for an alliance with Sweden.
The spectacular sweep of the Swedish army through Germany then began. In Sept., 1631, Gustavus defeated the new imperial commander, Tilly, at Breitenfeld near Leipzig in the first Protestant victory of the war. He then marched west, reaching Mainz by Christmas, while the Saxon army moved into Bohemia. Resuming his campaign early in 1632, Gustavus returned east, defeated (April) the imperial troops at the crossing of the Lech (where Tilly was mortally wounded), and entered Bavaria. Wallenstein, reinstated as commander by the emperor, speedily put a large army into the field and forced the king to fall back to Nuremberg.
Wallenstein set up his camp at nearby, and the two armies remained facing each other for more than two months (July–Sept.) without doing battle. Finally Gustavus attacked Wallenstein's camp, but he failed and retired toward Würzburg, leaving a strong garrison at Nuremberg. Wallenstein then invaded unprotected Saxony, causing Gustavus to hasten north. At Lützen the two armies met on Nov. 16. The Swedes won the battle, but Gustavus was killed. Oxenstierna continued to direct Swedish policy under Gustavus's daughter, Queen Christina, while eventually Baner, and later Torstensson, took the king's place in the field.
Character and Influence
In military organization and strategy, Gustavus was ahead of his time. While most powers relied on mercenary troops, he organized a national standing army that distinguished itself by its discipline and relatively high moral standards. Deeply religious, the king desired his soldiers to behave like a truly Christian army; his stern measures against the common practices of looting, raping, and torture were effective until his death. His successes were due to this discipline, his use of small, mobile units, the superiority of his firearms, and his personal charisma. Although he was deeply interested in the internal progress of his kingdom, much of the credit for the development of Swedish industry and the fiscal and administrative reforms of his reign belongs to Oxenstierna.
See biographies by G. F. MacMunn (1931) and N. G. Ahnlund (tr. 1940); M. Roberts, Gustavus Adolphus: A History of Sweden, 1611–1632 (2 vol., 1953, 1958), and Gustavus Adolphus and the Rise of Sweden (1973).