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Gustavus Adolphus (1594–1632)

A great commander Gustavus Adolphus (1594–1632)

Gustavus Adolphus became king of Sweden on October 30, 1611, at the age of seventeen. He inherited an unstable kingdom threaten from three different scopes. (unclear sentence) His father and predecessor King Charles IX left Sweden financially, politically, and military unstable, however, Charles IX managed to properly educate young Gustavus. 

For instance, “For his future role, his upbringing was ideal, politics, literature, military science, and physical development being widely in his education under the tuition of able instructors and the careful direction of his father”.¹As a result, Gustavus Adolphus marked his name in history as the bridge to the modern theater of war, strategically, tactically, and philosophically.

Early life

Gustavus Adolphus
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Gustavus Adolphus

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648), often considered the First World War, (By who?) was dramatically impacted by the successes of Gustavus Adolphus of the small kingdom of Sweden during the 17th century.

On the battlefield leading troops since the age of sixteen, Gustavus embodied the Military Revolution, drastically reformed the structure of the Swedish army. He situated the Swedish army as the standard of excellence throughout Europe in the 17th century.

He reorganized the current military edifice with changes to the weapons, tactics, and strategies in ways that transcended the 17th century. Some historians may even argue that he even became a great king.

Kind of Sweden?

At the age of nine, Gustavus was introduced into public life, and at thirteen he was receiving petitions. At 15 he began to oversee his duchy of Vastmanland and initiated the Riksdag at Orebro in his father’s absence. On Aug. 15, 1609, he made his first speech to the Estate when he dismissed them after a troublesome assembly. Since his father suffered a stroke, henceforth was unable to rule, hereafter Gustavus was coregent (-) until his father’s death in October 1611.²

18th century map
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Europe in Medieval TImes

Consequently, the Swedish nobility faced difficulty taking advantage of the young king; nevertheless, unlike his father, Adolphus shared a stable relationship with the Swedish nobles.

In regards to the military, Adolphus was a proven commander from early youth; for instance, “At the early age of sixteen he was given command in the Danish war, and distinguished himself by the surprise night capture of the fortress of Christianople”.³

In the early stages of his reign, Adolphus surprisingly chose the young noblemen Axel Oxenstierna as his Chief Minister, even so, Axel proved cunning, prudent, and the voice of reason of the duet. 

Adolphus’s role in the state swiftly when end because he inherited three wars with Denmark, Russia, Poland. Initially, he turned his attention to strengthening his army. He rapidly replaced his chief officers with men of his choosing, very well trained and polished in the arts of war.

King-Gustav-Adolphus-of-Sweden
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War with Demark

Then Adolphus turned his full attention to the Danish menace nearby. However, without sundry setbacks, Adolphus successfully came to favorable terms with the Danish. He obtained two fortresses among other strategic advantages in the peace agreement.

Now Adolphus turned to Russia, once more, he forced the Russians into advantageous terms, in which he obtained the provinces of Carelia and Ingria, thus Russia was taken out of the picture completely. 

Sigmund of Poland in 1629
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Sigmund of Poland in 1629

In addition, “In 1625, unable to prolong the truce with Poland Gustavus with twenty thousand, set sail for Livonia and then he invaded Cortland. Here he was met by a Polish army, which he defeated at Walhof in January”.4 Thus, decisively ending the war with Poland and agreeing to favorable terms with Sigmund of Poland in 1629.   

Adolphus was a very capable commander and administrator; during relative peace in Sweden, Adolphus traveled through the heart of Germany and absorbed considerable military and religious knowledge.

In addition, “At home these years were also his main period of civil and legal change and organization, during which he altered the policy of his predecessors, restoring the power of the nobility but widening its bounds by the inclusion rendered service to the State, making it a nobility of merit rather than purely of birth”.5 

As a result, commencing the Swedish transition into the modern military and state; in which the military was led by capable commanders, and the state was run by capable leaders rather than nobles without military or administrative capabilities.    

Gustavus Adolphus proved to be ahead of his time in terms of military leadership, and flexibility. For instance, “Gustavus Adolphus is a good example of a general who saw victory as the purpose of war and sought battle ‘eagerly’. In that respect, he had more in common with Napoléon than with many other generals of the seventeenth century”.6 

He drastically innovated the Swedish army; he formed an army of 76,000 men mostly Swedish with Scots mercenaries. Adolphus regularly paid his troops; the standard was that troops plundered the land for booty as payment. Hence, creating an effective professional force.

Adolphus systematized the provisions of his troops and set apart officers to dispense the rations to the troops resulting in a very mobile force because “ In one[not properly distributing and storing rations] army of 40,000 men, no fewer than 140,000 camp-followers are assigned…”.7 

In addition, he was the forefather of the military mobile hospital, he had several surgeons in the army to care for the troops, and set aside booty for the upkeep of the doctors and hospitals.8 Adolphus paid much attention to the disciplined and wellbeing of his troops consequently making his troops and officers very effective, and loyal.

Among his numerous successes and innovations was the introduction of the Wheel-lock, the cartridge, some effective modifications to the Musket, additionally, he lessened the Musket loading time increasing the mobility to an already mobile force.

However, everything was successful; to improve the capability of his forces Adolphus adopted linear formations reducing the depth, a tactic previously employed by Maurice of Nassau and modeled after the Roman Legions. The Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631 exemplified the effect that Gustavus had on the Swedish army.

adolphus-of-sweden
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Ascension of Adolphus Of Sweden

The outcome of this battle represented the pinnacle of Gustavus’s military genius, as a leader and tactician. For instance, fearlessly Gustavus personally led the cavalry charge against the Imperial army; in the aftermath of the battle, nearly all the German troops were killed, with only around 20% survival.

War against the Holy Roman Empire

Gustavus Adolphus’s setbacks and failures initiated during the war against the Holy Roman Empire in 1618. In the aftermath of his great victory at the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, he erroneously decided to head South-West Germany rather than heading to the German Capital. 

This error ultimately led to the crushing of their forces with little resistance. For instance, “For the moment the Emperor [Holy Roman Emperor] could raise no effective forces to oppose his advance [Adolphus]“.10 

Adolphus gave Emperor Ferdinand II ample time to get general Wallenstein and his 100,000 troops. At the battle of Lutzen in 1632, Adolphus faced, German allied, Albrecht von Wallenstein with an army of approximately 100,000 including at least half veterans. 

The battle of Lutzen

A great commander Gustavus Adolphus (1594–1632)

The battle of Lutzen was the ultimate downturn for king Adolphus Gustavus which resulted in his death in battle, nevertheless, all his successes were epitomized in the outcome of the battle.  

Battle of Lutzen
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The battle of Lutzen

Although Adolphus was killed in the early stages of the battle his second in command Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar took over the battle and led the remaining, well-trained and orderly, soldiers on the offensive to effectively defeat the numerically superior German force.

Conclusion

Throughout his reign, Adolphus Gustavus developed his military into one of the most effective fighting forces of the early modern period.

Ultimately, he innovated, and reformed his army, integrated military hospitals, linear formation, and imposed discipline onto his soldiers and officers. However, during his final camping, he exemplified Hannibal after the battle of Cannae, and his failure to capture Rome.

Endnote

  1.       Great Captains Unveiled P. 80
  2.       A Hero of the Reformation P. 9
  3.       Ibid P. 81
  4.       Dodge, Theodore Ayrault Gustavus Adolphus P. 17
  5.       Ibid P. 84
  6.       How Economics Explains Military History P.132
  7.       Ibid P. 109
  8.       Ibid P. 109
  9.       the Lion of the North a tale of the times of Gustavus Adolphus P. 102
  10.   Great Captains Unveiled P.135

 Bibliography

Hart, B. H. Liddell Great Captains Unveiled Published March 22, 1996

Victor and Death for Gustavus Adolphus Dipalma, R Mathew, Military History,088927328, Oct98 Vol. 15 issue 4

Haythornthwaite, Philip J. Invincible generals: Gustavus Adolphus, Marlborough, Frederick the Great, George Washington, Wellington/ Publish New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.

Henty, George Alfred; the Lion of the North a tale of the times of Gustavus Adolphus published August 21, 1998

Castles, Battles, & Bombs: How Economics Explains Military History: Brauer, Jurgen, Van Tuyll, Hubert P. Date: 2008

Meade, James E. Principles of Political Economy: Just Economy, Volume 4 Published NYU 1975

Dodge, Theodore Ayrault Gustavus Adolphus Punished August 21, 1998

Abelous, Louis David Gustavus Adolphus: A Hero of the Reformation Published Mar 2002

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