Sunday, November 6, 2011
Monarch Profile: King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden
King Charles IX had trained his son almost from birth to be the best king possible. Part of this was political training but a large part was also military training and Gustavus Adolphus excelled at it. Even as a teenager he led Swedish troops in repelling a Danish attack in East Gotland. As King of Sweden he proved to be a man of great courage, creative thinking, grand ambitions and disciplined determination. If he was better at war than government he at least had the self-awareness to realize it and, as any good King should do, appointed an eminently qualified statesman to oversee administration while he focused on the military. This man was Axel Oxenstierna who the King made his chancellor and together they proved a winning team in the political arena and on the battlefield. By the time the Thirty Years War broke out in Central Europe, Gustavus Adolphus was already known as the “Lion of the North” for his great victories in Latvia and around the Baltic. He was impressive enough to catch the attention of the French Cardinal Richelieu, the power-behind-the-throne in the Kingdom of France. Cardinal Richelieu considered the Swedish warrior king his great “find” and helped fund his entry into the Thirty Years War.
With a formidable reputation and self-confidence born out of experience, King Gustavus Adolphus marched into Germany at the head of what was almost certainly, man for man, the best army of the early 17th Century. Although small, they were better organized than any other force in Europe. King Gustavus Adolphus was the first commander since practically Imperial Rome to organize his men into permanent military units and he established a permanent chain of command, with special officers in charge of special jobs. He also integrated his armed forces and no one else had done. Instead of leading a mob of hired men, the King of Sweden led an army based on teamwork. Infantry, cavalry and artillery would all work in conjunction in a way no one at the time had ever seen before. He also, very critically, established a modern and organized system of logistics with a chain of supply bases to keep his troops fed and equipped consistently while on campaign. Under his command the Swedish army was truly an elite force and King Gustavus Adolphus demanded discipline and good character from his men. They could not loot, fornicate, get drunk, utter blasphemy or swear under pain of severe punishment. Being morally upright was just as important to him as being brave and obedient and was part of his overall vision of building the best army possible and that he certainly did.
The result was the battle of Lützen on November 6, 1632 (by the Protestant calendar), an epic showdown between the best Catholic and Protestant commanders in Europe. At first it seemed that in Wallenstein, Gustavus Adolphus had met his match. He got the jump on the Swedes as they moved to attack him, yet, in the initial assault on his lines, the Swedish forces made serious headway before the timely arrival of reinforcements set them back a bit. Rallying his men, the ever bold Gustavus Adolphus led a cavalry charge himself against the imperial lines, in a thick fog, in which the courageous monarch was shot down, still fairly early in the course of battle. At almost any other time, with any other army, this would have been the end of the Swedes. Any other army would have been disheartened, demoralized and their final defeat a forgone conclusion. This was not, however, the case with the Swedish army and it was thanks to all of the care the late King had taken to ensure a disciplined, devoted and determined army. They were not demoralized by the death of their monarch, they were enraged. The redoubled their efforts, steeled themselves for the fight and threw themselves back into the battle with a fury to avenge their fallen sovereign. The tide turned again and the Imperial army was soundly defeated. The King was dead but the great Wallenstein had been beaten.