Famous Men of Modern Times - John Haaren

Gustavus Adolphus


In the year 1594 a child was born in the royal palace of Stockholm who was destined to have great influence upon the history of modern Europe.

He was the son of Charles IX, king of Sweden, and a grandson of the famous hero, Gustavus Vasa. He was given the name of Gustavus Adolphus.

As soon as he was old enough to begin his education he was provided with the best of teachers. He soon learned to speak Latin, Greek, German, Dutch, French, and Italian, but before he was eighteen his studies were brought to an end by the death of his father. He was at once proclaimed king of Sweden.

Gustavus had been carefully instructed in athletics, especially in riding, fencing, and military drill. He was a boy of muscle as well as of mind, and he soon proved the value of both.

Gustavus Adolphus


At the time of his father's death, Sweden was at war with Denmark. The Danes had captured the two most important fortresses of Sweden. Gustavus was determined to win them back, and he continued the war with great vigor.

A few months after his accession the Danes sent a fleet of thirty-six ships against Stockholm, but Gustavus, marching night and day, led his army to a point from which he could attack the Danish fleet with advantage. A storm also hindered the Danes from landing, and they returned home disappointed.

When the king of Denmark heard of these rapid marches, and found that he had no mere boy to contend with, he consented to a treaty of peace by which Sweden regained one of her fortresses and was permitted to buy back the other.

From 1614 to 1617, Gustavus was at war with Russia to recover the pay due to Swedish soldiers which his father had sent to Russia a few years before.

In that war he took from Russia the two provinces of Carelia and Ingria. These provinces remained in the possession of Sweden for more than a hundred years, serving as a great barrier between Russia and the Baltic Sea. Even the land on which St. Petersburg now stands passed into the hands of the Swedes; and at the close of the war, Gustavus declared, "The enemy cannot now launch a boat on the Baltic without our permission."

When Gustavus came to the throne, Sweden was at war also with Poland. The cause of the war was this: Charles IX, the father of Gustavus, was not the true heir to the Swedish crown. It belonged, by right, to Sigismund, king of Poland.

Sigismund had tried to take the crown of Sweden from Charles; and he now tried to take it from Gustavus. But Gustavus won a great victory over Sigismund and forced him to abandon his claim to the throne and to make a peace which was of great advantage to Sweden.

Ten years before the birth of Gustavus a new star had suddenly appeared in the northern skies of Europe; and people thought that wonders in the heavens had much to do with events upon the earth.

The new star rapidly became one of the brightest in the firmament. It could be seen by men with keen eyes even in the day time. But it soon began to lose its brilliancy, and in about a year and a half it disappeared entirely.

When Gustavus Adolphus startled Europe by his brilliant victories over Denmark, Russia, and Poland, men began to believe that the wonderful star foreshadowed the wonderful boy king of Sweden.

Some, however, began to speak of him as the snow king, and declared that he would soon melt. Finally, they came to think of him rather as one of the old Scandinavian war gods, and they found that he was equal to greater tasks than those he had already accomplished.

The empire of Germany was, at that time, divided against itself. The "Thirty Years' War" was raging. The grain fields were trampled down by marching troops. Towns were besieged and burned. Innocent people were destroyed by thousands. Two great generals—Wallenstein and Tilly—were filling the empire with horrors.

Marshall Tilly


In 1631 the city of Magdeburg was taken by Tilly. Its little garrison of twenty-four hundred men had made a noble defense, but Tilly had no respect for their bravery. As soon as the city fell into his hands he put these brave soldiers to death; and during the next two days his soldiers pillaged the city and slaughtered more than twenty thousand of the inhabitants.

All Europe was horrified. Gustavus Adolphus gathered an army of thirteen thousand chosen men and at once invaded Saxony.

On the outskirts of the little town of Breitenfeld, not far from Leipzig, Gustavus met the inhuman Tilly and defeated him in battle.

The people of Saxony were wild with delight. They gladly opened the gates of their cities to welcome the conqueror of the dreaded Tilly. Thousands flocked to the standard of Gustavus and his army was soon more than four times as large as when he had left Sweden.

With this large body of fresh troops at his command, Gustavus determined to follow the German army which had retreated into Bavaria.

Having overtaken the Germans, he at once put his army into line and began the attack. In the desperate battle which ensued Tilly was mortally wounded; and he died as he was being carried from the field.

It was at this time that the emperor recalled Wallenstein and again placed him in command of the German army, as we have read in the previous story.

It was not long before Gustavus and Wallenstein found themselves face to face upon the field of combat. They met in battle near Lutzen, in Saxony, to which place Gustavus had returned on account of the large number of Saxons in his army.

During the morning a thick fog hung over the field and the fighting did not begin until nearly noon. Then, as the skies cleared, the king and his army approached the German lines singing Luther's beautiful hymn, "A mighty fortress is our God." As they ceased singing, Gustavus waved his sword above his head and cried, "Forward! in God's name," and the battle began.

In one particular Gustavus was most imprudent. A wound, received some time before, made it painful for him to wear a breastplate; and so he led his troops into the engagement, wearing a common riding coat.

Early in the afternoon his arm was pierced by a ball from a pistol, and this probably severed an artery.

For a time he concealed his wound and continued to encourage his men. But he grew faint from loss of blood, and finally said to one of the princes riding near him, "Cousin, lead me out of this tumult. I am hurt."

As they turned, a musket ball struck the king in the back, and he fell to the ground dying.

Some of Wallenstein's men rode up and inquired his name. "I am Sweden's king," he replied. "I am sealing the religion and the liberty of the German nation with my blood."

When the troops of Gustavus learned of his death, they attacked the enemy with such fury that Wallenstein was quickly defeated; and Gustavus won the battle although he lost his life.

Suddenly the star in the north had become the most brilliant in the heavens; and as suddenly its light was quenched. The snow king had melted at last.

But a great work had been done. Gustavus and his brave band of Swedes had inspired half a continent with hope and courage. His splendid victories also did much to crush the tyrannical power of Germany; and the good which this great man accomplished has had much to do with the spreading of religious liberty over Europe.

After the battle was over, and just as twilight was gathering, the body of the hero was carried into a little church near by, and laid before the altar. The soldiers, still dressed in their armor, were the chief mourners; and a village schoolmaster read the simple service for the dead.

Gustavus Adolphus


Next morning the body was embalmed, and the soldiers carried it back to Stockholm. There it was laid to rest in the church of Riddarholm which contains the royal tombs, and where many others of the greatest and best men of Sweden are buried.