Born in December 1594 in Stockholm, Gustav II Adolf, widely known in English as Gustavus Adolphus, was the oldest son of King Charles IX of Sweden of the Vasa dynasty and his second wife, Christina of Holstein-Gottorp. As the king of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, he led Sweden to military supremacy during the Thirty Years’ War and is credited for the founding of Sweden as a great European power.
Before his 17th birthday, Gustavus inherited the throne after the death of his father in 1611, along with an ongoing succession of occasionally belligerent dynastic disputes with his Polish cousin, Sigismund III of Poland. In fact, when Gustav was a child, his father, Charles IX, a staunch Protestant, had usurped the throne, having ejected his Catholic nephew Sigismund III in 1599, and that resulted the dynastic quarrel between Sweden and Poland. Apart from the war against Poland, Gustavus Adolphus also inherited two more wars from his father - against Denmark, which had attacked Sweden earlier in 1611 and against Russia, since Sweden tried to take advantage of the Russian Time of Troubles, the period between the death of the last Russian Tsar Feodor Ivanovich of the Rurik Dynasty in 1598 and the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty in 1613.
During the war against Denmark, Gustavus allowed his soldiers to plunder towns and villages and devastated twenty-four Scanian parishes. The concluding Kalmar War ended in 1613 with a peace treaty. According to the Peace of Knared, Sweden was forced to leave Alvsborg, its only North Sea port, in Danish hands as security for the payment of an enormous war indemnity. Despite the truce, it left a bitter scar and Gustavus never forgot that Denmark was the national enemy.
Charles IX had intervened in Russia as he wanted to prevent the Poles from placing their own candidate on the Russian throne and the election of the Russian Michael Romanov in 1613 had ended that danger. In Ingrian War, Gustavus concluded the war against Russia in 1617 with the Treaty of Stolbovo, which excluded Russia from the Baltic Sea. By the treaty, Sweden annexed Ingria and Kexholm and Sweden came to possess a continuous belt of territory connecting Finland with the Swedish province of Estonia. As a result, Russia was cut off from the Baltic, which postponed its emergence as a major European power until the time of Peter the Great.
The war against Poland, the final inherited war, ended in 1629, with the Truce of Altmark, by which Sweden got the possession of Livonia and freed the Swedish forces for the later intervention in the Thirty Years’ War in Germany.
The weak electorate of Brandenburg, a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire, was literally torn apart due to the continuous quarrel between the Protestant and the Catholic parties. When the Brandenburg minister and diplomat baron Samuel von Winterfeld requested Gustavus Adolphus to help the Protestants in Germany, he unhesitatingly entered into the northern Germany in June–July 1630, with only 4,000 soldiers. Using reinforcements from Sweden and money supplied by France at the Treaty of Barwalde, he soon consolidated the position of the Protestants in the area. After that, in September 1631, he also crushed the Catholic army under Johann Tserclaes, the Count of Tilly, at the First Battle of Breitenfeld. In March 1632, he invaded Bavaria and forced the withdrawal of his Catholic opponents at the Battle of Rain.
It is considered by many that, Gustavus Adolphus was an extremely able military commander. He is recognized as the ‘Father of Modern Warfare’ for his innovative tactical integration of infantry, cavalry, logistics and particularly his use of artillery. He installed an early form of combined arms in his formations, where the cavalry could attack from the safety shield of an infantry line, reinforced by cannons, and retire again within to regroup after their assault. In his army, the units were extensively cross trained and both the cavalry and the infantry could serve the artillery. Even his infantrymen and gunners were taught to ride. By producing the easily maneuverable light artillery, he completed the transformation of the art of war. He equipped each of his brigades with up to 12 light regimental guns, increased the organic firepower of his infantry and for the first time allowed the artillery to attack instead of being a static spectator in a battle. Napoleon Bonaparte considered him one of the greatest generals of all time, which was subsequently supported by George S Patton and others. Called ‘The Golden King’ and ‘The Lion of the North’, Gustavus Adolphus made Sweden one of the great powers of Europe.
Within the first decade of the reign, Gustavus created the Supreme Court in 1614, the Treasury and the Chancery as permanent administrative boards in 1618.By the end of his reign, an Admiralty and a War Office had also been created. Each of these offices were presided over by one of the great officers of state. During his reign, the nobility served the state and was prepared to sacrifice even its privileges in the interests of the country. Thus the long-standing constitutional struggle between the crown and aristocracy was suspended. His reforms made Sweden more modern and more efficient than that of any other European country. Stockholm became a true capital of the country, with a permanent population of civil servants, the most important of whom were the nobles. By promulgating an ordinance in 1617, the number of estates in the Riksdag, the national legislature and the supreme decision-making body of Sweden, was fixed at four, comprising of clergy, nobles, burghers, and peasants and regulated its procedures on a basis that lasted until 1866.
Gustavus Adolphus forced the nobility to grant the peasants greater autonomy and also encouraged education. On 30 June 1632, he signed the Foundation Decree of Academia Dorpatensis in Estonia, today known as the University of Tartu, the first centre for higher learning in the Baltic provinces.
Gustavus was married to Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, the daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg and chose the Prussian city of Elbing, as the base for his operations in Germany. He died in 1632, in the Battle of Lutzen, which was one of the most decisive battles of the Thirty Years' War.
He was killed, when he became separated from his troops while leading a cavalry charge on his wing, in the thick mix of gun smoke and fog covering the field. Suddenly, a bullet crushed his left arm below the elbow and almost at the same time, his horse suffered a shot at the neck. As the King was struggling to control his horse, he was shot again in the back and he fell from his horse. While he was lying on the ground, he received the final shot at his temple. When the smoke was cleared, the King’s wounded horse was spotted without the King on it. His partly stripped body was found an hour or two later, and was secretly shifted from the field in a Swedish artillery wagon.
For over a year, Maria Eleonora kept her husband’s body, and later his heart, in her castle of Nykoping. Finally, the mortal remains of Gustavus Adolphus were shifted to Riddarholm Church in Stockholm.