The Swedish campaigns in Central Europe in the Thirty Years’ War are remembered in folklore for their brutality, for massacres of civilians and ‘scorched earth’ tactics. And yet, as their leader, King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden (1594 – 1632) is remembered almost as a saint, even in these very same regions.
King Gustavus Adolphus, an experienced military commander who had already fought and won wars against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark, intervened in the Thirty Years’ War like a force of nature – a ‘Lion from Midnight’. He was the champion of the Protestant cause, fighting the Catholic Habsburgs and their followers. In a series of huge moves, his armies swept through the Holy Roman Empire, winning battles at Frankfurt/Oder, Werben, Breitenfeld, Rain on the River Lech, and, finally, Lützen – but this last Swedish victory cost him his life.
Professor Gunnar Åselius explains the paradox: Gustavus Adolphus prided himself on his military reforms and the discipline he kept among his soldiers, but even they would turn to pillage and murder to feed themselves when they were not paid. Holding degrees from the universities of Uppsala and Stockholm, Professor Åselius teaches Military History at the Swedish Defence University.
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Wilson, Peter H.: Europe's tragedy: a history of the Thirty Years War (London: Allen Lane, 2009)
Roczniak, Wladyslaw: The thirty years war (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)
Lockhart, P.: Sweden in the Seventeenth Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
Frost, Robert: The Northern Wars 1558-1721 (2000)
Roberts, Michael: The Swedish Imperial Experience 1560-1718 (Cambridge: CUP, 1979)
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Senior Associate Fellow
Former Director of Military Sciences