November 16, 1632:
Death of a Gallant Young King
By 1629, it appeared that Emperor Ferdinand II and the Catholic League had broken the power of the German Protestant princes. But once again, foreign powers interfered. Fearing the possible destruction of the Protestant cause in Germany and hoping to seize some of the northern German states for himself, the Lutheran king of Sweden, Gustavus II Adolphus, decided to enter the war.
|Emperor Ferdinand II|
France had been encouraging Gustavus Adolphus to join the German Protestant cause. Cardinal Richelieu thought that if the king of Sweden were successful against the emperor, the Protestant German states could separate from Austria and its Habsburg rulers. The empire then would be permanently divided and the Habsburg power weakened. At the same time he was trying to undermine the emperor, Richelieu made a treaty with the Protestant Netherlands, whose people were revolting against their overlord, the Habsburg king of Spain.
|King Gustavus Adolphus|
Gustavus Adolphus was a valuable ally to the Protestant German princes. He had equipped a new army of soldiers who were trained to use the most modern firearms and rapid horse-cavalry attacks. In June 1630, Gustavus’s army landed in Germany. To resist the Swedish king, Emperor Ferdinand needed the aid of the German princes — but even the Catholic princes had grown dissatisfied with Ferdinand. In particular they feared that, with Wallenstein and his powerful mercenary army, the emperor could become all-powerful in Germany. To enlist the princes’ support, Ferdinand agreed to dismiss Wallenstein. The command of the imperial and Catholic League forces went to Tilly, now an old and sickly man. In August 1630, the German electors agreed to support the emperor. Later, however, the Protestant electors, including the powerful elector of Saxony, withdrew their pledge and joined forces with the Swedes.
In January 1631, Cardinal Richelieu agreed to fund Gustavus Adolphus if he pledged to carry on war against Ferdinand for a period of four years. But, at first, Gustavus Adolphus would not join battle with Tilly; so, instead of fighting the Swedes, Tilly laid siege to the important city and fortress of Magdeburg. On May 20, 1631, as Tilly stormed Magdeburg, the city went up in flames, possibly as a result of arson. The city’s destruction was so great that Tilly had no base and no food supply for his army, and he retreated toward southern Germany. Protestants blamed the fire on Tilly, who became known in central Germany as “the Butcher of Magdeburg.”
It was not until September 1631 that Tilly met Gustavus Adolphus on the field of battle, at Breitenfeld in Saxony. The combined armies of Gustavus Adolphus and the elector of Saxony destroyed Tilly’s army, opening the way for an invasion of Bavaria. After Tilly’s defeat, Ferdinand once again appointed Wallenstein as commander of the imperial army, leaving the Catholic League forces under Tilly’s command. But Wallenstein did nothing as Gustavus Adolphus’s rapidly moving army marched south toward Bavaria. The Swedish army drove Tilly’s forces from the field in a battle on the Lech River in Bavaria on April 15, 1632, and Tilly was mortally wounded.
|Death of Gustavus Adolphus at Lützen|
After Tilly’s death, Wallenstein alone was left to defend the imperial cause. But Wallenstein avoided fighting Gustavus Adolphus. It was not until November 16, 1632, that the Swedish king forced Wallenstein into battle at Lützen in Saxony. The fight, however, went against the Swedes. Shortly before noon that day, Gustavus Adolphus himself was struck in the arm by a musket ball as he led a cavalry charge. He fell to the ground — his men fled — and he was left on the field. The young king may have bled to death as he lay wounded, or he may have been killed by an enemy foot soldier. Only on the day following the battle did the Swedish army learn that Gustavus Adolphus had died. The Swedish king, who had become known for his gallantry and mercy to captives, had achieved the legend of a hero in his short lifetime. Catholic and Protestant Europe alike fondly remembered the dashing young king, mounted on his horse at the head of a cavalry charge.
The above excerpt comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.