Childhood & Early Life
Gustavus Adolphus was born on December 9, 1594, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Duke Charles and his second wife, Christina of Holstein-Gottorp. Back then, Gustavus’s cousin Sigismund ruled Sweden from Poland.
Religion played a big role in the European royalty back then. Duke Charles was a staunch Protestant, while King Sigismund was a devout Catholic. Their religious strife reached its peak in the late 16th century and ended with Charles taking the throne of Sweden in 1599. He ruled as a regent for a few years and declared himself the new king in 1604.
Gustavus was the eldest of his sons from both his marriages. Ever since his early days, Gustavus exhibited a great interest in military warfare. He learned many languages and was taken to the council meetings frequently by his father, who wanted to prepare his son as a future king.
By the time he was 10 years old, he had become highly knowledgeable in political matters, too. He would talk to the military commanders for hours, gathering knowledge about the techniques used in warfare.
In October 1611, his father passed away, which left the throne of Sweden empty. Gustavus was 16 years old at that time, and according to the Swedish law, the minimum age for anyone to be a ruler was 24 years. However, the lack of alternative options and the fact that Gustavus was actually fit to be a king, made him ascend to the throne of Sweden in December 1611. His official coronation took place in 1617.
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The King of Sweden
However, after taking the throne of Sweden, Gustavus faced a lot of issues. The biggest of them was a tussle for the throne, as it was claimed by his cousin from Poland.
Additionally, his father had eyed the throne of Russia after it became vacant. He had tried to install his younger son Philip to the throne of Russia, and in the process, he had earned the animosity of Denmark. Along with this, there was also an internal power that aimed at dethroning Charles, and later Gustavus.
Hence, when Gustavus took the throne in 1611, he was pushed into many wars. He soon embarked on a military expedition to Denmark, but he knew that the war was a lost cause. The war concluded in 1613. Hence, he proposed the ‘Treaty of Knared,’ a peace treaty that cost Sweden its port Alvsborg.
Even after the peace treaty was signed, Gustavus knew that it did not mark the end of the war and that Denmark would try to take full advantage of the fragile situation in Sweden. He knew that Denmark was Sweden’s national enemy and could not be trusted.
Until 1617, his war with Poland (which was ruled by his cousin Sigismund) remained largely inactive. However, he constantly feared that Sigismund might use his influence in Europe to start a propaganda to dethrone Gustavus.
The ongoing war in Russia was much more serious and demanded more attention. Gustavus, still quite young then, himself led many military campaigns to Russia. It is believed that Gustavus extensively polished his skills as an able military commander during the war with Russia.
The war with Russia came to a halt in 1617, after the ‘Treaty of Stolbovo’ was signed. However, by then, Sweden had achieved some success in Russia, which threw Russia back toward Asia, as its European parts, such as Ingria and Kexholm, had been annexed by Sweden.
The internal conflicts of his kingdom had largely been resolved by the time the war with Russia came to a halt. However, Gustavus somehow knew that it was just the calm before the storm. He knew that a war with Poland was inevitable.
In 1621, Turkey attacked Poland. This was assumed by him as the perfect time for ending his dispute with Poland. Hence, Gustavus launched a military expedition against Poland, but it ended without any conclusion and both parties ended up signing a peace treaty. However, in the process, Gustavus exhibited his prowess as a superb military commander and an able king.
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Gustavus’s main objective was to economically weaken Poland, so that it would force Sigismund to give up on his idea of taking the throne of Sweden. This conflict ended in 1625. However, a year later, in 1626, a war with Poland broke out yet again. Soon, the Swedish army took Riga. They also conquered Livonia later. Poland was considered to be one of the major European powers that had control over the Baltic Sea, but Gustavus ended this influence and turned Sweden into one of the strongest superpowers in Europe.
However, the war, which ended positively for Sweden, had them losing the control over the port of Danzig. Sweden won the war, and other than keeping the throne, Gustavus now had control over most of Baltic’s important coasts, thus establishing Sweden as a powerful kingdom.
In 1630, Sweden officially participated in the Thirty Years’ War, which was being fought for determining the political and religious balance of power in Europe. Sweden entered the war fighting for the Protestants. Back then, Sweden’s military prowess had reached its peak.
Gustavus was now recognized as one of the greatest military commanders in all of Europe. He popularized the use of “combined arms,” a military strategy that is used in modern warfare, too. He used the strategy extensively and successfully during the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631. With a great military and political bent of mind, effective governance, and sufficient funds in his country, Gustavus was all set to become a great European leader in the coming years.
However, in 1632, the Battle of Lutzen turned out to be his final military expedition.
Gustavus’s reign is known as one of the best periods in the history of Sweden. He was a king with a vision. He established Sweden as a perfect model for good governance, which continued to inspire many countries over the years.
Also known as “The Golden King,” he is remembered as a symbol of Sweden’s pride.
Personal Life & Death
Gustavus Adolphus married Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. He had four children with her. Two of the children were stillborn, while another child, their daughter Prinsessan Kristina, died a year after her birth. They had another daughter, Christina, in 1626. Christina succeeded her father and became the queen of Sweden. She was, however, only 6 years old when she inherited the throne. She began ruling officially after turning 18. It is believed that Gustavus also had an illegitimate son named Gustav, from his relationship with Margareta Slots, born in 1616.
Gustavus died in the Battle of Lutzen, on November 6, 1632. Although the Protestants won the battle, they lost a great leader.
Gustavus Adolphus Day is celebrated in Finland and Sweden on November 6 every year.