A Brief History
On November 6, 1632 at the Battle of Lützen during the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedes won, but their King, Gustavus Adolphus, died in the battle.
The Thirty Years’ War was probably central Europe’s all-time worst religious war fought between Catholics and Protestants. Around two dozen different European countries and their colonies were involved in the conflict at some time or another from 1618 to 1648. With so many countries involved for so long, it should not be all that surprising that around 8 million soldiers and civilians are counted among the casualties of one of Europe’s top five bloodiest conflicts in its entire history.
By the early 1630s, neither Catholic nor Protestant Europe had decisively defeated each other. Yet, in this stage of the war, “The Lion of the North” or “the Golden King”, as Gustavus Adolphus the Great of Sweden was known, entered the conflict. One of the greatest military leaders of all time, Gustavus seemed poised to turn the tide of the conflict in favor of the northern European Protestants. In 1631, he won a decisive victory at the Battle of Breitenfeld. In that battle his Swedes along with his Saxon allies crushed his Catholic League opponents (The Holy Roman Empire along with Hungary and Croatia. The Protestants suffered only 5,500 casualties versus 27,000 Catholics.
Following up on this victory, Sweden won a couple more minor victories with the next major battle set to occur nearly 400 years ago on this day. Sweden’s army of around 20,000 would fight against the Holy Roman Empire’s army of roughly 20,000 as well. Ultimately, the Swedes won this battle as well, with one major problem: their king died under mysterious circumstances.
During the afternoon of the battle, Gustavus Adolphus, no armchair general, personally led a cavalry charge. Due to the combination of smoke from guns and a fog, he apparently separated from his men and disappeared from their view. Not knowing what happened to him, his soldiers first spotted his now riderless horse. It took another hour or two before his soldiers finally found their now dead king’s body, it having endured multiple gun shot wounds.
Although the Swedes still technically went on to win the battle, they lost their bold and brilliant commander. Instead of having a man who might have potentially been able to turn the tide of the war once and for all, the war dragged on for more than a decade longer. By the time the war concluded, it was no longer even about Catholics versus Protestants as Catholic France wound up fighting on the side of various Protestant countries against the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor. One might imagine how history may have been different, however, had Protestant Sweden gone on to deal a deathblow to that Catholic Empire in 1632…
Question for students (and subscribers): What if Gustavus Adolphus had survived? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For those interested in the battle itself, please see the following:
Brzezinski, Richard and Graham Turner. Lutzen 1632 (Campaign #68). Osprey Publishing, 2001.
For those who would like to learn more about Gustavus, please read the book seen below:
Dodge, Theodore Ayrault. Gustavus Adolphus. Da Capo Press, 1998.
For more on the war in general, I encourage you to read the below indicated book by one of my instructors at The Ohio State University:
Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years’ War. Routledge, 1997.