IV. The Swedish invasion, 1630-5


An example of the crude silver coins minted by Spain in the New World

In 1628, the Spanish suffered a catastrophic loss of their treasure fleet (carrying at least 8,000,000 guilders of silver) to a Dutch freebooter called Piet Hein (or Heyn); this shifted the military initiative in the Spanish-Dutch war heavily in favor of the Dutch.

In 1629, Sweden made the Truce of Altmark with Poland, and in June 1630 Gustavus Adolphus landed with his army in Pomerania. Its armaments included eighty field guns - far more artillery than the Imperial armies possessed.

The Swedes established themselves on the coast near Peenemünde and soon captured Stettin.

Gustavus Adolphus devoted great care and attention to the training of his troops. He ensured that Swedish recruits were so proficient in in the use of their muskets that they could fire and reload far more quickly than rival formations.


Sweden allied with France in the Treaty of Bärwalde (1630); by this treaty France agreed to pay the Swedes a subsidy for five years, provided that the Swedes maintained an army of 36,000 men in Germany. Gustavus Adolphus supplemented his Swedish conscript soldiers with Scottish mercenaries and Dutch troops.

Gutavus Adolphus marched south in Spring 1631 and attempted to relieve Magdeburg, besieged by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly (1559-1632).

Johann Tserclaes,
Count of Tilly

20 May 1631, Magdeburg fell to Tilly's forces, which sacked the city. Much of Magdeburg was burnt to the ground and about 20,000 of its inhabitants died. The sack of Magdeburg was one of the bloodiest incidents in the Thirty Years War, and outraged all Protestant Europe.

The armies of Tilly (32,000 men) and Gustavus Adolphus (30,000 men, now joined by 10,000 troops of Johann Georg, Lutheran Elector of Saxony) met just north of Leipzig in the Battle of Breitenfeld, 7 September 1631. The raw Saxon levies fled, but with great tactical skill Gustavus Adolphus reformed his lines and launched a cavalry attack that seized the Imperial artillery. The Imperial army suffered casualties of at least 8,000 and had to withdraw.

Johann Georg's troops went to Silesia to attack the Hapsburgs in Bohemia, taking Prague in November 1631.

Gustavus Adolphus marched south taking the cities of Frankfort-am-Main and Mainz. The Swedish armies then moved deeper into southern and western Germany in an attempt to force a decisive battle that would lead to a permanent political settlement.

Tilly attempted to establish a defensive line, north of Augsburg along the River Lech to defend Catholic Germany from Swedish assault. In April 1632, his army was defeated there and Tilly died from wounds received in the battle. Gustavus Adolphus marched into Bavaria and plundered Maximilian's capital, Munich.

A Catholic standard from the Thirty Years War
[The legend means:  For Christ and the Church]


In desperation, Ferdinand II turned once again to Wallenstein for help. Wallenstein rapidly raised a new army, and in November 1632 drew most of it up in defensive positions around Lützen. Gustavus Adolphus discovered that Wallenstein had sent his best cavalry north, and decided to attack immediately. 6 November 1632, the Swedes attacked with considerable success, despite the return of the Imperial cavalry forces in the middle of the battle.

The Battle of Luetzen

Lützen was at once a victory and a disaster, for Gustavus Adolphus was killed. His heir was his daughter, Christina - six years old at the time. Effective control of government was in the hands of Gustavus' chief minister, the new regent, Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654). In April 1633, he persuaded the German Protestant princes to form the League of Heilbronn and place him in charge of it. The League was committed to fighting the Emperor until their liberties and religion were secure.

On his recall, Ferdinand II had given Wallenstein extensive powers. Much to Ferdinand's chagrin, Wallenstein took the opportunity offered by Gustavus Adolphus' death not to smash the rebel forces, but to attempt to negotiate a settlement of his own. He offered the Saxons the suspension of the Edict of Restitution, and began to negotiate with France, Sweden and Brandenburg-Prussia.
February 1634, Ferdinand II lost patience and - egged on by Spanish advisors who trusted Wallenstein as little as he trusted them - ordered the arrest of Wallenstein on charges of treason. On 25 February 1634, the Irish General Walter Butler accompanied by two Scottish Colonels, Walter Leslie and John Gordon, and a few other other soldiers found Wallenstein and killed him. They were handsomely rewarded for the assassination.

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