A Strange Alliance

With pain and alarm, Gustavus Adolphus saw the troops of the League and the emperor over run the States of Germany, driving out the ministers of the Reformed faith and setting up the altars of Rome. The victories gained by the papal armies had now carried them to the shores of the Baltic Sea, endangering Swedish interests there. Gustavus correctly understood that they would not stop until they gained the mastery of Sweden, extinguishing the light of Protestantism there as well. He knew that he could not avoid war by sitting still, but that the only choice left to him was the decision as to the field on which he would fight. Faced with such a decision, he determined to take the bolder and safer course, carrying the battle to German soil.

Gustavus Leaving the Diet

Once his mind was set, Gustavus set his house in order, much as a dying man. On May 20, 1630, he assembled the Diet at Stockholm to bid the States a solemn farewell. Taking his five year old daughter in his arms, he presented her to the assembled nobles deputies who swore their fidelity to her as their sovereign, should her father fall on the field of battle.

After completing his address, Gustavus, with a presentiment that he would see them no more, said, “I bid you all an affectionate—it may be an eternal—farewell.”

On June 24, exactly 100 years after the presentation of the Protestant Confession at Augsburg, Gustavus Adolphus landed on the shore of Germany. Advancing a few paces ahead of his soldiers, he knelt down, thanked God for conveying the host in safety across the sea and prayed that success might crown their endeavors.

Ferdinand heard with haughty unconcern of the landing of the Swedish monarch. He could not imagine that the triumphant tide of his arms could be slowed, much less rolled back by the little army that had just crossed the Baltic. When the courtiers of Vienna heard of the coming of Gustavus they looked in the State Almanac to learn where the country of the little Gothic king was situated. Even the Protestant princes of Germany failed to understand that deliverance was at hand. Though they longed for deliverance from the oppression they were experiencing, they would almost rather have retained their present situation than to experience the humility of owing their emancipation to a stranger.

Eager to invest his arms with the prestige of a first success, the Swedish king set out for Settin. Settin was the capital of Pomerania, but its real value lay in the fact that it commanded the mouth of the Oder and kept a back door open for a return to Sweden should the fortunes of war compel them to retreat. The citizens who were all too familiar with the marauders who served under Wallenstein were unwilling to open their gates. Their Duke Bogislaus, longed to be freed from the oppression of Ferdinand, but, trembled at the coming of Gustavus, fearing the emperor would visit with double vengeance his compliance, should he comply with the Swedish monarch’s wish. Bogislaus begged to be permitted to remain neutral, but Gustavus informed him that he must choose between himself and Ferdinand, and that his decision must be made at once. Influenced by the more pressing danger, Bogilaus opened the gates and the Swedish troops entered. Rather than the plundering the citizens had come to expect from occupying forces, the soldiers went with the citizens to church and soon established a reputation that was second only to their valor in their future success.

Step by step, Gustavus advanced into North Germany. The soldiers who had formed the armies of Count Mansfeld and the Duke of Brunswick, as well as the corps that Wallenstein had disbanded before his dismissal, at the demand of the emperor, now joined him. Exchanging their plundering habits for order and the bravery of well disciplined troops, they greatly augmented the size of his force as he slowly advanced toward the heart of Germany, driving the imperial forces before him.

As winter approached, the imperial generals, weary with defeats, sent representatives to the Swedish camp to sue for a cessation of hostilities until spring. Gustavus replied that the Swedes were soldiers in winter as well as summer. The imperialist forces found themselves further harassed by the peasantry who now took the opportunity to avenge themselves for the pillaging and murders that had earlier attended the advance of the papal army. Desertion was thinning and disorganizing the ranks and the imperial commander in Pomerania, Torquato Conte, took the opportunity of resigning his command.

Cardinal Richelieu

By February 1631, Gustavus had taken eighty cities, strongholds and fortifications in Pomerania and Mecklenburg. At this stage a little help came to the Protestant hero from a somewhat suspicious source. Cardinal Richelieu who was now supreme in France, motivated by the idea of reducing the power of the house of Austria, thought he saw in Gustavus the tool to accomplish his ends. It was a delicate matter for a prince of the Church to enter into an alliance with a Protestant king. Cardinal Richelieu counted on the fact that in turn for financially subsidizing Gustavus, he would be allowed to regulate and control the war, but in the Swedish monarch he found more than his match. The treaty of Balwarde that they concluded did, however, secure a subsidy of 400,000 dollars for the attainment of interests common to France and Sweden, while leaving the political and military direction in the hands of the king. The capture of Colberg and Frankfort-on-the-Oder, which soon followed, added to the prestige of Swedish arms.

Now, even the Protestant princes of Germany began to show a little heart. They had basely curried the favor of the Emperor Ferdinand, not raising a finger to stem the tide of Catholic reaction. Though they were yet too proud to accept help from the stranger, the success that followed his efforts everywhere had at least started them talking about reasserting their rights.

At this moment, though unintentionally, Ferdinand of Austria acted in a way that helped decide the Protestant princes in favor of joining their arms with those of the Swedish king in his battle for Protestantism. The emperor issued orders for his officers to put in execution the Edict of Restitution. The enforcement of this edict would add a vast amount of Protestant property to the treasury of the emperor and of the Roman Church in the territory of the two most powerful Protestant electorates in Germany, those of Saxony and Brandenburg. This was especially irritating to the two most important allies the emperor had among the Protestant princes. The timing was certainly poorly chosen, in view of Wallenstein’s dismissal and the train of defeats the imperial arms were experiencing. Doubtless acting on the counsel of the Jesuits, and feeling that his hold on Germany was too strong to be shaken by the assault from the little Sweden, Ferdinand proceeded with the plunder of his Protestant allies.

It was only now that he was threatened by annihilation that the eyes of John George, Elector of Saxony were opened to his situation. So long had he been the groveling dupe of the emperor that he had failed to see the abyss into which he was rapidly sinking. Unable even now to humble himself to join with Gustavus, he determined, as the leader of Protestantism in Germany, to form a third party and oppose the emperor on one side while the King of Sweden did so on the other. He did not need the hand of the northern stranger to pull him out of the mire; he would do so himself.

Proceeding in the execution of his plans, he called a convention of the Protestant States to meet in Leipsic in February 1631. Their convention, which they would not have dared to hold, had they not been in the shadow of the despised Swedish arms, lasted three months but accomplished nothing at all. The Jesuits jeered at the poor little Lutheran princes and their little convention at Leipsic. Having lost their power and spirit alike, the princes had only their pride left, and they were as yet unwilling to accept the help that was being offered them.

Tilly, the commander of the armies of the League had fought in all the wars of that period against Protestantism. He knew too well the art of war to despise his opponent. Speaking of Gustavus Adolphus, he said, “This is a player from whom we again much if we merely lose nothing.”