Gus­tavus Adol­phus is killed at Lützen

The Protes­tant hero meets a grim end on the bat­tle­field

BBC History Magazine - - An­niver­saries -

On the morn­ing of 16 Novem­ber 1632, fog hung over the fields of Lützen. For more than a decade, cen­tral Europe had been torn apart by war, with ri­val Protes­tant and Catholic armies tramp­ing back and forth amid scenes of ap­palling slaugh­ter, hunger and dev­as­ta­tion. Now the great Protes­tant hero, Swe­den’s king Gus­tavus Adol­phus, was poised to pull off an­other stun­ning mil­i­tary coup. For days he had been se­cretly track­ing the Catholic im­pe­rial gen­eral Count von Wal­len­stein, as the lat­ter fell back to his win­ter quar­ters. Now, peering through the thick au­tumn mists, the Swedes pre­pared for bat­tle.

For the next few hours, blood flowed across the fields of Sax­ony. Thou­sands died in the hail of mus­ket balls and can­non fire, but the Swedes inched their way through the mud, steadily push­ing their op­po­nents back. By night­fall, the Catholics were in re­treat, their of­fen­sive into Sax­ony blunted. Strate­gi­cally, it was a clear Protes­tant vic­tory.

All this was over­shad­owed, how­ever, by the fate of Gus­tavus Adol­phus him­self. Lead­ing a cav­alry charge, he had be­come sep­a­rated in the mist from his fel­low of­fi­cers. An en­emy bul­let shat­tered his left arm; an­other disori­ented his horse, which ran wild be­hind en­emy lines. An­other shot hit the king in the back. He fell to the ground, where one last shot, this time to the head, brought his life to an end.

Only later did Swedish troops dis­cover the king’s stripped body; and only after vic­tory had been se­cured was his death con­firmed. Em­balmed and dressed in a gold robe, Gus­tavus’s corpse was con­veyed back to Stock­holm for burial. The Golden King, the Lion of the North, was dead.

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