Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion from the North

By Michael Fredholm von Essen

When in July 1630, King Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedish field army landed at Peenemünde in northern Germany, they were greeted as the saviours of the beleaguered German Protestants. Gustavus Adolphus himself was immortalised as the Lion from the North. Soon, his supporters built a personality cult around his person. The process, which got underway already in his lifetime, continued, even more so, after his death. However, there is no doubt that Gustavus Adolphus was a truly charismatic ruler. Many contemporary eyewitnesses have given evidence that he was well liked, even admired, by most of those who met him, whether nobles or commoners. There were reasons for this. Highly educated in both the sciences and humanities, Gustavus Adolphus was also well versed in several languages. In addition to Swedish, German, and probably some Finnish (the three predominant languages of the Swedish kingdom), he spoke Latin, Italian, French, and Dutch. He understood Spanish, English, and Scots, and knew some Polish and Russian. He was trained in philosophy and jurisprudence. But even more, Gustavus Adolphus was likeable. He was friendly, co-operative, and would listen to opinions and advice. He had a sense of humour, made jokes, and enjoyed social events such as banquets and dances.

Yet, all these positive characteristics were not what made him a charismatic leader of men. To learn what drove Gustavus Adolphus as a commander, we must turn to his own writings, which seems never before to have been translated into English. In the uncompleted book On the Duties of Soldiers, Gustavus Adolphus explains what he expected of his commanders. We can assume that this also described what he expected of himself. Gustavus Adolphus listed the characteristics of a good commander as ‘virtue, knowledge, caution, authority, and luck’. He wanted leaders who in clear conscience could tell their men that ‘I want you to follow not only my instructions and orders but also my example’. To avoid empty words, Gustavus Adolphus succinctly defined what he meant by a commander’s virtue: ‘I demand of him virtue in the form of honesty in his daily life, vigour and industriousness in his duties, bravery in danger, diligence in his work, and speed in fulfilment’. But, Gustavus Adolphus reminded the reader, knowledge of military science was required, too. This could be acquired in two ways, he explained, either through study or experience. He held study the safer method, since it enabled the student to gain knowledge through the fortune and misfortune of others, instead of having to live through all these risks himself. Besides, modern science was required to plan camps and build fortifications.

Gustavus Adolphus lived as he taught. In war, he led from the front, sharing the labours and risks of his men. During the siege of Riga in 1621 and again at the landing in Germany in 1630, Gustavus Adolphus himself, spade in hand, took part in the physical labour to erect field fortifications.

Gustavus Adolphus inherited the Swedish throne in 1611, at age 16. Earlier in the same year, the Danes invaded Sweden in what became known as the Kalmar War. Soon Gustavus Adolphus had to shoulder military command. At the same time, Sweden was also still at war with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The reason was dynastic. Polish King Sigismund was Gustavus Adolphus’s cousin and, moreover, represented the elder line of the Swedish royal house of Vasa. Sigismund still laid claim to the Swedish throne. Moreover, in the very same year, war also broke out with Muscovy, with which Sweden shared a common border in the northeast. When Gustavus Adolphus landed in Germany 19 years later, he already had a record as a successful commander in the north and east. The question was, how would he fare against the powerful Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, as its full name went, and Spain, the other powerful Habsburg possession, with its global empire?

Is there anything new to be said about Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedish army in the Thirty Years’ War? There is indeed a wealth of contemporary information already published in books such as The Swedish Intelligencer, The Swedish Discipline, and Colonel Robert Monro’s regimental history Monro, His Expedition with the Worthy Scots Regiment. In other European languages, there is Le soldat svedois, a contemporary history of the war compiled by Friedrich Spanheim the Elder, which was published in French, Italian, and German. In German, we also have Bogislaff Philip von Chemnitz’s Königlichen Schwedischen in Teutschland geführten Kriegs, which was the official Swedish history of the war, and the multi-volume Theatrum Europaeum, a chronicle of events in Europe in the period 1618-1718 by the publisher Merian in Frankfurt-am-Main, which provides numerous details and illustrations. There are also two military manuals in German which describe the Swedish model of war: Lorentz von Troupitzen’s Kriegs Kunst and Wendelin Schildknecht’s Harmonia in fortalitiis construendis, defendendis & oppugnandis, both of which describe the doctrine introduced by Gustavus Adolphus. Having said this, sources such as The Swedish Intelligencer, Le soldat svedois, and Theatrum Europaeum are compilations of newsletters and propaganda, for which reason they cannot always be taken at face value. Even Monro, who was an officer in the Swedish army, and Chemnitz, who was the official Swedish historian, used such materials to describe events of which they had no personal knowledge. Their information must accordingly be assessed with care when used as sources. As for the prints of battles in the Theatrum Europaeum, due to artistic license they were regarded as unreliable sources even by contemporaries.

A key modern reference work to the wars of Gustavus Adolphus is the multi-volume Sveriges krig 1611-1632 by the Swedish General Staff, published in Swedish in 1936-1939. This work contains many valuable archive documents relating to the Swedish army under Gustavus Adolphus and is reliable in its use of official records including orders of battle, casualty lists, and logistical inventories. However, its conclusions on tactics and strategy cannot always be taken for granted due to bias in favour of Gustavus Adolphus and extrapolation from developments which took place much later. For instance, the prominent military historian Hans Delbrück greatly influenced the historians of the Swedish General Staff, and a major thread in Delbrück’s work was the choice between strategies of annihilation and attrition. Delbrück argued that a strategy of annihilation stands in opposition to a strategy of attrition. Since prevalent Swedish military thinking in the first half of the twentieth century considered the strategy of annihilation as superior, the General Staff authors wanted to show that Gustavus Adolphus must have followed such a strategy – which he generally did not.

It is far more interesting to analyse the organisational model and tactical doctrine which Gustavus Adolphus actually introduced, since it strongly influenced the western way of warfare. The Swedish model of warfare was copied by most west and north European militaries, including Sweden’s opponents. Muscovy based its entire set of new formation regiments on the Swedish pattern. Moreover, the Swedish model laid the foundation for subsequent improvements in British infantry and French cavalry tactics. In addition, the Swedish regimental artillery was copied by many countries, including France, the Holy Roman Empire, and Muscovy. Swedish historians seldom looked into the broader developments, and most researchers elsewhere did not take the earlier wars of Gustavus Adolphus into account, since their focus lay on the short period from 1630 to 1632. In short, despite centuries of research, much remains to be learned about Gustavus Adolphus and the Swedish army in the Thirty Years’ War. This is why I set out to write The Lion from the North: The Swedish Army during the Thirty Years War, now published by Helion. You can buy Volume One now here.

Confessions of a Female Wargamer

By Carole Flint

There are some hobbies where women generally fear to tread. Angling used to be one of them, but that has changed a lot in the last decade or so, and contact sports like Rugby is another, but that has also changed. Wargaming is, however, still  an area where women are very much the minority. Why should that be? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve been playing with toy soldiers since I was small. I have loved swashbuckling and adventure stories for even longer.

Let’s take a step back to the dim past, or the 1960s as some of us call it. I was always a solitary child with few friends. I was shy and I found it hard to open up to others. Consequently I took refuge in reading. Luckily, I was a good reader from an early age and I read voraciously. When I was in my first year at primary school, the teacher read us “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, which I loved, and I went on to read the other books in the series. I liked that the female characters were given prominent roles, although I much preferred Jill Pole and Polly Plummer to the Pevensie children. However, I discovered the “Swallows and Amazons” books shortly after, thus engendering my first literary crush, the formidable Nancy Blackett, someone who I really wished I could be. I also sought out various stories mentioned in the books, such as the “Ingoldsby Legends”, which seemed to spark the romantic swashbuckling instincts of Titty Walker a lot. However, I found the language of that book tough going.

Anyway, I read widely and preferred exciting stories to anything else, apart from History. I absolutely loved History.

Wargaming arrived when I was around 11. My father brought home Don Featherstone’s “War Games” from the library one week. After reading it, he went out and bought a box each of Airfix Desert Rats and Afrika Korps and a couple of tanks models, which were pretty random, being a Tiger and a T-34. The British got the T-34. As an aside, just think how different the war might have been if the British had actualy had T-34s in 1942. Anyway, it wasn’t too long before the dining table was turned into the North African desert and I was roped in to play games of soldiers. I enjoyed this hugely, having sat through the usual Sunday afternoon TV fare of black and white war films for years.

My father also brought home Charles Grant’s “The War Game”, a book that impressed me much more, because the pictures looked so good with all those massed ranks of soldiers. We never got to play any of those games, though, not having access to any 18th century figures.

Time marched on, though, and in my teens other things took prominence, underground music and being a hippy, mostly, but I never lost my love of history and adventure stories. The next big thing for me was one of the most important literary influences on my wargaming life; Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings”. This gave me my second great literary crush, the Elven Lady Galadriel. She was POWERFUL. People loved and feared her. She wielded Elven magic. She ticked all the boxes for me.

Of course, I was reading lots of other fantasy stuff too, and inevitably this led on to Dungeons and Dragons, a game I embraced as a student. Of course, life took over, including getting a job, growing up and having a family. Games went to the back of the queue. However, when my son was growing up, he developed an interest in games, initially via the MB Games Heroquest, which we bought him for Christmas one year, and then Warhammer Fantasy and later on 40K. I painted up endless Elves, Goblins, Space Marines etc and helped him build scenery and played in his games too. Then, as these things often seem to do, he moved on to teenage rugby and playing bass in a band, and the Warhammer stuff ended up getting sold.

So, what got me back into gaming? The simple answer is Boredom. My life was all about work. I was a manager in a large IT Services company and I was drained by work and I needed to get away from reality. Pretty much out of nowhere, I started looking online at wargaming stuff, just to see what the hobby was like in the present day. I was amazed at the abundance of rules, figures, vehicles etc, and also at the breadth of games one could play. When I took voluntary redundancy from work-related stress, I became very bored indeed and one day, on a whim, I went shopping online. Before long, I was painting up PSC British and German infantry and tanks with the aim of playing solo games, but I needed rules. I was drawn to the idiosyncratically-titled “I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum” and bought the rules. I suddenly had structure. I put armies together, I played a few games, but I wanted more. I went shopping mad. I bought the Field of Glory: Renaissance rules, because I’ve always liked the Pike and Shot period, and I bought and painted Louis XIV and William of Orange armies from Lurkio. Unhappily, I didn’t like the rules, so I moved on to other things, specifically another TFL set of rules, Sharp Practice, which I was able to play at Crusade in Penarth with Richard Clarke himself running the game. I was hooked. Before long, I had the rules and two Peter Pig 15mm Union and Confederate armies. I played solo, but I also roped my partner in for a few games, but I had the bug now and I was widening my purchases. I discovered Ground Zero Games and bought loads of 15mm Sci Fi troops. Why? I just liked them. That was reason enough. I started exploring the imaginary nations concept, remembering my love of Charles Grant’s book. I started a blog, basically so I could write about my chosen imagi-nations, based on Syldavia and Borduria in the Tintin graphic novels of Hergé. I’d been an avid viewer of the TV cartoons in the 60s and we had had the books in French at school. Obviously, I needed armies for this too. Using Sharp Practice as my ruleset, I put together armies for both countries using Essex 15mm Seven Years’ War Austrian, French and Prussian figures.

Of course, eventually I had to start playing games against real (and willing) opponents, so I joined a local wargaming club, after visiting their annual show for a couple of years running, and now I get to play all kinds of games against real friendly opponents. It was at one of these shows that I met someone who is a real pioneer in women’s wargaming, Annie Norman of Bad Squiddo. Needless to say, I think of her as a real friend now and I have lots and lots of her excellent figures.

And the War Goes On: William III’s Ongoing War with Louis XIV of France

By Mark Shearwood

Following the events of the Glorious Revolution and the departure of King James II to France (22 December 1688), William’s obligations between the governance of England and his commitments on the continent became increasingly complex. The League of Augsburg was signed in August 1685 between the Prince of Orange, the Elector of Brandenburg, German Southern Princes, The Holy Roman Emperor and Spain, with Charles XI of Sweden becoming a signatory in 1686.[1] The invasion force assembled by William during autumn of 1688 necessitated the movement of troops within Europe and the withdrawal of regiments to support William’s attempt on the throne.[2] These arrangements including the transfer of 6,000 Swedish troops to replace troops being withdrawn from Germany for the invasion in line with the trinational treaty of 1683.[3] By early 1689 the pressures both diplomatic, and militarily on William to increase his forces in Flanders was yielding results. The following regiments from the English establishment were ordered to sail for Holland, the figures are for private soldiers and were the establishment strength and not the actual strength of each regiment:[4]

Second Troop of Horse Guards & Horse Grenadiers                          256 men

Royal Regiment of Horse                                                                               450 men

Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards                                                      1360 men

Royal Regiment of Foot                                                                                 1360 men

Regiment of Scott’s Guards                                                                          1106 men

Royal Regiment of Fusiliers                                                                          780 men

Prince George of Denmark’s Regiment of Foot                                    780 men

Colonel Churchill’s Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel John Hales’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Sir David Colieaves Regiment of Foot                                                       780 men

Colonel Hodges Regiment of Foot                                                             780 men

Colonel Fitzpatrick’s Regiment of Foot                                                    780 men

Colonel O’Farrell’s Regiment of Foot                                                        780 men

William received a letter from the Prince of Waldeck[5] on the 14 April 1689 from the Prince of Waldeck. As well as giving details of the war between Denmark and Sweden and a probable invasion of Prussia by Poland, the Prince inquired as to the names of the English colonels commanding the regiments being sent and the proper strength of each regiment.[6] The letter also contained copes of communications that the Prince of Waldeck had received, these will form the bulk of this post in the hope that they will highlight the pressures on William III to expand his forces in Europe.[7]

[The] Count de Flodrop has notifies that it is impossible to hold Huy[8] with a less force that a corps d’armeé, which cannot be spared. The Marquis de Castanaga asks for aid and would dispose of the States’ forces, more according to his own theories than to reason. Count de Horn was ordered to concert with him to form a small company of cavalry and some of the States’ infantry for the protection of Ghent. Meanwhile, two battalions have been sent to Bruges. General Schoning desires to strengthen his forces by detaching troops from the regiments at Nimuegen [Nijmegen] sent from Zauten. This is contrary to a previous agreement. On both sides. There seems to be a desire to make the Prince [King William III] responsible for any mishap that may be experienced. The Prince has left the battalions for the security of Cologne. He has joined to general Schoning six battalions, with seven regiments of cavalry belonging to the troops in the States’ pay, under the command of Mons. de Schlangenberg, and three regiments of cavalry and one of dragoons under Mons. de Alva, and has also formed a corps d’armeé of the troops of Erffa, Wurtemburg, Bouregard, and Baye, with Colonel Franck’s dragoons and those of Hesse, to hold the line of the Demer against the enemy until a plan of attack can be found. It is therefore possible for the Prince to let General Schoning have his way. The panic before the fort of the bridge of Bonne seems to show that matters are badly managed at Cologne as elsewhere. Pensioner Heinsius has done his best to assist the Prince, who, without his prudent conduct, would have been left without artillery.[9] The Prince did not find at Breda the artillery waggons, horses and stores, &c expected. He s also in great want of money; he has only received half od the 10,000 livres promised him by the King for secret correspondence, and that is already expended.

The arrival of further troops from England is awaited with anxiety, the numbers of these already arrived is very small, with Mr Douglas’ Regiment (600 men) Lord Churchill’s (400 men) Mr Le Tolmisch’s, commanded by Count Silvins (400 men)  and Holschers (400 men) are arrived, and no more. The Prince would like to know by whom the muster of these troops should be made, as he has no exact list. To Mons. Hopp, the Prince replied that the King of England is readier to act for the public weal than it is though at Vienna.

The numbers of men quoted as arrived on the continent shows the disparity between the paper strength of a regiment and the actual strength. Colonel Churchill’s regiment has a theoretical paper strength of 780 private soldiers, arrived in Europe at just over half strength. The Scottish Regiment of Foot Guards commanded by Lt-General Douglass should have had arrived with 1,106 private soldiers instead of the 600 that actually arrived. Mr le Tolmisch is referring to Brigadier Thomas Talmash [Tollemache] who was the colonel of the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards. [10]

The following is an extract from a letter from the Marquis de Castanaga to the Prince of Waldeck sent from Brussels and dated 21 April 1689 [11 April according to the English calendar]:[11]

… Hostilities may begin at once. It is of the utmost importance that all the troops of the States should advance at once on Liège, where the Marquis d’Humieres is collecting a corps d’armeé. I am much vexed to hear that your troops have abandoned Huy, which is the proper place at which to await the enemy. The King informed me that bodies of troops would be sent to Ghent and Bruges to protect those places and Dutch Flanders. You will have had like instructions and I trust will carry them out speedily.

The Prince of Waldeck received a communication from Mons. Hopp in Vienna on the 1 April, giving a account of conditions within the Habsburg Empire.

It is to be feared that the Elector of Bavaria may take amiss the appointment of the Duke of Lorrain to the command of the Imperial army, as he has written to the Emperor saying that he would not be employed to look after the baggage, and desired employment worthy of his reputation. The Pope has given King James a pension of 100,000 crowns. Everyoe here is very eager to hear that King William has declared war against France; this court will not formally recognise his title until that is done, and should “Milord Paget” arrive here earlier he may meet with some coolness.

Lord Paget was William’s ambassador to the Habsburg Empire. Despite the seeming frosty relationship between William III and the Habsburg Empire, William had been in constant communication with Emperor Leopold I since before the events of 1688. He had arranged for 1,500 troops to be transferred from the English establishment to the Imperial army. These troops were the remnants of the four Irish battalions brought over to England by James II in September 1688 and were currently being held on the Isle of Wight. The contract had originally stated 2,00 troops but due to desertion and illness, only some 1,500 were ready for transport at the beginning of April 1689.[12]

Inmane van Huy 1694 [Taking Huy, 1694]
Anonymous print published by Laurens Scherm. Amsterdam 1695 © Rijksmuseum NL
Gevechten bij Walcourt, 1689 [Fight at Walcourts, 1689]
Image of the bloody battle on 25 August 1689, between the Prince of Waldek, and the Marshal de Humiers, by the village of Walcourt, in the province of Naamen
Anonymous print published by Jacobus Robijn, Amsterdam 1689 © Rijksmuseum NL

About the Author

Mark Shearwood is a second year PhD Researcher at the University of Leeds, whose research is on ‘The Catholic ‘other’ in the army of James II and William III’ and is looking at the English army’s transition from the pseudo ‘Catholic’ army of James II to the ‘Protestant’ army of William III. He hols a Masters’ degree in War and Strategy from the University of Leeds and a Bachelors in Leadership and Management from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

The Author’s first book, The Perfection of Military Discipline: The Plug Bayonet and the English Army 1660-1705 has just been published by Helion. The book looks at the implementation of the plug bayonet within the English army and the effect that it had on infantry tactics. During the period that the work covers 1660-1705, there were a number of significant advances in military equipment and the author places these within their historical context. The book exposes some of the myths surrounding the replacement of matchlock muskets with flintlocks, as well the use of pikes during the late 17th century.

The author is currently working on his second book for Helion, The Great Northern War 1700-1721: A Wargamer’s Guide, for Helion’s new Wargames series, which should be out before the end of the year.


[1] B Cox, King William’s European Joint Venture. Assen: Van Gorcum & Co. and Lynn, J. 1999. The Wars of Louis XIV 1667-1714. London: Longman, 1995)

[2] This article does not intend to look at the validity or otherwise of the Glorious Revolution, for a fuller account of the coalition that William built to facilitate the Glorious Revolution see Shearwood, M, ‘William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution’ Arquebusier, Journal of the Pike and Shot Society, 35.6 (2018) 26-35.

[3] The trinational treaty between the Habsburg Empire, Sweden and the United Provences of 1683 included a condition that each party pledged 6,000 troops for their mutual defence against France. S Oakley, William III and the Northern Crowns During the Nine Years War 1689-1697. (London: Garland Publishing, 1987). p.31. and Robert Hall, Uniforms and Flags of the Armies of Hanover, Celle and Brunswick 1670-1715. (Romford: pike and Shot Society, 2016) p.7

[4] British Library, Add MS 15897 Hyde Papers, Pensions and Establishment, fol. 88.

[5] The Principality of Waldeck was a state of the Holy Roman Empire and is today within the German territory of Hesse and Lower Saxony.

[6] William, Hardy, ed. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of William and Mary: 1689-1690 (London: HMSO, 1895) p.62.

[7] National Archives, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20.

[8] Huy is in the Walloon region of Belgium.

[9] Anthonie Heinsius, was a councillor pensionary of Holland was one of William III’s leading Dutch advisors, E, Mijers and D, Onnekink, ed, Redefining William III: The Impact of the King-Stadholder in International Context (London: Routledge, 2016) pp. 4, 31-34.

[10] J, Childs, The Nine Years’ war and the British Army 1688-97: The Operations in the Low Countries (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991) p.122.

[11] N.A, SP8/5 King William’s Chest, fols. 18-20

[12] The study of these troops forms a major part of my PhD research.