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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 21 — The Thirty Years' War

Chapter 9 — Death of Gustavus Adolphus

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Battle Renewed — The Cry, "The King is Dead!" — The Duke of Saxe-Weimar takes the Command — Fury of the Swedes — Rout of the Imperialists — Arrival of Pappenheim on the Field — Renewal of Battle a Third Time — Death of Pappenheim — Final Rout of Wallenstein — Wallenstein on the Field of Battle — Retires to Leipsic — Escapes from Germany — Swedes remain Masters of the Field — Cost of the Victory — The King's Body Discovered — Embalmed and Conveyed to Sweden — Grief of the Swedes — Sorrow of Christendom — Character of Gustavus Adolphus — Accomplishes his Mission — Germany not Able to Receive the Emancipation he Achieved for her.

THE fall of Gustavus Adolphus, so far from ending the battle, was in a sort only its beginning. The riderless horse, galloping wildly over the battlefield, only half told its tale. It was possible that the king was only wounded. The bravery of the Swedes was now changed into fury. Horse and foot rushed madly onward to the spot where the king had been seen to enter the thick of the fight, with the intention of rescuing him if alive, of avenging him if dead. The mournful fact was passed in a whisper from one Swedish officer to another, that Gustavus Adolphus was no more. They rode up to the Croats, who were stripping the body in their desire to possess some memorial of the fallen hero, and a terrible conflict ensued over his corpse. No flash of firearm was seen, only the glitter of pike, the clash of sword, and the heavy stroke of musket as it fell on the steel helmet, came from that struggling mass in the center of the field, for again the fight was a hand-to-hand one. The dead fell thick, and a mound of corpses, rising ever higher, with the battle raging widely around it, termed meanwhile the mausoleum of the great warrior.

From the officers the dreadful intelligence soon descended to the ranks. The cry ran from brigade to brigade of the Swedes, "The king is dead!" As the terrible words fell on the soldier's ear his knitted brow grew darker, and he seized his weapon with a yet fiercer grasp. The most sacred life of all had been spilled, and of what value was now his own? He feared not to die on the same field with the king, and a new energy animated the soldier. The brave Bernard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, took the place of Gustavus, and his squadrons advanced to the charge with a fire that showed that the spirit of the fallen hero lived in the troops. They closed in dreadful conflict with the enemy. His left wing was chased completely out of the field; this was followed by the rout of the right wing. Like a whirlwind, the Swedes again passed the trenches, and the artillery, which had clone such murderous execution upon them, was seized, and its thunders directed against the foe. The heavy battalions of the imperial center were now attacked, and were giving way before the overwhelming impetuosity of their antagonists. At that moment a terrible roar was heard behind the imperial army. The ground shook, and the air was black with volumes of smoke, and lurid with flashes of fire. Their powder wagons had exploded, and bombs and grenades in thousands were shooting wildly into the sky. Wallenstein's army imagined that they had been attacked in the rear; panic and flight were setting in among his troops; another moment and the day would be won by the Swedes.

It was now that Pappenheim, whom Wallenstein's recall found at no great distance, presented himself on the field at the head of fresh troops. All the advantages which the Swedes had gained were suddenly lost, and the battle was begun anew. The newly-arrived cuirassiers and dragoons fell upon the Swedes, who, their numbers thinned, and wearied with their many hours' fighting, fell back; the trenches were again recrossed, and the cannon once more abandoned. Pappenheim himself followed the retreating Swedes, and plunging into the thickest of the fight, wandered over the field in quest of Gustavus, whom he believed to be still living, and whom he burned to meet in single combat. He fell, his breast pierced by two musket-balls, and was carried out of the field by his soldiers.. While he was being borne to the rear, some one whispered into his ear that the man he sought lay slain upon the field. "His dying eye," says Schiller, "sparkled with a gleam of joy." "Tell the Duke of Friedland," said he, "that I am mortally wounded, but that I die happy, knowing that the implacable enemy of my faith has fallen on the same day." [1]

The fall of their leader dispirited his troops, and the tide of battle again turned against the imperialists. The Swedes, seeing the enemy's confusion, with great promptitude filled up the gaps that death had made in their ranks, and forming into one line made a last decisive charge. A third time the trenches were crossed, and the enemy's artillery seized. The sun was setting as the two armies closed in that last desperate struggle. The ardor of the combatants seemed to grow, and the battle to wax in fury, the nearer the moment when it must end. Each seemed bent on seizing the victory before darkness should descend on the scene and part the combatants. The night came; the rival armies could no longer see the one the other; the trumpet sounded; the torn relics of those magnificent squadrons which had formed in proud and terrible array in the morning now marched out of the field. The victory was claimed by both sides.

Both armies left their artillery on the battlefield, and the victory would rightfully belong to whichever of the two hosts should have the courage or the good fortune to appropriate it.

Far and wide

on that field lay the dead, in all places thickly strewn, in some piled in heaps, with whole regiments lying in the exact order in which they had formed, attesting in death the tenacity of that courage which had animated them in life. Wallenstein retired for the night to Leipsic. He had striven to the utmost, during that dreadful day, to add to his other laurels the field of Lutzen. He was to be seen on all parts of the field careering through the smoke and fire, rallying his troops, encouraging the brave, and threatening or punishing the coward. He feared not to go where the shower of bullets was the thickest and deadliest. His cloak was pierced by balls in numerous places. The dead were falling thick around him; but a shield which he saw not covered his head, and he passed scatheless through all the horrors of the day, fate having decreed — though the stars had hidden it from him — that he should die on a less glorious field than that on which his immortal antagonist had breathed his last.

When the sun rose next morning, the dead and dying alone occupied the field of Lutzen. There were the cannon, their thunders hushed, as if in reverence of those who were breathing out their life in low and heavy moanings. The two armies stood off from the spot where the day before they had wrestled in all the passionate energy of battle. Wallenstein sent his Croats to take possession of the artillery, that he might have a pretext for saying that he had vanquished on the field from the vicinity of which he was at that moment preparing to flee; but when his messengers saw the Swedes drawn up in order of battle at no great distance, they forbore the attempt to execute the orders of their master. The same day Wallenstein was followed to Leipsic by the remnant of his army, but in most miserable plight, without artillery, without standards, almost without arms, covered with wounds; in short, looking the reverse of victors. The duke made a short stay in Leipsic, and soon removed even beyond the bounds of Saxony; in such haste was he to escape from the scene of his alleged triumph, for which the bells of the churches of Austria were at that moment ringing peals of joy! The Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who had succeeded the fallen king in the command of the Swedes, took possession of the battle-field, with all on it; and soon thereafter established himself in Leipsic, thus incontestably proving that the victory was his. [2]

When the terrible cry, "The king is dead!" rang along the Swedish ranks on the day of battle, it struck as a knell of woe on every ear on which it fell. But the soldier had only a moment to think on the extent of the calamity; the uppermost idea in his mind was "to conquer." The field beneath him, with its burden of ghastly horrors, and the enemy vanishing in the distance, was the proof That he had conquered; but now he had time to reflect at what a cost victory had been won! Somewhere on that field on which he was now gazing with an eye in which sadness had taken the place of fury, lay the hero who had yesterday led them forth to battle. This changed victory's paean into a funeral dirge. How much lay buried with that hero! The safety of Sweden, the hopes of the Protestant princes, the restoration of the Protestant worship in Germany; for what so likely, now that the strong arm which had rolled back the Catholic Restoration was broken, as that the flood would return and again overflow those countries from which its desolating waters had been dried up?

The first care of the Swedes was to search for the body of their king. The quest was for some time ineffectual; but at last the royal corpse was discovered beneath a heap of slain, stripped of all its ornaments, and most of its clothing, and covered with blood and wounds. The king had fallen near to a great stone, which for a century had stood between Lutzen and the canal, and which from that day has borne, in memory of the event, the name of the "Stone of the Swede." The body of the king was carried to the neighboring town of Weissenfels, and there embalmed and laid out in state. The queen embraced his remains in an agony of grief; his generals stood round his bier in speechless sorrow, gazing on the majestic countenance of him who would no more lead them forth to battle, and striving to turn their thoughts away from the contemplation of a future which his death had so suddenly darkened. His remains were conveyed to Stockholm, and interred in the sepulchres of the Kings of Sweden in the Church of Ritterholm. [3]

"When the great king, lord of the half of Germany, sank in the dust of the battle-field," says Freytag, "a cry of woe went through the whole Protestant territories. In city and country there was a funeral service held; endless were the elegies written upon him; even enemies concealed their joy behind a manly sympathy which was seldom shown in that time to any opponent.

"His end was considered as a national misfortune; to the people the 'Liberator,' the 'Savior,' was lost. Also we, whether Protestants or Catholics, may look, not only with cordial interest upon a pure heroic life, which in the years of its highest power was so suddenly extinguished; we should also consider with thanks the influence which the king had upon the German war. For he has in desperate times defended what Luther obtained for the whole nation — the freedom of thought, and capacity for national development against the frightful enemy of German existence, a soulless despotism in Church and State." [4]

So ended, in the thirty-eighth

year of his age, the great career of Gustavus Adolphus. His sudden appearance on the scene, and his sudden departure from it, are equally striking. "History," says Schiller, "so often engaged in the ungrateful task of analyzing; the uniform course of human passions, is sometimes gratified by the appearance of events which strike like a hand from heaven, into the calculated machinery of human affairs, and recall to the contemplative mind the idea of a higher order of things. Such appears to us the sudden vanishing of Gustavus Adolphus from the scene." [5] It does not pertain to our subject to dwell on his great military genius, and the original tactics which he introduced into the art of war. He was the greatest general in an age of great generals. Among the eight best commanders whom, in his opinion, the world had ever seen, Napoleon gave a place to Gustavus Adolphus. [6]

Gustavus Adolphus falls below the great William of Orange, but he rises high above all his contemporaries, and stands forth, beyond question, as the greatest man of his age. In each of the three departments that constitute greatness he excelled — in the largeness of his moral and intellectual nature; in the grandeur of his aims; and in the all but perfect success that crowned what he undertook. The foundation of his character was his piety. "He was a king," said Oxenstierna, "God-fearing in all his works and actions even unto death." From his youth his soul had been visited with impulses which he believed came from beyond the sphere of humanity. His grandfather's dying words had consecrated him to a sublime but most arduous mission; that mission he could scarcely misunderstand. The thoughts that began to stir within him as he grew to manhood, and the aspects of Providence around him, gave depth and strength to his early impressions, which so grew upon him from day to day that he had no rest.

He saw the labors of the Reformers on the point of being swept away, the world about to be rolled back into darkness, add the religion and liberty of Christendom overwhelmed by a flood of arms and Jesuitry. Among the princes of Germany he could discern no one who was able or at all willing to cope with the crisis. If the terrible ruin was to be averted, he himself must stand in the breach: he was the last hope of a perishing world. Thus it was that he came across the sea with a feeling that he was the chosen instrument of Providence to set limits to the ruinous reaction that was overwhelming Christendom. In the great generals who had grown up around him; in the army, disciplined and hardened in many a campaign, now gathered under his banners; in the union of great qualities in himself, fitting him for his task; in his power of command; in his love of order and system; in his intuitive faculty of quick and rapid combinations; in his genius for forming plans, and the caution, united with daring courage, which never permitted him to take a single step forward without having secured a line of safe retreat in the rear — in this assemblage of great attributes, so fully possessed and so easily exercised by him, he read the authentication of his great mission.

That mission was publicly and conclusively certified to both friend and foe on the field of Leipsic. That marvelous victory proclaimed Gustavus Adolphus to be one of those saviors whom the Great Ruler, at times, raises up in pity for a fallen race, and whom he employs suddenly and beneficently to change the current of history. A greater consciousness of this breathes henceforward in every word and act of Gustavus. He displays greater elevation of soul, a nobler bearing and a higher faith in his mission; and from this hour his conquests become more rapid and brilliant. He sees One moving before him, and giving him victory; mighty armies and renowned captains are driven before him as chaff is driven before the wind; the gates of proud cities are unlocked at his approach, and the keys of strong fortresses are put into his hand; rivers are divided that he may pass over; and his banners are borne triumphantly onwards till they are seen waving on the frontier of Austria. Germany was liberated.

But Germany was not able to accept her liberation. The princes who were now delivered from a yoke under which they had groaned, and who might now freely profess the Protestant faith, and re-establish the exercise of the Protestant worship among their subjects, were unable to prize the boon which had been put within their reach. They began to mistrust and intrigue against their deliverer, and to quarrel with the arrangements necessary for securing the fruits of what had been achieved with so much toil and danger.

These unworthy princes put away from them the proffered liberty; and then the deliverer was withdrawn. The man who had passed unharmed over a hundred battle-fields fell by the bullet of an imperial cuirassier. But Gustavus Adolphus had not borne toil and braved danger in vain; nor did he leave his work unfinished, although it seemed so to his contemporaries. Germany, after being chastened by yet other sixteen years of terrible suffering, accepted the boon for which she was not prepared in the lifetime of her great deliverer; for it was the victories of Gustavus Adolphus that made possible, and it was his proposals that formed the basis ultimately of that great charter of toleration under which Christendom finally sat down, and which is known in history as the Pacification of Westphalia.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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