Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Early Modern Military Reform and the Connection between Sweden and Brandenburg-Prussia

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Early Modern Military Reform and the Connection between Sweden and Brandenburg-Prussia

Article excerpt

IN A SHORT BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH of King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden written sometime after his death, the late king's chief minister and closest political confidant, Rikskansler Axel Oxenstierna, wrote of Gustav Adolf's natural inclination for military affairs. As a youth, Oxenstierna reported, Gustav Adolf had sought out the foreign officers present at his father's court and had grilled them regarding all aspects of their countries' military organization and affairs, ranging from battle order to military discipline to siegecraft to naval matters, questions with which, the chancellor wrote, the young prince could occupy himself for entire days on end. And as we know from the reading lists drawn up for the crown prince by his tutors, Gustav Adolf's conversations with contemporary military figures were complemented by an educational program including historical, theoretical, and scientific works designed to promote military leadership and an understanding of the classical and modern arts of war (see Skytte). After he succeeded to the Swedish throne in 1611, Gustav Adolf actualized the military knowledge he had accumulated into his famous program of military reform that helped build Sweden into one of seventeenth-century Europe's leading military powers. At the foundation of Gustav Adolf's military reforms, wrote Oxenstierna, lay the military practices of Prince Maurice of Orange, which the king had looked to "sore en regell" [as a rule] for the beginning of his own reforms (see Oxenstierna 248). Indeed, that the Orange-Nassau military reforms of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries served as one of the bases of subsequent Swedish advances under Gustav Adolf is commonplace in the standard historiography of seventeenth-century Sweden and of early modern military history in general (see, for example, Roberts, Gustavus Adolphus 11:188-9; Delbruck 73; Rothenberg 45-7; Jones 221-3).

An equally well-known theme in early modern military historiography is that the Orange-Nassau reform movement exerted a similarly strong influence over another of early modern northern Europe's rising military powers, Brandenburg-Prussia. In fact, Dutch military theory and practice are often said to have enjoyed some of their strongest impact in the Hohenzollern lands by laying the foundations for the creation of the army that would serve as the central institution of the future Prussian state (see Hahlweg 163-4; and especially the various writings of Oestreich). What has received less explicit attention from historians, however, is the fact that much of what was "Dutch" in early modern Brandenburg-Prussian military development did not come to Brandenburg-Prussia directly from the Low Countries, but rather arrived through the mediation of Sweden, along with the specifically Swedish flavorings that had been added to it in the North.

The Orange-Nassau military reform movement began in the 1580s and reached its full maturity in the 1610s. Substantial military reform in Brandenburg-Prussia did not begin, however, until the 1640s despite the fact that there is clear evidence that many military officials in Brandenburg and Prussia were very familiar with Dutch practice throughout the intervening period. The traditional historiography explains this mysterious time-gap by the personal characteristics of Brandenburg's rulers: Elector Georg Wilhelm (reigned 1619-40) was weak and ineffectual with neither the will nor the ability to carry a military reform program through, whereas his son Friedrich Wilhelm (reigned 1640-88) was able, energetic, mad ambitious. What this theory fails to take into account is what occurred between the 1610s and the 1640s that would have made military reform along Dutch lines both more accessible and more necessary for Brandenburg, namely the Swedish military reform movement of the 1610s through 1630s that built upon the Dutch model and with which Brandenburg became intimately (and often painfully) familiar through interaction with Sweden, both as friend and as foe, during the Swedish wars in Poland in the 1620s mad the Thirty Years' War in Germany in the 1630s and '40s. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.