The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI.
GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS.
(1630-2.)

IN the "proposition" which on May 30, 1629, Gustavus Adolphus addressed from Elbing to the Swedish Estates, and which first distinctly placed before them the plan of the great liberating expedition that has immortalised his name, he declared that to defend Sweden was to defend her faith. He won his last and greenest laurels as the champion of Protestantism, the advancement and maintenance of which had, from Gustavus Vasa onwards, been an unchanging principle of action in the Kings of Sweden. But, as the Elbing "proposition" itself indicates, it was the immediate question of the national safety which determined Gustavus Adolphus to call upon his hard-tried people for an unprecedented warlike effort. The response given by that people was, all things considered, not less heroic than the summons. For Sweden was a poor country, very heavily taxed; and its population, including that of Finland, numbered not more than a million and a half. The King was ready at the last moment to draw back from his enterprise if his conditions were granted; nor would he have embarked in it at all as the mere servant of a Protestant propaganda or as the swordbearer of any interests but those of his own land. He would not have done battle on German soil to suit the schemes of Richelieu, the wishes of England, or the interests of the United Provinces, or to redress the grievances of the German Princes deprived of their territorial acquisitions by the Edict of Restitution. He believed that the maritime designs of the House of Habsburg, which had been already known to his father before him, aiming as they did at the control of the Sound and the mastery of the Baltic, would strangle the national life of the kingdom which by unflinching valour and provident governance he had made doubly his. And so he went forth to carry war into the Empire, not indeed unaware of the possibility that success might carry him beyond the achievement of his immediate end, or insensible, as his great counsellor Oxenstierna afterwards phrased it, of the fundamental importance of

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