Lützen 1632

In the twelve years since the Austro-Bavarian army had defeated Bohemian hopes of independence at White Mountain, the Catholic forces of central Europe had continued on the offensive. The Austrians had gone on to chase the Palatine Elector Frederick V from his Palatinate holdings, and then beat up on the Duke of Brunswick who prematurely sided with the Protestants. Christian IV of Denmark took his turn as Habsburg whipping boy from 1625-1629. By 1630 the specter of a recatholicization of the northern Empire, along with expanding Austrian influence along the Baltic coast, led the Swedish “Lion of the North”, Gustavus Adolphus, to declare war. His army of Swedish conscripts and mercenary troops decisively defeated the Austrian forces at Breitenfeld in 1631, and proceeded to rampage throughout central Germany. In the following year, on this day,* another major battle would be fought at Lützen in Saxony. Once again the Swedes would be victorious, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, for their King Gustav Adolf would be killed in the fog of battle. The loss of their leader crippled the Swedish cause, and would force the French to bankroll the Swedish war effort, and eventually enter the war themselves.


Idealized map of Battle of Lützen (16 November 1632) with Habsburg tercios and Swedish brigades

Less remarked upon in the annals of history is that a logging town on the North Shore of Lake Superior (Minnesota) would take on the name of Lutsen from its Swedish settlers, and that a century after that, a budding EMEMHian from the Twin Cities would vacation there, at the Lutsen resort. Small world indeed.

* Given the difference between Old Style and New Style calendars (post to come), the Swedes still commemorate Gustav Adolf’s death on 6 November. You might be able to make it out in the legend on the lower-right corner of the map above.


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2 responses to “Lützen 1632”

  1. Erik Lund says :

    I would love to see a statistical analysis of CinC combat deaths. You’ll see one series with no events at all, another where they drop like flies. How many battles did Frederick the Great fight in? Little Turtle? On the other hand, Swedish, and especially Scottish, kings are the peanut-allergic middle schoolers of the martial world.

    The obvious point is the one already raised by medievalists, that, for them, commander death rates correlate with political stability. Extending that, could we diagnose structural/political problems from conspicuous excursions from the norm?

    Or was Gustav Adolf just an obnoxious poop disturber who got was coming for him?

    • jostwald says :

      Good to hear from you. I think it must’ve been something about those Swedish meatballs – Charles XII of course got his at the siege of Frederiksten in 1718. But haggis probably does take the cake (a disgusting-sounding mixed food metaphor, I admit).
      This site includes a haphazard list from mostly ancient, medieval and early early modern. Although the Middle Ages covered a longer period than the early modern era, there were still a lot more medieval kings/c-in-c’s killed than I’d appreciated.
      You’d need to count up the denominator as well – how many combats were they involved in? – to get a rate. How many lives did the average king/commander have to spare? Deaths per hour of combat exposure?
      With the declining tendency of kings to actively campaign by 1700, the royal numbers obviously go down – I’m sure Louis XIV was not the first king to be begged to avoid the dangers of the siege trenches, although Williamite propagandists liked to contrast Louis’ “sitting in corners” to William’s brave behavior in battle (for all the good those battles resulted in).
      Commanders leading from the front declined as well over the centuries, which skews the numbers towards earlier periods of time. Keegan’s Mask of Command discusses this point in very general terms, from courageous hero to battlefield manager.
      Does improving medical care matter too, or are we only talking immediate death? Serious casualties were also a status marker for nobles, who loved to brag about their wounds, particularly when they were looking for a pension.
      It might also be interesting to compare such a list to the number of ‘close calls.’ I always feel for all those horses that get shot out from underneath commanders.

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