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Gustavus Adolphus was born in 1594. He became king of Sweden in 1611, when only 17 years old, but he was to be Sweden's greatest king. Gustavus was the marvel of Europe. He was a devout Protestant and in an age when most princes learned little more than dancing and royal manners, he spoke German, Latin, Dutch, French and Italian and could understand several other languages.

Sweden's frontline army was only 40,000 strong but Gustavus made it the best in Europe and soon showed his skill as a general. He equipped his army with 3-pounder guns that could be manhandled by the soldiers. Their canister shot tore holes in enemy armies. By 1629 he had defeated in succession the hostile armies of Denmark, Russia and Poland and made Sweden the leading military power of northern Europe. Gustavus Adolphus was killed just after the Battle of Lutzen in 1632, mourned in Sweden as a great general and government reformer. Called the Lion of the North, he was a brave and inspiring leader. He always fought at the head of his men.

As well as creating a strong army, Gustavus also built a powerful and efficient fleet and made Sweden the strongest naval power in the Baltic Sea. Through military conquest, Sweden gained most of Finland from Russia. Tragically, his flagship the Vasa capsized and sank on its maiden voyage in 1628.

After the Reformation, the Catholic Habsburg family, who dominated Europe, tried to reimpose Catholicism on Protestant states in their empire. In 1618 Bohemian Protestants, tired of Catholic oppression, threw the deputies of Matthias, Habsburg Holy Roman emperor, out of a window. This started a war that lasted for 30 years and involved nearly all of Europe. Habsburg armies crushed the Bohemians, then defeated the Protestant German rulers and their allies, led by the Danish king. If Germany became Catholic, Sweden would be isolated. Gustavus saw the danger clearly and declared war on Ferdinand. In July 1630 he landed an army on the German coast and advanced inland. At Breitenfeld near Leipzig, in September 1631, the Swedish force utterly defeated the emperor's army. The following spring, Gustavus moved south. He occupied Munich and advanced against Ferdinand's capital at Vienna.

The two armies clashed at Lčtzen. After a day-long battle the emperor's forces retreated in disorder. Gustavus himself did not survive. He died leading his men in a charge against the enemy. His heart was taken back to Stockholm.

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