King Gustav II Adolphus was the
Swedish equivalent of England's Henry VIII.
There were many parallels between the two kings. Both were
larger than life figures who changed the course of their country's
histories. Famous daughters succeeded them. Elizabeth, the English
virgin queen, would repulse the Spanish Armada. Christina, the
Swedish virgin queen, who spoke seven languages and employed René
Descartes as her tutor, would abdicate, run away to Rome and become
Appropriately for a monarch whose greatest campaigns were in the
bedroom trying to acquire a male heir, Henry died of syphilis.
Gustavus' demise, too, was appropriate; his bravery was his undoing.
Gustavus (reigned 1611-1632) led his army from the front
during the First Polish-Swedish War and the Thirty Years War, and
ever the military historian, Napoleon
Bonaparte regarded him as one of the greatest military commanders
ever to have lived. Leading a cavalry charge on the field of Lützen,
he died in a battle which he won.
But there is another parallel between the two giants; their
flagships suffered similar fates. The pride of Henry's navy, the
Mary Rose, sank in the Solent in 1545, during an encounter with the
French. Gustavus' magnificent Vasa also went to the bottom, but
ignominiously. Centuries later, both ships would be resurrected. The
Mary Rose, lifted from the seabed in 1982, is on show at Portsmouth. The
Vasa, raised in 1962, can be seen in a marvellous museum in
Great ships were formidable weapons; they were also propaganda
statements which were designed to intimidate potential enemies. Gustavus, the
'Lion of the North' and the 'father of modern warfare' needed a
vessel to match his growing status and, in 1624, he commissioned Dutch ship-builder Henrik Hybersson to construct a new warship.
Named after Gustavus' grandfather, Gustav Vasa, this would be
the largest and most expensive warship built in Sweden up to that
time. Sixty-nine metres long, she could deploy 1,275m squared of
sail and carried sixty-four guns. On 10 August 1628, the Vasa, with its
magnificent painted carvings and colourful flags, set sail from the
quayside beneath the Royal Palace in Stockholm. The families of the
crew were allowed on board for the ship's maiden voyage into the
archipelago. The winds were light. Yet, twenty minutes later and 1.3km from the shore, the
Vasa capsized. About fifty people, and the
ship's cat, drowned.
Intended as the precursor to a brand new breed of warship, the
Vasa went down in 1628, was recovered in 1961, and now
sits in the Vasa Museum