Gustavus Adolphus dragged Sweden into the modern era with his domestic reforms. The areas he chose – government, education, military and the economy – were reflected by another great eastern European leader, Peter the Great. Sweden’s domestic reforms meant that she could fight in the Thirty Years War with great effectiveness.

Government reforms

Much of this work was done by Axel Oxenstierna. The council developed into the highest organ of central government and it did not become the spear-head of aristocratic opposition.

Before the reign of Gustavus, it had met on an irregular basis. It had met when the king ordered it to do so and it had to assemble wherever he was – a less than practical set-up.

Under Gustavus, it sat permanently in Stockholm and when the king was abroad, it was allowed to make decisions of importance including the formulation of policy. the five chief officers were the Chancellor (Oxenstierna), the High Steward, the Treasurer, the Admiral and the Marshall.

These titles had existed before Gustavus but now they were more than ceremonial titles. Each man was at the head of a working government department. Each department was given a collegial style of organisation with a specific working procedure.

The Judicature Ordinance of 1614 worked out the system for the High Steward. The Exchequer Ordinance of 1618 did the same for the Treasury. The Chancery received its instructions in 1618 and 1624. In 1634, the Marshall and the Admiral were given their own boards in what was known as the Form of Government.

The Riksdag regularly participated in government. Traditionally, this had been the king’s ally when he was in conflict with the nobility. Under Gustavus Adolphus, it developed a clear procedure and later in the Seventeenth Century, it took over the role of the Riksrad. In 1617, Gustavus introduced the Riksdag-Ordinance which fixed the number of estates at 4 – the nobles, the clergy, the burghers and the peasants. The Diet (Riksdag) represented the broad mass of the people and their enthusiastic support of the king’s foreign policy was a great advantahe to him.

Local and provincial government was re-organised. Twenty-three administrative districts were established with each governed by a royal officer and his staff in accordance to Gustavus’ Instruction of 1624.

How important were these reforms?

They gave all strata of society a vested interest in government and rallied each around the others. No section of society was left out so no dissenting groups developed especially among the nobility.

Gustavus achieved a very fine balance – all groups in society worked for the same goal and no real opposition to the rule of Gustavus developed. All reasons for opposition were removed as nobody had a grudge against the system. However, in all of this, Gustavus did have one major advantage – there were no religious issues to stir up problems as everyone in Sweden as Lutheran so there were no minority religious leaders behind whom opponents could gather around.

The military

Gustavus was an innovative commander who learned much from Maurice of Nassau. The one great advantage Gustavus had at this time was that his people were behind him so his policy of universal conscription resulted in few problems.

He formed the first truly national army in Europe though as he became more involved in Europe, he needed a larger army and so he had to rely on mercenaries more. His troops were disciplined and developed a very good esprit de corps as each unit was recruited from its own local area. Troops received regular payment, competent training and were equipped with the most modern weapons available.

The army based its success on a high rate of mobility and a high rate of fire. On the battlefield, Gustavus used small units in line as opposed to units in depth as these were susceptible to artillery fire. Gustavus used light manoeuvrable artillery which gave him more fire power in a battle zone and greater fighting options. Cavalry was used as assault troops which would smash into the enemy and then engage in hand-to-hand fighting.

To move his troops across the Baltic – potentially when it would have been at its most vulnerable – Gustavus reformed the Swedish navy. The same professionalism was introduced into the navy as in the army. Sweden’s sea lanes had to be protected across the Baltic to Poland and Germany. This also enhanced Sweden’s trading routes which, in turn, increased Sweden’s revenue which could be further invested into the military.

The economy

The economy of Sweden had to be advanced to finance Sweden’s wars. Gustavus encouraged skilled foreign workers to settle in Sweden as well as foreign businesses. They were encouraged to develop her natural resources especially iron and copper deposits. Louis de Geer proved to be an outstanding figure in the arms industry – he was Dutch. France also provided subsidies during the Thirty Years War and German ports captured during that war provided Sweden with custom dues. Sweden’s war time economy was sound but despite this, the army could only financially survive if the troops lived off the land and were not a burden at home.


Gustavus was a generous sponsor of education. He effectively founded the grammar school system in Sweden and practically started the University of Uppsala which was considered to have a very modern administrative set-up. Only Alfred Noble is considered to have done more to fund Sweden’s education system. Sweden had a modern army and governmental system – both of these needed a constant flow of educated young men who would continue the system. Without the flow of able men, any of Gustavus’ improvements would have faltered.