16 November: On this day in history
What events happened on 16 November in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…
16 November 1632: Gustavus Adolphus is killed at Lützen
The Protestant hero meets a grim end on the battlefield
On the morning of 16 November 1632, fog hung over the fields of Lützen. For more than a decade, central Europe had been torn apart by war, with rival Protestant and Catholic armies tramping back and forth amid scenes of appalling slaughter, hunger and devastation. Now the great Protestant hero, Sweden’s king Gustavus Adolphus, was poised to pull off another stunning military coup. For days he had been secretly tracking the Catholic imperial general Count von Wallenstein, as the latter fell back to his winter quarters. Now, peering through the thick autumn mists, the Swedes prepared for battle.
For the next few hours, blood flowed across the fields of Saxony. Thousands died in the hail of musket balls and cannon fire, but the Swedes inched their way through the mud, steadily pushing their opponents back. By nightfall, the Catholics were in retreat, their offensive into Saxony blunted. Strategically, it was a clear Protestant victory.
All this was overshadowed, however, by the fate of Gustavus Adolphus himself. Leading a cavalry charge, he had become separated in the mist from his fellow officers. An enemy bullet shattered his left arm; another disoriented his horse, which ran wild behind enemy lines. Another shot hit the king in the back. He fell to the ground, where one last shot, this time to the head, brought his life to an end.
Only later did Swedish troops discover the king’s stripped body; and only after victory had been secured was his death confirmed. Embalmed and dressed in a gold robe, Gustavus’s corpse was conveyed back to Stockholm for burial. The Golden King, the Lion of the North, was dead.