Sweden's Royal Treasures

An exploration of the heroic period of 17th-century Sweden through a new Royal Academy exhibition.

Can Christendom's great champion sink away
Thus silently into a bed of clay?
Can such a Monarch die, and yet not have
An Earthquake for to open him a grave?
Did there no meteor fright the Universe
Nor Comet hold a torch unto his hearse?

This lament in verse from a Suffolk parson, John Rous, in 1633 issued forth not for any Stuart monarch but for Gustavus Adolphus, killed in battle at Lutzen the previous year championing the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years War in Central Europe. It is testimony to the extraordinary impact that a previously obscure and insular Scandinavian country had on the European stage in the first decades of the seventeenth century – and was to continue having until the military adventurers of his great grandson, the 'Swedish meteor' Charles XII brought a disastrous defeat at Poltava and the subsequent dismemberment of Sweden's Baltic empire by Russia and her allies in the 1720s.

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