If in the year 1660 the ordinary man in the street had been asked to enumerate the great powers of Europe, he would almost certainly have replied that there were four great monarchs overtopping all the rest: the Emperor, the kings of France and Spain, and the king of Sweden. A century earlier, in 1560, no one would have dreamed of including Sweden in the list. Though Gustavus Vasa (who died in that year) had a well-deserved reputation for political craft and financial greed, the country over which he ruled lay too far out on the periphery of European politics to be much more than a possible makeweight in the perennial struggle between Habsburg and Valois, and was indeed very much less a part of Europe than (for instance) Poland. Yet it was just in this year, 1560, that the first foundations were laid for Sweden’s later greatness; and in 1660 that greatness reached its apogee. In the second quarter of the seventeenth century Sweden burst upon the European firmament like some new star, big with portents: a political analogue to that nova in Cassiopeia which had so disturbed the watchers of the sky in 1572; flaring for a brief space with unnatural brightness, and thereafter declining into insignificance; something unforeseeable, and to contemporary observers scarcely capable of rational explanation. When Gustavus Adolphus began his reign, in 1611, no man could have imagined this imminent incandescence. But twenty-one years later, when Gustavus met his death at Liitzen, the situation was very different. When he fell, it seemed that Europe had lost a master. In the last months of his life it had not been extravagant to think of him as a possible candidate for the Imperial throne. In the years

that followed, men debated whether his chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, might not be made Elector of Mainz. In 1648 Queen Christina joined Louis X IV as co-guarantor of the great peace settlement of Westphalia, which laid a basis for international relations which was to endure until the French Revolution. By 1660, Sweden had attained her natural geographical limits, had built up an empire which made her the dominant state in the Baltic, and was besides a German power, represented in the Imperial Diet (as France never was) in virtue of her membership of no less than three of the Circles of the Empire.