The Horse of Horses
In the early hours of 6 November 1632, thousands of horses, thousands of soldiers and two great generals, Albrecht von Wallenstein and the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf, were waiting to do battle outside Lützen. Gustav II Adolf, The Lion of the North, was riding one of his personal horses - Streiff. What no one could know was that only one of the two would emerge from the battle alive. Out of the mist came the horse. The King had fallen.
Do we have the right horse?
As far as we know, Streiff is one of the oldest stuffed horses in any museum, and it is undoubtedly the one that is best preserved. Despite some slight shift in proportion when mounting the skin, it gives us a good picture of its true appearance.
The fact that Streiff was stuffed and preserved for posterity may seem strange today, but at that time the horse had a totally different role and significance. Being able to ride and rein in a horse was part of a young nobleman’s upbringing, and when the King was on his travels he was still able to rule because he was in his saddle, which was also his throne. The Prince and his horse were a unit, and it is said that Streiff mourned the King so deeply that it stood with its head lowered for three days without eating.
Click on the different numbers to find out more about the saddle, bullet hole and the details of the mounting process.
Streiff is still wearing the same equipment as during the Battle of Lützen. On its back is the saddle that Gustav II Adolf had received as a New Year’s gift from Queen Maria Eleonora. It is a boom saddle with gold and silver stitched red velvet upholstery, richly embossed in relief in a plant pattern with associated pistol holster. Along the edge of the saddle is a broad fringe of gold thread and purple silk. The saddle being so ornate and so lavish was about much more than vanity - the saddle served as the travelling King’s throne. During Sweden’s time as a major power, a King on horseback served as a symbol of the entire state.
Seat length: 400 mm Length of saddle: 790 mm Width of saddle: 1,140 mm
The most recent restoration of Streiff was carried out in 1978, when the Royal Armoury had to move to its current premises in the basement of the Royal Palace. The record from the restoration states that two palm-sized parts of skin were missing on either side of the nose, the eyelids were missing and there were cracks in the head. The upper parts of both ears were truncated, although there were no visible traces of fire damage. Back in the mid-17th century, the inventory mentioned that the horse’s nose and ears had been scorched in the palace fire of 1648. It is possible that they had been scorched since then, but that so much time had passed that all visible traces of fire had been lost. The damaged parts were repaired with cork shavings dissolved in glue, tanned leather and synthetic fibre.