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Swedish history: 1521-1718 (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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Swedish history: 1521-1718

 

7.3.4 The consolidation of the state

The 16th century is markedby struggle between the kings and the high noble members of the Council of the Realm. The kings' actions in this struggle were The peasantry, the low nobility and the common priests were in majority at the Diets of the four Estates of the Realm, and cooperated willingly with the kings against the higher noblemens' interests.

1520-1560 Gustaf Vasa


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King Gustaf
Gustaf Vasa
When the Danish King Christian II is coronated in Stockholm, he executed a hundred men, burghers and noblemen, who belonged to the separatist Sture-party. This so called Stockholm blood bath causes again a rebellion in Sweden which is led by Gustaf Vasa. (The name is often spellt "Gustav".)

With the help of the Hansa-city of Lübeck, Vasa defeats the Danes and is elected king. Gustav Vasa's election to Swedish king turned out to mark a definitive end of the Kalmar Union. The Swedish realm was unified, despite several rebellions, and Denmark was severly struck by internal conflicts. Denmark's King Christian II was dethroned, and did then several attempts to regain the throne - and the Union. The most important try was made in 1533, after the death of his successor Fredrik I. The plot by the mayors of Malmö, Copenhagen and Lübeck lead to an intense Civil War, Grevefejden 1533-36. The effect of the Civil War in Denmark was dramatic:

The king became very competent in using the rivalry between factions and individuals to the advantage of the Crown. The radical reformists are held back by the king avoiding reactions from the more conservative among the peasants and the nobles. Gustaf Vasa summoned sometimes noble Diets and sometimes Diets with all four Estates represented. From 1544 the crown is to be inherited.

Protests against the king's powerful rule leads to rebellions in Dalarna, Västergötland & Småland 1524-25, 1527, 1529, 1531, 1536, 1539 and 1542-43. After the rebellion in southern Götaland 1542-43 (Dackefejden) King Gustaf did his outmost to get the Commons to also accept his politics. The means were both skillful propaganda and real compromises. An important saving was the transition from a mercenary army to soldiers raised in all of the country. Now the Diets become important as legitimating the king's actions and supremacy over clergy and nobility. The words Ständer (Estates - 1544) and Riksdag ("realm's meeting" - 1561) are introduced instead of the older Herredag ("meeting of the lords").

Reformation is approved by the Diet of Västerås 1527. Sweden becomes Lutheran, the Church is stripped of its riches and the debts to Hanseatic towns and merchants could be paid. By the surplus from the confiscations large lands gave the Crown an outstanding strength compared to the noble landowners. The bishops' military power cease. Before this clergy and nobility owned approximately one sixth each of the tilled land in the realm, concentrated in Svealand & Götaland where they owned far more than the half. Few years later, 1530, the king starts ordaining bishops and archbishops.

One of the important consequences of the Reformation is the obligation for the parishes to engage a parish clerk responsible for educating the people in reading the Bible and/or the catechism, and for the clergy to examine the peasants yearly in their homes. Many also learned to write. The clerical education at convents and cathedral schools is however devastated.

As the Church lost its capital the Crown took over the responsibility for diseased and poor people. In reality, however, it became the villages and parishioners who had to organize and finance it all.

With the Reformation the usage of runic inscriptions cease also in everyday life (except for in Dalarna where it remained to the 19th century). Archaeological findings suggest that runic knowledge had persisted through all of the medieval time, however the Latin alphabet had higher status and was used by the church, nobility and royal administration. Until the 18th century a runic calendar was in rural use, where 19 runes represented the years (in each lunar cycle of 235 true months).

Gustaf Vasa's interest in the Reformation seems not to have had with religion to do. Instead he was appealed by the possibilities to get rid of competing powers, as the Germans, the Danes and the State Council with the bishops and the higher nobility. The idea of strengthening the position of the local languages, Swedish and Finnish, is however known to have delighted the king who hadn't learned much Latin. High culture was not at all promoted during his reign.

Gustaf Vasa encouraged the mining leading to increased demand on workers which was satisfied by internal migration to the mining districts - not the least from Finland.

1560-1660   The construction of Sweden as a Great Power of Europe

After Gustav Vasa's death three of his sons came to succeed each other on the throne. The usurpers gained access to the throne through support from the military - i.e. the nobility.

Printing of books becomes a privilege received from the Crown. The bishops take over the responsibility for censure except for academic works. The state starts the publishing of a news paper.

Gustav Vasa's son, the mentally unstable Erik XIV, becomes king 1560, and in 1561 he starts Sweden's overseas conquests by capturing northern Estonia from the Teutonic Knights.

1563-70 War with Denmark
In 1563-70 war between Denmark and Sweden led to devastatings on both sides. Halland, Blekinge, Bohuslän and Oslo with surroundings were burned by the Swedes, and towns & castles of Västergötland and Östergötland were put to fire by the Danish king's vasall Count Daniel Rantzau's troops.

The nobility fights for its rights and privileges.
During Erik's regime measures against corrupt sheriffs and despotic nobility were prioritized, and a peasant army was organized (according to the historian Knut Carlqvist the first of its kind in Europe - i.e. organized peasant-infantry on the side of the authorities'). In 1563 the highest nobility, the Danish king and the Duke Johan (of Åland and parts of Finland) had started a combined war and coup d'etat. In despise for the peasants (and discontent at the king) the noble general refuses to use peasant infantry in battle. (Which saved the Danish army that time.)

King Erik XIV chose a commoner as chancellor, Jöran Persson, and in 1568 Erik married a common soldier's daughter Karin Månsdotter after unsuccessfully courting e.g Elizabeth I of England and Mary Stuart of Scotland. The Swedish nobility acts against Erik's plans wishing to get the king closer to them through marriage with any of their daughters. In the same year his brother Duke Johan, who had been pardoned after the coup 1563, turns against Erik and imprisons him. The Duke becomes King Johan III and Erik, having been sent from one prison to another for nine years, is finally poisoned in 1577 after several death sentences by the National Council, however never executed due to fear of the public reaction.

King Johan doesn't summon the peasantry to the next Diets, declares commons to be unfit as chancellors (Erik's chancellor Jöran Persson get severely tortured before beheading) and pay back to the nobility by reliefs and more privileges.


Immigration encouraged
Skillful smiths were recruited from what today is Belgium; Dutchmen were recruited to build new towns, particularly Gothenburg; Scottish men were hired as soldiers. The western parts of the kingdom, great uninhabited woods around the sea Vänern, were colonized by skillful farmers from Savolax in Finland encouraged by the king's brother Duke Karl.

The Finns from western Finland, who came to work in Svealand's towns, mines, industries and agriculture were soon integrated.

A popular tradition, represented also in school books, describes the relations between the Swedes and the migrants from eastern Finland as violent. Established historical science and official sources give no such indications. The Savolaxians in the woods were isolated and remained culturally different for hundreds of years (the migration was ended at 1680 when maybe 10'000 Finns had moved to the woods of western Svealand). The annals from the courts give the impression of the Finns living in peaceful co-existence with the Swedish peasants.

When the situation had settled after the Thirty Years' War Sweden's territories were bigger than ever later or before. Inside the new realm people came to move between the different parts. A policy of swedifying hit the new provinces, maybe most in Scandinavia, including founding universities and change of priests and some noble men. The year 1682 the king decided that Finns had to learn Swedish or to return to Finland. This official policy was however impossible to enforce in the distant woods, but has remained until recent days.


1590-95
Sweden fights a smaller war with Russia that ends with the peace of Teusina and the recognition of Sweden's right to northern Estonia. Russia had tried to expand toward the Baltic sea all since Novgorod had fallen for Moscow in year 1471. Poland and Sweden had a common interest against Russia, and had fought successfully in wars around 1560.

After the death of King Johan III 1592 the throne is inherited by his son, the Catholic King Sigismund of Poland, who is not accepted by all involved. Duke Karl leads the opposition - for instance at Diets he has summoned himself. On the king's side stand most of the nobility, and particularly Claes Fleming, viceroy in Finland, who hindered the participation from Finland in a Diet 1595.

The nobility and King Sigismund aimed at collecting all of the coasts of the Baltic Sea under a Polnish-Swedish Union, at the same time closing Russia's access to the Baltic Sea and improving the position of the noble estate-owners. Sweden's nobility suffered much from the kings' and the peasanty's independence, and a union with Poland promised in the long run to gain the aristocracy of Sweden.

After the war against Russia many troops still remain in Finland, and the peasants are increasingly discontent with their duty to supply the troops who ought to be demobilized. Duke Karl supports a rebellion against Claes Fleming, but Fleming dies a natural death.

This was the last time a peasant rebellion in Sweden was a real threat for the current government.


1596-99 Civil war between King Sigismund of Poland & Sweden and his uncle, Duke Karl.

Most nobility supported the king, but Sigismund is kicked out, and the Duke becomes King Karl IX. (Appointed by the Estates 1600 although the under-age Crown Prince Johan, son of King Johan III, rightfully stood closer to the throne. Prince Johan abdicated in 1604.) The brief personal union with Poland is over. King Karl follows up on Erik's anti-feudal policy.


1611-13 War with Denmark, Russia & Poland
Then King Karl IX dies while the heir is not yet legally mature to enter the throne. To make a complicated matter worse: Sweden is in war with Denmark, Poland and Russia. Great parts of the nobility, knowledgeable in warfare, advocated Sweden's legal king, the Catholic Sigismund, which would re-set the war-scene to more equal terms: Denmark/Russia against Sweden/Poland. The common Estates did however prefer the under-age Crown Prince Gustav Adolf.

The solution was important constitutional concessions making the king more dependent of the Parliament, and most of all of the higher nobility - a dependency which came to last until 1680. The role and priveleges of the nobility were constitutionally fixed; The State Council (the Council of the Realm) which played a major role 1280-1527 gets anew importance - most all as the Highest Authority while the king was fighting overseas.

The Swedish-Danish war was this time fought in the less populated provinces of Småland, Västergötland, Dalsland and Värmland. The Norwegians proved to be very unwilling to warfare and very willing to desert. Thus this war was one of the least bloody of its epoque.

The king and the leading noble Civil Officers adjust very well to the new situation, in a cooperation with radical effects on Swedish policy and Civil Service.


1630-48 in the Thirty Year
Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) interferes in the Thirty Years' War (1616-48) and Swedish troops fight in Russia, Poland, Austria and Germany. The "Lion of the North" achieves legendary status as the defender of Protestants, he receives crushing victories but his appetite for conquest grows and eventually the king is killed in the battle of Lützen, 1632, after which the war fortunes waded back and forth for the following 16 years. Gustav's daughter Christina becomes queen; as she is still under age until 1644 the country is led by Sweden's perhaps most famous statesman Axel Oxenstierna.

The year 1638 Sweden's American colony, "New Sweden" (in present day Delaware) is founded and settled by Swedish and Finnish pioneers. The colony remains in Swedish hands only for 17 years, and is lost to the Dutch.


1643-45 War with Denmark
Another war between Denmark and Sweden is initiated as Sweden attacks Jutland and Scania. In the peace of Brömsebro Sweden gains Jämtland, Härjedalen, Ösel, Gotland and (for thirty years) Halland.


1644-54 Queen Christina
The reign of Queen Christina, the daughter of Gustav II Adolf, was at the same time one of favoring arts, culture, science and philosophy, and on the other hand a period of continued expensive wars on the continent, which had ruined Sweden's economy by raising hundreds of new families into nobility who were exempted from taxation. This was more or less made undone by her followers, her cousin King Karl X and his son Karl XI, in the second half of the century.

The year 1654 the queen converts to Catholicism and gives up the crown. The conversion of the daughter of the greatest enemy of Catholicism was a brilliant propaganda victory for the Catholic counter-reformation. She spends the rest of her life in Rome.


1657-60 War with Denmark
Another of the wars between Denmark and Sweden is this time started by a Danish re-conquest of Jämtland & Härjedalen. After a Swedish advance from Germany through "Store Belt" the Danes accepted a peace in Roskilde ceding the province of Trondheim, Bohuslän, Halland ("for ever"), Blekinge, Bornholm and Denmark's richest province Scania.

The peace treaty did however not lead to a stop of Sweden's warfare, laying siege to Denmark's capital Copenhagen. Denmark was really threatened by eradication, but Holland and England couldn't support such a development. The peace treaty was renewed. Bornholm and Trondheim were regained by Denmark's Crown, and an intense Swedifying process was launched in the provinces won by Sweden: Priests and Civil Servants were exchanged, noblemen lost their properties unless they had proved to be loyal to the Swedish Crown, and improving the Danification policy in Norway from the previous century the use of Swedish language became necessary for them who didn't want to be perceived as illoyal to the conquerer.

It is easy to understand the importance for the Swedish realm of the territorial gains of 1658/60, when considering that Bohuslän, Halland, Skåne and Blekinge today is inhabited by more than a fourth of Sweden's total population. Denmark's control over Sweden's access to the North Sea and the Atlantic was broken.

1662-89   Censure strengthened
The censure of the increased realm is centralized to Stockholm, with considerable delays for distant universities and bishops as the result. Nevertheless the number of prints in the periphery increase, with two prints in Turku /Åbo, one each in Viipuri /Viborg, Tartu /Dorpat, Uppsala and Lund. 1665 the censors are instructed to remove all disgraceful attacks hinting that printed matters had been used in heated disputes. From 1689 any written critic of the government is prohibited, also in protocols from the State Council and the Diets.

But this era is also that of Sweden's first scientist in a modern sense Olof Rudbeck the Elder (1630-1702) teacher, university rector, scientist, archaeologist and more. Arriving at the University of Uppsala in 1648, he pursued his medical studies so successfully that in 1652 he unveiled an epoch-making discovery: the human lymphatic system. In 1654 he laid out Sweden's first botanical garden at Uppsala. Rudbeck was one of the most versatile men that Sweden has ever produced. He urged the establishment of secondary schools focusing on technology and science, built bridges, planned water systems and taught many subjects including mathematics, astronomy and architecture.

1675-79 War with Denmark
Denmark declares war. King Karl XI, who newly has came to age, discovers the great fleet and the state finances being ruined. Scania is taken back by the Danes, the Swedish troops retract to Småland and returns strengthened, conquering Scania once again. Major battles are fought in Scania, as for instance at Lund December 4th 1676. The archepelago of Blekinge and the deep woods at the old border between Småland and Scania/Blekinge were controlled by pirates and guerilla units more or less cooperating with the regular Danish forces.

The Diet 1680 makes the State Council (representing the highest nobility), which was governing when the king was under age, personally responsible for the bad state finances. The Diet also makes the king independent of the State Council, and the Diet also accepted to hand over its lawgiving power to the king. The King Karl XI used his dictatorship also for radical reforms of the state administration, the Army and the education of the commoners. On later Diets the nobility was (collectively) forced to give back some of the land which had been given them as reward for services to the State.

The Swedifying process of the southern provinces is facilitated by the population's memory of plundrings by the armies and guerilla units, and also by rumors (or Swedish propaganda) of harsh treatment of common Scanians who had followed Danish proclamations biding the Scanians to come over to Zealand.


1680-1720
Successive incorporation of the Scanian provinces in the Swedish national state. 1680 the province Blekinge is declared incorporated in Sweden in connection with the construction of a navy base. 1682/83 the Scanian civil and clerical laws were replaced by Swedish laws. 1693 Halland is incorporated in Sweden.

1700-21   The Great Northern War
Sweden is attacked by an alliance of Denmark, Poland and Russia. The young King Karl XII invades Denmark forcing it to accept a separate peace. He then turns toward Russia, lands in Estonia with 10 000 men and achieves a glorious victory in the battle of Narva against a three times larger Russian army.

With Russia and Denmark beaten, Karl XII ignores all suggestions of negotiating peace and attacks Poland. This gives Peter I of Russia time to raise a new army and to start reconquering the Swedish territories. Karl XII eventually succeeds in subduing Poland, and starts a new campaign against Russia heading for Moscow. The troops that were planned to come to aid the main army, however, never manage to show up, and Karl is forced to turn south to Ukraine because of problems with supply. There he suffers a crushing defeat in the battle of Poltava June 28th 1709 and most of the Swedish army surrenders while Karl XII manages to escape with a thousand men to Turkey. He spent several years there trying to form a new alliance against Russia.


1709-10 War with Denmark
As Sweden's army is crushed Denmark launch a new mission to re-conquest Scania. In November Denmark lands 16,000 man in Råå south of Helsingborg. Like in 1676 the Swedish troops retreats to Småland, to return strengthened. February 28th, at the Helsingborg's battle, the Danes are beaten and forced to retire inside their fortress.

With Finland occupied by Russians, most of the Baltic provinces lost and Sweden itself threatened by a Russian invasion, the Estates decide in 1714 that a peace is necessary. But since the king was still in Turkey a messenger was sent there to inform him that Sweden would accept any peace terms given unless the king soon returns to Sweden. Karl XII reacts immediately, rides in 15 days through the whole of Europe ,with only one man accompanying him. After the king had returned, all talk of peace was banned. In 1716 King Karl XII still manages to raise an army of 40 000 man, and attacks Norway in 1718.

King Karl XII agrees with Russia at peace negotiations in Lövö village at Åland to cede Karelia and the remaining Baltic territories. In exchange Russia accepts to suport a Swedish attack on Norway during which the king gets killed (in 1718) while laying siege to Fredrikshald in Norway. To this date, it isn't known whether the bullet came from the Norwegian or Swedish side. Whether he was assassinated or not, his death put a welcome end to the Swedish campaigns and the exhausted nation could eventually achieve peace.

Peace treaties with Hanover, Prussia, and Denmark leave Sweden only Stralsund, Rügen and parts of Vorpommern of its former "German territories". The most severe of the peace treaties is, however, the one with Russia signed in Nystad in 1721. Sweden loses, in accordance with the accord with Russia, all its Baltic territories, the southeastern part of Finland, and ultimately its status as a major power.



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