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Rise of Sweden as a Great Power

This article is part of the
History of Sweden series.
Early Kingdoms
The Modern Sweden
Rise as a Great Power -
From 1600 to 1648.
The Swedish Empire
The Great War
Absolute Monarchy
The Union with Norway
Realm of Sweden
List of Swedish monarchs
List of Swedish wars

Table of contents
1 Charles IX
2 The Ingrian War
3 The Polish War
4 The Thirty Years' War
5 See also
6 References

Charles IX

Main article: Charles IX of Sweden

Not till March 6, 1604, after Duke John son of John III of Sweden, had formally renounced his hereditary right to the throne, did Charles IX of Sweden begin to style himself king. At the Riksdag of the same year, the estates committed themselves irrevocably to Protestantism by excluding Catholics from the succession to the throne, and prohibiting them from holding any office or dignity in Sweden. Henceforth, too, every recusant was to be deprived of his estates and banished the realm. It was in the reign of Charles IX that Sweden became not only a predominantly Protestant, but also a predominantly military monarchy. This momentous change, which was to give a martial colouring to the whole policy of Sweden for the next hundred and twenty years, dates from a decree of the Riksdag of Linköping establishing, at the urgent suggestion of Charles, a regular army; each Province in the country being henceforward liable to provide and maintain a fixed number of infantry and cavalry for the service of the state. The immediate enemy was Poland, now dynastically as well as territorially opposed to Sweden. The struggle took the shape of a contest for the possession of the northern Baltic provinces. Estonia was recovered by the Swedes in 1600, but their determined efforts, 1601-1609 to gain a foothold in Livonia were frustrated by the military ability of the grand hetman of Lithuania, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz. In 1608 hostilities were transferred to Russiann territory. At the beginning of that year Charles had concluded an alliance with tsar Vasili IV of Russia against their common foe, the Polish king; but when, in 1611, Basil was deposed by his own subjects and the whole tsardom seemed to be on the verge of dissolution, Sweden's policy towards Russia changed its character. Hitherto Charles had aimed at supporting the weaker Slavonic power against the stronger; but now that Muscovy seemed about to disappear from among the nations of Europe, Swedish statesmen naturally sought some compensation for the expenses of the war before Poland had had time to absorb everything. A beginning was made by the siege and capture of Kexholm in Russian Finland March 2, 1611; and on July 16, Great Novgorod was occupied and a convention concluded with the magistrates of that wealthy city whereby Charles IX.'s second son Philip was to be recognized as tsar, unless in the meantime, relief came to Great Novgorod from Moscow. But now, when everything depended on a concentration of forces, Charles' imprudent assumption of the title of "King of the Lapps of Nordland" which people properly belonged to the Danish Crown, involved him in another war with Denmark, a war known in Scandinavian history as the Kalmar War because the Swedish fortress of Kalmar was the chief theatre of hostilities. Thus the Swedish forces were diverted from their real objective and transferred to another field where even victory would have been comparatively unprofitable. But it was disaster, not victory, which Charles IX of Sweden reaped from this foolhardy enterprise. Still worse, the Kalmar War, prudently concluded by Charles' son, Gustavus Adolphus, in the second year of his reign, by the Treaty of Knäred, January 20, 1613 imposed such onerous pecuniary obligations and such intense suffering upon Sweden as to enkindle into a fire of hatred, which was to burn fiercely for the next two centuries, the long smouldering antagonism between the two sister nations of Scandinavia which dated back to the bloody days of Christian II.

The Ingrian War

See also: Ingrian War

The Russian difficulty was more easily and more honourably adjusted. When Great Novgorod submitted provisionally to Peace of the suzerainty of Sweden, Swedish statesmen had Stolbova, believed, for a moment, in the creation of a Trans-baltic dominion extending northwards to Archangel and eastwards to Vologda. The rallying of the Russian nation round the throne of the new tsar, Michael Romanov, dissipated, once for all, this ambitious dream. By the beginning of 1616, Gustavus had become convinced of the impossibility of partitioning reunited Muscovy, while Muscovy recognized the necessity of buying off the invincible Swedes by some cession of territory. By the Treaty of Stolbova on February 27, 1617 the tsar surrendered to the Swedish king the provinces of Kexholm and Ingria, including the fortress of Nöteborg (later Schlusselburg), the key of Finland. Russia, furthermore, renounced all claims upon Estonia and Livonia, and paid a war indemnity of 20,000 roubles. In return for these concessions, Gustavus restored Great Novgorod and acknowledged Michael Romanov as tsar of Muscovy.

The same period which saw the extension of the Swedish Empire abroad, saw also the peaceful development of the Swedish Rule of constitution at home. In this, as in every other Gustavus matter, Gustavus Adolphus himself took the initiative. Nominally the Riksråd still remained the dominant power in the state; but gradually all real authority had been transferred to the crown. The Privy Council speedily lost its ancient character of a grand council representing the semi feudal landed aristocracy, and became a bureaucracy holding the chief offices of state at the pleasure of the king. The Riksdag also changed its character at the same time. Whilst in every other European country except England, the ancient popular representation by estates was about to disappear altogether, in Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus it grew into an integral portion of the Constitution of Sweden. The Riksdag Ordinance of 1617 first converted a turbulent and haphazard mob of "riksdagsmen" huddling together like a flock of sheep or drunken boors, into a dignified national assembly, meeting and deliberating according to rule and order. One of the nobility (first called the Landmarskalk) , or Marshal of the Diet, in the Riksdag ordinance of 1526) was now regularly appointed by the king as the spokesman of the House of Nobles, or Riddarhus, while the primate generally acted as the talman or president of the three lower estates, the clergy, burgesses and peasants, though at a later day each of the three lower estates elected its own talman, or speaker. At the opening of every session, the king submitted to the estates "royal propositions", or bills, upon which each estate proceeded to deliberate in its own separate chamber. The replies of the estates were delivered to the king at a subsequent session in congress. Whenever the estates differed amongst themselves, the king chose whatever opinion seemed best to him. The rights of the Riksdag were secured by the Konungaförsakran, or assurance given by every Swedish king on his accession, guaranteeing the collaboration of the estates in the work of legislation, and they were also to be consulted on all questions of foreign policy. The king possessed the initiative; but the estates had the right of objecting to the measures of the government at the close of each session. It is in Gustavus' reign, too that we first hear of "Hemliga Utskottet", or Secret Committee for the transaction of extraordinary affairs, which was elected by the estates themselves. The eleven Riksdags held by Gustavus Adolphus were almost exclusively occupied in finding ways and means for supporting the ever-increasing burdens of the Polish and German wars. And to the honour of the Swedish people be it said that, from first to last, they showed a religious and patriotic zeal which shrank from no sacrifice. It was to this national devotion quite as much as to his own qualities that Gustavus owed his success as an empire-builder.

The Polish War

See also: Polish War

The wars with Denmark and Russia had been almost exclusively Scandinavian wars; the Polish war was of world-wide significance. It was, in the first place, a struggle for the Baltic littoral, and the struggle was intensified by the knowledge that the Polish Vasas denied the right of Gustavus to the Swedish throne. In the eyes of the Swedish king, moreover, the Polish War was a war of religion. Gustavus regarded the Scandinavian kingdoms as the two chief pillars on which the Evangelical religion reposed. Their disunion, he argued, would open a door in the north to the Catholic league and so bring about the destruction of Denmark and Sweden alike. Hence his alliance with Denmark to defend Stralsund in 1628. There is much of unconscious exaggeration in all this. As a matter of fact the Polish republic was no danger whatever to Protestantism. Sigismund's obstinate insistence upon his right to the Swedish crown was the one impediment to the conclusion of a war which the Polish Diet heartily detested and very successfully impeded. Apart from the semi-impotent Polish court, no responsible Pole dreamed of aggrandisement in Sweden. In fact, during the subsequent reign of Ladislaus IV of Poland (1632-1648), the Poles prevented that martial monarch from interfering in the Thirty Years' War on the Catholic side. Gustavus, whose lively imagination was easily excited by religious ardour, enormously magnified clerical influence in Poland and frequently scented dangers where only difficulties existed.

The Thirty Years' War

See also: Thirty Years' War

For eight years (1621-1629) the exhausting and expensive Polish War dragged on. Swedish Livonia was conquered by the beginning of 1626, and the theatre of hostilities was transferred to the Prussian provinces of Poland. The fertile and easily defensible delta of the Vistula was now occupied and Gustavus treated it as a permanent conquest, making his great Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna its first Governor-General. But this was the limit of the Swedish advance. All Gustavus' further efforts were frustrated by the superior strategy of the Polish grand man Koniecpolski, and in June 1629, the king gladly accepted the lucrative Treaty of Altmark. By this truce Sweden was, for six years, to retain possession of her Livonian conquests, besides holding Elbing, the Vistula delta, Braunsberg in West, and Pillau and Memel in East Prussia, with the right to levy tolls at Pillau, Memel, Danzig, Labiau and Windau. From these tolls Gustavus derived, in 1629 alone, 500,000 Riksdalers, a sum equivalent to the whole of the extraordinary subsidies granted to him by the Riksdag. Thus Sweden held, for a time, the control of the principal trade routes of the Baltic up to the very confines of the empire; and the increment of revenue resulting from this commanding position was of material assistance to her during the earlier stages of the war in Germany, whither Gustavus transferred his forces in June 1630. In 1632 all Germany lay, at the feet of Sweden; two years later a single disaster in Nördlingen, brought her empire to the verge of ruin. For the next seven years the German War as regards Sweden was a struggle for existence. She triumphed in the end, it is true, but it was a triumph due entirely to a lucky accident - the possession, during the crisis, of the greatest statesman and the greatest captain of the age.

See also