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  Countries: Sweden Historical Overview

By styrbiorn starke, Guest Writer

Swedish Town Center

The history of Sweden during the time frame of Cossacks is a story of many battles and wars. From 1500, when Sweden was a medieval country, to 1814, Sweden was almost uninterruptedly at war, with some small breaks for peace. Wars were fought against most of the nations represented in Cossacks - Austria, England, France, Holland, Poland, Prussia, Russia, Saxony and Spain. Sweden had important roles in many large wars, such as the Thirty Years' War and the Great Northern War.

During the late middle ages Sweden was in a union, together with Denmark and Norway, called the Calmare Union. Denmark, with the largest population, was the leading nation in this union and the most high appointments in Sweden were held either by Danes or by Germans - Sweden in practice was a Danish province - and this was not very popular among the Swedes. This led to fights and later wars between the union party and the independence party, which eventually resulted in Sweden leaving the union in 1521, when a man named Gustav Eriksson led a succesful uprising against king Christian II of Denmark.

On the 6th of June 1523, this Gustav Eriksson was crowned king Gustav I and this day is now the national day of Sweden. Gustav Vasa, as he is known, is in Swedish history with justice called riksbyggaren, 'the Statebuilder'. When he came to power the country was totally desorganized, the economy was controlled by Lübeck and the power lay in hands of the catholic church and local noblemen. Through reformation to the Lutheran Church, reductions and taking over the feudal counties he moved the power to the centralized government, and to himself. Lübeck was defeated in 1536. In 1544 the Riksdag (app. parliament) decided that the crown should be hereditary.

When Johan III married a Polish princess the Swedish-Polish war turned into a personal union, and the two countries turned against Russia. Though large conquests, Sweden only kept Estonia in the peace of Teusina in 1595. When Johan died, his son Sigismund who already was king of Poland took the throne. He was a convinced Catholic and planned to make a counter-reformation. He also used Polish advisors to govern Sweden when he himself was in Poland. The Swedish parliament however, decided that duke Karl, a younger son of Gustav Vasa, should rule Sweden when Sigismund was abroad. Sigismund opposed against this, which resulted in a civil war. The war ended when duke Karl defeated Sigismund's army at Stångebro in 1598 and later he became king Karl IX.

During the beginning of the 17th century the economy was developed. Sweden became the largest exporter of cupper, iron and cannons of Europe. In wars with Poland and Russia, Sweden finally seized control on the rich trade between Russia and western Europe.

Karl IX had a son, whose name was Gustav Adolf. He was very early educated in warfare and politics; as a teenager he took command over Swedish troops in wars against Denmark and Russia. After the peace with Russia, Gustav Adolf, who now had become king Gustav II Adolf started reorganizing the Swedish army. Using Dutch tactics as a template he created new tactics which later should be called 'linear tactics'. Unlike the Spanish tactics, which were used by other European states, the army became highly mobile with this tactics. Lighter weapons and artillery also added to the mobility. Sweden thus got the most modern army of Europe.

In 1626 Gustav Adolf met and defeated a larger Polish army at Wallhof. For the first time, the famous Polish 'winged' cavalry was utterly beated by the Swedish cavalry. Three years later the drawn-out war finally ended, with Sweden as the new master of the Baltic area.

Swedish Stable

The Thirty Years' War had been going on in twelve years when Sweden in 1630 entered the war. After the battle of Breitenfeld, where Gustav Adolf defeated the Imperial army of the Holy Roman Empire, his new tactics were as the time went on adopted by the other nations of Europe. In 1632 Gustav Adolf was killed on battle, but his apprentices continued the war and Sweden was one of the victors, along with its allies the French, when the war ended in 1648. Gustav Adolf got the surname 'the Great' and is undoubtly the greatest king Sweden ever have had.

Alongside Gustav Adolf lived another great man named Axel Oxenstierna. He was the statesman handled the diplomacy and the domestic politics. It was he who built up Sweden from inside, during his time the mail system was created. The French cardinal Mazarin once said 'if all ministers of Europe were in the same boat, the rudder should better be given to the Swedish chancellor[Oxenstierna].'

In 1654 Gustav Adolf's daughter, queen Kristina, abdicated, moved to Rome and converted into Catholicism. This was a huge scandal, Gustav Adolf was the saviour of all Protestants and now his daughter converted! The new ruler became Karl (Charles) X Gustav.

In 1658, after a succesful war against Denmark, Sweden was at its height; never again should Sweden be larger. What now is Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Pommerania, Bremen-Verden and the area around St Petersburg was in 1658 Swedish territory

In 1699 the strongest enemies of Sweden - Denmark, Saxony/Poland and Russia - created an alliance to break the Swedish dominance in northern Europe. The war, which is known as the Great Northern War, began in 1700 when a Russian army invaded from the east. The young Swedish king, Charles XII, was an outstanding commander and he immediately forced the Danes to surrender. Then he defeated the Russian invasion army and turned against Poland and Saxony, defeating them in a drawn-out campaign. Russia was now alone and it seemed that Sweden should win the war. However the turing-point came at the battle of Poltava in 1709, when the Russians defeated the Swedes. The war continued until 1721 with the Swedish loosing all their Baltic and most of the German territory. This was the practical end of Sweden as a great power. During the next century Sweden took part in many wars, one of them the Seven Years' War, but it never made any larger effect on history.

Some say that Charles XII became a warmonger and that he was the cause of the Swedish defeat. This is not true, however. Sweden had a puny population, only 3 million people, and the enemies were many and strong. It was only a matter of time until the Swedish empire would be crushed. He did the best he could of an impossible task and the fact that Sweden continued to exist as a not-so unimportant country is a quite clear indication that he not was a catastrophe.

After the death of Charles XII his sister Ulrika Eleonora became the new queen. She abddicated in 1720 after signing a new consitutional law that, together with later additions, reduced the king or queen's power to two votes in the Council, whose president became the real ruler. The members of the council were chosen by the parliament which consisted of representatives of the four estates - the clergy, the nobility, the bourgeois and the peasantry.

Also, a party system was developed. The period after the death of Charles XII is therefore called Frihetstiden, 'Time of Freedom', and ended in 1772 after a bloodless coup d'état by king Gustav III.

18th century Sweden was characterized by cultural and scientific progress. Theaters and operas were built, Gustav III created the Swedish academy and famous scientists like Linné, Scheele and Celsius. Many ideas of the Enlightenment came from France. Gustav III was murdered in 1792 by the nobility during his plans to intervene in the French revolution.

In 1809 Sweden lost the whole reming eastern part of its former empire - Finland. This was the last war against Russia, and partly due to treason and lousy leadership from the king and the highest commanders it ended in a catastrophe.

In 1810, during the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden had no succesor to the throne. The French marshal Jean Bernadotte was chosen to be the new king. As the Swedish crown prince, Bernadotte took command over the Northern Army of the Third Coalition against Sweden's former allies the French. This army, consisting of Russian, Austrian and Swedish troops, defeated Napoleon at the bloody battle of Leipzig in 1813. After that, Bernadotte turned against Napoleon's ally Denmark with the Swedish army, defeating them and forcing them to surrender Norway. This happened in 1814 and ever since then, after centuries of warfare, Sweden has been at peace.


Related Links:
» Swedish Building Gallery

 

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