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Foundation of Modern Sweden

This is a part of the History of Sweden series. It covers Sweden from 1523 to 1600.

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Gustav Vasa The extraordinary difficulties of Gustav I of Sweden were directly responsible for the eccentric development, both political and religious, of the new kingdom which his genius created. So precarious was the position of the young king, that he was glad to make allies wherever he could find them. Hence his desire to stand well with the Holy See. Only three months after his accession, he addressed letters to the pope begging him to appoint new bishops “who would defend the rights of the Church without detriment to the Crown.” He was especially urgent for the confirmation of his nominee Johannes Magnus[?] as primate, in the place of the rebellious archbishop Gustav Trolle[?], who as a convicted traitor had been formally deposed by the Riksdag of the Estates and was actually an outlawed exile. If the pope would confirm the elections of his bishops, Gustav I promised to be an obedient son of the Church. Scarcely had these letters been despatched when the king received a papal bull ordering the immediate reinstatement of Gustav Trolle. The action of the Curia on this occasion was due to its conviction of the imminent triumph of Christian II. and the instability of Gustav’s position. It was a conviction shared by the rest of Europe; but, none the less, it was another of the many blunders of the Curia at this difficult period. Its immediate effect was the loss of the Church of Sweden. Gustav could not accept as primate an open and determined traitor like Trolle. He publicly protested, in the sharpest language, that unless Johannes Magni were recognized at Rome as archbishop of Uppsala, he was determined, to break with Rome of his own royal authority, henceforward to order the affairs of the Church in his realm to the glory of God and the satisfaction of all Christian men. But the Holy See was immovable, and Gustav broke definitely with Rome. He began by protecting and promoting the Swedish reformers Olaus[?] and Laurentius Petri[?], and Laurentius Andreae[?]. The new teaching was allowed to spread, though at first unostentatiously and gradually. A fresh step in the direction of Lutheranism was the translation of the New Testament into Swedish, which was published in 1526. Simultaneously, a systematic attack was made upon the religious houses, beginning with the sequestration of the monastery of Gripsholm[?] in January 1526. But the affair caused such general indignation that Gustav felt obliged, in May, to offer some justification of his conduct. A few months later there was an open rupture between the king and his own primate, who ultimately was frightened into exile by a sudden accusation of treason. But the other bishops were also against Gustav, and, irritated by their conscientious opposition, the king abandoned the no longer tenable position of a moderator and came openly forward as an antagonist. In 1526 the Catholic printing-presses were suppressed, and two-thirds of the Church’s tithes were appropriated to the payment of the national debt. On February 18, 1527 two bishops, the first martyrs of Catholicism in Sweden, were gibbeted at Stockholm after a trial which was a parody of justice. This act of violence, evidently designed to terrorize the Church into submission, was effectual enough, for at the subsequent Riksdag of Västerås in June, 1527, the bishops durst not even present a protest which they had privately prepared, and the assembly itself was bullied into an absolute submission to the ordinance royal will. The result was the Recess of Västerås[?], which transferred all ecclesiastical property to the Crown. By the subsequent Västerås Ordinance[?] the Church of Sweden was absolutely severed from Rome. Nevertheless, the changes so made were mainly administrative. There was no modification of doctrine, for the general resolution that God’s Word should be preached plainly and purely was not contrary to the teaching of the ante-Tridentine Church. Even at the Synod of Örebro[?], summoned in February 1529, “for the better regulation of church ceremonies and discipline according to God’s Word,” there was no formal protest against Rome; and the old ritual was retained for two years longer, though it was to be explained as symbolical. Henceforth the work of the Reformation continued uninterruptedly. In 1531 Laurentius Petri was elected the first Protestant primate of Sweden. Subsequently matters were much complicated by the absolutist tendencies of Gustav Vasa. From 1539 onwards there was a breach between him and his own prelates in consequence of his arbitrary appropriation of the Church’s share of the tithes, in direct violation of the Västerås Recess. Then Gustav so curtailed the power of the bishops, ordinances of 1539 and 1540, that they had little of the dignity left but the name, and even that he was disposed to abolish, for after 1543 the prelates appointed by him, without any pretence of previour election by the cathedral chapters, were called ordinaries, or superintendents. Finally, at the Riksdag of Västerås, in 1544. though no definite confession of faith was formulated, a final breach was made with the traditions of the old religion.

Reformation Thus the Reformation in Sweden was practically the work of one strong man, acting first from purely political and latterly from purely economical reasons for the good of the state as he understood it. In this Gustav acted contrary to the religious instincts of the vast majority of the Swedish nation; for there can be no doubt at all that the Swedes at the beginning of the 16th century were not only still devoted to the old Church, but violently anti-Protestant This popular Romanism was the greatest of all Gustav’s difficulties, because it tended to alienate the Swedish peasants.

For the last hundred years the peasants had been a leading factor in the political life of the land; and perhaps in no other contemporary European state could so self-reliant the a class of yeomen have been found. Again and again they had defended their own and the national liberties against foreign foes. In the national assemblies, too, their voice had always been powerful, and not infrequently predominant. In a word, they were the sound kernel of the still but partially developed Swedish constitution, the democratic safeguard against the monarchical tendency which was enveloping the rest of Europe. Gustav’s necessities had compelled him to break with the ecclesiastical traditions of Sweden; and they also compelled him, contrary to his masterful disposition, to accept constitutionalism, because without it his footing in his own kingdom would have been insecure. The peasants therefore were his natural allies, but, from the nature of the case, they tended to become his most formidable rivals. They prided themselves on having set King Gustav in the high seat, but they were quite ready to unseat him if his rule was not to their liking, and there were many things with which they were by no means contented. This anomalous state of things was responsible for the half-dozen peasant risings with which Gustav had to contend from 1525 to 1543. In all these rebellions the religious difficulty figured largely, though the increasing fiscal burdens were undoubtedly grievous and the peasants had their particular grievances besides. The wholesale seizure and degradation of Church property outraged them, arid they formally protested against the introduction of “Luthery.” They threatened, more than once, to march upon and destroy Stockholm, because the Reformers had made of it “a spiritual Sodom.” They insisted on, the restoration of the ancient Catholic customs, and would have made neglect of fasting and other sins of omission penal offences. Though he prevailed in the end, Gustav was obliged to humour the people throughout. And thus, though he was strong enough to maintain what he had established and finish what be had begun, he was not strong enough to tamper seriously with the national liberties or to crush altogether Catholic aspirations. At the time of his death the Riksdag was already a power in the state, and a Catholic reaction in Sweden was by no means an impossibility, if only the Catholics had been able to find capable leaders.

Gustav’s foreign policy at first aimed at little more than self-preservation. Only with the pecuniary assistance of the wealthy merchants of Lübeck had he been able to establish himself originally; and Lübeck in return had exploited Sweden, as Spain at a later day was to exploit her American colonies. When, with the aid of Denmark, Gustav at last freed himself from this greedy incubus by the truce of August 28, 1537, Sweden for the first time in her history became the mistress of her own waters. But even so she was but of subordinate importance in Scandinavian politics. The hegemony of Denmark was indisputable, and Gustav regarded that power with an ever-increasing suspicion which forbore ill for peace in the future. The chief cause of dispute was the quartering by the Danish king of the three crowns of Sweden on the Dano-Norwegian coat of arms, which was supposed to indicate a claim of sovereignty. Still more offensive was the attitude of Sweden’s eastern neighbour Muscovy, with whom the Swedish king was nervously anxious to stand on good terms. Gustav attributed to Ivan IV of Russia, whose resources he unduly magnified, the design of establishing a universal monarchy round the Baltic sea.

Eric XIV Main article: Eric XIV of Sweden

Nevertheless events were already occurring which ultimately compelled Sweden to depart from her neutrality and lay the foundations of an overseas empire. In the last year of Gustav’s life, 1560, the ancient Livonian Order[?], amalgamated since 1237, with the more powerful Teutonic Order , had by the secularization of the latter order into the dukedom of Prussia, 1525 become suddenly isolated in the midst of hostile Slavonians. It needed but a jolt to bring down the crazy anachronism, and the jolt came when, in 1558-1560, floods of Muscovites poured over the land, threatening the whole province with destruction. In his despair the last master of the order, Gotthard von Kettler[?], appealed to all his more civilized neighbours to save him, and his dominions were quickly partitioned between Poland, Denmark and Sweden. Sweden’s original share of the spoil was and Reval, which, driven to extremities, placed itself beneath the protection of the Swedish crown in March 1561. From the moment that Sweden got a firm footing in Estonia by the acquisition of Reval she was committed to a policy of combat and aggrandisement. To have retreated would have meant the ruin of her Baltic trade, upon which the national prosperity so much depended. Her next-door neighbours, Poland and Russia, were necessarily her competitors; fortunately they were also each other’s rivals; obviously her best policy was to counterpoise them. To accomplish this effectually she required to have her hands free, and the composition of her long outstanding differences with Denmark by the Treaty of Stettin[?] on December 13, 1570, which put an end to the Dano-Swedish war of 1563-1570, the chief political event of the reign of Eric XIV of Sweden, 1560-1568, the eldest son-and successor of Gustav I, was therefore a judicious act on the part of the new king John III of Sweden, 1568-1592. Equally judicious was the anti-Russian league with Stephen Bathory, king of Poland, concluded in 1578. The war between Russia and Sweden for the possession of Estonia and Livonia (1571-1577) had been uninterruptedly disastrous to the latter, and, in the beginning of 1577, a countless Russian host sat down before Reval, Sweden’s last stronghold in those parts. The energetic intervention of Bathory, however, speedily turned the scales in the opposite direction. Six months after his humiliating peace with the Polish monarch, Ivan IV was glad to conclude a truce with Sweden also on a “uti possidetis” basis at Pliusa, on August 5, 1582.

Johan III Main article: John III of Sweden

The amicable relations between Sweden and Poland promised, at first, to be permanent. Sixteen years before his accession to the throne, John III of Sweden, then duke of Finland, had wedded Catherine Jagiellonica[?], the sister of Sigismund II of Poland on October 4, 1562. Duke Sigismund of Sweden, the fruit of this union, was brought up by his mother in the Catholic religion, and, on August 19, 1587, he was elected king of Poland. Sixteen days later the Articles of Kalmar[?], signed by John and Sigismund, regulated the future relations between the two countries when, in process of time, Sigismund should succeed his father as king of Sweden. The Articles of two kingdoms were to be in perpetual alliance, but each of them was to retain its own laws and customs. Sweden was also to enjoy her religion, subject to such changes as the Privy Council might make; but neither pope nor council was to claim or exercise the right of releasing Sigismund from his obligations to his Swedish subjects. During Sigismund’s absence from Sweden that realm was to be ruled by seven Swedes, six elected by the king and one by his uncle Duke Charles of Sudermania, the leader of the Swedish Protestants. No new tax was to be levied in Sweden during the king’s absence, but Sweden was never to be administered from Poland. Any necessary alterations in these articles were only to be made with the common consent of the king, Duke Charles, the Estates and the gentry of Sweden.

Sigismund Main article: Sigismund I of Sweden

The endeavours of Swedish statesmen to bind the hands of their future king were due to their fear of the rising flood of Sweden and the Catholic reaction in Europe. Under Eric XIV the Catholic the Reformation in Sweden had proceeded on much Reaction, the same lines as during the reign of his father, retaining all the old Catholic customs not considered contrary to Scripture. Naturally, after 1544, when the Council of Trent had formally declared the Bible and tradition to be equally authoritative sources of all Christian doctrine, the contrast between the old and the new teaching became more obvious; and in many countries a middle party arose which aimed at a compromise by going back to the Church of the Fathers. King John III of Sweden, the most learned of the Vasas, and somewhat of a theological expert, was largely influenced by these “middle” views. As soon as he had mounted the throne he took measures to bring the Church of Sweden John III, and back to “the primitive Apostolic Church and the the Swedish Catholic faith “; and, in 1574, persuaded a synod. assembled at Stockholm to adopt certain articles framed by himself on what we should call a High Church[?] basis. In February 1575 a new Church ordinance, approximating still more closely to the patristic Church, was presented to another synod, and accepted thereat, but very unwillingly. In 1576 a new liturgy was issued on the model of the Roman missal, but with considerable modifications. To a modern High Anglican these innovations seem innocent enough, and, despite the opposition of Duke Charles and the ultra-Protestants, they were adopted by the Riksdag of 1577. These measures greatly encouraged the Catholic party in Europe, and John III was ultimately persuaded to send an embassy to Rome to open negotiations for the reunion of the Swedish Church with the Holy See. But though the Jesuit Antonio Possevino was sent to Stockholm to complete John’s “conversion,” John would only consent to embrace Catholicism under certain conditions which were never kept, and the only result of all these subterraneous negotiations was to incense the Protestants still more against the new liturgy, the use of which by every congregation in the realm without exception was, nevertheless, decreed by the Riksdag of 1582. At this period Duke Charles and his Protestant friends were clearly outnumbered by the promoters of the via media. Nevertheless, immediately after King John’s death, a synod summoned to Uppsala by Duke Charles rejected the new liturgy and drew up an anti-Catholic confession of faith, March 5, 1593. Holy Scripture and the three primitive creeds were declared to be the true foundations of Christian faith, and the Augsburg confession was adopted. That Sigismund, now the lawful king of Sweden, should regard the summoning of Civil War, the synod of Uppsala without his previous knowledge Expulsion of and consent as a direct infringement of his prerogative was only natural. On his arrival in Sweden, however, he tried to gain time by provisionally confirming what had been done; but the aggressiveness of the Protestant faction and the persistent usurpations of Duke Charles (the Riksdag of 1595 proclaimed him regent though the king had previously refused him that office) made a civil war inevitable. The Battle of Stångebro[?] on September 25, 1598 decided the struggle in favour of Charles - and Protestantism. Sigismund fled from Sweden, never to return, and on March 19, 1600 the Riksdag of Linköping proclaimed the duke king under the title of Charles IX of Sweden. Sigismund and his line of posterity were declared to have forfeited the Swedish crown, which was to pass to the male heirs of Charles.

See also: List of Swedish monarchs, Realm of Sweden, History of Russia, History of Poland, History of Finland


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