Swedish History



Figure 1.--

The eastern half of the Scandinavian Peninsula during Roman times was inhabited by two great Germanic tribes, the Suiones or Swedes in the north (Svealand) and the Gothones or Goths in the south (Gothia). These tribes, although united in religious belief were generaly at war with each other. Previous to the 10th century, details of Swedish history or obscure. Not until about 980, are historians sure about the names of Swedish kings. Frankish misionaries in the 9th century began teaching christianity which slowly became established. Olaf Skutkonug ruling from 993-1024 was the first Swedish to become a Christian. One of Sweden's most powerful monarchs was Eric IX ruling from 1150-60. He became the patron saint of Sweden. Eric invaded Finland, forcing Christianity upon the conquered population. Eric was killed in an attack by Denmark, initiating an extended series of wars between the two countries. The power of the nobility grew in the 14th and 15th century as fedualism became the dominate force in the country as the power of the monarchy wained. A historic painting shows the wife of King Magnus Ericson, Queen Blanka, with her son Crown Prince Eric. The nobility deposed King Albert in 1388 and offered the crown to Margaret, Queen of Denmark and Norway. The Union of Kalmar united the crowns of the three Scandinavian kingdoms in 1397. The union endured for more than a centurry, but was characterized by constant tension between the Danes and Swedes. King Christian II invaded Sweden in 1520 to enforce his authority. His brutal methods, including the execultion of Stockhom nobels, caused a rebelion led by Gustavus Vasa in 1521 who became Gustavus I of an independent Swedish Kingdom. Gustavus I became an hereditary monarch and severly limited the power of the nobility. Luthernism was established as the state religion. Parts of Estonia requested protection frpm Sweden. After a war with Poland, Sweden acquired all of Estonia. Gustavus Adolphus, generally considered the greatest Swedish king, suceeded to the throne in 1611. He expanded Swedish territory during wars with Russia and Poland. His intervention in Germany helped to ensure the victory of protestant forces during the Thirty Years War. Charles X-XII achieved spectacular military successes, but Swedish military power was finally broken by Peter the Great of Russia at the Battle of Poltava in the Great Northern War. Sweden was in fact a small country and did not have the capacity to compete with a huge state like Russia. Charles XI had also tried to strike at fundamental Swedish political standards and impose an absolutist regime. As in most other European countries, the 16th and 17th centuries in Sweden were characterized by the emergence of an increasingly efficient and centralized administration.

Germanic Tribes

The eastern half of the Scandinavian Peninsula during Roman times was inhabited by two great Germanic tribes, the Suiones or Swedes in the north (Svealand) and the Gothones or Goths in the south (Gothia). These tribes, although united in religious belief were generaly at war with each other.

Early Medieval Period

Previous to the 10th century, details of Swedish history or obscure. Not until about 980, are historians sure about the names of Swedish kings.

Vikings (c750-1060 AD)

"Viking" is a Western term, probably derived from the the Swedish word for bay--"vik". Early medieval Scandinavians were a farming people with a close connection with the sea in large measure for trade. Some of these trading expedirions descended into looting and Scandinavians gradually began to see the potential for raiding rather than trading. The "Swedish" and "Danish/Norwegian" Vikings were similar, but geography dictated that the Danes and Norwegians raid west, attacking Western Europe and the British Isles. The Swedes raided east, dominated much of the Baltic and into what is now Russia. Following the great rivers, they eventuakly reached Byzantium. Runestones and other archaeological artefacts found in eastern Sweden and on the island of Gotland confirm that trade relations existed between eastern Sweden and the Near East. Viking expeditions were often organized started from trade centres like "Birka", located on an island in Lake Mälaren--close to modern-day Stockholm. Swedish Vikings settled in Novgorod, which they called "Holmgård". It emerged as the first center of the Russian nation. Viking influence in Russia gradually grew fro economic trade to political matters. Legend of indetermined historical validity pictures the Swedish Vikings as the founders of modern Russia. The name Russia probably originated from one of the names of the Swedish Vikings--"ruser".

National Development

The foundation for a modern nation state was laid during the Viking period. Throughout Scandinavia in the early Viking era, power was ikn the hands of local chief ruling relatively small areas. At first these were village chiefs. Over times, the nore powerful chiefs extended their territiry. In eastern Scandinavia or modern Sweden, two tribes emerged as sominant--Göter and Svear. They formed early states headed by kings. Eventually they merged merged to form the Swedish nation.

Christianity (10th-11th centuries)

The Vikings were a pagan people. Frankish misionaries in the 9th century began teaching christianity which slowly became established. Olaf Skutkonug ruling from 993-1024 was the first Swedish to become a Christian. One of Sweden's most powerful monarchs was Eric IX ruling from 1150-60. He became the patron saint of Sweden. Eric invaded Finland, forcing Christianity upon the conquered population.

Danish Wars

Eric was killed in an attack by Denmark, initiating an extended series of wars between the two countries.

Feudalism

The power of the nobility grew in the 14th and 15th century as fedualism became the dominate force in the country as the power of the monarchy wained.

Kalmar Union (1397)

A historic painting shows the wife of King Magnus Ericson, Queen Blanka, with her son Crown Prince Eric. The nobility deposed King Albert in 1388 and offered the crown to Margaret, Queen of Denmark and Norway. The Union of Kalmar united the crowns of the three Scandinavian kingdoms in 1397. The union endured for more than a centurry, but was characterized by constant tension between the Danes and Swedes. King Christian II invaded Sweden in 1520 to enforce his authority. His brutal methods, including the execultion of Stockhom nobels, caused a rebelion.

Independent Kingdom (1521)

Gustavus Vasa led a rebellion and became Gustavus I of an independent Swedish Kingdom (1521). Gustavus I became an hereditary monarch and severly limited the power of the nobility.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestan Revolution was the religious struggle during the 16th and 17th century which began as an effort to reform the Catholic Church and ended with the splintering of the Western Christendom into the Catholic and Protestant churches. While the Reformation began in Germany, Sweden would play an important role. Protestantism moved north into Scandinavia from northern Germany. Here the process was much more peaceful than in Germany and more parlitarian. Luther's ideas reached Sweden almost immediately (1520). The advent of the printing press (15th century) mean that ideas could be rapidly spread. The monarchies in both Denmark and Sweden came to support the Reformation. These were the only states outside Germany where Lutheranism became the state religion. Olaus and Laurentius Petri helped spread the Lutheran faith in Sweden. The Swedish Diet at an early stage of the Refotrmation adopted Luthernism with the support of King Gustavuis I (1527). The Reformation in Sweden was closely associated with the moce toward independence. A full translation of the Bible into Swedish soon folowed (1541). The process was much the same in Denmark. A Danish national assembly revoked the authority of Catholic bishops (1536). As Denmark at the time controlled Iceland and Norway, they were also affected. King Christian III requested that Johann Bugenhagen, a friend of Luther, organize a Danish Lutheran Church on the basis of the Augsburg Confession. The conversion of Svandinavia was important to the success of the Reformatuion in Germany. Not only were the northern German princes not surrounded by Catholics, but they now had potential northerm allies. The Reformation also made inroads in Estonia. Parts of Estonia requested protection from Sweden. After a war with Poland, Sweden acquired all of Estonia.

Thirty Years War (1618-48)

Sweden was a country of substantial military potential. Sweden would not look kindly on the supression of their fellow Lutherans. King Gustavus Adolphus also had strong territorial cocerns. Gustavus was unprepared to allow the Emperor reimpose Catholcism in norther Germany or gain control of the Baltic ports. Swedish or German Protestant control of the Baltic ports guaranteed Swedish security. The Swedes for their part had dreams of turning the Baltic into a Swedish lake. As it was the Swedish economy was highly dependant on commerce with the southern Baltic ports. Much of the royal income came from Baltic commerce. The religious issue was also important. Not only because Protestantism in Sweden was threatened, but because Gustavus Adolphus and other Swedes were disturbed about the tales of actions against Protestants in Germany. Gustavus Adolphus, generally considered the greatest Swedish king, suceeded to the throne in 1611. He expanded Swedish territory during wars with Russia and Poland. His intervention in Germany helped to ensure the victory of protestant forces during the Thirty Years War.

Great Northern War (1700-21)

Charles X-XII achieved spectacular military successes, but Swedish military power was finally broken by Peter the Great of Russia at the Battle of Poltava in the Great Northern War. Sweden was in fact a small country and did not have the capacity to compete with a huge state like Russia.

Modern Nation State

Charles XI had also tried to strike at fundamental Swedish political standards and impose an absolutist regime. As in most other European countries, the 16th and 17th centuries in Sweden were characterized by the emergence of an increasingly efficient and centralized administration.

Napoleonic Wars

Gustavus IV was only 13 years old when his father was assasinated. A regent ruled until he was proclaimed king in 1800. Gustavus was bitterly deposed to Napoleon, and joined an alliance with Russia, Austria, and Great Britain to opose him. The Russians, however, deserted the coaltion and instead invaded Finland, thratening Sweden itself. An army revolt deposed Gustavus in 1809. The Riksdag formulated a new constitution and elected Gustavus IV's uncle as King Charles XII. The Constitution of 1809, which was in force right up until 1975 and then was the second oldest Constitution in the world after the United States’, was formulated in accordance with Montesquieu’s theory of the separation of powers, taking into account constitutional developments in Sweden. The King was to be the sole ruler of the realm, but had at his side a Council of Ministers, who must countersign, i.e. approve, all decisions. Legislative power was divided equally between the King and the Riksdag, while the Riksdag alone could levy taxes.Territory was ceded to Russia and a pro-Napoleonic policy adopted. Charles was, however, aging and childless. A successor to the throne had to be found. First, the Danish prince, Karl August of Augustenborg, was chosen, but he died shortly after his arrival in Sweden. In an effort to appease Napoleon, the Riksdag chose one of Napoleon's trusted marshals as crown prince--Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, Prince of Pontecorvo. The marshal accepted. One of the reasons for chosing Prince Bernadotte was a desire for an alliance with France and Napoleon in the hope of gaining the latter’s support for winning Finland back from Russia. After his arrival in Sweden, Prince Bernadotte soon became the dominate force in Sweden, in reality Regent of the Realm. In 1812, he initiated quite a different policy, joined the coalition against Napoleon and in the Kiel peace treaty won Norway from Denmark and after a short campaign forced Norway to enter into a union with Sweden in 1814. This union was not dissolved until 1905.

Emigration

Swedish emigration began as early as the 17th century. Swedes even established a colony in North America--modern Deleware. The tidal wave of Swedish emigration, however, began much later and was caused by the agricultural crisis in Sweden. Swedish farmers had large families and the fam\mily land was often divided among the sons. This mean that over time generations of divided inheritances led to the fragmenting of farms into holdings that were so small that they could not support a family. Swedes began to farm marginal land. Others were forced to sell the small holdings and becone tennant farmers. The cottages of these tenant farmers and landless laborers grew in number and the population continued to increase. Parishes records report stunning increases in population. And as the population of landless peasants increased, land owners could offer lower wages. One historian describe mid-19th century Sweden as "a land of poverty, want and social frustration." There were efforts to baddress the problem, including the state-supported enclosure movement, farm schools and improved farming methods. An agricultural system which developed over a millenia could not be easily reformed. Politicial mliberals were frustrated by the difficulties of reform. The rural population resisted reform just as did bureaucratic conservatism. The "father of Swedish emigration", Gustav Unonius, concluded cthat there was no future in Sweden and began to look west to America. The first organized emigrant groups started to arrive in New York (1840s). This was same time the Irish arriced because of the potato famine. The Swedes came in smaller numbers because the crisis was not as great as in Ireland. Not all Swesish emigrants went to America, but it was the princioal destination. And the Swedes unlike the Irish, did not remain in the major Eastern cities cities, but moved west into Iowa and Illinois becoming Homesteaders and setting up farms. Eventually about 1.3 million Swedes emograted until American emigration laws were changes after World War I in the 1920s. Sweden became the seventh most important emigranjt group. The numbers were particularly important in terns of the percentage of the Swedish population. Only the British Isles (because vof Ireland) and Norway sent a greater proportion of their vpopulation to America. The impact on Sweden was greates in the early 20th century, just before World War I. An estimated 1.4 million Swedish first and second generation immigrants were recorded as living in the United States. The entire population of Sweden at the time was only 5.5 million.

Swedish Democracy

The Swedish monarchy in the 19th century evolved into a parlimentary democracy. Sweden was in the 20th century a politically stable country with only minor extremetist factions. There was in Sweden neither an important Communist or Fascist party that generated support for paticipation in the War. Despite his defeat in the struggle for the personal power of the King, Gustaf V won the affection of his people during his long reign, 1907-1950. During World War II, King Gustaf symbolized the unity of the nation. This meant that the monarchy was rooted in the personal popularity of the King. King Gustavus V died after the War at Drottningholm near Stockholm (1950).

World War I

The kings of the three Scandinavian countries met in Malmö to make a joint declaration of absolute neutrality (December 1914). While neutral, the Swedish public had considerable sympathy for the Germans. King Gustav V in particular favored the Germans. He delivered a speech written by explorer Sven Hedin which seem to favor entering the war on Germany’s side (February 6, 1915). The Swedish public, however, had no desire to enter the War and thus Sweden remained neutral. Sweden had significant trade links with Germany. Sweden in particular shipped iron ore to Germany which supported the Grman armaments industry. The Baltic was essentially a German lake and the Royal Navy could not interdict these shipments. Some of the ore shipments, however, were shipped through Norwegian ports. The Royal Navy could interdict these shipments. Diplomatic pressure from Britain and France had some success in reducing other Swedish shipments to Germany.

World War II

Sweden was the only Scandinavian country and one of the few Europen countries not to be drawn into World War II. Like many countries, Sweden proclained its neutrality. Sweden remained neutral in World war I and hoped to do so again after World war II broke out in Europe. When the NAZIs invded Denmark and Norway (April 1940), it was expected that Sweden would be next. In the end no military action took place on Swedish soil, but tht does not mean that Sweden was not affected by the War and played a part in it. Sweden acceeded to German demands to use the Swedish railroad system to move men and material into Norway, but only after the Germans were securely in control of the country. When the NAZIs invaded Denmark and Norway (April 1940), it was expected that Sweden would be next. We do not know to what extent Hitler considered invading Sweden and what disuaded him from doing so. The NAZIs finally concluded that Sweden would prove more useful as a neutral country. Sweden's primary role in the War was to supply raw materials (mineral ores, especially iron ore), finished steel, and manufactured goods to NAZI Gemany. Surrounded by the NAZIs, Sweden had few options. Cut off from other trading partnes, Sweden proceeded to expand trade with the Germans and Swedish raw materials supported the Gernman war effort until late in the war.






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Created: 4:16 PM 11/1/2009
Last updated: 4:32 AM 2/9/2010