- Jan 15, 2005
En Svensk Tiger
A Victoria AAR
A Victoria AAR
Prologue - An empire's rise and downfall
It is hard to determine when Sweden came to be. Some say that it was created as early as the Viking age, and yet other people say it was not until the Union of Kalmar that the nation was formed. In any case, the spirit of a nation grew during the troubled years of the Union of Kalmar, when king of Denmark and Norway, Eric of Pomerania, also became the king of Sweden during the early 15th century. This union, called the Union of Kalmar because of the simple fact that it had been formed in the city of Kalmar, located in the south of Sweden, which by that time belonged to Denmark, lasted for approximately one hundred years, until 1523.
Erik of Pomerania
In 1433, a Swede named Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson (Engelbrekt the son of Engelbrekt), rose against the king of Denmark with help of fellow Swedes because he wanted to throw out the king from Sweden and create an independent Sweden, ruled by a body obedient to all the people of the nation; the Riksdag, and abolish the Union of Kalmar. Engelbrekt did not succeed to accomplish all of his dreams, despite a successful war during 1433-36 – the Danish lost their rule over Sweden for a while, but the Union stood fast. However, Engelbrekt did succeed in creating the Riksdag, but ironically that made it easier for the Danish to regain control in Sweden. Aristocrats in Sweden, loyal to the Danish crown, formed their own party in the Riksdag which tried to reintroduce the Danish as Swedish overlords. This made several Danish kings lord of Sweden for short periods, Kristian I (1457-64) and Kristian II, also known as Kristian Tyrann (Kritian the Tyrant) (1520-21).
It would be another man, a front figure of Swedish history and seen as the liberator of Sweden in Swedish history, Gustav Vasa, who would complete what Engelbrekt had yet to succeed. He rallied an army from deep within Sweden to throw out the Danish and successfully dissolve the Union of Kalmar once and for all. Vasa had a lot of indirect help by the Reformation. The clergy in Sweden had become corrupt, and were in no small measure as bad as the aristocracy in the form of taxes and greed. Saying the people was unhappy with the priests was an understatement. The contempt helped Vasa to make new reforms, claiming much land that the church owned, to the state and thus gained money and influence.
The son of Gustav Vasa, Erik XIV was insane and the crown therefore passed to Gustav’s second son, Johan III. His son, Sigismund, became the heir of the throne and he was also king of Poland. When Johan III died Sigismund inherited Sweden, however, his uncle Karl IX, the third son of Gustav Vasa, saw his chance as Sigismund was weak in Sweden, claimed the crown and proclaimed himself king of Sweden. All this led to a major insolvency in the politics of Europe and soon Sweden faced three wars in just a few years.
From left to right; Erik XIV, Johan III, Sigismund and Karl IX
When Erik XIV had been king he had had his eyes upon the shores of Estonia and thought that Sweden should watch for any opportunity to make it Swedish territory. His interest drew scornful gazes from the Danish crown as they had also planned for this territory to become Danish. When Sweden claimed Estonia, Denmark declared war which led to the Nordiska sjuårskriget (The seven-year-long war of the North) (1563-70). The war ended with Sweden keeping Estonia but Erik XIV was dethroned and his brother Johan III was titled king of Sweden. Johan had not been king for long until Russia declared war upon Sweden for the intention of taking Estonia. Johan fought back and in 1595 Sweden won and got to keep Estonia; Russia retook their claim of the land. However, Johan did not see the end of the war as he died in 1592 and the crown passed to his son Sigismund (Sigismund III Vasa). As Sigismund also was king of Poland he was first and foremost a catholic, in direct contrast to the rest of the Swedish kings who were protestant. Sigismund wanted to introduce the catholic faith in Sweden, something that Karl IX, brother to Johan III and uncle to Sigismund heavily opposed. As duke in Sweden, Karl had a lot of influence, and being the son of the king who liberated Sweden did not make things harder. Sigismund raged over Karl’s decision and applied pressure to the German trading-federation, the Hanseatic League, to block Swedish ports to halt trade in the nation. Karl IX fought on and had Sigismund dethroned in 1599 which led to war with Poland.
To weaken Sweden, Sigismund drew Sweden into the conflict of the Russian throne succession and thus Sweden had to war on both Poland and Russia. Seeing that Sweden was attacked by two foes, Denmark took its chance again and attacked Sweden in 1611, making Sweden face three adversaries at the same time. That same year Karl IX dies and is replaced by yet another famous figure in Swedish history, the man who expanded Sweden’s borders the most; Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus), known as the Lion of the North, son of Karl IX. His tactics were instead of the linear army a very mobile one and he is famous for using a highly mobile artillery. Generals like Napoleon and von Clausewitz admired him because of his courage of being in the front with his soldiers instead of the background. He was also known to travel Europe incognito with the name Gars (Gustavus Adolphus Rex Sueciae).
Gustav II Adolf, the Lion of the North
Against impossible odds he defeats Denmark after only two years and secures the southern provinces of Sweden from attacks. Turning his attention to the Russian front and fought the Russians back, achieving peace with the Bear, gaining the south-eastern part of Finland and the county of Ingermanland, the Russian province where St. Petersburg is located. In 1617, with two of three adversaries beaten, turn his total concentration on Poland, the last and greatest enemy. After twelve years of fighting Poland is defeated at last and has to let go of Livland (Livonia, a part of modern day Estonia and Latvia) and Sigismund had to let go of his dreams for the Swedish crown for the time being. This does not stop him from craving for it though. He sees an opportunity to once more claim it. A war, not between specified nations as such, but nations of religion, battling it out in the middle of Europe, it fought; the Trettioåriga kriget (Thirty Years’ War). The war, already having raged for eleven years, bled Europe as compatriots fought each other because of faith instead of nationality. Sigismund, thinking that if the catholic side won, he could gain help from them to invade Sweden and thus gain what was rightfully his. Gustav, not so interested in the outcome of the war itself as it had little to do with this plans of a Swedish Baltic Sea, joined the war on the protestant side since he knew that if the Catholics won, he would face a reinforced Poland hard to defeat.
In 1648 the war is ended with the Protestants as winners and in the Westfaldiska freden (Peace of Westphalia) and Sweden gained the provinces of Pomerania, Wismar and Bremen-Verden, in northern Germany and Poland. Gustav never had the chance to taste the sweetness of victory, as he was mortally wounded in the Battle of Lützen in 1632. It was instead his heiress Kristina who would assume the leadership of the throne and control the now almost entirely Baltic Sea-stretching Swedish kingdom. Kristina’s rule was a short one though, as she gave the crown up by her own will and passed it on to Karl X Gustav, son to Gustav II Adolf’s half-sister.
Gustav II Adolf successful campaign and death in the Battle of Lützen
Gustav II Adolf's successor, Queen Kristina
After only a year on the throne, Karl declared war on Poland. The country had never seized with their threats directed to the Swedish crown and Karl thought them weak as Cossacks ravaged the countryside, wanting Poland to join the Russian empire. However, if Poland was split up in favour of the Russians, not only would Sweden be threatened, but all of Poland’s neighbours. Also, if Poland could be defeated again, it would give Sweden even more land around the Baltic Sea, continuing the plans Gustav II Adolf had started, with a Swedish Baltic Sea trade-empire in mind. Karl decided that intervention was the only thing to do. When Russian troops marched into Poland, Karl threw himself out in battle, attacking Poland to defeat an old enemy and stop the Russian expansion at the same time.
Karl X Gustav
The successes in Poland made Karl over-confident and wanted to conquer the whole of Poland instead of only the costal provinces. He went so far as to proclaim himself king of Poland as he met little resistance which could oppose him. This aggravated the populace who rallied against Karl, forcing him to cancel his plans for a total conquest. Plans to divide Poland in favour of Sweden were brooding in Karl’s mind instead. If total conquest could not be achieved, at least Sweden would receive the original costal provinces in the victory.
Russia became worried by Sweden’s actions in the war for Poland and attacked the Swedish Livland (Livonia). Germany’s emperor saw how Poland fell without resistance and wanted to attack Karl in his back. With the Swedish army in Poland, Denmark saw its chance once again to attack. The Netherlands figured that if the Baltic Sea became Swedish territory, their trading would be severely diminished there and thus joined in the war against Sweden. Karl’s numerous successes in battle made the opposite effect throughout Europe, instead of being celebrated as a great general, he was seen as a major threat instead.
Still despite his successes, he could not quell the uprisings in Poland by the locals. As Karl’s luck faded away, the German emperor strengthened his bond to the Polish crown. The Russian army still ravaged the lands of Livland and Denmark finally declared war upon Sweden. The plans for a divided Poland had not only been an utter failure; it had created a coalition of nations bent on destroying the Swedish empire.
While this played out, Karl suddenly made a quick turnabout. Instead of trying to quell the Polish uprisings, he left a very small division in Poland and marched his whole army toward Denmark. In 1658 he won and the Treaty of Roskilde followed. Karl wanted to destroy Denmark totally and had plans of dividing the land between Sweden and England. This never passed though, as England’s Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, a potential strong ally, who Karl wanted help from to crush the Netherlanders, did not accept Karl’s offer. Karl had to do the opposite to secure his plans; he offered a treaty of friendship. The two kings agreed to help each other to repel hostile navies entering the straits between Denmark and Sweden, keeping the Baltic Sea clear of any non-Nordic fleets. In this way, Karl tied Denmark down politically and could still keep his plans of a Swedish Baltic Sea.
However, nothing ever seems to go as planned, and that happened to Karl as well. A year after Sweden’s initial attack on Denmark in 1657, the German emperor had died and a new emperor was to be elected. The election created differences of opinion among the German states and Austria wanted a part as well. In the end, the winner was the king of Austria, Leopold of Austria. With Denmark defeated, Karl was more than eager to attack Germany now, and Austria as well, but the two combined was a too great foe and Karl had to abandon his plans.
He instead turned to Denmark again, not being able to let go of the thought of a Swedish empire with its long-time enemy Denmark included. This second attack did not play out as successfully as Karl had thought though. The Danish army held fast in Copenhagen long time enough for the Netherlander fleet to arrive and help. A last charge of the city’s defences failed and Polish and Austrian troops rallied from the south to attack and isolate Swedish Pomerania and Prussia. Karl tried to receive help from Cromwell again, and from France as well, but both declined. The year after, in 1659, the Swedish army located on Fyn was attacked by combined Danish, Netherlander, Polish, Austrian and Brandenburg troops. Karl was forced to accept defeat but refused to hand over his conquered provinces procured during the Treaty of Roskilde (southern provinces in Sweden which were Danish) when he called for peace with Denmark and Poland. Karl hoped to gain strength again to be able to once more wage war for a Swedish Baltic Sea. His plans had to be cancelled when he fell ill in 1660 and died soon after.
When Karl X Gustav died a new form of government was introduced. It was a total monarchy, in charge of everything, called the Karolinska enväldet, dictatorship is another word. This meant that in contrast to before where a government had been in charge of the country together with the king, the crown was now given total authority and leadership of the nation. One single body ruled the entire country and its policies. Despite this change, Sweden’s position as a great power could not be maintained. One king who tried was yet another of Sweden’s most famous war-kings and a superb general. He claimed the throne in 1697, at the age of 15, later to be called the Krigarkungen (lit. the king of wars) and Hjältekonungen (lit. the king of heroes); his name was Karl XII.
Karl XII, king of warriors and heroes
His first years as a king, peace spread through Sweden, though it would not be long before war found itself claiming most of Karl’s life. Already after the death of Karl XI, Karl XII’s father, who had ruled in a quite peaceful era of the Swedish empire, Denmark had been planning and scheming together with Russia and Poland against Sweden in secret. In 1700 the Great Northern War broke out when Saxon (Polish) troops attacked Swedish forts in Riga while Danish-Norwegian troops attacked Sweden’s ally Holstein-Gottorp. Karl was unprepared for the attack and he wanted to strike back at Denmark first. He ordered a fleet to be prepared while ordering Finnish troops to reinforce the forts in Riga. He called upon his allies England and Holland whom he had befriended before the war. The combined Swedish-Hollander-English fleet forced the Danish to accept the terms to dissolve their alliance with Russia and Poland and to leave Holstein-Gottorp. Karl then prepared to leave for Riga, but was reached by the news that the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, later renouncing the title for emperor instead, had begun a siege of the city of Narva. With Poland giving up their fruitless efforts to capture Riga and abandoning their siege, Karl set out to relieve Narva of Russian hands. Instantly when the Swedish arrived, Karl ordered the attack. With the help of general Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, Karl won one of the most greatest victories in Swedish military history.
The victory at the Battle of Narva
During the winter that year, the Polish king and the Russian tsar met to further deepen their pact. Poland wanted greater assistance from Russia to be able to beat the Swedish defences of Riga, while Russian troops would attack the Swedish-owned Russian province of Ingermanland. In this way they thought they could confuse and divide the Swedish to more easily beat them. Karl took his whole army and marched to Poland though, in the intention of annihilating the Polish army. During the summer of 1701, the Swedish army arrives at Riga and attacks the Saxon fortifications. With the defeat of the Polish, Sweden gained the duchy of Kurland (Courland) Karl had but one enemy left to beat; the Russian tsar.
A fragile peace with Poland led to a change of king in 1705. Already in 1704 a general confederation had dethroned the Polish king Augustus den Starke (the Strong) and elected Stanislaw I to take his place. For two years, Karl had the favour of preparing, without the intervention of either Danish or Polish troops, for the inevitable.
Because of his earlier victories, Karl thought that he would win again when he faced the Russians. That did not happen. After a few battles, all being lost, Karl and his army of 18000 men had to flee south to the lands of the Tatars. Karl was confident that once he reached further south, he would get help to beat back the pursuing Russian army. When Karl reached the river Dnjepr, Carl Rehnskiöld, who had followed on all Karl’s campaigns, forced the king to cross the river to save his life. He had to promise the king to cross himself afterwards, however Rehnskiöld never upheld his promise but stayed fast on the other side and surrendered to the Russians. Only 400 Swedish soldiers and a few Russian Cossacks, opposing the rule of Peter the Great, made it across and could continue south. Behind them, the whole Swedish army surrendered to a Russian army half the size of the Swedish.
Karl’s visit to the Turks did not become the one he thought though. Even though he was allowed a safe haven for his men in the materialisation of a fort, the Swedish army did not impose the political superiority that Karl had predicted they would get in order to convince the Turkish sultan to attack Russia with Sweden’s help.
Situations worsened when a coup was made to retake the Polish crown by Augustus den Starke from Stanislaw. Once back in power Augustus renewed his alliances with Denmark and Russia. Denmark attacked Skåne instantly. Karl pleaded to the sultan to attack Russia and promised that he would receive Swedish support once the Swedish army had defeated the invading Danish one. In 1711 the Turkish attack finally took place. It could have ended with Russia being totally destroyed; the army was annihilated, and Peter the Great was captured by the sultan. But the momentum was lost as the Grand Vizier, who was quite the scornful man toward Karl, made up a peace treaty that was in favour of Russia instead of Sweden. When Turkey won instead of losing, Augustus had to figure out a new way to get to his rival. He tried to get Karl banished from the Turkish lands, this way Karl could be captured by Polish troops as he made his way homeward. When Karl was asked to leave he bluntly refused and took up arms to defend his position in his fort, resulting in the Kalabaliken i Bender (Kalabalik (or Tumult) in Bendery) in 1713.
The whole incident ended with the king’s capture and imprisonment, however, the sultan was curious as to why he was so against leaving Turkey, not accepting the “freedom” he was given. When the sultan was informed of the conspiracy he made ready for a new war with Russia, but it was never accomplished. Instead a new Grand Vizier, no less scheming than the last one, struck a deal with Poland and Austria. The Vizier was very keen on improving the relations with these countries and released Karl from his prison, forcing him to leave the Turkish lands once more to let the Polish and Austrians capture him. The Turkish escort that was to protect Karl on his journey home never came to be though, and Karl had to travel through Europe alone with his remaining army of around 1500 men. They took a detour and travelled through the Swedish-friendly German states in 14 days before they reached Swedish territory. Once at home, Karl was informed that Pomerania had been invaded by Prussian troops, Finland had been lost to Russia and the remaining German holdings had been occupied by combined Prussian-Danish forces. Karl was forced to flee from his North-German holdings to true Swedish soil. From Lund he commanded his forces to attack Denmark in the same fashion he had done before. Unfortunately for Karl the ice thaw and thus he could not cross the strait between Sweden and Denmark. Karl redirected his army north to the city of Kristiania (Oslo) in Norway in belief he could take it in a surprise-attack, but which failed due to the lack of artillery.
When he could not capture the capital, Karl turned his attention to the fort of Fredriksten and besieged it with the whole of his remaining army. It was a last, desperate attempt to conquer Norway. The siege was progressing in a quick pace until Karl was shot in the head. Some speculate it was a stray shrapnel from a Norwegian cannon, some people believe that he was assassinated by one of his own soldiers to stop the warring. It mattered little though, as the death of the king in 1718 ended the siege, the war with Norway and put an end to the Swedish empire. Sweden lost all of its possessions within years and was reduced from a great power to just a nation among others.
The death of Karl XII, he is carried all the way from Norway
Karl XIV Johan (Jean Baptiste Bonaparte and his son and successor Oscar I
After the era of a great power, Sweden experiences quite the tranquillity except for a war with Russia in 1809 where Sweden’s Finnish possessions are officially lost. That same year, a constitutional form of government is introduced, taking away the power the king had before, making him a mere front-figure of the nation, while the real power is invested in the Regering (Government) which is elected every five years. The current king, Gustav IV Adolf is dethroned as the last king with power, and Karl XIV Johan, born as Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, originally from France and brother-in-law to Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte, is introduced to the Swedish throne. In 1818 he is crowned the king of Sweden and Norway, as these two nations joined in a union in 1814, a work of Karl XIV. He never learned to speak Swedish, but gained a son, Oscar I, who would come to take his place 1844 as king of Sweden. But history may change by a single event. After all, one man’s fortune is another’s downfall…