The Beginning Of The Swedish Empire

Not many would have augured the emergence of the Swedes as a powerful European nation before the year 1600.  On the periphery of Europe, lacking the many national requisites necessary for aggrandizement, it was inquired as to whether or not the Swedes would even remain independent.  The decisive Danish triumph over Sweden in the Kalmar War(1611-1613), seemed to hint that all of the Scandinavians might be reunited under the Danish monarch.  However, a string of acute kings would carve out a prosperous Baltic empire and enjoy a series of triumphs over their jealous neighbors.

The Swedish Empire would be born out of a bloodbath and die in one as well.  By the middle 1400's, much of the latent Swedish resentment over the Kalmar Union and the concomitant Danish overlordship was coming to a head.  Swedishmen were seething over the desultory wars of the Danes in Germany, which interrupted the Swedish iron trade.  The Danish government began to concentrate power in their hands, which conflicted with the desire of the Swedish Privy Council to retain autonomy in their domestic affairs.  As early as 1434 insurrection erupted in Sweden and the Danes were expelled.  A period of near constant conflict commenced in which both Denmark and Sweden both tried to preserve the Kalmar Union, but the Danes wanted the Union to be ruled by a Danish monarch, and the Swedes wanted a Swedish ruler at the helm.  However, the soveriegns of both nations would both lose the crown the Oldenburg Dukes of Holstein, an interested third party whom wound up becoming the new ruling dynasty of Denmark.

An army of Swedish miners and peasants fuming over taxes to support a Danish war erupted in 1434 in an insurrection known as the Engelbrekt rebellion.  Their leader was Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson, a nobleman who took charge of the commoners.  The rebels accomplished the deposition of King Eric of Denmark, but their revolution dissapated in a power struggle amongst the insurgents and Engelbrektsson was assassinated.  Nevertheless, the rebellion commenced the erosion of the Kalmar Union.  King Charles VIII of Sweden was a member of the Swedish Privy Council elected to provide a viable alternative to Christopher of Bavaria, the new Danish Monarch, but he would be deposed and restored three times in the course of two rebellions and a sanguinary war with Christian I, the next Danish King after Christopher.  Charles would display incompetence on numerous occasions, and would find himself deposed finally with the concurring election of Christian I as the new king by the Swedish populace in 1457.  Christian I turned Sweden into a viceroyalty.

Christian II
Christian II
Sten Sture the Elder was the first of his distinguished family to occupy the post of viceroy.  He drew his support from the Swedish peasantry, and came into conflict with the Privy Council, the church, and the Swedish nobility in Stockholm, whom usually favored the Union.   Sten the Elder was deposed as the result of a preemptory invasion by King John, but he would regain power when the Danish King left with his army in 1501.  When his political foe Svante Nilsson came to power, Nilsson tried to undo Sten's work, but Nilsson later switched over to the cause of independence.  Nilsson's son, Sten Sture the Elder, who was also Sten Sture the Elder's grandson, in 1515 initiated a revolt by besieging the leader of the Pro-Danish party, Archbishop Gustav Trolle, in his bishop's mansion.  Again the Swedes rose in revolt, determined to drive out the Danes.  The Danish King, Christian II, invaded Sweden, but was defeated by Sture and a peasant army at Vedila.  Trying again to subdue his wayward subjects, he was again repulsed at Brannkyrka.  In a third attempt to invade, Christian recruited continental mercenaries, and routed the peasant levies at the Battle of Bogesund in 1520.  Sten Sture was killed by a cannonball, but his widow Christina and then Gustav Vasa would assume the cause.

But for the moment Christian found nearly all hurdles removed towards reestablishing his prerogatives in Sweden.  Sten Sture's widow, Christina, prepared to stand her ground in Stockholm, and the peasantry of Sweden flocked to her succor.  Meanwhile, a now apprehensive and intimidated Privy Council in Uppsala prepared to surrender unconditionally to Christian II on the grounds that he would pay an indemnity and to allow Sweden to be ruled by her own laws, terms that Christian and the Danish Privy Council accepted.  As Christian moved towards Stockholm against Christina, his forces suffered another weighty defeat, but in a bloody, hard-fought struggle, Christian inflicted a crushing defeat on the Swedish forces at the battle of Upsalla.  Coming to the outskirts of Stockholm, Christian was able to unite his efforts with his navy, and his army and fleet were able to encircle and lay siege to Stockholm.  With defeat now imminent, Christina agreed to surrender her capital to Christian in exchange for terms; a peaceful occupation of Stockholm by Christian's troops and leniency for the population, and the Swedes would recognize him as hereditary King of Sweden.

Christian II was crowned King of Sweden by Gustav Trolle in Stockholm.  He reneged on his truce with Christina, and launched the Stockholm Bloodbath.  He was determined to eradicate any opposition to his regime.  Christian invited the leaders of the Sture faction to a banquet, where his captains seized the prelates and nobles whom had opposed him.  Archbishop Trolle had submitted the list of whom had supported Swedish independence, and the executions began that night and carried into the next day, decaptiations and drownings on the pretext of heresy.  82 were executed in all.  The bodies of Sten Sture the Younger and his infant son were exhumed and burnt.  Christian quickly became known to Swedes as Christian the Tyrant.

Gustav Vasa's father, Erik Johansson, was killed in the Stockholm Bloodbath, but Gustav had the fortune to be absent from the capital.  Gustav had the benefit of being related to the Sture family and the ability to trace his lineage to King Sverker II.   He was a young man in his early twenties at the time, and had been an eager volunteer in the army of the rebellion.  Earlier, he had been taken prisoner in battle against Christian, but had since escaped and had been fruitlessly trying to raise troops against the Danish king.  He then had a series of fantastic adventures that historically are of dubious validity, but by 1520 he had a small army under his control in Dalarna.  Over the next two years he wore down the Danish army and had consolidated his position as the leader of the remainder of the resistance.  Gustav compared himself to Moses, manumitting his countrymen from bondage.  He was a charismatic and adroit leader and revolutionary.  The remaining Swedish patriots in the Riksdag threw their support to his cause and elected him King of Sweden.  By 1523 he had enough strength to take Stockholm, which he did shortly accomplish.  He commenced a dynasty that would last until 1654.  Gustav Trolle, who had been Christian's right-hand man, was exiled.  This move would be the beginning of a series of events that would lead to the Swedish Reformation.  King Gustav, still, would have much work ahead of him in bringing peace and prosperity to Sweden.