Swedish National Day is celebrated because of two things.First on June 6, 1523, Gustav Vasa was elected King. The second reason SwedishNational Day is celebrated also is since on June 6, 1809, the country adopted anew constitution. About 1000, the first king known to rule over both Svealand and Götaland was Olof Skötkonung, but the later historywith the kings whose periods of actual power unclear. In the 12th century,Sweden was still dealing with the struggles between the Erik and the Sverker clans, which finallyended when a third clan married into the Erik clan and founded the Folkunga dynasty on the throne.
This dynasty gradually consolidated a pre-Kalmar-Union Sweden to a strongstate, and king Magnus IV also ruled over Norway and Scania. Following the BlackDeath, this union was severely weakened, and Scania was lost toDenmark. During the early Middle Ages, the Swedish state also expanded tocontrol Norrland and Finland. Historians don’t knowhow this exactly happened; some of the crusades to christen the Finnsthat are mentioned in some sources are considered unhistorical. What is clearis that this expansion sparked tension with the Russian states, tension thatwas to continue through Swedish history.
Margareta was born in 1353 and learnedpolitics from her father, King Valdemat Atterdag. She was married to King Hakonof Norway in 1363 at ten years of age. In 1370, at the age of 17, she has ayoung boy named Olav.
But her husband was often gone, with the treasury havinglittle money, so Margareta had to handle affairs, both domestic and state. In1376, she got Olav approved as the King of Denmark, and 1385 as King of Norway. In 1387, Olav died of an illness. She exerted her power and influence,though, to have Denmark and Norway agree let her select the heir, and theywould acknowledge her choice as their king. In 1390 her heir, Erik ofPomerania, was also made the King of Sweden.
Thus, for a short time, this Unionof Kalmar united Norway, Denmark, and Sweden under a single ruler. AfterMargareta’s death in 1412, though, her successor could not live up to what wasneeded to keep the the lands united. Erik appointed foreigners to manySwedish and other governmental positions, which violated an agreement he made.Also, he attempted to conquer more of the Baltic coast but met heavy resistancefrom the Hansa. To continue the war, he pushed heavy taxes upon the people.Thus dissent grew and with him continuing to break his agreement by hiring moreforeigners, as well as ignoring Swedish council advice, caused great strife.
Rebellion grew, but it was put down through the death of the leader Engelbrekt,not by Erik, but by a personal enemy. The Danish though, sensing Erik’sweakness as a king, elected a new king in 1439 to take his place. This was KingKristofer, and he was accepted by Norway and Sweden as well in 1442, but hedied on his way to Sweden in 1448, causing chaos.
Sweden and Norway recognizedone leader, while Denmark elected their own king. Through the constant wars toregain the right to rule, the death of kings, and constant rebellions, no manwould become king of all three countries. Thus, the Kalmar Union collapsed.After this collapse, intermittent wars would continue to break out between thecountries. One such war was the conflict between the King of Denmark, KristenI, and Sten Sture of Sweden. In 1518, Gustav Vasa wasone of six hostages sent by Sten Sture as part of an armistice between Stureand King Kristen I. Kristen violated the agreement and returned to Denmarkalong with the hostages.
Gustav Vasa would escape Denmark and King Kristen andin September of 1519 he made his way to Lubeck, from where he went to Sweden,where he arrived in 1520. Word reached him of the Stockholm bloodbath. TheStockholm bloodbath took place during the invasion of Sweden by Danish forces.
This occurred between November 7-9, 1520, when around 80-90 people wereexecuted. Despite King Christians promise to agreeing to give people a fairtrial. During this Gustav Vasa’s father and two uncles were executed, and hismother, aunt, grandmother and three sisters were imprisoned. He then made hisway to Delarna and was hailed as a Captain, and in January of 1521 the war ofliberation began. In February of 1521 he led a raid, gaining fame as well asthe Dalarma seal and the right to make official proclamations due to this. Ashis fame increased, more and more volunteers joined him and people revolted inhis honor. Whenever Vasa arrived to his destination, he was almost immediatelyaccepted as the new leader. On August 23, 1521, Vasa was named the regent.
Still, there were some high ranking holdouts that Vasa had to convince. Hepromised them that he would consult them on decisions and thus won theirsupport. However, supplies and money were low and thus Vasa needed to turn tothe nearby country of Lubeck for aid. Vasa sent them a shipload of silver,along with many special privileges, and in return they offered military andnaval support. With opposition and many problems at home in Denmark, the newking Frederik did not push to attack Sweden.
Sweden, not wanting to waste timein case they were attacked, elected Gustav Vasa as the official King of Swedenon June 6, 1523. However, Vasa still had many problems to contend with, mainlyLubeck and the Church. Lubeck was constantly demanding the privileges promisedas well as more privileges to be granted for their aid, which was a largefactor in Vasa’s victory, and thus he was in their debt. Lubeck began to slowlystrangle the Swedish economy, as they were free from taxes, and decreed thatSweden could not trade outside of the Baltic Sea.
As this occurred, anger wasalso building among the nobles and common folk. The peasants complained of thehigh taxes and their little voice in the government, while the nobles wonderedwhy Vasa, and not one of them, was king. When Kristina Sture, a powerful widow,was released and returned to Sweden, she began to spark rumors of herestablishing a powerful political alliance with a general to elevate her son tothe throne. Vasa stopped this threat by forcing out the general she formed analliance with and had the widow married to his supporter.
Another revoltoccurred soon after, though. This was to make Nils Sture, who was actually animposter and not the real Nils Sture, the new king. Nevertheless, this revoltwas stopped by Vasa. Due to his actions, many future revolts may have beenprevented due to fear, and ones that did occur would be stopped. Also, Vasa wascoming to power, Protestantism was spreading northward, and Vasa soon came intoconflict with the church. He demanded money from them, as well as land, as thechurch owned one-fifth of the land.
He proclaimed that it was for the commongood and that the church’s money really belonged to the people and notspecifically the church. This made the church, which could become a strongrival for power to Vasa, weaker while also making Vasa more powerful. As timeincreased, Vasa began to separate the church from Rome in order to make itunder his control. In November 1531, the exiled King Kristen II tried to make acomeback and regain his throne.
He marched through Norway but was defeated bythe combined efforts of Vasa and the Danish king, Frederik I. Soon after,Lubeck went to war with the Netherlands. They called for Sweden’s aid, as theywere allies, in order for the debt Sweden owed them to be paid back. Vasa,though, sensing an opportunity to be freed from Lubeck’s power, refused to helpthem.
Lubeck then went into war with the Danish, who Vasa helped crush Lubeckand also a few of Vasa’s enemies in the process. Sweden would later reestablishtrade ties with Lubeck, but this time under Swedish discretion. In the summerof 1542, Vasa sent his chief diplomat, Conrad von Pyhy, to arrange a meetingwith King Francis I of France. Unfortunately, the riches and splendor in Francewent to Pyhy’s head.
He spent massive amounts of money, promised France to send25,000 men and 50 ships, and hired German knights to return to Sweden to stopan imminent revolt in Smaland. The people of and around Smaland were angryabout the church money being taken away, the high taxes due to constant wars,and that the nobility were forcing them to trade at a faraway Swedish marketinstead of a nearby Dutch market in order for the profits to go to Sweden. NilsDacke, the protest leader, gathered a massive amount of peasants and then begana full fledged revolt. The German mercenaries hired by Pyhy couldn’t cope withthe Swedish guerilla tactics and were thus useless. Vasa was forced to managethe propaganda himself with Pyhy gone. He made a speech detailing all theimprovements made to the country and how it would be foolish to throw it allaway with rebellion. In the spring of 1543, Vasa was able to raise a devastatingarmy and crush the rebellion along with Nils Dacke, the revolt leader, who waskilled in battle. With the rebellion taken care of, there was peace once more.
He then turned tomatters of an heir, of which he had ten children, ensuring his line would notdie out, and then to military matters. Many of the church schools had beenunderfunded and so abandoned after Vasa significantly cut church funds, thusresulting in a mass shortage of Swedish men who were qualified enough to handlegovernmental matters. Consequently Vasa had to trust foreigners, most of whomwere German, with governmental and military affairs in which loyalty couldbecome a glaring issue. Thus, in 1544, for the first time in fourteen years,the national legislative body of Sweden, the Riksdag, was called. They revisedhow the succession of monarchs would work so that it would be in birth orderand reorganized the military system. In wartime universal service would stillbe expected, but in peacetime one out of six Swedish men would be drafted inorder to have a standing army, significantly lessening the need for Germanmercenaries.
Sweden would be the first country in Europe to have a standingarmy, even in peacetime, due to Gustav Vasa’s influence. Vasa would die onSeptember 29th, 1560. He changedSweden from a constant war of different factions into a unified people under acommon ruler who could defend their own borders and have Swedish officials.Vasa, more than anyone else, was responsible for the creation of the Sweden weknow today.After Gustav III’sassassination in 1792, the throne went to his lazy brother, Duke Karl, who didnot want the job, however, and turned it over to his friend.
His friend,Reuterholm tried to be a strong and clever leader, but failed and was exiledwhen Gustav IV was old enough to take the throne. Gustav IV had a horriblereign, and his one accomplishment was the agricultural revolution in Sweden,which took place during his reign, and was headed by Rutger Maclean. In1805, he waged a disastrous war on France, but when France allied themselveswith Russia, Russia invaded Finland and conquered it. Gustav tried tofight Russia but failed miserably in his tactics, and thus revolt and dissentgrew.
In 1809, he lost his throne due to incompetence on military, diplomatic,and economic affairs. On March 13, 1809, the king was arrested by one of thegenerals conspiring against him, along with a few guards. No one made anysignificant moves to help the king, due to his massive unpopularity.
On May1st, 1809, the riksdag was called, and on May 12th a constitutional committeebegan work on a constitution. It included a balance of power between the threebranches, which were executive, legislative, and judiciary. If the king wasabsent for over a year, the riksdag could do what was necessary, continuing thelong running theme of Sweden that the riksdag could make and destroy a king.
The king could also veto the riksdag’s laws, and the riksdag could veto hisdecisions. On June 5th, the riksdag improved the constitution, and onJune 6th it was approved by Duke Karl, who was reluctant to take the throne butdid, and then was immediately made King Karl XIII. Thus, the nationalconstitution of Sweden was born. This constitution would last until the 1970swith only some minor modifications over time.