Swedish Empire


  1561–1718  
Flag Royal Coat of arms

The Swedish Empire at its height in 1658. Overseas possessions are not shown.

The Swedish Empire refers to the Kingdom of Sweden between 1561 (after the Swedish conquest of Estonia) and 1721 (when Sweden officially ceded vast areas in current South-eastern Finland to emerging superpower Russia). During this time, Sweden was one of the great European powers. In Swedish, the period is called Stormaktstiden, literally meaning “the Great Power Era”. To the increase in political power, most notably by becoming one of the two guarantee powers for the Peace of Westphalia, added an increase of territory which allowed near complete realization of the dominium maris baltici concept.

The development of Sweden and its empire from 1560 to 1815

The Swedish Empire refers to the Kingdom of Sweden between 1561 (after the Swedish conquest of Estonia) and 1721 (when Sweden officially ceded vast areas in current South-eastern Finland to emerging superpower Russia). During this time, Sweden was one of the great European powers. In Swedish, the period is called Stormaktstiden, literally meaning “the Great Power Era”. To the increase in political power, most notably by becoming one of the two guarantee powers for the Peace of Westphalia, added an increase of territory which allowed near complete realization of the dominium maris baltici concept.

After the death of Gustavus Adolphus in 1632, the empire was over lengthy periods controlled by part of the high nobility, most prominently the Oxenstierna family, acting as tutors for minor regents. The interests of the high nobility contrasted with the uniformity policy, i.e. the upholding of the traditional equality in status of the Swedish estates favoured by the kings and peasantry. In territories acquired during the periods of de facto noble rule, serfdom was not abolished, and there was also a trend to set up respective estates in Sweden proper. The Great Reduction of 1680 put an end to these efforts of the nobility and required them to return estates once gained from the crown to the king. Serfdom however remained in force in the dominions acquired in the Holy Roman Empire and inSwedish Estonia, where a consequent application of the uniformity policy was hindered by the treaties by which they were gained.

After the victories in the Thirty Years’ War, the climax of stormaktstiden was reached in the Second Northern War, when the primary adversary Denmark was neutralized by the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. However, in the further course of this war as well as in the subsequent Scanian War, Sweden was able to maintain her empire only by support of her closest ally, FranceCharles XI of Swedenconsolidated the empire and ensured a period of peace, before Russia, Saxony and Denmark started a concerted attack on his successor, Charles XII. After initial Swedish victories, Charles secured the empire for a last time in the Peace of Travendal (1700) and the Treaty of Altranstädt (1706), before the Battle of Poltava (1709) brought the stormaktstiden of Sweden to a sudden end.

Sweden’s emergence into a great power

Sweden emerged as a great European power under Axel Oxenstierna and King Gustavus Adolphus. As a result of acquiring territories seized from Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but also due to its involvement in the Thirty Years’ War, Sweden found itself transformed into the leader of Protestantism.

During the Thirty Years’ War, Sweden managed to conquer approximately half of the member states of the Holy Roman Empire. The fortunes of war would shift back and forth several times; after the Battle of Nördlingen the faith for Sweden amongst the Swedish controlled German states was severely injured, and several of the provinces excluded themselves from Swedish power one by one, leaving Sweden with only a couple of northern German provinces. After France had intervened on the same side as Sweden, the fortunes would shift again. As the war continued, it turned more and more grim; and when it was over, it had led to severe depopulation in the German states. Although exact populations estimates do not exist, historians estimate that as many as one third of the people in the Holy Roman Empire may have died as a result of the war.

Capital Stockholm
Language(s) SwedishFinnish,NorwegianEstonian,SamiLow German,LivonianLatvian,DanishLatin
Religion Lutheranism
(Eastern orthodox faith recognized as minority religion)
Government Constitutional monarchy
De jure
Absolute monarchy
De facto since 1680
Monarch
 – 1611–1632 Gustav II Adolph
 – 1632–1654 Christina
 – 1654–1660 Charles X Gustav
 – 1660–1697 Charles XI
 – 1697–1718 Charles XII
Lord High Chancellor
 – 1612–1654 Axel Oxenstierna
 – 1654–1656 Erik Oxenstierna
 – 1660–1680 Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie
Office vacant in 1656-1660; replaced in 1680 with the one of President of thePrivy Council Chancelleryas absolute monarchy was established
Legislature Riksdag of the Estates
Historical era Early modern Europe
 – Established 1561
 – Disestablished 1718
Population
 – 17th century est. 2,500,000
Currency RiksdalerMark (until 1664), Carolin (from 1664)
Today part of  Denmark
 Estonia
 Finland
 Germany
 Ghana
 Latvia
 Lithuania
 Norway
 Poland
 Russia
 Sweden
 USA 
Sweden also practiced colonisation. Sweden possessed overseas colonies from 1638 to 1663 and from 1784 to 1878 with colonies in both Africa and the Americas. The largest of these were the Swedish Gold Coast and New Sweden.

King Charles X Gustav in skirmish with Polish Tatars near Warsaw during the Second Northern War.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s