Gustav I (Vasa) part I

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Sweden and the birth of Gustav Eriksson

Since the end of the thirteen hundreds, Sweden had been part of the so called Kalmar Union together with Denmark and Norway. The union was heavily dominated by Denmark with occasional uprisings in Sweden as a result. At the time of Gustav’s childhood, parts of the Swedish nobility were struggling for Swedish independence and for the Union to be dissolved.

Gustav I Eriksson (1496-1560), the first king of modern Sweden. This man ruled Sweden for 37 years, 1523 – 1560 and transformed Sweden from a chaotic and disunited country into a European power.

Gustav I was born the year of 1496. Gustav I had blue blood in his veins with relation to Sten Sture the Elder, a former regent of Sweden. (An extensive description of his early yeas and his family and orgin can be found at Gustav I – The Early Life & Noble Family.)  The family had mainly been part of the Union party movement rather than the Nationalist movement but Gustavs father, Erik Johansson Vasa, was in the current regent Sten Sture’s party. Sten Sture the younger had made his name and breakthrough as the man who lead the Swedish people in a rebellion against the Danish Union. Sten Sture had long struggled against the Danish control and beat Danish forces in the battle of Brännkyrka in 1518, which led to plans for negotiations between Sten Sture and Christian II. To guarantee the safety of king Christian, the Swedes sent six men to the Danes to be kept as hostages for the duration of the negotiations. Christian did not show up for the planned meeting, but instead he returned to Denmark with the hostages remaining in his captivity. Gustav I was one of the hostages.
Gustav I was thereafter imprisoned in Denmark, but managed to escape to Lübeck in September 1519 and finally made it to Kalmar in Sweden in May the year after.

Sten Sture, the current ruler, had died in March 1520 from wounds he got at a battle with Danish forces. This time, Christian II had invaded Sweden for two reasons: his (according to him) righteous claim of the Swedish crown, but also because he was asked to by the church, who had been victimized by the Swedish regent Sten Sture the younger during previous years. After the death of Sten Sture,his followers were virtually leaderless, which led to Christian II of Denmark to be proclaimed as king of the union by his supporting aristocracy followers after having negotiated an end to the war, a negotiation which included full amnesty for all the Sture followers. (For additional information on the war and the negotiation, see the Stockholm Blood bath sub page.)

Upon his return to Sweden, Gustav I was even invited to Christian II’s coronation according to some sources, but despite Christians promise of amnesty to all enemies, Gustav declined the invitation. After the coronation of November 4th and several days of partying, the guests were locked into the castle and the former enemies were rounded up for imprisonment. The prisoners were accused of heresy among other crimes and sentences were announced the day after. The sentences led to Christian II ordering a virtual massacre in Stockholm, Sweden on November 8th, which has since been referred to as the Stockholm bloodbath.

No less than 82 people were executed that day, literally be-headed, with more victims the following day. The victims included Gustav’s father and additional relatives and most of the followers of the Sten Sture party. In reaction to this, Gustav I (who was alledgedly out on a hunting trip close to Stockholm), assumed the role as the leader of the Nationalist movement. (Click here for additional information about the Stockholm Bloodbath.)

Gustav I’s way to power

Gustav Eriksson was in a desperate situation, he was most likely wanted dead or alive and most of the family’s  assets were confiscated. In his desperation, he turned to the Swedish province of Dalarna which was known for their lack of love for the Union. In fact, many other nationalists had turned to the people in Dalarna for support in anti-Union matters before Gustav did it.

Initially, the people of Dalarna refused to come to Gustav’s assistance, but when rumors spreader that Christian II was planning on targeting Dalarna as well, ski runners were dispatched to recall Gustav I who was on his way to Norway to escape the wrath of Christian II. The runners caught up with Gustav at the church in the town of Mora, Dalarna in January 1521 and proclaimed him the leader of the people of Dalarna and Protector of Sweden. Gustav’s ski adventure towards Norway and back is the story behind the famous cross-country ski race called Vasaloppet.

Starting with only 400 men in Dalarna, Gustav’s forces grew and in parallel, other uprisings started around the country in Småland and Västergötland for instance. Leading noblemen of Götaland joined the revellion and declared him regent of Sweden in Vadstena in August 1520. The title of regent carried great importance since it made some noblemen that had previously been loyal to Christian switch sides to support Gustav. Many of the noblemen that remained loyal to the Danish king either fled or were executed by the rebels. The rebels successfully took control over the countryside and most cities and castles, only the better fortified cities remained in Danish control, Stockholm was one of those cities.

Gustav I was also able to muster support from out of the country, namely the forces of the Hanseatic city Lübeck, who joined him in 1522. Combined forces executed a number of attacks against Danish and Norwegian areas called Skåne, Halland, Blkeinge and Bohuslän (all parts of modern day Sweden) during the winter of 1523. During the same time period, Christian II was overthrown and replaced by Frederick I who openly put a claim on the Swedish throne.

Lübeck facts: Lübeck would benefit from a weaker force in northern Europe and preferred several states instead of the quite large Kalmar Union. Furthermore, the city wanted trading privileges as well as collect loans already paid out to the rebels. This made them very reluctant to stop their war against Denmark. This support was very crucial to Gustav’s cause, and he knew it.

As a reponse to Fredrick’s claim on the throne, the Swedish Privy Council appointed Gustav Eriksson king. In May 1523, the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) had a session at Strängnäs, west of Stockholm and elected Gustav king on June 6th. From then on, he was to be known as King Gustav I or Gustav Vasa and the date of his election became the national day of modern Sweden, nowadays a public holiday. As payment for their assistance, the Lübeckers now got toll free trading rights in Sweden. The Lübeckers continued to be valuable to Vasa as they successfully negotiated with the Danish garrison of Stockholm allowing rebel forces to enter the city on June 17th. Vasa now installed himself in the royal palace, “Tre Kronor” (Three Crowns).

Click here to continue to Gustav I part II


“Fogdemakt och bondevrede”, Mats Adolfsson, Natur och Kultur (Swedish only) (swedish version)


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