Gustav I (Vasa) part II

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Bringing an end to the war

Forces loyal to Christian II still held castles in Finland (which was a part of Sweden) despite the rebels taking over Stockholm. One by one, they all surrendered during the summer and fall of 1523. Gustav I travelled to the Danish town of Malmö in August the next year, 1524, to reach a final settlement with his Danish adversary, king Frederick I. The result, the Treaty of Malmö had both good and bad content from a Vasa standpoint: Vasa did not get any additional territories, such as Gotland and Blekinge (neighboring to Sweden) but he did get the combined kingdom Denmark-Norway (i.e. the rest of the Kalmar Union) to acknowledge the independence of the kingdom of Sweden. Vasa had fulfilled his mission, Sweden was liberated and now a sovereign country.

Gustav I transforms Sweden

The Swedish kingdom was at the time very divided and substantial parts of the aristocracy leadership had been wiped out during the Stockholm bloodbath. Gustav Vasa had to start with establishing a proper administration and unite the different parts of the kingdom again. He had two consequences from his rise to power to deal with: enormous debts to Lübeck (they also had extensive trading privileges in Sweden as part of the loan agreement) and unruly population in Dalarna that felt they should be compensated for the role they played in establishing Vasa on the throne. The people of Dalarna made several attempts to limit the power of the king in their region and turned to open revolt when they refused to turn in every other church bell from Dalarna to help pay the debt to the Lübeckers. Furthermore, the royal policy against the Catholic church (explained further below) was another major cause for unrest. The King hit swiftly and many of the King’s old friends from the day of fighting against the Danes were arrested and executed.

One major rebellion against Vasa started in Småland by a man by the name of Nils Dacke. The rebellion is known as Dackefejden (the Dacke feud) today. Leading the peasents of Småland in open rebellion due to the way Vasa handled the church and his general autocratic measures, Nils had some success against Vasa’s soldiers and hench men in the area. What happened to Nils in the end is not fully known, some claim he survived after being wounded, where as other sources mention execution. In his time, Nils Dacke was a traitor, but through history, his fight against oppression has often been paralleled to the similar struggle fought by Robin Hood.

Gustav I Vasa, painting from around 1610 by Cornelius Arendtz


The debt to Lübeck was limited by Sweden entering the Count’s War in Denmark between 1534-1536, although this was to be a temporary Swedish-Danish alliance. In 1537, the alliance managed to defeat Lübeck and this resulted in removal of the trading privileges, enabling Sweden to increase its income through trade.

Vasa did not really like the institution of the Swedish Church for several reasons: It was incredibly wealthy and powerful politically; the arch bishop Gustav Trolle had backed and assisted the Danish kings not only in general, but specifically with the Stockholm Bloodbath. Vasa figured he could kill two birds with one stone: wealth for the state and removal of the church’s power by converting to protestantism (i.e. reformation). He exiled Trolle from the country and requested a new archbishop from the Pope, to be selected by Vasa, of course. The Pope in turn, demanded that Trolle would be reinstated, which would have been politically impossible for Vasa, given Trolle’s connections to Denmark. Despite being given the arguments against Trolle, the Pope did not budge. Vasa then elected brother Laurentius Petri, a Lutheran, as archbishop, which was the end of the Papal influence in Sweden. Petri and his brother Olaus had been leading a campaign of Lutheranism in Sweden during the 1520’s, which ultimately led to Laurentius becoming archbishop in 1531.  (However, the king having a change of heart, both the borthers were sentenced to death in the 1540’s but finally receiving amnesty after some time in jail.)

However, he called a Riksdag already back in 1527 and threatened to resign if his new church (or somewhat anti-Catholicism) policy did not get approved. The King had his way, and the agreement called “Recess of Västerås” was drawn up. Church courts and discipline came under the command of the Crown and a major part of its wealth was usurped by the state. The change led to a serious decline in the relations with Rome as well as several steps closer to Lutheranism. Despite Vasa basically robbing the church, few reactions came from the people and the gradual process claimed few victims. The new wealth went to building a national army and an efficient navy among other things.

Gustav I – personality and death

Gustav Vasa was very controversial and a true tyrant, but history has judged him favorably as a liberator of the country, the founder of modern Sweden and even “father of the nation”. He was greedy for power and riches, a cruel despotic ruler, but he did manage to give Sweden the strength and unity it needed so desperately. He allegedly had a brilliant memory and impressive oral and writing skills. He was not a commander of armies, and actually never lead any military operations in the field during the war of liberation. (He did make additional, but unsuccessful attempts waging war: 1554-1557 Sweden was at war with Russia.) He did take care of his own, and in 1544 he went further in establishing his family’s power over Sweden and removed the custom of electing the Swedish King in favor of a hereditary succession right: the crown was to be passed on to his first borne son. During his life time he had three wives and lots of children of which his daughter Cecilia and the sons Erik (who was to become King when Gustav I died), John, Magnus and Karl (the other sons became Royal Dukes) survived him. Gustav I finally died at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on September 29th the year 1560. His family was to hold the royal house for most of 15 and 16 hundreds. Vasa is buried in the Cathedral of Uppsala, Sweden.

Fun Facts

  1. Gustav I also founded one of the oldest orchestras in the world: Kungliga Hovkapellet (Royal Court Orchestra). This has been verified through royal housekeeping accounts from 1526. The orchestra is today the orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera.
  2. In Sweden, few know Gustav I by that description. Many people would actually say: “who is that?” if asked. However, if you ask who “Gustav Vasa” is, everybody know who he is.

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


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