Early Swedish History

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Sweden greater arms
This article is part of the
History of Sweden series
Pre-history
Viking Age
Early History
Kalmar Union
Modern Sweden
A New Great Power
The Swedish Empire
The Great War
Absolute Monarchy
Union with Norway
Modernization
Industrialization
World War II
Realm of Sweden
List of monarchs
List of wars


Viking age

During the 9th century extensive Scandinavian settlements were made on the east side of the Baltic sea, and even as early as the reign of Louis I of France, we hear of Swedes arriving in Constantinople and of piratical expeditions on the Black Sea and on the Caspian Sea. The famous expeditions of Rurik (Rørik) and Askold (Haskuld) whose settlements resulted in the first Russian state and in the origins of the Russian monarchy. Proofs of extensive Scandinavian settlements in Russia are not only to be found in exensive archaeological remains, but also to be found partly in the Russian names assigned to the Dnieper rapids by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, partly in references to this people made by foreign representatives at the court of the Byzantine Empire. The fact that many of the names which occur in Russian chronicles seem to be peculiarly Swedish suggests that Sweden was the home of the settlers, and the best authorities consider that the original Scandinavian conquerors were Swedes coming directly or indirectly from Sweden.

In the time of Harold Fairhair, probably about the beginning of the 10th century, we hear of a king named Erik at Uppsala, whose authority seems to have the reached as far as Norway. Later in the century there is record of a king named Björn who is said to have been the son of an Erik and to have reigned fifty years. Björn's sons and successors were Olof and Eric the Victorious. Styrbjörn Starke, the son of Olof, being refused his share of the government by Eric after his father's death, made himself a stronghold at Jomsborg in Pomerania and spent some years in piratical expeditions. Eventually he betook himself to Harold Bluetooth, then king of Denmark, and endeavoured to secure his assistance in gaining the Swedish throne by force of arms. Although be failed in this attempt he was not deterred from attacking Eric, and a battle took place between the two at the Fyris Wolds, south of Gamla Uppsala in which Styrbjörn was defeated and killed. Eric himself died ten years after this battle, apparently about 993. According to the story be had obtained victory from Odin in return for a promise to give himself up at the end of ten years.

Christianization and struggle for power

Under his son and successor Olof, surnamed Skötkonung, Christianity was fully established in Sweden. Olaf Tryggvason, the king of Norway, had married his sister Ingibiorg to Ragnvald, earl of Westrogothia, on condition that he should receive baptism, and the Swedish king’s wife was also a Christian, though he himself was not baptized until 1008 by Sigfrid at Husaby. A quarrel arose in the last years of the 10th century between Olaf Skötkonung and Olaf Tryggvason. The latter had applied for the hand of Sigrid, the widow of Eric the Victorious, but had insulted her on her refusal to become a Christian. In the year 1000, when the Norwegian king was in Pomerania, a coalition was formed between the king of Sweden, Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark, and earl Eric of Lade, and the allies way laid their enemy off the coast near Rügen and overthrew him in the great sea-Battle of Swold. Under Olaf Skötkonung Sweden became the mightiest of the kingdoms of the north, in spite of the king’s own inactivity. She lost her lands east of the Baltic, but received as compensation in Norway part of Trondheim and the province now called Bahusia. These lands Olaf handed over to Earl Sweyn, brother of Earl Eric (whose father Haakon had governed Norway), as a marriage portion for his daughter Holmfrid. Some years later we hear of hostilities between Olaf Skötkonung and another Norwegian prince, Olaf Haraldsson (the Fat), who raided Sweden and was besieged in the lake Mälaren by the Swedish king. In 1014, the year of Earl Eric's departure to England with Canute, Olaf Haraldsson, returning to Norway as king, put an end to the Swedish and Danish supremacy, and in 1015 he forced Earl Sweyn to leave the country. Trifling border-quarrels followed, but in 1017 a truce was arranged between Norway and Westrogothia, where Earl Ragnvald was still in power. Olaf of Norway now sent his marshal Bjorn to Ragnvald to arrange a peace. Ragnvald brought him to a great assembly at Uppsala in February 1018. At this meeting Björn, supported by the earl, asked for peace, and Olaf II was compelled by the pressure of the lawman Thorgny Lawspeaker to agree to this and also to promise his daughter Ingegerd Olofsdotter in marriage to the Norwegian king. The marriage, however, never got beyond the betrothal stage, and at Earl Ragnvald’s suggestion Astrid, her half-sister, was substituted, contrary to the will of Olaf Skötkonung. Such was the anger of the king that Ragnvald was forced to accompany Ingegerd to Russia, where she was married to the grand-duke Jaroslav at Novgorod. In Sweden, however, both the Westgotar and the Upland Svear were discontented, the former on account of the breaking of the king’s promise to Olaf II of Norway and the latter on account of the introduction of the new religion, and their passions were further inflamed by the lawman Anund of Skara. A rising in Uplandia compelled Olaf to share his power with his son Jacob, whose name was changed to Anund by the leaders of the revolt. A meeting was then arranged between the kings of Norway and Sweden at Kungälv in 1019, and this resulted in a treaty. The death of Olaf Skötkonung is assigned by Snorri Sturluson to the winter of 1021-1022. His grave is still shown at Husaby in Westrogothia.

Anund Jacob of Sweden, now sole king, early in his reign allied himself with Olaf II of Norway against Knut the Great, who had demanded the restitution of the rights possessed by his father King Anund, Sweyn in Norway. The allies took advantage of the Danish king’s absence to harry his land. On his return an indecisive battle was fought at Helgeå, and Anund returned to Sweden. Olaf was driven from Norway by the Danes, but returning in 1030 he raised a small army in Sweden and marched through Jemtia to Trondheim only to meet his death at the Battle of Stiklestad. After death he was worshipped in Sweden, especially in Götaland. We hear from Adam of Bremen that Anund was young in years but old in wisdom and cunning; he was called Kolbränna because he had the houses of evildoers burnt. Like Olof Skötkonung he caused coins to be struck at Sigtuna, of which a few remain. The coins of Anund surpass all that were struck during the next two centuries. He appears to have died about 1050, according to Adam of Bremen. He was succeeded by his brother Emund the Old, who Emund the had been previously passed over because, his mother was unfree, the daughter of a Slav prince and captured in war. This king had become a Christian, but soon quarrelled with Adalhard, archbishop of Bremen, and endeavoured to secure the independence of the Church of Sweden, which was not obtained for another century. Emund, who was given the name Slemme, had territorial disputes with Denmark in the early part of his reign. These disputes were settled by a rectification of boundaries, which assigned Blechingia to Denmark.

With the death of Emund, which took place in 1060, the old family of Swedish kings dies out. The successor of Emund the Old was a king Stenkil who had married the daughter of his predecessor. He was the son of a certain Ragnvald, perhaps connected with the Westergotland Ragnvald, of the reign of Olaf Skötkonung. Stenkil was born in Vestergotland and was warmly attached to the Christian religion. The Adalhard who had quarrelled with Emund the Old now sent a bishop, Adalhard the younger, to Skara. Christianity was by this time firmly established throughout most of Sweden, its chief strength being in Westergotland. The Uplanders, however, still held out against it, and Adalhard, though he succeeded in destroying the idols in his own province Westergotland, was unable to persuade Stenkil to destroy the old sanctuary at Uppsala. During his reign grants of land in Wermelandia made by the king to the Norwegian earl Haakon Ivarsson led to a successful invasion of Götaland by Harold Hardrada of Norway. Stenkil also had disputes with Denmark. On his death in 1066 a civil war broke out in which the leaders were two obscure princes named Eric. Probably the division of feeling between Westergötland and Upland in the matter of religion was the real cause of this war, but nothing is known of the details, though we hear that both kings as well as the chief men of the land fell in it.

A prince called Haakon the Red now appears as king of Sweden and is said to have occupied the throne for thirteen years. In the Westrogothia regnal lists he appears Haakon the before Stenkil and it is possible that the authority of that king was not regularly acknowledged in the province. In 1081 we find the sons of Stenkil, Ingold I and Halsten, reigning. Inge’s attachment to Christianity caused him to be expelled after a short time by his brother-in-law Sweyn, or Blot-Sweyn from his revival of the old sacrifices. Sweyn retained Inge and the kingship only for three years. After that Blotsweyn interval Inge returned and slew him, and his fall marks the final overthrow of the old religion. The interesting account of Uppsala preserved by Adam of Bremen in his History (iv. 26) apparently dates from the period immediately preceding these events. He describes the temple at Uppsala as one of great splendour and covered with gilding.

After the introduction of Christianity the importance of Uppsala began steadily to decline, and the kings no longer made it their residence. It did however become the seat for the Swedish Archbishop in 1164; a cathedral was built on the place for the temple where the relics of the Swedish King and national saint Eric where kept.

King Sverker I of Sweden (1134-1155), the grandson of Blotsweyn, is said to have permanently integrated Götaland with Sweden or Svealand, with each of the two nations supplying the common king alternately for the next hundred years. Sweden began to feel the advantage of a centralized monarchical government. Eric the Saint (1150-1160) organized the Church of Sweden on the model prevalent elsewhere, and undertook a crusade against the heathen Finlanders, marking the beginning of Sweden's overseas endeavors.

Sweden greater arms
This article is part of the
History of Sweden series
Pre-history
Viking Age
Early History
Kalmar Union
Modern Sweden
A New Great Power
The Swedish Empire
The Great War
Absolute Monarchy
Union with Norway
Modernization
Industrialization
World War II
Realm of Sweden
List of monarchs
List of wars


Under Charles VII (whom popular history, knowing of six Charleses of legend, always considered the seventh, although not necessarily so), the archbishopric of Uppsala was founded, in 1164. But the greatest medieval statesman of Sweden, and one of the principal architects of its rise as a nation, was the Earl Birger, who practically ruled the land from 1248 to 1266. He is, amongst other accomplishments, attributed to the foundation of Stockholm; but he is best known as a legislator, and his wise reforms prepared the way for the abolition of serfdom. The increased respect - and power - which the royals owed to the Earl Birger was still further extended by his son, King Magnus Ladulås (1275-1290). Both these rulers, by the institution of separate and almost independent duchies, attempted to introduce into Sweden a feudal system similar to that already established elsewhere in Europe; the danger of thus weakening the realm by partition was averted, though not without violent and tragic complications by the opponents, the Folkung pary. Unfortunately, the term Folkung also later referred to Earl Birgers descendants, forming the royal Folkung dynasty. Finally, in 1319, the severed portions of Sweden were once more reunited.

The formation of separate orders, or estates, was promoted by Magnus Ladulås, who extended the privileges of the clergy and founded a nobility (Ordinance of Alsnö, 1280). In connection with this institution we now hear of a heavily armed cavalry as the kernel of the national army. The knights (new nobles and Burghers) became distinguishable from the higher nobility. To this period belongs the rise of a prominent burgess class, as the towns now began to acquire charters. At the end of the 13th century, and the beginning of the 14th, provincial codes of laws appear and the king and his council executed legislative functions.

The first union of Sweden and Norway

The first union between Sweden and Norway occurred in 1319 when the three-year-old Magnus, son of the Swedish royal Duke Eric and of the Norwegian princess Ingeborg, inherited the throne of Norway from his grandfather Haakon V and in the same year was elected King of Sweden, by the Convention of Oslo. The boy king's long minority weakened the royal influence in both countries, and Magnus lost both his kingdoms before his death. The Swedes, irritated by his misrule, superseded him by his nephew, Albert of Mecklenburg in 1365. In Sweden, Magnus partialities and necessities led directly to the rise of a powerful landed aristocracy, and, indirectly, to the growth of popular liberties. Forced by the unruliness of the magnates to lean upon the middle classes, in 1359 the king summoned the first Swedish Riksdag, on which occasion representatives from the towns were invited to appear along with the nobles and clergy. His successor, Albert, was forced to go a step farther and, in 1371, to take the first coronation oath.

Kalmar Union

See also: Kalmar Union

In 1388, at the request of the Swedes themselves, Albert was driven out by Queen Margaret of Denmark and at a convention of the representatives of the three Scandinavian kingdoms (held at Kalmar in 1397), Margaret's great-nephew, Eric of Pomerania, was elected the common king, although the liberties of each of the three realms were expressly reserved and confirmed. The union was to be a personal, not a political union. Neither Margaret herself nor her successors observed the stipulation that in each of the three kingdoms only natives should hold land and high office, and the efforts first of Denmark (at that time by far the strongest member of the union) to impose her will on the Union's weaker kingdoms soon produced a rupture, or rather a series of semi-ruptures. The Swedes first broke away from it in 1434 under the popular leader Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson, and after his murder they elected Karl Knutsson Bonde their king under the title of Charles VIII, 1436. In 1441 Charles VIII had to abdicate in favour of Christopher of Bavaria, who was already king of Denmark and Norway; however, upon the death of Christopher in 1448, a state of confusion ensued in the course of which Charles VIII was twice reinstated and twice expelled again. Finally, on his death in 1470, the three kingdoms were reunited under Christian II of Denmark, the prelates and higher nobility of Sweden being favourable to the union, though the great majority of the Swedish people always detested it as a foreign usurpation. The national party was represented by the three great Riksföreståndare, or Viceroyalty, of the Sture family who, with brief intervals, successively defended the independence of Sweden against the Danish kings from 1470 to 1520 and thus kept the nation's spirit alive. But the viceroyalty was too casual and anomalous an institution to rally the nation around it permanently, and when the tyranny of Christian II became intolerable the Swedish people elected Gustavus Eriksson Vasa, who as viceroy had already driven out the Danes, king of Sweden at Strängnäs on June 6, 1523.

See also: Provinces of Sweden, History of Finland, History of Norway, History of Denmark

References


See also: Lands of Sweden, Provinces of Sweden

References

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