Swedish Empire

Last updated

Sweden's coat of arms (with erroneous tinctures) on a wall of City Hall at Lutzen in Germany. 17th century Coat of Arms of Sweden on Lutzen Town Hall 2015.jpg
Sweden's coat of arms (with erroneous tinctures) on a wall of City Hall at Lützen in Germany.

The Swedish Empire (Swedish : stormaktstiden, "the Era of Great Power") [1] was the period in Swedish history spanning much of the 17th and early 18th centuries during which Sweden became a European great power that exercised territorial control over much of the Baltic region. The beginning of the period is usually taken as the reign of Gustavus Adolphus, who ascended the throne in 1611, and its end as the loss of territories in 1721 following the Great Northern War. [1]


After the death of Gustavus Adolphus in 1632, the empire was controlled for lengthy periods by part of the high nobility, such as the Oxenstierna family, acting as regents for minor monarchs. The interests of the high nobility contrasted with the uniformity policy (i.e., upholding 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 in Swedish Estonia, where a consequent application of the uniformity policy was hindered by the treaties by which they were gained.

After its victories in the Thirty Years' War, Sweden reached the height of its power during the Second Northern War, when its primary adversary, Denmark–Norway, 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 its empire only with the support of its closest ally, France. [2] Although the reign of Charles XII would see initial Swedish victories in the Peace of Travendal (1700) and the Treaty of Altranstädt (1706), he would go on to lead a campaign in Russia that would end in a staggering defeat for the Swedes. The Russian victory at the Battle of Poltava put an end to Sweden's eastbound expansion, and by the time of Charles XII's death in 1718 the Empire had been severely diminished both territorially and militarily. The last traces of occupied continental territory vanished during the Napoleonic Wars, and Finland went to Russia in 1809, marking the end of Sweden’s period as a great power.


Emergence as 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, as well as 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 its defeat in the Battle of Nördlingen (1634), confidence in Sweden among the Swedish-controlled German states was damaged, and several of the provinces refused further Swedish military support, leaving Sweden with only a couple of northern German provinces. After France intervened on the same side as Sweden, fortunes shifted again. As the war continued, the civilian and military death toll grew, and when it was over, it had led to severe depopulation in the German states. Although exact population estimates do not exist, historians estimate that the population of the Holy Roman Empire fell by one-third as a result of the war. [3]

Sweden founded overseas colonies, principally in the New World. New Sweden was founded in the valley of the Delaware River in 1638, and Sweden later laid claim to a number of Caribbean islands. A string of Swedish forts and trading posts was constructed along the coast of West Africa as well, but these were not designed for Swedish settlers.

Peace of Westphalia

At the conclusion of the Thirty Years' War, the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 granted Sweden territories as war reparations. Sweden demanded Silesia, Pomerania (which had been in its possession since the Treaty of Stettin (1630), and a war indemnity of 20,000,000 Riksdaler. [4]

Through the efforts of Johan Oxenstierna and Johan Adler Salvius it obtained:

These German possessions were to be held as fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire. This allowed Sweden a vote in the Imperial Diet and enabled it to "direct" the Lower Saxon Circle alternately with Brandenburg. France and Sweden, moreover, became joint guarantors of the treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor and were entrusted with carrying out its provisions, as enacted by the executive congress of Nuremberg in 1650. [4]

After the peaces of Brömsebro and Westphalia, Sweden was the third-largest area of control in Europe by land area, only surpassed by Russia and Spain. Sweden reached its largest territorial extent during this time under the rule of Charles X Gustav (1622–1660) after the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. [5]

Domestic consolidation

For the moment, Sweden held a tenuous position of leadership. Careful statesmanship might mean permanent dominion on the Baltic shore, but left little room for mistakes. The extravagance of Gustavus Adolphus's two immediate successors, Christina and Charles X Gustav, caused great difficulties for the new empire. Christina's financial extravagance brought the state to the verge of bankruptcy, and the financial difficulties caused public unrest before her abdication. The Swedish people feared that the external, artificial greatness of their country might be purchased with the loss of their civil and political liberties. The Swedish people looked to a new king to address the problem of too much power vested in the nobility. [4]

The development of Sweden and its empire from 1560 to 1815 Swedish Empire.svg
The development of Sweden and its empire from 1560 to 1815

Charles X Gustav was a strong arbiter between the people and the nobility. Primarily a soldier, he directed his ambition towards military glory; but he was also an unusually sharp-sighted politician. While placing great emphasis on military strength, he also understood that domestic unity was necessary for a powerful foreign policy. [4]

The most pressing domestic question was the reduction, or restitution of alienated crown lands. At the Riksdag of the Estates of 1655, the king proposed that noble holders of crown property should either: 1) pay an annual sum of 200,000 Riksdaler out of the lands they would receive, or 2) surrender a fourth of the property itself, worth approximately 800,000 Riksdaler. The nobility wished to avoid taxation and stipulated that 6 November 1632, the day of Gustavus Adolphus's death, should be the limit to which retrospective taxes could be collected, and that there should be no further restitution of alienated crown property. Against this, the over-taxed lower estates protested, and the Diet had to be suspended. The king intervened, not to quell the commons, as the senate insisted, but to compel the nobility to give way. He proposed a special committee to investigate the matter before the meeting of the next Riksdag and that a proportional contribution should be levied on all classes in the meantime. Both groups accepted this arrangement. [4]

Charles X Gustav had done his best to recover from the financial extravagance of Christina. However, his own desire for military glory may have caused problems for his country. In three days, he persuaded the Swedish estates of the potential of his attack on the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, when he left Stockholm for Warsaw on 10 July 1654, he gained more personal glory than advantage for his country. The Polish-Swedish War expanded into a general European war. He achieved passage over the Belts and emerged triumphant, only to die of sheer exhaustion. Immediately after his death, a regency was appointed to govern Sweden during the minority of his only son and successor, Charles XI of Sweden, who was four years old. The regency council moved quickly to end the war with Sweden's numerous enemies, which now included the Tsardom of Russia, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Electorate of Brandenburg and Denmark-Norway. [6]

Peace of Oliva

Triumph of King Charles X Gustav over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1655 Anonymous Triumph of Charles X Gustavus.jpg
Triumph of King Charles X Gustav over the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1655

The Peace of Oliva on 3 May 1660, put an end to the long feud with Poland. French mediation of this treaty also ended the quarrel between Sweden, the Holy Roman emperor and the elector of Brandenburg. This treaty confirmed both Sweden's possession of Livonia and the elector of Brandenburg's sovereignty over Prussia; and the king of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth renounced to all claims to the Swedish crown. The treaty compelled Denmark–Norway to reopen direct negotiations with Sweden. Eventually, under the Treaty of Copenhagen on 27 May 1660, Sweden kept the three formerly Danish Scanian provinces and the formerly Norwegian Bohuslän province, which Denmark-Norway had surrendered by the Treaty of Roskilde two years previously; but Sweden had to relinquish the Norwegian province of Trøndelag and the Danish island of Bornholm, which had been surrendered at Roskilde. Denmark–Norway was also compelled to recognize the independence of the dukes of Holstein-Gottorp. The Russo-Swedish War (1656–1658) was terminated by the Treaty of Cardis on 2 July 1661, through which the Tsar surrendered the Baltic provinces to Sweden — Ingria, Estonia and Kexholm. [7]

Thus, Sweden emerged from the war not only a military power, but also one of the largest states of Europe, possessing more than twice as much territory as modern Sweden. The land area of Sweden was 1,100,000 km2. While modern Sweden is bounded by the Baltic, during the 17th century the Baltic formed a bond between various widely dispersed dominions. All the islands in the Baltic, except the Danish group, belonged to Sweden. The estuaries of all the great German rivers lay within Swedish territory, which also included two-thirds of Lake Ladoga and one-half of Lake Peipus. Stockholm, the capital, lay in the very centre of the empire, whose second greatest city was Riga, on the other side of the sea. This empire contained about a quarter of the population of modern Sweden, at only 2,500,000 people, or about 2.3 people per square kilometer. However, Sweden's expansion had been possible partly due to turmoil and weakness in countries in its vicinity, and when they became more stable, they began to look for chances to regain what was lost. [7]

Danish defeat

King Charles X Gustav King Charles X Gustavus (Sebastien Bourdon) - Nationalmuseum - 19702.tif
King Charles X Gustav

Sweden had now won considerable political influence, which was lessened by the loss of moral prestige. On Charles X Gustav's accession in 1655, Sweden's neighbours may have become allies; however, territorial loss combined with the loss of religious liberty lessened their ties to Sweden. At Charles X Gustav's death, five years later, Sweden had not only damaged its newly claimed territories but also had become hated by the surrounding states for its lack of defence of Protestantism. Charles X Gustav's attempt to gain the favour of Brandenburg by dividing Poland not only reversed his original policy, but also created a new southern rival almost as dangerous as Denmark–Norway in the west. [7]

In 1660, after five years of warfare, Sweden had obtained peace and the opportunity to organize and develop the new vast realm. The fifteen-year regency that followed Charles X Gustav was unable to manoeuvre through the situation it faced. The administration was internally divided and hindered by the lack of unity and talent among its statesmen. The two major rivals were the military-aristocratic party headed by Magnus de la Gardie and the party of peace and economy led by Johan Gyllenstierna. The aristocratic group prevailed and brought with it a decline of morality which made it notorious to its neighbours. The administration was noted for sloth and carelessness leading to a general neglect of business. Additionally, government corruption led Sweden to be hired by foreign powers. This "subsidy policy" dates from the Treaty of Fontainebleau of 1661, through which Sweden, in exchange for a considerable sum of money, supported the French candidate for the Polish throne. Sweden was torn between Louis XIV of France and his adversaries in plans to control the Spanish Netherlands. The anti-French faction prevailed; and in April 1668, Sweden acceded to the Triple Alliance, which ended the French acquisitions through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. For the next four years, Sweden remained true to the Triple Alliance; but, in 1672, Louis XIV succeeded in isolating the Dutch Republic and regaining Sweden as an ally. By the Treaty of Stockholm on 14 April 1672, Sweden entered an agreement with the French to protect its sphere of interest containing the Dutch Republic from hostile German claims in return for 400,000 Riksdaler per annum in peace and 600,000 in wartime. [7]

Scanian War

In 1674, Louis XIV called upon Sweden to invade the Electorate of Brandenburg. In May 1675, a Swedish army advanced into the Mark but was defeated on 18 June at Fehrbellin and retreated to Swedish Demmin. The Fehrbellin affair was a mere skirmish, with actual casualties numbering fewer than 600 men, but it made Sweden appear vulnerable and enabled neighbouring countries to attack in the Scanian War. [7]

At this point, the empire began to crumble. In 1675, Swedish Pomerania and the Duchy of Bremen were taken by the Brandenburgers, Austrians, and Danes. In December 1677, the elector of Brandenburg captured Stettin. Stralsund fell on 15 October 1678. Greifswald, Sweden's last possession on the continent, was lost on 5 November. A defensive alliance with John III of Poland was rendered inoperative on 4 August 1677, by the annihilation of Sweden's sea-power; the Battle of Öland, 17 June 1676; the Battle of Fehmarn, June 1677, and most notable on 1–2 July the Battle of Køge Bay. [7] The difficulties concerning the Polish king continued. The Scanian provinces (Scania, Halland and Blegind/Blekinge), once eastern Denmark, became the centre of intense fighting between Swedes and Danes, with a large scale confrontation between the main armies near Lund in December 1676. After that, Scania was divided into Danish and Swedish enclaves centering around the main cities for the rest of the war. The remaining territories in Scania were mainly a no man's land where a fierce "little war" took place, with Swedish troops on the one side and Danish official and semi-official troops (freeshooters etc.) in conjunction with armed locals.[ citation needed ]

Through homeland military successes of the young Swedish king and the diplomatic activity of Louis XIV, a peace congress began sessions at Nijmegen in March 1677. In the beginning of April 1678, the French king dictated the terms of a peace. One of his chief conditions was the complete restitution of Sweden, as he needed a strong Swedish ally. However, Charles XI refused to go along with ceding territories to its enemies, which led the French king to negotiate on behalf of Sweden without its consent. By the Treaties of Nijmegen on 7 February and of St. Germain on 29 June 1679, Sweden received almost full restitution of its German territory. By the Treaty of Fontainebleau confirmed by the subsequent Peace of Lund on 2 September, Denmark–Norway was to return all the land it had captured to Sweden on 4 October 1679. While Sweden could never have gained these concessions alone, Charles XI formed a personal dislike of the French king and developed a strong anti-French bias. [8]

Charles XI

The remainder of the reign of Charles XI is remarkable for a revolution, in which the government of Sweden was transformed to a semi-absolute monarchy. The king emerged from the war convinced that if Sweden were to retain its position as a great power, it needed to reform its whole economic system radically and circumscribe the power of the aristocracy. Charles XI felt that he could do it now that he had allies in the lower orders to support him. [9]

The Riksdag of Stockholm, October 1680, began a new era of Swedish history. On the motion of the Estate of Peasants, the question of the recovery of the alienated crown lands was brought before the Riksdag, and a resolution of the Diet directed that all countships, baronies, domains, manors and other estates producing an annual rent of more than a certain amount per annum should revert to the Crown. The same Riksdag decided that the king was not bound by any particular constitution, but only by law and statutes, and not even obligated to consult the Privy Council, but was to be regarded as a sovereign lord. The Privy Council changed its official title from Riksråd (council of state) to kungligt råd (royal council); a visible sign that the councilors were no longer the king's colleagues, but rather his servants. [9]

King Charles XI Charles XI of Sweden.jpg
King Charles XI

Thus, Sweden had become an absolute monarchy but enacted the right of the Swedish people, in parliament, to be consulted on all important matters. The Riksdag, completely overshadowed by the Crown, did little more than register the royal decrees during the reign of Charles XI of Sweden; but it continued to exist as an essential part of the government. Moreover, this transfer of authority was a voluntary act. The people, knowing the king to be their ally, trusted and cooperated with him.[ citation needed ] The Riksdag of 1682 declared that the king was empowered to bestow fiefs and take them back again, making the king the disposer of his subjects' temporal property. Presently, this new principle of autocracy was extended to the king's legislative authority, when on 9 December 1682, all four estates not only confirmed that the king held the legislative powers enjoyed by his predecessors, but even gave him the right of interpreting and amending the common law. [9]

The recovery of the alienated crown lands occupied Charles XI for the rest of his life. He created a commission, which was ultimately converted into a permanent department of state. It acted on the principle that the titles of all private landed estates might be called in question, because at some time or other they must have belonged to the Crown, and the burden of proof of ownership lay with the actual owner of the property, not the Crown. The amount of revenue accruing to the Crown from the whole "Reduktion" is impossible to estimate; but by these means, combined with careful management and rigid economy, Charles XI reduced the national debt by three quarters. [9]

Charles XI re-established on a broader basis the reorganization of the "indelningsverk" — a system of military tenure in which national forces were bound to the soil. This tied to the "rust hail tenure", under which the tenants, instead of paying rent, were obliged to equip and maintain a cavalry soldier and horse; while the knekthållare supplied duly equipped foot soldiers. Soldiers were provided with holdings on which they lived in times of peace. Formerly, ordinary conscription had existed alongside this indelning, or distribution system, but it had proved inadequate as well as highly unpopular, and in 1682, Charles XI ended it in favor of an extended distribution system. The Swedish Royal Navy was entirely remodeled; and, the recent war having demonstrated the unsuitability of Stockholm as a naval station, the construction of a new arsenal was begun at Karlskrona. After seventeen years of financial difficulties, the twofold enterprise was completed. At the death of Charles XI, Sweden could boast of a fleet of forty-three three-deckers, manned by 11,000 men and armed with 2,648 guns, and one of the finest arsenals in the world. [9]

Charles XII and the Great Northern War

Charles XII Karl XII 1706.jpg
Charles XII

After Charles XI's death, the throne was inherited by his underage son, Charles XII. After a brief regency, he was declared to be of age to rule. Three years later, in 1700, Denmark–Norway, Poland and Russia, the countries that had lost the most territory to Sweden, jointly declared war. Denmark–Norway was soon forced to peace after a joint intervention of Swedish, English and Dutch armies, whereafter the King and much of the Swedish army was shipped to the Baltic provinces, where Russian and Polish armies were laying siege to several towns. The Russian army was soundly defeated in the Battle of Narva, after which Charles took the army into Poland with the intent of dethroning the Polish king Augustus II. This took several years, but in 1706, with the Treaty of Altranstädt, he reached his goal.

In the meantime, Russia had managed to take possession of several towns by the Baltic Sea. Instead of trying to retake these, Charles chose to march directly on Moscow, but due to extreme weather, difficulties with his supply lines and the Russian scorched earth strategy, he was forced to turn towards Ukraine. In 1709, the Swedish army was defeated and captured in the Battle of Poltava; Charles managed to escape south to Bender in the Ottoman Empire. Following the defeat at Poltava, Poland and Denmark re-entered the war, along with other countries wanting parts of the Swedish provinces. In the following years, most of them would fall, and Russia occupied the eastern half of Sweden (present-day Finland).

Despite these setbacks, Charles XII twice tried to invade Norway to force Denmark-Norway out of the war again. On 30 November 1718, King Charles XII was mortally wounded during the siege of Fredriksten Fortress in Fredrikshald, today's Halden. With his death, Swedish war efforts mostly came to a halt, although Russia continued to harass the civilian population of the Swedish coastal areas until the concluding Treaty of Nystad was finally signed in 1721. Sweden would remain a regional power of varying success until the 19th century, but the Great Northern War put an end to Sweden's time as a great power.


Swedish possessions in 1658. The years in parentheses indicate when the possession was given up or lost. Sweden 1658.jpg
Swedish possessions in 1658. The years in parentheses indicate when the possession was given up or lost.

As a result of eighteen years of war, Sweden gained small and scattered possessions, but had secured control of three principal rivers in northern Germany—the Oder, the Elbe and the Weser—and gained toll-collection rights for those important commercial arteries, benefitting the Swedish economy. Two principal reasons for the small reparations were France's envy and Queen Christina's impatience. As a result of Sweden's intervention, Sweden helped secure religious liberty in Europe for Protestants, becoming a leading power of Continental Protestantism for 90 years. The elevation of Sweden to the rank of an imperial power required that it remain a military monarchy, armed for possible emergency. Sweden's poverty and sparse population meant the country was ill-suited for imperial status. However, in the middle of the 17th century, with France as a firm ally, the incompatibility between its powers and its pretensions was not so obvious. [4]

Military history

A major reason why Sweden could be so successful in wars with such a scarce number of soldiers was its advanced military tactics. Sweden was able to reform its military tactics continuously throughout the period. Prior to Gustavus Adolphus's reforms, both his father, Charles IX, and his uncle Erik XIV had tried to reform the army but had effectively failed to do so. Charles IX, like most other rulers, had tried to implement the Dutch system[ clarification needed ] [10] into the army but with limited success. The lack of a strict organisation in the infantry caused the proportion of pikemen to musketeers to be far lower than the preferred ratio of 1 to 1. This, combined with the lack of funds to provide the soldiers with armour, caused the Swedish infantry to be dangerously lightly equipped and unable to deal with cavalry or heavier infantry in open terrain. Charles IX was, however, able to implement the Dutch system for fighting in caracole among the cavalry, with unfortunate results. His partially reformed army suffered a disastrous defeat at Kircholm against a Polish-Lithuanian army led by Jan Karol Chodkiewicz. The Hussaria were the last shock cavalry in Europe still fighting with lances, yet they proved with terrifying effect the superiority of aggressive charging compared to the more defensive caracole used in the rest of Europe. In the end, Charles IX's revolt against his nephew Sigismund of Poland and subsequent rise to the throne of Sweden caused a dynastic struggle for the throne of Sweden that would not finally end until the treaty of Oliva in 1660.

Gustav II Adolph inherited the Polish war together with the Kalmar War against Denmark–Norway when Charles IX died in 1611. The war against Denmark–Norway was a terrible loss that forced Sweden to pay a ransom of 1 million silverdaler to regain Älvsborg (final payment, 1619). The Polish war was interrupted by a series of truces caused by Sweden's weakness along with the unwillingness of the Polish nobility to fight a war considered only to be in Sigismund III's personal interest. The costly peace with Denmark and Poland–Lithuania's inability to mount a seaborne attack on the Swedish mainland gave time for Gustavus Adolphus to reform his armies. The continuation of the Polish war in 1625–1629 gave Gustavus Adolphus the opportunity to test and further improve his army against the Polish-Lithuanian army with its fearsome cavalry, the Winged Hussars.

By the time of the Swedish Intervention in the Thirty Years' War in 1630, Gustav II Adolph had transformed the Swedish (Gustavian) army into an army in which the cavalry fought with aggressive shock tactics, closer to the Polish tactics than the Western European. The Caracole and heavy armor were mostly abandoned, and the saber replaced the wheellock pistol as the primary weapon of the cavalry. Horsemen rode knee-by-knee in a tight formation. When in range, they switched to gallop and charged, and at a range of ten yards, shot both their pistols. A standard regiment numbered 250 simultaneous shots that would blast a hole in the enemy ranks. They then continued the charge with sabres (värjor), aiming to break the enemy formation. The infantry was meanwhile employed in a defensive manner, relying on their superior firepower to break enemy attacks. Smaller musketeer detachments (~200 men) were used during the Polish war to support the cavalry against the superior Polish-Lithuanian cavalry. Gustavus Adolphus earned the title "father of modern warfare" because of his revolutionary tactics during the Thirty Years' War, which later inspired other nations and became standard tactics. He became the foremost model of many later Swedish kings.

At the time Finns were an essential part of the Swedish military. Roughly 2/5 of the infantry and 3/7 of the cavalry in the army were from Finland.[ when? ] [11] They served in their own units which used Finnish as their main language. Also commands were given in Finnish. [12] The Finnish cavalry in the Swedish army was called Hakkapeliitat after their battle cry "Hakkaa päälle!". Approximately 110,000 soldiers from Finland died serving the Swedish Empire between 1617 and 1721. Relative to the contemporary population of Finland, this was equivalent to over a million of them dying in 20th-century Finland. [13]

Gustavus Adolphus. Attributed to Jacob Hoefnagel - Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden 1611-1632 - Google Art Project.jpg
Gustavus Adolphus.

Throughout the Thirty Years' War, the infantry's shock ability was continuously improved. The static nature of the infantry that served well against the cavalry-dominated Polish-Lithuanian army was enhanced during the war to produce infantry capable of both providing devastating firepower and executing offensive maneuvers. Initially, at the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631), the infantry was almost entirely reliant on their firepower and saw very limited offensive use; but under the leadership of Johan Banér, who took command after the defeat at Nördlingen, the Gustavian brigade system was finally changed into the battalion system recognisable from the War of the Spanish Succession and the Great Northern War (the depth was lowered from six ranks to three or four when the bayonet was introduced at the end of the 17th century).[ citation needed ]

Swedish tactics once again greatly diverged from the continental tactics during the second half of the 17th century. The continental tactics increasingly emphasized the firepower of the battalion, while the Swedish (Carolean) tactics almost exclusively relied on the shock factor as the infantry and cavalry charged the enemy. As the bayonet was introduced, the pike was discarded in all armies except the Swedish and Russian by 1700.[ citation needed ]

In the Swedish army tactics of that time, retreat was never covered, and they were obliged to attack or fight where they stood. This was a military doctrine that (with the advantage of hindsight) might have proven a bit rash.[ citation needed ]

The infantry shock attack operated as follows. The two rear ranks of musketeers were ordered to shoot when "you could not miss," a range of roughly 50 meters, and then to draw their swords before the battalion resumed their attack. The two foremost ranks then discharged at a range of roughly 20 meters before drawing their swords, and the charge began. At this range, the powerful muskets usually felled many enemy troops and was demoralising to them. Directly after the volley, the Swedes charged the enemy ranks with pikes, bayonets and sabres. Note that the pikes were used as an offensive weapon: in close combat, they had the advantage over their foes' weapons thanks to their range. After the bayonet was introduced in the Carolean army (1700–1706), the final volley was delayed until the soldiers were inside bayonet range.

Every infantry battalion had grenadiers attached. They supported the infantry attack by lobbing grenades from the flanks. They also formed units of their own. They were otherwise equipped like infantry.

Thus, in the latter half of the 17th century, the major difference between the Swedish army and those common on the continent was the relative lack of firepower and the use of pikes and sabres. Sweden and Russia were the only countries at the time using pikes. In contemporary Europe, infantry were equipped with a musket, while in the Swedish army, every third man had a pike. The pikemen were normally deployed four men deep with musketeers of equal depth on the sides. The pike was used to repulse cavalry and to break the enemy lines as they charged.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Sweden</span>

The history of Sweden can be traced back to the melting of the Northern Polar Ice Caps. From as early as 12000 BC, humans have inhabited this area. Throughout the Stone Age, between 8000 BC and 6000 BC, early inhabitants used stone-crafting methods to make tools and weapons for hunting, gathering and fishing as means of survival. Written sources about Sweden before AD 1000 are rare and short, usually written by outsiders. It was not until the 14th century that longer historical texts were produced in Sweden. It is therefore usually accepted that Swedish recorded history, in contrast with pre-history, starts around the 11th century, when sources are common enough that they can be contrasted with each other.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Northern War</span> 18th century conflict between Sweden and Russia

The Great Northern War (1700–1721) was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I of Russia, Frederick IV of Denmark–Norway and Augustus II the Strong of Saxony–Poland–Lithuania. Frederick IV and Augustus II were defeated by Sweden, under Charles XII, and forced out of the alliance in 1700 and 1706 respectively, but rejoined it in 1709 after the defeat of Charles XII at the Battle of Poltava. George I of Great Britain and the Electorate of Hanover joined the coalition in 1714 for Hanover and in 1717 for Britain, and Frederick William I of Brandenburg-Prussia joined it in 1715.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles X Gustav</span> King of Sweden from 1654 to 1660

Charles X Gustav, also Carl Gustav, was King of Sweden from 1654 until his death. He was the son of John Casimir, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg and Catherine of Sweden. After his father's death he also succeeded him as Pfalzgraf. He was married to Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, who bore his son and successor, Charles XI. Charles X Gustav was the second Wittelsbach king of Sweden after the childless king Christopher of Bavaria (1441–1448) and he was the first king of the Swedish Caroline era, which had its peak during the end of the reign of his son, Charles XI. He led Sweden during the Second Northern War, enlarging the Swedish Empire. By his predecessor Christina, he was considered de facto Duke of Eyland (Öland), before ascending to the Swedish throne. From 1655 to 1657, he was also Grand Duke of Lithuania.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monarchy of Sweden</span> Royal institution of Sweden

The monarchy of Sweden is centred on the monarchical head of state of Sweden, by law a constitutional and hereditary monarchy with a parliamentary system. There have been kings in what now is the Kingdom of Sweden for more than a millennium. Originally an elective monarchy, it became a hereditary monarchy in the 16th century during the reign of Gustav Vasa, though virtually all monarchs before that belonged to a limited and small number of political families which are considered to be the royal dynasties of Sweden.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">House of Vasa</span> Early modern royal house in Sweden

The House of Vasa or Wasa was an early modern royal house founded in 1523 in Sweden. Its members ruled the Kingdom of Sweden from 1523 to 1654 and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1587 to 1668; its agnatic line became extinct with the death of King John II Casimir of Poland in 1672.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dominions of Sweden</span> Territories under the control of Sweden

The Dominions of Sweden or Svenska besittningar were territories that historically came under control of the Swedish Crown, but never became fully integrated with Sweden. This generally meant that they were ruled by Governors-General under the Swedish monarch, but within certain limits retained their own established political systems, essentially their diets. Finland was not a dominion, but an integrated part of Sweden. The dominions had no representation in the Swedish Riksdag as stipulated by the 1634 Instrument of Government paragraph 46: "No one, who is not living inside the separate and old borders of Sweden and Finland, have anything to say at Riksdags and other meetings..."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Sweden (1523–1611)</span> Kingdom of Sweden period

The early Vasa era is a period that in Swedish and Finnish history lasted between 1523–1611. It began with the reconquest of Stockholm by Gustav Vasa and his men from the Danes in 1523, which was triggered by the event known as the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520, and then was followed up by Sweden's secession from the Kalmar Union, and continued with the reign of Gustav's sons Eric XIV, John III, John's son Sigismund, and finally Gustav's youngest son Charles IX. The era was followed by a period commonly referred to as the Swedish Empire, or Stormaktstiden in Swedish, which means "Era Of Great Power".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Sweden (1611–1648)</span> Rise of Sweden as a great power

During the 17th century, despite having scarcely more than 1 million inhabitants, Sweden emerged to have greater foreign influence, after winning wars against Denmark–Norway, the Holy Roman Empire, Russia, and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Its contributions during the Thirty Years' War under Gustavus Adolphus helped determine the political, as well as the religious, balance of power in Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swedish Pomerania</span> Sweden-held lands on the southern Baltic coast (1630–1815)

Swedish Pomerania was a dominion under the Swedish Crown from 1630 to 1815 on what is now the Baltic coast of Germany and Poland. Following the Polish War and the Thirty Years' War, Sweden held extensive control over the lands on the southern Baltic coast, including Pomerania and parts of Livonia and Prussia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Second Northern War</span> Conflict in Europe, 1655 to 1660

The Second Northern War (1655–60), was fought between Sweden and its adversaries the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1655–60), the Tsardom of Russia (1656–58), Brandenburg-Prussia (1657–60), the Habsburg monarchy (1657–60) and Denmark–Norway. The Dutch Republic waged an informal trade war against Sweden and seized the colony of New Sweden in 1655, but was not a recognized part of the Polish–Danish alliance.

The Polish–Swedish wars were a series of wars between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden. Broadly construed, the term refers to a series of wars between 1563 and 1721. More narrowly, it refers to particular wars between 1600 and 1629. These are the wars included under the broader use of the term:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kalmar War</span>

The Kalmar War (1611–1613) was a war between Denmark–Norway and Sweden. Though Denmark-Norway soon gained the upper hand, it was unable to defeat Sweden entirely. The Kalmar War was the last time Denmark-Norway successfully defended its dominium maris baltici against Sweden, and it also marked the increasing influence of the two countries on Baltic politics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld</span> Swedish field marshal

Count Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld was a Swedish Field Marshal (fältmarskalk) and Royal Councillor. He was mentor and chief military advisor to King Charles XII of Sweden, and served as deputy commander-in-chief of the Carolean Army, an army he assisted both in its education and development.

The Polish–Swedish War of 1626–1629 was the fourth stage in a series of conflicts between Sweden and Poland fought in the 17th century. It began in 1626 and ended four years later with the Truce of Altmark and later at Stuhmsdorf with the Treaty of Stuhmsdorf.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Treaty of Stettin (1630)</span> 1630 treaty between Sweden and Pomerania

The Treaty of Stettin or Alliance of Stettin was the legal framework for the occupation of the Duchy of Pomerania by the Swedish Empire during the Thirty Years' War. Concluded on 25 August (O.S.) or 4 September 1630 (N.S.), it was predated to 10 July (O.S.) or 20 July 1630 (N.S.), the date of the Swedish Landing. Sweden assumed military control, and used the Pomeranian bridgehead for campaigns into Central and Southern Germany. After the death of the last Pomeranian duke in 1637, forces of the Holy Roman Empire invaded Pomerania to enforce Brandenburg's claims on succession, but they were defeated by Sweden in the ensuing battles. Some of the Pomeranian nobility had changed sides and supported Brandenburg. By the end of the war, the treaty was superseded by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the subsequent Treaty of Stettin (1653), when Pomerania was partitioned into a western, Swedish part, and an eastern, Brandenburgian part.

The Battle of Dirschau took place in the summer of 1627 and was one of the battles of the Polish–Swedish War (1626–29). The Polish forces led by Crown Field Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski met with troops commanded by Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Gustavus Adolphus was wounded in the battle, which ended inconclusively. Fighting in Prussia ended in a stalemate for that year, and would not resume until 1628.

From 1611 to 1721, Sweden was a European great power, becoming a dominant faction in the quest for control of the Baltic Sea and a formidable military power. During this period, known as Stormaktstiden, the Swedish Empire held a territory more than twice the size of its modern borders and one of the most successful military forces at the time, proving itself on numerous occasions on battlefields such as Wallhof, Narva, and Düna. The military of the Swedish empire is commonly recognized only as the Caroleans, which were in fact not in service until the late 17th century under Charles XI and his successor. The Swedish Empire and its modern military force was founded by Gustavus Adolphus, who inherited the throne in 1611 at age 17. He immediately reformed the common European military based on mercenaries to a professional national army. However, before completing his vision of conquering the Holy Roman Empire, the warrior king was killed in action in 1632. His daughter and successor did little to improve Sweden's military position and abdicated early, providing the Swedish Empire with a more warlike ruler. Charles X Gustav was only king for 5 years, but conquered large amounts of territory that still belong to Sweden today. His son Karl XI would further strengthen the army by introducing the Caroleans, which were also used by Karl XII in the Great Northern War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gustavus Adolphus</span> King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632

Gustavus Adolphus, also known in English as Gustav II Adolf or Gustav II Adolph, was King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, and is credited with the rise of Sweden as a great European power. During his reign, Sweden became one of the primary military forces in Europe during the Thirty Years' War, helping to determine the political and religious balance of power in Europe. He was formally and posthumously given the name Gustavus Adolphus the Great by the Riksdag of the Estates in 1634.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estonia under Swedish rule</span> Period of Estonian history 1561–1710

Estonia under Swedish rule (1561–1710) signifies the period of time when large parts of the country, and after 1645, entire present-day Estonia, were under Swedish rule. In the wake of the breakup of the State of the Teutonic Order, the Baltic German local nobility in the areas of Harrien (Harjumaa) and Wierland (Virumaa), as well as the city of Reval (Tallinn) in June 1561 asked for and were granted protection by the Swedish king Eric XIV, leading to Swedish involvement in the Livonian War. At the conclusion of hostilities in 1583, Sweden was in control of the northern parts of modern Estonia and Dagö ; the Duchy of Estonia was created from this territory. Following renewed wars between Poland and Sweden, the southern parts of present-day Estonia were incorporated into Sweden by the Treaty of Altmark in 1629. Sweden also conquered the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) from Denmark, and were thus in control of all of present-day Estonia.


  1. 1 2 Frost, Robert I. (2000). The Northern Wars. War, State and Society in Northeastern Europe 1558-1721. Longman. pp. 133–134. ISBN   978-0-582-06429-4.
  2. Nicklas, Thomas (2002). Macht oder Recht. Frühneuzeitliche Politik im obersächsischen Reichskreis[Power or Right: Early modern politics in the Upper Saxon Circle] (in German). Stuttgart. p. 282. Finanziell völlig von französischen Subsidien abhängig, wollte sich die Großmacht auf tönernen Füßen [...]{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. De Vries, Jan (2009). "The economic crisis of the seventeenth century after fifty years". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 40 (2): 160.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Dumrath 1911, p. 203.
  5. Hayes, Carlton J. H. (1916). A Political and Social History of Modern Europe. Archived from the original on 17 November 2007.
  6. Dumrath 1911, pp. 203–204.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Dumrath 1911, p. 204.
  8. Dumrath 1911, pp. 204–205.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Dumrath 1911, p. 205.
  10. Jörgensen, Christer (2006). Fighting techniques of the early modern world, AD 1500 – AD 1763 : equipment, combat skills and tactics. Macmillan. p. 27. ISBN   0-312-34819-3. OCLC   70554282.
  11. Karonen, Petri and Räihä Antti (edit.) (2014). Kansallisten instituutioiden muotoutuminen – Suomalainen historiakuva Oma Maa -kirjasarjassa 1900–1960. Vantaa: Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura. p. 160. ISBN   978-952-222-606-8.
  12. Jutikkala Eino & Kauko Pirinen. Translated by Paul (1988). A History of Finland. New York: Dorset Press. p. 87. ISBN   9780880292603.
  13. Keskisarja, Teemu (2019). Murhanenkeli. Helsinki: Siltala. pp. 244–246. ISBN   9789522346384.

Further reading

Historiography and memory