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Baltic Crusades: Finland – Swedish Empire


King Gustav I Vasa’s reign concentrated on royal power in the dynasty and furthering the aims of the Reformation.  He re-modelled Sweden into a great power, avoid involvement in foreign wars.  His successors sought expansion of Sweden’s power in the Baltics.  This policy produced some success, and led to the creation of a Swedish empire on the eastern and southern shores of the Baltic Sea.

In the mid 16thcentury, Sweden’s foreign policy brought it into conflict with; Denmark, Poland and Russia. These three powers fought many wars with Sweden, which had been at war some eighty years out of the last 300 years it ruled Finland.  Sweden and Russia were at war between 1570 to 1595 a war known as “The Long Wrath.” Sweden fought in the “Thirty Years War (1618-1648) in which Swedes under King Gustavus II Adopphus stopped the advance of the Habsburg Empire, coming ashore in the Baltics and securing Swedish possessions.  Finish troops were conscripted into the Swedish army, and Finns distinguished themselves on the battlefield.

1700 was the start of the “Great Northern War,” when Denmark, Poland and Russia formed an alliance, taking advantage of Sweden’s temporary weakness.  King Charles XII of Sweden surprised the armies bearing down on them, by knocking Denmark and Poland out of the war by 1706.  The Swedish King marched on Russia, where his forces met disaster on the battlefield of Poltava in 1709.  With Sweden in disarray, Denmark and Poland joined the war against Sweden. In 1718 King Charles XII was killed in action, whilst battling in Norway.

On the 30thAugust 1721, the Great Northern War came to an end with the signing of a peace treaty “Peace of Uusikaupunki” and Sweden gave up its territories on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.  Sweden was forced to pay an indemnity to Russia, and Russian forces fled Finland, whilst retaining some territories along Finland’s south-eastern border.  As a result of years of war, Sweden’s power was reduced and Russia replaced Sweden as the main power in the Baltics.

Famine struck down one-third of Finland’s population in 1696.  The wars greatest impact being the Russian occupation (1714-1722), a time known as the Great Wrath.  Hardships of being conquered and Charles XII’s insistence that Finn’s carry on a partisan warfare against the Russians did not help.  Large areas of countryside had been destroyed by Russian forces, to deny Finland’s resources being passed to Sweden.  Some 60,000 Finns served in the Swedish army, and only 10,000 survived the Great Northern War.  At the start of the war Finland’s population numbered 400,000 and by the end of the war only 330,000 survived.

Charles II’s policies led to absolute monarchy in Sweden and half-century of parliamentary supremacy, known as the Age of Freedom.

One major strife of this era involved two political parties.  The “Hats” represented the “Upper Class” and the “Caps” represented the “Lower Class.” In 1741 the Hats led Sweden into war against Russia.  Russian forces responded by invading Finland and taking up occupation.  In accordance with the 1743 Peace Treaty, Russia vacated Finland, taking a slice of Finnish territory from the south-eastern frontier.

In 1788, Sweden declared war against Russia, an attempt ta take territory from Finland’s eastern frontier.  A mutiny took place led by Goran Sprenglporten a former Swedish Colonel, hoping to stop Russia taking revenge on Finland by taking land.  In 1790 the “Treaty of Varala” was signed, and with it the war ended.  Finland lost no land to Russia.

Sweden’s frequent wars were expensive, and led to the taxation of its people.  A system of government controls on the economy, was imposed on Sweden and Finland’s people.  The Finnish economy was exploited and favoured the Swedes.  Sweden’s wars enabled Swedish aristocrats and military officers to seize large estates in Finland.  They might have been free of serfdom, but its peasants had high taxes imposed upon them, and retained limited political power… Sweden’s nobility held much political and power in Finland.

Finland’s frontier was being pushed northwards as new stretches of wilderness were settled upon.  In the 1730’s the potato was introduced, creating a stable food supply.

During the Napoleonic wars, the union that had existed for centuries between Sweden and Finland came to an end.  France and Russia became allies in 1807, and Napoleon pushed Russia into getting Sweden to join with them against Britain.  Tsar Alexander I invaded Finland in 1808 and conquered Finland in 1809.  Sweden ceded Finland to Russia in the “Treaty of Hamina,” signed on the 17thSeptember 1809.

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