II. SWEDEN: 1560–1654

1. The Rival Faiths: 1560–1611

Between Gustavus Vasa, the founder of modern Sweden, and Gustavus Adolphus, the savior of Protestantism, Swedish history is clouded by the contest of religious creeds for political power. The first Vasa had freed Sweden from Denmark and had united his country under a strong hereditary monarchy, while noble oligarchies kept Denmark and Poland feudal and weak. The Swedish peasantry was free, and was represented, along with the nobles, the clergy, and the towns, in the Riksdag, or Diet; the same wordbondethat in Denmark had come to mean serf was in Sweden the proud title of a freeman tilling his own soil. But the resources of the land were severely limited by climate, by inadequate population, and by Danish control of three peninsular provinces and the Sound. The nobles chafed in their new subordination to the king, and the Catholic Church, despoiled of her Swedish wealth, plotted patiently to recapture the people, her property, and the throne.

Vasa’s son Eric XIV (1560–68) was unfitted to meet these problems. He had courage and ability, but his violent temper stultified his diplomacy, and led him to murder and madness. He infuriated the nobles by killing five of their leaders, one with his own hand. He carried on against Denmark the “Northern Seven Years’ War” (1563–70), and prepared future wars by conquering Livonia. He alienated his brother John by obstructing a marriage that would have made John heir to the Polish crown; and when John nevertheless married Princess Catharine Jagellon, Eric shut him up in the fortress of Gripsholm. Catharine came to share the rigors of John’s imprisonment, and inclined his ear to the Catholic faith. In 1568 Eric’s brothers compelled him to abdicate, and after six years in confinement he was put to death by order of the Riksdag and the new King.

John III (1568–92) made peace with Denmark and his nobles, and renewed the conflict of the faiths. His wife pleaded with him, more by night than by day, to accept Catholicism. With his permission Jesuits entered Sweden in disguise, and the ablest of them. Antonio Possevino, undertook the conversion of the King. John’s conscience burned with the memory that he had consented to his brother’s death; for such a fratricide the fires of hell seemed an inevitable punishment; this, Possevino urged, could be escaped only by confession and absolution in the Church which all believed to have been founded by Christ. John yielded; he received the Sacrament according to the Roman rite, and promised to make Catholicism the religion of the state provided the Pope would allow the Swedish clergy to marry, the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular, and the Eucharist to be administered in wine as well as bread. Possevino went to Rome; the Pope rejected the conditions; Possevino returned empty-handed. John ordered the Jesuits to receive the Sacrament in both kinds and recite the Mass in Swedish. They refused and departed. In 1584 Catholic Catharine died; a year later John married a Protestant lady, who, more by night than by day, brought him back to the Lutheran faith.

In August 1587 his Catholic son was elected to the Polish throne as Sigismund III. By the Statute of Kalmar father and son agreed that after John’s death Sigismund should reign over both Poland and Sweden; but Sigismund pledged himself to respect Sweden’s political independence and Protestant faith. When John died (1592) the Riksdag, under the lead of his brother Duke Charles, met at Uppsala (February 25, 1593) with three hundred clergymen and three hundred laymen—nobles, burgesses, miners, and peasants—and adopted the Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1530 as the official creed of the Swedish Church and state. The historic synod (Uppsala-mote) declared that no religion but Lutheranism was to be tolerated in the nation, that none but orthodox Lutherans were to be appointed to ecclesiastical or political office, and that Sigismund would be crowned in Sweden only after he had accepted these principles. Meanwhile Duke Charles was recognized as regent in the absence of the King.

Sigismund, who had been educated by the Jesuits, dreamed of bringing Sweden and Russia into the Catholic fold. When he landed at Stockholm (September 1593) he found the Swedish leaders almost unanimous in demanding his solemn guarantee to obey the Uppsala declarations. For five months he sought to win a compromise; the leaders were obdurate, and Duke Charles collected an army. Finally Sigismund gave the required pledge, and a Lutheran bishop crowned him at Uppsala (February 1594). Soon thereafter he issued a statement protesting that his pledge had been given under duress. He appointed six lords lieutenant to protect the remaining Catholics in Sweden, and in August he returned to Poland.

Duke Charles and Archbishop Angermannus of Uppsala prepared to enforce the synod’s decrees. The Diet of Süderköping (1595) called for an end to all Catholic worship and the banishment of “all sectaries opposed to the evangelical religion.” The Archbishop ordered that whoever neglected to attend Lutheran services was to be beaten with rods, and in his visitation of the churches he personally attended such punishments.3 All surviving monasteries were closed, and all Catholic shrines were removed.

Sigismund’s advisers begged him to invade Sweden with a large army. He thought five thousand men would suffice; with these he landed in Sweden in 1598. At Stegeborg Duke Charles gave him battle and was defeated; in a second engagement, at Stängebro, Charles won; Sigismund again agreed to the Uppsala declarations and returned to Poland. In July 1599 the Swedish Diet deposed him, and Duke Charles, still as regent, became the actual ruler of the state. The Diet of 1604 passed a succession act entailing the crown upon such male or female members of the Vasa family as accepted the established Lutheran religion, and enacting that no dissenters from that religion should be allowed to dwell or hold property in Sweden. “Every prince who should deviate from the Confession of Augsburg should ipso facto lose the crown.”4 So the road was opened to the accession of Charles’s son Gustavus Adolphus, and to the abdication of his granddaughter Christina. In 1607 Charles IX was crowned King.

He reformed the disordered government, vigorously promoted education, commerce, and industry, and founded the cities of Karlstad, Filipstad, Mariestad, and Göteborg; this last settlement gave Sweden clear access to the North Sea, circumventing Danish control of the straits. Christian IV declared war (April 1611) and invaded Sweden. Charles, aged sixty-one, challenged Christian to single combat; Christian refused. At the height of the conflict (October 1611) Charles died; but before his death he laid his hand upon the head of his son, saying, “Ille faciet” (He will do it).5 He did.

2. Gustavus Adolphus: 1611–30

The most romantic figure in Swedish history was now sixteen. His mother was a German, daughter of Duke Adolphus of Holstein-Gottorp. Father and mother gave him a rigorous education in the Swedish and German languages and in Protestant doctrine. By the age of twelve he had learned Latin, Italian, and Dutch; later he picked up English, Spanish, even some Polish and Russian; to which was added as strong a dose of the classics as comported with training in sports, public affairs, and the arts of war. At the age of nine he began to attend the sessions of the Riksdag; at thirteen he received ambassadors; at fifteen he ruled a province; at sixteen he fought in battle. He was tall, handsome, courteous, generous, merciful, intelligent, brave; what more could history ask of a man? Hispopularity was so universal in Sweden that even the sons of nobles whom Charles IX had executed for treason came willingly to serve him.

He did not display the Vasa tendency to personal temper and violence, but it appeared in his relish for war. He inherited from his father the Kalmar War with Denmark; he waged it zealously, but he felt that it was leading him in the wrong direction, and in 1613 he gave Denmark a million thalers ($10,000,000?) in exchange for peace and the free passage of Swedish vessels through the straits and the Sound. At this stage of his career he was more interested in keeping Russia out of the Baltic. “If at any time,” he wrote to his mother, “Russia should … learn her strength, she would be able not only to attack Finland [then part of Sweden] on both sides, but also to get such a fleet on the Baltic as would endanger our Fatherland.”6 He sent his most resourceful general, Jacob de la Gardie, to conquer Ingria, and in 1615 he himself laid siege to Pskov. The Russian resistance was troublesome, but by threatening to ally himself with Poland Gustavus persuaded Czar Michael Romanov to sign a peace (1617) recognizing Swedish control of Livonia, Esthonia, and northwestern Ingria, including what is now Leningrad. For the time being Russia was blocked from the Baltic. Gustavus boasted that without Swedish permission Russia could not launch a single boat upon that sea.

Now he turned his attention to Poland, whose Sigismund III still claimed the Swedish throne. Catholicism was by this time victorious in Poland and was eager for another chance to capture Sweden; moreover, Poland, with great ports at Danzig, Memel, Libau, and Riga, was then a stronger competitor than Russia for control of the Baltic. In 1621 Gustavus led 158 ships and 19,000 men to the siege of Riga, through which a third of Polish exports passed. Its population was predominantly Protestant and might not resent a Lutheran overlord. When it capitulated, Gustavus dealt with it leniently to attach it to his cause. During a three-year truce with Poland he strengthened the spirit and discipline of his army and, like his contemporary Cromwell, made piety an instrument of martial morale. He studied the military art of Maurice of Nassau and learned how to win campaigns by swift movement and farseeing strategy. He brought in technicians from Holland to instruct his men in siege tactics and the use of artillery. In 1625 he crossed the Baltic again, captured Dorpat, confirmed Swedish control of Livonia, and completely shut out Lithuania from the Baltic Sea. A year later his armies subdued both East and West Prussia, which were fiefs of the Polish Crown; only Danzig held out. The conquered regions became provinces of Sweden, the Jesuits were expelled, Lutheranism was made official. All Protestant Europe now looked to Gustavus as a possible savior in the great war that was then devastating Germany.

In the intervals of peace, he had faced with less genius than in war the problems of internal administration. During his absence on campaigns he left the government to the nobles, and to ensure their fidelity he allowed them to monopolize office and to buy from the Crown vast estates at little cost. But he found time to stabilize finances, to reorganize the courts, the postal service, the hospitals, and poor relief. He established free schools, founded the University of Dorpat, and richly re-endowed the University of Uppsala. He prodded mining and metallurgy, and it was no small item in his successes that Sweden had materials and skill to manufacture armament. He promoted foreign commerce by granting monopolies and gave a charter to a Swedish South Sea Company. His minister Oxenstierna, known for his calm in crises, was appalled by his master’s energy. “The King,” he said, “controls and steers mines, commerce, manufactures, and customs just as a steersman steers his ship.”7 He begged Gustavus to cool down. “If we were all as cold as you,” answered the King, “we should freeze.” “If we were all as hot as your Majesty,” the minister retorted, “we should burn.”8

Now the consuming fever of the Swedish knight was to get into the Thirty Years’ War. “All wars in Europe hang together,” he said.9 He had noted with deep anxiety the victories of Wallenstein, the advance of Hapsburg armies into northern Germany, the collapse of Danish resistance, the alliance of Catholic Poland and Catholic Austria; soon the Hapsburg power would seek control of the Baltic, and the commerce, religion, and life of Sweden might be at the mercy of the Empire and the papacy. On May 20, 1629, Gustavus sent to the Swedish Diet a warning of Wallenstein’s plan to make the Baltic a Hapsburg sea. He recommended offense as the best defense, and asked the nation to support and finance his entry into the Armageddon that was about to determine the fate of theologies. Sweden was already heavily burdened by his campaigns, but the Diet and the people responded to his call. With the help of Richelieu he persuaded Poland to a six-year truce (September 1629). Nine months he spent collecting ships, provisions, troops, and allies. On May 30, 1630, he addressed the Diet in an eloquent and moving farewell, as if surmising that he would not see Sweden again. On June 26–28 his forces disembarked on an island off the Pomeranian coast, and Gustavus went forth to glory and death.

3. Queen Christina: 1632–54

Since his daughter, heiress to his throne, was a child of four, he appointed as regent one of the ablest statesmen of that genius-crowded age—Count Axel Oxenstierna. Christina later described him: “He had studied much in his youth, and continued to do so in the midst of business. His capacity and knowledge of the world’s affairs and interests were very great; he knew the strong and weak points of every state in Europe…. He was ambitious, but faithful and incorruptible, withal a little too slow and phlegmatic.”10 He had a reputation for silence, but to say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy. For two years he ruled Sweden well while Gustavus fought on alien fields. Then, as regent for Christina, he directed the armies of Sweden in Germany as well as affairs at home, and no country in Europe had in those twelve years a better government. In 1634 he drew up a “Form of Government” specifying the composition, powers, and duties of each department in the administration; this is the earliest known example of a written constitution.

In 1644 Christina, now eighteen, assumed control. She felt herself fit to rule this vibrant nation, grown to a million and a half souls; and indeed she had all the abilities of a precocious male. “I came into the world,” she said, “all armed with hair; my voice was strong and harsh. This made the women think I was a boy, and they gave vent to their joy in exclamations which at first deceived the King.”11 Gustavus took the discovery of her sex like a gentleman, and came to love her so dearly that he seemed quite content to have her as heir to his power; but her mother, Maria Eleanora of Brandenburg, never forgave her for being a girl. Perhaps this maternal rejection shared in making Christina as much of a man as her physique would allow. She conscientiously neglected her person, scorned ornament, swore manfully, liked to wear male dress, took to masculine sports, rode astride at top speed, hunted wildly, and bagged her game at the first shot; but: “I never killed an animal without feeling pity for it.”12

Despite all this she had some feminine charms. Pierre Huet, afterward Bishop of Avranches, reported (1653): “Her face is refined and pretty, her hair golden, her eyes flash. … She carries modesty written on her face, and shows it by the blushes which cover it at an immodest word.”13 “She cannot bear the idea of marriage, because she was born free and will die free,” reported the Jesuit confessor of the Spanish ambassador.14 She seems to have felt that coitus was, for a woman, a form of subjection; and doubtless, like Elizabeth of England, she knew that her husband would want to be king. She was sensitively aware of her faults, and acknowledged them bravely. “I was distrustful, suspicious, ambitious to excess. I was hot-tempered, proud, and impatient, contemptuous and satirical. I gave no quarter. I was too incredulous, and little of a devotee.”15 But she was generous to extravagance, and faithful to her tasks. “She spends only three or four hours in sleep,” said the Jesuit. “When she wakes she spends five hours in reading…. She never drinks anything but water; never has she been heard to speak of her food, whether it was well or ill cooked…. She attends her Council regularly…. During a fever twenty-eight days long she never neglected her state affairs. … Ambassadors treat only with her, without ever being passed on to secretary or minister.”16

She wished to rival not only the youths in sports and the courtiers in politics, but also the scholars in learning, and these not merely in languages and literature but in science and philosophy as well. By the age of fourteen she knew German, French, Italian, and Spanish; by eighteen she knew Latin; later she studied Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic. She read and loved the French and Italian poets, and envied the bright vivacity of French civilization. She corresponded eagerly with scholars, scientists, and philosophers in several lands. She brought together a splendid library, including rare ancient manuscripts which students came from many countries to consult. At her death connoisseurs were impressed by the fine taste she had shown in purchasing pictures, statues, enamels, engravings, and antiques. She collected savants as she collected art; she longed to have pundits and thinkers about her; she drew to her court Claudius Salmasius, Isaac Vossius, Hugo Grotius, Nicolaas Heinsius, and rewarded all of them lavishly. Those scholars who could not come sent her their books and paeans—Scarron, Guez de Balzac, Mlle. de Scudéry; and the grave Milton, while blasting her Salmasius, declared her “fit to govern not only Europe but the world.”17 Pascal sent her his calculating machine, with a remarkably beautiful letter complimenting her on being a queen in the realm of mind as well as of government.18

Her penultimate passion was for philosophy. She corresponded with Gassendi, who, like a hundred others, congratulated her on realizing Plato’s dream of philosopher-kings. René Descartes, the outstanding philosopher of the age, came, saw, and marveled to hear her deduce his pet ideas from Plato.19 When he tried to convince her that all animals are mechanisms, she remarked that she had never seen her watch give birth to baby watches.20 But of this more later on.

She did not neglect native talent. Sweden had then a true polymath, Georg Stjernhjelm, linguist, jurist, scientist, mathematician, historian, philosopher, the father of Swedish poetry and the center of Swedish intellectual life in this age. Gustavus Adolphus so admired him that he raised him to the peerage; Christina made him court poet, until he joined her enemies.21

Attracted by the pedagogical theories of John Comenius, she brought him to Stockholm to reform the school system of Sweden. Like Elizabeth at Oxford and Cambridge, she visited Uppsala to encourage by her presence the teachers and pupils at the university; she listened there to Stjernhjelm and others discourse on the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. She built a college at Dorpat and gave it a library; she founded six other colleges; she developed into a university the college that her father had founded at Åbo (Turku) in Finland. She sent students to study abroad, some to Arabia to learn Oriental scholarship. She imported Dutch printers to establish a publishing house in Stockholm. She urged Swedish scientists to write in the vernacular, so that knowledge might spread among her people. She was, without question, one of the most enlightened rulers in history.

Did she have a mind of her own, or was she the undiscriminating receptacle of the intellectual currents eddying about her? The unanimous testimony is that in government she did her own thinking, made her own decisions, ruled as well as reigned.22 We shall see, in a later chapter, how she vetoed Oxenstierna’s martial policy, labored for peace, and helped to end the Thirty Years’ War. Her fragmentary memoirs are vital and fascinating. The maxims which she left in manuscripts have nothing hackneyed about them. E.g.:

One is, in proportion as one can love.

Fools are to be more feared than knaves.

To undeceive men is to offend them.

Extraordinary merit is a crime never forgiven.

There is a star which unites souls of the first order, though ages and distances divide them.

More courage is required for marriage than for war.

One rises above all, when one no longer esteems or fears anything.

He who loses his temper with the world has learned all he knows to no purpose.

Philosophy neither changes men nor corrects men.23

In the end, after sampling a dozen philosophies, perhaps after ceasing to be a Christian, she became a Catholic. She was accused of having imbibed atheism from her physician Bourdelot.24 A Swedish historian, echoed by Voltaire,25 thought her conversion a conscious farce: on this theory she had come to the conclusion that since truth cannot be known, one might as well adopt the religion that appeals most to the heart and the aesthetic sense,26 and gives most comfort to the people. But conversion to Catholicism is often a sincere reaction after extreme skepticism; in the depths of doubt mysticism may sink its well. There were mystic elements in Christina; her memoirs are intimately addressed to God. Belief is a protective garment; its complete divestiture leaves an intellectual nudity that longs to be clothed and warmed. And what warmer raiment than the colorful, sensuous Catholicism of France and Italy? “How,” she asked, “can one be a Christian without being a Catholic?”27

She pondered long over the question, and over the many complications involved in conversion. If she abandoned Lutheranism she must, by the laws of her realm and her beloved father, abandon not only her throne but her country. What an anticlimax such a change of faith would be to her father’s heroic defense of Protestant Europe! But she was tired of her official duties, of the harangues of preachers and councilors, of the pedantic trivia of scholars, antiquaries, and historians. And perhaps Sweden was tired of her. Her alienation of Crown lands, her costly gifts to her favorites, had impoverished and consumed her revenues. A majority of the nobles were leagued against her policies. In 1651 there was a flurry of rebellion; the leaders were hastily executed,28 but an active resentment survived. Finally, she was sick. She had injured her health, probably by too much work and study. Frequently she suffered dangerous fevers, with symptoms of inflamed lungs. Several times she fainted, sometimes remaining unconscious for an hour. In 1648, during a severe illness, she says, she “made a vow to quit all and become a Catholic, should God preserve my life.”29 She was a Mediterranean soul shivering in the wintry north. She dreamed of Italian skies and French salons. How pleasant it would be to join the cultured women who were beginning their unique function of nursing the intellect of France! If she could take a substantial fortune with her …

In 1652 she secretly sent to Rome an attaché of the Portuguese embassy to ask for Jesuits to come and discuss Catholic theology with her. They came in disguise. They were discouraged by some of the questions she asked—whether there was really a Providence, whether the soul could survive the body, whether there was any actual distinction between right and wrong except through utility. Then, when they were about to abandon her as lost, she comforted them: “What would you think if I were nearer to becoming a Catholic than you suppose?” “Hearing this,” said one of the Jesuits, “we felt like men raised from the dead.”30

To become a Catholic before abdicating was legally impossible. But before abdicating she desired to protect the hereditary character of the Swedish monarchy by persuading the Diet to ratify her choice of her cousin, Charles Gustavus, as her successor. Long negotiations delayed her abdication till June 6, 1654. The final ceremony was almost as moving as the abdication of Charles V ninety-nine years before. She took the crown from her head, discarded all regal insignia, removed her royal mantle, stood before the Diet in a dress of plain white silk, and bade her country and her people farewell in a speech that brought taciturn old nobles and phlegmatic burgesses to tears. The Council provided for her future income, and allowed her to keep the rights of a queen over her retinue.

She left Stockholm at nightfall five days after her abdication, stopped at Nyköbing for a last visit with her mother, went on, sleepless, for two days, fell sick with pleurisy, recovered, and rode on to Halmstad. There she wrote to Gassendi, awarding him a pension and sending him a chain of gold. At the last moment she received an offer of marriage from the new-crowned Charles X; she refused it courteously. Then, disguised as a man and under the name of Count Dohna, she took ship for Denmark, not knowing that for thirty-five years more she would play a part in history.

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