To the 15th century

Scandinavian kingdoms: 9th-14th century AD

The story of medieval Christian scandinavia, after the various regions convert in the 10th and 11th century, is of dynasties in Denmark, Norway and Sweden struggling to establish stable kingdoms - with sometimes the added ambition of bringing the other two into a unified realm.

The earliest recognizable kingdom is that of Hemming in southern Denmark from 811; but the king's successors fail to hold his territory. Another century passes before the whole of Denmark is united in a single kingdom, under the rule of Harald Bluetooth - who is baptized a Christian in about 960.

In the way of royal converts, he sees this personal event as the conversion of all the Danes (an achievement commemorated in Denmark's famous Jelling Stone).

This is first achieved with the union of the crowns in 1363. For the next century and a half the union sometimes holds, sometimes fragments. The last king to hold all three crowns is Christian ii, who does so briefly in 1520.

Thereafter the story of Scandinavia is best told in terms of its three constituent kingdoms - together with Finland, which from the 12th century becomes a disputed territory between Sweden and Russia.

Harald's son Sweyn extends the Danish kingdom to England in 1013, and his grandson Canute rules an empire which includes Denmark, England and even for a while (1030-1035) the kingdom of Norway.

Norway has only a few years previously become a single kingdom. Olaf II, ruling from 1015 to 1030, unites the whole region under one crown. Sweden achieves similar unity rather later; not until the dynasty established by Birger Jarl in the 13th century does the Swedish kingdom have the stature to match Denmark or Norway.

At various times different regions become dominant within this Scandinavian triangle. Valdemar I and his son Valdemar II extend Danish influence along the Baltic coast between 1169 and 1222. From about 1240 Haakon IV gives Norway an expansive period, asserting control over distant Finland and Greenland. In 1323 Sweden is strong enough to incorporate much of Finland, agreeing a boundary in that year with the Russians of Iceland.

Meanwhile, incessantly, the rulers of the Scandinavian kingdoms engage in two closely related methods of affecting the balance of power among themselves. They go to war against each other. And they marry each other's daughters. One such marriage, in 1363, leads at last to the union of the three crowns.

Union of the crowns: AD 1363-1523

Margaret, who unites the three crowns of Scandinavia, is the daughter of Valdemar IV, king of Denmark. In 1363, at the age of ten, she is married to Haakon VI, the 23-year-old king of Norway. Seventeen years later her father and her husband are dead, but she has a young son, Olaf. She secures his acceptance as king of both Denmark and Norway, and rules very effectively in his name.

In 1387 the young king dies. Margaret's authority is now such that she is accepted in her own right, in 1388, as the 'sovereign lady and ruler' of both countries. In that same year she is given the opportunity to add Sweden to her portfolio. The Swedish nobles, accustomed to electing their kings, are discontented with the present incumbent. They enlist Margaret's help.

Before marching against the present king (Albert of Mecklenburg), Margaret declares her terms. She is to be sovereign lady and ruler of Sweden as of the other kingdoms (the phrase effectively means regent) and the Swedes are to accept her choice of the king to succeed her. With this agreed, she defeats Albert in battle in 1389 and takes control.

Stockholm holds out against her (it is virtually an independent city run by the German merchants of the Hanseatic league). But in 1398, in return for confirmation of the league's commercial privileges, it too becomes part of her domain. The three Scandinavian countries are now a united regency. And the regent has already selected an infant king, to create a united kingdom.

In 1389 Margaret declares that her 8-year-old great-nephew Eric of Pomerania (grandson of her elder sister) is king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The three realms become formally united when he is crowned at Kalmar in 1397. Margaret is officially regent only until Eric is declared of age (in 1401), but she continues to rule in his name - as effectively as ever - until her death in 1412.

In subsequent decades Eric follows the same policies as his great-aunt, but he is unable to hold the union together. Uprisings against him in all three kingdoms lead to his deposition in Denmark and Sweden in 1439, followed by Norway in 1442.

For almost another century there are attempts, sometimes briefly successful, to restore the union of the three realms under a single king. The last such king is Christian II, who rules in Denmark and Norway from 1513. He has to fight for his Swedish crown. After three years of war he takes Stockholm, in 1520, but it proves a brief triumph. He is crowned on November 4. Four days later a massacre in Stockholm prompts the uprising which results in the Vasa dynasty and an independent Sweden.

Christian loses his other two crowns, of Denmark and Norway, in 1523. From now on, although Norway does not achieve independence until 1905, the story of each Scandinavian country is clearly distinct.

16th - 17th century

Stockholm Bloodbath: AD 1520

The three-year spell on the Swedish throne of the Danish king Christian II is the result of civil war. The victorious side, winning with Danish support, arrange for the coronation of Christian as king of Sweden as soon as they capture Stockholm in November 1520. Four days later, immediately after the coronation festivities, they arrange for the public execution of all their prominent opponents.

The pope, Leo X, has supported Christian II and has excommunicated his rival. The winning faction now accuse their enemies of heresy, for opposing the pope. They hand them over to the civil authorities.

At noon on Thursday November 8 some eighty Swedish prelates, nobles and influential burghers are brought to the main square in Stockholm to be beheaded. First to lay their heads on the block are two bishops. For three days the bodies lie in a pool of their own blood.

The Stockholm Bloodbath becomes one of most bitterly remembered moments in Sweden's history. But instead of securing the throne for the new king, the massacre has precisely the opposite effect. Among the victims are the father and two uncles of a young noble, Gustav Eriksson - known to history as Gustavus Vasa.

Gustavus I and the Reformation: AD 1520-1527

After the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520 Gustavus emerges as the leader of the rebels opposing Christian II. He is greatly helped by economic rivalry in the Baltic. Christian has been attempting to make Copenhagen the major trading centre of the region, breaking the stranglehold of Lübeck and the Hanseatic League. To this end he has made an alliance with the Fuggers, encouraging them to extend their banking interests to the Baltic.

It is in the interests of the merchants of Lübeck to give assistance to Gustavus.

The uprising begins in 1521 in Gustavus' ancestral region, approximating to the modern province of Kopparberg. From here the rebels gradually win more towns and strongholds. By July 1522 Gustavus controls five Swedish provinces. In June 1523 he is elected king of Sweden. Two weeks later he and his army enter Stockholm.

The new king's position is nevertheless precarious, in a country where prolonged civil war has created many factions. Moreover the Lübeck merchants are impatient for a return on their investment. How to repay them, in a country where only the church is rich? As in England a decade later, economics are intertwined with the Reformation in Sweden.

Gustavus has no religious convictions but a great need of funds. In 1527 he uses Lutheran arguments (plus a threat of abdication) to persuade a diet at Västerås to authorize his appropriation of church property - amounting perhaps to a quarter of all the land in the kingdom.

Gustavus professes the Lutheran faith but he establishes no national Lutheran church in Sweden (only late in his reign does the new religion spread far outside Stockholm). Gustavus stands out among rulers for the cynicism with which he plunders the Catholic church before putting another in its place. Even Henry VIII observes the niceties in this respect by a few days.

Vasa dynasty: from AD 1523

The dynasty founded by Gustavus I acquires its name from the family's emblem, the vasa (a sheaf or bundle of twigs). In his thirty-seven years on the throne Gustavus transforms Sweden from a weak monarchy, much put upon by powerful nobles, to a strong centralized state of the kind being established by his contemporaries in France and England.

He uses for this purpose the great wealth appropriated from the Catholic church. With some of it he buys the support of the nobles. The bulk he keeps for himself, adminstering it as crown lands which give him a stature far greater than that of any rival. Some of the church's wealth he spends on a navy and a standing army of conscripted militiamen.

In 1544 Gustavus persuades the riksdag to make the monarchy hereditary rather than elective. In spite of upsets from time to time, the crown remains in his family until the Napoleonic wars.

The first major upset is linked to the religious conflicts which plague the 16th century. By the end of Gustavus' reign the prevailing mood in Sweden is strongly Lutheran, but in 1562 his son - the future John III - marries a Catholic Polish princess. Their son Sigismund, born in 1566, is brought up by his mother as a Catholic. In 1587 he is elected to the Polish throne. Five years later he succeeds his father in Sweden.

The Catholic Sigismund fails to hold the Swedish throne. His father's younger brother leads a rebellion against him and becomes king in his place - effectively from 1599 and officially from 1607, as Charles IX.

This replacing of the rightful Vasa line by a junior branch of the family leads to decades of war between Poland and Sweden, though the conflict also becomes merged in two wider ones. One is the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The other is the much longer struggle for control of the eastern coast of the Baltic, involving many separate outbreaks of war between 1558 and 1721.

Gustavus II: AD 1611-1632

The son of Charles IX inherits the Swedish throne in 1611 as Gustavus II (known also as Gustavus Adolphus). Sixteen at the time, he appoints as his chancellor the 28-year-old Axel Oxenstierna. Their partnership proves a fruitful one for Sweden. Together they usher the kingdom into its greatest period.

Internally they bring in reforms of lasting value in government and the administration of justice. They greatly improve standards of education. They create a military establishment of unprecedented efficiency. And Gustavus evolves tactics in the field which make Swedish armies the most effective in Europe.

When Gustavus succeeds to the throne, Sweden is involved in three wars - against Denmark, Poland and Russia. Judging the conflict with Denmark to be a hopeless cause, Gustavus ends it in 1613 with the humiliating peace of Knäred, by which Sweden's only harbour outside the Baltic (at Älvsborg) is surrendered into Danish hands until a massive indemnity is paid.

Within the Baltic itself, Sweden wins better terms. The peace agreed at Stolbova, in 1617, returns into Russian hands Novgorod (captured by the Swedes in 1611) but gives Sweden the entire coast round the gulf of Finland and down to Estonia. Russia is denied access to the Baltic, in a settlement which holds until the time of Peter the great.

A six-year truce signed with Poland, at Altmark in 1629, is equally fruitful. The Polish part of Livonia (approximately Latvia and southern Estonia) is ceded to Sweden, as is the right to customs duties paid in Gdansk and the ports of Prussia.

With his Baltic wars settled, and a guaranteed income from the ports, Gustavus is free to take his place on a wider stage - the great struggle between Protestant and Catholic powers known as the Thirty Years' War. The effectiveness of his northern army astonishes the rest of Europe.

Swedish tactics: AD 1631

During the early years of his reign Gustavus II has effected a quiet revolution in the Swedish army. Where other monarchs rely on foreign mercenaries, he conscripts and trains his Swedish subjects - thus achieving an organized version of a citizen army. He instils in his soldiers sufficient discipline for them to be able to respond to flexible tactics on the battlefield.

For the same purpose he makes his infantrymen's Pikes less unwieldy, shortening them from 16 to 11 feet. He lightens the weight of armour, wearing himself only a leather jacket in battle. And he reduces the number of men in each company in battle formation.

Together with these measures of increased human mobility go similar improvements in artillery. Gustavus's ordnance factories produce a cast-iron cannon less than half the weight of any other in the field, but still capable of firing a four-pound shot. Moreover a form of cartridge holding a prepared charge of powder means that the cannon can be reloaded faster even than the muskets of the day.

This field artillery is mounted on carriages which can be pulled by two horses or even, when required, by a platoon of men.

When Gustavus's army is first seen in action in Germany, at Breitenfeld in 1631, the opposing Catholic army under Tilly is deployed in the cumbersome Spanish squares which have been the military convention for a century and more.

The Swedes begin the encounter with an artillery barrage from about 100 cannon which they have been able to bring to the field of battle. Thereafter the rout of the Catholics is completed in a series of unwelcome surprises - musketeers appear among lines of infantrymen instead of on the flanks, cavalry charges suddenly materialize from unexpected quarters. The battle sets a new order of military priority. Fire power and mobility are now the trump cards on the battlefield.

Breitenfeld and Lützen: AD 1631-1632

The Swedish victory at Breitenfeld causes many of the German Protestant princes to declare their support for Gustavus, who presses his campaign further south into Catholic Germany. In May 1632 he takes Munich. In the same month his ally the Protestant elector of Saxony enters Prague.

Confronted by these threats, the emperor Ferdinand II has already reappointed Wallenstein to his post as commander of the imperial army. Wallenstein's subtle strategies manoeuvre Gustavus out of his newly won territories in the south without risking a pitched battle. When this comes, it is again in the north near Leipzig - at Lützen in November 1632.

Swedish tactics again win the day at Lützen, though Gustavus himself dies leading a cavalry charge. Swedish armies continue to campaign in Germany. But the death of the king ends the heady period when there has been a serious possibility of Protestant Sweden playing a major role in German affairs.

Meanwhile the irrepressible Wallenstein is once again building himself an empire, with the help of an army which owes allegiance more to him than to the real emperor. By 1634 Ferdinand II is so exasperated that he authorizes the assassination (by an English captain, Walter Devereux) of his brilliant but over-ambitious commander.

Swedish tactics again win the day at Lützen, though Gustavus himself dies leading a cavalry charge. Swedish armies continue to campaign in Germany. But the death of the king ends the heady period when there has been a serious possibility of Protestant Sweden playing a major role in German affairs.

Swedish and Danish wars: AD 1643-1660

After losing much of his territory to the Catholic armies of the empire in 1627, the Danish king Christian iv recovers them in the peace of Lübeck in 1629. This is thanks partly to the support of his fellow Lutheran monarch, Gustavus II of Sweden. But it is the last occasion in this century when there is any cooperation between the Baltic kingdoms.

Between 1643 and 1660 they engage in two wars, both of which bring great advantage to Sweden.

The first begins in 1643 when the Swedish general Lennart Torstensson makes a lightning raid from the south and occupies Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland. The conclusion of that campaign, agreed in the peace of Brömsebro in 1645, is that Denmark cedes to Sweden the Baltic islands of Gotland and Ösel and part of the mainland north of the Baltic. She also exempts from tolls in the Sound all goods destined for Swedish territories.

The second war, beginning in 1657, is initiated by Denmark. The Swedish king, Charles X, is engaged in a war against Poland. Frederick III of Denmark hopes to use the opportunity to recover some of the lost Danish territory. The result is the opposite of what he intends.

Charles X, repeating Torstensson's tactic of an attack from the south, occupies Jutland in the autumn of 1657. He follows this with an extremely bold move. A cold spell early in 1658 freezes the sea between peninsular Denmark and the islands. Charles marches his army across the ice to the island of Sjaelland on which Copenhagen stands.

On this occasion the Danes rapidly yield (though the citizens of Copenhagen resolutely withstand a Swedish siege later in 1658). In terms finally agreed in Copenhagen in 1660 Denmark cedes a region of immense strategic value to Sweden - the Skåne provinces at the southern end of the Swedish peninsula. This brings to an end Denmark's control of both shores of the Sound.

Christina and Charles X: AD 1644-1660

During the period of Sweden's wars with Denmark the country is ruled in succession by two talented cousins, grandchildren of Charles ix.

The first is a famously lavish patron of the arts, Queen Christina. She is only six when her father Gustavus II dies in battle in 1632, but after coming of age in 1644 she rapidly makes her court in Stockholm one of the most civilized in Europe - inviting distinguished musicians and writers to visit her.

Christina even persuades Descartes, against his better instincts, to travel north to instruct her in philosophy. With wilful disregard for her distinguished guest, the young queen schedules her lessons for five in the morning in the Swedish winter. In January 1650 the philosopher catches a chill when returning to his house. He dies two weeks later.

Christina shows equally little regard for the nation's finances, depleted by her father's wars and further damaged by her own extravagance. Nor does she feel constrained by Sweden's strong Lutheran tradition; she converts secretly to Roman Catholicism, the practice of which is against the kingdom's laws.

The result, in a sudden move which astonishes Europe, is her abdication in 1654 and departure for Rome - where for another three decades she continues to preside over a glittering court in exile.

Christina has already designated as her successor her cousin, who becomes Charles X. He immediately takes drastic action to improve the country's finances, imposing in 1655 the Reduction - a decree by which the nobles are required to return a quarter of all crown lands granted to them since 1633.

Charles XI: AD 1660-1697

The bold device of the Reduction is not immediately effective, since Charles X spends most of his short reign conducting military campaigns abroad. But the same policy is followed - and even made more rigorous in the level of royal demands - under Charles's son and successor, Charles XI. By the end of the century the proportion of crown land in Sweden has risen from 1% to 30% - about the level at which it stood in the early 16th century after Gustavus i seized the wealth of the church.

The nation's territorial possessions are also at their peak during this period. Peace treaties since Altmark in 1629 have given Sweden an unbroken coastline from Göteborg in the west to Riga in the east.

This stretch of territory so nearly rings the entire Baltic that Charles X claims in 1658 a right to keep foreign fleets out of the Swedish sea. English and Dutch outrage soon forces him to back down. But profit from ferrying international trade through the Baltic remains a central part of Swedish economic policy - particularly Russian trade, since Sweden's territorial gains have blocked Russia's access to the sea.

The founding of the Bank of sweden in 1668 is an indication of the kingdom's commercial health. So is the construction of a merchant fleet which amounts at its peak to 730 ships.

Equally the building of a strong navy and the maintenance of a massive standing army (40,000 national conscripts and 25,000 mercenaries) represent a clear statement of Sweden's new status as a European power. But it proves hard to maintain.

The Swedish gains of the 17th century have been at the expense of many different powers - Denmark, various states of north Germany, Poland and Russia. The death of Charles XI in 1697, when his son Charles XII is fifteen, is followed by secret alliances between Sweden's enemies for concerted action. The result, beginning in 1700, is the Northern War.

18th - 19th century

Baltic campaigns: AD 1700-1706

The Northern War, often called the Great Northern War, distributes the coastline of the Baltic among the neighbouring nations in a manner which lasts into the 20th century.

Provoked by Sweden's dominant position, and launched in 1700 by an act of concerted aggression against Sweden by the kings of Poland and Denmark and the tsar of Russia, the war seems at first to give conclusive proof that Sweden fully deserves her pre-eminence in the region. The early Swedish successes are in large part due to the energy and military genius of the young king, Charles XII, eighteen years old in 1700 and three years into his reign.

The concerted attack on Swedish territory during 1700 takes place in three regions. In February the Polish king, Augustus II, moves north to besiege the port of Riga. A month later the Danish king, Frederick IV, marches south into Swedish possessions in Schleswig-Holstein. In August the Russian tsar, Peter the Great, brings an army west to attack the port of Narva.

Charles XII deals with each in turn, scoring rapid hits against his multiple enemies almost in the manner of a lone hero in a western. First, in August 1700, he ferries an army across the water to the island of Sjaelland, landing a few miles from Copenhagen. By the end of the month the Danes have withdrawn from the war.

In October Charles lands with 10,000 men at Pärnu, a point from which he can move south to relieve Riga or east to the defence of Narva. He selects as his first target the Russians besieging Narva. An attack in November on the tsar's fortified encampment, containing 23,000 soldiers, is entirely successful. Peter the Great withdraws from the immediate fray (giving himself a lull which he will use to excellent effect, establishing a Naval base in the Gulf of Finland).

Meanwhile Charles is able to give his full attention to the Polish king, Augustus ii, who is also the elector of Saxony.

Over the next six years Charles XII has a series of unbroken successes against Poland and Saxony, extending his already great control over the Baltic. By 1707 he is ready to attack Russia, now his only major opponent in the region.

Like other generals rash enough to march an army into Russia, Charles's fortunes are reversed by the harsh realities of winter. Defeat by the Russians at Poltava in 1709 proves a turning point. Sweden is already greatly weakened when Charles XII dies, still campaigning, in 1718.

Over the next six years the victories of Charles XII over Augustus the Strong are devastating. The Saxons are driven back across the Daugava river in the summer of 1701, ending their threat to Riga. Charles XII reaches and enters Warsaw in May 1702. He defeats Augustus two months later in a battle further south in Poland, at Kliszow.

In 1704 Charles persuades the Poles to depose Augustus and to elect in his place a Polish noble as Stanislaw I. In 1706 the Swedish king completes the humiliation of Augustus by marching into Saxony to impose a treaty signed at Altranstädt.

By 1707, with Denmark, Saxony and Poland out of the war, Charles XII is free to tackle the major threat to Sweden's dominance of the Baltic. The Russian tsar, Peter the Great, has merely retired wounded in 1700.

Peter has made much of the intervening years. He has founded St petersburg as a new Russian base on the Baltic, and he has profited from Charles's southern campaigns to move his own armies down the coast. In 1704 he captures Narva, which he failed to take in 1700. When Charles enters Saxony, in 1706, Peter moves a large Russian army down the Baltic coast and across the Polish border.

Peace negotiations continue for three years after the death of Charles XII, and the final terms are a disaster for Sweden compared to the high hopes raised early in the war. Most of the Swedish possessions on the southern coast of the Baltic are now ceded to Prussia and to Hanover. And the commercial advantage of free passage through the St petersburg for Swedish goods is surrendered.

But the greatest blow is Sweden's loss to Russia. By the treaty of Nystad, in 1721, Peter the Great obtains the east Baltic coast from Vyborg down to Riga (a stretch in which he has already built himself St petersburg). With these advantages Russia replaces Sweden as the leading power in the Baltic.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Sweden and Russia: AD 1707-1711

In the autumn of 1707 Charles XII moves northeast from Saxony with an army of almost 40,000 men. His intention is to move towards Moscow during the summer of 1708, forcing Peter to withdraw from the Baltic to defend his capital. The plan is frustrated by Peter's strategy of avoiding a pitched battle while devastating the countryside between the advancing Swedish army and Moscow. By the autumn of 1708 Charles XII is forced to turn south into the Ukraine in search of food.

The winter of 1708-9 is unusually cold even for these inhospitable regions. It is a much reduced Swedish army, of some 18,000 men, which finally comes to grips with the Russians in July 1709 at Poltava.

The engagement is the first major disaster in Charles's brilliant military career. With almost the whole Swedish army either captured or killed, Charles himself escapes south into Turkish territory. He immediately enters negotiations with the Turks, who share his hostility to the Russians and are eager to recover Azov.

Charles summons a new army from Sweden, to provide his share of an anti-Russian alliance with Turkey. It never arrives, but the Turks on their own defeat Peter the Great in 1711 at the Prut river. In the ensuing negotiations Peter agrees to return Azov - and considers himself to have escaped lightly in giving no concessions at all to Sweden, as Turkey's supposed ally.

Final years of the war: AD 1714-1721

After three years of frustrating diplomacy, Charles XII makes his way back from Turkey to Swedish territory in 1714. With the permission of the Austrian emperor he rides incognito through Habsburg and imperial lands to the Baltic coast in Pomerania, completing the journey in fourteen days.

In his absence Sweden's Baltic empire has been encroached upon on all sides. A peace settlement is clearly now inevitable, but while preparing for it Charles rebuilds Sweden's army. By the autumn of 1718 he has assembled 60,000 men. He is putting them to their first test, in an invasion of Norway, when he is killed by a musket shot.

Peace negotiations continue for three years after the death of Charles XII, and the final terms are a disaster for Sweden compared to the high hopes raised early in the war. Most of the Swedish possessions on the southern coast of the Baltic are now ceded to Prussia and to Hanover. And the commercial advantage of free passage through the Sound for Swedish goods is surrendered.

But the greatest blow is Sweden's loss to Russia. By the treaty of Nystad, in 1721, Peter the Great obtains the east Baltic coast from Vyborg down to Riga (a stretch in which he has already built himself St petersburg). With these advantages Russia replaces Sweden as the leading power in the Baltic.

Hats and Caps: AD 1720-1772

The death of the unmarried Charles XII without an heir leaves the Swedish monarchy in as weak a state as the nation. Charles's brother-in-law is elected to the throne in 1720, as Frederick I, but the political effect of the change is to give more power to Sweden's parliament, the riksdag. This ancient institution now evolves along lines similar to the British pattern, with policy contested between organized parties.

Here, the equivalents of Whigs and tories go by equally strange descriptions. The two parties are the Hats and the Caps. The Hats take their name from military headgear; they believe in an aggressive policy to recover Sweden's empire. The Caps, more peacefully inclined, are named from nightcaps.

At the riksdag of 1738 the Hats become the dominant party, and they hold power until 1765. Their military policy does little good to Sweden, which becomes increasingly subservient to Russia. Their main achievement is progressively to weaken the power of the monarch. Indeed during the reign of Adolphus Frederick, the elected heir of Frederick I, the ruling senate makes use of a stamp duplicating the king's signature to avoid his personal involvement in the nation's business.

Foreign powers attempt to influence Sweden's policy, by paying large subsidies to help either the Hats or Caps into power. The bribing of Sweden's political parties becomes part of a wider European conflict.

France supports the Hats, hoping to win the alliance of a militant Sweden. France's enemies (in particular Britain, Prussia and Russia) subsidise the Caps with the intention of keeping an inert Sweden on the sidelines.

The two squabbling and corrupt factions damage Sweden both at home and abroad. The situation is not resolved until Gustavus III succeeds his father Adolphus Frederick in 1771. He is as forceful as his father was feeble. In a coup d'état of 1772 he persuades the Stockholm garrison to arrest all the members of the ruling council of state. He then presents the riksdag with a new constitution bringing executive power back into royal hands. It is unanimously accepted.

Gustavus III: AD 1772-1792

Gustavus, ending half a century of chaotic parliamentary government, uses very effectively the power which he has reclaimed for the throne. He is a ruler of his own time - the Enlightened despot, cultured, a generous patron of the arts (and himself a dramatist), well-meaning, eager to be strong in causes which he believes to be right.

The legal system is reformed, torture is abolished, religious toleration is introduced, as also is freedom of the press. Steps are taken to soften the impact of the poor laws and to improve trade and the national finances.

In such measures Gustavus is following policies very similar to those of contemporaries such as the emperor Joseph ii. But unlike other European rulers of the period, Gustavus has acquired his power at the expense of a political class which has become accustomed to having its own way. The nobility are particularly affronted by his actions. On a dramatic occasion the king falls victim to their grievances.

On 16 March 1792 Gustavus goes to a midnight masquerade in Stockholm's opera house. During it an officer, a member of a conspiracy, shoots him in the back - a sensational event which Verdi later dramatizes in his opera Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball).

Gustavus IV: AD 1792-1809

The assassination of the king brings to the throne his 13-year-old son as Gustavus IV. After a regency of only four years, he takes power into his own hands in 1796 - at a time when all European nations are confronting the threat posed by a revolutionary and expansionist France.

Gustavus at first attempts to preserve Swedish neutrality, joining in 1800 the short-lived League of armed neutrality (Sweden withdraws in May 1801, a month after Nelson's destruction of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen). By 1805 Gustavus's sentiments have turned against Napoleon. In that year he joins Britain, Russia and Austria in the Third coalition.

Gustavus remains an ally of Britain for longer than any other nation in the Third coalition, and in doing so harms Sweden's interests. The Russian tsar, changing sides to become an ally of Napoleon at Tilsit in 1807, has designs upon Sweden's valuable province of Finland.

When France and Russia together demand that Sweden join them in war against Britain, Gustavus refuses to do so. Russia immediately invades Finland, in February 1808. The Swedes mount a campaign in defence of their frontier, and during 1808 Swedish and Finnish forces win several minor victories. But by the end of the year the Swedes are forced to abandon the region.

By now there is so little support in Sweden for Gustavus that a coup against him by army officers, in March 1809, meets no resistance. Gustavus is seized in his royal apartments and is soon deported, with his immediate family, to Germany (he lives in exile until his death in 1837).

The crown is offered by the riksdag to Gustavus's uncle, as Charles XIII, on condition that he accepts a new constitution. He does so, but his election as monarch brings an immediate further problem. He is sixty-one and childless. The riksdag's first choice as his heir is a Danish prince, but the young man dies in 1810. The next choice is bold and surprising.

Sweden is now an ally of France, having made peace in January 1810. One of Napoleon's marshals has impressed Swedish observers by his administration of Baltic coastal regions and by his humane treatment of Swedish prisoners. He is Jean Bernadotte, son of a French lawyer, linked by marriage to Napoleon's family, and in 1806 created prince of the tiny Italian state of Pontecorvo.

Bernadotte recognizes an interesting new career opportunity when he is offered, in August 1810, the position of Swedish crown prince

Charles XIV: AD 1810-1844

Bernadotte arrives in Sweden in October 1810, having adopted the Lutheran faith and a pair of Swedish names - Carl Johan. The existing king is feeble and often ill, so from the start Bernadotte acts in effect as regent. For the next two years Sweden remains a passive ally of France against Britain. But in 1812 Bernadotte makes a bold decision. It shows him willing to place new loyalties above old, and capable of a shrewd assessment of his new country's best interests.

The hope in Sweden is that he will recover Finland from Russia. Instead, he reasons that Norway is a more desirable acquisition. And with France and Russia at war again from 1812, he sees a way of achieving his end.

Denmark, the kingdom to which Norway is attached, is like Sweden an ally of France. Bernadotte resolves to change sides - a course of action made diplomatically easier when Napoleon, in January 1812, seizes Sweden's province of Pomerania on the southern shore of the Baltic.

Bernadotte makes an alliance first with Russia, in April 1812, and then in March and April 1813 with Britain and Prussia. He even receives a British subsidy for his planned attack on Denmark. The allies insist on his bringing a Swedish army to join the great campaign against Napoleon in the summer of 1813. But after the victory at Leipzig, in October, Bernadotte is free to turn his attention to his intended target.

He marches into the southern Danish province of Holstein and before the end of the year forces Denmark's submission. In the treaty of Kiel, in January 1814, he achieves his purpose. Norway is ceded to Sweden. It requires a subsequent invasion of Norway to ensure local acceptance of this change, but by the end of 1814 the king of Sweden (still Charles XIII) is also king of Norway.

Charles XIII dies in 1818 and Bernadotte becomes king of both nations with the official title of Charles XIV John.

The adventurer who has won his first chances during the French Revolution proves a somewhat reactionary monarch. But by the time he dies, as a grand old man of eighty-one in 1844, he is a popular figure in Sweden. And the Bernadotte dynasty from France is still, at the end of the 20th century, the Swedish royal family.

During the 19th century their founder's greatest achievement, the winning of Norway, presents many problems. Ruling two neighbouring kingdoms, officially equal and independent, is a difficult balancing act. It becomes, until 1905, the main political theme in both Norway and Sweden.

Norway and Sweden: AD 1814-1905

Both Norway and Sweden benefit from a 19th century which is free of wars. They can concentrate instead on developing their substantial natural resources. Industry is established, railways are built, and in Sweden the Göta canal is completed in 1832 - enabling sea-going ships to cross the entire peninsula, over a distance of some 300 miles, from Göteborg to a point south of Stockholm in the Baltic.

But politically the attention of both countries is focused, above all, on the problems resulting from the union of the two crowns.

The Swedes, more numerous than the Norwegians, with a long and often glorious history as an independent kingdom, are convinced that they are the senior partner. They view Norway almost as a neighbouring colony, acquired by conquest.

The Norwegians, in contrast, have it in writing that they are equal and independent - in the terms agreed in 1814. Moreover the constitution which they devised for themselves in that year includes a storting, or parliament, based on a franchise broad for its time. All peasants owning their land, or renting it for more than five years, have a vote. The storting is able to provide an articulate expression of popular resentment against any sign of Swedish hegemony.

The grounds for complaint are numerous. The shared king lives mainly in Sweden and is represented by a viceroy in Norway. The very existence of this office is offensive. To make matters worse, it is occupied until 1829 by a Swede.

Offence derives also from other issues of the kind which invariably inflame nationalist sensiblities - what design of flag is to be flown on ships of the two kingdoms, what is to be the first language of documents, is the ruler to be described as the king of Sweden and Norway or of Norway and Sweden?

The Bernadotte monarchs themselves (Oscar I, 1844-59; Charles XV, 1859-72; Oscar II, 1872-1905) are eager to soothe ruffled Norwegian feelings on most of these issues. But they often find their wishes frustrated by a strong nationalist reaction in Sweden.

Diplomatic representation is the issue which provokes the final crisis. It has always been accepted that foreign affairs are the king's personal responsibility, but one result of this is that diplomats representing the two kingdoms have usually been Swedish - and foreign ministers invariably so.

During the 1890s Norwegian demands for equal representation in diplomacy gradually evolve into a campaign for a separate Norwegian consular service. In March 1905 the Norwegian storting passes a bill unilaterally establishing such a service. When Oscar II refuses to sanction the bill, the storting responds with another dissolving the union with Sweden.

Many in Sweden urge strong action against the rebels, but the king - with the support of liberals in the riksdag - proposes a referendum on the issue in Norway. The result is 368,208 votes in favour of ending the union, and only 184 against. In October 1905 Oscar II relinquishes the crown of Norway.

This History is as yet incomplete.

This History is as yet incomplete.
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