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About this book

The history of Sweden in the seventeenth century is perhaps one of the most remarkable political success stories of early modern Europe. Little more than a century after achieving independence from Denmark, Sweden - an impoverished and sparsely-populated state - had defeated all of its most fearsome enemies and was ranked amongst the great powers of Europe.

In this book, which incorporates the latest research on the subject, Paul Douglas Lockhart:

- surveys the political, diplomatic, economic, social and cultural history of the country, from the beginnings of its career as an empire to its decline at the end of the seventeenth century
- examines the mechanisms that helped Sweden to achieve the status of a great power, and the reasons for its eventual downfall
- emphasises the interplay between social structure, constitutional development, and military necessity

Clear and well-written, Lockhart's text is essential reading for all those with an interest in the fascinating history of early modern Sweden.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Sixteenth-Century Inheritance

Abstract
In 1523, Sweden was a newly autonomous kingdom, poor and devoid of a bureaucratic structure; existing only in the shadow of its more powerful neighbors, its future status as an independent state seemed very unlikely. A century and a quarter later, Sweden was the predominant power in the Baltic and a guarantor of the Peace of Westphalia alongside its ally France. To be sure, it could be argued that the application of the label ‘great power’ to seventeenth-century Sweden is of questionable validity. Certainly Sweden never dominated European politics in the manner of Philip II’s Spain. Yet for nearly three decades it came very close. Its actions in the last half of the Thirty Years’ War, and for twelve years after the war’s close, determined the fate of other nations, and its diplomatic and military reach extended some distance beyond the horizons of its Baltic environs. Any academic distinction between what constitutes a ‘major power’ and what makes a major power ‘great’ is necessarily subjective, but given the weight of Sweden’s international influence between 1632 and 1660 it seems fair to rank Sweden among the great powers of Europe.
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 2. The Reign of Gustav II Adolf

Abstract
No Swedish sovereign has equaled Karl IX’s son and successor, Gustav II Adolf (1611–32), in overall reputation. Indeed, few European monarchs of the seventeenth century — with the exception of Louis XIV — rival Gustav Adolf in this regard. Even among the most casual students of the early modern period, Gustav II Adolf is one of those few statesmen who enjoys instant name-recognition. Long before the appearance of the twentieth-century biographies of the king by Nils Ahnlund, Génter Barudio, and — most eloquently — by Michael Roberts, Gustav Adolf’s immortality within European historiography was assured by a plethora of biographies, some of them more akin to hagiography than they are to serious historical literature. To his nineteenth-century admirers, Gustav II Adolf was simultaneously Old Testament warrior-king, practitioner of Realpolitik, and savior of European Protestantism. Even in recent survey texts of the early modern period and of the history of Western Civilization in general — genres that tend to brush off Scandinavian developments as ‘peripheral’ — Gustav Adolf is practically the only major Scandinavian figure who appears with any regularity. In short, Gustav Adolf has become, in Western eyes as well as in Swedish popular historiography, synonymous with the apogee of Swedish power and with seventeenth-century Scandinavia in general.
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 3. Sweden on the World Stage: The Foreign Policy of Gustav II Adolf

Abstract
Sweden had been an imperial power, intentionally or not, ever since it acquired Estonia during the reign of Johan III. It was the reign of Gustav II Adolf, however, that marked the point at which Swedish foreign policy actively sought the creation of a Baltic empire, and at which the Vasa state first demonstrated the capability to pursue such an aim with success. It was also the point at which Sweden became a great power in contemporary estimation. Prior to this, in the eyes of European statesmen, other states had held the honor of being perceived as the primary Baltic power: first Poland-Lithuania, then Denmark. By 1629, Denmark’s star had fallen visibly; by 1632, Gustav Adolf would be hailed as the new champion of Protestant Europe; by 1644, there was no question that Sweden ruled the northeast. The groundwork for this latter development can be attributed directly to Gustav Adolf and Axel Oxenstierna.
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 4. The Interregnum and Queen Christina, 1632–54

Abstract
The death of Gustav Adolf at Lützen dealt a tremendous blow to the Swedish War effort in Germany. The king’s death could not be said to have happened at his moment of triumph, for it came as his strategic plan for 1632 was clearly falling apart. Tilly was dead, Bavaria lay in ruins, and Saxony was safeguarded for the time being; but the enemy forces, in Bavaria and Saxony, were hardly destroyed. It was the king’s ignominious end itself, however, that most hurt the Swedes and their allies. After Breitenfeld, Gustav Adolf had become the very personification of the Protestant and anti-Habsburg cause, and his death robbed that cause of its most celebrated champion to date. Conversely, Sweden’s enemies had good reason to celebrate the king’s passing, even if it came at the cost of a battle. Ferdinand II and his allies took heart at the news; and though Christian IV of Denmark may have lamented the passing of his old rival, it gave him the opportunity he craved to recreate a Danish imperium in the Lower Saxon Circle of the empire. Fortunately, Gustav Adolf had trained highly skilled subordinates, both civil and military, who would manage to keep the faltering military effort from falling apart over the next four critical years.
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 5. The Swedish ‘Power State’: Society, Culture, and the Burden of War

Abstract
The seventeenth century is frequently described as an age of ‘crisis’. Though historians have hardly come to any consensus as to what that entails, few scholars would deny that — for much of Europe — the century was characterized by economic contraction rather than growth. The salient features of the late sixteenth-century European economy — rapid population growth, a decline in agricultural productivity, rampant inflation — combined with the growing demands of the state and of war to produce a volatile economic situation by the middle of the next century. The result of this equation, together with the overall destructive nature of the Thirty Years’ War, was considerable social and political upheaval.
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 6. Proto-absolutism or ‘Military Monarchy’? The Brief Reign of Karl X Gustav, 1654–59

Abstract
The dynastic shift that came with Queen Christina’s decision to abdicate in 1654, without an heir of her own body to continue the Vasa line, did not result in any great political crisis. That it did not do so owed, in part, to the loyalty of the nobility, who saw state service and not political self-interest as their primary obligation; in equal measure, it owed to the sturdy dependability of the lower orders, who despite the deep and justified grievances which they aired at the 1650 Riksdag were still obedient subjects, whether that obedience stemmed from the populist traditions of the Vasa house or because habits of deference had simply been beaten into them by the exigencies of a state at war. Christina herself must take some of the credit, too. She was not, perhaps, quite so dedicated to the welfare of the Swedish state as her father had been or her chancellor was, but she was conscientious and responsible enough to ensure that she would have a competent and popular successor.
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 7. The Swedish Empire in Louis XIV’s Europe, 1660–79

Abstract
Had the plans of Karl X Gustav come to full fruition, they would have amounted to something bordering on a diplomatic revolution. If Denmark had succumbed to the post-Roskilde onslaught, it could have been incorporated into the Swedish empire; if the war with Poland had ended favorably, the Swedish spoils in the south central Baltic rim would have included Royal Prussia at the very least. But Sweden could not attain either of these goals; the forces ranged against it were simply too great. Nor was Sweden able to maintain its tentative footholds outside Europe. The ‘New Sweden’ colony established in 1638 along the banks of the Delaware, in the present-day American states of New Jersey and Delaware, had failed shortly after Karl Gustav’s succession. The colony had expanded and prospered, albeit modestly, under the capable direction of Governor Johan Printz. When Printz’s successor, the more aggressive Johan Rising, attempted to seize Dutch settlements encroaching on the Delaware Valley, he sealed the fate of New Sweden. Dutch colonial forces retaliated in 1655, taking the main settlement at Fort Christina and dissolving the colony. The tolerant Dutch administration allowed, even encouraged, the Swedish settlers to stay, and most of them did so; but New Sweden, as a crown colony, was no more. Cabo Corso, an outpost on Africa’s Gold Coast seized from Portugal by Louis de Geer’s Swedish-based trading company in 1655, fared no better, and fell to the Dutch in 1663.1
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 8. The Swedish ‘Absolutist’ State, 1679–97

Abstract
Until relatively recently, historians rarely debated the utility of the terms ‘absolutism’ or ‘absolute monarchy’ when discussing the European state of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There was little need to define what was meant by ‘absolutism’, since it was readily apparent. One recognized absolutism when one saw it: Louis XIV’s France was an absolutist state, while England after the Glorious Revolution most definitely was not. Over the past two or three decades, however, historians of early modern Europe have begun to retreat from this self-assured if vague position. Some, like Nicholas Henshall, do not see a fundamental constitutional difference between the princely autocracies of the later sixteenth century and the ‘absolute monarchies’ of the next century.1 Others have avoided the debate altogether, focusing instead on alternative concepts in their attempts to explain the growth of central authority in most of the European polities between 1600 and 1750. In Scandinavia, for example, scholars have revived Otto Hintze’s concept of the ‘power state’ (Machtstaat), based around the argument that the development of strong and intrusive central government was based on the need to mobilize national resources to support the needs of a military establishment engaged in prolonged warfare. Scandinavian economic historians have emphasized changes in fiscal administration, perceiving in the seventeenth-century Nordic lands a deliberate shift from a central authority whose income derived primarily from crown lands (the ‘domain state’) to one whose main revenues came mostly from regular taxation (the ‘tax state’).
Paul Douglas Lockhart

Chapter 9. Epilogue

Abstract
Karl XII was a worthy successor to his taciturn but capable father. Though only 15 at the time of Karl XI’s passing in 1697, he was declared of age almost immediately, and hence Sweden avoided a potentially disruptive regency government. The young king was well educated, brighter than his father, but shared Karl XI’s love and aptitude for all things military.
Paul Douglas Lockhart
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