Political Anarchy in the Late Middle Ages
Continued political development in the late Middle Ages was filled with civil disputes and frequent regime changes. During certain periods, the Union kings were also recognized in Sweden: Christophers of Bavaria (1441–48), Kristian I (1457–64), Hans (1497–1501) and Kristian II (1520–23). Political power lay mainly with the supreme council aristocracy, which was, however, divided by bitter factional struggles. An important constellation was centered around the Oxenstierna and Vasa families. From the mid-1400s, the Axel Sons (of the Tott family) and the Trolle family also came to form a powerful faction, striving to maintain the Union.
A Swedish nobleman, Karl Knutsson (Farmer), was king in three rounds (1448–57, 1464–65 and 1467–70). During certain royal periods, the country was ruled by the governors. This office became of great importance after Karl Knutsson’s death. The three heads of state Sten Sture d.a. (1470–97, 1501–03), Svante Nilsson Sture (1504–11) and Sten Sture dy (1512–20) were all opponents of the Union. They developed the office into one which, in all but the name, was the king’s and thereby forbade Gustav Vasa’s kingdom. Sten Sture i.e. came to power after Karl Knutsson’s death, and in the battle of Brunkeberg in 1471 the Union king Kristian I and his Swedish ally were defeated. For a short period, Sten Sture’s opponents managed to get King Hans recognized in Sweden in exchange for a strong position for the council aristocracy. In the 1490s, war was added,
The conflicts with the Union King and the domestic opposition culminated under Sten Sture dy Kristian II, who worked for a more centralized state power, was allied with Archbishop Gustav Trolle, who was deposed in 1517 by Sten Sture dy Kristian II, defeated his Swedish opponents in 1520 and was subsequently recognized as Swedish King. In a large settlement with the opponents, in November 1520 he had to execute hundreds of people (see Stockholm’s massacre). This was followed by Gustav Vasa’s rebellion, the expulsion of Kristian II and the final collapse of the Nordic Union.
The political games of the Middle Ages were essentially settlements between the royal power and the leaders in spiritual and worldly salvation, often with the national council as a political power base. In the late Middle Ages, however, nonviolent groups became increasingly prominent as political actors. During the Engel breach rebellion and the ongoing civil war in the 15th century, the peasants played an important military role and could thus become a significant pressure group. Standing meetings, precursors to the Riksdag, with participants of representatives of peasants and bourgeoisie also had a certain importance, including in support of Sten Sture d.ä.
A growing central power
In order to reach a military decision in the fight against the king of the Union, Gustav Vasa turned to Lübeck and, with the help of it, was able to conquer Stockholm in 1523. The election of Gustav as king in June of that year became a guarantee for Lübeck for given loans and favorable trade privileges. This meant a strong dependence on Lübeck but also its support for a Swedish state outside a union. Before the threat of 1523 also deposited in Denmark Kristian II soon began a collaboration with the new king Fredrik I, whereby an attack by Kristian 1531 could be averted. The throne battle in Denmark after Fredrik’s death in 1533 (see the county’s feud) gave Sweden the opportunity to break Lübeck’s strong grip on trade. Relations with the new Danish king Kristian III were deepened by the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1541.
Domestic politics, Gustav Vasa’s early elaborate program to strengthen the central power had considerable difficulties to overcome. Sweden was still characterized by strong regional structures, by autonomous state corporations, with the council aristocracy as a counterpart to a strong prin- cipal power and by the economic weakness of the central power. A crucial step towards the dissolution of the old council front was Västerås meeting in 1527, where the nobility invested in the central power. The worldly power of the bishops was broken, and the revocation of the great revenue and property of the church began. When the reduction was completed about 15 years later, the krona’s economy had been significantly strengthened. A foundation was laid for central government offices, which, after foreign models, were modernized during the so-called German period 1538–42, at the same time as the krona’s legally justified requirements were tightened.The Dacke feud out in Småland in 1542 as the culmination of the regional protests that started with the valley uprising in 1524–25 and followed by new insurgency movements in Dalarna, Västergötland and Småland (1527, 1529, 1531, 1536 and 1539).
Since the Dacke rebellion was crushed in 1543, the road was open to a centrally controlled Sweden. Important steps in the continued strengthening of the central power became the Riksdag in Västerås in 1544, which made Sweden hereditary kingdom, the formation of a large, recruited military force and new fortifications, which tightened the grip on the kingdom. Particularly a group of leading noble men, the so-called royal kings, were involved in the central and regional power apparatus, where the Chamber exercised a strong control over the kingdom and its finances.
Despite a growing population, reflected by a strong colonization in the marginal areas since the end of the 14th century, the kingdom in 1560 had a maximum of 0.8 million residents. The character of a peasant community was strong, while the small towns accounted for less than 5 percent of the population. The mining, concentrated to Dalarna, Västmanland and Närke, was cherished by the krona and was responsible for most of the exports, mainly in the form of osmund iron.
The most striking feature of the national social structure in Europe was the dominance of self-sufficient peasants (tax farmers). In the 1520s, about 62 percent in the kingdom (45 in the “Swedish” part of the state) was self-sufficient, while the noble earth comprised 17 (24), the church earth 17 (25) and the crown earth 4 (6) percent of the farms. The reduction of church land meant that most of it went to the Crown or Gustav Vasa as a private person, while a smaller part went to nobles. Despite a limited numerical (400–500 adult males), the nobility, mainly in the Göta and Mälar landscapes, owned a lot of land, but with a great range between a small high-nobility group and an earth-poor knapadel. The Finnish landscapes, except in the south-west, and the northern ones were completely dominated by tax farmers.
The Reformation’s breakthrough in Sweden took place in several stages. The first at Västerås meeting in 1527 was driven by the fact that the king clearly saw the financial gains made possible by the Reformers’ proclamation. A definite break with the pope power and changes in doctrine and cult did not come until the 1530s (see Swedish Church). Another result of the early Reformation was cultural disarmament and isolation, which particularly affected the school system. However, contacts were maintained with German evangelical universities, and the ideals of humanism had a certain impact in domestic education, while Renaissance culture was mainly reflected in the construction activities of Erik XIV and Johan III.