Sweden’s history begins in the early Middle Ages. The Swedish core areas – Svealand and Götaland – were brought together under a common king in the 1100s. During the great power of the 17th century, Sweden had possessions all over the Baltic Sea. After the loss of Finland in 1809, Sweden’s borders have been as they are today. From 1814 to 1905 Sweden was in union with Norway.
Sweden was neutral during both World Wars, and built up a comprehensive welfare state and very high standard of living after World War II.
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Viking Age 800–1050
About Sweden’s history in the Viking Age and the early Middle Ages, the sources’ information is scarce, and often of questionable historical value. However, there must have been considerable expansion both outwardly, especially towards the southeast (the Viking voyages) and inwardly (the collection of Svealand and Götaland into one kingdom). This double expansion must be seen against the background of a comprehensive inner agrarian land that had begun before the Viking Age.
The population and political core area of the old Swear Kingdom was Uppland and other peoples such as Västmanland and Södermanland. In Uppland lay the old royal and national center Uppsala, and on an island in Lake Mälaren, Sweden’s first real city, Birka, grew up with long-distance links to Russia, the Caliphate, the British Isles and the continent to the south. The unusually numerous and, in part, large discoveries of Arabic, later also Western European coins in Sweden from this period, testify to an economic expansion period. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Sweden.
As early as the 8th century, Christian missionary activities were underway in Sweden (see Ansgar), but only in the 10th century under Olof Skötkonung and his son Anund Jakob did the Swedish kings become involved in the Christian ministry. For them it was a major goal to get set through the new faith as national religion.
But the older faith must have had strong roots among the people, especially in Svealand. As late as the 1070s, Adam of Bremen mentions the swords’ foremost cult center, the Uppsala head, and the regular blot there. It was not until the 1100s that the king succeeded in putting Christianity as the only permissible public cult in Sweden.
The national assembly was also a lengthy process in Sweden; only slowly did the landscapes turn into a larger unit. Many factors were involved: kings and earls’ own expansion of power, a gathering on army voyages and crusades to the east, the church’s organizational work, the expansion of the peasant community, consolidation and community order.
After protracted battles that are partly unknown, the landscape around Vättern emerged in a leadership role with Sverker 1 (the 1130s – about 1156). His successor, Erik the Holy, was of a different lineage, and about 1200 began a protracted throne battle between the descendants of the two, a battle that also included Danish kings and great men. During all this struggle and confusion, the church was organized according to a European pattern.
In 1164 Sweden got its own archbishop in Uppsala, and Erik the Holy became the patron saint of the country. The later division into dioceses also dates from this time. The first monasteries are to be established in Sweden the age of the elderly. The church received its first known free letter under Sverker the Younger (conviction). With the meeting in Skänninge in 1248, where Cardinal William of Sabina was present, the Swedish church can be considered as fully incorporated into the papal church system.
The king power and the peasants
The conflicts of faith did not cause any profound disturbances in Sweden’s social life. This shows, among other things, that the Swedish farmland was constantly expanding, as the place names show. The oldest preserved versions of the landscaping laws are, in the usual view, the Götalovs, which were written down in the 13th century. In addition to the landscape laws, some so-called landscape chroniclers are preserved. They represent the earliest examples of a national Swedish history writing.
From the landscaping laws we see that the village community had been given the organization that continued to exist for hundreds of years. The laws also provide us with the first information about the Swedish state constitution; it was Swear’s case to choose king, and during his Eriksgata he was “condemned to king” by the laymen on other things. The landscapes still had great independence. But despite all the internal strife, the trend was towards a stronger king and state power.
While the Swedish kings of the Viking Age did not apply much beyond the borders of their kingdom, we now find the royal Swedish leadership out on large enterprises. In 1101, the boundary between the three Nordic kingdoms was set during a meeting of the kings (Magnus Berrføtt, Inge Stenkilsson, Erik Ejegod) in Konghelle.
Finland comes under Sweden
Swedish expansion was now directed eastwards. Swedes the elder made a war against the Russians, the legend tells of a “crusade” to Finland by Erik the Saints, later several trains went to the Gulf of Finland, and at the same time Swedish settlement in southern Finland.
During the battle of the throne, the national government had increasingly moved to the earl, an office that had become hereditary in the Folkungeätten. By the middle of the 13th century, Sweden was firmly united and organized as a unified kingdom. When the last of Erik’s lineage died in 1250, Birger Jarl’s son, Valdemar, was elected king, but he stood under his father’s custody until his death in 1266. Birger again took up the conquest of politics in Finland, leaving the land of the taverns under Sweden. He also passed new laws on peace. Valdemar was forced out of the kingdom by his more capable brother Magnus Ladulås.
From ancient times, the king had summoned the king’s officers and chief officials to “conversations.” During Magnus, these council meetings got a firmer organization; the later powerful government was founded. We find the Lord and Marshal offices in his time as well. The village chiefs increasingly went on to become “men of the king and kingdom.” The Alsnö statute (c. 1280) provided tax exemption, salvation, for those who, at their own expense, did equestrian service with full armor. It was the origin of the values salvation (later called nobility), and illustrates the well-organized cooperation between king and nobility in Sweden.
From the end of the 1100s, iron mining began in mines (against formerly only ore), and under Magnus came German teachers in mining (Kopparberget and Bergslagen in central Sweden). Stockholm, founded in the middle of the 13th century, became the export port for its products. German citizens settled in Stockholm and other cities.
Magnus had understood how to make the great men of the kingdom the tools of the king’s power. When he died in 1290, leaving three incapable sons, Birger, Erik and Valdemar, things were different. The guardian, Torgils Knutsson, was initially an official administrator of the royal power. He introduced Christianity to the men of Finland and built Viborg. But after Birger had become an authority, Sweden was torn by a fight between the king and his brothers, Duke Valdemar and, above all, Duke Erik, and nobility factions that took a party for one or the other.
After the bishops and a group of nobles had Torgils Knutsson deposed and executed, the battle began in earnest between Birger and Duke Erik, later Håkon 5’s son-in-law, who acquired an independent principality on the Göta River from lands from all three kingdoms. In the battle between him and his brother, both Håkon and the Danish king Erik Menved were mixed.
Sweden was disintegrating as a kingdom when Birger captured the dukes by a coup; they later died in captivity. But their followers among the great men drove him out of the country and elected Duke Erik’s three-year-old son Magnus as king in 1319, the same year that he inherited Norway after his grandfather Håkon 5.
Union and national councils
With the custodian government in Magnus’s childhood began the empire that lasted the Middle Ages. The nobility’s leader, Mats Kettilmundsson, made a peace deal with Viborg as a peace with the Russians who for a long time set the boundaries.
Magnus’ reign was in many ways a time of prosperity for Sweden. After the Black Death (Swedish Digerdöden) in 1350, most of Sweden recovered relatively quickly. Sweden got its national law in 1347 through Magnus Eriksson’s national team and a new joint city law through his city team. In the royal bar of the national law it was stated that Sweden was an heirloom. During the national dissolution in Denmark in the 1320s, Magnus became lord of Skåne, Nord-Halland and Blekinge, and he ruled over the entire Scandinavian peninsula and Finland.
But it cost great sums to win Skåne, and when he sought to expand the king’s power, he got the great men against him. The new Danish country was lost again. Valdemar Atterdag included Gotland, who had paid taxes to the Swedish king since Magnus Ladulås’ time. The chiefs summoned Magnus’s sister, Albrecht of Mecklenburg, and elected him king in 1364. Neither Magnus nor his son, the Norwegian king Håkon 6, succeeded in regaining power throughout Sweden, only in some borderlands against Norway. The great men had been expecting a king they could master in Albrecht, and his power was never great. The nobility’s leader, the thirst for Bo Jonsson Grip, had Finland and a large part of Sweden under his control.
When Albrecht tried to expand his power with the help of Germans, and he, by Bo Jonsson’s death, wanted to change his armor and goods, the great men sought the covenant with Queen Margrete. Albrecht suffered defeat and was captured at Falköping. Sweden was united with Denmark and Norway in the Kalmar Union (1397).
But a protracted battle ensued, and Albrecht’s hijackers (the vitals) made the sea uncertain. It was not until 1398 that Stockholm fell into Margaret’s hands. Margrete understood with great statesman ability to centralize the board that her closest predecessors had unsuccessfully pursued. Likewise, she brought back to the crown large quantities of noble and ecclesiastical goods. She was careful not to employ anyone other than Swedes as civil servants in Sweden.
Erik of Pomerania (from 1412) did not have the same tactical abilities. His imposition of taxes as a result of the costly war on the Holstein counties, his war with the Hanseatic states which brought about a crisis in the mining operations, Germans and Danes in the bailiffs, interfered with the church’s autonomy – all this caused general dissatisfaction.
In 1434, riots broke out in Dalarna and Bergslagen under the leadership of a mountain man and a small savior, Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson. The rebellion was a public uprising, but the nobility and bishops sought to make the best of the situation, and filed a complaint against the king for breach of the royal bar of the national law. A meeting in Arboga in 1435, which has since officially been regarded as the first Swedish parliament, inaugurated Engelbrekt as hvvitsman. However, he was murdered the following year, and thus the public had lost his chieftain. The council’s leader, Karl Knutsson, now stood at the head of the opposition to the king. The councilors concluded a settlement with Erik, who secured their own interests, and they turned down the peasantry.
When Erik withdrew from the national board in 1438, Karl Knutsson was elected governor. But the Union interests within the nobility were strong, and the Council chose Christoffer of Bavaria as king. After Christoffer’s death (1448), the Swedes chose Karl Knutsson as king. He also had a party in Norway, but had to give way to Danish Christian 1. Likewise, the battle for the old trade hub Gotland ended with a victory for Christian. The war between Christian and Karl that followed was costly and led to dissatisfaction. Under the leadership of Archbishop Jöns Bengtsson (Oxenstierna) the gentlemen got up and got help from the crowd. Karl had to escape from the country (1457) and the union was restored. After prolonged war and confusion, Karl again became king (1467–1470), but almost exclusively in the name.
When Karl died, Sten Sture, the elder, was elected national governor. He fought back a new attack by Christian at Brunkeberg (1471), in which “good Swedish men”, that is, noblemen, fought on both sides, while a public outcry belonged to Sten Sture’s fighting forces. The post-war patriotic sentiment reflected that the Germans lost a right they had to occupy half of the city councils.
A few years after (1477) the University of Uppsala was established. The period from now until 1520 has been named after Sturene, Sten the elder, Svante Sture and Sten Sture the younger, all of whom were the national rulers. During this time, the struggle between an independence party that supported the Sturene continued and a union party that, owing to inter-Scandinavian genealogy and property interests, held the Kalmar Union. The nobles and the bishops also met with strong opposition, because their policy was to strengthen the government at the expense of the council and the great sheriffs.
In response to the nobility, Sturene kept in close contact with the peasant alms, and they could count on its support. Sten Sture the Elder was seated as governor of his death in 1503, only a few years he was expelled by King Hans and his followers. About 1480 the prince of Moscow subdued Novgorod, and in 1495 he besieged Viborg, but was beaten back and made peace in 1497.
Svante Sture claimed his position in a constant war against Denmark. Sten Sture the Younger, who ran a challenging monopoly policy, came into fierce conflict with the leader of the Union Party, the newly elected Archbishop Gustav Trolle. While it was on, Christian 2 made two unsuccessful attempts to win Sweden by force of arms. But the third time, during the Stockholm massacre in 1520, it succeeded. Sten Sture was mortally wounded.
Sweden’s period of power
Older vasa period 1521–1611
The massacre in Stockholm in November 1520, where around 80 prominent Swedish opponents of a Scandinavian union under Christian 2 were killed, had far-reaching consequences. Both the Danish king and the Swedish union circles were so compromised that it would be possible to gather together for a Swedish national kingdom. Gustav Eriksson Vasa now took up Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson’s and Sturen’s fight for Sweden’s independence.
All in January 1521 Gustav Vasa succeeded in bringing the people of Dalarna with him to a rebellion against Christian “tyrant”, and this rebellion then spread to several parts of the country. Envoys from all over Götaland then chose Gustav Vasa as governor in August 1521. With the support of warships and soldiers from Lübeck, one could then wage an effective fight against the Danish troops who withdrew after having to give up Stockholm and Kalmar. On a parliamentary day in Strängnäs in June 1523, Gustav Vasa was elected Swedish king.
Although the struggle against the Danish occupants and their Swedish aides was over, the new kingdom, national unity and the country’s independence were threatened from several sides. The country’s state finances were completely in disarray, and there was no organized government with officials and educated officials and officials. The debt burden of Lübeck was onerous, and the entire Swedish foreign trade was at the hands of the Hanseatic League.
The church continued to oppose a strong national government. In order to break the church’s position of power, Gustav Vasa got the parliament in Västerås (1527) to recognize the king as the head of the church. The Riksdag was also forced to agree that the proceeds from the extensive properties of the church and monasteries should accrue to the crown, which was also granted the right to take over the bishops’ castles and fortresses. Both this and subsequent land ownership encroachments provided over 60 percent of the country’s land in the following time. During the so-called Count’s Feast in 1534–1536, Gustav Vasa joined Lübeck’s opponents and succeeded in ending the great debt and foreign dominance of foreign trade.
Apart from a brief war with Russia in the late 1550s, Gustav Vasa’s reign was peaceful. However, he was keen to create a strong fleet and to build a powerful national army of peasant soldiers to relieve the German troops. During the first 20 years of his reign, there were several peasant raises, especially in Dalarna, not only because of discontent with high taxes, lack of certain consumer goods and bad coin, but also because many were opposed to the king’s attempt to make himself unequal.
After a successful peasant revolt in Småland and large parts of Götaland, the so-called Dackefeiden, Gustav Vasa gave up his plans for a complete reorganization of the national government in the direction of the monarchy. He was committed to improving the state’s finances and to facilitating business prosperity, not least the improvements in iron production so that higher prices for iron could be achieved, which gradually became an increasingly important Swedish export commodity.
Under Gustav Vasa’s son and successor Erik 14 (1560-1568), foreign policy became more active, and during the tense situation that arose when the German states of order (present Estonia and Latvia) disintegrated, Swedish troops occupied Reval and large parts of Estonia (1561). With this began a war and expansion period in Swedish history, which with few interruptions lasted for a hundred years. The occupation of Estonia led to war with Poland (ended in 1568). The attempt to gain control of trade in Russia was the cause of the Nordic Seven- Year War (1563-1570), when Denmark, in association with Poland and Lübeck, made a vain attempt to put an end to Swedish expansion in the Baltic Sea region.
On a parliamentary day in Arboga in 1561, Erik 14 strengthened his personal power when he ended his brothers’ almost independent principals (the so-called Arboga articles). As a result, King’s brother Johan made contact with Erik’s enemy, King Sigismund of Poland, married his sister Katarina Jagellonica and emerged as the king’s open opponent. Among the men there was strong dissatisfaction with the king’s personal rule. In order to prevent the uprising, Erik 14 struck a hard line, which has in the future been interpreted as a manifestation of morbid suspicion and persecution frenzy. He thus allowed the High Commission (established in 1561) to pass more than 300 death sentences on nobles. After the so-called The assassinations (1567), when Svante Sture and his two sons were killed, began a revolt that led to Erik being deposed and his brother Johan taking power.
John 3 was keen to establish a reconciliation between the Protestant and the Catholic Church, and on that occasion introduced a new liturgy (the Book of Red), which was a clear approach to the Catholic Church system. His son and successor Sigismund (Swedish king in 1599, Polish king in 1587-1632) was an avid supporter of the Catholic counter-Reformation, and therefore faced strong Swedish resistance. This was utilized by Gustav Vasa’s youngest son Duke Karl, which received Parliament’s support for an anti-Catholic and anti-Polish resistance line. The opposition was also largely directed at the high-ranking circles that supported Sigismund. After a brief war in 1598, Duke Karl overcame a Polish army at Linköping. In 1599 then the Riksdag in Stockholm declared Sigismund deposed, and Duke Karl was recognized as the reigning heiress. After a few years he then took the royal name.
The Great Power Period 1611–1718
Karl 9 planned to expand the Swedish territory in the north and create an Arctic Empire that included Finnmark, Troms and Nordland to Ofoten. At the same time, he wanted to make Sweden a leading Baltic sea power in a war against Russia. The Kalmar War (1611–1613) ended with Sweden abandoning its plans for expansion northward. The war against Russia was waged with greater success, and at the peace in Stolbova in 1617 all of Kexholm county and Ingermanland became Swedish.
The fighting against Russia had taught Gustav 2 Adolf (1611–1632), Karl 9’s son and successor, that if Sweden could expand and consolidate its position as a leading Baltic sea power, the army had to be reorganized and modernized. The infantry was henceforth recruited by discharge from the peasants, while riders and officers were permanently employed and laid out farms for maintenance. In addition, enlisted regiments were set up. Improved weapons and a new fighting technique prepared by the king also helped to make the Swedish army an effective tool for Gustav Adolf’s continued warfare, which was primarily aimed at Poland.
At the armistice in Altmark in 1629, Sweden gained control of the important ports at the outlets of Wisła and Nemunas; the high tariff revenues therefrom significantly funded the country’s further participation in the Thirty Years War. Among historians, there have been differing views on the motives for Gustav Adolf’s participation in the war in Germany. His own statements suggest that it was a coincidence of religious and political motives. He probably wanted to protect Protestantism, but felt that this could be best done by Sweden becoming such a powerful force that it could influence the development of Germany.
At Breitenfeld in 1631, Gustav Adolf won a total victory over the Emperor’s army led by Tilly, but at the battle of Lützen in 1632 (against Wallenstein’s troops) the king fell. The Swedish custodian government of Gustav Adolf’s daughter Kristina, led by Axel Oxenstierna, decided to continue the war, and under the command of significant field leaders, first Johan Banér and later Lennart Torstensson, the Swedish troops won big victories and fulfilled Gustav Adolf’s plan about Sweden as the leading Baltic sea power. At the peace in Brömsebro in 1645 the Swedes acquired, among others, Saaremaa (Ösel) and Gotland from Denmark, and the peace agreement of the Thirty Years War of 1648 gave Sweden the dominion over large areas of northern Germany with the mouths of the important rivers Oder, Elbe and Weser.
During Queen Kristina’s reign (1644–1654), the nobility continued to expand the power position it had begun from Gustav Adolf’s time. Under various forms, from full ownership to land tax revenue, the nobility gradually came to own two-thirds of the country’s farms. In 1654, Kristina abdicated in favor of her cousin Karl 10 Gustav, who was both keen to carry on Gustav Adolf’s plans for a Swedish Baltic Sea empire and to become king in a Scandinavian great state. The war against Poland ended with peace in Oliva in 1660, which secured the borders of the Swedish Baltic Sea Monarchy for a good time to come. At the peace in Copenhagen (1660), Sweden had to give up Trondhjems county and Bornholm, but managed to retain Skåne, Halland, Blekinge and Bohuslän (renounced by the peace in Roskilde in 1658).
After the wars in the 1670s (against Brandenburg and Denmark-Norway), the kingdom’s finances were in disarray, the navy was virtually destroyed and the army’s fighting power greatly reduced. This was the reason why the Riksdag in 1680 decided to investigate the activities of the custodian government during Karl’s minor. A parliamentary court then sentenced the custodians to pay substantial damages, and this was the beginning of a comprehensive withdrawal (reduction) of the grants and donations received by the nobility, both in Sweden itself and in the Baltic Sea provinces. The Reichstag in 1680–1682 gave the king power over the administration, and in 1693 recognized him as unanimous. The right of taxation should still remain with the Riksdag, it was only during war that the king was allowed to print taxes and raise loans.
This permission allowed Karl 11’s son and successor Karl 12 (1697–1718) to make frequent use of it. From 1700, Sweden was at war with most states around the Baltic Sea. During the Great Nordic War, Russia was to become the country’s most dangerous opponent. Karl 12, after the great victory at Narva (1700), failed to prevent Tsar Peter from reinforcing the Russian military force. The strength test at Poltava (1709) showed that Swedish troops could not prevent Russia from becoming the dominant Baltic sea power.
After the king returned to Sweden in 1715 (which he had left in 1700), he planned to conquer Norway. The first attack in 1716 was too poorly prepared for military service and had to be abandoned. During the second attack in 1718, Karl fell 12 (November 30) during the siege of Fredriksten fortress at Halden. It is possible that behind the attacks on Norway may be glimpsed a grand plan for a Swedish approach to Western Europe to gain support for the new Eastern European great power Russia. The new government under King’s sister Ulrika Eleonora certainly had such plans. But when it became clear that some Western European support could not be obtained, Sweden, by the peace in Nystad (Uusikaupunki) in 1721, also had to formally give up the Baltic provinces and parts of Karelia to Russia.
The period 1720-1866
The time of freedom 1720–1772
When Karl 12 had no heir, his sister had to summon the Reichstag to be elected queen. In 1720 she abdicated in favor of her grandson Fredrik of Hesse, who under the name Fredrik 1 was king until 1751. According to the new constitution adopted by the Reichstag in 1720 and 1723, monopoly was abolished and all power gathered at the four estates of the kingdom. All important issues were to be decided by a council of 16 members, where the king had only two votes. The council should be accountable to the stands. Among the many parliamentary committees that were to prepare the cases before coming up for consideration in the Riksdag, came the secretary committee(where the peasants were not represented) to take on a special position. All cases that were to be kept secret were settled there, such as foreign policy, defense and government finance matters.
Most of the stand representatives – except the peasants – were government officials, and so the so-called period of freedom (1720-1772) became also the golden age of bureaucracy. Until 1738, Arvid Horn was chancellor-president of the government, and it is he who primarily has the credit for this period’s peace policy, which aimed to avoid a new war against Russia. He was also interested in promoting trade and industry, and the country’s economic boom during these years was undoubtedly due primarily to his wise and cautious application of the mercantilist ideas.
Dissatisfaction with Arvid Horn’s foreign policy and the fact that he did not want to go far enough to support business, led to his resignation in 1738 as head of government. By this time, a two-party system had developed, namely the followers of Arvid Horn, who were called hats (night hats) and hats, who advocated a war against Russia to win back the lost Baltic Sea provinces. The hats that now took over the government entered into an alliance with France to obtain subsidies.
However, the war against Russia in 1741–1743 only resulted in the loss of further Finnish provinces northwest of St. Petersburg. Nor did the hats succeed in making Sweden the economic superpower they had dreamed of. Their industrial and trade policies, which were driven by mercantilist ideas, were almost unsuccessful, and contributed, together with the enormous expenses of the fruitless war against Prussia in 1757–1762, to inflation and state-financial collapse. Towards the end of the era, more liberal economic ideas began to take hold. Foremost among the champions of a freer economic system was Anders Chydenius, who advocated the same ideas as the contemporary Adam Smith in Scotland.
Freedom time has been called Sweden’s scientific heyday. They were particularly interested in scientific research, and the Riksdag appropriated large sums to promote such research. Several scientists of the time achieved European fame, including Christopher Polhem (engineer and inventor), Carl von Linné (botany), Anders Celsius (physics) and Carl Wilhelm Scheele (chemistry). In 1739, the Academy of Sciences was founded, and since then it has been the center of scientific research in Sweden.
After 1765, caps and hats changed power. The Mössorna, who had been a noble party during Arvid Horn’s time, now relied on the three inadmissible stands in the Riksdag. The hats now became the party of the nobles. A third party also began to assert itself, namely a court party that sought to expand the royal power. Alongside the bitter party riots, the independence of the country itself was threatened, with foreign powers interfering with Swedish politics by providing financial support to the parties. The Russian influence came to the fore after the masses took over the government.
To end this, Adolf Fredrik’s son and successor, Gustav 3 (1771–1792), decided in 1772 to make a coup d’état. The government was arrested, and the Riksdag adopted a new form of government that gave the king control over the government, but otherwise was almost an application of the doctrine of the distribution of power.
Gustavian period 1772–1809
Until 1786, Gustav 3 attempted to implement a series of reforms in the spirit of the enlightened monarchy (including the regulation on freedom of the press and religion). Following Turkey’s attack on Russia, Sweden also went to war (1788–1789) to conquer the lost Finnish provinces. One of the reasons the Swedish troops suffered defeat was a mutiny among noble officers (the Anjala League). The king used the popular vote against the nobility to force the parliament to adopt a supplement to the form of government, the so-called association and security act, which increased the king’s power and almost made it unanimous. To put through a constitutional change, a group of nobles decided to clear Gustav 3 of the road, and in 1792 he was shot during a masked ball at the opera.
The strong personal royal power, however, continued under the reign of Gustav 4 Adolf and after he himself had assumed power in 1796. During the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden remained largely neutral. However, following the collapse of the Neutrality Association, Gustav Adolf decided to approach England, which was the main market for Sweden’s most important export commodity, iron. In 1805, the country then joined the third coalition against Napoleon. After the peace in Tilsit, Sweden came to war with both Russia and Denmark-Norway in 1808. All before the end of the year, the Swedish troops had to withdraw from Finland. Gustav Adolf was made chiefly responsible for the military defeats.
The Last Time of the Standing Society 1809-1866
After a group of civilian officials and officers had captured the king in March 1809, the Reichstag declared him deposed. On June 6, 1809, the Riksdag adopted a new constitution, which reduced the personal royal power and gave the Riksdag a stronger position. Karl 13 (1809-1818), Gustav 4 Adolf’s uncle, was elected new king. Prince Christian August was appointed as a successor to the throne (he took the name Karl August in Sweden), which was very popular in Norway, in the hope that this would get Norway separated from Denmark and united with Sweden.
Following the sudden death of Karl August in May 1810, a parliament in Örebro elected French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte to a new throne under the name Karl Johan. From his arrival in Sweden in October 1810, he was the real leader of Swedish politics. Recognizing that it would be impossible to conquer Finland from Russia, he signed a treaty with the United Kingdom in March 1813, promising Norway that Sweden would take part in the final battle against Napoleon. After the Battle of Leipzig, Karl Johan allowed the Swedish troops to march against Denmark, which, at the peace in Kiel on January 14, 1814, was forced to renounce Norway.
Swedish policy towards Norway later this year was undoubtedly dictated by Karl Johan and was in accordance with his own personal plans. By accepting the main content of the Eidsvoll Constitution, he – without the use of military means – became a legal heir to the Norwegian throne. This would give him a more independent position in Sweden, while at the same time hoping to influence liberal circles in France. Karl Johan had, and continued to have, plans to have wide French circles come in for him as King of France.
Karl Johan’s reign (1818-1844) was characterized by a strong personal and conservative government, where he managed to free the government from the influence of the Riksdag and make it a tool for the royal power. From the 1820s, however, a liberal opposition emerged that received such strong support that the Riksdag in 1840 succeeded in implementing the so-called ministry of government, which gave the government a more independent position vis-à-vis the king. There followed a period of liberal reforms, which continued under Karl Johan’s son Oscar 1 (1844–1859). Important reforms include equal rights of succession for men and women, better poverty care and a more humane prison and penal code.
During Karl 15 (1859-1872), reform work continued; Thus came the Act of Extended Local Self-Government in 1862.
The modern breakthrough 1866-1945
Industrialism and parliamentarism 1866–1920
At the Reichstag reform of 1866, Stendriksdag was replaced by a Parliament with two chambers. The members of the First Chamber were elected indirectly by the county councils (county councils) and the city councils of the largest cities. The members of the Andra Chamber were to be elected by direct election, but the census provisions were so strict that only 5.5 percent of the population got the right to vote.
Parliamentary reform of 1866 marked the end of an over 20-year reform period. Two major issues came to dominate Swedish domestic politics in the period leading up to the turn of the century, namely the demand for a restructuring of the basic tax and a desire to abolish the old army system (division) with a larger and better trained army of conscripts. It was the first chamber that demanded a military reorganization and modernization of the defense, while the second chamber refused to agree to this unless the old tax system with basic taxes was reformed. It was not until 1892 that both chambers could agree on the successive tax lapse in connection with a reorganization of the army organization. In 1901, one step was taken fully and an army organization based solely on general military service was introduced.
The steeply falling grain prices on the world market in the 1880s would become crucial in Swedish political history. The fierce controversy that erupted between protectionists and free traders led the Lantmanna Party, which had been the leading party in the Second Chamber, to be blown up in 1887. The supporters of free trade erupted and became the core of a liberal party, the Liberal Assembly, which was founded in 1900 and everything in 1903 became the largest party in the second chamber. Against the Liberal Party and a Social Democratic Labor Party (founded in 1889) stood the Conservative Lantmann party (Högern).
Until the end of the 19th century, foreign policy was seen as the king’s personal domain. Everything like Crown Prince Karl Johan had concluded a treaty with Russia on his own against a so- called unanimous opposition. This Russian-oriented foreign policy continued throughout the remainder of Karl Johan’s reign. But Oscar 1, by the November Treaty of 1855, got Swedish foreign policy oriented to the Western powers (Britain and France).
The question of a Scandinavian union was central from the mid-1850s, but after the Danish-German war in 1864, all hopes of getting Denmark affiliated to the Swedish-Norwegian union were ended. During the war between Prussia and Austria in 1866 and during the Franco-German war in 1870-1871, Sweden was officially neutral, although Karl 15 sympathized with France. Oscar 2 (1872-1907), on the other hand, was mightily impressed by the new German Empire under Otto von Bismarck management, and began a restructuring of Sweden’s foreign policy course. From the mid-1870s a close friendship with Germany was the most important element of Swedish foreign policy, which became even more evident as the fear of Russia increased in the 1890s. It is possible that the King’s German-oriented foreign policy was to some extent also dictated by a fear of separatist currents in Norway.
The union with Norway greatly influenced the political development in Sweden. The coup d’état, which in Norway became a powerful stimulus for Johan Sverdrup’s fight for parliamentarism and expanded national government, led in Sweden that the government – supported by the Riksdag – strengthened its position vis-à-vis the royal power. In 1905, the Union question came again to intervene in Swedish politics. The dissolution of the union with Norway was also at the same time a restriction on the king’s power. A government from the majority parties in the Riksdag was appointed to lead the negotiations with Norway. Thus, Sweden had followed the example of Norway and Denmark and taken the decisive step in parliamentarism.
Most of the farmers had become self-owners during the 18th century. At the same time, there developed a numerous proletariat in rural areas, consisting of cotters (torpare), inner ester (backstugusittare), farm workers (statare) and daglønnere (partly sectioned soldiers). The Act of 1827 on Replacement (made change) contributed significantly to more efficient agriculture and to such extensive new eradication that Sweden from around the mid-1800s became self-sufficient in grain. In the period 1815–1900, the population increased from 2.1 million to 5.1 million, although as many as 825,000 emigrated – substantially to the United States – during the period 1840–1900.
Economic liberalism really struck through the middle of the 19th century. Johan August Gripenstedt, who was Minister of Finance 1856–66, became the leader and driving force in the pursuit of freer economic legislation. The industrial revolution came relatively late to Sweden. It was not until the 1870s that new inventions and better production methods in iron and steel production and a beginning machine industry laid the foundation for the country’s transition from a predominantly agricultural country to a modern industrial state.
After the election to the Second Chamber in 1905, Liberal leader Karl Staaff formed his first government. When his proposal for voting reform was rejected by the Riksdag, he went all out in 1906. His successor, the conservative Arvid Lindman, presented a new proposal, which was finally adopted in 1909. It meant not only virtually universal suffrage for men, but a radical democratization of all political life. In 1911, the first Second Chamber election after the voting expansion led to great progress for the Social Democrats at the expense of the Conservatives, and Staaff formed his second government.
Business was growing strongly at this time. This was particularly true of the wood processing industry, which introduced increasingly advanced technology. A similar development took place in the ironworks, while the workshop industry still played a relatively modest role. Both Staaff and Lindman took the initiative on a number of social reforms, such as the Workers’ Protection Act (1912) and General Pension (1913). Nevertheless, the first time after 1905 was marked by a strong social unrest that peaked with the 1909 strike.
As the contradictions between the great powers intensified, the defense question came to play a key role in Swedish politics. Staaff went in for an intermediate solution. When Gustav 5 (1907–1950) openly took a stand for the defense friends, Staaff resigned in February 1914 (see Bondetoget). He was followed by the conservative Hjalmar Hammarskjöld.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Sweden declared itself neutral, and the parties to the Riksdag entered into a bailout. But Hammarskjöld’s neutrality policy, which leaned against Germany, caused great dissatisfaction in the United Kingdom. This went beyond the already difficult Swedish supply situation, and criticism of the government grew. In 1917 Hammarskjöld had to resign, and after the second election that same year, the Liberal and Social Democrats formed a coalition government, Sweden’s first fully parliamentary government. Foreign policy became the big problem in the winter of 1918 with the civil war in Finland. Sweden recognized the “white” regime as the independent Finnish legal government, but refused to give it official weapons assistance. An attempt to get the Åland Islandsunder Swedish sovereignty was rejected by the League of Nations in 1921.
The interwar period
Like Europe, in the first interwar years, Sweden was characterized by political and social turmoil, with considerable unemployment and severe labor disputes. But the reform work did not stop. In 1919, women and men were granted general and equal voting rights. At the same time, the 8-hour day was introduced into the working world. In party politics, Social Democrats led through virtually the entire interwar period. They had the leading group in the Riksdag, and they sat with the government more often and longer than any other party, first under Hjalmar Branting and later under Per Albin Hansson. Despite largely increasing support from elections to elections, they still did not achieve a majority in the Riksdag. On the other hand, the Conservatives (Högern, from the 1969 Moderate Assembly Party) went), and the unifying Liberal Party, the People’s Party (founded in 1934, from the 2015 Liberals), steadily returned, while the Bondeförbundet (from the 1957 Center Party), which emerged as agriculture’s joint political organization in 1921, had limited growth. The competition between these parties led to unstable parliamentary conditions.
A reversal came in 1932 when Per Albin Hansson, after a Social Democratic electoral victory, formed his first government. Its main task was to combat the serious effects the new international economic crisis had on Sweden, first in agriculture and then in industry. Hard labor conflicts had followed in their tracks with bloody clashes between workers and the military (Ådalen in May 1931). In order to achieve effective countermeasures, in 1932 Hansson entered into an agreement with the Bondeförbundet on funds to combat unemployment and strengthen the position of agriculture (the “cow trade”). After the election to the Second Chamber in 1936, the agreement was continued through the formation of a coalition government between the two parties.
New social reforms were implemented (voluntary state-subsidized unemployment benefit in 1934, improved national insurance in 1935 and 1937, statutory two-week vacation in 1938), and general wealth in 1939 rose to 60 percent above the 1920 level. The background was the continued economic progress. After an unstable period during the first interwar years with partly high unemployment (163,000 in 1922), the recovery started in earnest around 1933. This was primarily the timber processing industry, which in 1938 accounted for as much as 26 percent of Swedish exports. But the ironworks industry also progressed significantly after the electric steel process had broken through, and the engineering industry began to make a strong impression, not least through large companies such as the Svenska Kullagerfabriken, Bofors and Götaverken. In contrast, the place of agriculture in the business world became increasingly modest.
Sweden joined the League of Nations in 1920 and took an active part in Nordic co-operation within its framework. After the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933, the foreign policy climate also became harder for Sweden. The government followed the League of Nations resolution on sanctions against Italy during the war against Ethiopia in 1935, but when this action failed, the Swedish government – like so many others – rescinded its sanction obligations. In return, Sweden tried to establish closer security policy cooperation in the Nordic countries or at least a joint Swedish-Finnish defense of the Åland Islands, but these efforts were particularly hampered by Soviet resistance. By contrast, Sweden’s own military preparedness was significantly strengthened on the basis of a new defense regime in 1936.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Sweden declared itself neutral in the conflict of great power, but this line soon became difficult. The first strain came when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in December 1939 (the winter war). The Swedish government then chose not to proclaim neutrality and participated in a comprehensive humanitarian and material aid campaign against the Finns. When the Western Allies asked to send troops to Finland over Swedish territory, however, the Swedish government responded no, as did the Norwegian.
In connection with the winter war, Per Albin Hansson transformed his ministry into a national unity government. At the Second Chamber elections in 1940, the Social Democrats gained an absolute majority for the first time, but the composition of the government was not changed. Parliamentary stability made it possible to increase readiness quickly. At the German occupation of Norway and Denmark on April 9, 1940, the Swedish defense was not yet strong enough, and the government had to make a number of concessions to the Germans contrary to a strict perception of neutrality. Among other things, it allowed the transit of nurses, sanitation equipment and supplies to the German troops who fought in the battle of Narvik, but a request to transfer troops was rejected. As soon as the fighting in Norway was over, a Swedish-German agreement was reached on the sending of war materiel and relief troops over Swedish territory to Northern Norway (permitting traffic), and in connection with Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, a fully established German division allowed to cross Sweden from northern Norway to Finnish Lapland.
When the referendum in Sweden during the Second World War was predominantly on the part of the West allies, these concessions caused dissatisfaction in wide circles, and several newspapers, with Torgny Segerstedts Gothenburg’s Handels- och Sjöfartstidning in the lead, openly expressed criticism. This led to sharp pressure control by the government. By contrast, Sweden gave its three belligerent neighbors invaluable support in the form of food shipments, assistance to Scandinavians in German captivity and residence permits for tens of thousands of Norwegian and Danish refugees, who were even allowed to organize police troops. When the war accident finally turned away from the Germans in 1943, and Sweden’s military readiness reached a peak, concessions to Germany ended. Among other things, permitant traffic ceased in August 1943, and press control was gradually discontinued.
When peace was restored in Europe in May 1945, Sweden was very financially strong. The country had avoided the devastation of the war and expanded the production apparatus during the war years. Swedish society was therefore characterized by rapid economic expansion in the first decades after the war. Despite fluctuating economic conditions with occasional strong inflationary trends and threatening unemployment, the gross domestic product doubled between 1950 and 1970. The rise was largely due to the development of the industry, especially the engineering industry, which, with its highly advanced production apparatus (electronics), increasingly took the position of Sweden’s most important trade route.
In July 1945, Per Albin Hansson formed his fourth government, a purely social democratic government. When Hansson died in 1946, Tage Erlander assumed the post of prime minister. The economic austerity policy implemented by the government to combat inflation was becoming less popular. Although the Social Democrats retained the majority in the 1948 elections, the parliamentary situation eventually became so difficult that in 1951 Erlander renewed the old agreement with the Bondeförbundet (Center Party) and formed a majority coalition.
With the favorable economic development and the stable government situation as a background, the Swedish prosperity community gradually built up. Both the standard of living and social welfare eventually came to a level that hardly any society had previously reached. The national pension was increased in 1946, child benefit was introduced in 1948 and in 1949 a new labor protection law came into force; three weeks of vacation could be enacted in 1951 (four weeks from 1963), and from 1957 the Social Assistance Act applied. Most of the measures taken here, without difficulty, gained a majority in the Riksdag. But when the issue of a so-called public service pension was put on the agenda in 1955, a deep split arose in the coalition. The result was mainly a victory for the Social Democrats, who in this way managed to break their steady decline.
In 1967, a new basic case became ripe for treatment. The party groups in the Riksdag then agreed on a constitutional reform which included the introduction of a one-chamber parliament. In 1969, Erlander resigned as prime minister on his own initiative and was succeeded by Olof Palme. The first election for the one-chamber parliament in the autumn of 1970 thus came about the confidence in Palme, who lost the majority and continued with a minority government. This parliamentary situation was further aggravated by the 1973 election, when a new decline for the Social Democrats led to equilibrium in the Riksdag between the three bourgeois parties on the one hand and the Social Democrats and the left party on the other.
Despite his weaker parliamentary position, Palme was able to continue social reform policy. Among other things, the retirement age was lowered to 65 years (1975). But as Sweden began to face increasing financial difficulties in the early 1970s, it became more and more problematic for him to hold the position. In 1976, the three major bourgeois parties managed to gain a majority in the Riksdag and form a joint coalition government with the center party leader Thorbjörn Fälldin as prime minister. The 44-year-long social democratic government hegemony was thus broken.
However, the new government carried the seed to its own blast. During the election campaign, Fälldin had engaged the Center Party in an irreconcilable opposition to the development of nuclear power in Sweden. However, its two coalition partners argued that the nuclear power was necessary for the further development of Swedish business. The government cracked down on this question in 1978. People’s Party leader Ola Ullsten formed a minority government as a transition to the parliamentary elections in 1979. Here, the three bourgeois parties managed to maintain their majority, not least thanks to significant progress for the Moderate Assembly, where leader Gösta Bohman was honored the economic remediation policy that was initiated under the coalition government.
After the parties agreed to put the nuclear issue to a referendum (a plan that the Social Democrats also supported), the three bourgeois parties could form their second coalition government, again with Fälldin as prime minister.