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Where We Come From...

Gustavus Vasa’s Struggle for Freedom, 1521-1523

The union of the three crowns of Denmark, Norway and Sweden that was resolved in Kalmar in 1397 soon proved to be an explosive alliance. Uprisings against Danish supremacy came to nought for many years, however.

Gustavus Vasa was the first to succeed in liberating Sweden, having achieved autonomy through an insurrection in the year 1523. That year he was raised to the crown of Sweden. After freeing the country from external subjugation, he liberated it domestically by introducing extensive reforms. Since this time he has been venerated in Sweden as the founder who led the nation to independence and greatness. In this regard he can be compared with the Norwegian king Saint Olaf, whose mythical importance is also based on a combination of military success abroad and the establishment of domestic unity.

The oppositional Sture party, of which Gustavus Vasa was a member, had suffered a crushing defeat against the Danes in 1520. Gustavus fled under dramatic circumstances to the province of Dalarna, where he tried to convince the peasants to rise in resistance to the Danish king. But it was only after the Danes had carried out a massacre among the Swedish opposition group in 1523 that they followed his call.Many adventurous stories were told in 19th century Sweden celebrating Gustavus for his courage and farsightedness during these three years of flight and persecution. Numerous works of art showed Gustavus speaking to the crowds. Others pictured individual brave peasants who hid Gustavus from the Danish persecutors. In 1903 a memorial, designed by Anders Zorn, was erected to the memory of Gustavus Vasa in Mora, the town in the central Swedish province of Dalarna where he had addressed the peasants.



The Foundation of Gustavus Vasa's Protestant Sweden at the Beginning of the 16th Century

The unpopular union with Denmark came to an end for the northern European countries in 1523 when Gustavus Vasa was crowned king of Sweden. After more than a century, national independence was restored. But the preceding war against Denmark had left the country ravaged and impoverished. The monarch, who was taken with the new Protestant creed, placed the blame for this desperate situation on the Catholic clergy. With the support of two ecclesiastical reformers, the brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri, Gustavus Vasa began introducing the Protestant faith step by step as soon as he took office. An initial climax was reached at the Diet of Västerås, which, after difficult and often antagonistic negotiations, created the basic tenets for the established Protestant church of Sweden in accordance with the king’s wishes. It transferred the major part of church property to the crown and gave the monarch the right to decide on appointments to high clerical offices.

It was not only the recovery of independence, but above all Sweden’s internal pacification on which Gustavus Vasa’s fame as national hero and pater patriae was founded in the 19th century. Ernst Josephson’s painting from 1875 is also to be understood in this sense. It shows Gustavus Vasa, worried about his country, as the implacable opponent of his sharpest adversary, Bishop Peder Sunnanväder. In 1523 the bishop had tried to provoke an insurrection against the king, but it was discovered before it got started and quelled. Gustavus Vasa placed the bishop on trial, then removed him from his ecclesiastical office and had him executed.


Faith and War

The Death of Gustavus II Adolphus at the Battle of Lützen, 1632

Gustavus II Adolphus (1594-1632, ruled 1611-1632) was revered in 19th century Sweden as the most extraordinary figure of national integration. The figure of the king recalled the beginning of the period of Swedish greatness, but he was seen above all as the defender and saviour of Protestantism.

In 1630 Sweden joined in the Thirty Years' War in order to protect its interests along the Baltic coast, on the one hand, and to support the Protestant Estates in the empire against the imperial Catholic party, on the other. After achieving major victories, Gustavus Adolphus, one of the most charismatic personalities of the Thirty Years' War, fell at the Battle of Lützen on 16th November 1632.

25.jpg (21988 Byte)He was portrayed and symbolically glorified in the history painting of the 19th century as the king who sacrificed himself for the cause of faith. Gustav Hellquist shows in his monumental oil painting the embarkation of the body of Gustavus Adolphus at the port of Wolgast. The mourners gathered under the flag of Sweden behind the corpse represent the Swedish people mourning for the loss of their king.


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