Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Who was Gustav I Vasa? (Part 1)

Gustav Eriksson addressing men from Dalarna in Mora by Johan Gustaf Sandberg
Gustav Vasa fought Denmark to gain Sweden's independence from the Kalmar Union. Explore the early beginnings of the founder of the Vasa Dynasty.

Swedish Independence

War with Denmark ravaged Sweden as the country attempted to break from the Danish yolk and their Kalmar Union. Elected regents continuously fought for their Sweden’s independence from the Danes and local factions willing to stay with the unfair Union. Sten Sture the Younger faced Denmark’s King Christian II who resolved to keep the Union intact with himself as the ruler.

By 1520, Christian took the upper hand in the war. Sten Sture the Younger fell to his wounds in Lake Malar and Christian II marched triumphantly to Stockholm. He then supported pro-Union Bishop Gustav Trolle in taking revenge against the Swedish patriots. Lines of clerics and noblemen who “betrayed” Christian and the Union were executed in what became known as the Stockholm Bloodbath. They thought that with the massacre Swedish resistance would end. They were wrong.
Stockholm Bloodbath and the Desecration of Sten Sture's Grave
Stockholm Bloodbath and the Desecration of Sten Sture's Grave
In the Norwegian-Swedish border province of Dalarna, a son of a noble and a supporter of Sten Sture rose up to reawaken the resistance against the Danes and establish Swedish independence. Gustav Eriksson Vasa restarted the war that ended with the establishment of a dynasty that later brought the country’s golden age.

The Young Fighter

Born in May 12, 1496, Gustav Ericksson Vasa was the son of Erik Johansson Vasa and Cecilia Mansdotter Eka, both coming from families well-connected and influential. His father Erik served as a state councilor while his family, the Vasa, claimed proudly their ancestry from St. Erik and St. Bridget of Sweden. Her mother Cecilia had a family connected to the famous Sture family epitomize with the marriage of her half-sister Cristina Gyllenstierna to Sten Sture the Younger.
Erik Johansson Vasa
He went to the University of Uppsala to study but the schools standard at that time stood in dismal quality. During his time studying, he saw the terrible attitude of Dane instructors which made him mistrust the Danes.

When conflict with the Danes began, the Vasa family aligned themselves with the Stures. Gustav himself took up arms and fought with Sten Sture the Younger in the Battle of Brannkyrka on July 27, 1518 where the Swedes won an outstanding victory. It was said Gustav distinguished himself by serving as the holder of the Swedish banner during the battle.

The Swedish victory in the Battle of Brannkyrka and several more that followed forced Danish King Christian to sue for peace. The Swedes sent 6 nobles to Christian II’s camp as an assurance of a truce while both sides decide where official negotiations should be held. Surprisingly for Sten Sture, when he waited for Christian to appear for the talks, the dubious King sailed back to Denmark along with the 6 nobles including Gustav Vasa.
Battle of Brannkyrka
Battle of Brannkyrka
For about a year Gustav stayed in a Danish castle living comfortably, but the news of Christian’s plans to restart his conquest of Swedish worries him and made him determined to return home. So in September 1519 disguising as a peasant, he escaped Denmark and made his way to Lubeck, the home of the powerful and wealthy Hanseatic League that was hostile to Denmark and Christian II as well. Gustav asked the League for military support in vain but they gave him protection from Christian II.
Christian II
Christian II
As Christian’s invasion of Sweden materialized, Gustav left the safety of Lubeck on May 1520 to return home and join the fight. He landed in Kalmar and helped in the defense of the castle. News of the Sten Sture’s death saddened him and his fellow defenders but they kept their resistance against besieging Danes. Eventually, as Stockholm fell, other strongholds followed. Gustav then escaped evading his former captors as much as possible. He was on the run when heard news of his father’s execution during the Stockholm Bloodbath. But time for vengeance had to wait as he continued to evade capture of the Danes. During his escape, stories of treachery and indifference he faced developed creating a myth around him. Many avoid him as they feared reprisals from the Danes and tiredness of the conflict.

In January 1521, however, situation changed. The people of Mora sought Gustav as their leader against their armed rebellion against the conquering Danes. Gustav agreed and soon he became the leader of the fight for independence in Dalarna. He along with his thousand man army then marched into the surrounding provinces to call out their fellow countrymen to war. Many joined and he organized them into a strictly disciplined army ready to face the powerful Danish army. He captured the city of Vasteras that served as a base for the Danes despite facing overwhelming superior opponent.

Afterwards, the army divided itself and went to different provinces to harass the Danes and besieged many of their strongholds, including Stockholm itself. One by one, these camps surrendered. Christian avenged his defeat by sending Gustav’s mother to Denmark imprisoned and badly treated.

Gustav’s leadership of the fight against the Danes led to the convening of the Riksdag in Vadstena where the representatives of the estates of nobility, clergy, burghers, and peasants elected him as the new Regent of Sweden succeeding Sten Sture the Younger. In 1522, he sought once again the military support of his friends in the Hanseatic League which finally agreed to lend their support by sending warships to besiege Stockholm by sea.
The Entry of King Gustav Vasa of Sweden into Stockholm by Carl Larsson
The Entry of King Gustav Vasa of Sweden into Stockholm by Carl Larsson

The war continued to progress in 1523 with situations in Denmark favoring Gustav’s position. The uncle of Christian II, Frederick, and with the support of the Danish nobles took over Copenhagen and forced Christian to abdicate. With the fall of Christian came the end of the conflict between Sweden and Denmark.
On June 6, 1523, the Riksdag once again convened in Strangnas and declared Gustav Eriksson Vasa as King of Sweden. By then, Gustav changed from a freedom fighter to a statesman and ahead him laid numerous challenges to his rule. 

See also:
Who was Gustav I Vasa? (Part 2)


Nilsson, Victor. History of Sweden. New York: The Co-operative Publication Society, 1899.

Stefansson, Jon. The Story of the Nations: Denmark and Sweden with Iceland and Finland. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1917.

Svanstrom, Ragnar & Carl Fredrik Palmstierna. Short History of Sweden. New York: Oxford University Press, 1934.

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