Today, June 6, Sweden celebrates 500 years as an independent nation. On June 6, 1523, Gustav Eriksson Vasa was elected king of Sweden at the assembly (riksmötet) in Strängsnäs, officially uniting Sweden under one king and ending forever the Kalmar Union that tied Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (including Finland) together under one monarch. This date is recognized by Swedes as the official date for unification of Sweden into an independent nation. However, the regions that belong to Sweden have varied since then, and it was not until Norway became independent in 1905, and the Åland question was resolved in 1921, that the map of Sweden looks the way it does today.
Who was Gustav Vasa?
Gustav Eriksson Vasa, also sometimes spelt Wasa, was the eldest son of parents of high nobility: Erik Johansson Vasa, state councilor, who was killed in the Stockholm bloodbath of 1520, and Cecilia Månsdotter of the House of Eka. Gustav Vasa’s grandmother, Sigrid Eskilsdotter Banér, was sentenced to death during the Bloodbath of 1520, but escaped death and was imprisoned in Denmark until Gustav became King of Sweden.
How did he become King?
Gustav Vasa was formally elected King of Sweden at the assembly of the estates at Strängnäs on June 6, 1523. He had previously been Riksföreståndare (Protector of the Realm) from 1521, while King Christian II, the tyrant, was formally King of Denmark and Sweden under the conditions of the Kalmar Union.
During the bloodbath of 1520 that followed King Christian II of Denmark and Sweden’s coronation, more than 80 members of the Swedish nobility were killed at the prompting of archbishop Gustav Trolle. The members of nobility had previously been opposed to his coronation and sought to end the Kalmar Union, which they believed unfairly favored the Danes at the expense of the Swedes. However, Gustav Vasa was not present at the coronation and escaped the bloodbath by fleeing to Dalarna, a region north of Stockholm. There he managed to gain support for continued opposition to the king, and to fight a bloody battle for Swedish independence from Christian II. Gustav Vasa, acting as Protector of the Realm, initiated what became known as the freedom wars with Denmark, also known as the Swedish Wars of Liberation, or Gustav Vasa’s Rebellion.
Some of the correspondence from this time has been preserved and can be found at the Swedish National Archives, including letters from Gustav Vasa where he asks for help from knights and rich farmers in regions of Skåne, Blekinge, and Halland to fight against the oppression of Christian II. He also asked the Dean of the Cathedral in Lund to do the same. Another letter indicates that even parts of Norway may have been prepared to support Vasa because of the farmer’s opposition to Christian II’s high taxes. However, Norway and the regions of Skåne, Bleking, and Halland did not became part of Sweden at this time. After being successfully elected king, Gustav Vasa, on Midsummer Eve 1523, rode into Stockholm, an event that will be reenacted later this year. On June 29, 1523, he wrote to all the clergy in Sweden and asked them to send their property, which he wanted to use to pay for “skepp och värjor” (ships and a special kind of edged weapon). Communications have also survived which show how the Catholic Church asked that the man behind the bloodbath, Trolle, be reinstated as archbishop and how insulted King Gustav was because of this. Reading it, one is not surprised that Gustav became the king that initiated the reformation in Sweden.
Why was Gustav Vasa elected?
The Council of the State elected Gustav Vasa as King of Sweden on June 6, 2023, during the assembly of state council in Strängnäs. The Swedish National Archive holdings include a letter that explains the motivation for his coronation. The letter is available in the original Latin as photographed, and in the Swedish translation. Because the letter is too long to include in its entirety, I am including below my English translation of its beginning and end:
The Council of the Swedish State write to all people ”that seek and loves the truth” to account for the Danish King Christian II’s crimes, that so far none or few have described, even though his incredible evil acts in Stockholm year 1520 have made him known as humanity’s enemy. The issuers start their story year 1517 with Christian’s attempt to occupy Sweden, the treason of archbishop Gustav (Trolle) in Uppsala, Sten Sture’s attempt to convert him, the occupation of the Stäket, the archbishop’s revocation of his duties ahead of prelate Johannes Arcimboldus.
God then chose, at the start of 1521, you Mister Gustav for the assignment, disguised as a pilgrim, travel the country and make everything awful known to its inhabitants, who were then convinced to choose him for protector of the realm. Soon Gustav gathered a group of men from Dalarna, who in Västerås fought all the Danes to flee, and asked archbishop Gustav to not use his troops against his own people but instead against the enemies of the church; but he did not listen and became the enemy of the prince; was banished and sent to Denmark. In his attempt to resurrect the governance of the kingdom Gustav gathered a large army of war and renewed the alliance with the German cities, in particular Lübeck, who provided great contributions. This is how the evil king was overtaken and Swedish freedom resurrected. Therefore, the Council of the Swedish State, gathered at Strängnäs, now elect Gustav king and submit to his rein and will and decide to forever banish the rebellious archbishop Gustav [Trolle] from the country.
Vasa’s election ended the Kalmar Union, the personal union of Denmark, Norway (including Iceland) and Sweden (including Finland) that had been in force since 1397. Vasa’s coronation took place on January 12, 1528, at Uppsala Cathedral.
What is Gustav Vasa most famous for?
Gustav Vasa is responsible for bringing Protestantism to Sweden. He seized all the holdings of the Catholic Church, created a Protestant State Church and by law made himself its head. The decision to make Sweden Protestant was made during the state council (riksråd) in Västerås in 1527. Thereby, King Vasa ended the power of the Pope over Sweden. In 1593, under King Sigismund, it was decided that the Evangelical Lutheran faith be the official state religion of Sweden, and while Swedes today enjoy freedom of religion (2 ch. 1 § Instrument of Government (SFS 1974:152)[Swedish Constitution]) the Swedish monarch must still confess to this religion. (4 § Successionsordning (SFS 1810:0926)). Under Gustav Vasa’s early rein, the last archbishop of Sweden, Johannes Magnus, had in August of 1523 drafted a royal mandate to prohibit all sale, import, or use of Martin Luther’s teachings and books. You can read more about the meeting in 1527 in Reformationsriksdagen i Västerås by Harald Hjärne.
Gustav Vasa also made the Swedish monarchy hereditary, prior to this the king was elected by the State Council. His sons became kings of much of Europe, the last King of the Vasa order was Johan II Casimir Vasa of Poland, who abdicated in 1668. The last monarch of Sweden of the Vasa order was Queen Christina, who ironically enough abdicated the throne on June 6, 1654, to convert to Catholicism, some 131 years after Gustav Vasa became king and 127 years after Gustav Vasa ended the relationship with the Catholic church. However, Vasa’s descendants, starting with Christina’s cousin, Karl X Gustav, ruled Sweden until 1818, when the House of Bernadotte began its dynasty, through the selection of the French marshal Jean Baptiste, Karl XIV Johan as King.
Gustav Vasa’s book collection, as inherited by his sons, is part of the first royal library collection, which today has become the National Library of Sweden. Under Gustav Vasa, Olaus Petri and Laurentius Petri translated and printed the first bible in the Swedish language, known as the Gustav Vasa bible.
Vasaloppet, a 90 km long Swedish ski race, bears the name of Gustav Vasa and is inspired by the route Vasa took through Dalarna to escape Christian the II following Stockholm bloodbath. While Gustav Vasa travelled Mora to Sälen, the race is from Sälen to Mora.
Are all Swedes related to Gustav Vasa?
Gustav Vasa was married three times, to Katarina of Saxony-Lauenburg, Margareta Leijonhufvud, and Katarina Stenbock. In total, he had 11 children. Today, more than 250,000 living Swedes are believed to be related to him. The Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf is reportedly related to Gustav Vasa in 91 different ways. Others who also are related to include former Prime Minister Olof Palme (the murdered prime minister of Sweden) and former Prime Minister Carl Bildt.
If I am related to Gustav Vasa? I’ll let that go unsaid.
Where is he buried?
Is Gustav Vasa the reason Sweden celebrates national day on June 6?
Motions have been made several times, including in 1952, 1956, and 1979, to make June 6 a national day. Each time Gustav Vasa and the Constitution of 1809 were referred to as reasons for choosing this particular day. In 1983, the day became Svenska Flaggans Dag (Day of the Swedish Flag) and Sweden’s National Day. (Förordningen om allmänna flaggdagar (SFS 1982:270).) In 2004, a proposal by the government to make the day a national holiday passed and Swedes celebrated the day with a day off for the first time in 2005. (Lag om allmänna helgdagar (SFS 1989:253), as amended.)
Where can I find additional information on Gustav Vasa?
The library holds several items related to Gustav Vasa, including:
- The History of Gustavus Vasa, King of Sweden (1852)
- Harald Hjärne, Reformationsriksdagen i Västerås (1893) (in Swedish)
- Paul Barron Watson, The Swedish Revolution under Gustavus Vasa (1889)
- Lars-Olof Larsson, Gustav Vasa – Landsfader eller Tyrann (2002) (in Swedish)
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