Swedish Empire

Kingdom of Sweden

Konungariket Sverige
The Swedish Empire at its height in 1658. Overseas possessions are not shown.
The Swedish Empire at its height in 1658. Overseas possessions are not shown.
All territories ever possessed by the Swedish Empire shown on modern borders.
All territories ever possessed by the Swedish Empire shown on modern borders.
Common languagesSwedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Estonian, Sami languages, Low German, Latin, Livonian, Latvian, Danish, Russian
Church of Sweden
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
• 1611–1632
Gustav II Adolph (first)
• 1720–1721
Frederick I (last)
Lord High Chancellora 
• 1612–1654
Axel Oxenstierna
• 1654–1656
Erik Oxenstierna
• 1660–1680
Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie
• Council of the Realm
Historical eraEarly Modern
• Established
• Disestablished
• 17th century
ISO 3166 codeSE
Preceded by
Succeeded by
History of Sweden (1523–1611)
Age of Liberty
^a Office vacant from 1656 to 1660; replaced in 1680 with the office of "President of the Chancellery" as an absolute monarchy was established.
Sweden's coat of arms (with erroneous tinctures) on a wall of City Hall at Lützen in Germany

The Swedish Empire (Swedish: Stormaktstiden, "the Era of Great Power") was a European great power that exercised territorial control over much of the Baltic region during the 17th and early 18th centuries.[1] The beginning of the Empire is usually taken as the reign of Gustavus Adolphus, who ascended the throne in 1611, and the end as the loss of territories in 1721 following the Great Northern War.[1]

After the death of Gustavus Adolphus in 1632, the empire was controlled for lengthy periods by part of the high nobility, most prominently the Oxenstierna family, acting as tutors for minor regents. The interests of the high nobility contrasted with the uniformity policy (i.e., upholding the traditional equality in status of the Swedish estates favoured by the kings and peasantry). In territories acquired during the periods of de facto noble rule, serfdom was not abolished, and there was also a trend to set up respective estates in Sweden proper. The Great Reduction of 1680 put an end to these efforts of the nobility and required them to return estates once gained from the crown to the king. Serfdom, however, remained in force in the dominions acquired in the Holy Roman Empire and in Swedish Estonia, where a consequent application of the uniformity policy was hindered by the treaties by which they were gained.

After the victories in the Thirty Years' War, Sweden reached the climax of the great power era during the Second Northern War, when primary adversary Denmark was neutralized by the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. However, in the further course of this war, as well as in the subsequent Scanian War, Sweden was able to maintain her empire only with support of her closest ally, France.[2] Charles XI of Sweden consolidated the empire. But a decline began with his son, Charles XII. After initial Swedish victories, Charles secured the empire for some time in the Peace of Travendal (1700) and the Treaty of Altranstädt (1706), before the disaster that followed the king's war in Russia. The Russian victory at the Battle of Poltava put an end to the eastbound expansion, and by the time of Charles XII’s death in 1718 only a very weakened and far smaller territory remained. The last traces of occupied continental territory vanished during the Napoleonic Wars, and also Finland went to Russia in 1809.

In older Swedish history telling, Gustavus Adolphus and especially Charles XII were heroic warriors.

Emergence as a great power

Sweden emerged as a great European power under Axel Oxenstierna and King Gustavus Adolphus. As a result of acquiring territories seized from Russia and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as its involvement in the Thirty Years' War, Sweden found itself transformed into the leader of Protestantism.

During the Thirty Years' War, Sweden managed to conquer approximately half of the member states of the Holy Roman Empire. The fortunes of war would shift back and forth several times. After its defeat in the Battle of Nördlingen (1634), confidence in Sweden among the Swedish-controlled German states was damaged, and several of the provinces refused further Swedish military support, leaving Sweden with only a couple of northern German provinces. After France intervened on the same side as Sweden, fortunes shifted again. As the war continued, the civilian and military death toll grew, and when it was over, it had led to severe depopulation in the German states. Although exact population estimates do not exist, historians estimate that the population of the Holy Roman Empire fell by one-third as a result of the war.[3]

Sweden founded overseas colonies, principally in the New World. New Sweden was founded in the valley of the Delaware River in 1638, and Sweden later laid claim to a number of Caribbean islands. A string of Swedish forts and trading posts was constructed along the coast of West Africa as well, but these were not designed for Swedish settlers.

Peace of Westphalia

At the conclusion of the Thirty Years' War, the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 granted Sweden territories as war reparations. Sweden demanded Silesia, Pomerania (which had been in its possession since the Treaty of Stettin (1630), and a war indemnity of 20,000,000 Riksdaler.

Through the efforts of Johan Oxenstierna and Johan Adler Salvius it obtained:

These German possessions were to be held as fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire. This allowed Sweden a vote in the Imperial Diet and enabled it to "direct" the Lower Saxon Circle alternately with Brandenburg. France and Sweden, moreover, became joint guarantors of the treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor and were entrusted with carrying out its provisions, as enacted by the executive congress of Nuremberg in 1650.

After the peaces of Brömsebro and Westphalia, Sweden was the third-largest area of control in Europe by land area, only surpassed by Russia and Spain. Sweden reached its largest territorial extent during this time under the rule of Charles X Gustav (1622–1660) after the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658.[4]

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