1902 Encyclopedia > King Gustavus I

Gustavus I
(also known as: Gustaf I; Gustavus Vasa)
King of Sweden
(c. 1496 - 1560)

GUSTAVUS I (c. 1496-1560), king of Sweden, commonly known as GUSTAVUS VASA, the surname being derived from the family arms, which were a bundle or sheaf, is justly celebrated as the founder of modern Sweden; he delivered it from the yoke of Denmark, introduced the Reformation, established law and order, and laid the foundation of its industrial prosperity. His family name was Ericson ; he was born about 1496 of a noble house; and he was related to the powerful family of Sture. Gustavus was at a very early age called upon to suffer for his country. Sweden was still joined to the other Scandinavian kingdoms under the union of Calmar, Denmark being the leading state. Sweden was a reluctant member of this union, and King Christian of Denmark was obliged to maintain his supremacy with a high hand. In an expedition to Stockholm this king treacherously carried off the young Gustavus and other nobles as hostages to Denmark. After being detained in Jutland for above a year, Gustavus managed to escape in disguise to Lübeck, and the great Hanse town, ever jealous of the power of Denmark, furnished him with the means of returning to Sweden, where he landed in 1520. He had now formed the resolution to deliver his country from the oppression of the Danes. He went about from place to place trying to incite the people to revolt, but on all hands he met with apathy and even resistance. For some time his life was in extreme danger; he was hunted by the Danish authorities, and worked in disguise on the farms and in the mines of Dalecarlia. The barn in which he threshed corn is preserved as a state monument. He was on the point of fleeing over the hills into Norway, when tidings came of the Bloodbath of Stockholm, in which ninety of the nobles and leading men of Sweden, including the father of Gustavus himself, were executed by the Danish king. This deed roused the slumbering patriotism of the Swedes, especially of the hardy people of Dalecarlia, who now chose Gustavus as their leader (1520). They repeatedly defeated the Danish forces, and took the principal towns. By 1523 Stockholm was taken and Sweden delivered from the Danish yoke. At a great diet held at Strengnäs in that year Gustavus was elected king of Sweden. Finland was speedily recovered. After liberating his country, Gustavus set himself to the far harder task of reforming and settling it. Sweden was in a very backward and disorderly condition. The nobles had great power and many selfish privileges ; the clergy were wealthy, and in the war of freedom had taken the side of the Danes ; the peasants were poor and discontented. There was little respect for law ; the whole country was demoralized and disorganized. The reforms of Gustavus began with the church. The two brothers Peterson had already introduced the doctrines of Luther, and the chancellor Anderson had translated the New Testament into the native tongue. Vasa encouraged their efforts ; in a great diet held at Westerns in 1527 he succeeded under the threat of abdicating in passing measures, by which the lands of the bishops were placed at his disposal, and full liberty was granted of preaching the gospel; but the support of the nobles had to be gained by a share of the spoils. The Reformation soon took deep root, but the troubles of Gustavus continued. He required to deal with a turbulent nobility; he had to beat off the exiled king of Denmark ; thrice he needed to pacify a revolt in Dalecarlia; and he was forced to put forth the whole strength of his kingdom to quell a peasants' war in the south. The pretensions of Lübeck, which had given him real help in the war of freedom, and to which he owed a considerable sum of money, involved him in a war, by which he curtailed their commercial privileges. In all these difficulties Gustavus bore himself with equal energy and wisdom. In 1544 his position was so secure that the elective sovereignty was changed by the diet into an hereditary one. From this time till his death in 1560, except an unimportant war with Russia on the Finnish frontier, there was little to disturb the quiet progress of Sweden. Gustavus's home policy made an era in Swedish history. Law, order, and national spirit were encouraged and developed; schools were everywhere established, roads made, and foreign trade extended by advantageous commercial treaties with England and Holland. Nothing was too homely or minute for the supervision of the king ; he was ready to encourage, scold, or instruct, whenever an opportunity offered in any department of industry. He even established model farms. His second and best-loved queen Margaret had a dairy farm on which twenty-two maidens tended the cows. While he avoided foreign war he did not neglect national defence ; he left an excellent army of 15,000 men, and he created a considerable naval force. Altogether, few kings have done so much for any country as Gustavus Vasa did for Sweden. He was succeeded by his son Eric.

See Geijer's History of the Swedes ; also an anonymous History of Gustavus Vasa, London, 1852.

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