The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V.
THE VASA IN SWEDEN AND POLAND.
(1560-1630.)

GUSTAVUS VASA at his death in 1560 left the future of Sweden only half assured. His forty years of resolute government, indeed, had done much to establish in his dominions a condition of unexampled prosperity. The strength of the nation had grown as the authority of the Crown increased. In 1520 Sweden had been a dependency of Denmark, unable to free herself from the political tyranny of Christian II without submitting to the commercial tyranny of Lübeck. Gustavus had given her independence, political, commercial, and ecclesiastical alike, and with it the strength which was impelling her towards a policy of empire.

The amazing progress which Sweden owed to the founder of the Vasa dynasty was achieved by a policy which was to leave deep marks upon her future. "Necessity," Gustavus held, "breaks law, not merely the law of man, but at times the law of God also." To him necessity always meant the increase of royal power. Avaricious of power, he set himself to seize it at home and to avoid hazarding it abroad; and in both aims he succeeded.

After his death change in the policy of Sweden was inevitable. To maintain a strong monarchy might be possible, but the days of seclusion were numbered. A State which owed everything to the Protestant faith and the Baltic Sea could not remain indifferent while the fortunes of both were in peril. Apart from the Counter-reformation, the decay of the Teutonic Order, the decline of the Hanseatic League, the awakening of Russia, and the expanding ambitions of Denmark were new arguments which must compel Sweden to take action. The methods of Gustavus, moreover, were such as no other King could follow. Himself a promoted noble, he pillaged the Church remorselessly and administered the kingdom like a great domain. Seizing manors by hundreds, he looked to them for a revenue and even for an army, while he laboured with marvellous energy to control the economic life of the whole nation. The policy, both international and internal, by which his sons Erik and John brought Sweden to the verge of dissolution ( 1560-98), her deliverance by his third son Charles ( 1599-1611), and the efforts by which, under Charles and

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