The New International Encyclopædia/Gustavus I. Vasa

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The New International Encyclopædia
Gustavus I. Vasa
Edition of 1905. See also Gustav I of Sweden on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GUSTAV'US I. VASA (1496-1560). King of Sweden from 1523 to 1560, and founder of the royal House of Vasa. He was born at Lindholm, May 12, 1496, and was known in private life as Gustavus Ericsson. The name Vasa came into use after his accession to the throne, being derived, it is conjectured, from a black fascine in his arms, which was drawn so that it resembled a vase, and was changed to yellow by Gustavus, giving it the appearance of a sheaf. His father, Erik Johansson, was a patriotic member of the Swedish nobility who followed the Stures in the struggle of the Swedes for independence from Denmark. The young Gustavus began his studies at Upsala in 1509, and five years later entered the service of the Regent Sten Sture, distinguishing himself by gallantry in the battle of Bränkyrka, in which Sture defeated the forces of Christian II. of Denmark (1518). After the battle Christian sought an interview with Sture, and asked that six hostages be given for his safety, Gustavus was chosen as one of these hostages. As soon as they were on board the Danish ship it sailed away to Denmark, where the hostages were held in captivity. From this captivity Gustavus escaped to Lübeck in 1519, and returning to Sweden, finally found a refuge among the loyal peasantry of Dalecarlia, for the death of Sture in 1520 had given the country over to the Danes. In Dalecarlia he wandered for several months, in poverty and disguise, with a price set on his head. In November, 1520, ninety of the nobles and leaders of Sweden who had been summoned to attend the coronation of Christian II. were faithlessly beheaded. Among them were the father and the brother-in-law of Gustavus. The young fugitive vainly attempted to rouse the inhabitants of Dalecarlia to revolt, and was forced to seek refuge in the less frequented parts of the country, where for a month he earned his living as a field laborer, and more than once owed his life and safety to the generosity of the peasant women of the district. This period of his life has been so long made the subject of romance that it is difficult now to separate the true from the false. Not until his account of the tyranny of the Danes was corroborated by the testimony of several fugitives from Stockholm was the national enthusiasm roused, and the men of Dalecarlia, at Mora, on Christmas eve, 1520, proclaimed him head of their own and other communes in Sweden. His first victories over the Danes brought recruits in large numbers. He defeated the Swedes at Westeräs, took Upsala, and on August 24, 1521, was proclaimed Administrator of the Kingdom of Sweden. In June, 1523, the Swedish Diet at Strengnäs declared the union with Denmark dissolved, and proclaimed Gustavus Ericsson King of Sweden. Two weeks later he made his triumphant entry into Stockholm.

The King early showed his determination to favor the Lutheran doctrines, and, without attempting to force his subjects into an unwilling change of ecclesiastical alliance, he gradually, by patience and tact, established Lutheranism as the religion of the State, and placed Sweden unalterably in the ranks of Protestant countries. This was finally accomplished and legalized in the Diet at Westeräs in 1527, and a national council held at Oerebro in 1529. His attitude toward the Reformation was largely influenced by his desire to overthrow the power of the Catholic clergy, which he considered dangerous to the royal authority and the cause of Swedish independence. The problems of government he had to encounter were many. The young King found a country divided into factions, poor, and with almost wholly undeveloped resources, and wasted by barbarous wars. He devoted himself with fine patience and moderation to the task of developing and reorganizing it. He had owed much to the devotion of the peasantry, while in the proud and turbulent nobility, many of whom belonged to the Danish and Catholic factions, he saw a grave menace to stable government. He therefore sought to give the peasantry better opportunities and fuller participation in the national life, and to limit the dangerous power of the nobles. He was a practical business man as well as a large-minded statesman, and he fostered the commerce, mining, and fisheries of the kingdom with the most careful personal attention, even as to details. Land was reclaimed, hydraulic works were constructed, and sawmills built. He was equally shrewd in his personal affairs, and accumulated a large fortune by agricultural operations. The reforms in the State were not accomplished without great difficulties. The King had to meet disaffection and revolt; he carried on war with Lübeck and the Hansa towns. After forty years' rule Gustavus left Sweden a peaceful and civilized realm, with a full exchequer, a well-organized army of 15,000 men, and a good fleet. He made commercial treaties with foreign nations, and established fairs for foreign traders. Roads and bridges were made in every part of the country, and canals begun. In his relations with his subjects Gustavus was firm, and sometimes severe, but seldom unjust, except in his dealings with the Catholic clergy, whom he despoiled with something like rapacity of all their lands and funds. He did much to promote the cause of Lutheranism, although he took care that the Reformed clergy should be dependent on the Crown and enjoy only very moderate emoluments. He was three times married, and had ten children. By an act of the Diet of 1544, at Westeräs, the crown was declared hereditary in the male descendants of Gustavus; in conformity with which, his eldest son, Eric (see Eric XIV.), succeeded to the throne on his father's death, September 29, 1560. Consult: Geijer, Geschichte Schwedens, vol. ii. (Hamburg, 1834); Watson, The Swedish Revolution Under Gustavus Vasa (Boston, 1889), which contains a good bibliography. See Sweden.