Constitutional struggle and foreign policy activation
Prior to his death, Gustav Vasa had set up hereditary dukes, intended to give younger royal sons a princely livelihood and to strengthen the power of the Vasa family. Erik XIV saw the duchy judgments as a threat to the royal power and sought through Arboga’s articles in 1561 to limit the dukes’ powers. However, this did not prevent Duke Johan from engaging in the Baltic power struggle and against Erik’s ban marrying Polish royal daughter Katarina Jagellonica. The result was an armed settlement and Johan’s imprisonment in 1563. The actions were carried out with the support of the nobility, but during the Nordic seven-year war(1563-70) relations between the king and the council aristocracy deteriorated. Relentless secretaries and noblemen outside the old power elite were favored. The assassinations in 1567 and Erik’s marriage to Karin Månsdotter mark the highlights of this power struggle, which in 1568 led to Erik XIV being overthrown and succeeded by Johan III. This gave the nobles improved privileges in 1569, and the counties and freedoms introduced by Erik were enlarged.
Hereditary counties were introduced through duke reviews as well as counties and free lordships. Goods were also donated with hereditary rights, from 1604, however, subject to reservation. These feudal elements were counteracted by the fact that the conferences were rarely territorially collected, and the administrative grip of the krone was tightened by the governors and from 1634 the new governors’ rulings (counties). The duchy disappeared in 1622.
One problem for Johan III was the position of brother Brother Duke built up in his mid-Swedish duchy. Another important issue was about religion. Through his marriage to Catherine, Johan had found sympathy for several sides of Catholicism and approached it during the 1570s, which drew strong criticism. Church politics was driven to a decisive moment when Johan’s son Sigismund, who was elected Polish king in 1587, inherited the Swedish crown in 1592 and was expected to support the counter-Reformation. Uppsala’s decision in 1593, in close cooperation between Duke Karl, the Swedish Council and the priesthood, gave Sweden a Lutheran confessional church, and the decision’s approval became a condition for the king’s coronation.
Sigismund’s unclear directive on the board since leaving Sweden in 1594 led to a power struggle, where Duke Karl, with the support of the unruly positions, was taken over. The king’s attempt to regain power with the help of the national council failed through the Battle of Stångebro in 1598. His provision in 1599 and the hard-fought settlement with the council aristocracy (including through Linköping’s massacre in 1600) marked a total victory for the duke, who formally assumed the royal title from 1604 (Karl IX).
The cautious foreign policy that characterized Gustav Vasa’s government was changed in its opposite in the 1560s. The disintegration of the rule of law began a race between the neighbors on its Baltic territory. When Sweden won Reval with Harrien, Järwen and Wierland in 1561, this initiated a policy aimed at control of trade between Russia and Western Europe and challenged the leading Baltic naval power Denmark. This led to the outbreak of the Nordic seven-year war in 1563, where Lübeck and Poland joined the Danish side. The war ended in 1570 in the sign of exhaustion, and Sweden was forced to pay a large ransom for the Älvsborg conquered by the Danes.
Johan III approached Denmark and especially Poland but became involved in a war with Russia in 1570, which with some pause went to peace in Teusina in 1595 (see Russian-Swedish war). Russia recognized Narva, conquered in 1581, as well as Estonia in its entirety as Swedish and accepted a national border drawn through Karelia. As a result of the conflict with Sigismund, several unsuccessful attempts were made to conquer Livland in 1600–05.
One step in the conflict with Poland was also the launch of Karl IX ‘s sons as Russian throne candidates during the so-called Great Disarray (1604–13). Under the leadership of Jacob De la Gardie, Swedish troops temporarily seized Moscow in 1610. In the end, Novgorod succeeded in forcing Stolbova Peace in 1617, which secured the Swedish possession of Ingermanland and Kexholm County. The activation of Sweden’s foreign policy under Karl IX was perceived as challenging by Denmark and led to the Kalmar War in 1611–13. The war showed that Denmark was still a leading Baltic sea power, and the new “Älvsborgs ransom” prescribed in Knäredfreden in 1613 again illustrated how vulnerable Sweden was in the west.