Swedish Viceroy (1521-1523) and King of Sweden (1523-1560). Father of three Kings. Popularly considered the first real King of Sweden. Born May 12, 1496. Died September 29, 1560, aged 64.

Rare alternative spellings of the first name include Gösta and Götstaff. Alternative spellings of his family name include Wasa (which is the spelling normally used for the warship named after him), and, more rarely, Vase. Also known as Gustav Eriksson after his father Erik. Kings are generally only referred to by their given name, but Gustav I is most commonly known simply as Gustav Vasa.

All power is by God.
If God is with us, who can be against us?
Blessed is he who fears the Lord.
Earth is the Lord's.

He was of suitable stature for a man at about three Stockholm ells and a twelfth of a quarter1, had a roundish head, white-yellow hair, a beautiful, large beard, sharp eyes, small straight nose, a shapely mouth, ruddy cheeks and red-brown body, as well-shaped as any painter could wish, and so complete, that there was not a spot on which one could set a needle-point. He often wore manly and Royal clothing, and whatever the pattern of the clothes was, they fit him well. He had a perspicacious judgment and exceeded, though he never had the time to practice literary skills, many a scholar. He could pertinently judge paintings and idols2, portraits and buildings, landscapes, and the proportions and properties of animals, herbs and trees. He was devout and led an honorable life, so that he as a bachelor was never rumored as having a concubine; one knew not either to speak of any illegitimate children, and he kept his marriage well. He was also very successful in all that he undertook, in games, if one at some point persuaded him to that, in agriculture and cattle-raising, in fishing and in finding ore, yes even in finding hidden treasures in the soil.3

- Nephew and nobleman Per Brahe the Elder (1520-1590)

[1] A Stockholmsaln is one of two types of ells (a linear measure) used historically in Sweden, eventually replacing the other type, the Rydaholmsaln, until the 1878 introduction of the metric system. Both were slightly above 59 cm (23"). A kvarter is a quarter of such an ell, making Vasa's height 179 cm (5'10").

[2] As in paintings of gods.

[3] Interpreted from old Swedish by the noder.

The Early Years

Gustav Eriksson Vasa was born on May 12, 1496, probably at Rydboholm, outside Vaxholm, or at Lindholmen, between Vallentuna and Märsta, all of which is close to Stockholm, to Erik Johansson of the Vasa family and Cecilia Månsdotter.

He was sent to the court of Sten Sture the Elder to receive a basic education and, at 13, to the city of Uppsala for Latin and German studies. He was, however, by no means a scholar, but he is said to have shown leadership qualities early on.

At 18, he was sent to the Viceroy's court again, though this time to Sten Sture the Younger, to learn swordsmanship, noble manners and military conduct. Sten Sture shared much of his personal knowledge, and arranged for Gustav to partake in the 1517 Battle of Vädla, now in central Stockholm.

The End of the Union - Sweden and Denmark Go to War

At the time, Sweden, Norway and Denmark had been united under the Kalmar Union since 1397. The Union was now growing weak. The Danish King Kristian II wanted an absolute monarchy and increased influence over Sweden, and Sten Sture wanted to rule a Sweden independent of the nobility and, certainly, independent of Denmark.

In 1518, a cease-fire agreement between Denmark and Sweden expired, and the future of the Union had to be settled. Kristian sent a fleet to the Stockholm archipelago, was promptly defeated at Brännkyrka by Sten Sture the Younger's forces with Gustav as standard-bearer, and was forced to negotiate.

In compliance with custom at the time, both countries voluntarily sent men to the other country for use as hostages during the negotiations. Gustav was one of them, but he fled from Denmark to the Hanse city of Lübeck, present-day Germany.

Kristian attacked Sweden once more, and in a battle near present-day Ulricehamn in the province1 of Västergötland on January 19, 1520, Sten Sture was wounded in the leg, and a confused Swedish army retreated. The Danish continued to the northeast. Sten Sture rushed towards Stockholm to defend his country, but his wound got worse. He died after departing from the town of Strängnäs on February 3, less than 60 km (40 mi) from Stockholm.

[1] Swedish: landskap.

Kristian the Tyrant Rules Sweden

Sweden was Danish. Kristian II was acknowledged as King on March 2, 1520 by a council at Uppsala, north of Stockholm. Stockholm was still Swedish, but an attack by farmers and the lesser nobility from the city failed miserably, and the city fell in Danish hands in September.

Around this time, Gustav returned from Lübeck, landing at Stensö near the city of Kalmar in the province of Småland, which was still Swedish. Eriksson tried to raise the morale of the burgesses and the German soldiers, and when that failed, he continued, with equal lack of success, through the province.

He continued up through Sweden, visiting a relative in the southern part of Södermanland, the province whose northern part is home to half of Stockholm. His relative was summoned to Kristian's crowning, and eventually went, despite Eriksson's warnings.

Gustav Eriksson continued north to an estate of his father's. He had been granted amnesty by Danish King, but he distrusted it, and rightly so, for in November, he received news of the Stockholm Blood Bath.

82 people, mostly noblemen and priests, had been decapitated in central Stockholm on November 8, 1520, after a deceitful plan by Kristian. The relative that Gustav Eriksson had recently visited were among the victims, as were his own father and several other relatives and friends. Ever since, Kristian II has been known in Swedish history as Kristian the Tyrant. Ironically, he was known by the Danish as Kristian the Good.


Determined to fight Kristian, Eriksson continued his journey north to the province of Dalarna1, known for its spirit of independence and its strong iron mining and exporting industry, which was vital to the whole country.

He reached the town of Mora by Christmas 1520 and spoke to the people, calling for revolution, but tired from previous struggles, they hesitated to follow the instigator. Disappointed, Gustav Eriksson headed west for Norway.

Shortly after his departure, Mora was reached by two independent messengers with news of the new King's thirst for blood. Faced with the Danish threat, they realized their mistake and dispatched a group of skiers, which caught up with Eriksson near the community of Lima.1

[1] This chase is commemorated annually in the 90 km (56 mi) ski-event Vasaloppet, though today's route is slightly longer and runs in an easterly direction from Sälen, north of Lima, and finishes in Mora.

Back in Mora, Gustav Eriksson was unanimously elected Captain of Dalarna by representatives of all parishes, who swore their loyalty to him. They also fitted him with a life-guard of sixteen men, a guard that exists to this day as Svea Livgarde.

Under Eriksson's leadership, two successful raids were conducted within a month against present-day Falun, which boosted the morale of the Dalesmen. Money, supplies and the Official Seal of Dalarna, which was used to issue proclamations of independence to the bordering provinces, were seized.

The Rebels Move East

The Danish King had left for the Netherlands in December and left a group of clergy and noblemen to run the country. Bishop and Governor Didrick Slagheck summoned his troops, and the first battle was fought at a ford of the river Dalälven called Brunnbäcks färja in April 1521. Outnumbered, the Danish retreated. The Dalesmenns pursued them, forcing the Danish to defend themselves and take major losses before finally escaping to the south.

The rebels moved east and seized, mainly through domestic support, the provinces of Hälsingland and Gästrikland, gaining access its seaports. At the end of April, the rebels attacked and took the strategically important city of Västerås, to which the Danish had retreated from the Dalälven. The battle was a chaotic but easy victory, as the Danish horsemen trampled their own soldiers during a hurried retreat.

The Danish Defense Weakens

Internal disputes shook the Danish, and Didrik Slagheck became a scapegoat. He was ordered to Copenhagen1, leaving the Danish virtually defenseless against the rebels in Sweden.

[1] Danish: København.

Archbishop Gustav Trolle took the role of Viceroy of Sweden under Kristian II. He announced that Gustav Eriksson would go unpunished if he chose to surrender. Eriksson refused and called the Archbishop a traitor working for a foreign tyrant.

The Archbishop brought 500 horsemen and 3,000 knights towards Uppsala, and they met Eriksson's men at Lindsund near Rosersberg, today a suburb of Stockholm. The Archbishop lost over 3,000 men, as he was defeated and personally nearly killed. The rebels set up a camp at Brunkebergsåsen, now in downtown Stockholm.

Gustav Vasa Becomes Viceroy

On August 23, 1521, it is believed, Gustav Vasa was proclaimed Viceroy by a meeting of Lords of Götaland1. Still, the Danish controlled the important cities of Stockholm and Kalmar as well as several other strongholds, and the Swedish were running out of money to pay soldiers and buy warships.

[1] The southernmost of the three main regions of Sweden, each of which contains several provinces.

A Swedish delegation to Finland in September gained the support of its population. By Christmas, Finland, which Stockholm had relied heavily on for trade, was at the hands of Vasa.

The Siege of Stockholm

After a few failures in establishing strongholds close to the capital and keeping Danish reinforcements out, the Swedes finally established successful camps in the southwest at Sätra, in the west at Lovön1, and in the north at Järva. The Danish defense still remained strong, though, and reinforcements continued to arrive by sea, driving the Swedes back.

[1] An island outside Stockholm, now home to Drottningholm, the castle in which the Swedish Royal Family normally resides.

Vasa had made some contacts in Lübeck during his escape from Denmark, and they would prove valuable now. Realizing he could not take Stockholm without a strong ally, he wrote to the Council of Lübeck, asking for the the Hanseatic League's future support in providing men, ships, weapons, and supplies. The Council was cautious in order not to create further tensions between the Hanse and Denmark, but a group of Vasa's friends equipped ten warships for him with the Council's blessing.

The ships arrived at Söderköping, 140 km (87 mi) from Stockholm and 200 km (125 mi) from Kalmar, on June 7, 1522. 500 knights were sent south to Kalmar, and the rest headed to the northeast for the Stockholm camps, which now moved closer downtown and interlocked, and at last, the city was besieged as the east side was taken.

In November 1522, Kristian's governor on Gotland1 attempted to break the siege with nine warships and over thirty supply vessels. As the ships reached the archipelago, they were defeated and looted by eighteen warships from Sweden and Lübeck. Following this, the city fought a losing battle against the siege for half a year.

[1] Sweden's largest island, located in the Baltic Sea some 200 km (125 mi) south of Stockholm. Sometimes spelled Gothland.

Lübeck Attacks Denmark and Kristian II is Overthrown

After some devastating attacks on Danish territory in August 1523 by Vasa's Lübeck allies following a period of escalated tension, the Danish people were fed up with their King's conflicts and the taxes and forced recruitments that came with it. After a quick revolt, Kristian's uncle and enemy Frederik, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, was offered Kristian's title in January. After uniting himself with the powers in Lübeck, he accepted the title on March 26, 1523 and became King Frederik I of Denmark. Kristian fled to Holland on April 13.

Gustav Vasa Becomes King of Sweden

The news of Kristian's exile reached Sweden, and a national meeting was called, at which, among other positions, a Swedish King was to be formally appointed. Vasa himself was tired after the hard work of expelling the Danish King, and it was only after a lengthy persuasion that he let himself be elected King on June 6, 1523.1

[1] June 6 is commemorated annually, unofficially as the Swedish Flag Day and officially from 1983 as the Swedish National Day. Proposals to make it a national holiday are currently pending.

Problems Ahead

The horizon was, however, cloudy for Sweden. The War of Independence had exhausted the country's resources and killed a large part of the population, including most of the higher nobility in the Stockholm Blood Bath.

The siege had reduced Stockholm's taxpaying population by over 90% to 308 individuals. To boost the population, a quota of burgesses were ordered to move to Stockholm from each city, and refusal was punishable by fine.

Lübeck expected payment for their tribute in the war. Unable to pay the debt, Vasa's Sweden was forced to grant trade privileges to Lübeck, making it Sweden's only legal trade partner.

Tax collection had been suspended for years in some provinces, and the justice system was inadequate in many areas. The country was indebted and prices were rising.

Gustav Vasa Requisitions the Church's Treasures

The King turned to the the Church for a loan. The Church sent chalices and other valuables, and by August, a partial payment could be sent to Lübeck to their temporary satisfaction. Gustav would continue to requisition the Church's resources, claiming that the property of the Church was in fact the property of the people, and as their master, he had the authority to rule over its resources.1

[1] Earlier Regents had swore to protect the interest of the Church, but Gustav had sworn only to be "a well disposed, good and faithful master, abiding by all the items and articles in Sweden's and holy King Erik's law and order", which gave him a greater freedom in dealing with the Church.

Malmö Recess

To resolve the disputes over Gotland, the province of Blekinge and the province now known as Bohuslän, the Swedish and the Danish convened for negotiations in August 1524 in the city of Malmö in the province of Skåne.

Frederik opened the meeting by speaking of the importance of amity between the countries, and of his wishes for the Union's future existence. He offered to accept Gustav as the Swedish Regent, granted that Gustav recognized Frederik as his superior.

Gustav said the Union had been dissolved by the actions of previous Danish Kings and their subordinates. He had swore to protect the sovereignty of Sweden, and refused to be Denmark's puppet.

Frederik accepted this, but the dispute over Gotland was harder to settle, and the decision was left to the neutral representatives of the Hanseatic League. They ruled that, pending a final decision, Blekinge was to be turned over to the Danish immediately, Bohuslän was to be Swedish until further notice, and the faith of Gotland was to be decided by whose hands the city of Visby was in by September 1.

Gustav felt let down by the Hanse, and called for a national meeting on October 1 following the negotiations. A search for documents that could support Sweden's claim to Gotland was ordered, and to strengthen the King's image, it was decided that he was to be crowned.

Sweden's most pressing issue was the economy. The nation's income did not even cover its daily needs, let alone debt payments. Several districts of Sweden paid taxes to noblemen instead of the King by earlier grants. Several grants were now revoked, and future grants were restricted.

Olaus Petri and the Protestant Reformation

The Swedish Church was rich and to some extent powerful by Swedish standards, but not by international ones. The arrival of Christianity to Sweden had occurred relatively late. The Swedish Church was rather simple and liberal, but it maintained good relations with Rome.

With Olaus Petri, a Swedish deacon educated in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther worked, came the Protestant Reformation. He was employed by Gustav as city secretary in Stockholm in 1524, and preached the Lutheran teachings, even if the crowd was sometimes skeptical to the point of hurling rocks.

Whether it was for financial reasons or moral conviction, the King became a supporter of the Reformation. He made book printing a royal monopoly, granting Olaus Petri access to the printing press, letting him print Lutheran publications and work on translating the Bible from Latin, while denying others the right to criticize the Reformation in print.

The Reformation was a slow process, though, confined to a few coastal cities and concerning only a minority of the population, most of whom were ethnic Germans. Gustav wanted the support of all his citizens, and underlined the importance of reformation.

At a national meeting in Västerås in 1527, Gustav held an emotional address on the state of the nation. He condemned the wealth of the priests, blaming them for the poverty of the nation. He threatened to abdicate if nothing happened.

Faced with the threat of being taken over by a foreign King in the absense of a strong Swedish one, the representatives of the Estates agreed to accept Gustav's proposals and persuade him to stay.

The King became the head of the Church with the previously Papal power of confirming the election of a Bishop, and Bishops lost their judicial powers. Fees paid to the Pope would be paid to the state, and donations paid by the nobility to the Church would be returned to the proper family or, if it was extinct, to the King. Begging was outlawed except ten weeks per year, which meant the end for many mendicant orders.

The Church had lost its political power and financial privileges, and the wealth of the King and the state increased at last. So much, in fact, that large-scale bureaucratization of Sweden was needed to manage the taxes.

Katarina of Sachsen-Lauenburg Becomes Gustav Vasa's First Wife

On September 24, 1531, Gustav married Katarina of Sachsen-Lauenburg, daughter of a German Prince. She gave birth to Gustav's first son, who would become his successor to the throne as Erik XIV. She died, however, only four years after the wedding.

Margareta Eriksdotter Leijonhufvud Becomes Gustav Vasa's Second Wife

Gustav remarried only a year later to Margareta Eriksdotter of the Leijonhufvud family, a marriage which was happier, more lasting, and produced ten children, a few of whom died at a young age, but the first and the last son would both become Kings as Johan III and Karl IX, respectively.

Gustav Vasa's Bible

In 1541, Olaus Petri completed Gustav Vasa's Bible, a Swedish translation of the New and the Old Testament. The Bible was a milestone in the development of the Swedish language. It countered some of the German influences on the Swedish language and established standards in grammar and spelling, which had previously been rather inconsistent.

The Dacke Rebellion

By now, the heavy taxation had allowed Gustav to reinforce and complement the nation's strongholds, but they also led to growing discontent among the public. The most obvious example of this was the 1542 rebellion led by Nils Dacke from Småland.

Dacke and an army of farmers took control of the province, but by imposing a blockade on Småland, the King forced the rebels to surrender. The rebel leader himself was hunted down and beheaded, and to set an example, his head was placed on a stake for the public to see.

Katarina Gustavsdotter Stenbock Becomes Gustav Vasa's Third Wife

Gustav outlived his second wife as well, and was quick to get remarried yet again. Only a year after Margareta died in 1551, Katarina Gustafsdotter of the Stenbock family, Margareta's niece, became his third wife, but they never had children together.

The Last Years

Gustav had, until shortly before his death, a good relationship with his oldest son, Erik, but all along, he was disappointed in Johan, who he felt intervened too much in foreign relations. Eventually the trouble surrounding Erik's marriage negotiations at the end of the 1590s created tensions between Gustav and him as well.

By now, the King was an old man. His health was poor, and he worried about the country's future. He called for a meeting in June 1560, where he likened himself to David and Denmark to Goliath, recalling Sweden's past struggles. Complying with his wishes, a decision to maintain an inherited line of succession was signed, confirming a 1544 decision.

In August, Gustav fell ill with a stomach disorder. Queen Katarina watched over him, and nearly died herself from the exhaustion. The Priest tried to convince the King to confess his sins, but Gustav felt it was none of the Priest's business.

At 4 A.M. on September 29, 1560, the Priest saw that the end was near and rushed for the prayer book. The physician thought the King was already dead, and pulled the nightcap over his eyes, upon which the King asked what was going on. The Priest returned and asked him to give a sign if he believed in Christ. The King replied with a loud "yes" and died at the respectable age of 64, passing the Kingdom in a sound financial state to his son.

The King lay in state for eight weeks, and was buried on December 12, 1560, after being taken to Uppsala by a large procession. After a sermon of several hours was held in the Cathedral, the Sword of the Kingdom, the primary regalia at the time, was handed to Prince Erik, making him King Erik XIV.


Many, many thanks to Tiefling for not only reading but proofreading and commenting.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.