The Vasa

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

The Vasa

For a few minutes in 1628, the Swedish Vessel “The Vasa” was one of the most magnificent ships of its time, this was all, of course, before it sank in Stockholm’s harbour, on its maiden voyage. Although this can be seen as a great tragedy for the 30 sailors who lost their lives and for the thousands of ordinary Swedish citizens who would have been traumatised by watching such an event, this great ship, which is now the best preserved 17th century ship, thanks to the Vasa Museum, has become the ultimate symbol of what has become known in Sweden as the Stormaktstiden”, which translates to “the Era of Great Power”.  

Gustavus Adolphus

But how did Sweden, once a small Scandinavian kingdom, become one of the greatest European superpowers of the 17th and early 18th centuries? The man who is often accredited with the start of this transformation was the man who ordered the building of the Vasa, Gustavus Adolphus, who reigned between 1611 and 1632. Adolphus gained many new territories, first from Russia at the end of the Ingrian War, in which although the Swedes failed in their ambition to put a Swedish duke on the Russian throne, the Treaty of Stolbovo gave the Swedish a large territorial gain. Furthermore, in return for Gustavus Adolphus recognising Michael Romanov as tsar of Russia, Russia renounced all claims to Livonia and Estonia and gave Adolphus control over the fortress of Noteborg, which was seen as the key to Finland.  

In the following years, Adolphus strengthened his position both abroad and at home, warring on and off for land with Poland and up until that point, he had concerned himself only with the Scandinavian and Baltic region. That changed in 1628 at the Siege of Stralsund, where the Imperial Army of Albrecht von Wallenstein was defeated by Adolfus who had allied with his previous enemies, the Danes. This is seen as Sweden’s first involvement in the Thirty Years’ War. A war which for Adolphus, was not only about gaining military power. For him, it was a war of religion. As a protestant, it was important for him that the Catholic Church, for which many nations and empires were fighting, did not succeed in its mission to halt the spread of Protestantism in Northern Europe. It was for this reason that Adolphus led an invasion of the Holy Roman Empire in the name of the Protestant Cause, despite his death at the Battle of Lutzen in 1632, the Swedish Army went on to win decisively, in a war that paved the way for the Great Swedish Empire, which is remembered today through the Vasa ship.  

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By Harry Cornford

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