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Last updated : Nov 2009
Sweden History
Sweden History -
The country's contact with the rest of Europe is first recorded in the Viking period, when Sweden traded arms and furs with Russia along the eastern passage.

During the 13th century, a form of feudalism was introduced, hereditary dignity was established and a flourishing middle class of burghers emerged in the towns.

Political history in this period is complex, but some sense of temporary order was engendered by the accession of Margaret, then Regent of Denmark and ruler of Norway, to the throne in 1387. She made an effort to establish a united Scandinavia (the Union of Kalmar) however this did not last long after her death and, during the 15th century, the nobility were not able to do much as they pleased at the expense of royal authority.

The most significant event of the 1500's was the Massacre of Stockholm in 1520, occasioned by Christian of Denmark’s ill judged attempt to reassert his authority in Sweden, this led to a national revolt, headed by Gustav Ericksson Vasa.

The Danes were defeated and Gustav was crowned Gustav I in 1523, establishing the House of Vasa and heralding the beginning of Sweden’s superiority in Europe.

Protestantism became firmly recognized by the Convention of Uppsala in 1593.

In 1611, Gustavus Adolphus (Gustav II Adolf), 1 of the most famous names in Swedish history, became king.

Much of the foreign policy of the 17th century was dominated by the desire to transform the Baltic into a Swedish lake, this was the main inspiration behind Gustav II’s entry into the 30 Years’ War in 1629.

Despite Gustav II's perceived role as a champion of Protestantism, he soon came to an alliance with Catholic France, in order to counter their common enemy, the Emperor Ferdinand II.

Sweden won the last remaining Baltic territories not under their control, Prussia and Pomerania, however Gustav was killed at the battle of Lützen in 1632.

Although the Peace of Westphalia (in 1648) confirmed Sweden as a major power, this supremacy proved to be short lived. Gustav was succeeded by his young daughter, Christina. She abdicated in 1654 and the reigns of her 3 successors (1654 to 1718) were dominated by military campaigns, characterised by a slow retreat (in the face of Austria and Russia) and punctuated by spectacular but hesitant victories, such as Narva (1701).

An alliance against the growth of Swedish power eventually conquered Karl (in the Great Northern War) and by the mid 18th century, Sweden had lost most of its possessions outside Scandinavia.

Another casualty of the defeat was dictatorship, established by Karl XI but abolished on the accession of his sister, Eleanora. Factions at court concerned Sweden in further European conflicts, including another war with Russia, in 1772. This is when Gustav III felt strong enough to reinforce absolutist rule. Despite an aggressive and victorious foreign policy, his regime did not long survive his own elimination in 1792.

After the Peace of Kiel in 1814, the country was confirmed in possession of Norway but was forced to cede many German regions to Denmark and Finland to Russia, marking the termination of Swedish interests on mainland Europe.

Absolutism was not completely broken until the mid 19th century, this happened as a result of Liberal opposition to Karl XV. The latter years of the century were dominated by economic expansion and the appearance of Norwegian nationalism, culminating in Norway’s statement of full independence in 1905.

By 1905 a parliamentary form of government had emerged in Sweden, with a strong Socialist opposition. The Socialdemokratiska Arbetarepartiet (SAP, Social Democrats) first gained power in the early 1920's and, apart from a short break in 1936, held power incessantly from 1932 until 1976.

Since the end of World War II, in which the country remained neutral (as it had done in World War I), Sweden has enjoyed growing economic success with continued investment in, and expansion of the welfare state.

Abroad, it has forged close links with other Scandinavian countries, which have developed a significant role on the international stage as well appreciated neutrals. Nobody exemplified this more than Olaf Palme, prime minister and leader of the SAP from 1970 until his elimination in 1986.

By the beginning of the 1990's the economy was no longer performing as well as it had done and the centre right coalition government of Carl Bildt, which took office in 1991, established an austerity programme. This was designed to reduce inflation, cut the budget deficit by reducing public expenditure and privatise and de regulate much of Sweden’s extensive public sector.

Relations with the European Community had become the major issue in Swedish politics, although with all the major political parties supporting membership, the issue was less than controversial. Discussions for full membership began in 1993, and these were completed by the September 1994 election, which was won by the SAP. Sweden joined the EU at the beginning of 1995.

The country chose not to join the European single currency at its inception in 1999, public support was lacking and the government felt that economic conditions were not right.

By 2003 the government was prepared to sign on, however, an admired referendum that September rejected the Euro. The minority Social Democrat government that had taken office in September 1998, under premier Goran Persson, was partly restricted by the reservations of the ex communist Left Party and the Greens, upon whose support the SAP relied to hold on to office.

Despite the Swedish government’s difficulties, opinion poll predictions and the general political shift to the right throughout Europe, the SAP held on to power at the most recent poll in September 2002.

The country still needs the support of the Greens and the Left Party.