A Brief History of Stockholm
In 2002, Stockholm celebrated 750 years as a city. Although we can’t be sure when Stockholm officially became a city, the earliest document where Stockholm is mentioned is from 1252, signed by Birger Jarl, who is generally regarded as the city’s founder. The Germans and their Hanseatic League had tremendous power in those days and a great deal of influence over decision- making in Stockholm. Stockholm and Sweden would grow and become more independent and two important events that helped this cause were the Battle of Brunkeberg in 1471 and the revolution by Gustav Vasa in 1523 (see below, page 167). By the 17th century, town planners expanded the city limits outside the medieval city center that we today call the Old Town (Gamla Stan). But it would take a while until Stockholm would turn into the clean and beautiful city that it is today. Between the 15th and the 18th centuries, times were tough in the capital. The Plague and other diseases, along with several big fires, made life difficult for most people.
It wasn’t all misery, however. The 17th century was an era of great achievements for Sweden with a powerful military and many successful battles. But perhaps too much focus was on international affairs. Most of the budget and production of goods were channeled to the military and Stockholm was still just a poor and dirty small town, clearly not representative of a rising empire. The town planning and expansion of the city limits would encourage people to move here from the rural areas of Sweden and the population increased from about 10,000 to nearly 60,000 people in the 17th century. This was despite famines, fires and diseases, which were quite common. The city’s prosperity steadily increased.
The 18th century was a time of many scientific achievements in Stockholm. King Gustav III, who was a great advocate of science, art, architecture and literature, founded the Dramatic Theatre and the Swedish Academy, the institution that awards the Nobel Prize for literature. In the 19th century, industries and many new technological advancements and inventions led to better times.
Gustav Vasa and the Stockholm Bloodbath
Of all the monarchs in Sweden’s history, Gustav Vasa, left, had the most impact on the history of Stockholm and probably on the entire country. Vasa was one of the biggest opponents of the Danish King Kristian II and his regime. Because of that he was captured and imprisoned in Denmark. Sweden, Denmark and Norway had formed a union in 1397 but most Swedes were displeased with this and claimed independence. In 1520, King Kristian had marched into Stockholm to regain power. He was already king of the union and was now crowned king of Sweden by the archbishop. The king hosted a party to celebrate and invited Stockholm’s most prominent people such as councilors, noblemen and priests. None of them liked their new king but were promised amnesty if they cooperated with him, so they did. Little did they suspect that they were all walking into a trap. On the third and last day of the party, Kristian broke his promise and sentenced them all to death. The official reason was that they were all behind the Swedish leader Sten Sture, but in reality, King Kristian just wanted to get rid of his opposition. The executions took place on the main square, Stortorget, where about 80 people were beheaded, an event that became known as Stockholm’s Bloodbath.
Among the noblemen who were executed were Gustav Vasa’s father and a few other relatives.With some help from the Germans, Vasa managed to escape and eventually made it to Dalarna in central Sweden where he could gather enough men to take on the king in Stockholm (read more about this historic journey under Vasaloppet in the Dalarna chapter, page 199). The Germans would rather see Vasa as the king than Kristian who opposed the Hanseatic League. They believed the young nobleman Vasa would be a weaker ruler and easier to control. As it turned out, they were sadly mistaken.
June 6, 1523, when Vasa and his men marched into the city, would become a historic day. The revolution was a success and Vasa was crowned king, which put an end to the union and made Stockholm the official capital of Sweden. He would start a new dynasty and, in his 37 years in power, made sure that Sweden, not Denmark or Germany, was in control of its own destiny. Vasa also supported the Lutheran faith in a reformation of 1527, which became the official religion in the country. To ensure that the throne would stay in the family, Vasa had nine children. Three of them would later become kings but they constantly rebelled against each other and fought for the throne. But that is another story.
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