Short history of 17th to 18th century Finland

Short history of 17th to 18th century Finland (from Wikipedia)

The 17th century – the Swedish Empire

In 1611 – 1632 Sweden was ruled by King Gustavus Adolphus, whose military reforms transformed the Swedish army from a peasant militia into an efficient fighting machine, possibly the best one in Europe. The conquest of Livonia was now completed, and some territories were taken from internally divided Russia in the Treaty of Stolbova. In 1630, the Swedish (and Finnish) armies marched into Central Europe, as Sweden had decided to take part in the great struggle between Protestant and Catholic forces in Germany, known as the Thirty Years’ War. The Finnish light cavalry, known as the Hakkapeliitat, spread fear among the Catholic troops in Germany who were used to more orderly warfare (and, maybe, less brutal treatment of prisoners and civilians).

After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Sweden was ranked among the great European powers (the Swedish Empire). During the war, several important reforms had been made in Finland:
1637-40 and 1648-54 Count Per Brahe functioned as general governor of Finland. Many important reforms were made and many towns were founded. His period of administration is generally considered very beneficial to the development of Finland.

1640 Finland’s first university, the Academy of Åbo, was founded in Turku at the proposal of Count Per Brahe by Queen Christina of Sweden. This is said to be the only European university founded by a female.

1642 The whole Bible was finally published in Finnish.
However, the high taxation, continuing wars and the cold climate (the Little Ice Age) made the Imperial era of Sweden rather gloomy times for Finnish peasants. In 1655 – 1660, a new series of bitter wars was fought, taking Finnish soldiers to the battle-fields of Livonia, Poland and Denmark. In 1676, the political system of Sweden was transformed into an absolute monarchy.
In Middle and Eastern Finland, great amounts of tar were produced for export. European nations needed this material for the maintenance of their fleets. According to some theories, the spirit of early capitalism in the tar-producing province of Pohjanmaa may have been the reason for the witch-hunt wave that happened in this region during the late 17th century. The people were developing more expectations and plans for the future, and when these were not realized, they were quick to blame witches – according to a belief system the Lutheran church had imported from Germany.

In the religious sense, the 17th century was an era of very strict Lutheran orthodoxy.

In 1697-9, a famine caused by climate killed approximately 30 % of the Finnish population. Soon afterwards, another war determining Finland’s fate began (the Great Northern War of 1700-21).

The 18th century – the Age of Reason

During the Great Northern War (1700–1721), Finland was occupied by the Russians, and the south-eastern part, including the important town of Viipuri, was annexed to Russia after the peace of Uusikaupunki. The border with Russia came to lie roughly where it returned to after World War II. Sweden’s status as a European great power was gone, and Russia was now the leading might of the North. The absolute monarchy was finished in Sweden. During this Age of Liberty, the Parliament ruled the country, and the two parties of Hats and Caps struggled for control leaving the lesser Court party, i.e. parliamentarians with close connections to the royal court, with little to no influence. The Caps wanted to have a peaceful relationship with Russia and were supported by many Finns, while other Finns longed for revenge and supported the Hats.

Finland by this time was no populous land. By the mid-18th century, the population was less than 470 000 according to official statistics (based on (Lutheran) church records, so a few Orthodox Christian parishes in Northern Karelia are not included). However the population grew rapidly, and doubled before the turn of the century. 90% of the population are typically classified as “peasants”; however most of them belonged to the class of free taxed yeomen. 45% of the male population were enfranchised with full political representation in the legislature — although clericals, nobles and townsfolk had their own chambers in the parliament, boosting their political influence and excluding the peasantry on matters of foreign policy.

The mid 18th century was a relatively good time, partly because life was now more peaceful. However, during the Lesser Wrath (1741–1742), Finland was again occupied by the Russians after the government, during a period of Hat party dominance, had made a botched attempt to reconquer the lost provinces. Instead the result of the Peace of Åbo was that the Russian border was moved further to the west. During this time, Russian propaganda hinted at the possibility of creating a separate Finnish kingdom.
Both the ascending Russian Empire and pre-revolutionary France aspired to have Sweden as a client state. Parliamentarians and others with influence were susceptible to taking bribes which they made their best to push up. The integrity and the credibility of the political system waned, and in 1771 the young and charismatic king Gustav III staged a coup-d’état, abolished parliamentarism and reinstated royal power in Sweden — more or less with the support of the parliament. In 1788, he started a new war against Russia. Despite a couple of victorious battles, the war was fruitless, managing only to bring disturbance to the economic life of Finland. The popularity of King Gustav III waned considerably. During the war, a group of officers made the famous Anjala declaration demanding peace negotiations and calling of Riksdag (Parliament). An interesting sideline of this process was the conspiracy of some Finnish officers, who attempted to create an independent Finnish state with Russian support. After an initial shock, Gustav III crushed this opposition. In 1789, the new constitution of Sweden strengthened the royal power further, as well as improving the status of the peasantry. However, the continuing war had to be finished without conquests – and many Swedes now considered the king as a tyrant.

With the interruption of the war 1788–1790, the last decades of the 18th century had been an era of development in Finland. Trade increased and the peasantry was growing more affluent and self-conscious. The Age of Reason’s climate of broadened debate in the society on issues of politics, religion and morals would in due time highlight the problem that the overwhelming majority of Finns spoke only Finnish, but the cascade of newspapers, belles-lettres and political leaflets was almost exclusively in Swedish — when not in French.

The two Russian occupations had been harsh and were not easily forgotten. These occupations were a seed of a feeling of separateness and otherness, that in a narrow circle of scholars and intellectuals at the university in Turku was forming a sense of a separate Finnish identity representing the eastern part of the realm. The shine of the Russian imperial capital Saint Petersburg was also much stronger in southern Finland than in other parts of Sweden, and contacts across the new border dispersed the worst fears for the fate of the educated and trading classes under a Russian régime. At the turn of the century, the Swedish speaking educated classes of officers, clerics and civil servants were mentally well prepared for a shift of allegiance to the strong Russian Empire.

King Gustav III was assassinated in 1792, and his son Gustav IV Adolf assumed the crown after a period of regency. The new king was not a particularly talented ruler; at least not talented enough to steer his kingdom through the dangerous era of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars.

Russian Grand Duchy

During the Finnish War between Sweden and Russia, Finland was again conquered by the armies of Tsar Alexander I. The four Estates of occupied Finland were assembled at the Diet of Porvoo on March 29, 1809 to pledge allegiance to Alexander I of Russia. Following the Swedish defeat in the war and the signing of the Treaty of Fredrikshamn on September 17, 1809, Finland remained an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire until the end of 1917, with Karelia handed back to Finland in 1812. During the years of Russian rule the degree of autonomy varied. Periods of censorship and political prosecution occurred, particularly in the two last decades of Russian control, but the Finnish peasantry remained free (unlike their Russian counterparts) as the old Swedish law remained effective (including the relevant parts from Gustav III’s Constitution of 1772). The old four-chamber Diet was re-activated in the 1860s agreeing to supplementary new legislation concerning internal affairs. Industrialisation begun during the 19th century from forestry to industry, mining and machinery and laid the foundation of Finland’s current day prosperity, even though agriculture employed a relatively large part of the population until the post-WWII era.

Costumes and 18th century roles

One of the unique aspects of historical re-enacting is the requirement placed on costuming. Each participant is required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of their period. Many event participants gain more enjoyment from the costuming aspect of our sport than from the shooting competition, itself.

18th century firearms

Competitions are arranged for black powder shooting with 17th and 18th century firearms and various mountain man skills that were needed.