Birthday: May 12, 1496
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 64
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Gustav I, Gustav Eriksson
Born Country: Sweden
Born in: Rydboholm Castle, Uppland or Lindholmen, Uppland, Sweden
Famous as: King
Spouse/Ex-: Catherine Stenbock (m. 1552), Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg (m. 1531 – 1535), Margaret Leijonhufvud (m. 1536 – 1551)
father: Erik Johansson Vasa
mother: Cecilia Månsdotter
children: Anna of Sweden, Carl - Prince of Sweden, Catherine Vasa of Sweden, Charles IX of Sweden, Eric XIV of Sweden, John III of Sweden, Magnus - Duke of Östergötland, Princess Cecilia of Sweden, Princess Elizabeth of Sweden, Princess Sophia of Sweden, Sten Vasa
Died on: September 29, 1560
place of death: Tre Kronor, Stockholm, Sweden
Cause of Death: Cholera
Gustav I of Sweden, from the Vasa noble family, was the king of Sweden from 1523 until his death in 1560. Gustav was born in Stockholm, into a noble Swedish family. Owing to his affluent background, Gustav received the best education as a child. He was well-versed in military matters, politics, and languages. He rose to fame following the Stockholm Bloodbath, a horrific event that took place in 1520, following the coronation of King Christian II. Gustav led the rebels against the crown. In June 1523, the rebels won and Gustav took the throne as the king of Sweden. Gustav I was an energetic leader who was known to take bold decisions. He ruthlessly crushed many rebellions. He also introduced some tax reforms, and it was under his reign that Sweden embarked into the age of Reformation. He was known as a great propagandist and had a positive image among the masses, mostly based on false stories of valor and adventures. He also laid the foundation of the ‘Lutheran Church’ of Sweden, an answer to the ‘Roman Catholic Church.’ He abolished elective monarchy and established hereditary monarchy. Despite his shortcomings as a ruler and his image of a tyrant, he is remembered as the “father of the nation” in Sweden.
Childhood & Early Life
Gustav I of Sweden was born Gustav Eriksson, on May 12, 1496, in Stockholm, Sweden, to Erik Johansson Vasa and Cecilia Mansdotter Eka. There have been disputes about his exact place of birth, but he was most likely born in the ‘Rydboholm Castle,’ which was the manor house of his father. Gustav was named after his grandfather, Gustav Anundsson.
His father descended from a noble family with close connections with the house of Sture, which provided three Swedish kings. Hence, Erik was a mass leader and worked as the governor of a group of islands located at the Gulf of Bothnia.
Sweden was part of the Kalmar Union, along with Denmark and Norway, since the late 14th century. From time to time, there were uprisings to make Sweden an independent country. One such rebellion broke out when Gustav was still a child.
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As the Rebel Leader
When Danish King Christian II ruled Sweden, the uprising had become stronger. In 1520, King Christian II had invited the rebel leaders for negotiations. However, they were tried and executed for heresy. One of the dead was Gustav’s father, Erik. The incident, known as the Stockholm Bloodbath, spelled the breaking point for the rebels.
The rebellion had become weaker in 1520, but Gustav chose to carry it forward, exhibiting the qualities of a bold and fearless leader. There are many stories of his bravery from this period, which are still quite popular.
He needed support to deliver a final blow to Christian II, and he required finances and men to do that. He convinced people from Dalarna and Lubeck to join his rebellion for a free Sweden. Christian’s aggressive policies had significantly affected the rich people of Sweden, and they were more than willing to offer help to the cause. Lubeck was a German town that provided the finances.
With this help, Gustav managed to bring together a strong army of 400 men. Gustav won an important battle in Brunnback’s Ferry. His army also managed to sack the city of Vasteras, known for its copper and silver mines. Thus, Gustav became stronger. After watching him win, many more supporters flocked in to join his army. Many more rebellions erupted around the country, and Gustav was named the regent of Sweden in August 1520.
As the news of Gustav’s appointment as the regent spread, many Swedish noblemen, who were formerly loyal to Christian II, switched sides. Many, who remained loyal to Christian II, were either killed or forced to flee. Hence, a new Swedish ‘Privy Council’ was established, with all the members being Gustav supporters. Many small castles and fortified cities were captured by Gustav’s rebel forces.
The stronger forts, such as that of Stockholm, however, were still under Danish control. Christian II knew that his time was almost over. In 1523, a final blow was delivered, and the Danish rule was crushed, thus making Sweden an independent country. Christian II was dethroned in Denmark, too, and Frederick I was crowned as the king of Denmark.
As the King of Sweden
On June 6, 1523, Gustav began his reign as the king of Sweden. However, both Frederick and Gustav were aware of the threat Christian II posed. He had taken the insult to heart and could have planned his own rebellion, which would have also put Sweden’s interests in danger. Hence, Christian and Gustav joined hands.
However, this association with a former enemy was not acceptable to the Swedish noblemen. They were critical of Gustav for trusting a former enemy.
There were also many other social and religious issues that plagued the initial few years of Gustav’s reign. There were some powerful men who thought that Gustav was a formidable ruler and not as much a people’s leader as he appeared to be during the rebellion.
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These worries were justified. During his reign, he came across as a vengeful, cruel, and suspicious king. The situation went out of control, and people began calling him a tyrant.
Gustav had taken heavy loans from the rich men of Lubeck, a German town, to aid his rebellion. The royal treasury, too, was depleted to a great degree. Hence, Gustav imposed heavy taxes on the Swedish population to pay the debt and fill the royal treasury.
In 1527, Sweden stepped into the age of Reformation, which was started by Gustav with an intention of tapping into the riches of the ‘Roman Catholic Church.’ The properties of the church were now his. Gustav had no great religious or theological beliefs of his own, but he wanted to diminish any other ruling authority in Sweden that could challenge him. The ‘Lutheran Church’ of Sweden was thus established, in a full-fledged political move.
His introduction of Protestantism was widely hated across Sweden. This also saw the rise of three Dalarna rebellions within the first decade of Gustav’s reign. Gustav crushed all the rebellions against him ruthlessly. He executed almost all the rebel leaders, and with this, his reputation as a tyrant was strengthened.
In order to ensure his successors continued to rule Sweden, he abolished elective monarchy in 1544. He introduced the system of hereditary monarchy instead. This led to Sweden being ruled by the Vasa rulers from Gustav’s lineage for more than a century after Gustav.
Despite his shortcomings as a leader, Gustav was hailed as the man whose accomplishments freed his nation and established it as a sovereign state. He often compared himself to Moses.
He was a music lover. It is believed he founded what eventually came to be known as the ‘Royal Swedish Opera.’
Family, Personal Life & Death
Gustav I of Sweden had three wives: Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg, Margaret Leijonhufvud, and Catherine Stenbock. He went on to have nine children. Three of his sons, Eric XIV, John III, and Charles IX, ruled Sweden at different points in time.
Toward the late 1550s, his health deteriorated. He was suffering from severe infections in his leg and jaw. He passed away on September 29, 1560. He was 64 years old at the time of his death.
Despite his cruel measures, he is hailed as the “father of the nation” in Sweden, as he united Sweden like no other king before him. He is also credited with the formation of the ‘Swedish Royal Army,’ which played a massive role in Sweden becoming a European superpower in the subsequent centuries.