Finland Table of Contents
Olavinlinna, the castle built at Savonlinna to defend Finland's
eastern frontier against the Russians
Courtesy Embassy of Finland, Washington
Only once has Scandinavia been united politically, from 1397 to 1523 under the Danish crown. The Kalmar Union came into existence essentially to allow the three Scandinavian states of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway to present a united front against foreign--primarily German--encroachments. The driving force behind the union was Queen Margaret I of Denmark, who had gained the Norwegian crown by marriage and the Swedish crown by joining with the Swedish nobility against an unpopular German king.
Under the Kalmar Union, monarchs sought to expand royal power, an attempt that brought them into conflict with the nobles. The union eventually came apart as a result of antagonisms between the Danish monarchy and the Swedish nobility, which controlled both Sweden and Finland. Frequent warfare marked Danish-Swedish relations during these years, and there was also fighting between factions competing for the Swedish crown. As a result of the turmoil, Finland suffered from heavy taxation, the disruption of commerce, and the effects of warfare carried out on its soil.
The struggle between Denmark and Sweden diverted essential resources from Finland's eastern defenses and left them open to attack by the Muscovites. The late fifteenth century had witnessed the steady expansion of the power of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, which was eventually to become the basis for the Russian Empire. In 1478 Grand Duke Ivan III subdued Novgorod and thus brought Muscovite power directly to the border of Finland. In 1493 Denmark and Muscovy concluded a treaty of alliance aimed at embroiling Sweden in a two-front war, and in 1495 Muscovite forces invaded Finland. Although the fortress city of Viipuri held out, the Muscovites avoided the city, and, almost unchecked, devastated large areas of Finland's borderlands and interior. The Swedes made peace with Muscovy in 1497, and the borders of 1323 were reaffirmed, but the Swedish-Finnish nobility had to defend Finland without much direct assistance from Sweden.
A revolt, against the Kalmar Union, under the leadership of a Swedish noble named Gustav Vasa resulted in 1523 in the creation of a Swedish state separate from Denmark. Vasa became king of Sweden, as Gustav I Vasa, and he founded a dynasty that ruled Sweden-Finland for more than a century. He was generally credited with establishing the modern Swedish state. Under his rule, Finland remained integrated with the Swedish state, and the Swedish-Finnish nobility retained its primacy over local affairs.
Data as of December 1988