The Kalmar War

Wojna Kalmarska – 1611

The Kalmar War

From The Historian’s History of the World (In 25 Volumes) by Henry Smith William L.L.D. – Vol. XVI.(Scandinavia) Pg. 308-310

The northern part of the Scandinavian peninsula, as already noticed, had been peopled from the remotest times by nomadic tribes called Finns or Cwenas by the Norwegians and Lapps by the Swedes, from which their territory derived the name of Lapland. These aboriginal inhabitants retained their primitive manners, language, and religion, unaffected by the progress of Christianity in the North. No definite boundary separated the adjacent kingdoms of Sweden and Norway from the dreary wilderness occupied by their less civilised neighbours who subsisted by hunting and fishing. The progress of conquest had gradually pressed them nearer to the borders of the arctic circle, but still even under the Union of Kalmar their territorial limits remained undefined.

The tribes scattered along the coasts beyond the North Cape paid tribute to Norway as early as the reign of Harold Harfagr. The Laplanders round the gulf of Bothnia were subdued by associations of fur-traders, to whom the exclusive monopoly of their commerce and government was granted by Magnus Ladulas; and so far had these merchants abused their privileges and thrown off their dependence on the Swedish crown that they styled them selves “kings of the Lapps.” Gustavus Vasa expelled these usurpers, and reduced the natives to the condition of tributaries. Charles IX after his accession assumed the title of “king of the Lapps of Norrland,” and founded the new city Gothenburg (Goteborg), near the mouth of the Gota, to the inhabitants of which he granted the privilege of fishing on the northern coasts of Lapland.

These measures, added to the interruption of the Danish commerce with the ports in the gulf of Riga, awakened the jealousy of Christian IV of Den mark, who stationed a convoy in the Sound to protect all vessels navigating the Baltic, in which he claimed not merely freedom of mercantile intercourse but a right of dominion such as had been immemorially asserted by his royal predecessors. In vain did he remonstrate with the king and the senate against these encroachments upon the interests of his crown and the immunities of his people; Charles evaded all proposals for redress, and in 1611 commenced that sanguinary struggle between the two kingdoms usually called the war of Kalmar. Before taking the field, Christian despatched a herald-at-arms with a declaration of hostilities against Sweden, but Charles refused to admit him into his presence, and detained him as a prisoner; whilst his own messenger reached the enemy’s camp, where he presented a counter declaration, repeating the arguments advanced in the Danish manifesto and endeavouring to throw the odium of the rupture upon his adversary.

The national land-forces of Denmark at this epoch consisted in the feudal militia, composed of the nobility and their vassals, the tenant of every crown fief being compelled to serve in person on horseback, and also to furnish a certain number of his serfs for the infantry, which was divided into regiments, or “banners,” of six hundred men each, commanded by a captain, and subdivided into twelve companies, headed by as many lieutenants. These levies furnished an army of sixteen thousand native troops, and they were increased by four thousand mercenaries, consisting of German cavalry, with English and Scottish infantry. The defence of Norway was confided to the national militia. The whole naval force was divided into two squadrons, one of which was sent to cruise in the Kattegat, and the other to blockade Kalmar, the key of Sweden on the Baltic frontier.

Notwithstanding these formidable preparations, Christian laboured undercertain obvious disadvantages; the Danish nobility grudged the pecuniary supplies; the nation had not heard the sound of war since the Treaty of Stettin in 1570; whilst the Swedes, on the other hand, had been constantly engaged in hostilities with Poland and Russia.

One division of the Danish army, under Steen Schestedt, grand-marshal of the kingdom, penetrated through Vestergotland to Jonkoping; and the other, commanded by Christian in person, laid siege to Kalmar, which was soon obliged to capitulate, the king himself mounting the breech at the head of his troops. The garrison retreated into the citadel, but the town was given up to be plundered by the soldiery.

Charles, and his son Gustavus Adolphus, who had surprised the principal military depot of the enemy, advanced by rapid marches to the relief of the place, whilst Admiral Gyldenstiern arrived with a superior naval force, and threw a consider able supply of men and provisions into the besieged citadel. Schestedt was recalled from Vestergotland, but the Swedes, determined to attack the Danish entrenchments before the arrival of this reinforcement, broke the enemy’s lines, whilst the garrison made a sortie, set fire to the town, and penetrated to the royal camp. On this occasion Christian signalised his personal courage, presence of mind, and other great military qualities, for which he was distinguished. After an obstinate com bat, the assailants were driven back to their original position; and Schestedt, ar riving in the midst of the battle, decided the fortune of the day. A short time afterwards the Swedes abandoned their camp in the night, and withdrew to Risby, in the expectation of receiving additional supplies. Their retreat compelled the surrender of the found a vast Store of bronze artillery with other munitions of war.

Exasperated by these misfortunes, the Swedish monarch sent a cartel to Christian, accusing him in the most bitter and reproachful terms of having broken the peace of Stettin, taken the city of Kalmar by treachery, and shed a profusion of innocent blood in an unjust cause. Every means of conciliation being exhausted, he offered to terminate the quarrel by single combat. ” Come then,” said he, after the old Gothic fashion, “into the open field with us, accompanied by two of your vassals, in full armour, and we will meet you sword in hand, without helm or harness, attended in the same manner. Herein if you fail we shall no longer consider you as an honourable king or a soldier.”

Christian answered this extraordinary letter in terms still more reproachful, declining to accept the challenge of “a paralytic dotard,” whom he sarcastically counselled to remain by a warm fire with his nurse and physician, rather than expose himself to combat in the open field, with his younger and more robust competitor. This severe reply the king followed up by attacking the Swedes in their entrenchments at Risby; but after three days hard fighting, he was compelled to retreat, and set sail for Copenhagen, where he remained during the winter. Charles did not long survive these exertions, dying at Nykoping in 1611, worn out with fatigue of body and mind.

During this war the sixteen-year-old prince, afterwards distinguished as Gustavus (II) Adolphus, won his spurs. Commanding a separate division of the army, he accomplished the destruction of Christianopel, the principal arsenal of the Danes in Skania, and reconquered Oland. These victories were perhaps the most notable achievements of the war.


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