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The Dirty Secret of 17th Century Sweden and Poland

Updated on October 16, 2014
The  Russian army during the war with Sweden (1656-58)
The Russian army during the war with Sweden (1656-58) | Source
Jan Cazimir of Poland
Jan Cazimir of Poland | Source
Tzar Alexis
Tzar Alexis | Source
Charles X of Sweden
Charles X of Sweden | Source
Sigismund III and Charles IX
Sigismund III and Charles IX | Source
 Battle of Stångebro, the battle at which Sigismund lost Sweden
 Battle of Stångebro, the battle at which Sigismund lost Sweden | Source

The Dirty Secret of 17th Century Sweden and Poland

In the north Sweden was fighting Russia from 1656 – 1658 in what was called the Russo-Swedish War. In the south Russia was fighting Poland from 1654 - 1667 in the Russo-Polish War. The two overlapped. But the enemies of Russia were not allies.

Both Tzar Alexis and King Jan Cazimir of Poland wanted to dominate the rich soil of Ukraine which at the time was part of the Polish empire. Belarus was the gateway and it was descimated. Two hundred towns were decimated in the course of the war between Poland and Russia, and the economy of Belarus was ruined. The soldiers on both sides thought they were fighting for God, Catholic against Orthodox, so they were brutal. Russian soldiers raped, murdered and sold everyone, including the women and children, into slavery. Their sins were being Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran or Armenian of the Apostolic faith. Any atrocity was encouraged, tolerated and committed. When Tzar Alexis took Minsk in 1654, soldiers ordered everyone in the city to convert, leave or be killed.

But the Kings didn't fight for God. They wanted their country to be the power in the area. Therefore they could be powerful themselves and very rich.

The war of Russia with Poland was over in 1667. The war with Sweden had already been over for nine years. The Grand Duke Jan Cazimir King of Poland took back Belarus. After 13 years of Russian domination Minsk was a ruined city and the Polish made it worse by treating Minsk as a dump. Minsk had been a town of 10,000. Now it had only 380 houses with 2000 people. Then the people who were left began to starve. Epidemics spread. By the end of the war a third to half the people in Belarus were dead.

There was a reason Sweden and Poland did not fight together. They hated each other. Once 67 years before, they had been one country. This huge state incorporated the whole of the Baltic Sea coast line.

Sigismund III was the ruler. He had been made the King of Poland in 1587 and remained so until his death in 1632. His mother was the daughter of the King of Poland. His uncle was Stephen Bathory, the Hungarian who preceded him as king of Poland. Sigismund III had accepted the terms of Poland, including limited power. But Poland, the first democracy of Europe, was not considered a substancial country to rule as the Sejm had the power. The promises of the king were contingent on the support of the nobles.

But Sigismund was also the ruler of Sweden at the same time, from 1592 to1599. He was the rightful heir because he was the oldest son of the King of Sweden. When Sigismund heard his father had died he got permission from the Sejm to go to Sweden to take the throne. He left on August 3, 1593 with the consent of the Polish Parliament along with his first wife Anna who was a Habsburg.

But he had been raised a religious Catholic which was the religion of Poland, and his mother. This was a serious problem in Sweden which had become Lutheran. There were fears that Sigismund, as king, would support the Catholics against the Protestants.

The clergy demanded a resolution to prevent the spread of Catholicism in Sweden. An anti-Catholic confession of faith, the Augsburg confession was adopted, on January 9, 1594. Sigismund was made to guarantee religious freedom to the Lutherans.Sigismund also agreed in accordance the confessions, that Catholics could not practice their religion in public, all high officials had to be Lutheran and no schools teaching Catholicism could be established.

At first the agreement worked. He was accepted as the King of Sweden.The two countries were unified and together they controlled the Baltic Sea.

In July 1594 he left Sweden and sailed back to Poland. In his absence the government was entrusted to his uncle Charles and the Senate.

Charles now acted as though he were independent of Sigismund. He ended a war with Russia on his own terms and gave away a part of Finland. He recalled some of the officers known to support Sigismund. Then he called the Estates to session and had himself proclaimed regent.

Sigismund tried to have him replaced.

Sigismund did not help his cause as he approved the start of a Catholic school, and gave high positions to Catholics. His entourage got into brawls with Lutherans over religion.

Charles had little support from the government but his army took towns in southern Sweden. Sigismund fought with some support from the Polish goverrment but his small army, used German and Hungarian mercenaries. Further the campaign was disorganized and high commanders were unable to communicate. Sigismund was captured at the Battle of Stångebro.

On July 24, 1599, Sigismund was officially deposed as king. With he rule of Charles IX the union came to an end after seven years. The influential supporters of Sigismund were executed.

Sigismund tried to get Sweden back for the rest of his life, and this determined much of his foreign policy. He failed and lost Livonia (Latvia and Estonia) to Sweden. His desire to regain Sweden caused a civil war in Poland. He invaded Russia, taking over for two years in The Time of Troubles but the country was taken back. His only big gain was Smolensk. The two countries fought many wars after that and would never work together even when they had common goals.

It was his son, Jan Casimir who fought in the war of 1654.


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      Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

      I love finding hbs which teach me about things of which I had no prior knowledge. Thank you