A Concise History of Finland – the 11th to the 21st Century by Soile Varis by Soile Varis - Read Online

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A Concise History of Finland – the 11th to the 21st Century - Soile Varis

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1. The Era of Swedish Rule

In the early Middle Ages, Sweden and the Grand Duchy of Novgorod began to show interest in the territory of Finland. Each state intended to fold Finland religiously, politically, and economically into its own sphere of power. Sweden succeeded. In the era of the crusades (1150 – 1323), Finland was integrated into the Kingdom of Sweden, drawing Finland under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

The legend of peasant Lalli emerged in the era of the crusades, when he killed Bishop Henrik. Later, Henrik was appointed the first Finnish Saint. Painting by C. A. Ekman 1854.

The Reformation, which had started in Germany, reached Sweden in the 16th century. King Gustav Vasa saw economic and political opportunities in the Reformation. He converted the people of the Kingdom, including the Finns, to the Lutheran Church.

In the 16th century, the Vasa family actively pushed the Kingdom's boundaries farther to the East. During the 17th century, Sweden had grown into a superpower of the Baltic Sea. Finland's armed forces, governance, and economy were changed as well. During the 18th century, Sweden lost its superpower status. Finland experienced difficulty during the Russian occupation.

King Gustav Vasa (1496 - 1560).

Finland inherited the Western culture and societal model from hundreds of years of Swedish rule. The state had been run mainly by Swedish nobility. Finns continued to cultivate their land as they had always done, including the time when they were part of the Russian empire.

2. Finland as a Pawn in Superpower Politics

Turbulent superpower politics in the early 19th century was the primary reason for Finland becoming part of Russia. France was growing into a European superpower that wanted to take over Great Britain.

In 1807, the emperor of France, Napoleon, and the emperor of Russia, Alexander I, met in Tilsit to plan an embargo of Great Britain. The plan, however, wasn't complete without Sweden. Sweden refused to join the embargo because Great Britain was a significant trading partner for that Kingdom. In order to put pressure on Sweden, Russia attacked Finland, starting The Finnish War (1808 – 1809). Sweden didn't react fast enough, allowing Russia to quickly conquer Finland.

Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander I in Tilsit in 1807. A 19th century painting.

Despite its original plans, Russia decided to hold Finland. Ties with France had solidified. Russia was concerned that Sweden might try to recoup Finland, and the Finns might stand against the new rule. Autonomy was a way to ensure Finns were satisfied with the new ruler.

In 1809, Emperor Alexander I called upon the Diet in Porvoo, where he explained his new administration to the people. The emperor committed to retaining the status quo in Finland: Lutheran Church, Swedish language, laws, and privileges for the higher classes. The autocratic position of the ruler was retained as well, conveniently for the new ruler.

In 1809, at the Hamina peace treaty, Sweden officially gave up Finland.


Finland was established as a Grand Duchy with its own governance. The Imperial Senate of Finland, Parliament and civil servants formed the governing