Swedish War of Liberation

The Swedish War of Liberation (1521–23; Swedish: Befrielsekriget, lit.'The Liberation War'), also known as Gustav Vasa's Rebellion and the Swedish War of Secession, was a rebellion and a civil war in which the nobleman Gustav Vasa successfully deposed King Christian II from the throne of Sweden, ending the Kalmar Union between Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Swedish War of Liberation
Part of Dano-Swedish wars
The Entry of King Gustav Vasa of Sweden into Stockholm - color.jpg
The Entry of Gustav Vasa into Stockholm
Carl Larsson, oil on canvas, 1908
Result Swedish victory
Commanders and leaders
12,000 27,000
Casualties and losses
Less than 4,000 About 10,000
Gustav Vasa addressing the Dalecarlians in Mora.
Johan Gustaf Sandberg, oil on canvas, 1836.


King Christian II and his ally, the Swedish Archbishop Gustav Trolle, the scion of a prominent unionist noble family, had tried to eliminate the separatist Sture party among the Swedish nobility by executing a large number of them in the Stockholm Bloodbath. The King was also unpopular for imposing high taxes on the peasantry. Furthermore, German and Danish nobles and commoners held most Swedish castles and this provoked the native Swedish nobles.


In the background was an economic power struggle over the mining and metal industry in Bergslagen[1] (the main mining area of Sweden in the 16th century) which added much greater financial resources to military capacity, but also strong dependencies, to a conflict that already lasted for decades over the Kalmar Union. An economic struggle, where the parties were financed and stood between:

The planned conquest of Sweden by Christian II, with Fugger's intended takeover of the industry in Bergslagen, was financed with a very large dowry, for Christian II's wife, financed by Fugger. Fugger later withdrew from the battle in 1521 after losing to Gustav Vasa in the Battle of Västerås (and the control over shipping from Bergslagen). Thus, Christian II lost the resources to win the war against Gustav Vasa, but also lost the resources to maintain his position in Denmark (against Frederick I of Denmark 1523).

The sharp increase in funding and financial dependence meant that at times the parties could keep up with larger amounts of expensive hired mercenaries, which explains the swinging of power and quickly changes of the situation, during the course of the proceedings. The costs were significant and after Christian III's victory with Gustav Vasa's Sweden as ally 1536 in Count's Feud in Scania and Denmark, the money was gone, the Catholic Church's and the Hanseatic League's influence in the Nordic countries was over.

The dependencies were strong, the pope stood firm, Sweden was under papal interdict, church strike (no functioning national church), and the Lutheran Reformation in Sweden was carried out. The regent got an offer that can't be resisted, a state church with the clerical as the kings governmental civil servants, never reinstating a relation with the Catholic church. The nationalization of the Catholic church funded the new sovereigns regime.

The war also freed Sweden from international economic and political dependencies and outspoken enemies influence. An independence that has lasted so far for the past 500 years (local security/peace since 1523, no foreign armies on its soil except in border areas and general peace for over 200 years since 1814). This liberation war is widely seen and held in high esteem by the Swedes as the root of the political and economic independence, the structure and organization of its society today. Seen by Swedes as a national "paradigm shift" where the foundations of society's views have radically changed to what is still fundamentally the case.


The war started in January 1521 when Gustav Vasa was appointed hövitsman (commander) over Dalarna by representatives of the population in the northern part of the province. After Gustav Vasa sacked the copper mine of Stora Kopparberget and the town of Västerås, more men joined his army. In 1522, the Hanseatic city of Lübeck allied with the Swedish rebels. After the capture of Stockholm in June 1523, the rebels effectively controlled Sweden, and on 6 June Gustav Vasa was elected King of Sweden in the town of Strängnäs. By September, Swedish Finland was also controlled by Gustav Vasa's supporters. By the Treaty of Malmö signed on 1 September 1524, Sweden seceded from the Kalmar Union.


In 1520, Gustav Vasa traveled to the Swedish province of Dalarna, disguised as a farmer to avoid detection by King Christian's scouts. In December, Gustav Vasa arrived in the city of Mora, where he asked the peasantry for their help in his revolt against Christian II. The peasants refused his request, so Gustav Vasa decided to travel north to find men who would support his revolt. Shortly thereafter, a couple of refugees arrived in Mora, where they told the peasantry about the brutality of Christian II and his men. The people of Mora then decided to find Gustav Vasa and join his revolt. They sent two skilled skiers to find him. In Sälen, they finally caught up with him.

Back in Mora, on New Year's Eve, 1521, Gustav Vasa was appointed to "hövitsman" by envoys from all the parishes of North Dalarna.

In February, Gustav Vasa marched out from Mora with about 100 men and sacked Kopparberg. Shortly thereafter, the peasantry of Bergslagen joined the revolt. Gustav Vasa's army had now grown to over 1,000 men.

Battle of Brunnbäck FerryEdit

When news of the Swedish revolt reached Christian II, he sent a force of Landknechten to crush the rebellion. In April 1521, the union forces confronted Gustav Vasa's men at Brunnbäck Ferry, and the King's army was crushed. This victory greatly improved the Swedish rebels' morale.

In Dalarna, an emergency mint was established in order to produce the copper coins necessary to finance the war.


The rebel army continued south to Västerås, which they conquered and sacked. When words of Gustav Vasa's success spread across Sweden, the supporters of the Sture family decided to join the revolt.

By the end of April 1521, Gustav Vasa controlled Dalarna, Gästrikland, Närke, and Västmanland.



  1. ^ Margareta Skantze ”Där brast ett ädelt hjärta: Kung Kristian II och hans värld” (”There a noble heart broke. King Christian II and his world”) ISBN 9789197868136