Charles XI of Sweden

Charles XI of Sweden

Charles XI was the Swedish king between 1660 - 1697 and recognised as one of Sweden’s most highly regarded monarchs during the 17th century.

The only son of Charles X, Charles XI had to be crowned as king when he was just four after his father’s death. Because of this a regency was established until he turned 18 and he was educated with the Queen Mother’s guidance - this focused on the outdoors rather than academics.

Charles’ reign is made up of the high nobility overthrow and bureaucratic absolutism establishment. Overall it is split into two - the Regency period from 1660 - 1672 and the Personal Rule from 1672 - 1697.

Charles XI of Sweden
Charles XI of Sweden

The Regency

The Regency: The king’s uncle, Count Magnus de la Gardie lead the Regency. The Diet was persuaded by the high nobility to put Charles X’s will to one side, before taking advantage of de la Gardie’s inability to advance themselves.

A foreign policy was adopted by the regents which switched from the support of Louis XIV of France or his enemies. This approach was made in order to gather money from sources to invest in the Swedish army, but this did not help Sweden’s European reputation - regardless of the fact that the Swedish nation knew an ally was needed for France in the Baltic states.

Sweden became part of the anti-French Triple Alliance in April 1668 with Holland and Britain. Sweden sided with France in 1672 when they were going to take part in the French-Dutch War. The regency did not want to stick with its military commitments but were forced to by Louis XIV - he put pressure on Sweden to attack Brandenburg. The Swedish were defeated in 1675 at the Battle of Fehrbellin and as a result, Sweden were driven out of an important connection to mainland Europe - Swedish Pomerania.

It was clear that de la Gardie was an incompetent leader as when Sweden had been led by Gustavus, they had been the Baltic’s leading power. However Denmark invaded the country half a century later.

The Personal Rule

The Personal Rule: In December 1672 Charles came of age, but his personal ruling did not happen for another two years. He used the Scanian War to help himself and decided Sweden needed a solid leader whilst they were at war. So he took charge himself and got rid of the nobles - in this way he was ‘playing the patriot’s card’ by suggesting that the nobles must not have Sweden’s best interests in mind if they disagreed with what Charles was doing. On the other hand, if they agreed they were doing what he wanted anyway so either way was a winning situation for Charles.

In December 1676 Charles was victorious against the Danes at Lund, and then went on to achieve peace with Denmark. Louis XIV tried to make Brandenburg give back what had previously been Swedish Pomerania to Sweden, in an attempt to connect more strongly with a monarch-ruling country instead a nobility-led one. But Charles had more interest in a policy of neutrality in terms of foreign affairs - he did not think foreign involvements would be much of a distraction if he chose to be an absolute. However for the remainder of his reign he was anything but neutral about foreign affairs.

Charles was most interested in his power within Sweden, and during the Scanian War he essentially took dictatorial power. When Sweden was not taking part in a war he still did not want to give this power up, and he saw the high nobility as his main threat to his position as king because of their vast land, power and wealth.

Charles worked very hard and lead a self-disciplined life - he was viewed as living very religiously and being in lack. This greatly contrasted with the high nobility whose lives imitated Louis XIV at Versailles Palace - clearly projecting their wealth when Charles XI was living a simple lifestyle.

Charles’ tactic for taking on the nobles was to side with the lesser classes, e.g. the lower nobility, clergy, burghers and peasants. His logic was counting on a lot of popular support if he became the ally of the lower classes as there were more of them than the high nobles. Charles made legal and constitutional changes once he received this support in four important areas - land, government, the army and bureaucracy.

Charles continued the resumption policy, where previous royal land that had been sold for a low amount to the nobles for raising revenue was handed back to the crown. Charles extended the 25 per cent limit on reclaimed land which his father Charles X had put on. There was a Great Commission put in place to make the senior nobility give back their ex-crown land. When Charles came to the throne in 1660, the monarchy only owned one per cent of land in Sweden - but by the time he died in 1697 it owned 30 per cent.

The land’s income laid out two significant effects - Charles was free from depending on foreign subsidiaries that could potentially threaten his independence policy when it came to foreign affairs, and it financed a greater number of reforms at home.

In terms of government, Charles managed to enter out of the war with complete power which majorly undermined the Rad’s authority. The Rad had lost much of its traditional power in the lead up to the Scanian War. The high nobles were the ones responsible for the reasons which resulted in Denmark’s invasion of Sweden.

The Riksrag (representative of the lower classes in Swedish government) stated in 1680 that Charles was not bound any more by the Rad’s decisions and two years later the Council of State was re-named the King’s Council. This was an emphasis on the king’s ruling over the council.

The army was made into an allotment system known as the indelningsverket - a conscript citizen army and was paid for through being allocated farms from land reassigned to the king as a resumption consequence. It was most acknowledged for its mobilising speed and ability to quickly reach a war zone.

The crown changed and modernised government bureaucracy and there was an introduction of the Table of Ranks in 1680. This meant that promotion depended on service and merit instead of birth. The civil service became more exposed to commoners even though it was ruled by the nobility. The civil service did a good job of running Sweden for 15 years when Charles XII was away during the Great Northern War.

See also: Charles XII of Sweden

MLA Citation/Reference

"Charles XI of Sweden". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.