Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thursday in History: Sveriges Nationaldag!

June 6th is a big day, history-wise, for Americans. We love to remember the day that Operation Overlord was put into action. We watch footage of the largest amphibious movement in military history to see the triumph of the Allied troops storming a beach in Normandy. It’s a wonderful thing to remember and honor the men who fell in defending our freedom.
But 1945 isn’t the first time something momentous happened on June 6th. It’s actually quite a politically significant day in Sweden. It is a national holiday to celebrate the dissolution of the Kalmar Union, it was the day that Queen Christina abdicated her throne, and it was the day that Instrument of Government was adopted.
The flag of the Kalmar Union: red from
the flag of Denmark, yellow from the
flag of Sweden. The fact that the flag
was more prominently Swedish didn't
make anyone in Sweden feel better.
On this day in history in 1523, Sweden crowned a new king: Gustav Vasa. This was the beginning of a new era for the country, because it was the end of the Kalmar Union. The Kalmar Union was a political alliance similar to the Holy Roman Empire, only it lasted less than 200 years. Sweden, Denmark, and Norway were its members, and together these three countries were ruled by Denmark’s queen, who was legitimized by the political marriages of several different people across all three countries. Sweden was often annoyed by the fact that not only was the government of the Union based in Denmark, but that it was also usually slanted toward Danish wants and needs. Wars were waged against those who Denmark’s enemies, the same countries would have happily traded with Sweden. It also seemed to the Swedes that the monarch wanted to rule the countries as though they were all one, whereas the people of Sweden would have preferred their ruling body, the Riksdag, had more power in its own country.
The different feelings of the two countries are probably best explained this way: “Kalmar Union” is a term made up by historians years after the actual events. At the time, “Treaty of Kalmar” was used. Sweden may have seen this agreement as a treaty, while Denmark treated it as a union of their countries, and intended to make Sweden behave as such. As it was, after several bloody revolts, Sweden broke away from the agreement and made sure that Denmark would not have political power over them by crowning their own king. June 6th has been celebrated as a national holiday ever since.
On this day in history in 1654, Queen Christina, the "Girl King,” abdicated the Swedish throne. She was a hard worker and studied relentlessly, learning how to rule, how to speak a variety of different languages, and read as many books as she could get her hands on. She was always eager to learn, and during her reign, invited many different masters to Sweden to teach her. She had a grueling schedule, and when the famous philosopher Descartes arrived to tutor her, the hours she kept meant that their sessions together began at 5 AM. Unfortunately, because of the winter months, Descartes fell ill and about two months after he began teaching her.
The empty chair.
The Silver Throne remains the formal seat
of the Swedish monarch to this day
When she was 25, she became ill. It wasn’t surprising, given that she had been ruling, learning, and basically working twenty hours per day since several years before she took the throne at 18. Some historians have speculated that she suffered a nervous breakdown. Her new doctor, a physician from France, prescribed rest, good meals, and relaxation. This changed Christina’s schedule dramatically, since she frequently slept only two or three hours at night.
In addition to healing her and allowing her the leisure to enjoy life, the Protestant Christina was changed by her Catholic doctor’s views. He brought books for her to read, and she became more and more interested in Catholicism. She didn’t convert immediately, in case the government refused to pay for her living expenses, but when Christina abdicated her throne, she planned to become a Catholic.
A de-crowning ceremony was held, in which the Queen wore all her regalia and it was symbolically stripped from her piece by piece. Her crown was supposed to have been removed by the Lord High Steward, but he showed his discontent with the abdication of the Queen by remaining in his seat. So Christina, true to her character, took it off herself.
She lived most of the rest of her life as a good Catholic in Rome, enjoying art and theater, and plagued by money troubles. But she always maintained her royal dignity, and upon her death was given an honor bestowed on only two other women: she is buried in the Vatican Grotto.
On this day in history in 1809, the Riksdag, Sweden’s ruling body, threw off the rule of the despotic Gustav IV Adolf, and implemented a new, more balanced political system. Prior to 1779, Sweden had been enjoying an Age of Liberty, but the result of a bloodless revolution that year was that the king was declared a “conditional autocrat.” The Riksdag reestablished their prominence after the entirety of Finland, which had been a duchy of Sweden, was lost to Russia.
Folk dancing at a National Day celebration in 2007
Photo by Peter Isotalo
On this day in history in 1974, the Rikstag again adopted a new Instrument of Government into their Constitution, which created the office of Prime Minister of the Riksdag and oultined the duties of office of this new position, that of the monarch, and how the two work together for the good of the country.
Today in Sweden, people are celebrating Sveriges nationaldag. They are celebrating the dissolution of the Treaty of Kalmar and an independent Sweden. They are celebrating the anniversary of crowning a new Protestant King after the abdication of a Catholic Queen. They are celebrating the establishment and reestablishment of a country ruled not by one, but by many.
Happy National Day, Sweden!

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