War and Peace in the Baltic, 1560-1790 (War in Context)

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The In Peace Baltic War and 1790 1560

Colonization was accompanied by the establishment of trading posts to tap the rich hinterlands. Of this Denmark, with its command of the entrance to the Sea, its wealth and its strong fleet, was the leader and the prime contender to enforce the doctrine of mare clausum or the right to exclude the ships of all nations which lay beyond it.

It was also Denmark who first asserted the principle if not in so many words of dominium maris Baltici, an assertion of sovereignty over at least the Baltic between the Danish islands and the eastern coast of the Sea. By the end of the century Muscovy had, however, once more been pushed back from the coastline and the area divided between Sweden and Poland, who were in fact to struggle for its possession for another half century. This was the position until the early eighteenth century when, as a result of the so-called Great Northern War, Sweden was forced to surrender most of the territories it had gained earlier and Russia took its place.

The reunification of Germany and the apparent break-up of the Soviet Union have changed the balance in the Baltic yet again in ways which at the time of writing are difficult to assess but which have cast the spotlight on a part of Europe which has been comparatively neglected by historians living beyond its bounds. I have, however, tried to resist the temptation to trace either campaign so far in any detail and thus to make the book a history of eastern and central Europe in the period.

The accent is always on the Baltic and the countries surrounding it. But the story is still a complex one, involving as it does the aims and ambitions not only of the leading protagonists in the region— Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Lithuania—but also of the smaller states of the area like the duchy of Kurland. Foreign policies and military achievements cannot be understood in isolation. They are strongly influenced by the internal political systems and economic resources of the countries involved. These I have analysed as seemed necessary.

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I have generally used proper names in the forms in which they are most likely to be familiar to the English-speaking reader e. I do not, however, pretend to have been consistent in this. The Mediterranean is divided into western and eastern basins between Sicily and Tunisia. The struggle for power in the Baltic in the early modern period, which will be examined in the succeeding chapters, was in effect a struggle for power in the southern Baltic, which takes up well over half its total area. By the sixteenth century this had lost its earlier importance as a commercial centre for trade between eastern and western Europe, but it was still of considerable SETTING THE SCENE 5 strategic significance, lying as it does close to the main channels of communication by sea between central Sweden and the north coast of Germany.

The main rivers flowing northward or north-westward into the Baltic from the heart of the European landmass have provided access to a large and potentially rich hinterland. Also of some significance is the river Neva flowing into the Gulf of Finland and linking the Russian interior with the Baltic via lakes Ladoga and Pskov. The whole coast of the Baltic is low-lying and provides few good natural harbours, although the southern coast offers comparatively frequent sheltering river mouths such as that of the Oder and inlets such as the Bay of Pucka Putzig north of Danzig.

The paucity of deep channels and the plenitude of small islands in coastal waters have strongly influenced the character of naval warfare in the area and distinguished it from that of the open waters beyond; large deepdraught vessels have been unable to penetrate extensive strategic stretches of water.

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The climate of the region is continental, modified by maritime influences. Ice usually forms along the whole coast in winter and in normal years in the twentieth century the northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia, the narrow channels through the archipelago at its southern end and the Gulf of Finland are frozen over during the winter months.

In particularly severe winters the narrower channels in the southern Baltic can also be ice-bound for brief periods, while drift ice can hinder navigation for longer. This could have serious effects on communications, particularly across the Gulf of Bothnia. The Sound and the Belts might on occasion freeze over to a considerable depth, and naval actions and seaborne trade were largely limited to the spring, summer and early autumn.

In the south nature has been more generous. The plains bordering the southern and south-eastern coasts and the Danish islands provide potentially rich grain-growing areas. Further north mixed farming has been the rule; only in exceptional years was there a surplus of grain with which to trade. But other resources have provided some compensation.

The latter was of particular significance for the area of Bergslagen north-west of Stockholm, rich not only in good quality iron but also other metals in demand like copper and even small quantities of silver. The harvest of the sea has, since the sixteenth century, when the herring migrated into the North Sea, been rather meagre, and fishing as an occupation has been of only local significance.

Traditionally water in pre-industrial Europe bound people together rather than kept them apart. Transport by sea was generally easier and swifter than travel by land over roads which were often impassable, and the Baltic from Viking times acted as the main channel along which flowed goods between western and north-eastern Europe. To the north of Denmark, the effective power of the Swedish monarchy was confined to what is now south-central Sweden and south-western and southern Finland as far as the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland.

This limit had been reached as the result of the absorption of the republic of Novgorod between and , and in Tsar Ivan III had built there the fortress of Ivangorod opposite the Estonian port of Narva, to which he hoped it would become a commercial rival. It never did. All had since owed a vague allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, who, however, took only an occasional interest in Baltic affairs. The original inhabitants of these lands, many of them still only nominally Christian, had long played a minor role in Livonian affairs; both political and economic life were dominated by German-speakers.

Both Lithuania and Poland had only small coastlines, but between them lay that of the duchy of Prussia. The city, however, jealously guarded its privileges granted in the fifteenth century as reward for backing Poland against the Teutonic Order and which included freedom from taxation and a wide degree of autonomy. The two duchies of Pomerania and Mecklenburg which lay between this border and Danish territory were poor and backward. The circle was completed by the two duchies of Holstein and Schleswig.

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The former lay within and the latter outside the Empire. Together they formed a jigsaw of lands, some ruled by the king of Denmark as duke of Schleswig-Holstein, some by various members of the Danish royal house of Oldenborg, and some administered jointly by king and dukes.

On the Baltic coast of Holstein, the port of Kiel offered potential as a naval base. Of the kingdoms, only Sweden was an hereditary monarchy and had become one as recently as Since finally breaking away from the Danish-dominated Kalmar Union in the early s, King Gustav, the first of the house of Vasa, had built up a powerful position by his own personality and energy.

Central government headed by the Chancery lay within an itinerant court, travelling from royal castle to royal castle throughout the year in medieval fashion. While Stockholm was the largest town and the most important commercial centre of the realm, it was not to be a centre of administration for nearly a century. The system was financed largely by assigning the revenues largely in kind of royal farms for the support of specific offices. Its claim to approve significant changes in the law and to grant new taxes was already becoming accepted.

The monarch, however, could—and did—still call together representatives of only one or two of the Estates to deal with matters he deemed relevant to them alone, or summon provincial meetings to discuss local issues. But in matters of foreign policy, he had the final say.

In Poland the king was also expected to consult his noble Council on all important matters and to call regular meetings of the national Diet or Sejm. This consisted of two houses: a Senate of bishops, the chief officers of state and provincial governors; and a House of Representatives made up of all other members of the nobility szlachta able to attend, together with representatives of the city of Cracow. To this body the monarchy had to submit proposals for new laws and taxes. Unlike Sweden, Denmark possessed a national centre of administration; by the middle of the sixteenth century Copenhagen was a capital city in every sense.

The kings of both Denmark and Poland-Lithuania ruled over territories with different traditions and semi-autonomous constitutions. Norwegians were not represented in the Danish Estates.


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As duke of Schleswig-Holstein, he was in theory bound to consult the local nobility, but he was not tied down by any charter and had therefore a much freer hand than in the kingdom. As duke of the wholly German-speaking Holstein he was also a prince of the Holy Roman Empire owing allegiance to the Emperor and a member of the Lower Saxon Circle, one of the administrative and military divisions into which the Empire had been divided some fifty years earlier.

Disputes between successive Danish kings and their cousins of the house of Holstein-Gottorp, with whom they shared the government of the duchies, were to play a prominent part in Danish foreign policy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, as with the responsibilities of the Danish crown in Norway, often to divert its attention away from the Baltic. He was king only in Poland. In Lithuania, he was grand duke, while in Masovia, north of the river Vistula, and in western Prussia, at the mouth of the Vistula, he was no more than duke.

Each of these areas had its separate administration. Around , however, they still consisted of a complex of competing jurisdictions, as already described see above, p. The Hanseatic League was in the middle of the sixteenth century still an important naval power, and also able to use its wealth to raise troops to defend its interests; it could be a useful ally and a dangerous enemy. It stood, however, as a brooding presence on the borders of Sweden in Finland , Livonia and Lithuania.

Its contacts with its neighbours were not intimate, and what little was known about its system of government and its military potential aroused a mixture of fear and contempt, with which was intermixed religious bigotry; some in the west even doubted whether Russian Orthodoxy was Christian at all.

The Grand Prince of Muscovy tsar only after inherited his title, but was advised by a number of high officials and a Council of noble boyars, intensely jealous of their privileges. The Council was afforced if necessary to create a form of Diet or Zemsky Sobor, containing representatives of the lesser nobility, towns and church, but its form and functions were ill defined and it never became an established institution.

After a minority of fourteen years, during which the boyars had ruled unopposed, Ivan IV had to re-establish the authority of the crown and reform the administration so as to limit boyar influence; during the s the powers of local governors were limited, the duties of the service nobility dvoryanstvo defined, government centralized through the creation of ministries izby with a variety of tasks and beginnings made with the creation of a standing army.

Poland had only a small coastline in relation to its large total landmass and an insignificant merchant marine, and lacked a reliable base for a fleet. In any case its rulers generally were without the financial resources to maintain one; they required all they could husband to defend their extensive land frontiers, which marched not only with Muscovy in the east but also with the Turks in the south.

In times of conflict in the s and s, however, large numbers of Polish privateers might be found sailing the eastern Baltic with royal blessing. Even Denmark, however, relied largely on the mobilization of large merchant ships for its sea defence in time of war. Gustav Vasa had succeeded in forming an equally large fleet, including some twenty large galleys for use in the archipelagos of central Sweden and southern Finland.

But the main Swedish naval base in Stockholm was inconveniently far north for operations in the southern Baltic. Otherwise professional German mercenary or Scots units were raised as seemed necessary for the occasion. This was poorly armed and largely untrained.

From the s it was afforced by bodies of streltsy, hereditary infantrymen armed with arquebuses. The king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania had at his disposal only a very small standing army, mainly stationed in the east of his realm. In time of war he could call on such enlisted foot soldiers as financial resources would allow and by a mounted feudal host provided by the nobility, brave and skilful fighters but resentful of discipline.

The Livonian Knights had long ceased to be of any military significance. There were, however, a number of potential flash-points, and tension was not lacking. An opportunity to break out of the ring which Denmark thus seemed to throw round the Swedish kingdom might tempt its king to take action which would lead to conflict, and in anticipation Gustav tried to establish contact with powers beyond the Baltic, in particular with England, whither he sent an embassy in , and to build up a national army and to refound a naval force. The main cause of this was Swedish settlement to the east of the illdefined frontier between the two powers in Karelia.

He had in fact himself clashed with both the Order of Knights in Livonia and with Sweden in Finland, but the acquisition of Novgorod had also given Muscovy a common frontier with Lithuania. This diverted Ivan away from the Baltic and created for his successors a dilemma in foreign policy: whether, with the limited resources at their disposal, to lay the emphasis on defence and expansion in the north, west or south of their dominions.

Having secured his position on the lower Volga river in the south-east by , he turned his attention to the north-west. There Sweden and Livonia blocked direct contact between Muscovy and a western world which offered the military and technical know-how of which Muscovite rulers had long felt the need, and from which the rulers of Sweden and Lithuania were determined they should not benefit.

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In addition Ivan could claim historical rights to Livonia and in particular to the see of Dorpat on its border with Muscovy, which had half a millennium before been ruled over by Yuriev of Kiev. Religious differences also helped to create tension in the area in relations, for example, between Orthodox Muscovy and both the Protestants of Livonia and the Catholics of Poland.

There was at the same time a strong desire for peace and even alliance with the tsar among the Lithuanian nobility. It was becoming a power vacuum into which its neighbours would almost inevitably be drawn. The two men represented two opposing orientations in Livonian foreign policy. William, who was the brother of duke Albert, administrator of ducal or East Prussia and thus a vassal of the king of Poland, looked to PolandLithuania for protection against Muscovite pressure, while von Galen favoured accommodation with the power to the east, in which policy he enjoyed the support of a fair number of Livonian nobles.

It was a rivalry which King Sigismund Zygmunt Augustus of Poland —72 , imperial protector of the archbishop and closely related to him, encouraged as a means of extending his influence in the region. By this archbishop William was released and restored and an alliance concluded against Muscovy.