A pawn in the Great Northern War – Trosa, Razed to the Ground and Raised from the Ground

17 and 18th Century Sweden was an empire with Imperial ambitions.

Swedish power began with the ascension of Gustavus Adolphus in 1611. The Sweden that Gustavus Adolphus began his reign over was a minor regional power that jostled for power with the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway as well as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Russia.

Gustavus Adolphus (Source)

He took the throne at the tender age of 16 and despite his youth was a brilliant king both on the battlefield and in domestic policy management. Upon taking the throne, Gustavus Adolphus (together with Count Axel Oxenstierna) introduce a series of administrative reforms that streamlined and improved governance in the kingdom. He led a series of key reforms that transformed the then backward, medieval Swedish economy into one prepared for the future and ensured the survival of the Swedish Empire after his death.

Axel Oxenstierna (Source)

But action is more memorable and Gustavus Adolphus would be more remembered more for his military accomplishments than political-economic reforms. Under his regin, Sweden went from minor power to great power. The conflicts began because Sweden adopted Lutheranism. The reign of Gustavus Adolphus’ predecessor Charles IX saw the commitment to Protestantism with a law that excluded Catholic right to the throne, confiscated Catholic property and banished Catholics from the realm.

The close geographical and territorial linkage with Poland-Lithuania (the proud Eastern frontier of Catholicism) led to clashes with the poles. The Swedes and the Poles-Lithuanians fought over control of the Baltics, especially for between Livornia (mostly present-day Latvia). An alliance with Russia came to nought when the ruling Tsar was overthrown and later on an imprudent use of titles led to a war on the Western front with Denmark. Surprisingly, Sweden came out the winner in all these wars, expanding its territory so rapidly, it found itself the leader of Protestantism in Europe. Where it conquered it also placed punitive demands on the conquered peoples, leading to obvious resentment.

Just at this time, a civil war was taking place between the states of the former Holy Roman Empire (modern day Germany, mostly) between the protestant north and the catholic south. Gustavus Adolphus intervened on the side of the Protestant states drawing the other major European powers into the war. At its peak, Sweden conquered more than half of the states of the former Holy Roman Empire.

But as states grow bigger and more powerful, discomfort from its neighbours would naturally increase. This was what happened with the Swedish Empire. Gustavus Adolphus had passed the florishing empire to his daughter, Queen Regent Christina who later abdicated for Charles X (and later on his son Charles XI). Sweden was a large and aggressive power. But their neighbours were not happy. So when Charles XI died leaving his 15 year old son Charles XII to take the throne, the states of Poland-Lithuania, Denmark-Norway and Russia smelt and opportunity to take revenge.

They forgot that Gustavus Adolphus was barely a year older when he took the throne. This war, which would later become known as the Great Northern War began in 1700 with numerous Swedish success. Sweden’s strength was it smaller but professional military, and superior administrative organisation, it’s weakness was a constant lack of resources to fund the war machine and yet, barely a few months after war was declared, the Swedes had forced the Danes and Poles out of the war this left the Russians as the main opponent.

Years of victories however led to Sweden over-committing and Charles XII committed his people to the war effort. Even at its peak, the population of the 2.5 million (Poland has a population of around 3 million in 1650 and Russian had a population of around 14 million in the 1600s) would not have been able to support a war machine for long. It lasted because of the military stubborness of Charles XII. While a good trait in a leader, when carried to extremes such behaviour becomes tyranical and the Swedish people were not particularly happy about it.

Charles XII died in 1718 after a failed campaign against Norway and by then the signs were clear the the war had begun to turn in favour of the Russians. Both sides were tired of war and in 1719 talks began on the island of Aland over peace. The Swedes were however slow to sue for peace, they did not want to give up alot if they could get support from another major Protestant force – the United Kingdom. And so the chief negotiator for Sweden Georg Heinrich von Görtz stalled and stalled. Frustrated, the Russian Tsar Peter I sent imperial expeditions to raid, pillage and attack Swedish towns in the hope that devastation would force public opinion in Sweden to sway his way. The Russian Pillage lasted from 1719 to 1721 and Trosa suffered perhaps the worst fate. The then thriving town was attacked numerous times and in the final attack the whole town was burned to ash.

Only two buildings were preserved a house for the very poor and the church.

The former because it was of little value (so it didn’t matter if it was reduced to ash or not), the latter because it was a good place to have a stable for horses. These two sites remain till this day, the parish church and the town museum – Garvaregården.

The admission ticket for the museum was 180 SEK, which seemed a little too pricey for my tastes.

The low house (now a souvenir shop) is sinking under its weight and it incredibly low, perhaps no more than 1.6m in height. I couldn’t stand upright in the souvenir shop, but it was funny just to see.

While these were the only two buildings let after the end of three tormenting years of the Russian Pillage, Trosa quickly rebuilt itself after the war. Sweden had lost its preeminence, and given way to Russia which was the new established Baltic power. The advent of steamships gave Trosa and its harbour a renewed lease of life as trade began to take place again at this place – the same thing that caused it to exist in the first place. In the 1800s a booming fishery thrived in Trosa and a plot reserved for smoking herring a site new used for restaurants, cafes and residential buildings.

Trade soon gave way to tourism as rich Swedes realised the beauty of the place and set up social clubs and beach resorts to spend the summer at, an activity still performed today.

The society house, opened in 1902 as a the place to be in the then booming seaside resort town

The relaxing vibe of the city has made it a magnet for artists and creatives a far cry from the fishing village, trading city and with little signs of a city once razed to



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