Eastern nationalities in the 17th century Swedish army?

Sep 2018
101
transitory
#1
The Swedish Empire in the 17th century included territory of eastern Europe such as Estonia, Finland, Ingria, and part of Latvia. I am assuming that there were at least some soldiers recruited from these regions for the Swedish army in the wars of 17th century. I am curious, how were soldiers from these eastern territories organised?

Did they operate in their own ethnic units (with or without local officers?), or were they mixed in among Swedes?

Were certain nationalities known to serve more in one type of unit (cavalry, infantry, artillery, etc.) or were they generally evenly spread between branches?

Did they only have access to Lutheran services, or were there other army chaplains available? (for example I think some Ingrians were originally Orthodox)
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,629
#2
Gustavus II introduced the first County regiment system. That covered the kingdom itself, i.e. todays Sweden AND FInland. There was no distinction between the two in the legal or administrative practices of the kingdom. (The Finnish speaking County regiments are likely to have had Finnish as the their command language, since it was specified in the 1680's that the command language should be standardised, and be Swedish.) Troops were raised by a system according to which local communities were required to raise a specified number of men to man the County regiment.
Broadly speaking it's the counties in purple on the map to be found here:
Landskap i Sverige – Wikipedia
Landskap i Sverige – Wikipedia

Estonia had put itself under Swedish protection (i.e. they asked the Swedish king) at the collapse of the German Order state. As such it wasn't part of the kingdom proper. It was a process through the 17th c. by which Russian claims were waived, and Swedish rule of law was gradually established, until Estonia eventually was granted status as part of the kingdom itself. However the County regiment structure wasn't extended to Estonia. So no Estonian Country regiment(s).

Swedish Livonia, to the south of Estonia (but including the southern part of modern Estonia), including Riga, was created through the Treaty of Altmark in 1629 (and lost along with Estonia to Russia in 1721). Unlike Estonia it was never made a formal part of the kingdom of Sweden, but was a General Gouvernement, but that meant it also got its own semi-national institutions: the Livonian landtdag (diet, national assembly), supreme court, national survey office, national bank, and university (Tartu/Dorpat). It also wasn't part of the "indelningsverk" of County regiments. However in a parallel process beginning during the reign of Charles XI Livonia was provided with a number of regiments and smaller units of its own:

The Gouvernement regiment (Riga)
The Garrison regiment (Riga)
Five Livonian infantry regiments + four infantry battalions (half-to-onethird strength regiments)
"Adelsfanan" cavalry regiment for Livonia and Ösel
Two Livonian dragoon regiments + 2 squadrons of cav
The Ösel island diet squadron of cav

These served in the Great Nordic war either as garrisons in Livonia proper, but several were part of the kings field army. They were taken prisoner either at Poltava or at the time of the Russian occupation of Livonia.

Recruitment of professional volunteer soldiers would have been ongoing from 1629 under Gustavus II and onwards of course.
You can find a

As for any "division of labour", there wasn't any obvious one between Swedes and Finns in the "Old Indelningsverk". 13 inf regiments were raised in Sweden, 7 in Finland, and 5 cav regiments were raised in Sweden, 3 in Finland, which corresponds to the demographics. The exception would be that that recruitment for the navy was massively from Sweden, with only a small contribution from Finland. (Of course, this would be the "mature" system arrived at by Gustavus by 1634. Prior to that was a period of "Great regiments", forming the manpower from 3-4 counties into massive inf regiments of 3000-4000 men, but that was found to be too unwieldly, and from 1634 there were the Country regiments if 1000-1500 men.

At least in retrospect, passed through the lens of 19th c. Finnish national feeling and novelizations you would find that the Finnish Cavalry under their Legendary Commander Ståhlhandske (cool name, Steel Glove, "Fältskärns berättelser"/Tales of the Barber Surgeon) was hot stuff. There's a cool singable "March of the Finnish Riders" from the time too.

In reality the Finnish and Swedish regiments under Gustavus II did provide Sweden with a kind of back-bone default national force, which actually meant Sweden had a MORE "national" army than just about any other of the great military powers at the time, but the national county regiments were never first pick for the field army, the one intended to fight the field battles, that was mostly professional mercenaries, mostly Germans, quite a few Scots, etc. The County regiments were used for home defense and as garrisons forces, of which a lot were needed when the war went well, and where the national regiments of Swedes and Finns were quite reliable, being rather far from home and unlikely to abscond like that.
 
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Likes: acix
Sep 2018
101
transitory
#3
Thank you very much for that information, very interesting to see how Sweden handled the different regions of its empire. Do you know, in Swedish Estonia and Livonia, if the officers of these units were mostly Baltic German? In my knowledge of those societies, the local Estonians and Latvians tended to be peasants, so I'm not sure if there were any of them who would be of the right background to be officers?
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,629
#4
Thank you very much for that information, very interesting to see how Sweden handled the different regions of its empire. Do you know, in Swedish Estonia and Livonia, if the officers of these units were mostly Baltic German? In my knowledge of those societies, the local Estonians and Latvians tended to be peasants, so I'm not sure if there were any of them who would be of the right background to be officers?
Your welcome.

Missed about about the Livonian and Estonian regiments. You can actually find a list here, even if it's in Swedish, of all the recruited regiments, including Estonia and Livonia (Estland och Livland) if you like:
Militaria - Hans Högman

The officers would have been all-sorts, but the Sweden was a multinational empire, the court spoke German at home, and Gustavus II was quite a polyglott as well. I couldn't say exactly how the officer corps broke down. At the upper echelons if you could pay your way you were always welcome to raise a regiment in the service of HM (like Falkenberg's, German, Black Brigade). One of my historic relatives was for a period commander of the Riga Garrison, Brigadeer Simon Grundel (later FM Grundel-Helmfleldt) when Magnus Gabrial de la Gardie was General Gouvernor.

Magnus Gabriel de la G was the grandson of the Languedocian, Protestant mercenary captain Pontus de la Gardie, who entered the service of Erik XIV, only to betray him to his brothers the dukes John and Charles. Magnus Gabriel's father was Jacog de la G, in Finland (which he had special links to) known as "Little Jacob", and who for a while during the Great Turmoil in Russia held Moscow.

Simon Grundel was the son of the silk merchant Jacob Grundel, Mayor of Stockholm, of whom upon it on election was reported to king Gustavus II that he was a loyal subject, and good Swede (which came to about the same) even while he "prayed to his God in the language of his fathers' still", i.e. German.But since Gustavus probably did the same that's unlikely to have bothered him.

So a French-descent General Gouvernor assisted by a German-descent garrison commander, lording it over a German trading city (Riga) surrounded by a mixed bunch of Livonians and Estonians et alia, all in the Kingdom of Sweden. Pretty typical for the time really.

What might be added about the Estonians and Swedish Livonian social situations is that Sweden worked out bringing Estonia into the kingdom as a proper national province, and eventually did this by the 1680's. The Treaty of Altmarkt with Russian opened the prospect for Sweden to do this. And it was done largely to curtail what Stockholm regarded a system-threatening abusive practices towards the local peasantry by the traditional nobility. The first step already after Altmarkt was to implement the Swedish legal system (including rule of law).

The process wasn't quite repeated in Livonia, which had these trappings of national institutions, but also there the Swedish government in Stockholm pursued policies for social change. When acquired at Altmarkt in 1629 the Livonian peasantry was pretty much all serfs in a traditional feudal system. Already by the 1640s some 40% of them had been transformed into freeholding farmers, as that was the social model the Swedish kingdom favoured.
That was part of the ongoing Swedish process of breaking the traditional aristocracy by the increasingly professionalised bureaucratic centralised Swedish state. The capstone in the 1680's was the Great Reduction, where the government used the independent courts to divest the traditional higher nobility of its remains of an independent power base in ownership of large estates. It finalized a process that transformed the traditional nobility into not just client of the Swedish state (HM's government) but directly into salaried civil and military servants of the centralised, bureauratic Swedish state. (Which meant a LOT of relative advantages in the efficient husbanding of limited resources compared to its competitors, and was how Sweden at all could make a bid for Great Power status for a century). Estonia and Livonia were also directly made part of the process of the Great Reduction.
 
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Shaheen

Ad Honorem
May 2011
2,562
Sweden
#5
These guys will probably interest you (Hakkapeliitta - Wikipedia). The officers in the Finnish units seem to be the local Finno-Swede (including both ethnic Swedes and Swedicized Finns) aristocracy. Finland Swedes are to this day bilingual and can converse with both sides. Officers of Finnish units have included men like Henrik von Rehbinder and Torsten Stålhandske. The former was born in Livonia and given his name was probably a Baltic German. Axel Kurck was a local Finnish nobleman and officer in the Swedish army.
 
Likes: acix
Sep 2018
101
transitory
#6
What a fascinating story Larrey, it's great that you can trace that kind of connection in your family. My ancestors in this period were living under the Radziwiłłs in what is now Poland-Lithuania-Belarus borderlands. During the Swedish Deluge, two lords in our region (Janusz and Bogusław Radziwiłł) attempted to make a union of their territories with Sweden, called the Union of Kėdainiai. It's interesting to wonder what the effect could have been on that region if the union had occurred, if it might have eventually ended up in a similar position to Swedish Livonia for example. I did not realise Sweden was abolishing serfdom so early, in Poland-Lithuania it was still practiced up to the 18th century.

It's also interesting to hear about the Swedish court using German, was this an influence brought by the Protestant Reformation?

Regarding multinational commanders in the Swedish army (such as the German and French speakers you mentioned), I remember coming across a couple of Scots who also served in the Swedish army in this period. Alexander Leslie and Robert Douglas are two that I remember offhand, though I don't know much about them personally or what they did in the Swedish army. It seems Scottish soldiers were all over the place at this time, Poland-Lithuania used them too.

Do you know if the Sami were also recruited into the Swedish army at this time, or was control over them still pretty loose?

Thanks very much for that link with the Livonian and Estonian regiments, I will have a browse through it when I get the chance :)
 
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Sep 2018
101
transitory
#7
These guys will probably interest you (Hakkapeliitta - Wikipedia). The officers in the Finnish units seem to be the local Finno-Swede (including both ethnic Swedes and Swedicized Finns) aristocracy. Finland Swedes are to this day bilingual and can converse with both sides. Officers of Finnish units have included men like Henrik von Rehbinder and Torsten Stålhandske. The former was born in Livonia and given his name was probably a Baltic German. Axel Kurck was a local Finnish nobleman and officer in the Swedish army.
Sorry, I posted before I saw your reply. Thank you for the link, I had never heard of these troops. It's interesting to see they were used in the Polish-Swedish wars.
 
Oct 2017
169
Poland
#8
@Larrey
As for any "division of labour", there wasn't any obvious one between Swedes and Finns in the "Old Indelningsverk". 13 inf regiments were raised in Sweden, 7 in Finland, and 5 cav regiments were raised in Sweden, 3 in Finland, which corresponds to the demographics. The exception would be that that recruitment for the navy was massively from Sweden, with only a small contribution from Finland. (Of course, this would be the "mature" system arrived at by Gustavus by 1634. Prior to that was a period of "Great regiments", forming the manpower from 3-4 counties into massive inf regiments of 3000-4000 men, but that was found to be too unwieldly, and from 1634 there were the Country regiments if 1000-1500 men.

At least in retrospect, passed through the lens of 19th c. Finnish national feeling and novelizations you would find that the Finnish Cavalry under their Legendary Commander Ståhlhandske (cool name, Steel Glove, "Fältskärns berättelser"/Tales of the Barber Surgeon) was hot stuff. There's a cool singable "March of the Finnish Riders" from the time too.
As far as I know, the Finns had better developed cavalry traditions than the Swedes. And they had such a reputation already in the 17th century. But maybe this reputation was exaggerated.

In reality the Finnish and Swedish regiments under Gustavus II did provide Sweden with a kind of back-bone default national force, which actually meant Sweden had a MORE "national" army than just about any other of the great military powers at the time
I often come across this opinion, but it does not seem true to me. From your words it appears that the armies of Poland, Russia and the Ottoman Empire consisted mainly of foreign mercenaries, or that these mercenaries were the core of these armies. It's not true.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,629
#9
What a fascinating story Larrey, it's great that you can trace that kind of connection in your family. My ancestors in this period were living under the Radziwiłłs in what is now Poland-Lithuania-Belarus borderlands. During the Swedish Deluge, two lords in our region (Janusz and Bogusław Radziwiłł) attempted to make a union of their territories with Sweden, called the Union of Kėdainiai. It's interesting to wonder what the effect could have been on that region if the union had occurred, if it might have eventually ended up in a similar position to Swedish Livonia for example. I did not realise Sweden was abolishing serfdom so early, in Poland-Lithuania it was still practiced up to the 18th century.

It's also interesting to hear about the Swedish court using German, was this an influence brought by the Protestant Reformation?

Regarding multinational commanders in the Swedish army (such as the German and French speakers you mentioned), I remember coming across a couple of Scots who also served in the Swedish army in this period. Alexander Leslie and Robert Douglas are two that I remember offhand, though I don't know much about them personally or what they did in the Swedish army. It seems Scottish soldiers were all over the place at this time, Poland-Lithuania used them too.

Do you know if the Sami were also recruited into the Swedish army at this time, or was control over them still pretty loose?

Thanks very much for that link with the Livonian and Estonian regiments, I will have a browse through it when I get the chance :)
German was the dominant urban language in Medieval Sweden, not that the towns were anything to speak of. But it meant the Medieval Swedish social elite, especially the part that was trade and manufacture, was largely German speaking. The commoners, the peasants were Swedish and Finnish speaking, with Swedish also being dominant with the nobility.

So Protestantism and the Reformation worked the exact opposite on the Swedish language situation as far as the dominance of German was concerned. It meant the common vernaculars, Swedish, Finnish and even Sami, were given a boost as they became proper literary languages at least for religious purposes. Swedish already had a vernacular secular literature, but for Finnish ans Sami it meant a codification of the common language. Very important for the future. It has been seriously suggested that had the Bible in Swedish not come about at least Swedish as we know it might now have existed, it would have turned into some weird form of Low German Plattedeutsch.

No, no record of Sami. The Sami communities were not recruiting grounds, and had a different functoin.

It wouldn't rule it out entirely. It's one of these things that is currently research, exactly how integrated Sami were in the corporate rural society in Sweden, much further south than has previously been realised, in the early modern period. Since the local communities were tasked with nominating soldiers, and not too picky when looking for volunteers (it became a contractual agreement where the community provided a homestead, land, sometimes special perks, for the soldier and his family) it MIGHT hypothetically have involved Sami. But upon accepting the soldiering job on those conditions these individuals would have been transferred from one collective in the rural society, the Village Sami with particular functions, to the soldier group, and as such they would effectively have stopped being Sami as an effect. So they wouldn't be recorded or noticed as such. Not that we know of any that did make such a transition.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,629
#10
@Larrey
As far as I know, the Finns had better developed cavalry traditions than the Swedes. And they had such a reputation already in the 17th century. But maybe this reputation was exaggerated.
It is. Really no particular Finnish cav tradition. Not that kind of country. They were being noticed for being perceived as "different" though, and a lot was made of the exotic Finns being-Laplander-Devil-worshipping-magic-users for propaganda purposes in the Imperial lands. (Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie as Chancellor in the 1660's even commissioned a huge, serious peice of academic scholarship from the Uppsala Univ. Professor Johannes Schfferus (another Swedish German, born in Strassburg), his "Lapponia" published in 1673, with translations into German, French, English and Dutch).

The large scale horse-breeding and majority of cav regiments were all in Swedish. The Happapellites also referred to all the Finnish regiments, not just the cav.
@LarreyI often come across this opinion, but it does not seem true to me. From your words it appears that the armies of Poland, Russia and the Ottoman Empire consisted mainly of foreign mercenaries, or that these mercenaries were the core of these armies. It's not true.
The Swedish system to raise not-quite-but-near-conscript forces through the Indelningsverk was different. So was the Ottoman system. What's generally true about 17th c. armies is that they tended to be national for professional mercenaries being raised in them. You got obvious citizen soldiery in the Low Country towns or Italy too, but it was unusual for a non-at-all-to-little-urbanised dirt-poor agricultural primarily peasant society to raise national forces like that, and the % of the total population was staggering, only outdone by the total size armies Sweden managed to maintain (peak 150 000 on a demographic base of 1,2 to 1,5 million, 30-40 000 being raised through "indelning").

This discussion also tends to crop up because some have taken to claim that the Swedish 17th c. armies weren't Swedish at all becuase they used foreign mercenaries. I think I get your point, but you need to look at the actual historical situation. Whichever way it is parsed, sooner or later someone else is bound to turn up and be an arse about it.