Online Encyclopedia

YII

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 738 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
YII. 241772 Toll succeeded, by sheer bluff, in winning the fortress of Kristianstad. On the 16th Sprengtporten succeeded in surprising Sveaborg. But contrary winds prevented him from crossing to Stockholm, and in the meanwhile events had occurred which made his presence there unnecessary. On the 16th of August the Cap leader, Ture Rudbeck, arrived at Stockholm with the news of the insurrection in the south, and Gustavus found himself isolated in the midst of enemies. Sprengtporten lay weather-bound in Finland, Toll was five hundred miles away, the Hat leaders were in hiding. Gustavus thereupon resolved to strike the decisive blow without waiting for the arrival of Sprengtporten. He acted with military promptitude. On the evening of the 18th all the officers whom he thought he could trust received secret instructions to assemble in the great square facing the arsenal on the following morning. At ten o'clock on the 19th Gustavus mounted his horse and rode straight to the arsenal. On the way his adherents joined him in little groups, as if by accident, so that by the time he reached his destination he had about two hundred officers in his suite. After parade he reconducted them to the guard-room of the palace and unfolded his plans to them. He then dictated a new oath of allegiance, and every one signed it without hesitation. It absolved them from their allegiance to the estates, and bound them solely to obey their lawful king, Gustavus III. Meanwhile the senate and the governor-general, Rudbeck, had been arrested and the fleet secured. Then Gustavus made a tour of the city and was everywhere received by enthusiastic crowds, who hailed him as a deliverer. On the evening of the loth heralds perambulated the streets proclaiming that the estates were to meet in the Rikssaal on the following day; every deputy absenting himself would be regarded as the enemy of his country and his king. On the 21st, a few moments after the estates had assembled, the king in full regalia appeared, and taking his seat on the throne, delivered that famous philippic, one of the masterpieces of Swedish oratory, in which he reproached the estates for their unpatriotic venality and licence in the past. A new constitution was recited by the estates and accepted by them unanimously. The diet was then dissolved. Gustavus was inspired by a burning enthusiasm for the greatness and welfare of Sweden, and worked in the same reformatory direction as the other contemporary sovereigns of the " age of enlightenment." He took an active part in every department of business, but relied far more on extra-official counsellors of his own choosing than upon the senate. The effort to remedy the frightful corruption which had been fostered by the Hats and Caps engaged a considerable share of his time and he even found it necessary to put the whole of a supreme court of justice (Gota Hofratt) on its trial. Measures were also taken to reform the administration and the whole course of judicial procedure, and torture as an instrument of legal investigation was abolished. In 1774 an ordinance providing for the liberty of the press was even issued. The national defences were at the same time developed on a " Great Power " scale, and the navy was so enlarged as to become one of the most formidable in Europe. The dilapidated finances were set in good order by the " currency realization ordinance " of 1777. Gustavus also introduced new national economic principles. In 1775 free trade in corn was promoted and a number of oppressive export-tolls were abolished. The poor law was also amended, absolute religious liberty was proclaimed, and he even succeeded in inventing and popularizing a national costume which was in general use from 1778 till his death. His one great economic blunder was the attempt to make the sale of spirits a government monopoly, which was an obvious infringement upon the privileges of the estates. His foreign policy, on the other hand, was at first both wise and wary. Thus, when the king summoned the estates to assemble at Stockholm on the 3rd of September 1778, he could give a brilliant account of his six years' stewardship. Never was a parliament more obsequious or a king more gracious. " There was no room for a single No during the whole session." Yet, short as the session was, it was quite long enough to open the eyes of the deputies to the fact that their political supremacy had II departed. They had changed places with the king. He was now indeed their sovereign lord; and, for all his gentleness, the jealousy with which he guarded, the vigour with which he enforced the prerogative, plainly showed that he meant to remain so. Even the few who were patriotic enough to acquiesce in the change by no means liked it. The diet of 1778 had been obsequious; the diet of 1786 was mutinous. The consequence was that nearly all the royal propositions were either rejected outright or so modified that Gustavus himself withdrew them. The diet of 1786 marks a turning-point in Gustavus's history. Henceforth we observe a determination on his part to rule with-out a parliament; a passage, cautious and gradual, yet unflinching, from semi-constitutionalism to semi-absolutism. His opportunity came in 1788, .when the political complications arising out of his war with Catherine II. of Russia enabled him by the Act of Unity and Security (on the 17th of February 1789) to override the opposition of the rebellious and grossly unpatriotic gentry, and, with the approbation of the three lower estates, establish a new and revolutionary constitution, in which, though the estates still held the power of the purse, the royal authority largely predominated. Throughout 1789 and 1790 Gustavus, in the national interests, gallantly conducted the unequal struggle with Russia, finally winning in the Svensksund (9th-loth July) the most glorious naval victory ever gained by the Swedish arms, the Russians losing one-third of their fleet and 7000 men. A month later, on the 14th of August 1790, peace was signed between Russia and Sweden at Varala. Only eight months before, Catherine had haughtily declared that " the odious and revolting aggression " of the king of Sweden would be " for-given " only if he " testified his repentance " by agreeing to a peace granting a general and unlimited amnesty to all his rebels, and consenting to a guarantee by the Swedish diet (" as it would be imprudent to confide in his good faith alone ") for the observance of peace in the future. The peace of Varala saved Sweden from any such humiliating concession, and in October 1791 Gustavus took the bold but by no means imprudent step of concluding an eight years' defensive alliance with the empress, who thereby bound herself to pay her new ally annual subsidies amounting to 300,000 roubles. Gustavus now aimed at forming a league of princes against the Jacobins, and every other consideration was subordinated thereto. His profound knowledge of popular assemblies enabled him, alone among contemporary sovereigns, accurately to gauge from the first the scope and bearing of the French Revolution. But he was hampered by poverty and the jealousy of the other European Powers, and, after showing once more his unrivalled mastery over masses of men at the brief Gefle diet (22nd of January–24th of February 1792), he fell a victim to a widespread aristocratic conspiracy. Shot in the back by Anckarstrom at a midnight masquerade at the Stockholm opera-house, on the 16th of March 1792, he expired on the 29th. Although he may be charged with many foibles and extravagances, Gustavus III. was indisputably one of the greatest sovereigns of the 18th century. Unfortunately his genius never had full scope, and his opportunity came too late. Gustavus was, moreover, a most distinguished author. He may be said to have created the Swedish theatre, and some of the best acting dramas in the literature are by his hand. His historical essays, notably the famous anonymous eulogy on Torstenson crowned by the Academy, are full of feeling and exquisite in style, his letters to his friends are delightful. Every branch of literature and art interested him, every poet and artist of his day found in him a most liberal and sympathetic protector. See R. N. Bain, Gustavus III. and his Contemporaries (London, 1904) ; E. G. Geijer, Konung Gustaf III.'s efterlemnade papper (Upsala, 1843–1841) ; C. T. Odhner, Sveriges politiska historia under Konung Gustaf III.'s regering (Stockholm, 1885–1896) ; B. von Beskow, Om Gustaf III. sdsom Konung och mdnniska (Stockholm, 186o–1861) ; O. Levertin, Gustaf III. som dramatisk forfattare (Stockholm, 1894) ; Gustaf III.'s bref till G. M. Armfelt (Fr.) (Stock-holm, 1883); Y. K. Grot, Catharine II. and Gustavus III. (Russ.) (St Petersburg, 1884). (R. N. B.)
End of Article: YII
[back]
YGGDRASIL
[next]
YIL

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.