History of Europe

On this day in 1720: the Treaty of Stockholm

On this day in 1720, Sweden and Prussia signed the Treaty of Stockholm, ending the part these two played in the Great Northern War. Surprisingly (or not), Sweden had little to do with the various treaties and peaces she entered into with her former enemies, so let us take a look at the provisions of the Treaty.

The Battle of Narva in 1700, by Alexander von Kotzebue

After Poltava

In 1715, Sweden had been ravaged and mauled by their enemies, Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania (ruled by the prince-elector of Saxony), and Russia. After the battle of Poltava, everything went downhill. The Russians, which were considered backwards and primitive by Western Europe, had taken Finland and all Swedish territories in the Baltics, and now, much to the surprise of everyone, Russian armies stood in Mecklenburg, on German soil. Desperate adventurers, like the jacobites in Great Britain, Giulio Alberoni (Italian cardinal and statesman to king Felipe V of Spain), and Georg Heinrich von Görtz (a statesman in the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp), were at some point willing to seek Russian support in various affairs, but the majority of statesmen and leaders in Europe were not ready to involve Russia in their diplomatic games.

Russian Czar Peter the Great at the Battle of Poltava, by Johann Gottfried Tannauer

In 1719 it was obvious that the next target of Russian expansionism had to be what remained of Sweden. The questions faced, not only by Sweden, but by diplomats all over Europe were three-fold. What could be done? What were they prepared to do? What could Sweden afford to lose? These questions needed answers if as much as possible of Sweden would be saved. But this was a multi-faceted problem.

Vultures circling

With the dissolution of the Swedish Empire, old rivalries once again surfaced, and new ambitions arose. Georg I, prince-elector of Hannover (not to mention King of Great Britain and Ireland), saw an opportunity to conquer Bremen and Verden. Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia desired Vorpommern, that Brandenburg lost in 1648. Frederick IV of Denmark wanted to return to pre-1660, when southern Sweden was firmly in Danish hands.

A peace in the north, where Sweden would not back an inch more than necessary against these smaller vultures, while denying the Russian eagle his spoils of war, seemed an impossible task. Sweden had some luck though, the two major powers of Western Europe (Great Britain and France) were at the time in agreement, bound by the Quadruple Alliance from 1718, and they were united in their efforts to save what could be saved from the ruins left by Swedish king Karl XII.

Salvaging the remains

Guillaume Dubois of France was adamant in his opinions. Stockholm needed to keep their foothold in Germany, and remain a member of the Holy Roman Empire through their dominions. French statesmen were still very much controlled by their fear of Austrian Habsburgs. France clung to their “eastern system”, keeping their friends, allies and protectorates under their wings – Sweden, Poland or the Turks – and wanted to keep them handy and able to threaten the Habsburgs with war on several fronts if necessary, and thereby secure French influence in Germany.

James Stanhope, fighting in both London and Herringhausen (Hannover), had the ungrateful task of balancing British and Hannoverian interests. He was prepared to appease George I so far as to support Hannover’s annexation of Bremen-Verden, but he would not allow the Russians complete control over the Baltics by saving Pommern. The British were concerned, they could clearly see a future with a Russia with near monopoly on hemp, pitch, masts and booms, which were vital to the British navies. Because of this, British policy was to return Finland, Estonia and Livonia to Sweden, a radical difference from the French policy.

The German dominions France wanted Sweden to keep, while England wanted them to keep their Baltic dominions

By convincing Sweden to sacrifice Stettin the British also wanted Prussian support as a barrier against Russian incursions into Central Europe. And if Russian control over the Baltic sea was undesirable in British eyes, the same can be said about a Denmark in control of both sides of the Sound: still in fresh memory was 1652, when Denmark closed the Sound to British ships, denying them entry into the Baltic Sea. In 1719, both Great Britain and France were represented in Stockholm by bold and skilled ministers who worked well together. The pressure caused by Russian raids on the Swedish east coast gave them influence that drastically lowered the difficulty of their task. It proved possible to, at least to a certain extent, link French and British interest, mostly thanks to the British ambassador, John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville.

Beginning to close the deals: Stockholm and beyond

In July 1719, Carteret convinced the Swedish to cede Bremen-Verden to Hannover; in August he renewed the Anglo-Swedish alliance from 1700. In this renewed treaty, Sweden pledged to surrender Stettin, Usedom and Wollin to Prussia, which took place in the Swedish-Prussian peace of 1720. In return for the Treaty of Stockholm, Carteret promised monetary aid, which Sweden desperately needed to mount any kind of resistance, and he ordered Admiral John Norris with a squadron of ships to go to the Baltic Sea and cooperate with the Swedish fleets. Now only Denmark and Russia remained. Great Britain and France agreed that Denmark would not receive Wismar, and that the Danish troops had to leave occupied Swedish Pomerania. Furthermore, the British strongly objected to any Danish territorial gain in Sweden proper. Denmark was guaranteed Schlesvig and “Royal” Holstein and was given monetary reparations.

The provisions of the Treaty of Stockholm and the ancillary deals however left one major player out of the equation: Russia.

George I, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Elector of Hanover

Dealing with the Eagle

Friedrich of Hesse, Carteret and the French ambassador Jacques de Campredon proposed an alliance, which would work together on land and sea, forcing Russia into giving concessions. The Alliance would involve England-Hannover, Prussia, Poland, hopefully the Holy Roman Emperor, and French money. In Friedrich’s mind, this coalition was comparable with the one that forced Louis XIV of France to back down, but in all events, the alliance never materialized. Great Britain had no interest in risking their ships in the Baltic Sea, and France had no interest in paying for the whole thing. With this, Sweden was left alone, and naturally felt betrayed and furious with their so-called “allies”, and was now forced to seek peace with Russia alone. Luckily, Czar Peter the Great was also tired of the war, and offered generous terms.

Russia took Ingria, Viborg, parts of Karelia, Estonia and Livonia, but they returned almost all of Finland, which Sweden was in no position to reconquer. Stockholm also received 2 million Riksdaler in payment for the loss of territory, and Sweden was allowed to buy grain for a value of 50 000 rubles taxfree, every year. So despite their anger with Great Britain and France, those two countries greatly aided in keeping Sweden alive throughout the end of the Great Northern War, and French money from that point up until the 1760s greatly helped keep Sweden afloat.

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