What about the Finns? Investigating Finland’s absence from Swedish royal titulature

‘King of Sweden, the Götar, and the Wends’…. What about the Finns? Swedish royal titulature changed over the centuries as the regions under Swedish rule shifted, yet despite centuries of rule over Finland, the Swedish royals did not include it in their titulature. Caroline Wilhelmsson of the University of Aberdeen explores this question in her article included in Volume 7, published earlier this year and available for download as a stand alone article, or in the entire downloadable volume. In this guest post she discusses her research and her interest in the subject.

I am a medievalist specifically studying Sweden and its dominions between the Viking Age and the fourteenth century. It is a fascinating and puzzling field of study because written primary sources are extremely scarce. Few were produced in the first place, and most disappeared in two devastating fires which afflicted Stockholm in 1697 and Turku in 1827. The lack of material can be frustrating, but for somebody with an inquisitive (and creative!) mind, it is great fun.

Finland officially belonged to Sweden for about six centuries until 1809, which is unusually long for a colony. This association led to interesting geopolitical developments, and it had a profound impact on Finland’s culture and society. But in common with most other examples of colonialism, the interactions between the Swedish administration and Finland were not always smooth. In Swedish literature, for instance, Finnish people were usually depicted harshly. Until the early twentieth century, the Swedish stereotype of a typical Finn was that of a rough, boorish, unsophisticated farmer, the implication being that they were inferior. It is an idea that comes up time and again in medieval and early modern historical treatises, legends and popular stories. And yet, Finland was an integral part of the kingdom, equal in law to the rest of the Swedish people. That is an intriguing paradox.

In my article, I have tried to better understand the relationship between the Swedish Crown and Finland between c. 1200 and 1600. Swedish kings, like most rulers throughout the world, held various titles and distinctions. These were not random. Titles, whether royal, professional, academic or honorary, always mean something. They convey status, and they can be powerful diplomatic tools. So, I decided to look at the development of Swedish royal titles to see what they can tell us about the monarchy’s view of Finland. Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Finland and/or Finnish people were never given the same status as the other core populations of Sweden. These are the Swedes proper, who gave their name to the kingdom, and the Geats, which you may remember from Beowulf. These two peoples, the merger of which gave birth to the Swedish kingdom, are always given priority in royal titulature. Despite official acknowledgement of Finland’s status as a Swedish province of its own, the only titles ever relating to Finland were initially held by other members of the royal household, and not by the king himself. The terminology used was also very distinctive. My article suggests several reasons for this, including royal snobbery, diplomatic restrictions, cultural assimilation and a possible misunderstanding of early modern ethnonyms.

I first looked at the question of Finland’s place in Swedish royal titulature in a chapter of my doctoral thesis about national identity in Sweden. When Ceræ sent out a call for papers about minorities, I felt that this was the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into that topic. My aim was not to give a definite answer to any of the questions that I have raised, but to explore areas of medieval and early modern politics which are less often discussed. To my knowledge, my paper is the first written in English to solely focus on Swedish royal titulature in relation to the kingdom’s dominions. Therefore, I also hope that this article can serve as an introduction to Swedish history for readers unfamiliar with the field.

Featured Image: Stockholm royal palace, unknown artist; image source.