Insurgents of the Oldenburg state in Torstenson war 1643–1645

Elements of bargaining, protestation, and independent action

Olli Backstrom

This chapter addresses the issue of commoner subjects of the Oldenburg king Christian IV and their military obligations in the so-called Torstenson war between Sweden and Denmark in 1643-1645. It attempts to identify those instances, where peasants eligible for militia service either engaged in negotiation with the early modern state and its representatives or pursued their own goals via independent action. The intention is to form some understanding of possible state-building from ‘below’ rather than above, the perspective which has dominated traditional historiography of the 17th-century Oldenburg state. The conceptual starting-point behind this chapter is the notion of a Swedish ‘bargaining-state’ or forhandlingsstat recently proposed by Mats Hallenberg and Johan Holm. This notion implies co-opting the peasants into state-building and stresses the early modern state’s attempts at consultation over coercion in its demands for taxes and military manpower.1 This analysis puts forward the question, whether similar elements can be discerned in the conglomerate Oldenburg state during Torstenson war in 1643-1645. The case study of a single war is useful from the perspective of state-building, as wars tended to accelerate state formation (or reversibly disintegration). To quote Philippe Contamine, war was the most powerful element in the development of states, or rather of ‘the state.’2

Militias in the Oldenburg state

During Torstenson war, the Oldenburg state maintained rural and urban militias in all parts of its conglomerate state. The notion of a conglomerate state was made famous among Nordic historians by Harald Gustafsson in the context of early modern Sweden, but the concept also applies well to the Oldenburg state. To put it briefly, a conglomerate state indicates an early modern state, in which the monarch ruled several constituent realms in different capacities.3 In the context of the Oldenburg state, this meant that the monarch, in 1643-1645, Christian IV, ruled as a king in Denmark and Norway, but as a duke and imperial prince (Reichsfiirst) in Holstein. Meanwhile, the King’s second son Frederick ruled as an ecclesiastical administrator in the Archbishopric of Bremen-Verden. As the de facto Archbishop of Bremen-Verden, Frederick too was an imperial prince and, therefore, a direct vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III.

All the constituent parts of the Oldenburg state maintained militias in one shape or another. The largest and militarily most important militia was the peasant levy or opbud in Denmark proper (meaning Jutland, Danish Isles, and Eastern Denmark, which consisted of Halland, Blekinge, and Scania in modern-day Sweden). The opbud originated from the medieval levies known as landevcernet and ledingen - the former possibly meaning a defensive and the latter an offensive form of national defence.4 Over the course of the 16th century, the universal levy was organized on the basis of Icegder, in which rotes of 40, 10, 5, or even just 3 houses would provide the crown with one peasant soldier. These peasant soldiers were typically employed in guard duties along the land borders or coastal areas.5 During the Nordic Seven Years War (1563-1570) this levy was reorganized on the basis of ad hoc udskrivning, in which the authorities picked choice soldiers for extended periods of military service.6 The peasant levy could, therefore, transform into a standing army of conscripted soldiers, even though it took another century for this native standing army to become fully institutionalized. The military role of these peasant levies in the Nordic Seven Years War should not be overstated. The majority of the troops employed in Eastern Denmark consisted of feudal cavalry and recruited soldiers; the latter occasionally commanded peasant auxiliaries that were typically armed with pikes.7

The peasant levies were organized on a more standing basis in the aftermath of the Kalmar War (1611-1613). Freeholders and crown peasants were expected to furnish soldiers for the local standing militias, which consisted of four companies (750 men) in Scania, three (625 men) in Halland, and one (215 men) in Blekinge. Another landsdelregiment of militiamen was mustered in Jutland. All these companies were regularly exercised and drilled, and during peacetime, they were regularly employed in the maintenance and construction of fieldworks. Service in these militias was not perpetual, and in 1621, it was limited to 2 years of service (previously it had been four).8 The new militia rested on the principle of inddelning, in which 4000 specially assigned royal or freeholder farms provided soldiers in return for fiscal privileges.9 This was not yet a true standing army: The officer corps was maintained permanently, but the peasant soldiers were recruited through a rotation system.10 Meanwhile the urban militias were maintained in the traditional manner. All the cities and major towns in Denmark had their own militias, but these were qualitatively stratified according to the size and wealth of the urban communities. The prominent towns maintained relatively well-furnished militias armed with firearms, while the poorer towns had to make do with more modest militias that could be equipped with swords and pikes only.11

The militias were again reorganized in 1620. The number of farms in the inddelning was reduced to 400, which were to provide maintenance for officers only. The obligation to support the militia was extended to include all royal and ecclesiastical farms, which were to provide conscripts for the nascent standing army. All royal and ecclesiastical farms were organized into leegder of nine farms that were to provide one soldier between them. The size of the militia, therefore, grew to 5000 men.12 In order to facilitate the mobilization of the militia, all eligible soldiers were catalogued or ‘written out’ in a process known as udskrivning. This system bore a great resemblance to the Swedish institution of conscription (utskrivning), but there were also major differences. One was obviously the much smaller size of the Danish militia compared to the standing native army in Sweden. The second difference was structural. The Swedish utskrivning was based on a set ratio of troops, while the Danish militia of 1620 was provided through a quota system according to administrative divisions.13 The third difference was qualitative. In Sweden, it was the peasants themselves who were mustered from the quotas, but in Denmark, the tegd-peasants paid collective taxes to finance a soldier.14

According to Oysten Rian, Norway in the early 17th century was possibly the most un-militarized country in continental Europe.15 Cavalry service - rendering (rostjeneste) nobility - was almost non-existent in Norway, and the standing army consisted of a handful of recruited soldiers in dispersed garrisons. The defence of Norway rested on the peasant militia commanded by the local lensmcend or district governors. Rian characterized the peasant militia as ‘a parody of an army, ill-trained, insufficiently armed, and without officers.’16 This view is excessively dismissive. To begin with, the potential size of the Norwegian militia was respectable. Almost all able-bodied men were eligible for militia service of a soldier or boatmen. In terms of quality, the Norwegian peasant militia was not that substandard either. In 1612, the peasants in the Trondheim len managed to encircle and annihilate a force of 300 Scottish mercenaries on their way from the North Sea coast to Sweden.17 This feat suggests that the Norwegian peasant levies possessed at least some level of tactical cohesion and leadership. The level of armaments was admittedly low among the Norwegian militia during the Kalmar War, but this deficiency was being addressed by 1617, when the crown distributed 5000 muskets to the Norwegian peasants. The first recipients of these weapons were the freeholder peasants in Bergen. After Bergen, the weapons were delivered to other localities via the lensma?nd.'s The Krigsordinans of 1628 reorganized the peasant militia into a standing force of 6200 men commanded by professional officers. This revision effectively introduced conscription (udskrivning) to Norway.19 Norwegian conscription, however, differed from its Danish counterpart. The leegder were organized into units of four houses instead of nine. The financing of the standing army was devolved to the Norwegian Estates. The Norwegian army was also officered largely by non-nobles, while in Denmark and Holstein, the army remained the bastion of the nobility.20

The militias in Oldenburg-governed Holstein and Bremen-Verden traced their origins to the military structures and institutions of the Holy Roman Empire. The catch-all term for German militias was Ausschufi, which possessed the same implication of ‘rising up’ as the Danish word opbud (or Swedish uppbad). The Holsteiner militia in the Danish king’s patrimonial lands was based on a core force of Freien Knechte or ‘free soldiers.’ This was a force of volunteer militiamen, who received regular training and drill, and who operated under the direct command of the local war commissar. The formal size of this militia was six rotes of 169 men each or 1014 in all.21 In late 1644, however, their troop strength in Gluckstadt was only 600.22 This core militia could be augmented by a larger levy of armed peasants, often referred to as Moorbaureu, most of whom would have been demesne peasants and thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Holsteiner landlords. One of the major landowners in Holstein was Christian IV himself, who had control over his tenants and day-labourers in his capacity as Duke of Holstein. The more or less autonomous peasant communities in the Bremener marshlands - Hadeln, Kehdingen, and Wursten - were themselves militarized and effectively responsible for their own defence. While these marshlands were more sparsely populated than Holstein, they too possessed the potential to muster several hundred militiamen in the face of external danger. The inhabitants of the Bremener marshlands expressed this potential in 1632, when several hundred militiamen rallied in the defence of their Archbishop John Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp against invading Imperialists as well as opportunistic Danes, who attempted to seize the fort of Freiburg on the left bank of the Elbe.23

During Torstenson war, the insurgency directed towards the Swedish invaders drew its manpower from these militias. In Scania, Holstein, and Bremen-Verden much of the insurgency was fought as guerrilla warfare - meaning ambuscades, disruption of communication, attacks against Swedish foraging parties, and other small-scale skirmishes. In Norway, the fighting was distinctively hybrid, which means that the peasant levies provided auxiliary manpower for regular units conducting conventional warfare. The intensity of the insurgency varied; eastern parts of Holstein, and much of Jutland and Bremen-Verden, remained relatively quiescent, while the Dithmarschen marshlands in western Holstein and the northern Scanian frontier districts were veritable hotbeds of insurgency. The Danish insurgency in Torstenson war exhibited a militarily transformative quality, as the insurgents were empowered by the proliferation of a new kind of weapon, the snaphance or firelock musket, which dispensed with the burning match and instead ignited the powder with a flint stone, thus making the firearm more suitable for guerrilla warfare.24 Empowerment in the field of battle, however, did not necessarily equate empowerment in the arena of politics.

Bargaining, consultation, and protest

Mats Hallenberg and Jonas Holm have convincingly argued that the Swedish military state took the shape it did in the 17th century because of the central government’s willingness to engage in negotiations and bargaining with the tax-paying freeholder peasants, who constituted the political Estate of peasants at the Estates General (rigsdag). The freeholder peasants used this political privilege to promote their social stratum’s interests, namely alleviations in taxes and conscriptions, vis-à-vis the central state, but they also employed it to promote their own social status and economic influence in the local rural society - often at the expense of the less privileged tenant peasants and day labourers.25

The disenfranchised Danish peasants did not enjoy similar privileges, as they had no access to political representation at the Danish rigsdag. There were nevertheless instances in which peasants engaged in bargaining and negotiations with the Oldenburg state over their fiscal and military burdens during Torstenson war. The obligation to resist the invading enemy by force was in itself open to negotiation (or at least interpretation). In early 1644, Christian IV himself felt the necessity to travel to Scania in order to motivate the peasants there for the defence of the realm. A personal appearance before the peasants would have entailed at least some level of negotiation and possibly bargaining with the assembled peasants over the terms or nature of their service.26 However, this royal visit to Scania did not happen in early 1644, as the heavy snows caused Christian IV to postpone his relief expedition to Scania.27 The Crown Prince Christian also engaged in some limited negotiations with Scanian peasants during his visit to Malmo in the spring of 1644. On 8 March 1644, the Prince answered to a ‘supplication’ made by the commonalty in the Vemmenhog district. The peasants, it seems, had asked Prince Christian to supply them with material needs (i.e., weapons) to resist the invading Swedes. The Prince assured them that the peasants’ needs were a priority, but that in the meanwhile, they should resist the enemy by any means available to them.28 The next month, Prince Christian offered the peasants of Vemmenhog the opportunity to serve as dragoons. Volunteers were expected to provide their own horses, while Prince Christian agreed to supply the peasant-dragoons with muskets and ammunition. This agreement appears to have resulted from a process of bargaining, in which Prince Christian and the peasants sought to maximize the respective advantages of militia service to both sides.29

It is worth noticing that these few consultations with the peasants were limited to Scania, where the Danes maintained several strongholds throughout the war. Jutland was rapidly overrun by the Swedes in early 1644, and communication between Jutlander peasants and rhe central government remained sporadic and mostly conducted through intermediaries, such as the land commissars. In the Danish islands, the crown had little incentive to negotiate with the local peasants, who were largely demesne tenants subjected to manorial landlords.

In 1639, the stadtholder of Norway, Christopher Urne, summoned the Norwegian Estates to Christiania to discuss the implementation of a new rostjeneste tax that was meant for the recruitment and upkeep of cavalrymen. The tax was also imposed on the freeholder peasants (odelsbender), who, however, did not constitute their own Estate. As constituents of the rostjeneste-tax, the freeholders were forced to rely on the nobility to negotiate and possibly bargain with the crown on their behalf.30 In early 1644, Hannibal Sehested reached out directly to the peasants. The stadtholder sought the help of volunteer militiamen from the Hedemark province for a planned expedition into Sweden. Sehested, however, did not address the peasants directly but instead summoned the herredsfoged or bailiffs to Moss, from whence the bailiffs would return to their respective parish districts to muster militiamen and organize the planned expedition.31 The peasants were represented in these negotiations by intermediaries, i.e. bailiffs, but the bailiffs at least had direct access to Sehested himself. It is also noteworthy to observe that certain communities and social groups enjoyed qualifications to the heavy fiscal and military burdens imposed on the Oldenburg subjects. The town of Marstrand in the Bohus province and the clergy of the arctic Finnmark province were exempted from the double taxation decreed in January 1644.32 The inhabitants of the northernmost districts, who were mostly tax-paying freeholder peasants (odelsbonde), were taxed at a fixed and reduced rate or haluskatt.33 Such qualifications and reductions imply some degree of negotiation or bargaining between subjects and the crown.

The negotiating positions of the Holsteiner and Bremener commoners differed from those in Denmark and Norway. In Holstein, the Estates consisted of the joint Estate of priests and nobility and the collective estate of the major cities and towns (Kiel, Flensburg, Itzehoe, Rendsburg, Schleswig, and Haderslev).34 The peasants had no representation in the Landtag, but they could deal with local bailiffs known as Amtmannen, whose responsibility it was to oversee the functioning of grassroots governance.35 The Holsteiner insurgency in 1643-1645 was not conducted by the central government in Copenhagen but was largely devolved to local military commanders, namely Count Penz, the commandant of the Gluckstadt garrison, and Cai Ahlefeldt, the general war commissar in Holstein. There were, however, some instances of negotiation between the military authorities and the Holsteiner peasantry. In July 1644, both Prince Frederick and Cai Ahlefeldt visited the Dithmarschen marshlands. Their intent was to encourage rhe local insurgents to support the planned Danish-Imperialist military cooperation and possibly even to join the imperialists as auxiliaries (such promises of military aid had been made to the imperialists by Christian IV).36 This visit bore some fruit, as a few hundred peasants joined the imperialist expedition into Holstein.37 By the

Insurgents of the Oldenburg state 113 end of August 1644, most of the Danish auxiliaries had nevertheless disbanded and drifted back home.38 The recruitment of insurgents for military service under the imperialists would have required some degree of negotiation, as the Holsteiner militiamen were not under any obligation to serve the allies of Christian IV.

The situation of Bremen-Verden was peculiar, as the Archbishopric was not truly part of the Oldenburg patrimonial lands. As a direct imperial fief, the Archbishopric was not automatically drawn into the Danish-Swedish war. The local Estates and the Cathedral chapter intended to keep the Archbishopric as neutral territory and collectively expressed this view to the ecclesiastical administrator Prince Frederick. The real-political basis of this neutrality was an agreement concluded between the Archbishopric and Sweden in 1636. It is difficult to estimate whether the negotiating power of the estates and the cathedral chapter would have been sufficiently strong to maintain neutrality in the face of Oldenburg demands for military action and resources, as the question of Bremener neutrality was settled by the Swedish occupation of Verden in January 1644. It was the Bremener Estates themselves, who finally concluded in March 1644 that the Swedish encroachment constituted a violation of the previous agreement on neutrality.39

Protests, mutinies, and foot-dragging can also be regarded as forms of bargaining. Karl-Erik Frandsen has asserted that there were only a few instances of peasant opposition to conscription and levies, but his claim appears limited to Jutland and the Danish islands. One rare example is the Skads parish district in Jutland, where in January 1644, one peasant refused publicly to take part in any military training and then went on to incite other peasants to join his protest.40 A rather more serious incident involved the bargemen of Fyn, who in January 1644 refused to carry troops or supplies and even threatened to burn their own barges. The mutiny was quelled in February, when Christian IV sent the bargemen several missives threatening them with arrest and imprisonment.41 Throughout the war there was some collaboration between the Oldenburg subjects and the Swedish invaders, but these incidents do not quite qualify as protestation or insurrection against the House of Oldenburg.42 The most threatening incident occurred in Hadeln, where a local magistrate (Schulz) named Jacob Eissen conspired to place the entire peasant republic in Swedish hands.43

Some of the serious peasant protests occurred in Norway. Insubordination among the Norwegian peasant levies was not a new phenomenon. During the Nordic Seven Years War in 1563-1570, the crown had been forced to use a combination of threats and rewards in order to induce the peasants to ‘defend the Fatherland.’44 In the Kalmar War (1611-1613), the peasants once again exhibited reluctance to partake in a war that they saw as a royal adventure and nothing more.45 At the outbreak of the war, Norwegian opbud-evies were assigned to border watching duties so that the conscripted soldiers would be freed for more mobile warfare. The peasantsnevertheless complained vociferously over a duty that they considered excessive and burdensome.46 In the spring of 1644, many of the levied peasants who had been attached to the Akershusiske Regiment deserted as a protest against border watching duties.47 In early 1645, the peasants of Smaalene refused outright to cross the border. Their insolence was at least partially motivated by the peasants’ solidarity towards their Swedish peers, and some mutinous peasants indeed wished ill-luck on Hannibal Sehested’s expedition into Sweden. The mutiny of the Smaalene peasants turned violent when some of the peasants attacked royal officials. The violence was quelled by the timely intervention of the militiamen’s own officers.48 A few days later, Hannibal Sehested lamented how seditious peasants had run away with the weapons and ammunition distributed to them from royal magazines.49 In early February 1645, Sehested summoned the restless peasants to a public proclamation of war articles and royal missives decreeing opbud-duties. Such a meeting could have included a degree of reciprocity if the peasants were allowed to air their opinions and possible grievances relating to military service. The mood at the meeting, however, was not overly tolerant, as Sehested issued severe warnings to any peasants shirking their military duties.50

The mutinous sentiment among the Norwegians never evolved into full-blown dissent or secession, as happened in Hameln. The closest thing to treasonous conduct was the awkward annexation of the Idre and Saerna parishes by the Swedes. While the parish districts had been occupied by the Swedes during the war, their inclusion in the Bromsebro peace agreement had remained unspecified. Therefore, when Hannibal Sehested demanded that the parishioners return to Danish allegiance, the unfortunate inhabitants of the two districts were forced to reject his demands on the ground that they had been forced to acknowledge Swedish suzerainty. The new King Frederick III explored the possibility of regaining the districts by organizing a border commission to define whether the districts were part of the Swedish-held province of Harjedalen or not. From there onwards the Danish policy maintained that the two districts were not seditious or secessionist, but that they had been unlawfully annexed by Sweden in 1644.51

Independent action

State formation often implies the imposition of coercion and military actions from above, from the centralized power state to the matrix-like society below it. Independent military action by the constituent parts of the stratified society are not seen as part of the state-building process, but rather as anomalies and deviations that stand in the way of state monopoly of organized violence. In Holstein and Bremen-Verden, the Oldenburg power state was represented by Prince Frederick, Count Penz, and Caj Ahlefeldt. While they were indisputably the top decision-makers on the

Insurgents of the Oldenburg state 115 southern front, the local Estates too could make major military decisions on their own initiative. An example of this comes from the spring of 1644, when the Holsteiner Estates decided to muster a local defence force to repel the invading Swedes.52 The Estates decided on a Dutchstyle model of military subcontracting, in which intermediate businessmen known as solliciteurs-militaire would advance recruitment money to hired companies in return for monthly compensation. The Holsteiner Estates, it seemed, were worried that if recruited troops were hired and rewarded in a too cavalier manner, they might start pillaging the local peasant population and thus force Holstein into a three-cornered war between the invading Swedes, mercenaries hired by the Oldenburg state, and local peasant insurgents. The Estates did not resort to this independent action out of any desire to defy the Oldenburg state, but in order to steer the course of war in a way that would alleviate at least some of the destruction brought about by a major conflict between Swedish and Danish armies on Holsteiner soil.

Most of the independent military action in Holstein and Bremen-Verden was conducted by the peasant insurgents. A chronological survey of military events in Holstein and Bremen suggests that while most warfare against the Swedish invaders was carried out by regular units or hybrid contingents of regulars and insurgents, there was nevertheless consistent independent action carried out by armed peasants.53 In May 1644, the French news pamphlet Gazette reported that Holsteiner peasants organized themselves into insurgent bands that harassed the Swedes in nighttime military actions.54 Insurgency in the Bremener marshlands was more modest compared to Holstein.55 The reluctance to wage aggressive insurgency on behalf of the Oldenburg state may be explained by the fact that the Danes too had imposed their own heavy contributions on the Bremener peasants.56 The Bremener insurgents nevertheless showed military initiative that was directed against the city of Hamburg instead of the Swedes. In the summer of 1644, insurgents from the Bremener marshlands began to prey on the traffic to and from Hamburg. The Hamburger war council regarded it necessary to furnish a small flotilla to operate along the Elbe and hunt down these ‘Schaphanen,’ as they were named in the council’s protocols.57 While enmity between Christian IV and Hamburg went back several decades, it would have been unwise for the Danes to intentionally aggravate Hamburg - the nexus of finance, arms trade, and recruitment-during a war against Sweden. It is, therefore, likely that the insurgency against Hamburg was a manifestation of a feud between that city and the inhabitants of the Bremener marshlands.58

Evidence from Jutland also tells of independent insurgency and outlawry. In August 1644, when the Jutlander peasants had asked the central government to help them organize ‘landers defensions’ among ‘crown and demesne peasants, trade towns, and common men,’ the King had suggested that the Jutlanders should muster and manage fighting men on their own initiative.59

Other sources tell of outlawry and brigandage among the Jutlander insurgents. Christian Klitgaard discovered that some of the prisoners constructing field fortifications in Jutland had collaborated with the Swedes and robbed their fellow countrymen during the war.60 When Klitgaard started to investigate this matter, he found out that collaboration and brigandage had been widespread activities that had involved large groups of culprits from entire districts. Some eyewitnesses claimed that these ‘defectors’ terrorized their fellow peasants worse than the Swedish invaders did.61 This phenomenon was not new, and it could be traced back to the Imperialist occupation in 1627-1629, when outlaw gangs in Jutland known as Krabber had robbed wayfarers and attacked Danes and Imperialists alike.62

While evidence suggests that most insurgents in Scania were led by royal officers or local landlords, it is quite possible or even likely that some of the insurgent bands operated on their own volition. Such independent insurgency could easily devolve into brigandage. There is indeed some evidence of such brigandage occurring in Scania during Torstenson war, although the phenomenon was more typical of the later Second Northern War and the Scanian War.63 In September 1643, Swedish war preparations were already being disturbed by the presence of bandits in the frontier provinces. These brigands, who consisted partly of military deserters, had boasted to a Swedish peasant that if threatened by the Swedish authorities, they would ‘lean towards the king in Denmark,’ meaning that they would seek asylum on the other side of the frontier.64

Swedish sources sometimes referred to Scanian insurgents as robbers or brigands - particularly if they crossed the border and attacked Swedish districts such as Markaryd or Sandvik.65 In early 1645, the Swedes initiated a counterinsurgency operation against ‘roguish peasants,’ who had ‘always remained at Hallandsâs and shot dead our folk.’66 One ‘eminent rogue,’ who appeared to have been the leader of the insurgents (or possibly brigands), was executed by firing squad.67 The presence of brigands can be deduced from the missive issued by Christian IV after the conclusion of peace in August 1645. Christian IV ordered ‘all subjects, particularly those who in the woods and elsewhere have occupied themselves as snaphaner, freebooters, dragoons, or under other such names, to fight against the Swedes, to desist under the strictest punishment from all hostilities against the Swedes and all further musters in the woods and elsewhere in and around the land as trouble-makers.’68 Five years later, the Swedes were still experiencing persistent brigandage in some parts of Halland. Such activities would not have been sanctioned by the Danish crown, as they ran counter to the articles of the Bromsebro peace agreement.69

One Scandinavian peculiarity was the bondefred or peasants’ peace, which Scanian or Hallander peasants might conclude with their Swedish peers. The origins of the bondefred can be traced back to the 16th century, when the Kalmar Union began to unravel under violent circumstances. The bondefred meant a local truce concluded by frontier peasants on their

Insurgents of the Oldenburg state 117 own initiative and on their own terms, for the purpose of mutual protection and safety. Such local truces were concluded in every border war from the Engelbrekt rebellion onwards.70 The last bondefred along the Danish-Swedish border was concluded in 1676, and its form and content did not differ from the earlier ones.71 As Jukka Kokkonen has shown, the practice still survived along the Russo-Swedish frontier well into the 18th century.72 During Torstenson war, at least one bondefred was concluded between the Danish peasants in Halland and their Swedish peers in the Kronoberg Ian in March 1644. The purpose of the local peace treaty had been to ‘ward off and avert the criminal parties that gather together and plunder on both sides of the border.’ Some of the insurgents, it seems, did not necessarily differentiate between Swedish and Danish subjects but plundered any cottages and barns in an opportunistic manner. Ebbe Ulfeldt, the Danish commandant at Kristianstad, and the Swedish council of state were disposed to honour the bondefred; the Swedish provincial governors were more cautious and wanted to wait and make sure that the proposed peace did not hide any malicious Danish designs.73 While it would be excessive to claim that Danish and Swedish military authorities sanctioned such independent action, they at least tolerated the bondefred if it did not directly violate military priorities.

Military revolution from below or above?

One very useful conceptual framework for understanding early modern state-building is the Military Revolution theory. This theory, originally articulated by Michael Roberts in 1955, postulates that tactical and technological innovations in 1560-1660 led to revolutionary changes in the management of military forces, namely in the dramatic growth of army sizes, increased professionalization of the officer corps, and the proliferation of new fiscal-military institutions. These revolutionary changes, Roberts argued, laid the foundations for the emergence of the modern territorial state.74 Michael Roberts essentially presents a ‘Military Revolution from Above,’ in which the transformation of war and society is driven by rulers and elites. The state, that on the one hand drove this transformation and on the other emerged from it, was not yet the modern state but an early modern one, which was more dynastic and conglomerate than territorial and national. In historiography, this early modern state is often characterized as a power state or a fiscal-military state in order to emphasize its claim on the monopoly of violence and the means by which it sustained and enabled protracted and often ambitious warfare. The model example of the Military Revolution and state formation in Roberts’s theory was 17th-century Sweden. This traditional view, in which the military power state was imposed on the wider society by authoritarian Vasa monarchs, has now come under scrutiny and revaluation. Recent work by Mats Hallenberg and Jonas Holm suggests that the traditional view has largely overlookedthe consensual aspects of Swedish state-building, in which state structures at least partially emerged from bargaining and negotiations between the central government and the lower social strata.75

The Oldenburg state is still very much anchored in the traditional view of ‘state-building from above’, in which the absolutist fiscal-military state emerged as a result of the royal coup in 1660. The losers in this revolution were the Danish nobles, who previously dominated the officer corps and had enjoyed extensive fiscal privileges in return for their cavalry service. Under the rule of Frederick III, the Oldenburg state introduced a standing native army of conscripts and recruited professionals. The noble-dominated local commissions, which had previously run the army, were consolidated into the War College, the forerunner of the modern-day defence ministry.76 The road to the absolutist revolution of 1660 had traversed through three successive wars, in which the Oldenburg armies had been outnumbered and outfought by the Imperialists and Swedes. One of these wars had been Torstenson war, in which the surprised Danes had been forced to meet the initial Swedish invasion with small garrison forces and hastily mobilized militias.

Peasant levies and militias were put to best use in insurgency. As military history shows, insurgency often occurs independently of government action. Indeed, many insurgencies are directed against domestic rulers instead of foreign invaders. Insurgency in Torstenson war was nevertheless directed against the Swedes, and because of its scope, it should be appraised in the context of state-building and the Military Revolution. To begin with, peasant levies were not highly valued by the likes of Christian IV or Hannibal Sehested; the latter largely blamed the unenthusiastic and even mutinous Norwegian peasants for his own lack of military success in the war.77 Much of the insurgency was devolved to institutions and structures outside the central Oldenburg state, such as manorial landlords and communal peasant authorities. Some insurgent bands undoubtedly operated on their own volition and for their own ends. Therefore, the system of national insurgency never necessitated the founding of supervisory institutions such as admiralties and war colleges that were later set up to manage the navy and army, respectively.

Throughout most of Torstenson war, the chain of military command ran from Christian IV to his armed subjects in Bremen-Verden, Holstein, Jutland, Scania, and Norway. Examples offered in this chapter show that this relationship was not always one in which the Oldenburg state barked orders and the insurgents and militiamen invariably followed them. Torstenson war reveals instances, where the peasants who rendered militia service attempted to modify their terms of service through negotiation, bargaining, foot-dragging, or even protestation. Some peasants abandoned the Oldenburg state altogether and moved from insurgency to naked brigandage or collaboration with the enemy. In the case of the Hallander bondefred, the peasants disregarded the war and concluded a local truce

Insurgents of the Oldenburg state 119 with their Swedish peers. These instances, however, do not testify to a ‘bargaining society’ akin to contemporaneous Sweden, where the peasants took part in the Estates Generals and (in October 1643) even requested the government to appoint peasants to lead the militias during the planned war.78 The larger context of Torstenson war is still the one in which the interests of the Oldenburg state guided insurgency at grassroots level. The devolution of the management and command of insurgency to local elites and the upper stratum of the peasant society did not mean that the commoners were institutionally included in the conduct of war or the operation of the Oldenburg military state, or that the state monopoly of violence was ever called into question. Nor did the lower social strata have any say in the military reforms that were introduced after the war to remedy some of the more conspicuous shortcomings. The native standing army, which emerged by fits and starts during the latter half of the 17th century, was very much a royal project, a kind of a Military Revolution from above by the Oldenburg state.

Primary sources


RA (Denmark)

Krigsradet i Glückstadt

Krigsrâdsprotokol 08.1644-08.1645

Tyske Kancelli, udenrigske Afdeling/Speciel Del/Tyskland/Bremen Stift

Diverse, arskrifter og trygsaker 1522-1644

RA (Sweden)



  • 1 Hallenberg & Hohn 2016.
  • 2 Contamine 2000, p. 2.
  • 3 Gustafsson 1998, pp. 189-213.
  • 4 Asmussen 1983, p. 614.
  • 5 Asmussen 1983, pp. 617-619.
  • 6 Asmussen 1983, pp. 625-631.
  • 7 Johannesson 1990, p. 4.
  • 8 Johannesson 1990, p. 8.
  • 9 Frost 2000, p. 139.
  • 10 Lind 1994, p. 39.
  • 11 Lind 1988, pp. 100-101.
  • 12 Lind 1994, p. 44.
  • 13 Frost 2000, p. 140.
  • 14 Lind 1994, p. 45.
  • 15 Rian 1984, p. 87.
  • 16 Rian 1984, p. 87.
  • 17 Larsen 1889, pp. 239-240.
  • 18 NRR 1603-1618, 7 April 1617, p. 619; NRR 1603-1618, 15 September 1617, pp. 664-666.
  • 19 Rian 1984, p. 87.
  • 20 Lind 1994, p. 61.
  • 21 Schroder 1832, p. 881.
  • 22 DRA Krigsradet i Gliickstadt/Regeringskancelliet i Gliickstadt/XV/Mili-taria/No. 25/Krigsradsprotokol 08.1644-08.1645, 31 October 1644.
  • 23 Theatrum Europaeum 1646, p. 617.
  • 24 Backstrom 2018, pp. 201-208.
  • 25 Hallenberg & Holm 2016, pp. 248-249.
  • 26 KCFEB 1641-1644, 28 February 1644, p. 457.
  • 27 KBB 1644-1645, 29 February 1644, p. 37.
  • 28 PCB 1643-1647, 8 March 1644, p. 77.
  • 29 PCB 1643-1647, 14 April 1644, pp. 122-123.
  • 30 Munthe 1901, pp. 5-6.
  • 31 Vessberg 1900, p. 16.
  • 32 KBB 1644-1645, 9 January 1644, p. 6.
  • 33 KBB 1644-1645, 22 January 1644, p. 15.
  • 34 Bremer 1844, pp. 161-162. '
  • 35 Whaley 2012, pp. 489-490.
  • 36 Schroder 1832, p. 889.
  • 37 Theatrum 1651, p. 430.
  • 38 Gazette 1644 N. 113, p. 778.
  • 39 DRA Tyske Kancelli, udenrigske Afdeling/Speciel Del/Tyskland/Bremen Stift/20. Diverse, arskrifter og trygsaker 1522-1644, 28 March 1644.
  • 40 Frandsen 1995, p. 170.
  • 41 KBB 1644-1645, 19 and 22 January 1644, 21 February 1644, pp. 11, 14, 31.
  • 42 Klitgaard 1932, pp. 216-226.
  • 43 Chronik des Landes Hadeln 1843, p. 306.
  • 44 Vaupell 1891, p. 58.
  • 45 Rian 2017, p. 135.
  • 46 Munthe 1901, p. 16.
  • 47 Munthe 1901, p. 60.
  • 48 SNSFH 1834, 28 January 1645, p. 583.
  • 49 SNSFH 1835, 30 January and 2 February 1645, pp. 70, 77.
  • 50 SNSFH 1835, 2 February 1645, p. 78.
  • 51 Opsahl 2002, 99-101.
  • 52 Theatrum 1651, p. 663.
  • 53 Backstrom 2018, p. 326.
  • 54 Gazette 1644 N. 50, pp. 322-323.
  • 55 Backstrom 2018, p. 133.
  • 56 Gazette 1645 N. 117, p. 843.
  • 57 Piscator 1771, 3 June 1644, p. 117.
  • 58 Backstrom 2018, 113, p. 237.
  • 59 KBB 1644-1645, 23 August 1644, pp. 102-103.
  • 60 Klitgaard 1932, p. 216.
  • 61 Klitgaard 1932, p. 219.
  • 62 Galster 1947, pp. 126-128.
  • 63 Backstrom 2018, p. 238.
  • 64 RAOSB 2:11, Gustaf Leijonhufvud to Axel Oxenstierna, 8 September 1643, pp. 323-324.
  • 65 Karlsson 8c Karlsson 2013, pp. 111-112; Vessberg 1895, p. 17.
  • 66 Ordinari Post Tijdender 1645 N. 4, p. 2.
  • 67 Ordinari Post Tijdender 1645, p. 2.
  • 68 KBB 1644-1645, 19 August 1645, p. 408.
  • 69 Karlsson and Karlsson 2013, p. 244.
  • 70 Rystad 1965, pp. 31-42.
  • 71 Strid 1970, pp. 20-21.
  • 72 Kokkonen 2002 and 2010.
  • 73 SRA RR, B222, 30 March 1644.
  • 74 Roberts 1995, pp. 13-35.
  • 75 Hallenberg & Holm 2017.
  • 76 Frost 2000, pp. 197-198.
  • 77 SNSFH 1835, 8 August 1645, pp. 223-225.
  • 78 SRRP 1905, 13 October 1643, p. 303.


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Part III

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