Second Swedish Crusade

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The Second Swedish Crusade was a Swedish military expedition to areas in present-day Finland by Birger Jarl in the 13th century against Tavastians. As a result of the crusade, the Swedish kingdom began to exert influence in western Finland.

Year of the crusade[edit]

According to Eric's Chronicle from ca. 1320-1340, the crusade took place between Birger Jarl getting elevated to the position of jarl in 1248 and the death of King Eric XI of Sweden in 1250.[1] The so-called "Detmar Chronicle" of Lübeck from around 1340 confirms the expedition with a short note that Birger Jarl submitted Finland under Swedish rule,[2] from other sources, Birger Jarl is known to have been absent from Sweden in winter 1249-50. Later on, the conquest of Finland was redated to the 1150s by the official Swedish legends, crediting the national saint King Eric for it. The point of time when the attack took place has been somewhat disputed. Attempts have been made to date the attack either to 1239 or to 1256. Neither date has received wide acceptance.[3]


19th century representation of Birger Jarl, who started the Swedish conquest of Finland in 1249.

Sweden's sudden determination to take over Finland has not been explained, but for one reason or another Finland was high on Birger Jarl's agenda. Finland became an integrated part of Sweden since there was a lot of exchange between the regions, especially via the Åland archipelago, during those days, it was easier to travel by sea than by land. Birger Jarl seems to have headed for Finland just after having both crushed the Folkung uprising of 1247-1248 and finalized the Treaty of Lödöse with Norway earlier in the summer of 1249.

Sweden's previous attempts to gain a foothold in Estonia in 1220 may have urged Sweden to settle for what was still available. Eric's Chronicle also points out the threat from Russians, mentioning that the "Russian king" had now lost the conquered land.

Target of the crusade[edit]

Christianization of Finland
Seal of bishop bero of finland.gif
Bishops: ThomasHenry
Popes: Alexander III
Innocent IIIGregory IX
Archbishops: Anders
Others: Birger Jarl
SergiusLalliKing Eric
Turku Cathedral
Finnish-Novgorodian wars
First Swedish Crusade
Second Swedish Crusade
Third Swedish Crusade

All details of the crusade are from Eric's Chronicle, which is largely propagandist in nature, written amidst internal unrest and war against Novgorod, the chronicle has caused a long controversy on the actual target of the expedition, since it presents Tavastians (taffwesta) as the Swedish opponents. Based on this, it is usually assumed that the target of the crusade was also Tavastia, even though that is not explicitly said in the chronicle. Tavastians are known to have rebelled against the church in the 1230s, which had resulted in a papal demand for a crusade against them in a letter in 1237.[4]

According to the chronicle, the expedition was prepared in Sweden and then conducted over sea to a land on the coast, where the enemy was waiting, since Tavastia was inland, this contradiction was later explained so that there was a Tavastian port somewhere on the coast that was the primary target of the attack.

Chronicle also mentions that a castle called "taffwesta borg" was established after the war. There have been lot of attempts to identify the castle with either Häme Castle or Hakoinen Castle in central Tavastia, but neither has been indisputably dated to such an early period, the first Swedish garrisons in Finland seem to have been in a hill fort later called as "Old Castle of Lieto"[citation needed], not far from Turku and Koroinen, the fortified church-residence of the early bishops, along the Oxen Way to central Tavastia.

Church reaction and reorganization[edit]

Probably related to preventing other parties from getting involved in the conflict, Pope Innocent IV took Finland under his special protection in August 1249, however without mentioning Sweden in any way.[5] Finland's bishop Thomas, probably a Dominican monk, had resigned already in 1245 and died three years later in a Dominican convent in Gotland. The seat being vacant, the diocese had probably been under the direct command of the papal legate William of Modena whose last orders to Finnish priests were given in June, 1248.[6]

Swedish Bero was eventually appointed as the new bishop in 1248/9, presumably soon after William's visit to Sweden for an important church meeting at Skänninge that ended on March 1, 1248, the so-called "Palmsköld booklet" from 1448 noted that it was Bero who gave Finns' tax to the Swedish king.[7] Bero came directly from the Swedish court like his two successors, it seems that Swedish bishops also held all secular power in Finland until the 1280s when the position of the Duke of Finland was established.

In 1249, the situation was also seen clear enough to have the first Dominican convent established in Finland.[8] There had been no monasteries in Finland before that, the convent was situated next to the bishop's fortification in Koroinen until the end of the century.


As an unexpected side effect, the expedition seems to have cost Birger the Swedish crown, as King Eric died in 1250 and Birger was still absent from Sweden, the rebellious Swedish lords selected Birger's under-aged son Valdemar as the new king instead of the powerful jarl himself.

From 1249 onwards, sources generally regard Finland proper and Tavastia as a part of Sweden. Diocese of Finland proper is first time listed among the Swedish dioceses in 1253;[9] in the Novgorod First Chronicle Tavastians (yem) and Finns proper (sum) are mentioned on an expedition with Swedes (svei) in 1256.[10] However, very little is known about the situation in Finland during the following decades. Reason for this is partly the fact that Western Finland was now ruled from Turku and most of the documentation remained there, as the Novgorod forces burned the city in 1318 during the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars, very little remained about what had happened in the previous century. The last Swedish Crusade to Finland took place in 1293 against Karelians.

Eric`s Chronicle: "Crusade against Tavastians"[edit]

King Erik then sent out a call

to knights and to their equals all,

to peasants and to fighting men,

- as ruler still do now, as then,

to notify their men before

they send them off to fight a war -

he sent them thus to heathen land

and chose his in-law to take in hand

to lead them all upon that quest,

for him of all he trusted best.

His son-in-law was eager to go,

keen his honour there to show.

Then arms and armour were prepared

by warriors brave, who nothing feared.

Helmets and body-armour burnished

were in demand, and more were furnished.

Each in his district did his best,

ready to heed the king`s request,

and warships and transport set afloat.

Many a money-bag was brought out,

its contents did those men receive

who now their homes were due to leave

not knowing where their journey led

Hands were wrung and tears were shed

by many a wife left on her own.

Yet they rejoiced that God`s renown

would grow and He be more adored.

Many an old ancestral sword

was then from nails unslung

where it for many a day had hung.

Their friends them followed to the strand

to bid farewell and clasp their hand

Many a red mouth was kissed that day

that never again was kissed that way,

for some never more would each other see

- such can the outcome of such partings be.

Fair winds arose, the sails were set.

The heathen, too, foresaw the threat

they well knew that their coming would

be to their harm and not their good.

There the Christians a harbour did find.

Innumerable gilded prows aligned

the heathen men saw lying there,

causing them less to laugh than fear.

They took their banners and went ashore.

Fate then favored the Christians more:

their bright shields there and helmets they

throughout that country did display.

They eager were to try their swords

upon the Heathen Tavast hordes,

which I expect is what occurred.

With gold and silver and many a herd

of cattle the Tavasts away did run.

The heathen lost, the Christians won.

Whoever would this them agree

to become a Christian and baptised be,

him they allowed both goods and life

and peace to live withour further strife.

The heathen who would them gainsay

they did mercilessly slay.

The Christians there a fortress did build,

which they with friend and kinsmen filled.

That castle they Tavasteborg did call;

it to this day does the heathen gall.

With Christian men they settled that land,

a deed, I think, that does yet stand.

That land became Christian through and through

the Russian king its loss must rue.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Description of the crusade. Original text.
  2. ^ Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä, 1989. ISBN 951-96006-1-2. See page 7.
  3. ^ Finnish Antiquarian Society, Suomen Museo 2002, page 66
  4. ^ "Letter by Pope Gregory IX about an uprising against the church in Tavastia". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  5. ^ "Letter by Innocentius IV to the diocese of Finland and its people". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  6. ^ "Wilhelm of Sabina's letter to the priests of Finland in 1248". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  7. ^ Original text as hosted by the University of Columbia; in Latin. See also Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä, 1989. ISBN 951-96006-1-2. Page 7.
  8. ^ "Convent established in Finland". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  9. ^ Surviving lists from 1241 and 1248 still did not include Finland.
  10. ^ "Novgorod First Chronicle entry about the Swedish attack to Novgorod and Novgorodian counterattack to Finland". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Swedish.
  11. ^ Erik Carlquist,Peter C. Hogg,Eva Österberg. "The Chronicle of Duke Erik: A Verse Epic from Medieval Sweden".