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Citizens, soldiers and popular unrest in pre-industrial Stockholm, 1719–1848
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of History.
2008 (Swedish)In: IXth International Conference on Urban History, Lyon 27-30 september 2008., 2008Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [sv]

Mats Berglund, PhD-student

Institute of Urban History

Department of History

Stockholm University

EAUH – IXth International Conference on Urban History, Lyon.

Session: M2 - "Citizens and soldiers in early modern Europe"

Session conveners: Phil Withington (;

Maarten Prak (


Citizens, soldiers and popular unrest in pre-industrial Stockholm, 1719–1848

In my doctoral thesis, I study popular unrest in Stockholm between 1719 and 1848, the era previous to the Swedish industrial revolution. In Sweden, as elsewhere in Europe, the period was characterized by a development towards a popular political breakthrough, including a democratization movement as well as a rising interest in domestic and international news reports. The French Revolution can be seen as a turning point in that process of social change.

However, this period in Swedish history was not very turbulent. In fact, I have studied all of the known larger incidents of disturbances that took place in the Swedish capital and count them to not more than ten singular events. None of them can be characterized as a bread riot, or a food riot. There were obviously other reasons for the inhabitants of Stockholm to demonstrate dissatisfaction.

By studying clashes between citizens and the city government, several new conditions in the city appear. This paper will explore the importance for unrest throughout the period of the increasing presence of soldiers and military troops in the urban space. Soldiers appear mainly in three ways in relations to the unrests. Firstly as actors in the mob. Secondly as actors in military forces sent out by the government to stop the crowds and the violence. And thirdly as a factor for the unrest to start. Several smaller street fights during the studied era took place between soldiers from the army on the one side, and soldiers from the City police forces on the other side. The rivalry between the military and the civic world was apparently considerable.

Such a case took place in 1793 when two manufacturers on their way home late at night met an officer and one of his subordinated soldiers. The situation soon leads to a street fight between the four men, which ended up in court. But during the trial, outside the courtroom, several hundreds of citizens gathered to manifest their dissatisfaction with the soldiers and the officers' privileges. The situation escalated to a violent demonstration that could only be stopped by calling in the cavalry.

The period starts at 1719 just after the end of the Great Nordic Wars. Thousands of Swedish soldiers were called back from the European wars, and many of them stayed in Stockholm during the summer waiting for going back to their homes. In June, a full-scaled riot took place in the southern areas of the city, where the crowd consisted of a high number of soldiers. The unrests went on for three days and the mob was mainly attacking brothels.

In the summer 1743, the Stockholm city centre was turning into a veritable battlefield. 5000 peasants from the northern province of Dalarna had marched to the capital to negotiate with the king and the parliament about the ongoing war against Russia, and about the royal succession. But during the negotiation, the two armies – the military army, and the peasant army – were clash together into a one-day battle at the Norrmalmstorg-square.

After the murder of count Axel von Fersen in 1810 – were the military guards was highly criticized due to their lack of interruption in the killing – a law debate started in the parliament. The incident had showed very clearly the importance of a new Martial Law. The primary question was the relationship between the army and the civic government. How, when and by whom should the army be called upon to interfere with a rioting mob? However the issue was hard to solve and the debate didn't end until the 1860s when a new Criminal Law was introduced.

The studied period ends with the pan-European year of revolution, 1848. The wave of revolts came to Stockholm in March 1848. Clashes between the crowds and the military troops went on for two days. It ended with 18 civilians killed and up to a hundred persons wounded on both sides.

As a result of this study, a pattern appear where military driven violence against the crowd highly increase over time. For the former part of the period the government seems to have been reluctant to interfere using military equipments. Instead they let the civic police forces mainly observe the crowd with no physical intervention, and the conflicts were solved afterwards in long proceedings in court. Towards the end of the period – on the contrary – the military forces were set in towards the crowds acting vastly aggressive. Clashes in 1848 as well as ten years earlier ended up in several wounded and dead civilians. The turning point seems to have been somewhere between the 'internationalistic breakthrough' after the 1789-revolution and the debacle in 1810, including the von Fersen incident.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-15712OAI: diva2:182232
Available from: 2008-12-08 Created: 2008-12-08Bibliographically approved

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