Anjala conspiracy

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The Anjala conspiracy (Swedish: Anjalaförbundet) of 1788 was a scheme by disgruntled Swedish officers to end Gustav III's Russian War of 1788–90. Declaring Finland an independent state was part of the plot, although it is disputed what importance the conspirators connected to that aspect.

Colonel Johan Henrik Hästesko (1741–1790) was a Finnish soldier and an officer of the Swedish Army. He took part in the Anjala conspiracy and was executed for that (only one to actually suffer such fate).

Rising anger against the king and his war[edit]

As the war was badly prepared and without the expected initial success, anger rose against the king within the military ranks deployed to Finland, where the memory of the harsh Russian occupations of 1713–21 (the "Greater Wrath") (Isoviha in Finnish) and 1741–43 (the "Lesser Wrath") (Pikkuviha in Finnish) remained vivid. The war was clearly initiated by Sweden, and in the view of a strong opinion, particularly among noble officers, a clear violation of the authoritarian Instrument of Government that the king, with support of the common estates of the parliament had imposed in 1772.

It was no secret that the war was conceived to increase the king's popularity and influence, and diminish that of his, mostly noble, opponents.[1] The anger was fueled also by Cabinet members who felt duped to support the war plans by the king's selective quoting of diplomatic reports from Saint Petersburg. The failed attempts to besiege and recapture Hamina and Savonlinna, both of which had been in Russian hands since 1743, ultimately ignited a vehement opposition among the officers, and it was said that even the king wished for peace.

A peace feeler bypasses the king[edit]

The leaders of the Anjala conspiracy met in Liikkala to secretly open communications with Tsarina Catherine the Great. Major Johan Anders Jägerhorn delivered the Liikkala note dated August 8, 1788 to the empress.[2] The letter note was signed by several officers, including Armfelt, Commander-in-Chief of the Savo forces and the king's closest confidant. The officers declared the war to be illegal, asked for the restoration of the Finnish borders according to the Treaty of Nystad of 1721, and for peace negotiations with representatives of the Finnish nation, which they understood as representatives for the eastern and northern half of Sweden, which during the 18th century had twice had been harshly occupied, and whose population overwhelmingly were ethnic Finns.

The response from the Empress was underwhelming. However, when Jägerhorn returned, the conspirators decided to lie to their fellow officers, and spread rumors about Catherine's inclination to accept the note.[3]

When Gustav III learned of the note, he demanded from his officers a pledge to fight to the last man. Instead, 113 of them signed their support in Anjala, accepting responsibility for the note and criticizing the attack on Russia. They declared that they would continue their defense of the fatherland in case Catherine refused the peace offer. An important demand was that the diet must be summoned in the critical situation. The declaration won increasing respect within the army and navy.

Results[edit]

The support, however, diminished when it became obvious that the Russian government aimed to use the declaration to divide Sweden proper. From the Swedish government's point of view, this was an act of high treason that put the integrity of state in dire danger.

Gustav III perceived his most bitter opponents to have become leaders of the Anjala conspiracy, and feared for his life should he remain in Finland. Commencing a new theatre of war against Denmark in the South, the king had a good excuse to leave for less dangerous surroundings. Soon, however, he found the public opinion on his side, and the leading conspirators were arrested during the winter. Two of the conspirators ended up as refugees in Russia, nine were sentenced to death, although only one, Johan Henrik Hästesko, was executed, while the rest were either deported or put in prison.

The idea of a separate Finnish nation was subsequently echoed by Alexander I at the Diet of Porvoo, when he formed the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland from the eastern part of Sweden as a part of the Imperial Russia.

Long-term effects[edit]

It may be argued, that king Gustav used the Anjala conspiracy to win support for a revision of the Swedish Constitution in order to strengthen his own position and weaken the influence of his opponents. But it may also be argued that this was what he had aimed at with the war itself; and that even after the unsuccessful attack on Russia he might indeed have been fully capable of achieving this, even without the boost in public opinion the Anjala conspiracy offered. A conclusion might be that the conspiracy maybe is more significant as an indicator of the situation in Sweden of the late 18th century, than as an actual agent in history.

The military officers, who had supported the events with the best of intentions for their country, became further alienated by the condemnations from government and that of the prevailing public opinion. Hence it can be argued that the split between the state leadership and the leading nobles (civil servants and officers), in particular in Finland, was further aggravated due to the reaction to the Anjala affair, particularly if the government's reaction for exactly that reason was intentionally lenient. This increased the willingness of leading Swedes in Finland to switch their allegiance from Stockholm to Saint Petersburg, and thus contributed to the subsequent split of Sweden in 1808/09.

The common estates', and the public opinion's, critical assessment of the Anjala-men were in many circles in Finland seen as yet another sign of a rift between the two parts of Sweden. It seemed as if the Age of Liberty had elevated people with a very narrow view of the world, a view that obviously did not reach to the realm's eastern periphery. In other words, which would be echoed also in connection with Finland's 20th century wars, it seemed as if the majority of the Swedes did no longer consider the Finns' interests, nor appreciate the importance of the eastern provinces for Sweden, nor the sacrifices of the Finns.

However, it ought not be neglected, that the conspiracy also further emboldened the Russians, who for all of the century had successfully strived for influence over Sweden's domestic and foreign politics, and now saw the increasing possibility to acquire all of Sweden's eastern provinces, which would mean a substantial improvement of the strategic position of the new Russian capital, Saint Petersburg, at the Gulf of Finland.

Historical views differ in Finland and Sweden[edit]

Unsurprisingly, the evaluation of the Anjala conspiracy offers somewhat differing views between Sweden and Finland.

In Finland, it is often seen as an important phase of nation building, and the separatist aspect may well be somewhat inflated, putting the conspirators' primary aim of striving for peace and restoration of political liberties in the background.

In Sweden, the conspiracy is typically either seen as an understandable opposition against an oppressive king, who was actually eventually assassinated in 1792, and whose son, Gustav IV Adolf, would be deposed in 1809, or alternatively as an omen of how treacherous Swedish civil servants in 1808/09 would facilitate Russia's acquisition of the eastern half of Sweden.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jutikkala, Eino and Pirinen, Kauko. A History of Finland. Dorset Press, 1988 p. 143. ISBN 0-88029-260-1
  2. ^ Jutikkala, Eino and Pirinen, Kauko. A History of Finland. Dorset Press, 1988 p. 145. ISBN 0-88029-260-1
  3. ^ Jutikkala, Eino and Pirinen, Kauko. A History of Finland. Dorset Press, 1988 p. 145. ISBN 0-88029-260-1

Coordinates: 60°41′47″N 26°48′50″E / 60.69639°N 26.81389°E / 60.69639; 26.81389