Cudgel War

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Cudgel War
Date 25 November 1596–1597
Location Modern area of Finland (part of the Swedish kingdom)
Result Nobility victory
  • Suppression of revolt and execution of the rebellion's leaders.
  • Huge decrease in the population of Ostrobothnia.
Peasants and army Nobility and army
Commanders and leaders
Jaakko Ilkka
Pentti Pouttu
Hannu Krankka
Yrjö Kontsas
Israel Laurinpoika Support:
Enemies of Fleming among the nobility
Duke Charles
Klaus Fleming
Gödik Fincke
Iivari Tavast
Abraham Melkiorinpoika
Knut Kurki
1 000–4 000+ 1 500–3 300+
Casualties and losses
>2550 dead

>500 P.O.W.

>25 dead
The strength varied in different engagements and from some of them there are approximations

The Club War (also Cudgel War, Finnish: Nuijasota, Swedish: Klubbekriget) was a 1596/97 peasant uprising in the kingdom of Sweden against exploitation by nobility and military in what is today Finland. The name of the uprising derives from the fact that the peasants armed themselves with various blunt weapons, such as cudgels, flails and maces, as they were seen as the most efficient weapons against their heavily armoured enemies. The yeomen also had swords, some firearms and two cannon at their disposal. Their opponents, the troops of Clas Eriksson Fleming, were professional, heavily armed and armoured men-at-arms.


A memorial plaque dedicated to the fallen peasants

In 1595 Ostrobothnian peasants decided not pay their butter tax to the crown. The active phase of the rebellion started on the Christmas Eve of the same year, simultaneously in Isokyrö and Rautalampi.Jaakko Ilkka led the Swedish speaking coastal Finns in attacking the cavalry.They managed to reclaim the grain taken as feudal tax, took the knights’ possessions and drove them out of Ostrobothnia. The Rautalampi peasants took their tax butter back in Sysmä on January 3, 1596. Shortly afterwards a cavalry unit along with an infantry unit were able to crush the rebellion.Jaakko Ilkka was arrested and taken to prison within the Turku castle.

On 24.2.1596 Clas Fleming[1] informed the inhabitants of Pietarsaari that the tax butter they had refused to pay would still be collected from them. At the same time Duke Charles failed to send the much needed soldiers from his duchy to help the Ostrobothnians.In the fall of 1596 Jaakko Ilkka managed to escape from the Turku prison with help from relatives among the bourgeoisie Klaus Fleming opponents.[2] The peasants attempted to recruit professional soldiers but their offers were declined.

The decision not to pay feudal taxes was made on November 25 at Isokyrö church.By men who had gathered there to celebrate St. Catherine’s Day.Hannu Fordell,sheriff of Pietarsaari and an emissary for duke Charles was present at the meeting.He informed the peasants that duke Charles supports their cause in principle, but was unable to provide military help.Kaarle offered moral support to the rebellion and also provided distilled alcohol. A small army was raised by requiring every able bodied man from the counties of Isokyrö,Ilmajoki and Lapua to join.A number of the recruits were opponents of the rebellion and their resistance showed later in the course of the campaign.The peasants robbed and evicted all local knights,as they were not considered trustworthy.The men awaited for the waterways to freeze before more actions were taken.

The army split into three groups with the goal of marching south towards Turku.A group of 200 men lead by Pentti Pouttu and Martti Tommola left around December 15 along the coastal road.A small group of about 50 men lead by Pentti Piri and Martti Tuomaala went to Laukaa across Suomenselkä.On December 17 at the latest Jaakko Ilkka and Yrjö Kontsas took the main group of 700-800 men along the Kyrönkangas winter road toward Jalasjärvi and Parkano. As the army marched southward all crown owned properties and the farms of cavalry soldiers were robbed and burned. The morale of the group was boosted, and more men were forced to join it along the route.

As the army reached the southern border of Ostrobothnia, a number of men insisted on turning back. Thus on December 19 at Jalasjärvi a field court sentenced Maunu Matinpoika Peltoniemi to death as the leader of the mutiny. Along the march the peasants met a group of 80 infantry soldiers, who proceeded to flee when they saw the growing peasant army. Near Nokia Ilkka’s men won a skirmish on December 26 against a party of 200 cavalry soldiers lead by Knut Kurki and Iivari Tavast. A camp was set in the Nokia estate with the rebels looting the property. Klaus Fleming arrived in Nokia on December 31 with four regiments of infantry, two cavalry regiments and a few large caliber cannons. Fleming set his camp near the Pirkkala church, some 3 km away from Nokia. His attack was successfully repelled by the peasants.[3] As rebel reinforcements were just a few days away Fleming deceided to initiate negotiations.During the night Knut Kurki and the Ostrobothnian governor Abraham Melkiorinpoika were sent to deal with the peasants. An end to feudal taxes as well as safe passage home were offered, in case the rebels agreed to give up their leaders.Earlier cannon shots also raised the level of fear among the peasants.

Sensing betrayal, Ilkka escaped on a captured horse with a few of his lieutenants and a group of men. The peasants who were now unable to fulfill their end of the bargain, feared retribution by Fleming. Chaos ensued. Groups of peasants also fled during the night. Fire was set on a hay shed, attracting the attention of Fleming’s troops. A manhunt ensued on the fleeing peasants. Some 500-600 peasants were killed by the crown's cavalry. The remaining peasant groups shared the fate of their comrades. Akseli Kurki defeated the coastal group near Ulvila on December 20, and Pentti Pouttu was imprisoned in Turku. Iivari Tavast defeated the eastern group in Padasjoki on January 15, at a cost of 450 lives.In Mikkeli about 550 peasants were killed on January 23 by the local church after being coaxed out of their fortifications. The crown's soldiers then pillaged the region.

Jaakko Ilkka returned to Ilmajoki. However, opponents of the rebellion detained all the rebel leaders in the region. Along with Jaakko Ilkka, five other rebellion leaders were executed on January 27, 1597 including Yrjö Kontsas,Abraham Pernu,Pentti Piri,Olli Ollinpoika Niemelä and Mauno Viinikka. On January 29 Klaus Fleming wrote a letter demanding rebel leaders to be interrogated by him before the sentences are carried out. The majority was already executed before Fleming's orders arrived.

Final part of the rebellion[edit]

A Cudgel War memorial

Israel Laurinpoika was named as the new governor of central and northern Ostrobothnia. A letter was sent to the northern counties informing them of the outcome of the southern rebellion. The letter was intercepted in Kokkola and misinterpreted on purpose leading peasants to believe that 600 cavalry soldiers were sent to collect more feudal taxes.[3] The angered peasants drowned the messengers.On the January 30 peasants ambushed the governor Abraham Melkiorinpoika and his guard of over 30 soldiers at Tarharanta.About 10 soldiers survived the ambush,after the local pastor pleaded for them.Abraham was captured and sent to Stockholm, where he was tried and executed.

Israel Laurinpoika in the meantime recruited by force more men into the new rebellion group.He additionally recruited some regular infantry soldiers from the northern Ostrobothnian regiment and a few cannons brought from the castle of Oulu. Thus about 3,000-4,000 men established a camp near Isokyrö church.Between the counties the peasants built a large fortification to stop the cavalry from advancing.However, when Israel Laurinpoika heard that Klaus Fleming was approaching with 1,500 men, he fled to Tornio on the pretence of recruiting more men. The leaderless peasants made a decision to attack Fleming’s army instead of waiting behind their fortifications.The plan was to attack in the middle of the night when the soldiers were sleeping.The peasants however estimated the arrival time incorrectly and after marching 55 km arrived in the morning when the cavalry was already awake.Fleming attempted once more to negotiate with the rebels,unlike the previous encounter the peasants answered with a cannon fire.

The battle on February 24, 1597 began on the surface of the Kyrönjoki river and the nearby Piirtolankangas hill where cavalry proved to be effective.The Swedish-speaking peasants deserted as the battle started.The remaining peasants attempted to move to a more favourable location at Santavuori, where their vanguard had built fortifications.Fleming managed to cut off the escape route with a group of knights.Over a thousand peasants perished on the battlefield, with about 500 peasants taken prisoners.[3] After the battle the cavalry robbed and plundered the region.

Rains in the previous summer had ruined the crops.People suffered from hunger which was accompanied by a plague, which was advancing in Finland.In some counties the population declined by up to 40% over the next couple of years. The leaders, among them Hannu Krankka and Perttu Palo, were captured and taken to prison in Turku.

The insurgents were mostly Finnish peasants from Ostrobothnia, Northern Tavastia and Savo.Ostrobothnian leaders were mostly merchants and traders who joined forces with their customers.Tired of the hardships of the Russo-Swedish War of 1590–1595, they were disappointed to find out that they were still required to provide food, transport, and lodging for a sizable army even after the Treaty of Teusina. The insurgents also complained that soldiers abused the system of taxation by taking by force more than to which they were legally entitled. The events can also be seen as a part of a larger power struggle between King Sigismund, whom Fleming powerfully supported, and Duke Charles.[2]


In his work Nuijasota, sen syyt ja tapaukset (1857–1859), historian and fennoman Yrjö Koskinen (né Forsman) saw the peasants as fighting for freedom and justice. Fredrika Runeberg's Sigrid Liljeholm (1862), one of the first historical novels in Finland, depicts women's fates during the war. Albert Edelfelt's painting Poltettu kylä (1879) depicts a woman, a child, and an old man hiding behind a rock as a village burns in the background. The poet Kaarlo Kramsu praised the insurgents and lamented their defeat in patriotic poems such as Ilkka, Hannu Krankka, and Santavuoren tappelu, published in Runoelmia (1887). After the Finnish Civil War, the debate has centered around an interpretation that emphasizes Duke Charles's role in inciting the revolt, as found in Pentti Renvall's Kuninkaanmiehiä ja kapinoitsijoita Vaasa-kauden Suomessa (1949); and an explanation that stresses the roots of the rebellion in social injustice and class conflict, as argued by Heikki Ylikangas in Nuijasota (1977).A historical reenactment of the Cudgel war is conducted yearly in the Kavalahti scout camp.[4] Jaakko Ilkka took the 75th place in the Great Finns TV show.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Names recorded in the conflict differ between history-writing in Sweden and in Finland. Clas Eriksson Fleming is more often referred to, partly erroneously, by the Finnish version of his name "Klaus Fleming", this article uses his original Swedish name. Whereas Jaakko Ilkka is referred to in Swedish by Jacob Ilkka, or Jakob Bengtsson Ilkka.
  2. ^ a b "Finnish peasant history". Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Jaakko Ilkka's biography". Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  4. ^ "Cudgel War Reenactment". Retrieved 7 July 2014. 


  • Nuijasota by Heikki Ylikangas, Otava, 1996 ISBN 951-1-14253-4
  • Krohn, J. Kertomuksia Suomen Historiasta, Kansallisseura, Helsinki 1914
  • Jaakko Ilkan Suku ry Sukusanomat,2004
  • Yli-Hakola, Aila, Ilkka, Jaakko Pentinpoika, Henkilöteksti, 2011