Ilkka's father Pentti was the second largest landowner in Ilmajoki, northern Ostrobothnian Finland. After his father's death, Ilkka, an accomplished horse rider among his many other talents, took over the family business in 1585. He moved around the country doing land deals for some years. Ilkka was also the owner of a ship and visited Tallinn and Stockholm on it. He was twice married and had three sons. He was a soldier in Swedish army during the russian war 1591—94 but joined the peasant rebellion and Cudgel war soon thereafter.
The Cudgel War
In 1595, the whole of Ostrobothnia was in revolt, with peasants refusing to pay crippling taxes owed to the Swedish crown that at the time ruled Finland. Ilkka led the peasants' resistance movement. The Cudgel War name comes from the fact that the rebels armed themselves with various blunt weapons, such as cudgels, flails and maces that were considered the most efficient weapons against their heavily armoured enemies. The yeomen involved in the uprising also had swords, some firearms and two cannons at their disposal. Their opponents, the troops of Swedish noble Klaus Fleming, were professional, heavily armed and outnumbered them.
Ilkka, who, like most educated Finns, could speak Swedish and Finnish, rose to prominence after being elected to lead the peasant army. The Cudgel War began on Christmas Eve 1595 and was initially successful, with the rebels winning some infantry battles, forcing Fleming to start negotiating a truce. On December 31, 1596, Fleming's troops attacked Ilkka-held land at his Nokia manor stronghold at Pirkkala. After the fortress had been set ablaze by the Swedes, Fleming called on the rebels to surrender Ilkka to him to avoid themselves being killed. To prevent this happening, Ilkka escaped with his wife and some of his men back to Ilmajoki. Fleming's cavalry killed a number of the fleeing rebels in the forests around Nokia.
Ilkka and his wife were eventually captured and imprisoned in Turku Castle. The couple managed an audacious escape, in the autumn of 1596, helped by peasant allies. According to some reports, Ilkka got out of the castle from a toilet by crawling through the opening used for the removal of faeces. Historian Santeri Ivalo describes this in his book Finnish heroes. Following his re-capture, Ilkka, along with five other rebellion leaders, was executed on January 27, 1597, by a Swedish army leader Abraham Melkiorsson. A letter written by Fleming on January 27, 1597, ordering his troops to capture Ilkka alive, did not reach Melkiorsson before he had already killed the rebel leader. Eventually Ilkka's body was taken to the Ilmajoki church, where the current Ilmajoki Museum is situated. At least 1,500 rebels were killed during the war.
A statue of the Ilkka was erected at Ilmajoki in 1924.
Ilkka is said to have inspired composers and librettists more than any other figure in Finnish history. As many as three operas have been dedicated to him. One of them, eponymously named Jaakko Ilkka by Jorma Panula, was composed between 1977 and 1978, best known for its performance, directed by leading filmmaker Edvin Laine, at the Ilmajoki Music Festival in 1978.
A junior high school in Ilmajoki is named after Ilkka.
The author and historian Heikki Ylikangas has pointed out that there is a bias towards depicting Jaakko Iilkka as "the big Finnish leader of the cudgel war" although he took command of the biggest peasant hoard during the end of the cudgel war in the winter of 1596. He means that this is a simplification of the actual history driven by nationalists and early Finnish historians targeting the Finnish speaking population. He was for example not one of the original leaders who sailed to Stockholm with the Finnish peasants’ letter of complaint to Duke Karl in Stockholm. He also points out that the conflict was between the poor peasant population supporting Duke Karl and the educated upper class getting benefits by the King Sigismunds rule, and not a conflict between Swedes and Finns. It is therefore most probable that Jaakko Ilkka and his family would be targeted by the revenge of the peasant army if Ilkka had not joined the rebellion.
- "www.nykarlebyvyer.nu Ilkkajau". Retrieved 2018-12-02.
- "Klubbekriget - det blodiga bondekriget i Finland 1596-97"Author: Heikki Ylikangas