Axel Oxenstierna : biography
Axel Gustafsson Oxenstierna af Södermöre ( 1583 – 1654), Count of Södermöre, was a Swedish statesman. He became a member of the Swedish Privy Council in 1609 and served as Lord High Chancellor of Sweden from 1612 until his death. He was a confidant of first Gustavus Adolphus and then Queen Christina.
Oxenstierna is widely considered one of the most influential people in Swedish history. He played an important role during the Thirty Years' War and was appointed Governor-General of occupied Prussia; he also laid the foundations of Swedish central government administration.
"Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" (in a letter to his son Johan written in 1648, in the original Latin An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur?).William Francis Henry King, , London: Whitaker and Sons, 1887, p. 40. Although attributed to Cardinal Richelieu as well, this is probably the most famous Swedish quotation in the English-speaking world. The words were intended to encourage his son, a delegate to the negotiations that would lead to the Peace of Westphalia, who worried about his ability to hold his own amidst experienced and eminent statesmen and diplomats.
Early life and education
Oxenstierna was born on 16 June 1583, at Fånö in Uppland, the son of Gustaf Gabrielsson Oxenstierna (1551–1597) and Barbro Axelsdotter Bielke (1556–1624). He was the oldest of nine siblings. After the death of her husband Gustaf, Axel's mother Barbro decided to let Axel and his brothers Christer and Gustaf finish their studies abroad. Thus, the brothers received their education at the universities of Rostock, Wittenberg and Jena. On returning home in 1603 he took up an appointment as kammarjunkare to King Charles IX of Sweden.
One of Oxenstierna's more unusual intellectual qualifications was his knowledge of the Scots language, reflecting the importance of the Scottish expatriate community in Sweden at that time. As Chancellor, he would regularly receive correspondence in Scots from his agent Sir James Spens, and he ventured into the language himself for an official letter to his Scottish counterpart, the Earl of Loudoun.
On 5 June 1608 Axel Oxenstierna married Anna Åkesdotter Bååt, the daughter of nobleman Åke Johansson Bååt and Christina Trolle. The wedding took place at Fiholm Castle, owned by the Oxenstierna family. Axel and Anna had 13 children, of which five survived their childhoods. Gustaf (1609–1629), the oldest child, became a chamberlain. Johan (1611–1657), the second son to receive that name (the first died as an infant) became a privy councillor. Twin sisters Catharina (1612–1661) and Christina (1612–1631), married noblemen; Catharina was the spouse of Johan Jespersson Cruus and Christina married Field Marshal and Lord High Constable Gustav Horn. The youngest child, Erik (1624–1656), served as a Lord High Chancellor after the death of his father Axel in 1654. Axel Oxenstierna's wife Anna died in 1649.
Oxenstierna was in possession of large estates and many mansions. During his life he owned palaces in, among others, Estonian Otepää, in Livonian Burtnieki, Ropaži and Valmiera, in Finnish Nousiainen (Nousis) and in Stockholm (Oxenstiernska Palace). The foremost of the mansions was Tidö Palace in Västmanland.
Oxenstierna died in Stockholm on 28 August 1654. He was interred in Storkyrkan, Stockholm on 18 March 1655. His body was then moved to Jäders kyrka in Eskilstuna Municipality, where a vault had been built in accordance with his wishes. In the vault, Oxenstiernska gravvalvet, several members of the Oxenstierna family have been buried, including Axel and his spouse Anna.
Impact and legacy
The modernization of Sweden
Relationship with King Gustavus Adolphus
Oxenstierna would not have had such an impact unless he had won the king's trust. From 1612, when Oxenstierna was appointed Lord High Chancellor, until 1632, when King Gustavus Adolphus died, the two men struck a long and successful partnership. They seem to have complemented each other. With Oxenstierna's own words, his "cool" balanced the king's "heat". More than once, the chancellor had to realize plans of the king, plans that sometimes were highly spontaneous and far from ready to be implemented in reality. When it came to entering the Thirty Years' War, Oxenstierna was not as enthusiastic as the king, but since the king's will was decisive, Oxenstierna accommodated himself to Gustavus's wish. At times, Oxenstierna stepped in to ease tense relations that the harsh behaviour of the king had caused. He regularly received the highest praise for his work from the king and there was almost no area in which King Gustavus did not consult his Lord High Chancellor Oxenstierna.
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