USTC Adds Survey of Swedish Printing, 1601-1650

By Arthur der Weduwen  |

Over the past year, the USTC team has made it a priority to expand its coverage of national print cultures that have thus far been underrepresented in our database. This past year we have made significant progress, and have expanded the USTC with coverage of the print production of Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Belarus and Iceland. Now we are in a position to offer also a survey of Swedish printing for the first half of the seventeenth century.

The seventeenth century was Sweden’s age of greatness, known as the stormakstiden. This era saw the political expansion of Sweden, filling out what are now considered her natural borders, and establishing a prominent foothold on the eastern and southern coasts of the Baltic. This was a time of incessant war; against Poland-Lithuania, whose king had been deposed from the Swedish throne; against the archenemy Denmark; against the rising power of Russia; and against a formidable array of enemies on continental Europe, not least the mighty Habsburg Empire. That a sparsely populated country, traditionally on the periphery of European politics, could repeatedly defeat multiple foes and establish herself as one of the great powerbrokers of the age, was as astonishing to contemporaries as it remains fascinating to historians today.

Sweden’s stormaktstiden are easily associated with military prowess, but this was also a time of political and cultural transformation. The seventeenth century saw the emergence of Sweden as an absolutist state; as a colonising power; and as an international defender of Lutheranism. Swedish success abroad placed new demands on the administrative capabilities of the state, which governed disparate territories from Bremen to Russia. It is no surprise then that traces of Sweden’s transformation in the seventeenth century can also be found in the history of the book. In fact, we have already discussed the vital role played by Sweden in the emergence of printing in the greater Swedish domain, in Latvia, Estonia and Finland. In both Estonia and Finland, printing was first introduced thanks to the cultural policies embarked upon by the Swedish crown, establishing schools and universities in her overseas possessions to foster a culture of efficient administration in a precariously balanced empire.

The transformation of the book world on the Swedish mainland was equally impressive. Whereas we know of just over 500 works printed in Sweden before 1600, we have already documented more than 3,300 editions for the first half of the seventeenth century. This is especially striking when one knows that unlike in many other Baltic countries, printing had arrived very early in Sweden. Already in 1483 there was a printing house in Stockholm, which was active until 1496, in addition to a short-lived press in the nunnery of Vadstena. Yet the output of the sixteenth-century presses of Sweden, in Uppsala (1510-1560) and Stockholm (from 1526 onwards) was limited in scope. While the crown took an active interest in using the Stockholm press to produce edicts and ordinances, Sweden struggled to develop a commercial domestic print trade. Like all Baltic countries in the sixteenth century, Sweden was supplied very effectively with books from north Germany, especially from Rostock and Lübeck. Printers in these entrepots produced works in virtually all vernacular languages spoken throughout the Baltic region, including Swedish. Books were often produced on commission from Swedish clerics or noblemen, or paid for directly by Swedish bookbinders and booksellers, like Stockholm’s Herman Sülken.

USTC 2092729
A Finnish religious work printed in Rostock for the Stockholm bookseller Herman Sülken, 1607 (USTC 2092729). From the 1610s onwards, works like this would be printed in Stockholm itself for export to Finland. Image available under Public Domain, courtesy of  SLUB Dresden. 

Close connections with northern Germany are crucial to the story of Sweden’s rise as a centre of printing. In a major coup, one of the leading publishers of Rostock, Christopher Reusner, was induced by the Swedish crown to move to Stockholm in 1610. He was soon followed by several German compatriots, Ignatius Meurer, Henrik Keyser and Georg Schröder, as well as a Dutchman, Peter van Selow. The Swedish capital’s population grew from 6,000 inhabitants around 1600 to 60,000 by the end of the century. This population boom helped attract German printers to the capital, where their main business rested on providing Swedish churches, schools and pious citizens with Lutheran Bibles, psalm books and devotional literature.

The Swedish church was also a major contributing factor in the emergence of printing presses throughout the Swedish mainland. In the early 1620s, the bishops of Västerås and Strängnäs – Johannes Rudbeckius and Laurentius Paulinus Gothus – sponsored the establishment of printing houses. Västerås and Strängnäs both had distinguished schools and substantial cohorts of students requiring text books, in Swedish as in Latin. Students at these colleges also undertook the defence of disputations, prepared by their teachers, which were printed locally. In this practice they imitated the great university at Uppsala, one of the oldest universities in northern Europe. Like Swedish printing, the university of Uppsala had suffered a decline in the middle of the sixteenth century and had shut its doors. By the 1590s, it was reopening, and under the patronage of King Gustavus Adolphus, the university expanded rapidly from the 1620s onwards. A printing house opened once more in Uppsala by 1611. Its first printer, Eskil Matsson, would be responsible for over 1,200 publications over the course of four decades. The majority of these items were academic dissertations and orations, but Matsson’s press was also employed for a rich variety of academic ephemera: placards and flyers issued by the university or by its student body, announcing forthcoming orations, ceremonies and funerals. This was a ubiquitous practice in Uppsala, so much so that in 1643 the senate of the university had to forbid faculty and students from distributing such posters to one another in church before the preacher had ended his sermon.

One of thousands of academic dissertations printed in Uppsala during the seventeenth century. Academic publishing was a staple of the Swedish print trade, and played an essential role in the growth of the industry. Copyright: ProQuest, Early European Books.

The Uppsala press flourished with the reinvigoration of its university; in fact, it seems that the press struggled to keep up with demand. We now have documented hundreds of academic disputations defended at Uppsala which were printed on the presses of Stockholm, Västerås and Strängnäs. Although Sweden is a vast country, these four principal publishing centres of the Swedish realm were all located within fifty to sixty miles of one another, around the waters of the Mälaren. Many printers took advantage of this connectivity too; we find some printers moving several times within the Swedish Empire, in search of new markets or a more generous patron. The German Christopher Günther established himself first in the fortress town of Kalmar, before moving to central Linköping; Eucharius Lauringer moved between Västerås and Stockholm; and Peder Eriksson Wald was active in Uppsala and Västerås before moving to Turku, in Finland, to set up a printing house at the newly-founded university there. Christopher Reusner, the great Rostock printer, would also leave the Swedish mainland, setting up business in Tallinn, Estonia, in 1634.

The movement of printers from central Sweden to its domains across the Baltic sea was testament to the changing role of the Swedish book market, from a periphery of the central European market to a Baltic centre in its own right. This was reflected by the fact Stockholm publishers now fulfilled the role that Rostock and Lübeck publishers had played in the sixteenth century. The first complete Finnish Bible was published in Stockholm in 1642, while the first works in the Lappish (Sami) language of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland were also produced in Stockholm and Uppsala. Peter van Selow even produced two works in Ruthenian, the language of greater Belarus, testament also to the relentless ambition of the Swedish empire to expand its influence in the Poland-Lithuanian commonwealth. Stockholm’s connections with the wider European book trade were also improved by the opening in the 1640s of a branch office by Johannes Janssonius, one of the foremost publishers of Amsterdam. While Janssonius provided a steady supply of the latest works from the most renowned publishing houses of the Netherlands, France and Germany, his printing shop in Stockholm produced the texts of a number of French ballets, held at the court of Queen Christina. For those Swedish courtiers struggling with the latest French fashions, he also very helpfully published a French-Swedish dictionary.

USTC 1033724
A Dutch wedding pamphlet, produced in Stockholm for two local bridal pairs, by the resident Dutch printer, Peter van Selow (USTC 1033724). Copyright: ProQuest, Early European Books.

Stockholm was arguably at its most fashionable during the reign of Christina (1632-1654), who assembled at her court numerous foreign intellectual luminaries, including René Descartes. The scandal of Christina’s conversion to Catholicism and her abdication of the throne may have temporarily dented the appeal of Stockholm to foreign philosophers and writers, but it did nothing to halt the growth of Swedish publishing. The conquest and incorporation of the southern province of Scania at the expense of Denmark in the later 1650s would see the foundation of a second Swedish university in Lund (1666), and the emergence of printing houses in Lund and nearby Malmö. Although religious and academic publishing remained at the heart of the Swedish print trade in the later seventeenth century, this period also saw the development of a more confident commercial Swedish market, not least in the fields of historical, philological, scientific and medical writing. Perhaps the greatest Swedish speciality of all was the genre of military handbooks: after all, it was Swedish drill and discipline that paved the way for its extraordinary successes abroad. Swedish manuals of military exercises, in German as well as Swedish, were published throughout the greater Swedish domain, and throughout Germany and the Netherlands. As the stormakstiden demonstrated, the pen and the sword were mightiest when used in harmonious union.


Special thanks go to Jonas Thorup Thomsen, PhD student at the University of Aarhus, and Barnaby Cullen, final year undergraduate at the University of St Andrews, for their work on this latest update.

Arthur der Weduwen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews and the author of Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century (2 vols., Brill, 2017) and The Bookshop of the World. Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age (co-authored with Andrew Pettegree) (Yale University Press, 2019). For the USTC he works predominantly on the print cultures of the Low Countries, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

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Featured Image: Available from Wikimedia Commons by CC BY-SA 3.0. Image from the Saxon State and University Library Dresden available under Public Domain Mark 1.

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