At the beginning of the 17th century, Jämtland and Härjedalen were a part of Norway, which itself in turn was a dominion of Denmark. From a military perspective Jämtland and Härjedalen were a strategic asset. The distance from Fors in eastern part of Jämtland to the Bothnian Sea is only a few 10s of miles, and the coast of Norway is a similar distance from the western border of Härjedalen. If Sweden were to gain control of Jämtland, Härjedalen and Tröndelag, Norway would effectively be divided in two. The reverse was true from Norway/Denmark’s perspective if it in turn were able to extend its control to the land area in the East.
In 1603, Kristian IV the King of Denmark had already done his best to get his councilors’ support in allowing him to attack Sweden, but his requests were rejected. Not one to give up easily, he continued to make his demands together with a myriad of accompanying threats to which his councilors finally relented in February of 1611.
During this time, the Swedish throne was occupied by King Charles IX, who held the reputation for being both ruthless as well as generally disagreeable.
The general population in Sweden, Norway as well as Denmark were unsympathetic on the idea of a war in order to settle the dispute between the two kings, however they had little to no choice in this matter.
In the spring of 1611, King Kristian IV of Denmark sent a letter to Sten Bille, the Lord of the county in Trondheim, issuing an order to attack Sweden via Jämtland. Sten in turn delegated this responsibility to Jens Bjelke who in July of that same year, together with Hans Basse, led an army of around 2,000 Norwegian troops into Jämtland. The first order of business was to ensure that the local population was safe, would not be killed or have their estates burned by Swedes, however should the opportunity present itself they were also to attack the counties of Medelpad and Hälsingland, in present day Västernorrland, Sweden. As the army then made its way further into Sweden, the locals were to be left with the responsibility of defending the county should the Swedes decide make their way into Jämtland via a different route such as Härjedalen. The farmers in Jämtland were also to ensure that the Norwegian army had all the supplies and provisions they required.
The primary purpose of these attacks was in part to interfere with any agression that the Swedes may have been planning, but also to compel the people of northern Sweden to throw their support behind the King of Denmark while turning their backs to the King of Sweden. This however did not go too well.
The letter that Kristian IV had sent to Sten Bille was of course confidential, however Sten in turn had made a copy: he revealed the contents of the letter by reading it to the mayor and his councilors. In doing so the plans of Denmark spread very quickly not only locally, but also to the opposing side, in other words the enemy.
In the spring of 1611, Karl IX of Sweden also sent a letter. This letter was however not secret and was addressed directly to the general population in Jämtland and Härjedalen. In the letter, the King of Sweden declared that the King of Denmark had without grounds broken the amicable and binding Stettin peace treaty from 1570, and had therefore chosen war and combat instead. He urged all Jämtar to swear allegiance to Sweden such that no harm would come to them. Similar letters, albeit with the opposite request, were sent from Jämtland to other neighboring local counties in Sweden.
In May 1611, Governor Baltzar Bäck received orders from Charles IX the King of Sweden to invade Jämtland and Härjedalen. Contrary to what was expected of the Norwegian army, Baltzar was given direction that his Swedish army should use ample force and that “not even a child in it’s cradle should be spared”, which in all likelihood suited him well as he often employed brutal methods. In early August, Bäck crossed the border with his troops conquering Jämtland without much resistance, and by doing so initiated ‘Baltzarfejden’ – the Balthazar Conflict.
In July, the Norwegian army made camp in Oviken whereupon a few soldiers from Jämtland joined including captains Johan Vessling and Henning Jönsson. The Norwegian army was now 2,150 strong, however their equipment was substandard and its soldiers had no war experience.
On the 7th of August, the Swedish army made camp in Stavre wherefrom Baltzar sent yet another letter to the Jämtar. In the letter he wrote, among other things, that this war was not necessary, that the King of Denmark had not had any great victories to speak of, and that the main reason for him and his army being present was to quell the rumor that Sweden did not possess a true fighting force, and whose population was mostly composed of Moms and Pops. He urged all Jämtar to align themselves with Sweden, and in so doing would receive protection from the advancing Danes and their war machine. If they chose align themselves with Denmark, he would sack, pillage, murder and burn their homes to the ground, and not even a child in its cradle would be spared. He demanded an answer within two days.
The Jämtar together with the Norwegian army did not provide substantial opposition, and quickly stopped putting up much of a fight against the advancing Swedes. They instead quickly turned and began providing help in the form of information, advisors as well as guides.
In the middle of August, a skirmish ensued between the Norwegian and Swedish armies near Gällö. The Swedish army was twice the size and better equipped, and following the first encounter, in which some Norwegians either died or were wounded, most Norwegians retreated.
It was in Undersåker that Jens Bjelke and Hans Basse first managed to capture part of the fleeing Norwegian army together with some Jämtar, including the sheriff of Oviken, Jöns Jönsson, who did his best to persuade the Norwegians to stay put and defend their farms. Nothing, however, could convince the starving Norwegian army to stay and it continued on its trek back across the mountains thereby leaving Jämtland.
By August 15th, the entirety of central Jämtland had surrendered without taking up arms, and Bäck now had free range. He continued his invasion creating a Swedish province out of those parts of Jämtland he conquered, by forcing the Jämtar to swear allegiance to the King of Sweden through threats, violence and extortion. All Danes were expelled as was any priest who was not Swedish, and many Jämtar chose to leave their homesteads and flee across the mountains into Norway. Superintendent Jonas Germundi Palma, who had been appointed to Jämtland to organize the Church’s holdings, disagreed with Bäck over his brutal methods and his authorization of extortion and violence. Bäck allowed virtually all villages in Åre, Undersåker, Kall, Hede and Sveg to be looted and burned to the ground.
In September, King Karl IX demanded in a letter that a delegation of Jämt emissaries personally swear allegiance to him, and so in the autumn of 1611 four peasants along with two priests made their way to Nyköping. When they arrived, Karl IX had died and they instead met with his son and successor Gustav II Adolf. While they were there, they took initiative and recounted the hardships and terror that Jämtland had endured under Baltzar Bäck’s campaign. A Swedish civil servant and secretary named Karl Berg, described to the King the persecution to which they had been subjected by the swift advance of the Swedish troops. Furthermore, superintendent Jonas Palma together with Commander Olof Ingemarsson also complained of Baltzar’s heavy handed treatment toward the locals, especially the steep taxes. Upon hearing these accounts, King Gustaf II Adolf wrote a scathing letter to Baltzar condemning him, and stated clearly that if he did not wish to be punished as well as lose his commission, Baltzar needed to immediately shape up.
Bäck’s troops left the area in early 1612 as they were needed elsewhere in the campaign against Denmark, and so in January of 1613 Jämtland and Härjedalen were returned to Norway through the peace accord of Knäred.
Unfortunately, the trials and tribulations of the Jämtar were not over. The King of Denmark was very displeased with how the Jämtar had behaved during the feud, and accused them therefore of treason and along with this came consequences. Kristian was displeased that he had ordered the Jämtar to assist the Norwegian army with supplies as well as recruits, demands which in his opinion they had not satisfied.
The Jämtar were charged, among other things, for having turned and supported the Swedish army, for not providing or selling supplies to his troops, had stayed in their homes instead of providing support, had sworn allegiance to the King of Sweden prior to even being threatened with death and destruction, and for their refusal to join the Norwegian forces in Undersåker.
A delegation of eight people travelled to Copenhagen to explain their actions and behavior during the conflict, including Helge Björnsson from Västeråsen in Fors parish. They likely did their very best to justify their behavior, however King Kristian was not impressed. A commission was then set up that went on to interrogate virtually every single homesteader throughout Jämtland, following which around 80%, or just over 1,200, became classified as criminals.
On the 3rd of February 1616, it was determined that all farms belonging to these “criminals” were to be relinquished and become property of the Danish crown, which resulted in Denmark essentially owning virtually all property rights in Jämtland. In other words, those Jämtar who during the conflict had sworn allegiance to the King of Sweden had their farms confiscated along with their rights to cultivate their lands. Those who did not provide supplies and support to the Norwegian army were to pay a fine, and all residents were ordered pay retroactive taxes to Denmark for the years they had been part of Sweden. Prior privileges such as preferential tax rates were also immediately abolished. Furthermore, two individuals were sentenced to death and subsequently executed, two others were banished/exiled and Jämtland’s age-old right to its own county Seal insignia was revoked.
Those who could afford pay their debts to Denmark/Norway anyhow risked being evicted from their farms at any time whatsoever. As it was, most of the homesteaders had their debts paid off within a couple of years and thus regained ownership of their farms. The others regained their farms once Jämtland finally became Swedish in 1645.