History of Swedish Counties
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Whether you are studying old family group records, looking for original sources to check or running a search in a database, knowing the county (the Län) and the parish (the socken orförsamling ) your ancestor lived in is vital to your Swedish family history research. It is also important to understand the difference between a County (Län) and a Province (Landskap) in Sweden. Although a Swedish landskap had political authority prior to 1634, they were not known as counties. This article offers a good introduction to the counties of Sweden with reference to changes through the years.
The Län is a jurisdiction in Sweden that goes back to medieval times. Birger Jarl and King Magnus Ladulås (who reigned from 1275 to 1290) established the Slottslän at a time when the Ledungen tax (a tax to provide for the military) was revised into a fixed tax.
Län Prior to 1634
- Slottslän – a geographic area that in medieval times provided resources for a castle or manor.
- Underhållslän – a geographic area in medieval times ruled over by members of the royal family. For example, the control of a city, group of districts, or a Dutchy might be given to a member of the royal family as a wedding gift. The right to an underhållslän was not passed on through inheritance.
- Pantlän - a feudal Fief in Sweden during the middle Ages. The person “holding” the Län, usually a frälseman, received it as collateral for a liability claim against the Crown. The county's size depended on the debt amount. The County holder was obliged to give account for the Läns management.
- Tjänstelän - a geographic area that was exchanged for military service.
Län After 1634
In compliance with the Constitution in 1634, the kingdom was organized into counties. At this time each province (Landskap) turned over its civil authority to the county (Län) administration. The administrative activities in the counties have basically been in force since 1810. Here is a list of the counties with information regarding when they were created or dissolved:
|Blekinge||was created in 1683.|
|Bohus||was used as a county name between 1680 and 1700. In 1700 the name was changed to Göteborg and Bohus län.|
|Eskilstuna||Prior to 1683 Eskilstuna was a county within the province of Södermanland. In 1683 the counties of Gripsholm, Nyköping and Eskilstuna were combined into a county called Södermanland. The area is still part of Södermanland County today.|
|Gotland||Prior to becoming a county, Gotland was a province. The name of the province dates back to Medieval times. Includes the entire island.|
|Gripsholm||Prior to 1683 Gripsholm was a county within the province of Södermanland. In 1683 the counties of Gripsholm, Nyköping and Eskilstuna were combined into a county called Södermanland. The area is still part of Södermanland county today.|
|Göteborg och Bohus||was used as a county name between 1700 and 1998. This county is now part of part of Västra Götaland.|
|Gävleborg||The county was created in 1762 when the area was divided from Västernorrland County.|
|Halland||According to the treaty of Brömsebro in 1645 Halland became Swedish. This was further reinforced with the treaty of Roskilde in 1658. The government administration was structured as a province (with a governor) until the 1719 Act when Halland received a county administrative board and became a county in the full sense.|
|Hudiksvall||was a county between 1645 and 1654. The area was taken from the county of Norrland on Sep. 5, 1645 entailing the provinces of Gästrikland, Hälsingland, and Härjedalen. On Mar. 13, 1654 Hudiksvall county was combined with the county of Härnösand which later became part of Västernorrland county. Today it’s part of Jämtland County.|
|Härnösand||was created from the county of Norrland on Sep. 5, 1645 entailing the provinces of Ångermanland, Medelpad, and Jämtland. On Mar. 13, 1654 it was combined with the county of Härnösand which later became part of Västernorrland and Jämtland counties.|
|Jämtland||Jämtland, Härjedalen, and Trøndelag have been separated and together administratively in the past. By the treaty of Brömsebro in 1645, Härjedalen became part of Hudiksvall County and Jämtland became part of Härnösands County. This continued to be so through the treaty of Roskilde in 1658. Jämtland and Härjedalen became part of Västernorrland county until 1762 when Gävleborg and Härjedalen separated from Västernorrland.|
|Jönköping and Kronoberg||was used as a county name between 1634 to 1639; 1654 to 1658, 1669 to 1674 and 1680 to 1687. The areas belonging to this county are now divided between the separate counties of Jönköping and Kronoberg.|
|Kalmar||Kalmar County was created with the county organization of 1634, but did not have its current boarders until the 1700’s. In many ways the county was divided in two areas a northern and a southern half until the 1970’s. The northern half had Västervik as its capital with Kalmar city as a capital for the southern half.|
|Kopparberg||The administrative organization of Kopparberg County is unclear. In medieval times the province of Dalarna was often under the jurisdiction of Västerås castle. Gustav Vasa divided Dalarna into 2 jurisdictions. Gustav II Adolf and the guardian of Queen Kristina (while the queen was still underage) tried to establish a Bergslän which would include parts of Dalarna and Västmanland. Interestingly, the county is sometimes referred to as Fahlu Län (meaning Falu County) on maps and other publications from the 1700's and 1800's. It was an unofficial name based on the County seat of Falun. A government Act in 1634 created a county called “Dalarna and Kopparberg”. A royal decree in 1647 renamed the county to be Kopparberg. The county kept this name until 1997 when it was renamed Dalarna County.|
|Kristianstad||was a county between 1719 and Dec. 31, 1996. It entailed the south-east and north-west areas of the province of Skåne. Beginning in 1997 the area became part of the county of Skåne.|
|Kronoberg||was created in 1674.|
|Linköping||Has occasionally been used for the name of Östergötland County.|
|Malmöhus||Prior to 1658 the area belonged to Denmark as part of the province of Skåne. In 1669 the counties of Helsingborg and Landskrona were combined to create Malmönus County. Denmark tried to reclaim the area between 1675 and 1678 after which Denmark was forced through political intervention to give up its claim. Between 1658 and 1720 the area was not officially part of the Swedish kingdom (although it was controlled by a Swedish governor). Beginning in 1997 the counties of Malmöhus and Kristianstad were combined into one county called Skåne County.|
|Nora||was also known as Järla County between 1643 – 1648. The area is now included in Örebro County.|
|Norrbotten||The county of Norrbotten was established in 1810 as part of Västerbotten increasingly became regarded as a separate area.|
|Norrland||was a county which existed from 1634 to 1645. The county consisted of Hälsingland, Medelpad, Ångermanland and Västerbotten (which included Lappland, Norrbotten, and went to Ouluo in current Finland). On Sept. 5, 1645 the county of Norrland was discontinued. The area was reorganized into the counties of Härnösand and Hudiksvall counties.|
|Nyköping||Before 1683 Nyköping County existed within the province of Södermanland. In 1683 the counties of Gripsholm, Nyköping and Eskilstuna were combined into a county called Södermanland. The area is still part of Södermanland County today.|
|Närke och Värmland||Existed as a county between 1634 and 1779. In 1779 the county was discontinued and the area was reorganized into the counties of Örebro and Värmland.|
|Sala||was a county between 1641and 1646. The area is now included in the counties of Västmanland and Dalarna.|
|Skaraborg||was created in 1634 when the Ståthållardömet was divided into the counties of Skaraborg and Älvsborg. The name of the county has its origins with the authority based on the residence city of Skara. In 1660 the authority base was changed to the residence city of Mariestad and the county is sometimes referred to as Mariestad County. Skaraborg county was dissolved on Dec. 31, 1997 when it became part of Västra Götaland County.|
|Skåne||Beginning in 1997 the counties of Malmöhus and Kristianstad were combined into one county called Skåne County.|
|Småland||The province of Småland was its own county between 1679 and 1680. It’s now divided between the counties of Jönköping, Kronoberg and Kalmar.|
|Stockholms och Uppsala||existed as one county between 1634 and 1640. The area was later reorganized and divided into the separate counties of Stockholm and Uppsala.|
|Stockholms överståthållarskap||was the name of the highest civilian management authority (a governor) for the City of Stockholm between July 29, 1634 and 1967. The Överståthållarskap was closed down by the end of 1967, when the City was merged with Stockholm County.|
|Svartsjö||was a county that existed between 1787 and 1809. It was created in 1787 by combining eight parishes from Stockholm County. The parishes that made up this county have been reduced to five parishes in the Ekerö municipality in Stockholm County.|
|Säter||was a county between 1634 and 1646. It is now part of Dalarna County.|
|Södermanland||The countys history goes back to 1683 when Södermanland was created by combining the three former Castle counties: Nyköping, Gripsholm, and Eskilstuna Counties.|
|Uppsala||was established as a county in 1634.|
|Värmland||Värmland County was created in 1779 from the earlier Närke och Värmland County. Sometimes this county is called Karlstads län because the capital city for this county is Karlstad.|
|Västerbotten||was created in 1638 from the county of Norrland. It covered the provinces of Västerbotten and the western part of Lappland and the entire area of Tornedalen. After the loss in the Finnish War in 1809, Sweden gave up Finland to Russia, including Västerbotten east of the Torne River and Muonio River. More changes came in 1810 with Nordmaling transferred to Västernorrland County. At the same time as a separation from the northern area forming Norrbotten. After some changes with municipalities in 1837, 1862, and 1869 Västerbottens boundaries have remained unchanged.|
|Västernorrland||was created in 1654 by combining Härnösand County and Hudiksvall County. In 1658 Jämtland and Härjedalen were ceded to becoming part of Trondheims County. They were reunited with Västernorrland in 1660. In 1762 the county was divided into two parts. The southern part became Gävle County. The northern part continued to be Västernorrland County with Sundsvall as its capital until 1778 when Härnösand took over this role.|
|Västmanland||From the early 1500s up to 1719 it was divided between Västerås and Strömholm Counties. Västmanland was created in 1634.|
|Älvsborg||was created in 1634. On Dec. 31, 1997 the county was dissolved, becoming part of the county of Västra Götaland on Jan. 1, 1998.|
|Öland||The county of Öland was created in 1819 with its boundaries matching the island itself. It continued as a county until 1826 when it was combined with the county of Kalmar. The area belongs to the county of Kalmar today.|
|Örebro||was created in 1779 from the earlier Närke och Värmland counties.|
|Östergötland||was created in 1634. Has occasionally been called Linköping county.|
Changes in recent decades
• In 1968 the City (överståthållardömet) and Stockholm County merged into a new department called Stockholm County.
• On January 1, 1997 Kristianstads and Malmöhus Counties merged to a new county called Skåne. Skåne had been the provincial name of that geographic area back into medieval times.
• On January 1, 1998 Göteborg and Bohus County, Älvsborg County and Skaraborg County, with the exception of Habo and Mullsjö municipalities, were merged into one county called Västra Götaland. Habo and Mullsjö municipalities joined the county of Jönköping instead of becoming part of Västra Götaland.