Georg Magnus Sprengtporten (1740-1819)

Painter: Carl Fredrich Brander (1705 – 1779).

Collection: Stockholm National Museum, Sweden.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Georg Magnus Sprengtporten is one of the most interesting people in the history of Finland. It is completely confusing that the person who has lived a bright and meaningful life has been forgotten. Sprengtporten was an ambiguous person, and the attitude towards him changed from era to era. From the research point of view, his life contains a lot of quite rich life stories.

The time when Sprengtporten lived is associated with various world political events. At that time, the colonies development around the world, the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars took place. In the 18th century, Finland often found itself on the battlefield between Sweden and Russia.

For Georg Magnus Sprengtporten, the role models were Augustin Ehrensvärd and his cousin Jacob Magnus Sprengtporten. They led the young officer to a career when the protection and independence of Finland became the mission of his whole life. He promoted this goal first while serving the Swedish Crown, and since 1786 in the Russian Empire.

Sprengtporten was born into the family of a military officer. His father was a soldier, and his three older brothers were officers in the Swedish army. Georg Magnus showed great disposition for a military career during the Pomeranian War. He assisted his cousin Jacob Magnus, who played a key role in the military coup of Gustav III in 1772. In 1775, Sprengtporten was appointed the commander of the Savo Brigade in Ristiina, where he served until the spring of 1779. He was appreciated and respected; he was the creator of innovative cartographic works, as well as the creator of the officer training school.

A quarrel with Gustav III and his departure to Europe in 1779 became a turning point in his career. Disagreement with Gustav III intensified, and Sprengtporten resigned. In 1780, he tried to go with French troops to the American War of Independence, but he failed. In Paris, he met Benjamin Franklin and discussed ideas of independence with him.

He became acquainted with the thinking of Enlightenment philosophers who promoted changes, and then with Republicanism, when he gathered a crowd of volunteers in Holland in 1785-86. At that time, he drew up a memorandum on the ideas of Finnish independence, presented it through his Russian ambassador to Catherine the Great, and she invited him to serve the Russian crown.

As a person, Sprengtporten would not have been so significant if he had not been a pioneer of the ideas of Finnish independence. His political career ended with the opening of the Porvoo Parliament in 1809, where he read the declaration of the reign of Alexander I in Swedish. Finland obtained self-government, and he became the first Governor-General of the country. Although he was in this position for a short time, Sprengtporten's groundwork for achieving autonomy was significant.

Sprengtporten has spent most of his life outside of his native country, traveling around Europe. He wrote his letters in French, was married to Finnish, Dutch and Russian women. Sprengtporten knew several rulers of Sweden and Russia, personally met with Frederick the Great, Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. Casanova was his friend. Sprengtporten was a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world, whose life story is worthy to be remembered.

Postage stamps, Finland 2009: Building a Nation, 1809, miniature sheet. 200 years of autonomy. Alexander I (first from the left), Georg Magnus Sprengtporten (second from the left), Carl Eric Mannerheim (third from the left), Gustav Moritz Armfelt (fourth from the left). The coat of arms depicts the Porvoo Parliament, the Cathedral of Porvoo. 147 х 105 mm. Source: Collectors' stamps store