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Augustin Ehrensvärd (1710-1772)

suomenlinna fortress augustin ehrensvär

Foto: Sakari Kiuru

suomenlinna fortress augustin ehrensvärd

Augustin Ehrensvärd was born on September 25th in 1710 in Fullerö mansion, Västmänlann, Sweden, where he spent his first ten years. His parents were Anna Margareta Mannerheim and Jacob Johan Scheffer (raised to nobility in 1717 by the name Ehrensvärd). In 1739 Augustin Ehrensvärd was married to Catarina Elisabet Adlerheim who gave birth to their eldest son Carl Augustin in 1745.

Young Augustin

Augustin Ehrensvärd joined the artillery at the age of 16, while at the same time also studying at the Univeristy of Uppsala. For two years, during his travels in Europe, he studied the artillery and fortresses of different countries. He also studied painting, drawing and engraving in Paris. Augustin Ehrensvärd was a member of the ruling political party, the hats, as also of the Royal Academy of Science. He took part in the War of the Hats against Russia (1741- 1743). His mission during the war was to bring the artillery into wartime capacity and to command the expansion of the defence at Hamina city.

Construction work of Suomenlinna begins

Sweden had lost large land areas and all of its eastern fortresses to Russia in the beginning f the 18th century. The foundation of St. Petersburg in 1703 and the threat of the strong Russian fleet on the Gulf of Finland forced Sweden to take measures against Russia. In 1747 King Fredrik accepted the defensive plan of Finland made by Ehrensvärd. The plan included two new fortresses: fortifying of Helsinki and Degerby cities. As a part of his studies for the defensive plan Ehrensvärd had sailed his sloop Diana in the summer of 1747 with two other officers, exploring the southern Finnish coast for good locations for fortresses. During his trip he wrote a journal with lavish illustrations. The fortification works of both in the town of Helsinki and the Susiluoto Islands off the Helsinki coast began in 1748.

There was no comprehensive plan for the whole project, and the plans and drawings were made at the site, taking the hard weather conditions and the difficult terrain into consideration. The budget was small and Ehrensvärd soon had to give up the fortification works in Helsinki town and instead concentrate on the work on the islands. In Helsinki the fortification lives on today in names; i.e. Ulrikasborg (Ullanlinna, named after the Swedish queen Ulrika Eleonora) and in a couple of still standing fortification buildings. In the summer of 1750 king Fredrik accepted Ehrensvärd’s proposal for the name of the fortress and the fortress on the Susiluoto islands was given the name Sveaborg (meaning Fortress of Sweden). Later the name was twisted into Viapori in the speech of the Finnish soldiers.

Great planner and talented artist

Ehrensvärd skilfully planned a sea fortress, based on the French bastion fortress system adding a naval base. In addition he emphasized the importance of architectural solutions, eg. squares and monumental architecture. He planned the Great Courtyard, and the King’s Gate at the site where king Adolf Fredrik had landed during his visit at the fortress. In the beginning of the building period the court intendant Carl Hårleman was consulted and participated in the architectural planning. Ehrensvärd had a large amount of officers and drawers to aid him. The best specialists in both engineering and ship building were used; master engineer Daniel af Thunberg (1712-1788) planned the galley-dock and a multifunctional mill and shipmaker Fredrik Henrik af Chapman (1721-1808) planned a whole new and modern archipelago fleet, the Army Fleet, for Sveaborg.

The location of Sveaborg had from the start been chosen with the naval base in mind. The construction works of the galley-dock begun in 1750 and in 1764 the first frigate Hämeemaa Oden could be launched. The Army Fleet was independent from the rest of the Swedish fleet and was lead by the commander of the fortress, Augustin Ehrensvärd. Ehrensvärd took part in the Pomeranian War 1757-1762, during which time the construction works at Sveaborg quieted down. In 1761 he was promoted to the chief of the Swedish forces and took command of the Finnish household troops, whose colonel’s residence in Mietoinen came to his disposal.

As well as an outstanding officer, Ehrensvärd was a talented artist, and was the first to bring the skill of picturing light in drawing to Sweden. Many drawings and paintings by Ehrensvärd have survived to our days. In addition to military schools he maintained an art school for the officers’ sons. The young artist Elias Martin (1739-1818) taught art at the fortress and was later sent to Europe by Ehrensvärd to study further. Today Elias Martin’s works belong to the most famous paintings of the 18th century, especially amongst landscape-painting. Also Ehrensvärd’s own son, Carl August, got attention as an artist in addition to his military career.

The last days of the commandant

After the Pomeranian War the fortification works of Sveaborg and the construction of the Army fleet continued. In 1764 Ehrensvärd was elevated into the rank of a baron. He also spent time in Stockholm speaking for Sveaborg: ” What good do honorary titles and fine bands bring me. If the King wants to show me mercy, let Him give funds for the fleet and the fortification works. Everything else is useless”, he wrote at the time. As the result of the power-struggles between the two political parties, the hats and the caps, Ehrensvärd was dismissed in 1765 from the commander’s office. Nonetheless, he returned in 1769, when the hats regained control in Stockholm. The following year he received the honours of the Majestic order and was knighted to a Seraphim knight and promoted to the commander-in-chief for all troops in Finland.

Ehrensvärd had been wounded in the the Pomeranian War and the injury had bothered him ever since. His condition declined considerably and in 1771 he retired from the fortification works to his residence at Mietoinen. October 4th in 1772 he died of pneumonia. Three weeks earlier, the king Gustav III had promoted him to field-marshal and count. The burial ceremony of Ehrensvärd was held in Mynämäki church, from where his coffin was moved to Turku next summer and further to Helsinki. In Helsinki his copper coffin was buried in the Ulrika Eleonora church. It was not until 1783, that Ehrensvärd was laid down to rest by the king Gustav III in the centre of the Great Courtyard at Sveaborg, where his monumental tomb had been constructed. The tomb was designed by king Gustav III together with Carl August Ehrensvärd and Jean Eric Rehn. The sculptures on the monument were made by Johan Tobias Sergel and the stonecutter Nils Stenstam. The tomb was finished in 1807 – half a year before Sveaborg surrendered to Russia. The logo of the Ehrensvärd Society is designed using the ornaments on the tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd as a model.

Literature: Gardberg C.J. 1998. Viapori Suomenlinna.Keuruu, Otava Kirjapaino.