A Rebellion Leader and a Freedom Fighter
Dr. Veli Niinimaa, Ph.D.
Pentinpoika Ilkka (1545 – 1597) was a wealthy farmer in Ilmajoki. During his life Ilkka expanded his farm to
become the largest in Ilmajoki. In 1586
he was named the county sheriff for three years. He flourished in trade and shipping, becoming
the seventh richest merchant in
regular taxation, continued additional war (feudal) taxes and the excessive
collection of armed forces support (Linnaleiri) by both the infantry and the
cavalry, combined with poor crops during the minor ice age, caused the standard
of living to decrease to near starvation levels. This was the reason for many insurrections
starting in the 1570’s in
opposing the rebellion captured Ilkka in Ilmajoki and they handed him over to
the Governor of Ostrobothnia, Abraham Melchiorinpoika. He imprisoned Jaakko Ilkka for a few days,
but was afraid to transport him for fear of the peasants freeing Ilkka. Also the peasants in
continued, and on
The documentation from the period is limited; therefore there may be
errors in the facts. A number of
assumptions have been used in the reconstruction of the events in the Cudgel
War, also known as Ilkka’s war.
Pentinpoika Ilkka’s father Pentti Jaakonpoika (Bengt Jopersson, 1520-1585+) was
the master of the Rahnasto farm in 1553-1566, located in the Kokkola hamlet
Jaakko Ilkka’s mother, whose first name is unknown, was born in 1520 and married in 1540. She was the daughter of Pentti Peltoniemi (≈1490-1546), who was the master of the Peltoniemi farm in 1533-1546. His ancestry can be traced back to Lauri Peltoniemi, born ≈1440 in Ilmajoki. The Peltoniemi farms were the largest and wealthiest farms in Ilmajoki during most of the 16th century.
Ilkka’s uncle on his mother’s side, Matti Pentinpoika Peltoniemi (≈1520-1585), was the master of the Peltoniemi farm in 1549-1583. He was also a merchant and a trader with his own ship. In 1571 Matti Pentinpoika was named the first sheriff of Ilmajoki. A sheriff had to be wealthy enough to host the sitting of the circuit court. At the time of death his farm had over eight hectares (20 acres) of cultivated land, 25 cows, 50 markkas of currency and 55 luotia (bullets) of silver (luoti = 12.83 g), making him the richest man in southern Ostrobothnia. His son Paavo served as the county sheriff after 1588, as well as did Paavo’s son Hannu. Paavo Peltoniemi’s youngest son Jaakko (1597-1652) was appointed the 4th Pastor in the Ilmajoki parish.
According to the custom of the times, Ilkka’s first name was always written in the Swedish language documents as Jacob. Jaakko was only one of the Finnish variants of Jacob, the others being Jaakoppi, Kauppi and Jouppi. The last variation was the most popular in the 1500s in Ilmajoki. There is even a hamlet called Jouppila.
The name Ilkka
might have come to Ostrobothnia from the south during the northward migration
in the early middle Ages. It might also
be based on the old Scandinavian name Illughi, shortened to Ille. The third possibility is the Hebrew name
Elias and its evolution in Finnish.
According to V. Jaakko Köykkä the name originates in
In May 2009 a total of 424 persons used Ilkka as their last name, 18 utilized Ala-Ilkka and 26 persons used the Yli-Ilkka variation. Jaakko Ilkka’s father Pentti was the first person to use the Ilkka name in Ilmajoki. The name does appear also in other areas of the country.
In 1929 Ilkka was accepted as a given name into the Finnish calendar. In the years 1900-2009 a total of 16,906 men and 9 women have used Ilkka as their first name.
In 1565 Jaakko Ilkka married a girl (name unknown) from Ilmajoki. She was born about 1545 and died about 1588. They had at least two sons, Pentti, 1565-1570 (not confirmed definitely) and Mikko (Mikki) 1567-1642. Mikko Jaakonpoika took over his father’s farm after Jaakko’s execution. Mikko also outfitted a cavalry horse and fought as a knight, serving as a bodyguard for King Kaarle IX (the former Duke Kaarle) on his Russian expedition in 1614. He was a member of the Diet (Parliament) in 1624 and a bailiff for the bishop.
son Juha (or Juho) Ilkka (1605-1653) also served as a knight on behalf of his
house. But he is better known as a
church builder. In 1646 he built the
Pirkkala church in Nokia, where his grandfather had fought a half a century
earlier. The Kristiinankaupunki church
was still incomplete when he died in 1653.
That year he also submitted an offer to build a roof for the new part
and a small tower for the
1589-90 Jaakko Ilkka remarried the daughter of Joachim Eichmann (Jaakkima Ekman
or Eckman), a merchant in
Matti Jaakonpoika Ilkka, later Vihoinen (1592-1673) became the son-in-law in Lauri Vihoinen's farm in Alavus in 1619. He was the master there until 1646 and is mentioned as a royal forest guard in Alavus. The Ilkka name replaced Vihoinen when Matti's son, Antti Matinpoika (1615-1677) became the master of the house.
Josef Jaakonpoika Ilken (1593-1668) worked in many civic positions. He was Turku's scribe and notary, councillor and mayor of Uusikaupunki and a parliamentary representative in Stockholm. Before his death in 1668 he served as mayor of Rauma and was its representative in parliament in Stockholm.
Jaakko Ilkka also had a fifth son (1595-1633). It is known that he died in Munsala near Uusikaarlepyy. His given name may be Johan, but it is not well documented.
Jaakko Ilkka assumed the operation of the Ilkkala farm in 1585. In addition to farming he was named the second sheriff of Ilmajoki in 1586-88. That increased Ilkka’s social status and generated extra revenue, but brought also enemies. A schism developed between him and the Peltoniemi family. They were earlier the richest and most influential family in Ilmajoki, but a few black sheep had ruined the family’s name and wealth. By 1591 Peltoniemi was no longer listed among the 16 wealthiest merchants. When Ilkka had to prosecute the head of the Peltoniemi family, their relationship soured totally.
Ilkka was also a merchant. In 1586 he is known to have shipped taxes to the castle in Tallinn, Estonia, on behalf of the Governor. The shipment consisted of 110 barrels of grain and 38 barrels of salted meat. In 1590 Ilkka focused on trade. He is recorded having sold butter and tar in Stockholm. He transported the goods with his own ship. The “store” consisted most likely of a shed which was opened when a customer came in to buy from the available items.
In 1591 his farm was inventoried and it was found to have 44 barrels of grain, four horses, 34 cattle and 32 sheep. His storage sheds were full of purchased grain, butter, pelts and tar. Amongst the traders, Ilkka was listed as the seventh wealthiest merchant in southern Ostrobothnia. In the same year the price of exports such as herring, lox, butter and pelts no longer compared favourably with the cost of imports such as grain, cloths, spices, wines and salt, squeezing the profit margins.
After trade became unprofitable, he outfitted two cavalry horses, riding one himself and hiring a man to fight on the second horse. He participated in three expeditions to Russia in 1591-92, the farthest one reaching the gates of Novgorod with the Anders Larsinpoika regiment. The war was fought under the overall leadership of Marshall Klaus Fleming, commander of Finnish forces. This move allowed Ilkka to become tax-exempt and collect feudal taxes. But he stopped both fighting in the cavalry and collecting army support taxes from the neighbouring peasants. In January 1592 the Russians attacked to avenge the earlier expeditions, mostly burning houses in different areas. For example, 225 of the 361 farms in Liminka were burnt.
In 1592 he purchased the bankrupt Matti Savolainen pioneer farm, and two years later applied for a tax exemption on the basis that the farm was frost prone. The Ilkkala farm stayed in the family until 1717 when Juho Taavetinpoika Ilkka died. All his children had already died.
Also in 1592 Klaus Fleming, the Governor General of Finland, declared a trade embargo in the Gulf of Bothnia. That stopped most of the activities by the Ostrobothnian traders. Jaakko Ilkka decided to focus on cattle farming in 1593. He was no longer an ordinary peasant, but rather a large-scale farmer.
Sweden had declared war on Russia in 1570 and the skirmishes continued for 25 years, ending in the Täyssinä Peace Treaty. It was signed on 18.5.1595 to keep peace between the two nations “for ever”. The long drawn-out war was hard on the soldiers, who saw their war efforts bring no tangible results. The recruits feared the plague, hunger and the enemy swords, leading into a mutiny in Rääveli (Tallinn), Estonia. The peasants were taxed hard year after year, and men were drafted occasionally to defend the borders.
King Sigismund of Sweden moved to Poland, which he also ruled, leaving Duke Kaarle (Karl) to look after matters in his duchy in Värmland, Sweden. He had ambitions of taking the Swedish crown for himself on the basis of defending the Protestant Sweden against the Catholic King Sigismund. Lord Klaus Fleming was the Governor of Finland and Estonia and Commander of the Finnish Army. After the 25-year war against Russia ended in 1595, Klaus Fleming kept on collecting feudal taxes, not because the army was needed for war, but to support King Sigismund against Duke Kaarle. The peasants could not understand the continued heavy feudal tax collection, which was causing a decline in the standard of living down to near starvation level.
Sweden had not established good control of Ostrobothnia. The castles with their armed forces were in the south, and Swedish aristocracy was not permanently present in Ostrobothnia. It could be described as an autonomic region where the peasants traded within special privileges, and nobility had not established itself well in the area. With increasing taxation pressure by the crown, the peasants felt that their autonomy and freedom were threatened.
Klaus Fleming had established a military dictatorship. His army was so large that the upkeep of it lowered the standard of living in Finland. Crown officials, tax collectors and soldiers started to rob farms and towns. Peasants did not know who to fear more - the enemy or their own officials.
In the late fall of 1594 Swedish troops were transported to Ostrobothnia to support the negotiations toward the Täyssinä peace treaty. When the Ostrobothnian peasants declined to pay the Swedish forces’ repatriation costs, Klaus Fleming located the Uplan Cavalry regiment units and some southern Finnish infantry units in Ostrobothnia to forcibly collect the extra feudal taxes.
Around Mikkelinpäivä at the end of October 1595 the Swedish Diet supported Duke Kaarle, giving more weight to his statements regarding the oppression by Lord Fleming and the Finnish army. Via his messenger Hannu Fordell, Duke Kaarle encouraged the peasants to take their paid taxes back. Jaakko Ilkka was invited in early December 1595 to lead the Swedish speaking coastal Finns in taking the collected grain back. Klaus Fleming got wind of the plot, and sent a letter dated 18.12.1595, giving Sheriff Hannu Fordell a stern warning regarding inciting the peasants not to pay their feudal tax and turn against the Crown and fired him.
The period around Mikkelinpäivä was the optimal time for significant events to happen. After the summer’s crop was in, the servants had their holiday week, markets were set up and weddings were held.
There were many causes that led to the Cudgel War. First, there was the tax-exempt nobility, which consisted of governors, tax collectors, cavalry outfitting rich farmers, law interpreters and pastors of large parishes. Thus, mainly the peasants were taxed, and the tax burden increased greatly in the 1590s. Peasants gave in basic taxes about a tenth of their grain crop and some money. In addition to the taxes, which were measured with oversized measures, peasants were expected to give gifts and address the tax collectors with flattering titles. There was widespread fear that Swedish aristocracy would establish itself in Ostrobothnia.
Secondly, the feudal (war) taxes were in addition to the regular taxes during wars. To top it off, the peasants had to transport the taxes to a specific location. If they were unable to do so, they were hit with additional transport fees.
Thirdly, peasants had to feed mobilized army units, both men and horses, donate hard goods to the army and transport the troops, sometimes for weeks on end. This direct military support requirement was called “Linnaleiri”. It was the most hated form of taxation.
If a farm was unable to pay its taxes, the soldiers took valuables as pawns until the taxes were paid. In some cases farmers who were unable to pay their taxes were thrown out of their inherited homes. Taxpayers were also tortured by pouring cold water on their backs in freezing temperatures.
Ostrobothnians were supposed to be free of feudal tax, according to an agreement with the Swedish King Juhana III. The exemption was granted in exchange for the duty of defending the Kainuu (as Ostrobothnia was called then) region against Russians. But when the King died, and his son Sigismund took over, the agreement was ignored and feudal taxes were collected again.
Propaganda was used on both sides. On 15.12.1594 Lord Fleming informed the Ostrobothnians that Duke Kaarle had ordered 800-900 cavalry soldiers to be shipped to Ostrobothnia to support the signing of the peace treaty. Kaarle responded on 14.2.1595 that much less cavalry was sent, and the peasants had to host them only for a day or two. The troops would return over sea ice. In the spring Fleming sent the entire Uplan cavalry regiment to Ostrobothnia as punishment. In the following letter dated 18.3.1595 he stated that just over a hundred knights had been sent. Peasants complained that about 300 knights collected excessive cavalry support taxes.
The standard of living declined drastically during these years. Many farms were abandoned, or deemed unable to pay taxes. Crops failed often, as this period was the beginning of the small ice age. Grain flour was extended by flour made of ground tree bark and vehka, the roots of water arum (Calla palustris). The peasants were facing both a social and physical disappearance. Tar production was just starting as a means of earning extra income, but its hay day was still years ahead. The following table shows the development of the number of farms in Finland:
Peasant Nobility’s Ostrobothnian tar sales
Year Farms Farms in Stockholm (barrels)
1557 33,046 331 1560 2
1566 35,543 1,011 1580 624
1578 33,662 2,319 1585 1,304
1583 31,600 4,600 1595 1,070
1593 29,000 – incl. 5,000 bankrupt farms 1600 4,000+
The numbers do not reflect the fact that the nobility’s farms were much larger. They would sow 70-80 barrels of grain whereas the average peasant seeded only three barrels of grain.
Monasteries had accumulated huge fortunes since the crusades 350 years earlier. The monarchs tried to get their hands on this wealth, but this portion of the nobility, which had enjoyed their privileges for a long time, did not want to change the system.
The nobility further enhanced their status by prohibiting some trade by the peasants, reserving it for themselves. When Klaus Fleming declared a trade embargo in the Gulf of Bothnia, the use of sailing ships by traders became more difficult. That further annoyed the traders who were also the rebellion leaders, men such as Jaakko Ilkka, Pentti Pouttu, Olli Ollinpoika Niemelä, Hannu Fordell and Pastor Matti Laurinpoika Stuut. The Crown on the other hand established cities, giving the nobility further opportunities and rights to trade.
Thus the causes of a rebellion were many and can be summarized as overwhelming oppression, confiscation of property, illegalities and inequality. Insurrection was the only choice of action for those who prohibited from improving their standard of living, and whose rights were not defended by any external authority.
Disturbances and small armed clashes broke out all over Finland starting in the 1570s. The first disturbances occurred at the Marttila church in 1574. From there it spread to Somero and Kiikala. The excess taxes were recovered, and the knights’ horses were killed. In 1575 the knights were evicted temporarily from Huittiset, Loimaa, Halikkko and Pöytyä. In 1579 nine peasants were sentenced to death for robbing six knights, but their sentences were commuted to fines. Small-scale rebellions broke out in Isokyrö throughout the 1590s. On 17.12.1590 a local court for their parts in a rebellion sentenced three peasants to death, but the king pardoned them. In 1593 30-40 peasants opposed the collection of feudal taxes by the army. Their leader Pentti Pouttu was imprisoned in the Oulu castle for a short time.
With these existing conditions in mind, the entire Ostrobothnia decided not pay their butter tax to the crown in 1595. The physical actions of the first rebellion started on Christmas Eve both in Isokyrö and Rautalampi (John Morton’s home county). The soldiers were then the least prepared to defend themselves due to Christmas celebrations. Jaakko Ilkka led the Swedish speaking coastal Finns in attacking the cavalry. They reclaimed the grain taken as feudal tax after the Täyssinä peace treaty, took the knights’ possessions and drove them out of Ostrobothnia. The Rautalampi peasants took their tax butter back in Sysmä on January 3, 1596. Five days later a Swedish saltpeter inspector was robbed and a cavalry soldier Gabriel Paavonpoika from Vöyri was imprisoned. Shortly after that a King’s cavalry unit and an infantry unit were able to crush the rebellion. Jaakko Ilkka was arrested and taken to prison within the Turku castle. On 19.1.1596 the men who transported Ilkka to Turku were paid for their troubles. On 24.2.1596 Klaus Fleming informed the inhabitants of Pietarsaari that the tax butter they had refused to pay would be collected despite the army they had raised.
The rebellion was small in scale. For the first time peasants from two regions attempted to join forces but this did not happen because the Finnish-speaking peasants did not join. Many of them waited for military aid from Sweden. Duke Kaarle was either scared to or did not want to send soldiers from his duchy to help the Ostrobothnians. When it was obvious that external help was not forthcoming, the Finnish-speaking peasants joined the next much larger rebellion.
In the fall of 1596 Jaakko Ilkka managed to escape from the Turku prison with help from relatives among the bourgeoisie Klaus Fleming opponents, just in time to lead the Cudgel War.
Ostrobothnian leaders were mostly merchants and traders who joined forces with their customers. Jaakko Ilkka was not the only candidate, but he had held prior positions of authority, making him the best-suited leader. In 1586-88 Ilkka had been the sheriff of Ilmajoki, and he had led the earlier small rebellion in 1595. Also, Ilkka was the only one of the southern Ostrobothnian traders with war experience. He had been a cavalry soldier on three expeditions. The peasants knew that lack of military leadership was a problem and tried to recruit professional soldiers such as Ensign Pekka Pietarinpoika from Sulvia to fill the gap, but they declined the offers.
Ilkka was ambitious, as shown by the activities in is earlier life, and by the fact that he accepted the command of the rebels when the position was offered to him.
On the side of the peasants, Ilkka had also the opportunity to show his power to the Peltoniemis, who looked after their interests by continuing to support the King. Perhaps Ilkka figured that sooner or later Duke Kaarle would win the battle for the Swedish crown and that his supporters would be rewarded handsomely.
After escaping custody in Turku prison Ilkka had very little choice – either succumb to the crown’s tyranny, or fight for his rights.
By joining the peasants, Ilkka was forced to fight against his former brothers in arms and colleagues. The decision risked a great deal and sacrificed his financial interests. Therefore he can’t be considered to have taken on the leadership for self-serving purposes.
The right to discipline his men as needed and to release unfit soldiers to go home augmented Ilkka’s authority. He did release at least two invalid peasants from the expedition. The typical milder method of disciplining was to pour cold water inside the soldier’s coat. In the winter it took a long time for the clothing to dry. The more severe form of punishment was execution by pushing a man under the ice and thereby drowning him.
Jaakko Ilkka stood out from the commons by the fact that his hair was cut in the same way as the professionals of the day. He also wore clothing made of blue broadcloth (verka) instead of the rough homespun woolen clothing (sarka) as the rest of the peasants.
The decision not to pay feudal taxes was made on November 25 at Isokyrö church. Men had gathered there to celebrate St. Catherine’s Day, which was a religious holiday. The resolution not to pay required the rebels to be prepared to defend this choice with arms. Hannu Fordell, Sheriff of Pietarsaari and an emissary for Duke Kaarle, had just returned from Stockholm. He informed the peasants that Duke Kaarle supports their cause in principle, but was unable to provide military help. Duke Kaarle incited the rebellion by asking the men to fight for their rights. He also shipped distilled alcohol, which was consumed for the first time in Finland.
Once the decision to take up arms was made, the men had to wait for the waterways to freeze. During that time they raised a small army by requiring every able bodied man from the three large counties, Isokyrö, Ilmajoki and Lapua to volunteer. This included opponents of the rebellion and their resistance showed later in the expedition. While waiting they robbed and evicted all local knights because they could not be left to operate behind the peasants’ backs. Messengers skied to different parts of Finland to prepare the peasants to join the uprising. Propaganda letters were sent promising tax exemption to those who joined, particularly an end to feudal taxes and linnaleiri. The numbers of rebel forces were exaggerated, and Duke Kaarle and other nobles made references to their (moral) support.
The plan was to march south toward Turku in three groups. A group of 200 men lead by Pentti Pouttu and Martti Tommola left around December 15 along the coastal road. A small group of about 50 men lead by Pentti Piri and Martti Tuomaala went to Laukaa across Suomenselkä. On December 17 at the latest Jaakko Ilkka and Yrjö Kontsas took the main group of 700-800 men along the Kyrönkangas winter road toward Jalasjärvi and Parkano.
Along the southward march the men robbed and burned all crown owned properties and the farms of cavalry soldiers. This built up the self-confidence of the group, and more men were forced to join it along the route. A question remains, why did the peasant not burn the Tuomas and Mauno Peltoniemi houses. Perhaps it was because the Peltoniemi sheriff’s house was Jaakko Ilkka’s mother’s home and Jaakko’s birthplace.
At the southern border of Ostrobothnia, a number of men wanted to turn back because they had gone as far as originally planned. Thus on December 19 at Jalasjärvi a field court sentenced Maunu Matinpoika Peltoniemi to death as the leader of the small mutiny, and he was pushed under the ice.
Along the march the peasants met a group of 80 infantry soldiers, but they fled when they saw the growing peasant army. Near Nokia Ilkka’s men won a skirmish on December 26 against an advance party of 200 cavalry soldiers lead by Knut Kurki and Iivari Tavast. Ilkka set up camp in the Nokia estate and the rebels drank the estate’s beer to celebrate the victory.
Klaus Fleming arrived in Nokia on December 31 with four regiments of infantry, two cavalry regiments and a few large caliber cannons. Fleming set his camp near the Pirkkala church, some 3 km from Nokia. He attacked the peasants with his professional army numbering 3,300 soldiers, but the 2,500 rebels defended themselves successfully within their fortifications. The peasants were armed with cudgels, bows, lances, axes and swords. Muskets were invented but they were not very useful because it took 10-12 minutes to load each shot. In a few days the eastern group was expected to join the main group and Fleming would then be surrounded and vulnerable.
Fleming recognized his situation, so during the night he sent Knut Kurki and the Ostrobothnian Governor Abraham Melkiorinpoika to talk to the peasants. They promised an end to feudal taxes until the King so decides and offered safe passage home, IF they handed their leaders, particularly Jaakko Ilkka, over to Fleming. Earlier cannon shots also raised the level of fear among the peasants. One shot went through the walls of the room where rebel leaders were meeting.
Ilkka got wind of the deal to “sell his hide”, and he jumped on a captured horse and escaped through the darkness of the night with a few of his lieutenants and a group of men. Now that the peasants could not fulfill their end of the bargain, they feared retribution by Fleming. Unfaithfulness toward the leaders caused chaos among the rebel army soldiers. Groups of peasants also fled during the night. Someone set a hay shed on fire and that attracted the attention of Fleming’s troops. With a sound of a cannon the whole encampment was woken up and they started to chase the fleeing peasants. Some 500-600 peasants were killed in the ensuing massacre by the cavalry. The biggest sacrifice was made by the rebel rearguard, which consisted of poor horseless peasants who had fought the longest for the cause and thereby risked their own life and limb.
The fate of the two other fighting groups was no better. Akseli Kurki defeated the coastal group near Ulvila on December 20, and Pentti Pouttu was imprisoned in Turku. Iivari Tavast defeated the eastern group in Häme on January 15 in Padasjoki, Nyystölä at a cost of 450 lives. There was only one survivor, Laukaa Pastor Eerik Markuksenpoika. In Savo about 550 peasants died on January 23 near Mikkeli church after being coaxed out of their fortifications. The soldiers pillaged the province. Götrik Fincke, the Governor of Savonlinna, recognized that the army should not kill peasants needlessly, because they were the source of taxation income.
Jaakko Ilkka returned to Ilmajoki, Ostrobothnia. However, the opponents of the rebellion detained the returned rebellion leaders. According to folklore, Ilkka’s neighbours, led by the Peltoniemi family, placed Ilkka in a mill chamber to await his fate. The disciplinary expedition, headed by the new Governor Abraham Melkiorinpoika, arrived with instructions to send the rebellion leaders to Turku for interrogation by Klaus Fleming himself. He heard rumours though that the northern Ostrobothnian men were joining the rebellion. Also, he was afraid that the peasants would free Ilkka if he were to be transported to Turku. Therefore Abraham Melkiorinpoika set up a quick court martial in Isokyrö for the rebellion leaders and they were sentenced to death. Due to the lack of a professional executioner, the Governor forced Ilkka’s neighbour, Pentti Posso, to do the executions on Church Island, near Isokyrö church. Posso thereby saved his own life.
The execution method was extremely brutal. First, the hands and feet were crushed by a blunt instrument. Sometimes the arm and leg bones were broken by hitting them between the spokes of a wagon wheel. Even the rib cage was crushed at times. Fourthly, the right arm was cut off for raising it against the crown. Lastly the prisoner was beheaded. Some bodies were also quartered. This happened to all prisoners in Isokyrö. The corpses were transported to their hometowns, where the body parts were put on public display as warnings to others and as food to raptors. The head was placed on one wheel, the right hand on another, and the body on the middle wheel. After a long time on display, the bodies were buried, but customarily not in a sacred cemetery by the church. In Ilmajoki, the new northern peasant army took down Ilkka’s body, held a proper funeral for the rebel leader and buried him honourably in the cemetery.
Along with Jaakko Ilkka, the five other rebellion leaders executed on about January 27, 1597 were Yrjö Kontsas and Abraham Pernu from Isokyrö, displayed on the Church Island, which was named thereafter Kontsaansaari, Pentti Piri from Alahärmä, Olli Ollinpoika Niemelä from Lohtaja and Mauno Viinikka (Vinick) from Kokkola. On January 29 Klaus Fleming’s wrote a letter in Lamminkoski, Parkano, telling Abraham Melkiorinpoika to send Ilkka, Fordell and other leaders to be interrogated by Fleming before the sentences are carried out. Six of them were already executed, but Hannu Fordell, Perttu Palo and Martti Tuomaala managed to escape.
Duke Kaarle named Israel Laurinpoika, a Swedish merchant, the new Governor of central and northern Ostrobothnia. Israel’s task was to raise an army to guard the southern border of Ostrobothnia. Abraham Melkiorinpoika sent a letter to the northern counties telling them what had happened to the southern rebellion. The letter was intercepted in Kokkola and misinterpreted on purpose to read that Abraham was planning to send 600 cavalry soldiers to collect more feudal taxes. That angered the peasants and they drowned the messengers. After that incident the peasants ambushed on January 30 Governor Abraham Melkiorinpoika and his guard of over 30 soldiers at Tarharanta, just south of Lohtaja. About 10 soldiers survived the ambush, and only the kind words of Pastor Suursill prevented their execution. Abraham was captured and sent to Stockholm, where he was tried and executed.
Israel Laurinpoika in the meantime recruited by force more men into the new rebellion group. The Swedish speaking coastal Finns were also recruited. He had additionally some regular infantry soldiers from the northern Ostrobothnian regiment and a few cannons brought from the small castle in Oulu. Each county had its own company with a local commander. Other higher officers commanded groups of companies. For example, Hannu Krankka from Liminka, a veteran leader from the Russian war, had men from Kemi, Ii and Liminka under his leadership. Another experienced commander was Perttu Palo, who had shown leadership qualities during the Nokia battle.
Thus about 3,000-4,000 men established a camp near Isokyrö church. A small vanguard waited in Ilmajoki. Between the counties the peasants built a large fortification to stop the cavalry from advancing. However, when Israel Laurinpoika heard that Klaus Fleming was approaching with 1,500 men, he fled all the way to Tornio on the pretence of recruiting more men.
Without a leader, the peasants made a decision to attack Fleming’s army instead of waiting behind their fortifications, where they could easily defend against the attacking cavalry. The plan was to attack in the middle of the night when the soldiers were sleeping. The peasants estimated the arrival time incorrectly and after marching 55 km arrived in the morning when the cavalry was already awake. Fleming attempted the Nokia tactic of safe passage for handing over leaders, but this time the peasants answered with a cannon fire killing five knights.
The battle on February 24, 1597 began in the open areas of the ice of the Kyröjoki River and the nearby Piirtolankangas hill where the cavalry was effective. The Swedish-speaking peasants had been planning to defect all along and they deserted as the battle started. The peasants attempted to move to a more favourable location at Santavuori, where their vanguard had built fortifications. Fleming sent a group of knights to cut off the escape route. Over a thousand peasants lay dead in the battlefield, and about 500 peasants were taken prisoners. According to Jacob Chydenius (1754), the captured peasants were tied by rope into bundles of 12 and dunked into a hole in the river ice, pulled up and dunked again repeatedly until they died. Later authors have not substantiated this story.
After the battle the cavalry robbed and blundered the region. Even the pastor of Ilmajoki, Mattias Stuut, was killed by hitting him with his own church keys. His wife was also assaulted causing a permanent physical disability. The parsonage of Isokyrö was robbed so thoroughly that the pastor, Simo Nurkka, had to make his living by begging for a long time. So complete was the pillaging that southern Ostrobothnians could hardly pay any taxes in the following year. Rains in the previous summer had ruined the crops. People suffered from starvation, and hunger was accompanied by a plague, which was advancing in Finland. In some counties the population declined by up to 40% over the next couple of years.
The leaders, among them Hannu Krankka and Perttu Palo, were captured and taken to prison in Turku. Klaus Fleming showed his hatred for the previous rebellion leaders by having their bodies exhumed and put on the wagon wheels again. Thus ended the three-month struggle against oppression.
Military Finnish %
Conflict Finnish Name Date Deaths Population Lost
Cudgel War Nuijasota 25.11.1596 – 24.2.1597 > 3,000 250,000 1.5
Finnish War Suomen Sota 21.2.1808 – 17.9.1809 20,000 * 1,000,000 2.0
Ind./Civil War Vapaus/Sisällissota 27.1.1918 – 16.5.1918 36,640 ** 3,132,800 1.2
Winter War Talvisota 30.11.1939 – 13.3.1940 23,157 3,700,000 0.6
Continuation War Jatkosota 25.6.1941 – 4.9.1944 53,736 1.45
Lapland War Lapin Sota 28.9.1944 – 28.4.1945 774 0.02
* Most deaths were due to diseases.
** 75% of the losses were due to executions and prison camp deaths after the war.
Nuijasota can be considered to be Finland’s first independence war. The people rose up on their own without leadership from other nations to fight for their freedom and against oppression.
The only group to benefit immediately from the Cudgel War was the professional soldiers, who collected their pay for their services.
When Duke Kaarle became the king, the rebels finally recovered the property that was seized illegally by the previous administration. Survivors of the rebellion such as merchants Hannu Fordell from Pietarsaari and Joachim Eichmann from Turku were rewarded well for their support the new King Kaarle IX.
The peasants suffered heavy losses in lives and property. Combined with the following poor crops, starvation and plague, some counties lost up to 40% of their population. Some of the factors in the outcome were the lack of war experience and group discipline. Their families continued to suffer from hunger and the associated plague, which caused further loss of life. The peasants also lost their earlier freedom, although the nobility never achieved a strong presence in Ostrobothnia.
King Sigismund, although losing only a few dozen soldiers, ended up losing his crown to Duke Kaarle, who became King Kaarle IX. He led the kingdom later to new wars and new taxes. A better economic situation and the old special trading privileges remained only a dream. Finnish nobility did not advance in their quest for power until much later in the 17th century. Klaus Fleming did his job to put down a rebellion, but he died shortly after it was over. According to folklore, witches planted a deathly disease in him. Abraham Melkiorinpoika also did not survive the aftermath of the war.
The Cudgel War was one of the largest peasant rebellions in Europe. It also ended uprisings in Finland, while Europe witnessed over a thousand rebellions around this time. Nuijasota forms a large part of Finnish, Swedish and Ostrobothnian history. A free peasant was an exception in any country’s history.
The legendary heroism of Jaakko Ilkka has played an important role in the history of Finland. It has strengthened the belief that even an average person can rise up against injustice and oppression. Ilkka was the first freedom fighter, thereby setting the example, although Finnish independence was not achieved until over three centuries later.
Prison escape - Jaakko Ilkka’s escape from the prison in the Turku castle has a couple of versions. One of the myths claims that he felt a draft in his cell and found a sewer duct down to the ground level. Upon examining the opening to the duct, it is so small that a man can not fit into it. The second story explains that the cavalry did not take Ilkka’s knife from him. He cleaned out the cement from between the stones, climbed to the top of the wall of his cell and came down on the other side of the wall with a rope made from his coat. Most likely he received aid from his second wife’s relatives who opposed the rule of Klaus Fleming.
Poor / Rich – Yrjö Koskinen in his 1881 Finnish history book also made Jaakko Ilkka a poor and embittered peasant. In reality he was one of the richest area farmers and traders.
Method of Execution – Kaarle Kramsu speaks in the Jaakko Ilkka poem about hanging. This has perpetrated the belief that Ilkka died by hanging. The execution method of the day was beheading, preceded by crushing of limb bones and cutting off the victim’s right arm. The body was then placed for viewing on three wagon wheels, head on one, the arm on another, and the body in the middle.
Location of Execution – At the time of the erection of the Jaakko Ilkka monument in Ilmajoki in 1924, the general understanding was that Ilkka was put to death in Ilmajoki. The history of Finns written by Yrjö Koskinen in 1881 made the statement that Ilkka and the five other leaders were executed in Ilmajoki. Two other authors propagated this opinion further. The History of Southern Ostrobothnia by Armas Luukko named Isokyrö as the location for the first time, and Heikki Ylikangas agreed with that opinion in the Nuijasota (Cudgel War) book published in 1977. Later Jaakko Sarvela agreed with this chain of events in his Jaakko Ilkka family history publication.
Puumerkki – owner’s (wood)mark or seal has been a subject of much discussion. Initially the Yrjö Kontsas foot bow shaped mark was thought by Yrjö Koskinen to be Ilkka’s mark, but thorough research has shown that two marks seen on the expedition release letter were mixed up. Jaakko Ilkka’s sign was on the left, and the Kontsas mark was on the right. The mark was engraved on all hard objects to signify ownership, therefore the design had to be fairly simple line drawing. Later it symbolized the owner’s signature or logo. The shapes had no particular meaning. They were assembled from traditional magic symbols. The same basic symbols were used in a family. Subsequent generations added new features to the mark. The Kontsas mark is still present in the Cudgel War statue in Isokyrö and in the Ilmajoki county coat of arms.
Celebrity status - Jaakko Ilkka named the 75th most famous Finn of all times in a survey of the top 100.
Construction supervisor Juho Kukkula first suggested building a Jaakko Ilkka monument in Ilmajoki in 1919. Finns wanted to show their pride in their heroes right after achieving independence. A committee was set up and fundraising began within Ostrobothnia. Various events were held, including a lottery with a car as the main prize. Individuals and companies made donations. Koskenkorva donated sand and river rock. They were transported by carts pulled by horses and by train. Five years later the monument was unveiled on July 5-6, 1924. It was a magnificent event with a military band, parade, speeches, choirs, opera solos, poetry reading, automobile raffle, dances, movies, laying of wreaths, 10-gun salute and a church service. Those arriving by train received a 25% discount. All means of transport of the times were used, and extra trains were chartered. Even the field where the monument was erected was named the Ilkka field.
The next Cudgel War monument to be erected was the Kapalanmäki sarcophage, which was completed in the following year. The dedication was again a two-day festival on 4-5.7.1925. The 25 tonne rock was hauled 11 km on a sled in February when there was snow to help the sled slide better. Over 200 men pulled on the long rope to move the rock. It was sculpted on location to its present shape.
Monuments were erected later at Jaakko Ilkka’s home in 1971, five kilometres from the Ilmajoki church and near Isokyrö church. The last one bears the mark of Yrjö Kontsas rather than Jaakko Ilkka’s.
Opera - The Jaakko Ilkka opera premiered on June 9, 1978 on the Ilkka field in Ilmajoki. The music is composed by Jorma Panula, libretto by Aarni Krohn and directed initially by Edvin Laine. The Ilmajoki farmers conceived the idea after watching another opera called “Pohjalaisia – The Ostrobothnians”. The Jaakko Ilkka cast consisted of 400 singers and actors, 40 horses and 1,500 support personnel. Over the four initial years approximately 80,000 spectators saw the opera.
In 1993 the preparations for the 400-year anniversary celebrations began. The Ilmajoki Music Festival decided to take the Jaakko Ilkka opera as its main project. Composer Panula, librettist Krohn and the new director Jussi Tapola reworked the opera, condensing and revising it.
Newspaper – Santeri Alkio chose Ilkka as the name for his newspaper on March 26, 1906. Alkio was the paper’s founder and first editor. He had been warned not to fan the flames of peasants’ self-esteem in order not to wake up the sleeping bear. However, this was Alkio’s intent. He used the Ilkka legend to build opposition to modern day social inequalities and illegalities by officials and the monetary powers. The Ilkka newspaper continued the struggle for justice the way Jaakko Ilkka started it.
Plays Jaakko Ilkka ja Klaus Fleming – Kasimir Leino, 1901. A 5-act historical drama.
Jaakko Ilkka Nokialla – Jalmari Finne, 1945. A full evening drama with 3 women and 5 men.
Ilkka - Kaarle Kramsu. 13 verses. Finland’s most famous historical ballad. V.A. Koskenniemi
Nuijamiesten ja Ilkan sukua - Hannes Huhtanen (Many other poems exist in folklore.)
Cudgel War IX – 9th week long boot camp held in Inkoo in 2011.
The Cudgel War demonstrated a few principles and lessons that still apply. They are:
- The legislators and law enforcement must remain separate
- Laws can’t become instruments of support to those in power (note the Arab spring of 2011)
- The rights, freedoms and obligations of citizens are balanced
- Laws must treat all citizens equally to prevent arbitrary abuse of the weak by the those in power
- Tax exempt portion of the society is being formed by taxing income more than capital gains
- Large economic crimes tend to receive light sentences
- A lot of effort is expended to prosecute small crimes hard while the society is soft on white collar crime (note the jailing of large numbers of petty criminals vs. white collar criminals)
- Greed by bankers and their sub-prime loans caused an economic melt down, the results of which are paid for by the ordinary tax-payers (Ilkka’s day peasants)
- Social networks are eroding so that the weakest members of the society, the poor, sick, injured and the elderly receive less support because of the greed by the rich.
Jaakko Sarvela wrote the Jaakko Ilkka Family History. He had worked years in tracking the Ilkka descendants. The Ilmajoki Association funded the printing of the first edition in 1979. The second revised edition was printed in 1987, but it has also been sold out. Seven generations of descendants were listed in this edition.
In 2010 Jaakko Ilkka Suku r.y. decided to publish a new family history, which tracks his descendants for 10 generations. Members of the youngest generation to be listed were born between 1850 and 1900.
The Jaakko Ilkka Association was founded at the Ilmajoki Credit Union in 1979, exactly a year after the premiere of the Jaakko Ilkka opera. The Ilmajoki Association gave the initial spark to form the family association of Jaakko Ilkka descendants. Initial reunions were held in 1981, 1985 and 1991, when the name was shortened to “Jaakko Ilkan Suku r.y.” In 2009 the new constitution stated the association’s purpose is “to research the life and history of the Cudgel War leader Jaakko Ilkka (d. 1597) and his descendants, maintain the family’s heritage, enhance the feeling of unity and exchanges between family members, and honour the memory of past generations.”
The Jaakko Ilkan Suku r.y. has an executive, which operates the association. It conducts meetings and reunions regularly, as well as organizing tours to locations important to its purpose. The association facilitates research into the Jaakko Ilkka genealogy, the history of his life and death, and studies his descendants. Information is disseminated through the publication of Sukusanomat and articles on the web and in various publications. Association members represent it at genealogical exhibitions. Sukusanomat and Jaakko Ilkka pins are sold at these events. The association keeps also archives of materials related to Jaakko Ilkka.
Y-DNA studies thus far show that three male descendants of Matti Jaakonpoika Ilkka belong to the haplogroup N1b. Three more similar samples have been found in men related to Finns, but church records have not confirmed their ancestry. Further analysis of an N1b sample, funded by the association, is presently underway to find out more about the roots of the Finnish N1b group. Jaakko Ilkka’s origin will become clearer, if Matti Jaakonpoika was in fact Jaakko Ilkka’s son. More 67-marker analyses of N1b samples will shed further light on the origin of this group, which appears to have arrived “late” to Finland.
A single sample of the Lapua Ilkka family puts the branch in a different haplogroup. However, a second sample is needed to confirm the conclusion.
Jaakko Ilkan Suku ry Sukusanomat 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011
Chydenius, Jakob, Om Gamle Carleby, avhandling i två delar, 1754
Jaakoon jäljillä, Jaakko Ilkan Suku ry:n jäsentiedote 2007
Krohn, J. Kertomuksia Suomen Historiasta, Kansallisseura, Helsinki 1914
Orrman, Eljas, Nuijasota – kansannousu neljän vuosisadan takaa
Remes, Mika, Jaakko Ilkka – Suomen kyseenalaisin julkkis. Tiede-lehti 6/2010
Wiik, Kalevi, Maps of Y-Haplogroup N. July 2011
Yli-Hakola, Aila, The Descendants of Jaakko Ilkka – A Family History, 2000
Yli-Hakola, Aila, Ilkka, Jaakko Pentinpoika, Henkilöteksti, 2011
Ylikangas, Heikki, Nuijasota, Otavan Kirjapaino, 1977
Ilkka, Jaakko (k.1597) – nuijamiesten päällikkö
Jaakko Ilkan ensimmäinen kapina
Elämä ennen kapinaa
Jaakko Pentinpoika Ilkka
Nuijasota 1596 – 1597
Jaakko Ilkka (Wikipedia)
Jaakko Ilkka Timeline
≈ 1545 Born as Jacob Ilkka (Ilcka) at the Peltoniemi farm in Ilmajoki
≈ 1565 Marries a local girl, name unknown. Born in 1545 and died in 1988
1565 His first son Pentti Jaakonpoika is born, but dies in 1570 (To be confirmed)
1567 His second son Mikki (Mikko) Ilkka is born and he lives until 1642
1585 Jaakko Ilkka becomes the master of the Ilkkala farm
1586 Delivers taxes (goods) by ship on behalf of the Governor to Tallinn, Estonia
1586 – 1588 Sheriff of Ilmajoki – followed the appointment of his uncle Matti Pentinpoika Peltoniemi
1589 – 1590 Marries the daughter of Joachim Eichmann from Lybeck, Germany, born ≈1570 in Turku
1590 Jaakko Ilkka focuses on trade and develops connections with other Ostrobothnian traders
17.12.1590 Crown commutes death sentences to 3 peasant leaders in Kyrö for their part in a rebellion
1591 Klaus Fleming is named Judge of Ostrobothnia and Commander of the Finnish Army
1591 Trade goes sour – the price of exports (herring, salmon, butter and furs) does not keep up with the cost of imports (goods, cloths, spices, wine, grain and salt)
1591 – 1592 Jaakko Ilkka outfits two cavalry horses, riding one himself and hires the other soldier. Ilkka participates in three expeditions under Klaus Fleming, one as far as Novgorod.
1592 Third son Matti is born. Others - Josef (1593-1668) and Johan? (1595-1633)
1592 Ilkka purchases the farm of Matti Erkinpoika Savolainen, adds it to the Ilkkala farm
Jaakko ceases to fight in the cavalry and to collect the feudal tax, which he is entitled to
1592 Klaus Fleming sets and enforces a trade embargo across the Gulf of Bothnia
Traders oppose the embargo – Pentti Pouttu, Hannu Fordell, Olli Ollinpoika Niemelä and the Reverend Matti Laurinpoika Stuut, who worked as a trader as well as a Pastor.
1593 An opposition group to Lord Klaus Fleming forms around Henrik Horn
Ilkkala farm enjoys tax-free status because of cavalry service in the army
Pentti Pouttu organizes a small rebellion against feudal taxes and is imprisoned in Oulu
1594 Ilkka applies for tax exemption for the run down farm that he purchased 2 years earlier
18.5.1595 Täyssinä peace treaty agreed between Sweden and Russia to “last for ever”
1595 Klaus Fleming orders cavalry to Ostrobothnia to continue the collection of feudal taxes
September Jaakko Ilkka meets the richest Ostrobothnian trader, Hannu Fordell, at the Diet
December Ilkka leads the Swedish-speaking peasants in recovering back all illegal feudal taxes collected by the cavalry. The cavalry is thrown out of Ostrobothnia
End of 1595 Rautalampi men also rise up in a local rebellion against the Crown
January 1596 Jaakko Ilkka is captured and sent into prison in Turku
Spring 1596 Hannu Fordell visits Stockholm again, representing all Ostrobothnian counties, pleading for help against the oppression by Klaus Fleming. People starve due to taxes and famine
Fall 1596 Jaakko Ilkka escapes from Turku with the help of a few opposition members
Nov 25, 1596 Duke Kaarle sends a message with a delegation to “fight for your rights” and a shipment of distilled spirits which is consumed for the first time in Finland.
Katariina Day Jaakko Ilkka is appointed leader of the rebellion. Most traders join him and the peasants.
Dec. 15 – 17 Peasant forces start marching south in three groups, robbing and burning Crown property
Dec. 31 Klaus Fleming offers safe passage home to the peasants if they hand their leaders over. After hearing about this betrayal, Ilkka and his lieutenants flee Nokia on horseback.
Jan 27, 1597 Jaakko Ilkka and 5 other leaders are captured, tried, executed on Kontsa Island near Isokyrö church on the orders by Abraham Melkiorinpoika. (Date not certain)
Feb. 24 Northern and central Ostrobothnian peasants defeated at the Santavuori battle in Kurikka. Swedish speaking peasants defected to Fleming’s army. Rebellion leaders sent to Turku prison. The three month long rebellion ends with over 3,000 peasants dead, followed by further looting, famine, starvation and a plague.