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The Descendants of Jaakko Ilkka – A Family History

Jaakko Ilkka – Leader of the Peasant Rebellion

At the end of the 1500’s a peasant rebellion erupted in Finland, as in many other European countries. According to Jaakko Ilkka, one of the numerous battles of the so-called Cudgel War has been given the name ”Ilkkas’ War”. The nobility, as well as knights and state officials aspiring towards nobility, attempted to persuade peasants into servitude. Previously, a war against Russia lasted 25 years (1570-1595). During that time soldiers were permitted to collect feudal taxes from peasants. This tax was a real goldmine for its collectors.

Finland, as part of the Kingdom of Sweden, was ruled by Sigismund, son of Juhana III, and grandson of Kustaa Vaasa. The King, however, resided in Poland, where he also reigned. The King’s representative in Finland was Lord Klaus Fleming, who ruthlessly used his power to his own benefit. In Sweden power rested with Sigismund’s uncle, Duke Kaarle, who attempted to spread his influence into Finland. Kaarle knew how to appeal to the general public, who were caught in the middle of the resulting struggle for power between Kustaa Vaasa’s descendants to the thrown.

Even though the 25-year war with Russia was already over, Fleming did not disband his militias, so the taxation continued. The ultimate cause of the rebellion which followed was the resulting poverty of the peasantry.

The Finnish word for the Cudgel War is Nuijasota. It is named after the clubs that peasants used as weapons. These spiked clubs were very effective against soldiers’ armor. Jaakko Ilkka was chosen as a commander when peasants and soldiers fought during the last days of 1596 in the village of Nokia (Nokia is the town from which the now famous mobile telephone got its name). The enemy, Klaus Fleming, managed to break up the peasants’ camp with empty promises. Jaakko Ilkka was then forced into hiding. An intense manhunt ensued and captured peasants were slaughtered. The rebel commanders were also executed. A letter from Fleming, dated January 29th, 1597 didn’t save Jaakko Ilkkas life – he had already been brutally executed. ”Ilkkas War” and the whole Cudgel War ended up in complete defeat for the peasants. However, when Duke Kaarle became the king of Sweden and Finland, the rebels got back the property which had been illegally taken from them. Due to the Cudgel War the people in Southern Ostrobothnia harboured a deep hatred towards the nobility. And Jaakko Ilkka became a symbol of courage and justice.

Who was Jaakko Ilkka?

According to a satirical poem Jaakko Ilkka had his hair cut short and his clothes were made of broad cloth, which was the fabric that the upper class wore. Ilkka had enough of the much-hated upper class blood to not have been considered a real peasant; he was one of the merchants. Also, his father, Pentti Jaakonpoika Ilkka, had practised trading, and rose to become a jury member. The house of Jaakko Pentinpoika Ilkka was one of the wealthiest in Ilmajoki. He also served as a sheriff for a few years following his uncle, Matti Pentinpoika Peltoniemi, and as a shipmaster Jaakko managed the Crown’s shipping business to Tallinn and Stockholm. As an ambitious man Jaakko Ilkka knew how to take advantage of the different possibilities during those hectic times. Therefore, it may be assumed he had command of Swedish.

In 1592 Jaakko Ilkka didn’t participate in war activities anymore, and he gave up the feudal tax collection. Instead he focused on cattle breeding and incorporated a nearby, neglected farm into his land. In doing so he obtained some land for his cattle that were shipped live to Stockholm and other cities. This meant the meat was surely fresh. However, when Fleming had a falling-out with Duke Karl, Fleming initiated a trade embargo. The embargo mostly affected merchant shipping. As a result, traditional peasant leaders, or merchants, combined forces with poorer peasants and began to rebel.

Klaus Fleming had ordered his cavalry to Ostrobothnia to collect taxes, even though peace with Russia had already been made. In the autumn of 1595, Ilkka, leading the peasants of the Swedish coast, took the illegal grain tax away from the soldiers. After that there were no more collectors in the province, but Jaakko Ilkka was arrested and taken to the Turku castle in January, 1596. In the autumn of 1596 he escaped. He must have had relatives among the bourgeoisie allied to Duke Kaarle in Turku. He would not have been able to escape without their help at a time when there was new unrest in Southern Ostrobothnia. On November the 25th, Ilkka received a message from Duke Kaarle saying that they should fight their way to peace. Jaakko Ilkka was chosen to be the leader of the people, just as ancient Finns chose their leader, or ”king”, when they were going to war. Ilkka was chosen because he had experience in fighting following three different campaigns in Russia. Thus he took a stand against his former brothers in arms. However, ” Ilkka´s War” ended when the cudgel men suffered a total defeat.

Only after the unsuccessful campaign at Nokia did men from Central and Northern Ostrobothnia take up arms and join the Cudgel War. The tragic and famous battle of Santavuori took place on the 24th of February, 1597. It was, however, not to be seen by Jaakko Ilkka.

Descendants of Jaakko Ilkka

From their names, it is known that Jaakko Ilkka had three sons. From Jaakko’s first marriage, his son Mikko became the master of Ilkkala after his father was executed. Mikko Ilkka served as a knight on behalf of his house. He even served as a bodyguard of King Kaarle IX during his campaign against Russia in 1614. Mikko´s son Juha was also a knight on behalf of his house. In 1624 Mikko Ilkka was elected as a Member of Parliament. It is also said that he was the bailiff for the bishop. Mikko Ilkka´s second wife, Petronella, daughter of Jooseppi, was from Kuuttila´s Seppälä in Vähäkyrö. She was very likely skilled in Swedish because as a widow in 1643 she visited Stockholm to appeal against the loss of tax exemptions for horse farmers.

Mikko’s son Juha was a famous and respected church builder in the 17th Century. In 1646 he bulit Pirkkala’s parish church in Nokia, the same town where ”Ilkka’s War” was faught a half decade earlier.

Why is it necessary to make a new family history of the Ilkkas?

Jaakko Sarvela has traced Jaakko Ilkka’s descendents. The first edition of his book Ilkan suku (Ilkka’s Family) was published in 1979 and a second revised edition was done in 1987. Both editions have sold out. It is necessary to continue the family history to include the two or three generations more which exist today. It would also make it easier to find one’s own Ilkka ancestors. There is a lot to be researched and clarified in Jaakko Ilkka’s background. Within his closest family circle it is yet to be confirmed where his father came from. It is unkown who Jaakko’s wives were, there are only speculations about his mother’s identity, the name of the son who died in Munsala in 1633 is a mystery, and the name of Mikko’s first wife is also unkown. Finding anwers will not be an easy task, but even the smallest pieces of information will help determine a more accurate ancestry.

One of our generation’s honorable tasks is to make sure that there will never again be an insurmountable gap between the rich and the poor. Likewise, the memory of our famous ancestor, Jaakko Ilkka, will live within us and be passed along to generations to come.

Written by Aila Yli-Hakola
On the night of Sylvester, 404 years later.

More information can be found in Heikki Ylikangas’ book, Nuijasota, 3rd revised edition, 1996. ISBN 951-1-14253-4