The Civil War Connections Blog

The Swedes and their ironclads…

And here’s a blast from the past – an essay from our old blog written by our good friend Josh Graml and originally posted in July 2006.

16th century Swedish cleric Olaus Magnus published a very fine series of books in 1555 called “A Description of the Northern Peoples.” It’s an ethnographic study of Scandinavia done in a delightfully olde timey style of writing. In Book Ten, Chapter Six, he goes into the development of “ironclad ships.”

Oh, those Swedes and their dreams of ironclad this and ironclad that!

According to Fr. Magnus, stout iron blades could be mounted on the hull of a ship, allowing them to break any iron chains strung across an enemy harbor for defensive purposes. He claims that the strong winds of the Northern climes is perfect for propelling a ship fast enough to snap puny iron chains like matchsticks. As proof, he offers up the example of how a properly-fitted ironclad ship broke the siege of Lubeck in 1238.


Olaus Magnus’ work comes complete with all sorts of great period illustrations, and would make interesting reading even if you are not (GASP!) completely enthralled with the history of ironclad navy vessels. The Hakluyt Society published a great three volume repro back in 1996. (DL45 .O43)