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Sprengtporten, a multifaceted character in the turmoils of Europe's and Finland's history


Wonder what Georg Magnus Sprengtporten – the founder of Ristiina Cadet School in Mikkeli and the first Governor-General of autonomous Finland – and Napoleon discussed in their meetings in Paris at the end of the 18th century? Or what did Sprengtporten talk about with his friend Casanova, the well-known Italian adventurer, writer and somewhat a controversial celebrity in the European high society? It would be equally intreaguing to know what kind of advice he gave to Gustav III, the King of Sweden, and the Russian monarchs Catherine the Great, Paul I and Alexander I in their endeavors to rule Finland?   

Sprengtporten moved in the social circles of Europe and his story is closely intertwined with the upheavals of European history in the 18th and 19th century. He divided opinions, wanted to influence and succeeded in it, both in European courts and South Savo. Advocate of Finland's independence or traitor? It depends on from which point of view you look at it. 

Soldier and officer

Georg Magnus Sprengtporten was born in Porvoo in 1740, in the Kingdom of Sweden at the time. A son of a military family, he pursued a military career in his brothers' footsteps. Under Gustav III of Sweden, he was assigned to defend Finland against Russia.   

Niin Rinportti sanoo ja niin pitää tehä!

Sprengtporten was a colonel and brigadier of the Savolax brigade in South Savo in 1775–1779. He was a respected and well-liked person in Ristiina, Mikkeli, and developed officer training and terrain mapping. Sprengtporten enjoyed the trust of the Savonian peasant soldiers, which is reflected in the saying "We do as Rinportti says" (the Sprengtporten name was difficult to pronounce for the Savonians, so they called him "Rinportti").  

He founded Finland's first military school in Ristiina, Mikkeli, where he trained Finnish peasants in military skills. He reformed land warfare to better suit the terrains of South Savo and did pioneering work on terrain mapping. Sprengtporten was to feel the military skills of the trained soldiers also in his own skin a decade later. 

A map of Ristiina drawn in the eighteenth century.
Sprengtporten and his officers did groundbreaking work in making accurate maps of  the terrains of South Savo. This map drawing of Ristiina is from the 18th century. 

Supporter of Finland's independence endeavours

Sprengtporten traveled to Europe in 1779 after having a fallout with King Gustav III of Sweden and resigning as an officer. He spent time in Paris, where he met, for example, Benjamin Franklin, a well-known scientist and politician, who drove the independence of the United States from the colonial power of England. Sprengtporten himself tried to join the French forces in America's fight for independence, but when the plans failed, he returned to Finland, to Seesta Manor in Nastola. It was there he outlined the form of government of an independent Finland and the idea of ​​separating Finland from Sweden with the help of Russia.

The republican ideas and aspirations for independence in Europe and America made an impression on Sprengtporten, who shared his thoughts on the independence of Finland with the Russian empress Catherine the Great in 1786. The ideas served Catherine the Great's aspirations, and she invited Sprengtporten to serve Russia.

In 1788, Gustav III launched a war known as Gustav's war against Russia to restore Sweden's status as a great power. Sprengtporten fought in the Russian troops against his former homeland, Sweden. Gustav's war did not gain support among the Swedish or Finnish officers and soldiers. Many officers resigned from their positions and the spirit of Finland's independence began to rise among them. However, the incipient plans were suppressed and the officers, who supported them, were convicted.

Omat koirat purivat

Gustav's war continued in the spring of 1789 at Porrassalmi, Mikkeli, where Spgrengtporten fought with the Russian troops against the Swedes, and the Savonian soldiers he had trained in the Cadet School of Ristiina a few years earlier. He was wounded in the fire of the Savonian solders on the 13th of June 1789 and was treated in his old office building in Brahelinna, Ristiina. Strictly spreaking, the bullet that hit him was a button from a Savonian soldier's uniform; as the soldiers ran out of real bullets, they used metal buttons instead. Sprengtporten's quote, and saying in the Finnish language, "Omat koirat purivat" meaning "I got bitten by my own dogs", stems from this episode.

Old wooden building with a porch and a stone wall in front of the house.
The Cadet School building in Ristiina. Here Sprengtporten trained Finnish soldiers and officers. The photo was taken in 1906. 

Influencer in the turning points of European and Finnish history

The French Revolution in 1789 frightened the monarchies of Europe and they wanted to suppress French republicanism. However, unrest spread: King Gustav III of Sweden was shot in 1792, and the king and queen of  France lost their lives in the guillotine in 1793. 

Russia went to war with England and Austria against France in the last years of the 18th century. Paul I of Russia had appointed Sprengporten as Governor-General of Malta and sent him to Paris to negotiate with Napoleon for the release of Russian prisoners of war in 1800. The negotiations with Napoleon bore fruit, perhaps thanks to the parties held in Paris and the dinners they enjoyed together.

The negotiations with Napoleon can be considered Sprengtporten's most impressive personal achievement as a diplomat. 

Russia and England fought against Napoleon until 1807, when Alexander I of Russia concluded an alliance with Napoleon. Sprengporten had already recommended such an agreement to Alexander I earlier. Napoleon pressured Russia to attack Sweden in 1808 to make Sweden join the trade embargo against England. Russia conquered Finland and thus the eastern parts of Sweden formed the Grand Duchy of Finland, which got the autonomy Sprengporten had dreamt of.

Sprengtporten's plans for Finland's independence became relevant again. Sprengtporten convinced Alexander I to convene the parliament and that the self-government of Finland would be a good decision. Finland achieved self-government at the Diet of Porvoo in 1809, and Alexander I appointed Sprengtporten as the first Governor-General of autonomous Finland.

Cosmopolitan and world traveler

Sprengtporten traveled in Europe, the Caucasus and Mongolia. He spoke several languages, including Finnish, and wrote French. He served in the Swedish, Dutch and Russian armies and was married to a Finn, a Dutch and a Russian. 

Sprengtporten treated his wounds he had got in the battle of Porrassalmi in European spas in the 1790s. In Teplice, nowadays part of the Czech Republic, he became close friends with Giacomo Casanova, a Venetian writer and adventurer, who also enjoyed the baths of Teplice in the later part of his life.

Casanova valued his friendship with Sprengtporten, although he sometimes characterized his friend also in critical terms in his texts. However, Casanova stated that Sprengtporten could not get him on a bad mood, no matter how hard he tried.

Final years

Sprengtporten spent his retirement days on Vasilyevsky Island in St. Petersburg and in Hietala in Vyborg in the summer. Even in his last years, Sprengtporten made plans for the establishment of the Finnish national army. Georg Magnus Sprengtporten died on Vasilyevsky Island in St. Petersburg on the 13th of October 1819.

Sprengtporten brought the secrets of French cuisine to South Savo

Cousins ​​Gustav III and Catherine the Great were both friends of French cuisine and culture, and in their era, the recipes of French chefs gradually spread also to the courts, noble estates and kitchens of the bourgeoisie of other countries.

Sprengtporten and his officers brought the influence from French cuisine, food trends and etiquette also to Brahelinna in Ristiina. During his time in Ristiina, for example, assemblé events, which included small servings and dancing, where organised in Ristiina and the neighbouring parishes. Elsewhere in Savo, such events became more common decades later. 

As in South Savo today, pure seasonal ingredients and flavours were valued in the 18th and 19th century. Local herbs, such as chervil, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, sage and thyme were popular spices. Pure flavours were given the status they deserved, as in the following 18th century recipe which also includes "Doctor's word" on health benefits of the food.

Onions simmered in broth

10 onions
5 dl broth
½ tsp. dried thyme

Peel the onions and simmer them slowly in the meat broth seasoned with thyme until the onions have softened. Enjoy, for example, with a baguette or as a side dish with meat dishes.

Doctor's word: Onion is a healthy garnish, helps bowel function, is somewhat nutritious, and increases appetite as well as sweating. Sensitive people should not eat onions, only onion juice is suitable for them.

A cover of a cookbook with french text.
French cookbook from the 18th century 

Following Sprengtporten's footsteps in Ristiina

Read more about the history of Brahelinna in Ristiina. The old Cadet School is near Brahelinna.  

Make a cycle tour to the destinations in Ristiina, where Sprengporten lived in the late 18th century. See the route


  • Kopoteva, Inna & Hyyryläinen, Torsti & Uusitalo, Eeva & Riukulehto, Sulevi: Historiallista kulttuurimatkailua kestävästi (research report draft in Finnish).
  • Mäkelä, Matti. Sprengtporten Georg Magnus 1740–1819 – Sotilas, poliitikko, kosmopoliitti. Workshop presentation 7.9.2021 in Finnish. Löytö Manor, Ristiina.
  • Mäkelä, Matti, Mäntylä Jaakko. Kestävä kansainvälinen historiamatkailu, Kustaa III – Sprengtporten – Katariina II. Webinar presentation for the history students of University of Jyväskylä 13.1.2022 in Finnish. 
  • Royer-Rantala, T. & Järsta, L. (toim.). 2005. Ludvig XV:n keittiömestari. Keittotaidon kannettava käsikirja. Otava Publishing Company, Helsinki. Original: Dictionnaire Portaif de Cuisinne, d’Office et de Distillation. 1767.
  • Saarenheimo, Eero 2006: Casanova ja Sprengtporten (in Finnish). Tammi. Helsinki.
  • Sprengtporten - virtuaalimuseo (sprengtportenmuseo.fi) (in Finnish)
  • Särkkä, Marjo: Savolax societé. Workshop presentation 7.9.2021 in  Finnish. Löytö Manor, Ristiina. 
    Särkkä, Marjo: Kaskiviljelystä Kalevalaan. Workshop presentation 9.11.2021 in Finnish. Ollinmäki Wine Farm, Anttola. 
    Särkkä Marjo. Serkusten herkut. Workshop presentation 23.2.2022 in Finnish. Muisti Centre of War and Peace/Café Rauha, Mikkeli.