Governorates of the Grand Principality of Finland

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The governorates of the Grand Principality of Finland were the administrative division of the Grand Principality of Finland as part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917.

The administrative division of Finland followed the Russian imperial model with governorates (Russian: губе́рния, Swedish: län, Finnish: lääni) headed by governors. However few changes were made and as the language of the administrators was still Swedish the old terminology from during the Swedish time continued in local use. The Vyborg Governorate was not initially part of the Grand Principality, but in 1812 it was transferred from Russia proper to Finland.


After 1831 there were eight provinces in the Grand Principality.


File:Provinces of Grand Duchy of Finland.svg
The governorates of Finland, around 1900.

The Vyborg Governorate was established in territories ceded by the Swedish Empire in the Great Northern War. By the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, Sweden formally ceded control of the parts of the Viborg and Nyslott County and the Kexholm County located on the Karelian Isthmus to Russia. The governorate was extended in 1743 when Sweden ceded control of the rest of Viborg and Nyslott, now called the Kymmenegård and Nyslott County, by the Treaty of Åbo. In the Swedish kingdom the ceded territories was also known as Old Finland (Swedish: Gamla Finland, Finnish: Vanha Suomi), and between 1802 and 1812 it was named the "Finland Governorate".

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Kingdom of Sweden had allied itself with the Russian Empire, United Kingdom and the other parties against Napoleonic France. However, following the treaty of Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, Russia made peace with France. In 1808, and supported by France, Russia successfully challenged the Swedish control over Finland in the Finnish War. In the Treaty of Fredrikshamn on September 17, 1809 Sweden was obliged to cede all its territory in Finland, east of the Torne River, to Russia. The ceded territories became a part of the Russian Empire and was reconstituted into the Grand Principality of Finland, with the Russian Tsar as Grand Duke.

In 1812 the Vyborg Governorate was transferred from Russia proper to the Grand Principality. The transfer, announced Tsar Alexander I just before Christmas, on December 23, 1811 O.S. (January 4, 1812 N.S.), can be seen as a symbolic gesture and an attempt to appease the sentiment of the Finnish population, which had just experienced Russian conquest of their country by force in the Finnish War.

In 1831 the Nyland-Tavastehus Governorate (Russian: Нюланд-Тавастгусская губерния, Swedish: Nylands och Tavastehus län, Finnish: Uudenmaan ja Hämeen lääni) was divided into the Nyland Governorate and the Tavastehus Governorate.

On the death of Tsar Nicholas I in 1855, a small group of citizens in the city of Vaasa tendered a petition to change the name of the city after him. The name of the city came from the Royal House of Vasa and despite that only 15 citizens were backing the proposal the name of the city was changed to Nikolaistad (Russian: Николайстада, Finnish: Nikolainkaupunki). This also meant that the Vasa Governorate (Russian: Вазаская губерния, Swedish: Vasa län, Finnish: Vaasan lääni) was called the Nikolaistad Governorate, after 1855. In 1862 a large group of citizens in the city unsuccessfully petitioned to have the old name restored. The new name remained official until 1917, but colloquially the old name continued in use.

After being a part of Sweden for seven centuries, the first half century of Finland as a Russian Grand Grand Principality meant a period of consolidation into the Russian Empire, where the authorities managed to convince the imperial court of the loyalty of the Finnish population and the officials to Russia. This resulted in the re-establishment of the Diet of Finland and an increased autonomy, an example of which was the elevation of Finnish from a language for the common people to a national language equal to Swedish.

The period of liberalisation came to an end in 1899 when a campaign of attempted russification was initiated, and attempt that ultimately would prove unsuccessful and detrimental for Finland's relationship with Russia. The policy of russification, coupled with Russian defeat in World War I and the Tsar no longer in power paved the way for Finland's declaration of independence on December 6, 1917. The former Swedish counties, that for a century had been ruled as governorates of a Russian Grand Principality would now become provinces (Finnish: lääni, Swedish: län) of an independent Republic of Finland.

See also