Broadly speaking, the Finnish history can be divided into three eras: the Swedish reign prior to 1809, the Russian rule from 1809 to 1917, and the independence period from 1917 to the present day.
As a consequence of the Swedish domination, the Swedish legal and social systems took root in Finland. Feudalism was not part of this system and the Finnish peasants were never serfs. They retained their personal freedom, but had very little political power.
Society and politics were dominated by a largely Swedish-speaking nobility. Finland was represented, however, in the Swedish Diet of the Four Estates (Riksdag) - clergy, nobility, burghers, and farmers - that had advisory powers in relation to the king. The Finns also had some responsibility for matters of local justice and administration.
The Reformation started by Luther in the early 16th century also reached Sweden and Finland, and the Catholic Church consequently lost out to the Lutheran faith. The Reformation advanced greatly the written Finnish language. The New Testament was translated into Finnish in 1548 and the entire Bible appeared in Finnish in 1642.
The Reformation brought two educational benefits to Finland. Its emphasis on religious instruction in the vernacular languages supported an increase in literacy, especially after the Ecclesiastical Law of 1686 had charged the church with teaching the catechism to each church member. Another benefit of the Reformation was the founding of Abo Academy in 1640 to provide theological training for Finnish clergymen. Abo Academy was the precursor of the University of Helsinki, which later became the center of higher education in Finland and the focus of Finland's cultural life.
The centuries old union between Sweden and Finland came to an end during the Napoleonic wars.
When Finland was joined to Russia in 1809 it became an autonomous Grand Duchy. The Grand Duke was the Russian Emperor, whose representative in Finland was the Governor General. The administration of Finland was handled directly by the Emperor and the Russian authorities were therefore unable to interfere.
The enlightened Russian Emperor Alexander I gave Finland extensive autonomy thereby creating the Finnish state.
In 1812, Helsinki was made the capital of Finland, and the university, which had been founded in Turku in 1640, was moved to Helsinki in 1828.
The Language Decree issued in 1863 by Alexander II marked the beginning of the process through which Finnish became an official administrative language. The Conscription Act of 1878 gave Finland an army of its own.
The Parliament Act in 1906 established the unicameral parliament of Finland and both women and men were given the right to vote and stand for election. Thus Finnish women became the first in the world to have unrestricted rights both to vote and to stand for parliament. In elections the next year, 19 female MPs, first ones in the world, were elected and women have continued to play a central role in the nation's politics ever since.
In December 1917 Finland became independent. However, a civil war broke out in January 1918. After the short, bitter war, approximately 25,000 children needed care, the majority being the children of the socialists.
The independent republic developed briskly during the 1920s. Finnish social policy had as its goal a lessening of class friction. The new Act of Poor Relief was passed in 1922. Those who were not able to support themselves or to get maintenance from the family got help from the municipality.
It was only after World War II that Finnish social policy acquired the comprehensive characteristic of the Nordic welfare system. A system which covered the entire population, and was not limited to those groups unable to care for themselves.
The so called Winter War started in November 1939 after Finland had refused to allow the Soviet Union to build military bases on its territory. It ended in a peace treaty drawn up in Moscow in March 1940, giving southeastern Finland to the Soviet Union.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Finland entered the war as a cobelligerent with Germany. The "Continuation War" ended in armistice in September 1944. The terms of the armistice were confirmed in the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.
The war reparations Finland had to pay to the Soviet Union included among other things engineering products. At the time Finnish industry mainly focused on wood processing. Consequently, capital, labour, and technical know-how had to be diverted to the metal industry. This speeded up a beneficial structural change in industry.Finland was rapidly industrialized, achieving GDP per capita levels equal to that of Japan or the UK in the beginning of 1970s.
In 1950s Finland joined both the United Nations and the Nordic Council. Among the major achievements of Nordic cooperation was the establishment of a joint Nordic labour market in 1954 and a passport union in 1957.
The upheaval that took place at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, was evident in Finland in both a liberalised intellectual atmosphere and in greater latitude in foreign policy. Finland joined the European Union in 1995.The Finnish markka was replaced by the euro in 2002.