The Stockholm Bloodbath by axeloxenstierna
June 9, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

As every schoolchild knows, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark used to be part of the “Kalmar Union”. The Kalmar Union, which began in 1397, was a personal union. This meant that the three countries would share the same king (same head of state), but would each have their own government. Thus, the same monarch would have different advisers and different ministers in each country in which he was king, and these advisers and ministers were supposed to govern their countries as if they were independent from each other.

The head of the Kalmar Union was the royal dynasty of Denmark, who therefore also served as Kings of Norway and Kings of Sweden. Since the Kalmar kings were usually in Copenhagen, regents were often used to govern Norway and Sweden. The greatest of the Swedish regents is generally agreed to be Sten Sture the Elder, who served two separate terms between 1470 and 1503. Sture the Elder ruled Sweden so well and attained such popularity with Swedes that he enjoyed far greater power than any regent before him; some historians consider Sweden de facto independent during his time in office. He was able to finance a war against Russia without Kalmar support; indeed, the King of Denmark actually sought to ally with Russia against the power of Sture the Elder.

Sten Sture the Elder died in 1503, but his name and deeds lived on. Indeed, today in the center of Stockholm’s historical district, there is a cafe named in honor of Sten Sture the Elder. If you go inside, you can see a picture of him:

In 1514, an ambitious new King came to the Kalmar throne: Christian II of Denmark. Christian II was intent on turning the Kalmar Union from a personal union (where countries only have the same king in common) to an actual union (where countries also have the same government in common). Because Christian II was Danish, this meant turning Norway and Sweden into provinces of Denmark, which would be exploited for the greater glory of Copenhagen.

This required cracking down on Swedish autonomy, which had blossomed under Sten Sture the Elder. Because the Swedes had grown accustomed to being their own masters, they reacted poorly to such centralizing policies. In fact, a rebellion in Sweden broke out under the command of the old regent’s son: Sten Sture the Younger. Noble and peasant alike joined the anti-Danish revolt.

Christian II invaded Sweden to crush the revolt. At the Battle of Bogesund in January 1520, the Danes were victorious and Sture the Younger was mortally wounded. Christian II then moved on Stockholm, which was filled with Swedish nobles who had supported the rebellion.

Christian II made them a promise: submit to Denmark, and they will receive civil immunity for their support of Sture the Younger. The nobles accepted this, and in celebration of the king’s clemency, a feast of several days length was held. The nobles all became quite comfortable with the situation and let their guard down. Then, at the end of the feast, a new guest showed up: Gustavus Trolle, Archbishop of Stockholm.

Remember, Christian II had given the nobles civil immunity: immunity from prosecution in the king’s courts. But like most medieval countries, Sweden also had separate church courts. Christian II didn’t give any immunity from church courts; in fact, he couldn’t. Archbishop Trolle, head of the church courts in Sweden, announced that all of the nobles who had supported Sten Sture the Younger were heretics and would be tried in a church court immediately. Him and Christian had planned this trap beforehand. Trolle was followed into the dining room by a small armed force who seized the nobles. A perfunctory show trial was held, and all of the nobles were sentenced to death for heresy.

According to legend, not a single Swede could be found to carry out the execution of the Sture the Younger supporters. So Archbishop Trolle employed a German named Jorgen Homuth. In total, about 82 people were beheaded or hanged in a small square in central Stockholm. This is the famous “Stockholm Bloodbath”. The executions happened in this small square in central Stockholm:

(the well in this picture is from the 1600’s and was not there at the time of the bloodbath)

As for Sten Sture the Younger, his corpse was dug up and burned at the stake for heresy as well. Christian II had established complete Danish dominance over Sweden.

But it was short-lived. Instead of breaking the spirit of the Swedes, the bloodbath sparked a second rebellion led by the nobleman Gustavus Vasa. This second revolt was successful: the Kalmar Union was dissolved, and Gustavus Vasa became king of a completely independent Sweden.

above: Gustavus Vasa

There was one problem: Trolle was still Archbishop of Stockholm, the highest church office in all Sweden, and no Swede could tolerate the occupation of that office by so infamous and hated a man. King Gustavus Vasa tried to depose Trolle, but Pope Leo X refused to allow this. Only the Pope had the power to depose bishops.

Conveniently for Sweden, it was the early 1520’s, and Lutheranism had just been invented in Germany. So King Gustavus Vasa broke from the Catholic Church, declared Sweden to be a Lutheran country, and then dismissed Trolle from his church position. The end result of the Stockholm Bloodbath was the fall of Catholicism in Scandinavia.

To this day, Archbishop Trolle is considered one of the greatest villains in all of Swedish history. His name is a by-word for traitor, much like Quisling in nearby Norway.


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