The Stockholm Bloodbath
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.


Medieval Peasant Rebellions, Part 2: Transylvania
May 19, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

The Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary was something of a superpower in Eastern Europe from its foundation in the 900’s to as late as 1490. But like its neighbor, Poland-Lithuania, Hungary was decentralized and unable to field a large professional army — unlike its new neighbor to the south, the Ottoman Empire.

In 1514, the Hungarian government, at the urging of the Pope, decided to finance a crusade against the Ottoman Empire. Instead of raising its own force, the Hungarian government ordered a petty nobleman named Gyorgy Dozsa to go and raise an army of peasants, with the promise that they would pay him later with the money needed to clothe, feed, and supply the army. Dozsa was able to raise a substantial force of social dregs in Transylvania and provide it with rudimentary military training. But the funding never came. According to legend, the Hungarian nobility — who truly controlled the country — instead demanded that the peasants go back to toiling the fields.

At this point, Dozsa decided that instead of a crusade, he was going to lead a peasant rebellion. Pretty much everybody in Transylvania who had some disagreement with the ruling nobility joined the movement — including nascent religious reformers. Because the Kingdom of Hungary didn’t actually have an army, Dosza had free reign over anywhere he could march to. His followers captured over a half-dozen forts and cities in Transylvania, frequently impaling local nobles and bishops.

Finally, the Kingdom of Hungary was able to raise a force of mostly foreign mercenaries under the command of a young Janos Zapolya (not yet Janos I Zapolya), and Dozsa was defeated and captured at the Battle of Temesvar.

Dozsa was executed in a most curious manner. Six of his followers were intentionally starved for a number of days. Then, Dozsa was placed on a throne made of heated iron and made to wear a similarly heated iron crown. This had the result of slowly cooking him. Then, his starving followers were released into the room. According to legend, the famished peasants were unable to resist the smell of cooking flesh, and Gyorgy Dozsa was eaten alive by his own supporters.

Here are some woodcuts of his execution:

Fourteen years after Dozsa got eaten, the last independent King of Hungary died while retreating from a massive military defeat at the hands of Suleyman the Magnificent. Most of Hungary became an Ottoman province. Transylvania, however, was turned into an autonomous Ottoman satellite, whose purpose was to serve as a buffer between the Turkish and Austrian empires. The new Principality of Transylvania was ruled by elected princes, most of whom came from the major Transylvanian noble families that Dozsa had rebelled against. Indeed, many Transylvanian nobles converted to Calvinism, and Transylvania became one of the first countries in Europe with complete freedom of worship.

In the 20th century, Transylvania was transferred to the new country of Romania. This meant that after WW2, when new Communist regimes began searching history for peasant heroes to legitimize their rule, Dozsa became revered by not one, but two communist parties.

In Red Hungary, he was upheld as a proto-Marxist-Leninist-Kadarist and began appearing on communist currency and inspirational artwork:

In Red Romania, he was re-christened Gheorghe Doja. The city where he was defeated — Temesvar in Hungarian, Timisoara in Romanian — became home to a monument to him:

Indeed, today one of the major streets in Timisoara is named for Doja. A google image search for “Gheorghe Doja Strada” reveals that it seems to be home to a sizable population of stray dogs.

Throw them some warm meat if you’re ever there.

Medieval Peasant Rebellions, Part 1: Germany
May 12, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

In the 1400’s, there was a series of peasant rebellions in Germany, mostly along the Rhineland. Most of them were purely local events: quickly defeated and of little historical significance.

The interesting thing about them is that many of them used a common symbol: the bundschuh, which is German for “bound shoe”. Quite literally, the peasants would march around carrying flags with tied shoes on them. While the Bundschuh rebellions of the 1400’s failed to accomplish anything, their symbolism lived on for at least a hundred years.

In the early 1500’s, there emerged a new peasant leader named Joss Fritz. He led three separate rebellions, each of which were quite large and threatening. One of the reasons he was able to gain such a large following was because he appropriated the bundschuh symbolism of the previous generation; the symbol and memory of the old rebellion had grown far in excess of anything the original bundschuh rebels had actually done.

A generation later, the Peasant’s War rocked Germany; but by this time, much of it was fueled by anti-clericalism, such as the “Prague Manifesto” of radical anabaptist preacher Thomas Muentzer. Because of this religious subtext, the Peasants War was much less of a class conflict than its predecessors. Indeed, one of the most colorful leaders of the Peasants War was an eccentric knight named Gotz von Berlichingen, who is famous for having a mechanical arm.

Here is a modern drawing of what his arm may have looked like:

Here is a prosthetic metal arm from around the time of Gotz von Berlichingen, though it is not his:

The Peasants were hoping to gain the support of Martin Luther, whose opposition to the Roman Church was a major inspiration. Instead, Luther wrote a book titled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, which included such lines as:

“The peasants have taken upon themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man; by this they have merited death in body and soul…thus they become the worst blasphemers of God and slanderers of his holy name


Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.


I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants.”

With Luther cheering them on, the authorities were able to engage the peasants at the Battle of Frankenhausen, at which the peasants were slaughtered.

And thus the German peasant rebellion faded into history. Until East Germany came along.

Like most Eastern European communist regimes, the DDR rehabilitated old peasant rebels and made them into prophets of Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism. Statues of Joss Fritz went up all over East Germany, even though he wasn’t even from there.

And as for Thomas Muentzer, he of the burning religious faith?

He ended up on the currency of an avowedly atheist regime:

Commie Parades
March 24, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

Communists sure loved parades. Here are some commie parades from around the world.

The most famous such parade is, of course, the Soviet one through Red Square on the anniversaries of the October Revolution. Here is footage from 1986:

Another Soviet one: Brezhnev’s funeral parade. Near the end, you can see Yuri Andropov watching from the top of Lenin’s tomb:

Here is a Hungarian May 1 parade from 1964. There are some great parade floats here. My favorite are the papier-mache globe with the Communist parts of the world covered in red plaster, as well as the guy who is carrying what appears to be a brick chimney and fireplace. If you watch until the end of the video, you can see Janos Kadar being interviewed by state television while he watches the parade.

Of course, this post would not be complete without North Korea. Here is a recent North Korean military parade — complete with what appears to be an OFFICIAL English voice-over that praises Kim Jong-Il!

But the true absurdity of the North Korean regime cannot be captured without this video of a North Korean children’s parade, complete with colorful uniforms and a changing animated background.

The Fascist Salute
March 17, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

Everyone knows what the Nazi salute looks like — there’s no need for me to post a video of it here. It was actually a variation of a salute that Mussolini had been using the beginning of the Italian fascist movement — the so-called “Roman Salute”, which was allegedly used by the Roman Empire. The Roman Salute differed from the Nazi one in that the palm was raised up. Here is a good video of the Croatian fascist dictator Ante Pavelic visiting Italy in 1941. Both the Croatian and Italian officials do the Roman Salute.

As we saw with my last post, the Slovak fascist regime straight-up copied the Nazi salute, which is to be expected given that Fascist Slovakia was a Nazi puppet. But some fascist regimes actually copied the Italian salute. See this Romanian fascist rally from 1940, for instance:

Romanian fascism seems like a stylistic blend of Italian and Nazi images. Note the Roman salute, but also the swastika-like symbol (the three crossing bars) that serves as a focal point. Most fascist regimes in eastern europe had an easy-to-draw symbol that they used in the same way the Nazis used the swastika: the “iron bars” in Romania, the Apostolic Cross in Slovakia, the Arrow Cross in Hungary, etc.

As for Ante Pavelic, it seems that when he was on his home turf in Croatia, he used what appears to be a slightly modified Nazi-style salute. The palm was certainly down, but the arm seems to be slightly bent at the shoulder. Observe:

I’m not sure if this difference is official (i.e., linked to Croat ideology in some way), or if Croatian fascists were just lazier than their German counterparts.

I was unsuccessful in finding footage of salutes in other fascist regimes. Serbia had a fascist regime led by a guy named Milan Nedic — a very rotund old man who, unlike most fascist dictators, appears to have dressed in a suit and tie for rallies. None of his rallies that are up on YouTube appear to have any salutes in them, even when he is speaking to military units. Perhaps he realized that if he wore military dress and did military salutes, it would look rather absurd given his girth. Another major problem is that authentic videos of 1940’s-era fascist rallies on YouTube are far outnumbered by recently-made tribute videos uploaded by contemporary Neo-Fascists. These guys have usernames like “WhitePowerSRB” or “HungarianGun” and make videos set to rock or techno music that are mostly montages of still pictures of fascist leaders. I suspect these are the same guys who vandalize Wikipedia articles about neighboring countries.

Slovak Fascists
March 3, 2009, 12:48 am
Filed under: history

Most people will tell you that in 1939, Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia. This is technically wrong: he annexed the Czech Republic, but he turned Slovakia into an independent puppet state. This short-lived Slovak republic was run by the Hlinka Guard, a far-right party that freely borrowed Nazi symbols and uniforms.

While fascism didn’t last in Slovakia, some Slovakian fascism has survived on YouTube. Here are some videos that do a good job of showing it. When watching non-German fascist parties from this era, I am always amazed by just how blatantly they rip off their German allies. Check out the armbands with the Apostolic Cross on it (a symbol which Slovakia stole from Hungary anyway).

Presidential Campaign Song from 1844
February 17, 2009, 2:03 pm
Filed under: history, music


Written by J. Greiner of Dayton, Ohio, for the Philadelphia Clay Minstrels,
and sung by them, with unbounded applause, at the Great Ratification
Convention in Baltimore.

TUNE — “Old Dan Tucker.”

The skies are bright, our hearts are light,
Throughout our land the Whigs unite,
We’ll set our songs to good old tunes,
For there is music in these “Coons!”
Hurrah! hurrah! the Nation’s risin
For Harry Clay and Frelinghuysen.

The Locos’ hearts are very sore,
Tho’ very scarce in forty-four;
For they began to see with reason,
That this will be a great coon season.
Hurrah! hurrah! &c.

O! Frelinghuysen’s a Jersey Blue,
A noble Whig and honest too,
And he will make New Jersey feel,
Whigs pay respect to her “Broad Seal.”
Hurrah! hurrah! &c.

Now let the Locos speak in candor,
His fame e’en Kendall dare not slander,
And when we all get in the fight,
Lord how the Jersey Coons will bite.
Hurrah! hurrah! &c.

Oh! Polk and Dallas are men of doubt,
They cant poke in and must stay out,
And in November they will find,
Their party poking far behind.
Hurrah! hurrah! &c.

The coon now looks around with pride,
For who is here dare touch his hide,
And tho’ the Locos think to cross him,
They’ll find he’s only playing possum.
Hurrah! hurrah! &c.

United heart and hand are we,
From Northern Lake to Southern sea,
From East to West the country’s risin’
For Harry Clay and Frelinghuysen.
Hurrah! hurrah! &c.