WITH Eric Ericsson the royal line of Saint Eric became extinct. The crown was, on account of his birthright, offered to Valdemar, the oldest son of Birger Jarl. He was crowned in Linkping in 1251. From this period on, a new historic source is found in the rhymed chronicles, of which Swedish literature possesses several elaborate ones of more than 22,000 verses in all. Of these the Old, or Eric’s, Chronicle, was written about 1320, and, like all the rest, anonymously. The verses are fine, the language pure and powerful; the portraits of historical personages are roughly drawn but interesting. Unfortunately these rhymed chronicles in general, and the Eric’s Chronicle in particular, dwell rather on the description of impressive events of pomp and splendor than on historical facts; and the facts given are not always reliable. The Eric’s Chronicle gives a brief review of events during the reigns of Eric and Valdemar; then for the events up to 1319 more fully.
According to the Eric’s Chronicle, Birger Jarl wished to succeed Eric, but had to step aside for his son, who was of royal descent through his mother, King Eric’s sister.
But Birger Jarl remained the all-powerful, although uncrowned, ruler till his death.
Many of the nobles were not satisfied with the election of Valdemar. They joined forces, gathering hired troops from Denmark and Germany. Birger met them at Hervadsbro and defeated them, capturing the leaders, who were beheaded. Among these were Philip, a son of Knut the Tall, and Knut Magnusson, with others of the Folkung family, which often was at war between themselves when great interests were at stake.
After this battle peace reigned under the powerful and sagacious rule of Birger. An assault upon Denmark by King Hakon of Norway and Birger jointly was planned, but a peace agreement took its place, in 1253. In the further complications between Norway and Denmark, Birger took no part. When later King Christopher of Denmark called upon his northern neighbors for help against revolts in his own country, these were ready to respond; but at the sudden death of King Christopher these plans were frustrated. In 1260 Birger bettered the already friendly relations with Denmark, by arranging the marriage between King Valdemar and the Danish princess, Sophia, whereupon he, himself a widower, married Mechtild, a queen-dowager of Den-mark. In Finland, conditions were the same as of yore, pagan tribes and Russian invasions rendering everything unsafe and perilous. Birger renewed the trade agreement with Lubeck, in 1251, with added privileges to Lubeck, but with the stipulation that those of its citizens who settled in Sweden must become Swedish subjects. In 1261 the same privileges were extended to Hamburg. It was at this period that the Hanseatic League was formed between the commercial centres of North Germany. The relations between the league and the Scandinavian countries waxed quite intimate and, at times, menacing to the political independence of the latter. But Sweden derived many benefits through the contact with the reviving culture of Southern Europe, which was brought about through the Hanseatic League; the newly opened mining industry and the prosperity of Swedish commercial centres particularly owing much to this influence. Stockholm became the largest and most important of Swedish towns during the days of Birger, although he was not its founder. Also with England, Birger was carrying on peaceful proceedings; yet their purpose is not known. In 1237, the king of England had granted the merchants of the island of Gothland free trade privileges. Birger was a great and sound legislator, although it is not known with certainty how many of the judicial reforms accredited to him originated in these days. He made the law that sister should have equal share of inheritance with brother, and the laws of sanctity of home, Church, Thing and woman, which formed the kernel of a set of laws, later called Edsoere (Pledged oath), which every crowned king and his foremost men must pledge themselves to uphold. He tried to make away with the ordeal of walking on, or the handling of, iron as a legal testimony of guiltlessness. Further, he prohibited the custom of self-imposed thraldom.
The only act of Birger’s which has been condemned was his attempt to introduce feudalism. His second son, Magnus, was created a duke, and received, at Birger’s death, Sdermanland, with the castle of Nykceping as a duchy. This gave rise to much strife and many conflicts within the new royal branch of the Folkungs, and endangered the unity of the kingdom. Birger, the last jarl of the realm, was the first real statesman of Sweden, whose stern intellect and integrity of character won for his country an honored position among its neighbors, and for himself the admiration of many generations to come. He died in 1266.
The first few years after Birger’s death were peaceful. The archbishop’s seat was removed to the present Upsala, where work was commenced on the magnificent cathedral. In 1271 the commercial privileges held by Lubeck and Hamburg were also granted to Riga.
Valdemar was a weak and frivolous man, and his licentiousness gave his brother Magnus the idea of pushing him aside, and later deprived him of the loyalty and respect of his people. The difficulties with his brothers ended in open conflict; Magnus and his younger brother Eric turned to Denmark and Germany, where they hired an army, King Eric Glipping of Denmark helping them with troops on promise of good securities. The brothers invaded West Gothaand and defeated a Swedish army at Hofva, in 1275, while the king with his best troops remained inactive at Tiveden. Valdemar fled to Norway, bringing his son Eric with him. Venturing back into Vermland, he was captured and brought before Duke Magnus. Valdemar went so far as to abdicate his throne, but the meeting ended in an agreement according to which Magnus was to become king of Svealand and Valdemar to keep Gothaland. Eric was made a duke, but died in the same year. Magnus was crowned at Upsala in 1276.
King Valdemar did not long remain content with the new state of things. One month after Magnus’s coronation he arranged a meeting with him at Ldse, over which King Magnus Lagabte of Norway presided, but without being able to effect an agreement between the brothers.
Valdemar now turned to King Eric of Denmark, and won an ally in him because Magnus had neglected to fulfil his promises. Magnus gained a supporter in Duke Gerhard I. of Holstein, whose daughter Helvig he married in November, 1276.
With the year 1277 war commences between Sweden and Denmark. Magnus invades Halland and Scania, while Valdemar, with a Danish army, enters Smaland, burning the town of Vexio. With King Eric, Valdemar enters West Gothland, capturing Skara. At last the Danes are defeated at Ettak. Early in 1278 peace is made at Laholm, Magnus promising to pay his debt to Eric, leaving the castle of Ldse as security. Each promises not to shelter the rebels against the other. Valdemar lost his cause and had to give up Gothaland and his royal title, keeping only his inherited estates. On account of his scandalous living, the nobles insisted upon his imprisonment, and ten years after his abdication he was placed in custody at the castle of Nykping. He survived all his brothers, dying in 1302. His son Eric was imprisoned at the castle of Stockholm, receiving good treatment like his father. When his cousin Binger was crowned, in 1302, he was set free, spending the rest of his life in Sweden as a private citizen. During Magnus Ericsson’s minority he was a member of the king’s council. When Magnus was sole occupant of the throne he took the title of “King of the Swedes and Goths,” which, occasionally used before, henceforward became the customary one.
A revolt against King Magnus took place shortly after the meeting at Laholm. Some of the nobles were dissatisfied with the favoritism shown foreigners, a complaint which was only too often justifiable, and forever repeated, in the course of centuries, against the Swedish monarchs. Count Gerhard of Holstein was imprisoned, and the Danish knight, Ingemar, killed. The king invited the rebels to him at Gællgvist, where he in an unexpected way made them prisoners, and had them beheaded, in August, 1280, confiscating their property. This incident is characteristic of the time, but there is no other authority for it than the Chronicle. The reign of Magnus was comparatively short, but a happy and glorious one. The relations with the island of Gothland were made closer and more intimate, although the proud independence of its inhabitants remained largely intact. They were to pay increased scat, but continued their government without royal officials. The Guts were of Swedish origin, and their island formed since the ninth century a part of Sweden, but their isolated position and great commercial activity made them almost independent. About the year 1000 they seek for themselves protection from the Swedish king, and after their baptism they turn to the bishop of Linkping for spiritual guidance. Thanks to its position, halfway between Germany, Russia and Sweden, Gothland gives rise to the most important commercial centre of Northern Europe after Lubeck. The inhabitants of Visby were Germans, to a great extent, and their conflicts with the rural population were frequent. King Magnus appears as an arbitrator in such cases with an authority great enough to impose his conditions. In spite of the inimical relations between Denmark and Norway, Magnus held peace with both.
As a legislator Magnus was even more important than his father, shaping and reshaping laws which furthered the development of the country and wielding an influence upon its jurisdiction reaching down to the present day. At a meeting of nobles at Alnsn, in 1280, King Magnus gave solemn pledge to the so-called Edsre-laws of his father, and made the nobility into a privileged class. All the men surrounding him and his brother Bengt (made duke of Finland), and on their estates, together with the trusted men in the service of a bishop, were freed from paying taxes to the king. The same privilege was extended “to all men who served with a horse, whosoever they serve.” The exemption from taxes did not include those due the church or community, but only those due the king. The horse service (ross=later rusttjenst) meant to provide for a cavalry force of iron-clad men for military service, according to the demands of the time. The nobles saw to it that this privilege was made permanent even after they had discontinued the horse service, and that others were added to it. A law prohibiting voldgcestning, the custom of travellers of taking by violence, or without compensation, food and comfort from the rural population, was also made at Alnsn and won for King Magnus the rustic but beautiful surname of Ladulas (Barn-lock). “For he wished to place such locks on the peasant’s barn, that no one should dare enter but at the will of the owner,” wrote Olaus Petri, the historian and reformer. An official was placed in every country town to see to the traveller’s comfort, and to his payment for it. At a meeting in Skenninge, in 1285, a law about konungafrid (royal sanctity) was made in order to prevent strife among the nobles and to make away with the ancient evil of revenge for bloodshed. This period of royal sanctity, when between men of the most strained relations peace should reign, commenced a fortnight after the king’s arrival had been announced at the Thing and lasted until he had by letter informed it of his departure out of the province. The one who abused this sanctity, or only carried weapons, was exiled and his property confiscated. Secret societies among the nobles were prohibited.
Magnus was not only a great legislator, but saw to it that his laws were not broken. Personally he loved splendor and dignity, another trait through which he won the favor of the Swedes, who in all times have been fond of seeing their highest representatives surround themselves with impressive luxury and wealth. Magnus was in this respect the first medieval monarch of Sweden, who kept a brilliant court, but at the same time was the pious and obedient son of the Church. He augmented the ecclesiastical privileges and founded several convents. In one of these, St. Clara of Stockholm, he installed his daughter Rikissa. Upon his death, which deplorable event took place in the island of Visings, December 18, 1290, he was buried in the Franciscan convent church (the Riddarholm’s) in Stockholm, according to his own wish. He was the first monarch to be entombed in this the present Pantheon of Sweden. Three sons survived him, Birger, Eric and Valdemar.
During the reign of Magnus, the development of medieval institutions took rapid strides. This is noticeable also in the offices of those who surround the king. In the place of the jarl have been set two new dignitaries the drotsete and marsk, of the king, “the seater of the retinue” and “marechal” or “servant of the horse,” respectively. Circumstances heightened the importance of these offices and changed them from court into state positions, the president of the state council and the commander of the army. The kansler (chancellor), often a bishop, is another important royal office. The king’s council, consisting of bishops, knights and men of social standing, surrounds the monarch at his command and according to his selection, the archbishop being the only ex-officio member. Important affairs of State and Church are decided on at the meetings of nobles, herredagar, no one taking part who is not asked, or not agreeable to the king. These meetings later developed into riksdagar, at which all classes of the people were represented. Taxes were collected for the king by bailiffs, who in compensation received fiefs, sometimes consisting only of certain estates, in other instances as much as a whole province or district. The right of taxation belonged to the people. Only in extraordinary cases the king was allowed to impose additional taxes, although such were sometimes imposed wrongfully, in spite of a law stipulated by King Magnus Barn-Lock.
Birger succeeded his father Magnus. He was only ten years of age, but his father had placed by his side a man who was to reign during his minority. Marsk Tyrgils Knutsson was the second of the great uncrowned rulers of whom Sweden was destined to receive a number almost as large as that of illustrious monarchs. Tyrgils Knutsson followed out the policy of peace and progress which Birger Jarl had commenced and King Magnus continued, making in all the happiest era of the Middle Ages. To Birger Jarl’s conquest of Tavastland in Finland, Tyrgils added that of Carelia. Two expeditions were sent to Carelia, in 1293 and 1299, whose savage inhabitants were converted and made Swedish subjects. Viborg was built and formed a strong-hold for further operations, while Landskrona, another fortified place, erected by Tyrgils, not far from the site of the present St. Petersburg, was soon lost to the Russians. Through the conquest of Carelia, better times commenced for the Church of Finland, whose bishopric, in 1300, was moved to Abo.
The legislative work of his great predecessors was continued by Tyrgils, who made possible the union of the various “lands” of Upland into one judicial district. The first justice was Birger Persson, who was at the head of the work of preparing a common law for the whole province (in 1296). Neutrality was preserved during the conflicts between Norway and Denmark. King Eric Menved of Denmark was, in 1296, married to King Birger’s sister, the pious Princess Ingeborg. In 1298 Birger was married to Eric’s sister Margaret in Stockholm, over the lavish splendor of which event the poet of the Chronicle goes into ecstasies of delight and felicitous description. Both these unions were prearranged by King Magnus, and the princess Margaret had been educated in Sweden for the purpose of becoming its queen.
The king was now of age, but Marsk Tyrgils continued for several years at the helm. His relations to the Church show what a wise and vigorous statesman he was. When in the name of the king the privileges to the Church were once more granted, as by his predecessor, Tyrgils made the important exceptions that the Church should fulfil for its possessions the same military duty as all others in the country, and that certain large fines should be reserved for the king. The ecclesiastics took quietly to these restrictions at first, but soon an open conflict ensued. Another and greater one arose between the king and his brothers, Eric, duke of Sweden, and Valdemar, duke of Finland. It resembles very much the conflict between their uncle Valdemar and his brothers. In both cases there was a weak and deceitful king who was inferior, if not in wretchedness, at least in courage, to one of the brothers. After the first conflict was ended, the dukes selected Marsk Tyrgils for their prey. In March, 1305, Tyrgils saw the king grant to the Church the important privileges held back until then. In December of the same year the king and his brothers came upon Tyrgils unprepared. He was imprisoned, and in a shameful manner dragged to Stockholm, travelling night and day through the cold of winter, probably by some fraudulent legal process found guilty of treason, and beheaded, February 10, 1236. As a climax to this foul political murder, Tyrgils Knutsson was buried on the place of execution. Later, his body was removed to the church of Riddarholm and placed at the side of King Magnus, whose son he had served so faithfully.
The conflict between the royal brothers burst into flame again, revealing some of the darkest and most shocking scenes of deceit, treachery and villany found in Swedish history. The strife commenced in April, 1304, for the first time, and continued, with few and short intermissions, until the autumn of 1318, with broken oaths and pledges, which were renewed and broken again, alliances and royal betrothals formed, ended and renewed, kingdoms and duchies divided and redivided, endless intrigues, rebellion and mutual invasions. The kings of Norway and Den-mark, with their armies, and several German princes and hired troops, became actors in this bloody tragedy, which ended in the annihilation of the principals. The most dramatic incidents are known as “the Play at Hotuna” and “the Feast of Nykping,” both taking place during the short intervals of peace. The former was enacted September 29, 1306, when the king invited his brothers to him at Hotuna in Upland. They accepted the invitation, only to carry the king and queen as ay as captives, forcing the former to give over to them his kingdom and his power, only leaving him the royal title. “The Feast at Nykping” was held the night between December 10 and 11, 1317. The king and queen invited the dukes to the castle, seized them in the night and threw them into a dungeon, where they both perished after six months of hunger and neglect. Birger did not derive any benefit from his fearful crime. The whole country rose against him and he died, after several years of exile, in 1321. Birger has generally been held forth as the responsible party in the crimes and evils of the conflict, but his brothers seem to have been guilty in about the same degree. Duke Eric was one of the most brilliantly gifted princes of his age, and jealousy on. the part of the king was the spark that kindled the fire. But the bad example set by their father of depriving an older brother of his throne, and the great possessions and independence of the dukes, were the underlying causes. The destruction of both the contending parties was an unexpected solution and a great gain for Sweden, whose fate appeared sinister, with the prospect of dismemberment or dissolution, the dukes holding their vast possessions as heirlooms.
During the conflict Norway had sided with the dukes, Denmark with the king. Duke Eric was married to Ingeborg, only child of King Hakon of Norway, and Duke Valdemar to his niece of the same name. Mattias Kettilmundsson was, in June, 1318, elected drotsete and regent. He led an army against Denmark in the interests of the duchesses, invading Scania and defeating the Danes near Hessleholm. November 11th of the same year peace was made in Rskilde between the kings, Eric and Birger, on one side, and King Hakon and the heirs of the dukes, on the other. May 8, 1319, King Hakon died, and Magnus Ericsson, the young son of Duke Eric, inherited the crown of Norway, and July 8th of the same year he was elected king of Sweden at Mora in Upland.
For the attainment of this end Magnus’s mother, Duchess Ingeborg, and seven Swedish councillors had worked with great activity. They had taken part in shaping the first Act of Union of the North in June, 1319, and from Oslo, in Norway, hastened to have Magnus elected at the Stone of Mora, where the Swedish kings since time immemorial were nominated. The Act of Union stipulated that the two kingdoms were to remain perfectly independent, the king to sojourn an equally long part of the year in each, with no official of either country to accompany him further than to the frontier. In their foreign relations the countries were to be independent, but to support each other in case of war. The king was the only tie to bind them together.
There was another Magnus whose candidacy was spoiled by this union. He was the son of King Birger, already, as a child, chosen king of Sweden in succession to his father. Magnus Birgersson, a prisoner at Stockholm, was be-headed in 1320, to make safe the reign of his more fortunate cousin. King Magnus was only three years old, and Drotsete Mattias Kettilmundsson presided over the government during his minority, the nobles of the state council having great power and influence. Both in Sweden and Norway the nobility had by this time attained a supremacy which was oppressive both to the king and the people, not so much through their privileges as through the liberties they took. Their continual feuds between themselves disturbed the peace of the country.
In 1332, King Magnus took charge of the government. He was a ruler of a benign and good disposition toward the common people, whose interests he always furthered. But he lacked strength of character and was not able to control the obnoxious nobles. The provinces of Scania and Bleking suffered greatly under Danish rule, which was changed into German oppression when handed over to the counts of Holstein as security for a loan. The people of Scania rose in revolt and asked for protection from King Magnus. At a meeting in Kalmar (in 1332) both provinces were united to Sweden. But the king had to pay heavy amounts in settlement, which were increased when Halland was pro-cured in a similar way.
King Magnus was, at his height of power, one of the mightiest monarchs of Europe, having under his rule the entire Scandinavian peninsula and Finland, a realm stretching from the Sound at Elsinore to the Polar Sea, from the river Neva to Iceland and Greenland. In 1335 King Magnus rode his “Eriksgata,” when he announced that no Christian within his realm should remain a thrall, thus practically abolishing the remnants of slavery. In the following year he was crowned with his queen, Blanche of Namur.
Magnus took great interest in legislation. During his minority the provincial laws were revised. The king him-self accomplished the great and noble task of having these united into a state law (landslag), appointing a committee of three justices to do the work. The clergy was consulted, but refused to have ecclesiastical laws made for the whole kingdom. The state law was first considered in 1347, and was put in practice in 1352, being both a digest and an elaboration of the ancient provincial laws. In many an instance of foreign or domestic conflicts, the people, through its enforcement, found help and shelter from the national spirit of this law.
To the financial difficulties which beset the reign of King Magnus and made his life a burden the great plague was added. “The Black Death,” in 1350, came from England to Norway and spread with great rapidity and the most disastrous consequences throughout the North. In certain parts of Sweden one-third of the population perished, in other parts even a greater percentage, the plague raging with equal violence throughout all classes of society. King Magnus had for a long time contemplated revenge against the invasions made by the Russians into Carelia. He under-took an expedition, under the pretext of a crusade, which ended badly, the Swedish fleet being shut in by the Russians and saved only by means of digging a canal. The king was severely criticised for this crusade, which was construed as a punishment for his sins, and, besides, largely increased his debts. The pope was among his creditors, who, upon non-payment, placed Magnus under his ban.
The union with Norway was not a happy one. As a minor, Magnus dwelt most of the time in Norway, but later principally in Sweden. This was contrary to the Act of Union, the state of things ha Norway, furthermore, necessitating the almost continual presence of the king. For this reason his son, Hakon, was chosen king of Norway, in 1343, Magnus remaining in power until Hakon be-came of age, and his older son, Eric, chosen king, or heir-apparent, of Sweden, in 1344. It appears that King Magnus was in favor of this separation and had preconceived it in giving to his older son the Swedish name of Eric and to the younger the Norwegian name of Hakon, both equally characteristic of the royal lines of the respective countries. The two young kings caused their father considerable annoyance; but, upon the early death of Eric, Hakon entered more into harmony with King Magnus. Valdemar Atterdag, the crafty and enterprising king of Denmark, took an active part in the conflicts, pretending to support Magnus, while simultaneously depriving him of Scania, Halland and Bleking, which he captured almost without resistance. He landed in the island of Gothland, plundering Visby in a treacherous way. Upon his departure, his ships perished in a storm, the plundered treasures going down with these, the king himself escaping with difficulty. Valdemar arranged a marriage between his little daughter Margaret and King Hakon of Norway. Several Swedish nobles of great influence considered the treachery and impudence of Valdemar and the weakness of Magnus as going too far. They offered the Swedish crown to Albrecht, the son of King Magnus’s sister Euphemia. The offer was accepted by Duke Albrecht’ of Mecklenburg, the father of the young Albrecht, in behalf of his son. He made a sudden assault upon Stockholm in 1363, capturing it. At the Stone of Mora, Albrecht the Younger was chosen king of Sweden. Magnus was defeated and made a prisoner at Enkping.
King Magnus was taken to Stockholm and there imprisoned for some time, heavily laden with chains. King Valdemar deserted his cause, but the common people of Svealand, with whom Magnus had always been exceedingly popular, rose in order to free him. Soon King Hakon reached the very gates of Stockholm with a Norwegian army, whereupon Magnus was released. But he had to abdicate his throne, leaving for Norway, where he died, through an accident, in 1374.
Albrecht was the rightful king of Sweden. At the death of Eric he became heir-apparent to the Swedish throne, but for having sped on the course of events in his own interest, neither he nor his father acquired any popularity. They surrounded themselves by a great number of Germans, who, through their licentiousness and over-bearing manner, enraged the people. The country was practically in the hands of a few Swedish nobles, among whom the drotsete, Bo Jonsson Grip, through his high office and his immense wealth, bore the supremacy. Bo Jonsson is said to have been the wealthiest man who ever lived in the North, his possessions, fiefs and castles being of an astounding number, the most famous among the latter being Gripsholm in the Lake Meelar. He loaned money to the king against new castles and fiefs in security, and held Albrecht in the most humiliating relation of dependence. His enemies he persecuted without mercy, killing one before the high altar in the Franciscan church of Stockholm. When Bo Jonsson died, in 1386, the king tried to better conditions by confiscating to the crown some of his possessions. But he met with opposition from the nobles, who claimed that he did so only to enrich his German favorites. The king was helpless against his councillors, to whom he had handed over all his power. They were in possession of all the fortified castles, and if one of them died, the king had no right to select a successor without their permission. The executors of Bo Jonsson’s will ended by offering the crown to Margaret, Valdemar’s daughter, and queen-dowager of Norway. She accepted, promising the nobles that they should remain in undisturbed enjoyment of their great privileges. Margaret sent an army into West Gothland, consisting of men from all three of the Scandinavian countries, under the command of the Swede, Eric Kettilsson. King Albrecht met with an army to a great extent composed of German troops, and was defeated and made a prisoner at Falkping, February 24, 1389. Albrecht was imprisoned at Lindholm, in Scania, for seven years, later returning to Mecklenburg.
To the Folkung period belongs one of the most remark-able and renowned of Swedish women, herself, on her mother’s side, a Folkung, St. Birgitta, the daughter of the legislator and first justice of Upland, Birger Persson. Her parents were both pious and devoted to ascetic practices. As a child she had visions, the holy Mary appearing to her. When thirteen years of age she was married to Ulf Gumundsson, later justice of Nerike, also a pious man, with whom she made a pilgrimage to Spain. Birgitta lost her husband shortly afterward. At the Swedish court, where she was the highest functionary of Queen Blanche, she had seen political life at close range, gathering a deep and strong indignation against the mighty and powerful in the world. Her husband’s death moved her deeply, and the religious mysticism of her youth now burst forth with increased strength, her visions becoming numerous and important. That she believed in them herself there is no doubt, and she made the world believe her. At first she hurled admonitions and curses against King Magnus and his court; but the wretchedness of the whole world attracted her to its spiritual centre, Rome, where she lived for twenty-three years in continual and open protest against the vices of the popes and priests. She died in Rome, in 1373, at the age of seventy, after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, seeing the two great ambitions of her life fulfilled: the pope returning to Rome from Avignon, and her creation, the order of St. Salvator, sanctioned by the pope. Birgitta was canonized by the pope in 1391, through the influence of Queen Margaret.
Birgitta was the greatest political-poetic genius of the mediæval North. Her revelations fill eight volumes. She wrote them in Swedish, and had a priest translate them into Latin. Some of her original Swedish work is pre-served. Birgitta appears to have thought in artistic images, and these images are of plastic form, often of consummate beauty, sometimes witty, sometimes avowedly comic, always effective. The melancholy charm of Sweden’s nature suffuses all her writings and renders to her peculiar mediaeval mysticism a national temperament. From Swedish sceneries and animal life she borrows her most beautiful images.
St. Birgitta has by some been considered as a reformer before Luther, but not quite correctly. Luther reformed the institutions; Birgitta aimed at reforming their upholders, and used against the pope and the priests a language almost as strong as Luther’s. Some of her ideas were not strictly in harmony with the Catholic dogmas; she insisted on a close personal union with God, without the mediation of priests or saints, fought for a universal knowledge of the Bible and the preaching of the Gospel in the popular vernaculars, and considered the sale of indulgences a mortal sin. Four hundred and seventy convents of her order, in which men and women were to collaborate for the instruction and spiritual guidance of the people, were after her death founded in the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Esthonia, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands, one existing in England up to the time of Elizabeth. The mother institution at Vadstena, in East Gothland, was of the greatest importance to the cultural development of Sweden and the North.
One of the greatest libraries of the Middle Ages was reared, and the first book-printing establishment of Sweden founded there in 1490. Within its walls a considerable literary activity prevailed, the religious literature of the time being copied, or translated into Swedish, and many original works written. The Swedish language, used by the Birgittine school of writers, tried, by approaching Danish forms, to establish a common literary language in the North, the Norwegian having approached the Swedish during the time of the close relations between the courts of the two countries. These efforts, for a time furthered by political relations, were unfortunately soon to be abandoned forever.
Birgitta was a great genius in fetters. Her rare gifts were kept back in their development through the idiosyncrasies of her period. She was of an indomitable, aristocratic spirit, always remaining the noblewoman to whom it was natural to speak the truth to the princes of State and Church, because she considered herself their equal through the best blood of the North, of which she had her share. This religious mystic was a true child of her aristocratic age, which gave to Sweden two parallel lines, sometimes identical, of great legislators and weak and indulgent princes.