Unionism Versus Patriotism – Margaret, Engelbrekt And Charles Knutsson

QUEEN MARGARET, the successor of Albrecht, for the first time in history united the three Scandinavian countries and their dependencies under one rule. Born in a prison in which King Valdemar of Den-mark had placed his consort, Queen Hedvig, there remained in the character of Margaret something of the rigor and chill of her uncomely birthplace. When she was seven, she was engaged to King Hakon of Norway, and married to him at eleven years of age. In Norway, her education was continued for several years after her marriage under the stern supervision of Dame Martha, a daughter of St. Birgitta, who often applied corporal punishment to the young queen. Margaret early gave evidence of self-control and power of reflection, and her mind developed at the expense of her heart. Her son Olaf became king of Denmark upon Valdemar’s death, in 1375, and king of Norway upon that of Hakon, in 1380. Upon his death, in 1387, Margaret succeeded him, and two years later laid Sweden under her sceptre.

Albrecht was captured, but the Germans still were in possession of several Swedish strongholds. These yielded to Margaret, one after the other, except Stockholm. In the capital, the German influx of soldiers and merchants had made the foreign population exceedingly large. They now acted as oppressors. A secret league was formed which captured a great number of prominent Swedish citizens, who were cruelly tortured with wooden saws and then thrown into an old shed on the islet of Kæpplingeholm. The shed was ignited and the poor prisoners suffered a terrible death. German freebooters, especially the Vitalen or Victuallen Brotherhood, who provided the fortress of Stockholm with victuals, were plundering in the Baltic and Lake Mælar, and were the allies of the Germans of Stockholm. Margaret was powerless against them until she entered into an alliance with the Hanseatic towns. This ended the war; Stockholm surrendered and peace was made, in 1395. The plunders by sea-rovers in the Baltic were put an end to during Margaret’s reign, but cost heroic efforts and much money, while the influence of the Hansa grew into menacing proportions.

Margaret was anxious to place the dynasty of the North firmly within her line of descent. In 1389, she selected her sister’s grandson, Eric of Pomerania, then six years old, her successor, and he was thus proclaimed in Norway. In 1395, Eric was chosen king of Denmark and, in 1396, of Sweden. At his Swedish coronation in Kalmar, in 1397, Queen Margaret, who remained at his side as the real ruler, had the outline drawn of an Act of Union, which should forever unite the three Scandinavian kingdoms under one ruler. Each country was to preserve its constitution, laws and traditions unmolested, but they were to support each other in times of war. When a king was to be chosen, representatives of equal numbers from each country were to meet in Halmstad, the sons of kings to be favored by choice. This Act of Union was never carried into effect, according to legal forms. The sketch or outline of it, such as it is still preserved, was signed by representatives of the three countries, although not in equal numbers; but why Queen Margaret never allowed it to be enlarged into a legally binding document is not known. Her favorite idea was therein embodied, and she appeared to have an all-powerful influence over those necessary to carry it through.

Margaret made it her object to strengthen the crown and reduce the power of the nobles. She cared naught about keeping her promises to the latter, confiscating their castles and possessions, and annulling their privileges. When they complained, reminding her of her promises in her letters to them, she replied: “Keep my letters; I shall certainly keep your castles.” All nobles created by Albrecht were entirely deprived of their privileges if they could not prove their due qualifications. The majority of forts erected during the war were pulled down. No taxes were longer imposed, except through written order of the government. These reforms were all rigorously carried out, according to the “Restitution of Nykœping” of 1396. Margaret succeeded in a remarkable way in reducing to normal proportions the power and influence of the Swedish nobility. The nobles, who were all-powerful and absolutely unyielding in Albrecht’s days, bowed to her grace-fully and received meekly her severe conditions. An explanation can be found in the fact that they had no leader of authority and power among them, after the death of Bo Jonsson Grip. Further, Margaret was careful not to fill the important offices of drotsete and marsk, when vacant, thus making the personal presence and interference of the sovereign necessary on all important occasions.

The love of the Swedish people should have been Margaret’s reward for her abolition of aristocratic oppression, if she had not been in a position which necessitated the imposition of heavy taxes. The existence of the common people was made weary and troublesome through the payment of the “queen’s tax,” the “stake tax” on each hearth, the “rump tax” on each head of cattle, and, worst of all, the “Gothland’s release.” Bailiffs, often of foreign birth, collected these taxes with great severity. When the queen be-came aware of the complaints against her and her bailiffs, she asked in a letter to the archbishop that the people would forgive her in God’s name. “Some of it one has not been able to better; some we and they might well have bettered, although what is done is done.” Without doubt, there was due reason for the heavy taxes in the unsettled relations with other countries which existed during Margaret’s reign; the support of the Hansa and a war with Holstein, commenced by King Eric, were expensive. The island of Goth-land had been captured by the so-called German Order in the last days of Albrecht’s reign. W hen the island was re-deemed through the payment of Swedish money, Margaret made the mistake of installing there a Danish bailiff, and it thus for a long time remained a Danish province. Margaret believed in the Union and counted no Scandinavian a foreigner in either country. But it was contrary to Swedish law to install foreigners as bailiffs and vassals, and as she appointed a great number of Danes to Swedish fiefs, and never a Swede to Danish positions of the same or equal importance, the Swedish complaints, on this point, were justified.

Margaret was as severe toward the ecclesiastics as toward the nobles. But when she noticed the forebodings of powerful resistance, she made important concessions. She was anxious to observe religious practices, joining the convent of Vadstena as a “worldly sister,” kissing the hands of all the monks and nuns on that occasion. She took interest in the conversion of the Laps, sending a baptized woman of their race, by the name of Margaret, to preach the Gospel among them.

The war with Holstein concerning the possession of Schleswig had been brought to an armistice, and the queen sailed to Flensburg to conduct further negotiations. While still on board of her ship, death surprised her, in 1412.

Margaret has been called the Semiramis of the North and well deserves her widespread fame. During her reign, the Northern countries, through her wisdom and strength, enjoyed a degree of order which they missed both before and after. She put an end to the foreign influence which had governed Sweden. Yet her rule was a disappointment, and the Union also. She paved the way for a new foreign influence, by making a German prince her successor and by leaning too much on the Hansa. The aristocratic oppression was crushed by her, but she introduced the oppression through royal bailiffs. She promised to preserve the old territory of Sweden unmolested, but placed the island of Gothland under Denmark. The Union of which Queen Margaret was the champion her successors were not able to grasp or uphold in the spirit of her good intentions. To Sweden it came in an inauspicious time when it was not fit to receive it. Foreign oppression had irritated the people to resistance, and discontent was to give life to patriotism.

Sweden had recently developed into one joint constitutional body, the various provinces giving up their ancient laws for a state law, in which the old individual traits were gathered and recognized. We know how Sweden was settled, not by various tribes, but by pioneers who, from the old home of culture, Scania, penetrated to the wilderness above, settling one district after the other, which, one by one, developed into provinces, little states by themselves, later united into one realm with a common king. One by one these provinces had taken the lead in the political and cultural development, often the youngest before the oldest. Thus the Swedes, a younger branch of the Gauts, gave their name to the country and furnished the rulers, the Guts of the island of Gothland securing the commercial supremacy of the sea, and the Rus of the out-skirts of Upland founding the Russian empire. Now it fell upon Dalecarlia, the most recently settled of Swedish provinces, to save freedom and independence to a newly regenerated state which was awakening to the consciousness of its solidarity of interests, aspirations and duties. From Dalecarlia came the first great political leader. From there he and his later successors received their chief support.

Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson is the earliest and greatest of the patriotic heroes of Swedish history. To the glory of his deeds and the noble simplicity of his character the death of a martyr gives added lustre. Engelbrekt was born at Kopparberg, in the mining district of Dalecarlia, where there were many German settlers. Possibly his early ancestors were among them; but for three generations at least they had been native-born Swedes, Engelbrekt’s father, as he himself, belonging to the Swedish nobility, although not of the influential families. Engelbrekt had received the chivalric education of his time at the courts of the great nobles, being next in rank to a knight, voepnare (squire), at the opening of his career. He was small of stature, but eloquent, courageous and of a lofty mind. The integrity of his character was absolute; his personal necessities were few and plain.

King Eric was a highly educated and refined man, not without a certain ability, but entirely without discernment and patience for the various demands and conditions of the countries over which he was set to rule. His foreign bailiffs in Sweden, mostly Danes, with a fair sprinkling of Germans and Italians, were still less in sympathy with his Swedish subjects. They tried to manage them as they did the Danes and the inhabitants of more southern countries, for centuries accustomed to slavery, ignorant of the ancient spirit of independence of the Swedish yeomanry, abated but not suppressed. When oppression no longer kept within reasonable bounds, the Swedish patience came to an end, and, first in the youngest and most solitary parts of the country.

The most hated of Danish bailiffs was Jœsse Ericsson, of Westmanland and Dalecarlia. After having confiscated the horses of the peasants, he is said to have harnessed the men to plows and the women to grain-loads, once suffocating five peasants. Engelbrekt felt compassion for the misery of the suffering people and accepted the commission to seek the king, to make complaints in their behalf. He appeared before King Eric in Denmark, demanding punishment of the cruel bailiff and offering to go into prison or surrender his life if not speaking the truth, as was the custom of the time. The king gave him a letter to the Swedish council of state, demanding an inquiry which was promptly made. When Engelbrekt for a second time appeared with the corroboration of his statements from the Swedish councillors, the king sent him away in a fit of impatient rage. Upon his return, the Dalecarlians rose in a body, selecting Engelbrekt as their leader and marching south to Westeros. The councillors met and promised to have justice done in the case. But things remained the same until the following spring, in 1434. At midsummer the Dalecarlians commenced operations. The fort of Borganæs and the castle of Kœping were destroyed. Engelbrekt asked the people of Westmanland to join him, which they did to a man, the nobles also joining upon evidence of the determination of the popular leader. In Upsala, Engelbrekt found the people of Upland ready to join, and he made clear to the great multitudes the mission he had undertaken. He now felt strong enough to take a hand in the affairs of state; with the consent of the leading nobles reducing the taxes by one-third. Engelbrekt called upon a young, high-spirited nobleman, Eric Puke, to bring Norrland to revolt and destroy the forts of that district, which commissions Puke fulfilled to the letter, thereupon reinforcing Engelbrekt with his men. In the meantime, the people of western Sœdermanland rose by their own determination, destroying Gripsholm; the bailiff of the castle escaping with his treasures in boats over Lake Maelar. In Vermland and Dal the people followed these examples of revolt. The commander of the Stockholm fortress agreed upon an armistice, other castles surrendering or promising to surrender.

Engelbrekt met the council of state at Vadstena, escorted by 1,000 men of his best troops. Without fear or haughtiness, he pleaded the cause of his country, advising the councillors in firm and eloquent words to see to it that the foreign oppression came to an end. The council hesitated, Bishop Knut of Linkœping stating that the oath to the king could not be broken. To this Engelbrekt answered that the king had pledged many oaths but kept none, for which reason the people were freed from their oath. Upon a wholesome demonstration of force the councillors gave in and dictated a letter in which they broke their pledge to King Eric, yet giving as an excuse that they were compelled to do so. The revolt had now spread to all parts of the kingdom, at least 100,000 being armed to meet the emergency. But so carefully and quietly was the work of liberation performed that no harm was done in the parts where the peasant armies were moving. After having entered Halmstad, Engelbrekt returned to Westeros, where the army was scattered, but soon gathered again upon the report that the king with a fleet was approaching Stock-holm. Upon his arrival, the king found Stockholm en-closed by a peasant army and returned to Denmark, forced to agree to an armistice. At a meeting in Arboga, Engelbrekt was elected regent. This was the first meeting in which representatives of the merchant class and the yeomanry took part, being thus the first riksdag or parliament composed of the four Estates — noblemen, ecclesiastics, burghers, and yeomen.

King Eric promised, upon his return to Stockholm, to govern the country according to its laws and through Swedish men, appointing Krister Nilsson Vasa drotsete, and Charles Knutsson Bonde marsk. But so badly did he keep his promises that he was once more dethroned. The nobles hastened to elect Charles Knutsson regent, but through pressure which the peasants brought to bear it was agreed that he should share his power with Engelbrekt and lead the siege of Stockholm, while the latter should free the country from the bailiffs reinstalled by the king.

Upon his second tour through the country, Engelbrekt was seized by illness, but being called to Stockholm by an important state affair, he started over the lakes thither from OErebro. One evening he stopped at an islet in Lake Hielmar for the night. When he saw a boat approach with Mons Bengtsson on board he staggered on a crutch down to receive him. This man sprang ashore and assaulted Engelbrekt, who tried to ward off the blows of the axe with his crutch, but failing to do so he was killed on the spot, in April, 1436. The perpetrator of this beastly murder was a son of a noble with whom Engelbrekt had been engaged in some controversy which he had recently settled to the satisfaction of both parties. The murderer escaped; but, although shielded from punishment by Marsk Charles Knutsson, he was shunned by everybody, his high-born and wealthy relations for several centuries refusing to carry the proud family name (Natt och Dag) upon which he had brought shame.

The memory of Engelbrekt is one of the most honored and most beloved in Swedish history. He waged the first battle against the oppression which foreign intrigues had brought upon his country, and saved from the peril of slavery the ancient freedom and independence of the Swedish people.

Through a remarkable coincidence, a cousin of Engelbrekt’s murderer, Nils Bosson, a young follower of the popular hero, who took his mother’s family name of Sture, was to become the father and grandfather of two of the most revered of Engelbrekt’s successors; Nils Bosson himself being as sympathetic and upright a type of noble-man as any time or country has produced.

Charles Knutsson, after Engelbrekt’s death, was the most influential man in Sweden. But he was a very different man. Belonging to the highest aristocracy, he was him-self of great wealth, highly talented, well read, and a great traveller. He was exceedingly handsome, dignified, amiable, eloquent, and possessed a voice of unusual charm and strength. But he was a prey to ambition, determined to make his way to the throne, but little careful in the selection of his means toward that end. He aroused the suspicion and hatred of Eric Puke, whom he irritated to revolt only to get him in his power. This noble but headstrong man was executed for treason, while Drotsete Krister Nils-son, who signed the death-warrant in the interest of Charles, himself was persecuted by the latter and deprived of all his fiefs save one. Charles showed great severity in punishing the peasants, who were Puke’s supporters, four of them being burned alive; thus losing the popular sympathy, while becoming an object of envy in the eyes of the nobles. These recalled King Eric, who was again found impossible and soon dethroned also in Denmark.

Christopher of Bavaria, a nephew of Eric, was elected to succeed him (in 1440) by the nobles of Denmark and Sweden. He was a good-natured man, who allowed the aristocrats of Sweden to rule as they pleased, only keeping an eye on Charles Knutsson. Christopher died in 1448. During his reign a new state law was issued in 1442, called “King Christopher’s land’s law,” although the king probably had very little to do with its form or stipulations. It offered a few improvements, but in general so closely resembled the older state law that the one was often mistaken for the other and both remained valid until 1738 Charles Knutsson (Charles VIII.) returned from Fin-land, which duchy had been held under his supremacy, four months after Christopher’s death, and was by an overwhelming majority elected king of Sweden. Shortly after his coronation at Upsala he was elected king of Norway and crowned at Drontheim, in 1449. His reign opened with a lucky expedition to the island of Gothland. But in the following year King Charles lost both Gothland and Nor-way to Christian of Denmark, with whom the Unionist party of Sweden entered into secret plots against the king. Invasions and intrigues followed. Christian invaded Smaland, East Gothland and Vermland, to which Charles responded by an invasion of Scania, destroying the old town of Lund with nineteen of its twenty churches, the cathedral alone being spared. Christian took revenge by an invasion of West Gothland, capturing Lœdœse. An-other Danish army marched through East Gothland, but met defeat at Holaveden through an onslaught made by Swedish peasants. The valiant Tord Bonde, a cousin of King Charles, took the Danes by surprise, recapturing Lœdœse. An armistice of two years was agreed on, in May, 1453.

In the battle against open and secret enemies things turned out badly for King Charles. The best supporter of his cause, his cousin Tord, was murdered by a Danish traitor in his service, in 1456, and a new and dangerous enemy was encountered in the Church. The king had confiscated to the crown a number of estates which the Church had gained in an illegal way. While preparing for an expedition to (land, and having instructed the archbishop to gather troops for him, Charles learned that this man, Jœns Bengtsson Oxenstierna, had turned against him. The archbishop deposited his ecclesiastical robe at the high altar of the Upsala cathedral and started, sword in hand, with his forces to meet the king. Charles tried to surprise him, but was himself caught in a trap and met his enemy on the ice of Lake Maelar. The encounter proved a defeat to Charles, who in haste stored his treasures in a convent in Stockholm and sailed for Dantzic.

Christian of Denmark was called in by the archbishop and chosen king of Sweden. Christian was a sagacious ruler, but his great need of money, incurred by the redeeming of Schleswig and Holstein, made him unpopular. As the easy-going Christopher had been surnamed “Bark-king,” on account of dearth experienced in Sweden during his reign, when the people had to mix bark with their flour, thus Christian, on account of his avidity, was called “The Bottomless Purse.” During Christian’s war with Russia, the archbishop was commissioned to collect the increased taxes, but failing to do so, to the full extent demanded, he was imprisoned at the command of the king. This caused indignation.

Kettil Karlsson Vasa, a nephew of the archbishop, and the bishop of Linkœping, revolted and defeated the king and his army at Haraker’s church, in Westmanland, in 1464. The victors then marched on Stockholm. The popular opinion of the country demanded the reinstallation of King Charles. The peasants wanted him “because Sweden was of old a kingdom, not a regent’s land or a diocese.” King Charles returned in the same year, but soon left the throne again on account of a conflict with Bishop Kettil. This latter turned to Christian, promising a safe return to the crown if he set free the arch-bishop. Christian immediately did so, the worthy bishops commencing operations against Charles, who, defeated and forsaken by all, abdicated his throne, January 30, 1465. The once upon a time richest man of Sweden was now deprived of all, Christian having taken his hidden treasures. He retired to Raseborg, a castle in Finland, which after some hesitation was granted him. “We have,” wrote he, “in such manner departed from Sweden, that never longeth us to return thither the third time.” He also complained of his misery in the following strophe of assonance verse :

While I was lord of Fogelwick Then I was both mighty and rich, But since made the king of Svea land I am a poor and unhappy man.

Great confusion reigned in Sweden during the next two years, Bishop Kettil, who styled himself regent, tried to conduct the government in common with the archbishop, but the great nobles did their own pleasure. At last one of them, Ivar Axelson Tott, who had the island of Goth-land in fief, joined the party of Charles, marrying his daughter. His brother, Eric Axelson, was made regent. Nils Bosson Sture had been repeatedly asked to accept this dignity, as also the crown, but he refused. He and Sten Sture, of the original Sture family, who led the army under Bishop Kettil at Haraker, now made possible the second reinstallation of Charles, in 1467, the ambitious archbishop dying in the same year. But Charles was old and weary of the vanities of life, for which he had made so many sacrifices. It was only the valor and strength of the two Stures that made it possible for him to keep the crown and to die in the purple, in 1470. He designated Sten Sture as his successor at the rudder of state, but warned him not to seek the crown. “That ambition,” be said, “has crushed my happiness and cost my life.”

Charles is very sympathetically dealt with in the New Rhymed, or Charles Chronicle, probably written by one of his men, who flatters him, as did the Old Chronicle the ill-fated Duke Eric. Still the Charles Chronicle and its continuations, the Sture Chronicles, are very important historic sources of these periods of Unionism versus Patriot-ism, from Margaret to Gustavus Vasa. The less reliable Prose Chronicle and the later historic works by Ericus Olai, Johannis Magnus and Olaus Petri, also throw light upon them. What all of these have in common is a fiery patriotic spirit, entirely lacking in the placid and artistic lines of the Old Chronicle as compared to the New. With the seeds of patriotism were sowed those of national hatred against a foreign foe. That the Dane and not the German was destined to be this national enemy was disastrous to the Union of the North, but probably a gain for the cultural development of Sweden. This period is rich in shorter poems on political men and conditions, all of a strongly democratic flavor. Among these the song about his friend Engelbrekt, by Bishop Thomas of Strengnaes, occupies a high place, but a still higher one the Song of Liberty, by the same high-minded patriot.