Unionism Versus Patriotism – Uncrowned Kings Of The Sture Families

STEN STURE THE ELDER was chosen regent by the council of state and elected by the people at the Riksdag of Arboga, in 1471. For more than half a century following upon the reign of Charles VIII., Sweden was governed by uncrowned kings, with the intermission of a few years. These regents had not any republican ideals in mind, nor were they secretly coveting the crown. Their ambition was simply to uphold a strong and firm national government by means of which foreign lord-ships could be made impossible, the people enjoy their rights and their liberty, and the government increase in power and authority at the expense of Church and nobility. The policy laid down by Sten Sture the Elder, and strictly adhered to by him and his successors, was of the broadly democratic spirit of Engelbrekt. This policy was strengthened by the high esteem in which the regents were held. Yet their position was a very difficult one, for although enjoying the full confidence of the people, they were regarded with envy and suspicion by the aristocracy, who never could be persuaded but that these noble uncrowned rulers were secretly scheming for obtainance of the royal crown.

Sten Sture had the good fortune to inaugurate his reign with a glorious victory over King Christian, which put an end to Danish invasions during a whole generation. Christian arrived at Stockholm with a fine fleet and a magnificent army, taking his position at Brunkeberg, close to the north of the capital. Here a long and fierce battle was fought, October 10, 1471. Sten Sture commanded a large army of peasants, attacking Christian’s fortified position from the north, supported by Knut Posse, with burgher troops, from the south. At the third attack victory was won, Nils Bosson Sture arriving on the battle scene with an army of Dalecarlians. King Christian was wounded in the mouth; the famous Danish Oriflamme, Dannebrog, was captured, being surrounded by five hundred corpses of select Danish knights. Through the prestige of the great victory at Brunkeberg, Sten Sture managed to give Sweden ten years of undisturbed peace and comfort. Encouraged by the victory over the foreign invaders, the city of Stock-holm took the lead in ridding the towns of undue influence, caused by the supremacy of German commerce. The town laws held a stipulation that half the number of councillors in each town council should be Germans. A petition headed by the burghers of Stockholm and circulated through the towns was acted upon, the council of state abolishing by law the stipulation in question. Free markets were established in the commercial centres Kalmar and Sœderkœping, and a new commercial town was founded on the Gotha River, to be called Gothahamn, although the name was changed to New Lœdœse. In spite of the supremacy of the Hanseatic League, commerce was good, the iron mines of Dalecarlia, Westmanland, Nerike and Eastern Vermland growing in importance, and silver being produced by various mines in Dalecarlia.

Lord Sten gave careful and loving attention to the needs of the yeomanry and the common people. He kept an open and watchful eye on the bailiffs, and carried out the demands of justice with severity. Many farms, desolate and neglected during the times of war, were brought under cultivation. Lord Sten made no decision in any matter of importance without consulting the yeomen and the burghers, as well as the nobles, at Riksdagar, the parliamentary nature of which was further developed. With a firm hand he held the nobles down to order and the requirements of a national democratic policy. The powerful brothers Ivan and Eric Tott especially caused him annoyance, the former holding the island of Gothland, the latter the duchy of Fin-land, in fief. It came to open hostilities with Ivar Tott who, defeated and deprived of his castles, fled to Denmark, taking revenge by turning the much contested island over to said power.

Lord Sten was a very pious man, but he held the ecclesiastics under strict surveillance on account of their unpatriotic tendencies. But he collaborated with them for the establishment of a state university at Upsala, in which the archbishop, Jacob Ulfsson, was greatly interested. Sanctioned by the pope, the university was opened in 1477, with great ceremonies. One of its earliest profess-ors was Ericus Olai, the author of the first but rather uncritical work of Swedish history, Chronica Regni Gothorum, written in awkward mediaeval Latin, but in a style at-tractive through its vivacity. Latin was chiefly used by the learned and literary men. The cloisters and the cathedrals had schools where the young people were trained for the learned professions, chiefly the Church. For a university education, the institutions of Cologne, Prague, Leipzig and Bologna, but chiefly Paris, the greatest of them all, had been sought. The Swedes had three collegia in Paris, and the Scandinavians held there an honored position as scholars, the Swedes three times filling the office of rector or president of the Paris university, the highest dignity of learning in the world. Ingeborg Tott, the wife of Sten Sture, was a great friend of learning, having books printed at her expense and collecting a large library in the convent of Mariefred, founded by Lord Sten.

The peace of the country was disturbed by a war with Russia. Attacks on the castle of Viborg had been made shortly after the battle of Brunkeberg, but warded off by Eric Tott, who in return invaded Russian territory. After his death the valiant Knut Posse was made commander of Viborg. The Russians, in 1495, made a violent attack upon the castle, damaging it considerably. But Posse led the defence with superior skill, repulsing the enemy with astounding force. This deed has become famous in popular traditions, both Swedes and Russians crediting Posse with an alliance of a supernatural order. The regent himself twice headed expeditions to Finland, forcing a new Russian army to retire over the frontier. Affairs were going badly on account of unsafety in Finland, and dearth and intrigues in Sweden. The council of state accused Lord Sten of not doing all he could for Finland while secretly fanning the discontent of the commanders, who made per-sonal sacrifices of time and money by remaining with the army. It came to hot words between Lord Sten and the commander Svante Sture, the son of Nils Bosson. He returned home, although Lord Sten told him he was a deserter in so doing, “fleeing from the banner of state.” Svante Sture, who with Posse had made a glorious inroad upon Russian territory, now joined the aristocratic enemies of the regent, calling in King John (Hans) of Denmark. John succeeded Christian in 1482, and commenced intriguing for the Swedish crown. The Swedish nobles were anxious to have this good-natured monarch for ruler. Lord Sten was too sagacious to openly oppose them, when they, in the so-called Recess of Kalmar of 1483, declared John king of Sweden, the king promising the island of Gothland to Sweden, and all old privileges to the nobles. By means of skilful diplomatic operations, Lord Sten delayed matters to such an extent that it took fourteen years before John II. was king of Sweden in anything but name. But the time was ripe for Svante Sture’s open conflict with Lord Sten. The council, the archbishop leading, broke their faith with the regent, offering King John the crown. He came with an army to Stockholm, taking his position at Brunkeberg. An army of Dalecarlians marched upon the capital at the solicitation of Lord Sten, who awaited them with another army. The operations took an unfavorable turn on account of misapprehended movements, Lord Sten with difficulty saving his life. King John understood that a continued struggle would lead to his ultimate defeat and made peace. Lord Sten retired, but with the greatest fiefs given to any Swedish man; viz., the whole of Finland, with large possessions besides. When the king entered Stockholm, in October, 1497, it was at the arm of Lord Sten, to whom he said jestingly: “Have you now prepared everything well for me at the castle, Lord Sten; the table set with meat and ale, so that my guests may make merry?” Lord Sten answered in the same light spirit, pointing to the Swedish nobles who had joined the royal retinue: “That these know best who stand there behind you. They have it all both baked and brewed.” Later the king remarked : “Lord Sten, it is a bad inheritance you have bequeathed on me in Sweden; the peasants whom God created slaves you have made into lords, and those who should have been lords you try to make slaves.” At his coronation in Upsala, the king bestowed knighthood upon many Swedish nobles (some-thing that had been beyond Lord Sten’s authority to do), upon his return to Denmark appointing Lord Sten to take the reins of government with three state councillors at his side.

King John’s reign in Sweden was of short duration. He failed to return the island of Gothland to the Swedish crown and lost his prestige through an unsuccessful war in Ditmarschen. Svante Sture, who had not been dealt with according to his expectations, declared war upon the king and joined Lord Sten, who was in an unenviable position and glad to shake off the Union with Denmark, which he did, in 1501, when made regent for the second time. With a peasant army siege was laid to the castle of Stockholm, held by the energetic Queen Christine, who capitulated after a heroic struggle. Three days later King John appeared with an army, but returned, seeing that he came too late. Lord Sten retained Queen Christine at Vadstena for some time, later escorting her to the Danish frontier. Upon his return he was taken ill and died suddenly at Jœnkœping, December 14, 1503. With him the older or original line of the Sture family became extinct. Lord Sten was the greatest ruler since Margaret, and his rule, being of a more patriotic and democratic tendency, was of greater benefit to Sweden than hers.

Svante Sture succeeded Sten. He was of the younger Sture line, the son of the noble patriot, Nils Bosson, who in the time of Charles VIII., as the friend of Engelbrekt and Bishop Thomas, had taken stand against the archbishop and the nobles, backed by the Dalecarlians, who adored him. Lord Svante was a very quick-tempered man, which led him into the conflict with Lord Sten. Unlike the regent and his own father, he never had experienced what Danish oppression meant, which accounts for his unwise decision in joining the Unionists. The war with Denmark lasted eight of his nine years of reign, which proves him an able soldier and a stanch patriot. His position from the start was less favorable than that of his predecessor, who could reign in the glory of his early victory at Brunkeberg.

Lord Svante had in Doctor Hemming Gad a patriotic adviser of rare attainments and great learning. He had studied in Rostock, was for twelve years Lord Sten’s representative in Italy, and later bishop of Linkœping, al-though never sanctioned and finally placed under ban by the pope. Hemming Gad was the first democratic agitator of Sweden, a warm admirer of the Stures, and a good soldier. His statecraft he had evidently learned in Italy with her traditions of Machiavelli. His literary style is very characteristic, the language of a learned ecclesiastic with the oaths of a soldier. Those of his writings which are still extant prove a great love for the common people, a love which was returned by them. Having organized the revolt against King John, he evinced great slyness and presence of mind at the death of Lord Sten. To preserve its secrecy until Svante was forewarned and in possession of the castle of Stockholm, he had a man dress in the clothes of the deceased regent and continue the journey to the capital with Sten’s retinue.

The Unionist party was as ready as ever to offer the crown to King John, their representatives agreeing to pay a yearly tribute until he or his son Christian was chosen king. This agreement was made in 1509, but it called forth a storm of indignation from the patriots and the people, and was never considered by the government. Lubeck opened hostilities against Denmark and was joined by Sweden, the Unionists recommencing deliberations whenever it looked favorable for Danish interests. Lord Svante made sure of peace and safety for Finland before taking up the conflict with the Danes. On the eastern shore, Hemming Gad led the operations against the town and castle of Kalmar, held by the Danes. The town was soon captured, but the castle not before the end of 1510. Ake Hansson (Natt och Dag) fought with great valor and considerable success against the Danes on the western and southern frontier, until this “Tormentor of Denmark,” as he was surnamed, was killed in battle in 1510. On the sea the Danes were superior, a fleet under the command of Otto Rud and Soren Norrby plundering Abo in Finland. But when Lubeck’s fleet appeared the Danes were forced back. Peace was made, but soon broken. Lubeck sent a fleet to invade the coast of the Danish isles; Hemming Gad, with several Swedish ships, taking part in the expedition. Denmark did her best to crush Swedish resistance by inducing Russia to break the peace, the emperor to declare Sweden the arch enemy of the German empire, and the pope to place her under ban.

More unfortunate to Sweden than these intrigues was the fact that King John in his son Christian had an able warrior and a great organizer. Prince Christian put down a revolt in Norway against Danish oppression, entering West Gothland with a superior army. The Unionists assembled to force the regent to abdicate, but he firmly refused to do so. A rebellion seemed imminent, Lord Svante hastening to Westeros to confer with the people of the mining districts. Shortly after the opening of the meeting, Lord Svante died quite suddenly, after a stroke of paralysis, in January, 1512.

The council of state selected Eric Trolle, a learned but unfit man of the Unionists, to succeed Lord Svante. But the popular opinion condemned him, and the council was forced to choose Svante’s son as his successor.

Sten Sture the Younger was barely nineteen years of age at his father’s death. Knighted when only five, he early distinguished himself as a warrior, winning fame for his chivalric spirit and noble character, and, like his illustrious namesakes, his father and grandfather, becoming the idol of the people. And he deserved their idolatry. More resembling his grandfather in the sweetness of his disposition than his sterner predecessors, he was as great a warrior as his father, to which he joined the sagacity and power of self-control characteristic of the elder Lord Sten. As a youth, he was made regent of a country in war, distress and peril. He was called away by death when only twenty-seven, leaving behind the memory of not one evil deed to soil the glory of his fair name, al-though continually placed in trying and dangerous positions of strife, rivalry, envy and rebellion. He made his will respected by high and low with a temperance in spirit and methods worthy of the highest admiration and the devoted love of the people. The young Lord Sten had a tender heart for the lowly and the suffering, never fearing to wring their rights from the oppressors, whosoever they were. He took great interest in the pursuits of peace, during the intervals allowed by his successful exploits in war.

In spite of the plague and other contagious diseases, which, together with the destruction of war, ravaged the country, he left it in a better condition than he received it. In many ways more farseeing than his contemporaries, his name will live on for centuries as one of the most be-loved in Swedish history.

With the younger Lord Sten, other new actors appeared upon the stage of Scandinavian history. Christian II. succeeded his father upon the throne of Denmark and Norway. In Sweden, Archbishop Jacob Ulfsson retired and was succeeded by Gustavus Trolle, a son of Lord Eric. The new archbishop was of a hateful and jealous disposition. He resolved to avenge the treatment his father had received at the hands of Lord Sten and the Swedish people by placing Christian on the throne. The young regent made no less than four attempts to win over this formidable enemy, but all in vain. He opened up a court at Stæket, in Up-land, more brilliant than that of Lord Sten, and accepted subsidies from Denmark. At last, fully aware of the secret deliberations going on, Lord Sten surrounded Stæket and called a Riksdag at Arboga, in 1517, where it was resolved that Christian should never become king of Sweden, and that the siege of Stæket should be continued. Christian sent a little army to support his ally, but Lord Sten met it at Ladugardsland, outside of Stockholm, completely routing it. A new Riksdag was called at Stockholm before which the archbishop appeared upon truce. His language was haughty and disdainful. He said he was in his full right to support King Christian’s claims with mitre and sword, the pope sanctioning his policy; and to the pope alone he was responsible. The indignant Riksdag resolved that the archbishop should be deprived of his seat, being guilty of high treason, and that his castle should be burned. The resolution was written down and signed by all the bishops, none daring to oppose the yeomanry. Bishop Brask, of Linkœping, managed to conceal in the wax of his seal a paper with the words : “To this I am forced by necessity.” The archbishop returned to defend Staeket, but soon had to flee with his followers. It was only by using all his authority that Lord Sten could save his enemy’s life from the irate people. Trolle was forced to resign his seat and was imprisoned in a convent at Westeros, while his castle was torn down. Lord Sten wanted to appoint a successor to Trolle, but Bishop Brask objected that the pope might not consent to his removal. To this Lord Sten uttered the following manly words, hardly in touch with the policy of Rome: “I think that our most holy father, the pope, and the canonic law should not tolerate as the leaders of the Church, and as the precepts or mirrors to the people, men who are infested by open treason, in particular against their own country.” The Church tried various means to gain a settled condition of things. When Sten refused the royal crown from its hand, he was at last placed under ban.

The hostilities with Denmark recommenced. King Christian appeared with a fleet and an army, in June, 1518, laying siege to Stockholm. His attacks were valiantly repulsed, and Christian, fearing to be encircled by his enemies, marched away in a southeasterly direction, taking a firm position at Brennkyrka. A Swedish army met him from the south and gave battle one of the last days of July, 1518. It was a fierce conflict, ending with a victory for the Swedes. The chief banner was carried by the squire Gustavus Ericsson Vasa, who five years later was to become king of Sweden. Christian returned to attack Stockholm, once more in vain. He was to sail for Denmark, but was kept back by storms, great suffering being experienced by his men. Christian was forced to open deliberations, making very high demands. But Lord Sten refused to hold a meeting, postponing it to the following year. A few days later, King Christian sent word that he wanted the regent to visit him in his ship on important affairs. Lord Sten, always good-natured and ready to accept peace, thought that the king had changed. his mind and was ready to go. But the burgomaster and council of Stockholm prevailed upon him not to go, sure that it would bring him into the enemy’s hands. Lord Sten took their advice and arranged for a meeting on land, sending six Swedish nobles as hostages to the king at his demand. Among these were Dr. Hemming Gad and Gustavus Ericsson Vasa. For two days Lord Sten waited in vain for the king to appear. Then he learned, to his dismay and indignation, that King Christian had sailed to Denmark, taking the hostages with him as prisoners, October 4, 1518.

Christian collected all his forces and resources to crush Sweden. The whole of the following year was spent in preparations. Sweden was placed under ban by the pope, and Christian made himself his representative, the one who was to fulfil the heavenly punishment. In January, 1520, a large Danish army invaded Smaland and West Gothland. Lord Sten made an appeal to the people and gathered a peasant army, with which he met the superior force of the enemy at Bogesund, in West Gothland. The Swedish forces were arranged in line on the frozen surface of Lake Asund. Lord Sten rode in front of the line, encouraging his men, but was seriously wounded during the very first engagement and carried from the field. After two vain attempts, the Danes were victorious in overthrowing the Swedes. These gathered in the wooded hills of Tiveden for a last heroic resistance, which was broken; the Danes taking possession of the provinces to the north. Lord Sten, mortally wounded, died on the ice of Lake Maslar during his journey to Stockholm. Christian continued his march on Stockholm, the castle of which was heroically defended by Lord Sten’s consort, Christine Gyllenstierna, who also tried by support and exhortations to encourage other strong-holds not yet surrendered to resist the Danes. The castle of Kalmar was defended by another heroic woman, Anna Bielke. But Christian won, through persuasions and de-liberations, what he could not take by violence. His operations were carried on by Dr. Hemming Gad, who, for reasons unknown to history, had changed his old patriotic views and become a friend of Christian. In September, 1520, Christian won Stockholm by peaceful agreement. The 4th of November he was crowned by Trolle, the rein-stalled archbishop. At this occasion it caused considerable surprise that only Danes and Germans were knighted, the herald proclaiming that the country was won by sword, for which reason no Swede could be thus honored. This was in striking contrast to Christian’s proclamation of having ascended the throne by right of his descent from St. Eric. Worse things were to follow.

The 7th of November a great number of Swedish nobles were called to the castle of Stockholm, where they were brought before a tribunal, the king presiding. The arch-bishop asked for remuneration for the sufferings caused him during Lord Sten’s reign. A jury of bishops and nobles convened. Christine Gyllenstierna was the first to answer to the accusations, holding forth that the Riksdag of Arboga was responsible for the action taken against Trolle and bringing the signed document in evidence. The king answered by announcing that all who signed were under the ban of the pope; Bishop Brask was the only one acquitted, producing his written slip of reservation from under his seal, besides Bishop Otto of Westeros, who supported Trolle in his claims. In the evening all the accused were imprisoned and judgment passed on them the following morning.

In the morning of November 8th, a solemn procession of convicts started from the castle to the grand square, hedged in by soldiers and executioners. The bishops Mattias of Strengnaes and Vincentius of Skara, in their ecclesiastical robes, came first, followed by thirteen noblemen and thirty-one town councillors and burghers of Stockholm. In the square, a Danish councillor of state from the porch of the court-house asked the masses not to be frightened. The archbishop, he said, had three times on his knees implored the king that justice should be done. Bishop Vincentius replied with great courage that the king had committed treason against the Swedes and called down divine punishment on him for such deeds. Two of the Swedish nobles followed the bishop with short addresses, admonishing the people not to believe in false letters and promises and to put down such tyranny as soon as within their power. King Christian, who from a window of a house facing the square looked down on the spectacle, now gave a sign for the executions to commence. First the bishops, then the state councillors, nobles and burghers were beheaded, among whom were two brothers of Christine Gyllenstierna and the father and brother-in-law of Gustavus Ericsson Vasa. Many burghers were captured in the street, or in their homes, and brought in to be executed, others being killed on the spot. Not less than eighty-two persons were that day executed, the number being increased during the following days by people killed in various ways. Olaus Petri, the reformer, who was an eyewitness, in his history gives a graphic description of the terrible scenes. He adds : “Yes, this was a horrible and cruel murder, such as no other prince who carried a Christian name ever committed before.” The corpses were burned, the remains of Lord Sten and one of his sons being taken from their graves and thrown into the flames. Christine Gyllenstierna, and the mother and sister of Gustavus Vasa, were with several other ladies carried to Copenhagen and thrown into a miser-able dungeon. The mass murder has been called the Carnage of Stockholm, but it was extended also to Finland—where Dr. Hemming Gad was executed at Raseborg—and to the provinces. Christian marked his return through the Swedish mainland to Copenhagen by executions and mass murder everywhere; six hundred are estimated to have been killed through his order during his short stay in Sweden.

Archbishop Trolle had taken a terrible revenge, and Christian thought he had crushed forever the stubborn Swedish resistance. But through this excess of cruelty the Union became insupportable, and the Swedish people re-solved to throw off forever the connection with any foreign ruler. In the woods of Dalecarlia a man was hiding who soon was to step forward to lead the work of liberation and independence.