Monday, December 22, 2014

Stockholm Bloodbath

Stockholm Bloodbath and the desecration of Sten Sture's grave
The Kalmar Union began in the 14th century with the idea of one King for the three kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, but each retaining its own laws and Council of Realm. However, from a series of autocratic kings and failed campaigns against the powerful Hanseatic League, fracture began to appear within the Union. Most especially, Sweden became critical about its part within the Union. Sweden resented the idea that their King ruled them from a foreign and distant city of Copenhagen. They also hated the economic crisis brought by the anti-Hanseatic League stand of the Kalmar Union Kings. Ever since, Sweden always became a focal point of rebellion and a problem for the King of the Union.

During the late 1510’s, Sweden was divided. Politically, it was split into two. Those who supported Sweden continuing being part of the Kalmar Union in one. And the other were those who supported Sweden’s independence from the Union. During the decade, Sten Sture became the regent of the country and he was against Sweden continuing part of the Kalmar Union. When he began to assert Swedish independence from the Union, Copenhagen, the center of the Union reacted violently.

In 1520, the King of Denmark and of the Kalmar Union, King Christian II invaded Sweden with his army. Sten Sture’s army faced Christian’s army in the Battle of Bogesund. The battle proved to be a disaster for the Swedish forces. During the course of the battle, Sweden’s regent, Sten Sture, was wounded. He was then evacuated and went back to Stockholm where he eventually died. Sten Sture’s wife and now widow, Christina Gyllenstierna, took over and commanded the defense of Stockholm from the impending attack of the Danish army. For months, Christina stood her ground and led the defense of the capital. However, the siege resulted to starvation and hardship. Stockholm was blockaded by land and by sea. All hopes were lost. In September 1520, Christina surrendered the city of Stockholm to Christian II in exchange for sparing the city and the lives of herself, the citizens, and the Swedish nobility. Christian agreed.

A month later, Christian II finally succeeded in unifying the Kalmar Union once more. In November of 1520, Christian II was crowned as King of Sweden. He was crowned by one of his staunches supporters in Sweden – Archbishop Gustavus Trolle. After the coronation, a traditional three day celebration began. But behind the glitter and joy of the banquets, Archbishop Trolle was plotting a devious and brutal scheme.  Not towards Christian II, but towards those who in the Swedish nobility and clergy had gave him disgrace and hardship.

Trolle’s anger towards some Swedish nobles happened years before the 1520 Danish invasion of Sweden. In 1517, Sten Sture launched a crackdown against those he deemed supporters of the Kalmar Union and King Christian II. One of Sten Sture’s victim was Archbishop Gustavus Trolle. Trolle was accused of being a supporter of the Kalmar Union. And in the process, he lost all his titles. He also lost all his lands and his Castle Staket demolished. He was disgraced and humiliated. He had the reason to be angry towards the nobility who supported Sten Sture, and Sten Sture himself. When Christian II landed in 1520, he welcomed the arrival of the Danish King and supported him. After the fall of Stockholm, he moved to take his vengeance against those who oppressed him in the past.

After the three day coronation celebration, Trolle began to make his bloody plan work. He set up an execution site in the Stortorget in Gamla Stan, Stockholm. He ordered the arrest of several clergy and members of the Swedish nobility, most of which were his enemies, and put them in trial for heresy. One way did it was to invite the nobles in a banquet with Christian II and had them arrested. A council made of 14 men with Trolle served as judge for the allege heretics. The whole trial things was nothing but a show and a formality. A judgment was already made beforehand. They were all found guilty and sentenced to death.

The arrested nobles and clergy were all shock with their arrest and their sentence. During the surrender they were promised they would not be harmed or killed. They did not anticipated that Trolle would do such a thing. Sten Sture’s widon, Christina, protested against the authority of Trolle to head a religious trial. He used the 1517 case against Trolle as a basis of Trolle losing his religious authority and deemed that the decision was made by the people of Sweden. Nevertheless, Christina’s defense was futile.

Trolle and his council’s decision were then forwarded to King Christian for the execution of the sentence. Christian knew he promised safety for the nobility and officials of Stockholm in exchange of the city’s surrender. However, his amnesty had a loop-hole. It did not cover religious crimes. In addition to the loop-hole, he also granted Trolle and the church autonomy from the King. Hence, he could not reverse the decision or reject it. Moreover, he also realized that most of the sentenced were against Sweden’s part of the Kalmar Union. He saw the death as part of cleaning up Sweden of those who opposed the Union. With this reasons, he approved the executions.

Throughout November 8 and 9, 1520, the executions were carried out. Witness said that the ground of Stortorget became red with the beheadings. It was a bloodbath.  All in all, 82 fell prey to Trolle’s execution spree. Two of which were archbishops. Also, members of the prominent noble families, like the Vasas and the Gyllenstiernas, were among those executed. Adding insult to injury, the bodies of the executed were burned in a great pyre. Christian also made a revenge against Sten Sture by digging up his body along with his child and threw them to the pyre as well. Trolle got all his enemies killed except one – Christina Gyllenstierna.

Christina was spared by Christian from the execution. As a sign of honoring the agreement he made with Christina for the surrender of Stockholm, Christian decided to send her instead back to Copenhagen and imprisoned there.

Christian thought that with the Stockholm Bloodbath, the ideas of Swedish independence from Kalmar Union was dead, but he was very wrong. Instead of killing the flares of independence, he inflamed it further. He showed to the Swedes that he was nothing more than a foreign invaders who went to Sweden to oppress the people and not to rule them. The Swedes dubbed him Kristian Tyrann, Christian the Tyrant. The Stockholm Bloodbath disgusted the Swedes and all Swedish nobles. And as a result, Gustavus Vasa led a rebellion against Christian II and called for the independence of Sweden. Eventually, he succeeded and in 1523, Gustavus was crowned King of Sweden and the House of Vasa began to rule. Christian II and Trolle’s plan backfired tremendously.

What happened to Christian II and Trolle after the bloodbath was terrible karma. Christian II when the Vasa’s came to power in Sweden, his rule in Denmark collapse and he was dethroned. He attempted to retake and at his side was Gustavus Strolle who left Sweden in 1521 after his unpopularity caused him to leave. Strolle died in 1535, dead from a battle under Christian II. Christian himself died in 1559, a man without a crown and remembered as a brutal man. Both men were smeared by their acts leading ot the Stockholm Bloodbath.

See also:

Bibliography:
Derry, T. K. History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1979.

Griffiths, T. Stockholm: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Sprague, M. Sweden: An Illustrated History. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2005.

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