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The Stockholm Bloodbath, or the Stockholm Massacre (Swedish: Stockholms blodbad, Danish: det stockholmske blodbad), took place as the result of a successful invasion of Sweden by Danish forces under the command of Christian II. The bloodbath itself was a series of events taking place between November 7 and November 9 in 1520, climaxing on the 8th, when around 80-90 people (mostly nobility and clergy supporting the Sture party) were executed, despite a promise by Christian for general amnesty.
Political factions in Sweden
The Stockholm Bloodbath was a consequence of conflict between Swedish pro-unionists (in favour of the Kalmar Union, then dominated by Denmark) and anti-unionists (supporters of Swedish independence), and also between the anti-unionists and the Danish aristocracy, which in other aspects was opposed to King Christian. The anti-unionist party was headed by Sten Sture the Younger, and the pro-unionist party by archbishop Gustavus Trolle.
Military interventions of King Christian
King Christian, who had already taken measures to isolate Sweden politically, intervened to help archbishop Trolle, who was under siege in his fortress at Stäket, but he was defeated by Sture and his peasant soldiers at Vedila, and forced to return to Denmark. A second attempt to bring Sweden back under his control in 1518 was also countered by Sture's victory at Brännkyrka. Eventually, a third attempt made in 1520 with a large army of French, German and Scottish mercenaries proved successful.
Sture was mortally wounded at the Battle of Bogesund, on January 19. The Danish army, unopposed, was approaching Uppsala, where the members of the Swedish Riksdag had already assembled. The senators agreed to render homage to Christian, on condition that he gave a full indemnity for the past and a guarantee that Sweden should be ruled according to Swedish laws and custom. A convention to this effect was confirmed by the king and the Danish Privy Council on March 31.
Sture's widow, Dame Christina Gyllenstierna, was still resisting in Stockholm with support from the peasants of central Sweden, and defeated the Danes at Balundsås on March 19. Eventually, her forces were defeated at the Battle of Uppsala (Good Friday, April 6).
In May, the Danish fleet arrived and Stockholm was attacked by land and sea. Dame Christina resisted for four months longer, finally surrendering on September 7, on the condition that an amnesty would be granted. On November 1, the representatives of the nation swore fealty to Christian as hereditary king of Sweden, though the law of the land actually provided that the Swedish crown should be elective.
On November 4, Christian was anointed by Gustavus Trolle in the Storkyrkan (the "large church" in Stockholm), and took the usual oath to rule the kingdom through native-born Swedes only. A banquet was held for the next three days.
On November 7, the events of the Stockholm bloodbath began to unfold. On the evening of that day, Christian summoned many Swedish leaders to a private conference at the palace.
At dusk on November 8, Danish soldiers, with lanterns and torches, entered a great hall of the royal palace and took away several noble guests. Later in the evening, many others of the king's guests were imprisoned. All these people had previously been marked down on Archbishop Trolle's proscription list.
The following day, November 9, a council, headed by archbishop Trolle, sentenced the proscribed to death for being heretics; the main point of accusation was their having united in a pact to depose Trolle a few years earlier. However many of them were also leading men of the Sture party and thus potential opponents of the Danish kings. At noon, the anti-unionist bishops of Skara and Strängnäs were led out into the great square and beheaded. Fourteen noblemen, three burgomasters, fourteen town councillors and about twenty common citizens of Stockholm were then hanged or decapitated.
The executions continued throughout the following day (November 10); according to the chief executioner Jörgen Homuth 82 people were executed.
It is said that Christian also took revenge on Sten Sture's body, having it dug up and burnt, as well as the body of his little child. Sture's widow Dame Christina, and many other noble Swedish ladies, were sent as prisoners to Denmark.
Christian justified the massacre in a proclamation to the Swedish people as a measure necessary to avoid a papal interdict, but, when apologising to the Pope for the decapitation of the bishops, he rather blamed his troops for performing unauthorised acts of vengeance.
If the intention behind the executions had been to frighten the anti-unionist party into submission, it proved wholly counterproductive. Gustav Vasa was a son of Erik Johansson one of the victims of the executions. Vasa, upon hearing of the massacre, travelled north to the province of Dalarna to seek support for a new revolt. The population, informed of what had happened, rallied to his side. They were ultimately able to defeat Christian's forces in the Swedish War of Liberation. The lasting irony of the Bloodbath is that an act which was intended to strengthen the position of the unionist party turned out to be the catalyst that permanently separated Sweden from Denmark.
Later reception and propaganda
The 'Stockholm Bloodbath' precipitated a lengthy hostility towards Danes in Sweden, and thenceforth the two nations were at almost continuous hostility with each other (each with the objective of conquest or revenge upon the other). These hostilities, developing into a struggle for hegemony in the Scandinavian and North German area, lasted for nearly three hundred years. Memory of the Bloodbath served to let Swedes depict themselves (and often, actually regard themselves) as the wronged and aggrieved party, even when they were the ones who eventually took the political and military lead, such as the conquest and annexation of Scania.
Christian the Tyrant and 'Christian the Good'
The event earned Christian II the nickname of Kristian Tyrann in Sweden which he has retained till this day.
It is a common misconception in Sweden that King Christian II, contrarily, is bynamed Christian den Gode ("the Good") in Denmark, but this is merely a myth. Christian II was, however, a popular monarch among the peasantry of both countries in his lifetime. According to Gunnar Richardson, professor of educational history, this myth was first presented in Swedish textbooks and promoted by Swedish authors such as Alf Henrikson. Richardson wrote: "Why has this myth become so widespread and beloved in Sweden? The answer is simple: it fulfills both an ideological and didactic function. In the history education of schools and in the education of teachers you will hardly find any more rewarding matter in order to show the presence of nationally and ethnocentrically oriented history writing".
According to Danish historians, no bynames at all have been given to Christian II in Danish historical tradition. In an interview with Richardson in 1979, Danish historian Mikael Venge, author of the article about Christian II in Dansk Biografisk Leksikon said: "I think you ought to protest the next time the Swedish radio claims anything so utterly unfounded that could be understood as if the Danes approved of the Stockholm bloodbath." Even today, tourist guides in Stockholm spice up their guiding of the old town (Gamla Stan) with the news about Christian II's "rehabilitation" back in Denmark.
The Stockholm Bloodbath forms a large part of the 1948 historical novel The Adventurer (Original title Mikael Karvajalka) by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari. The events are depicted as seen by a young Finnish man, Mikael Karvajalka, who is in Stockholm at the time. The event is also depicted in the 1901 novel Kongens Fald (The Fall of the King) by Johannes V. Jensen and voted Novel of the Century by the readers of Denmark's largest omnibus newspaper.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Lars Ericson Wolke. "Stockholms blodbad", Stockholm 2006, page 141
- Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, 1911, "Christian II"
- Lauritz Weibull. "Nordisk historia. Forskningar och undersökningar. Del III. Från Erik den helige till Karl XII", Stockholm 1949, p. 160-163
- Gunnar Richardson, "Kristian II - Tyrann eller den gode?", Dagens Forskning, 2002-05-13. (in Swedish; link currently dead, 23 May 2009)
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