Gustav I: The Stockholm Bloodbath

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How Christian treated his enemies

After the coronation of Christian and several days of partying, the guests were locked into the castle and the former enemies were rounded up for imprisonment. The prisoners were accused of heresy among other crimes and sentences were announced the day after. The sentences led to Christian II ordering a virtual massacre in Stockholm, Sweden on November 8th 1520, which has since been referred to as the Stockholm bloodbath.

No less than 82 people were executed that day, literally be-headed, with more victims the following day. The victims included Gustav’s father and additional relatives and most of the followers of the Sten Sture party. Christian had basically had the whole Sture party executed in one swift blow.

Thanks to archbishop Gustav Trolle’s demand on economical compensation for damages a discussion on whether the Stures had committed heresy or not. The heresy factor became the excuse for the summary executions during the Stockholm Bloodbath. The archbishop had significant power and a four hundred men strong unit to enforce it, including the right to absolution for whatever theat force were to perform. The economical claims was related to Sten Sture the younger having claimed parts of the land belonging to the church, i.e. Trolle. This wrong doing had occurred in 1515, but things had escalated further from that. Trolle prepared his troops and provisioned his castle to be able to handle a siege. The year after, 1516, Sten Sture acted: whe besieged Trolle’s castle with the motive that Trolle had not sworn an oath to the regent or the Privy Council, but that insinuated he was sworn to someone else, perhaps the Danish king. With this logic, Trolle was a traitor and Sten Sture’s actions would be righteous. Sten Sture even mustered support through politics – further underlining that his siege was legal. Despite attempts to meddle, Sten Sture did not budge and eventually managed, in 1517, to have Trolle convicted and his castle to be torn down.

By the end of 1517, Trolle surrendered and was imprisoned in Västerås. Soon after that, Trolle even gave up his position as Archbishop. The church now actively sought the release of Trolle and compensation for the wrong doings of Sten Sture. The result was a papal ban and interdiction over Sten Sture and appeals to worldly powers (i.e. the Danish King) to correct the situation.

Probably quite happy to get a reason, Christian II intervened in January 1520 and war was a fact. His forces consisted of between 6-7 000 men, mostly mercenaries recruited in northern Germany. The Swedish forces quickly withdrew from their positions in Västergötland, and the danish force, now divided in two, kept moving north into the two provinces Västergötland and Östergötland. With Sten Sture dying from wounds acquired in battle, hope was lost. Sten Sture’s widow Kristina Nilsdotter refused to surrender and kept on leading the defence of Stockholm. Since Christian could not afford a siege which could be lasting for years, he turned to negotiations. The defenders required amnesty which was granted by king Christian on September 5th. The amnesty included Sten Sture, his wife and all other followers and any actions performed against the Danish King or any Union King. The amnesty also concluded any crimes committed against the church and a guarantee that the former opponents estates and properties would not be seized.

The palace of Stockholm was turned over to the Danes on September 7th and the coronation of Christian II as King of Sweden took place in Storkyrkan on the 4th of November.

The “Trial”

Once the party was over, the guests now found themselves under accusation by Gustav Trolle with the king and all other guests present as spectators. Trolle wanted economical compensation for all kinds of crimes committed against the church, including the incidents committed by the deceased Sten Sture. Trolle stated that the perpetrators of these crimes were Sten Sture, his widow, her mother, several councilmen of the Privy Council and other nobles and last but not least, all mayors and councilmen of the city of Stockholm.

The accused were according to Trolle guilty of Heresy, even blatant and apparent heresy which differs from the normal level of he. This was a smart and sneaky move since the religious laws meant that the herecy had been performed in a planned and motivated way that no real evidence or proof was required. Upon completion of the accusations, the “trial” started giving the accused an opportunity to speak for themselves. Kristina, the widow of Sten Sture, now turned to the written political agreement giving Sten Sture the right to perform the siege (also known as the conpiracy letter), which actually contained an agreement between the writers to keep united from any repercussions in the name of the pope. One of the writers was actually a bishop, but he testified that he had been forced to comply, and got off the hook. As the trial moved forward, more and more of the guests were arrested and imprisoned.

The day after the trial, a group consisting of fourteen priests convened to decide whether the accused were in fact guilty of heresy or not. At this time, the description of the crime of heresy included a few major pillars: denial of something written in the bible or any other fact decided by church norm, and that the perpetrator has voluntarily joined a heretic movement and that he/she refuses to realize the truth of the church. In addition to these basics, the law could also be interpreted as herecy being the act of freely refusing to subdue yourself to the pope or the church.

Since Trolle had included accusations of crimes committed against the men of the church as well as crimes against church property, the punishment could include banning the perpetrators. Furthermore, additional laws provided that anyone guilty of heresy should have his or hers possessions taken by the church. Since heresy was a crime towards God, it was also seen as treason, for which the punishment was death. Further amendments also expanded this punishment to the followers of the heretics and the group of possible victims grew.

Not too surprisingly, the fourteen priests concluded that the actions of the accused were indeed apparent heresy and they were turned over to the state powers for administering an unspecified punishment. Christian II now had to execute the convicts by burning them at the stake. With the religious laws in mind, Christian II could not do anything but comply, since he could not over rule a decision of a spiritual court as this one.

The Executions are performed

At Stortorget (the big square) in Stockholm, the executions started at noon November 8th: two bishops, who actually were not accused by Trolle, were executed by decapitation through the use of a sword. This was continued by fifteen noblemen (including Gustav I’s father Eric) meeting the same fate: the sword. The mayor of Stockholm and all the city council men were hung. The day after, the outer circle of the group came next: the servants, assistants and criminal associates. After the second day of executions, the bodies who had been lying on the ground with blood pouring out of them, were burnt in the southern part of the city (Södermalm). Sten Sture, who was already dead, was dug out of his grave and also thrown on the bon fires. Two of the guilty people were set free, and two women, including Sten Sture’s widow were imprisoned.

There are different records of the number of people actually executed and the number recorded by the executioner, 82, would if it is correct mean that 20-30 people that were not accused by Trolle also met their deaths.

Christian II wrote a letter to the pope after the executions, explaining what had happened to the two bishops. The explanation stated how representatives of the Sture party had tried to torch the castle’s gun powder storage to disrupt the proceedings which led to the Danish soldiers charging in fury. Sadly, the two bishops had been killed by accident during the melee.

Was this really a case of heresy or perhaps a scheme of Christian II to get rid of his enemies despite the amnesty arrangement? Some sources mention how Christian and his closest advisors discussed a permanent solution. They agree that Swedish nobility needs to be exterminated and a list of people that needed to be executed had already been prepared by a bishop. What happened after that point has already been told. Written sources claim that witnesses heard bishop Vincent (one of the first to get executed) called out that the execution is the result of the lying and treason by the king and that God will avenge this injustice.

Sources: (swedish) (swedish) (swedish)
“Fogdemakt och bondevrede”, Mats Adolfsson, Natur och Kultur (Swedish only)

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