Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Stockholm Bloodbath

The Stockholm Bloodbath, or the Stockholm Massacre, took place as the result of a successful invasion of Sweden by Danish forces under the command of Christian II of Denmark (in Swedish history known as "Christian the Tyrant"). The bloodbath itself is a series of events taking place between November 4th and November 10th in 1520, culminating on the 8th when around 100 persons (mostly nobility and clergy involved in the previous Swedish war effort) were executed despite a promise by Christian for general amnesty. The executions took place in Stortorget Square in Stockholm.

The Stockholm Bloodbath was a consequence of the conflict between pro-unionists and patriotic anti-unionists in Sweden, and between the latter and the Danish aristocracy which in other aspects was highly critical of King Christian. The patriotic party, headed by Sten Sture the younger, stood face to face with the pro-Danish party under Archbishop Gustavus Trolle.

Christian, who had already taken measures to isolate Sweden politically, hastened to the relief of the archbishop, who was beleaguered in his fortress of Stake (Stäket), but was defeated by Sture and his peasant levies at Vedila and forced to return to Denmark. A second attempt to subdue Sweden in 1518 was also frustrated by Sture's victory at Brännkyrka. 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 Börgerund, on January 19, and the Danish army, unopposed, was approaching Upsala, where the members of the Swedish Riksnid had already assembled. The senators consented 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; and a convention to this effect was confirmed by the king and the Danish Privy Council on March 31.

Sture's widow, Dame Christina Gyllenstjerna, still held out stoutly at Stockholm, and the peasantry of central Sweden, roused by her patriotism, flew to arms, defeated the Danish invaders at Balundsås on March 19, and were only with the utmost difficulty finally defeated at the bloody battle of Upsala (Good Friday, April 6).

In May the Danish fleet arrived, and Stockholm was invested by land and sea; but Dame Christina resisted valiantly for four months longer, and took care, when she surrendered on September 7, to exact beforehand an amnesty of the most explicit and absolute character. On November 1 the representatives of the nation swore fealty to Christian as hereditary king of Sweden, though the law of the land distinctly provided that the Swedish crown should be elective.

On November 4, he was anointed by Gustavus Trolle in the Storkyrkan Church in Stockholm, and took the usual oath to rule the realm through native-born Swedes alone, according to prescription. The next three days were given up to banqueting, but on November 7 "an entertainment of another sort began." On the evening of that day Christian summoned his captains to a private conference at the palace, the result of which was quickly apparent, for at dusk a band of Danish soldiers, with lanterns and torches, broke into the great hail and carried off several carefully selected persons.

By 10 o'clock the same evening the remainder of the king's guests were safely under lock and key. All these persons had previously been marked down on Archbishop Trolle's proscription list. On the following day a council, presided over by Trolle, solemnly pronounced judgment of death on the proscribed, as manifest heretics.

At 12 o'clock that night the patriotic 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 drowned or decapitated. The executions continued throughout the following day; in all, about eighty-two people are said to have been thus murdered.

Moreover, Christian revenged himself upon the dead as well as upon the living, for Sten Sture's body was dug up and burnt, as well as the body of his little child. Dame Christina and many other noble Swedish ladies were sent as prisoners to Denmark. It has well been said that the manner of this atrocious deed (the Stockholm Massacre as it is generally called) was even more detestable than the deed itself.

Christian suppressed his political opponents under the pretense of defending an ecclesiastical system which in his heart he despised. Even when it became necessary to make excuses for his crime, we see the same double-standard. Thus, while in a proclamation to the Swedish people he represented the massacre as a measure necessary to avoid a papal interdict, in his apology to the Pope for the decapitation of the innocent bishops he described it as an unauthorized act of vengeance on the part of his own people.

See also