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Charles Morris

The Blood-Bath of Stockholm

The most cruel tyrant the northern lands ever knew was Christian II. of Denmark, grandson of Christian I., whose utter defeat at Stockholm has been told. For twenty-seven years Sweden remained without a king, under the wise rule of Sten Sture. Then Hans of Denmark, son of Christian I., was chosen as king, in the belief that he would keep his promises of good government. As he failed to keep them he was driven out after a four years' rule, as we have told in the last tale, and Sten Sture became practically king again.

How Christian, who succeeded Hans as king of Denmark, and had shown himself a master of ferocity and bloodthirsty cruelty in Norway and Denmark, overcame the Swedes and made himself king of Sweden, is a story of the type of others which we have told of that unhappy land. It must suffice to say here that by force, fraud, and treachery he succeeded in this ambitious effort and was crowned king of Sweden on the 4th of November, 1520.

He had reached the throne by dint of promises, confirmed by the most sacred oaths, not one of which he had any intention of keeping, and the Swedes might as well have set a wolf on their throne as given it to this human tiger. One thing he knew, which was that the mischief and disquiet in Sweden were due to the ambition of the great lords, and he mentally proposed to ensure for himself a quiet reign by murdering all those whom he feared.


Skansen River

Under what pretence of legality it could be done, and leave to him the appearance of innocence in the matter, was a difficult question. To attempt the bloody work with no ostensible motive might lose for him the crown which he had striven so hard to win, and in the dilemma he consulted with his confidential advisers as to what should be done.

Some of them proposed that a quarrel and uproar between the Danes and Swedes in the town should be fomented, which the lords might be accused of bringing about. But there was danger that such a pretended quarrel might become a real one, and endanger his throne. Others advised that gun-powder should be laid under the castle and the lords be accused of seeking to blow up the king. But this was dismissed as too clumsy a device.

Finally it was proposed to proceed against the lords as heretics, they having some years previously been excommunicated by the Pope for heretical practices. The king, indeed, had solemnly sworn to forget and forgive the past, but his cunning advisers told him that while he might speak for himself, he had no warrant to speak for the Church, the laws and rights of which had been violated. This pretext was seized upon by Christian with joy and he proceeded to make use of it in a way that every churchman in the land would have condemned with horror.

On the 7th of November, the day after the coronation festivities ended, the king proceeded to put his treacherous plot into effect. A number of noble Swedes who had attended the festivities were brought to the castle under various pretences, and were there ushered into a large and spacious hall. With alarm they saw that the doors were closed behind them so that none could leave, though others might enter.

When all were gathered Christian entered and took his seat on the throne, with his council and chief lords about him. Archbishop Trolle was also present as representative of the Church, but without knowledge or suspicion of the secret purpose of the king, who had brought him there to sanction by his presence the intended massacre.

The charge which it was proposed to bring against the senators and lords was that of trespass against the archiepiscopal dignity and to demand retribution for the same, and this charge was accordingly brought in the name of the Church. The king then turned to the archbishop and asked:

"My Lord Archbishop, do you intend to have this matter brought to peace and friendship according to the counsel of good men or will you have it judged by the law?"

Archbishop Trolle answered, "The offence being one against the Church, the cause of the accused should be judged by the Pope."

This was a mode of settling the matter which by no means conformed with the king's intention, and he answered:

"This is a matter not to be referred to the Pope, but to be terminated at home in the kingdom, without troubling his Holiness."

In this decision he was not to be shaken, knowing well that if the archbishop's proposal to refer the matter to the Pope were carried out his secret sanguinary purpose would be defeated. What he proposed was the murder of the lords, and he had no intention of letting the matter escape from his control.

Lord Sten Sture, against whom the accusation had been chiefly directed, was dead, but his widow, the Lady Christina, was present, and was asked what defence she had to offer for herself and her husband. She replied that the offences against the archbishop were not due to Lord Sten alone, but were done with the approbation of the senate and the kingdom and she produced a parchment in proof of her words, signed by many of the persons present. Christian eagerly seized upon the incriminating document, as giving him a warrant for his proceedings and evidence against those whom he most hated and feared.

All whose names were attached to it were brought up, one after another, there being among them several bishops, who had taken part in the matter on patriotic and political grounds, and a number of senators. Every one tried to excuse himself, but of the whole number Bishop Otto was the only one whose excuse was accepted. At the end of the examination all those accused were seized and taken from the hall, the whole number, senators, prelates, noblemen, priests and burghers, being locked up together in a tower, the two bishops among them being alone given a better prison. The true reason for proceeding against the churchmen was that they had been the friends of Sten Sture and might prefer their country to the king. The wicked tyrant, who in this illegal manner had sought to make the Church responsible for his bloodthirsty schemes, hesitated not to condemn clergy and laity alike, and ended the session by the arbitrary decision that all the accused were heretics and as such should die.

Irreligious, illegal, and ruthless as had been this whole proceeding, into which the artful king had dragged the archbishop and sought to make him a consenting party to his plot, Christian had gained his purpose of providing a pretext for ridding himself of his political enemies, actual or possible, and proceeded to put it into execution in the arbitrary manner in which it had been so far conducted, regardless of protests from any quarter.

The next day the city gates were closed, so that no one could enter or leave. Trumpeters rode round the streets in the early morning, proclaiming that no citizen, on peril of life, must leave his house, unless granted permission to do so. On the chief squares Danish soldiers were marshalled in large numbers, and on the Great Square a battery of loaded cannon was placed, commanding the principal streets. A dread sense of terrible events to come pervaded the whole city.

At noon the castle gates were thrown open and a great body of armed soldiers marched out, placing themselves in two long lines which reached from the castle to the town hall. Between these lines the accused lords were led, until the Great Square was reached, where they were halted and surrounded by a strong force of Danish soldiers. Around these gathered a great body of the people, now permitted to leave their houses. Alarm and anguish filled their faces as they saw the preparations for a frightful event.

On the balcony of the town hall now appeared Sir Nils Lycke, a knight newly created by the king, who thus addressed the agitated multitude:

"You good people are not to wonder at what you now behold, for all these men have proved themselves to be base heretics, who have sought to destroy the holy Church; and moreover traitors to his Majesty the King, since they had laid powder under the castle to kill him."

At this point he was interrupted by Bishop Vincent from the square below, who called out indignantly to the people:

"Do not believe this man, for all he tells you is falsehood and nonsense. It is as Swedish patriots that we are brought here, and God will yet punish Christian's cruelty and treachery."

Two of the condemned lords also called out to the people, beseeching them "never in future to let themselves be deceived by false promises, but one day to avenge this day's terrible treachery and tyranny."

Fearing an outbreak by the indignant people, if this appeal should continue, the soldiers now made a great noise, under order of their officers, and the king, who is said to have gloatingly witnessed the whole proceedings from a window in the town hall, ordered the execution to proceed, Klas Bille, an official, placing himself to receive the golden chain and ring of each knight before he was beheaded.

The prisoners implored that they might confess and receive the Holy Sacrament before they were slain, but even this was refused, and Bishop Matthew was led forth first. While he was kneeling, with clasped and uplifted hands, two horrified men, one of them his secretary, rushed impulsively towards him, but before they could reach the spot the fatal sword had descended and the good bishop's head rolled to their feet on the ground.

They cried out in horror that this was a frightful and inhuman act, and were at once seized and dragged within the circle, where they would have suffered the fate of the victimized bishop had they not been rescued by some German soldiers, who believed them to be Germans.

Bishop Vincent next fell beneath the encrimsoned sword, and after him the senators, seven in number, and thirteen nobles and knights of the senate. These were followed by the three burgomasters of Stockholm and thirteen members of the town council, with fifteen of the leading citizens, some of them having been dragged from their houses, without the least warning, and led to execution. One citizen, Lars Hausson by name, burst into tears as he beheld this terrible scene, and at once was seized by the soldiers, dragged within the fearful circle, and made to pay by death for his compassion.

With this final murder the executions for that day ended, the heads being set on poles and the dead bodies left lying where they had fallen. A violent rain that came on bore a bloody witness of the sanguinary scene into the streets, in the stream of red-dyed water which ran down on every side from the Great Square.

On the next day Christian said that many had hid themselves who deserved death, but that they might now freely show themselves for he did not intend to punish any more. Deceived by this trick some of the hidden leaders made their appearance and were immediately seized and haled to the square, where the work of execution was resumed. Six or eight of these were beheaded, many were hung, and the servants of the slaughtered lords, who happened to come to the town in ignorance of the frightful work, were dragged from their horses and, booted and spurred as they had come, were haled to the gallows.

The king's soldiers and followers, excited by the slaughter and given full license, now broke into many houses of the suspected, murdering the men, maltreating the women, and carrying away all the treasure they could find, and for some hours Stockholm seemed to be in the hands of an army that had taken the city by storm.

For a day and night the corpses lay festering in the street, their bodies torn by vagrant dogs, and not until a pestilent exhalation began to rise from them were they gathered up and hauled by cartloads to a place in the southern suburbs, where a great funeral pyre was erected and the bodies were burned to ashes.

As for the tyrant himself, his bloody work seemed to excite him to a sort of madness of fury. He ordered the body of Sten Sture the Younger to be dug from its grave in Riddarholm Church, and it is said that in his fury he bit at the half-consumed remains. The body of Sten's young son was also disinterred, and the two were carried to the great funeral pile to be burnt with the others. The quarter of the town where this took place is still named Sture, in memory of the dead, and on the spot where the great pyre was kindled stands St. Christopher's Church.

Such was the famous, or rather the infamous, "blood-bath of Stockholm," which still remains as a frightful memory to the land. It did not end here. The dreadful work he had done seemed to fill the monster with an insatiable lust for blood. His next act was to call Christina, the widow of Sten Sture, to his presence. When, overwhelmed with grief and despair, she appeared, he sneeringly asked her whether she would choose to be burned, drowned, or buried alive. The noble lady fell fainting at his feet. Her beauty and suffering and the entreaties of those present at length softened the tyrant, but her mother was enclosed in a bag and thrown into the stream, though she was permitted to be drawn out by the people on their promise to the tyrant that he should have her great wealth. But she, with her daughter Christina and many other women of noble descent, were carried as hostages to Copenhagen and shut up in a dreadful prison called the Blue Tower, where numbers of them died of hunger, thirst and cold.

The massacre was not confined to Stockholm; from there the executions spread throughout the country, and the old law of 1153 was revived that no peasant should bear arms, Danish soldiers being sent through the country to rob the people of their weapons. The story is told that some of them, enraged by this act of tyranny, said:

"Swords shall not be wanting to punish the tyrant so long as we retain our feet to pursue and our hands to revenge."

To this the reply was that "a hand and a foot might well be cut from the Swedish peasant; for one hand and a wooden leg would be enough for him to guide his plough."

This report, improbable as it was, spread widely and caused a general panic, for so terrified were the people by the reports of Christian's cruelty that nothing seemed too monstrous for him to undertake.

In December the tyrant prepared to return to Denmark, leaving Sweden under chosen governors, with an army of Danes. But his outgoing from the country was marked by the same sanguinary scenes. He caused even his own favorite, Klas Hoist, to be hung, and two friends of Sten Sture being betrayed to him, he had them quartered and exposed upon the wheel. Sir Lindorm Ribbing was seized and beheaded, together with his servants. And, most pitiable of all, Sir Lindorm's two little boys, six and eight years of age, were ordered by the tyrant to be slain, lest they should grow up to avenge their murdered father.

The scene, as related, is pathetic to the highest degree. The older boy was beheaded, and when the younger saw the streaming blood and the red stains on his brother's clothes, he said with childish innocence to the executioner: "Dear man, don't stain my shirt like my brother's, for then mamma will whip me."

At these words the executioner, his heart softened, threw down the sword, crying:

"I would rather blood my own shirt than yours."

But the pathos of the scene had no effect on the heart of the tyrant, who witnessed it unsoftened, and called for a more savage follower to complete the work, ending it by striking off the head of the compassionate executioner. With this and other deeds of blood Christian left the land where he had sown deeply the seeds of hate, and the terrible "blood-bath" ended.