- Project Runeberg -  The History of the Swedes /

(1845) Author: Erik Gustaf Geijer Translator: John Hall Turner
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Full resolution (JPEG) - On this page / på denna sida - III. Establishment of Christianity. Contests of the Swedes and Goths for Supremacy. A.D. 800—1250

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Swedes were wont to hold their kings responsible.
The Catalogue of Kings already referred to styles him
the bad (slemme), and charges him with harshness
and avarice [1]. To him also our chronicles
attribute the disgrace of agreeing to a boundary by
which Scania, Halland, and Bleking, were severed
from the Swedish dominion. The last province was
an ancient possession; the two former had been
conquered by Eric the victorious [2]. Edmund’s
reign was short, says the appendix to the Hervarar
saga; in his time the Swedes observed Christianity
ill, and after his death the kingdom passed from
the old royal family. He had a son named Anund,
lost in an expedition against the Quens, who are
said, by poisoning their wells, to have cut off the
whole army sent against them.

When Edmund died is unknown. He was the
twelfth and last in succession of those old Upsala
kings who descended from Sigurd Ring on the male
side, and whose dynasty is styled the line of the
Upper Swedes; “sacred to the gods [3], and revered
before all others in the northern lands, because
they descended from the gods themselves;” “and
long had they guarded the race, (said a Pagan
councillor of Olave the lap-king,) although many had
now fallen away from the old belief [4].”


Every new doctrine bears in itself the seeds of
strife, and that which is pre-eminently the religion
of peace had doubtless to contend with the greatest
obstacles in the north. By its influence was first
abolished that condition of incessant war with all
the world, which had its roots so deep in the habits
of northern life, that the long fostered elements
of evil, hitherto turned in an external direction,
now spent themselves in a domestic field of
action, generating civil discord and war. Christianity,
besides, dissolved the effective bond of the
old social institutions. Olave the lap-king, as being
a Christian, refused to be styled Upsala king [5],
because this title denoted a guardian of the Pagan
sacrifices; he therefore lost all consideration among
the Upper Swedes, who were still mostly heathens.
On the other hand the new title of Swede-king
appears to have displeased the Goths, among whom
the Christians were most numerous. The long-continued
hostilities with Olave of Norway led to
an outbreak of this discontent. It was the
justiciary of West-Gothland, who at the assembly of
the people in Upsala ventured to propose that the
old dynasty should be set aside, and who when he
could not induce them to consent exclaimed, “Ye
of Upper Sweden have for this time the control of
the decision; yet I say to you, and the future will
show it, that those who will now hear of nought
else than that the kingship should remain in the
old line, will live to see the day when it shall pass
with their own consent to another race; and this
will have a happier issue.” The fulfilment of this
prediction now presents itself to our observation,
and the new dynasty is of Westgothic origin.

Stenkil, who was now raised to the throne, was,
however, related through several channels to the
old line of kings. His father Ragwald, earl of
West-Gothland, was cousin of Olave the lap-king.
Stenkil himself was son-in-law of Anund Jacob,
and step-son of Edmund the old. Earl Ragwald
had been twice married; first to Ingeborg, sister
of king Olave Tryggwason, by whom he had two
sons, Ulf and Eilif, mentioned as leaders in the
war between king Anund Jacob and Canute the
Great, in Denmark; afterwards to Astrid, a dame
of royal birth in Norwegian Halogaland, who bore
to him a son named Stenkil, and contracted a
subsequent alliance with king Edmund Gammal.
Stenkil, who is styled a powerful and far descended earl
in Suithiod, had already shown himself during the
reign of his predecessor a zealous Christian. His
election to the crown is the first sign of the
undisputed preponderance of the Christian party; thus
too the expression in the old Table of Kings, that
“he held the West Goths dear before all the other
men of his realm,” and that “the West Goths
rejoiced in him as long as he lived,” evinces by what
part of the country this preponderance was maintained.
West-Gothland had been the chief seat of
Christianity since the time of Olave the lap-king.
Here this sovereign received baptism, and founded
in Skara the first episcopal see. When the
heathens demanded that he should choose some
province of Sweden, whichsoever he preferred, for the
exercise of his religion, and leave theirs on the
other hand unmolested, forcing no man to be a
Christian, he selected West-Gothland. By
adhering throughout to the observance of this
covenant, Stenkil in like manner maintained
himself on the throne. Olave had already meditated
destroying the old temple at Upsala, but he was
withheld from his design by the above-mentioned
decree. When the Christian teachers now again
insisted on the measure, Stenkil answered them,
that the only consequence of complying with their
request would be for them death, and for himself the
loss of his kingdom; his subjects would expel him
as one who had brought malefactors into the land,
and heathenism would anew become dominant [6].
The context shows that it was chiefly the inhabitants
of Upper Sweden who excited these apprehensions;
since we are told that the same teachers, Adelward,
bishop of Skara, and Egino, bishop of Lund, had
destroyed the idols everywhere among the Goths
without incurring any danger. It is also worthy
of remark, that Goths alone are mentioned as
taking part in the otherwise unimportant war with
the Norwegians under this king’s reign. Stenkil,
it is said, died at the same time as the Norwegian
king Harald Hardrada (hard-ruler) fell in
England [7], which happened in 1066, shortly before
William the Conqueror became master of England
by the battle of Hastings.

[1] So too Adam of Bremen; Edmund Gamal Pessimus. See
l. iii. c. 17.
[2] The account of the boundary line which is inserted in
the law of West-Gothland, makes him, however, contemporary
at the time of the transaction with Swen Fork-Beard,
king of Denmark, which would refer it to the time of Olave
the lap-king, unless this Swen was confounded with Swen
Estridson. The so-called bull of Pope Agapetus of 954,
adopting and confirming this boundary, but with many
blunders, is manifestly a fabrication.
[3] So the race of Ivar, their ancestor on the maternal side,
is termed in Hyndla’s song in the elder Edda.
[4] Ad. Brem. iii. 17. Saga of St. Olave, 96. Olave the
lap-king reckoned himself the tenth of this dynasty. Ibid. 71.
[5] According to the appendix to the Hervarar Saga, Olave
changed his title into that of Swede king (Sveakonung).
[6] Ad Brem.
[7] Appendix to Hervarar Saga. Saga of Magnus Barefoot,
c. 13.

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