- Project Runeberg -  The History of the Swedes /
45

(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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if he chose, of the main portion; the heirs
demanded that no part should be allowed to be
alienated without their consent. Payment of tithe
was enjoined, and we find it introduced before the
end of the century, yet complaints were still made
in 1232 that it was withheld by the peasants at
pleasure. The Christian ceremony of wedlock was
yet far from being in general use; marriages
were contracted and dissolved after the barbarous
fashion of the Pagans, and the heathen practice of
exposing children had not yet ceased. We observe
too that the first monks tilled their fields with their
own hands; that they introduced horticulture,
constructed water-mills, boiled salt, and opened
mines. To build bridges and level roads were
looked upon as works beseeming good Christians,
and in these the bishops set the example.

Charles Swerkerson, who is said to have governed
the realm sagaciously and with good intent, was
slain in 1167 on the isle of Vising [1] by Canute, son
of St. Eric, who returned from Norway after a
three years’ exile. A civil war ensued, in which
Kol and Burislev, sons of the brother of Charles,
were raised “one after the other to be kings against
Canute; but he overcame and slew them both.
It may certainly be presumed that Canute had
with him the men of Upland, who chose his father
to be king, and the followers of Charles who opposed
him, had on their side the East Goths, and perhaps
several other provinces.” Such are the expressions
employed by Olave Peterson [2] respecting
these intestine troubles. In the Westgothic catalogue
of kings it is said of Canute Ericson, that he
had won Sweden with the sword, bereft three kings
of life, and fought many battles before he possessed
the realm in quiet; afterwards he proved a good
king, and reigned twenty-three years. These
however are not to be reckoned from the death of
Charles Swerkerson, but from the end of the civil
war, which therefore lasted five years; for king
Canute Ericson died, according to the most credible
accounts, in the autumn of the year 1195 [3]. By a
Swedish wife he had four sons.

Although the king had previously to his death
caused his subjects to pay homage to one of his
sons as his successor elect [4], yet Swerker II., son
of Charles, who was carried while a child at his
father’s death to Denmark, where he obtained
protection, was now raised to the throne. In the
fourth year of his reign (1200), this sovereign
exempted the clergy from suit to the temporal courts,
and freed the estates of the church from all
services due to the crown. Under the year 1205, the
short chronologies, which are for the most part the
only sources for the history of this period, make
mention of the so-called massacre of Eljaras in
West-Gothland, at which all the sons of Canute
Ericson, except one who escaped by flight, were
put to death. Some writers denominate this
transaction the “feud of Eljaras.” A papal brief of
1208 contains an account of the event, from which
it appears that, the sons of Canute having revolted
against Swerker, three of them had lost their lives
in one encounter, while the fourth fled, but
returning after some interval, succeeded in expelling
the king from his throne. Swerker took refuge in
Denmark, whence he brought back an army to aid
him in asserting his rights, but after an utter
defeat at Lena in West-Gothland in the year 1208,
he saw himself again compelled to flee. The
memory of this bloody engagement was long preserved,
and in the neighbourhood of the field of battle it is
not yet forgotten; children’s children, says the
Swedish chronicle, yet spoke of the deeds done
that day. A Norwegian account represents the
spirit of Odin as present (for the last time) in this
conflict [5]. Monkish verses celebrate the victory as
won over a doubly superior number of Danes. An
old Danish ballad asserts that the preponderance of
force was on the Swedish side, and that of eight
thousand men who marched out of Denmark only
five and fifty returned, representing the combat
likewise as one of a civil war, in which the nearest
kinsmen bore arms against each other. The
gaining of the victory is ascribed to the peasants of
Upland; and a Swedish chronicle informs us, that
the Upper Swedes were animated by a profound
hatred of Swerker, on account of the fate which
had befallen the sons of king Canute [6]. Gothic
records, on the contrary, attest that the memory of
Swerker held a high place in the popular
affections [7]. He made a fresh attempt to regain the
crown, but fell in another battle which was fought
at Gestibren in the same province in the year 1210,
it is said by the hands of his own kinsmen, the
Folkungers. His second wife Ingrid was of this
powerful family, a daughter of the earl of Swedeland,
Birger Brossa. By her Swerker had two
children, Helen (whose abduction from the convent
of Vreta an old Swedish song describes), and John,
who at his father’s death was still of tender years.

Eric Canuteson had resided during his exile with
his kinsmen in Norway, and succeeded to the
government by his victory over his competitor. He
essayed to invest his office with new sanctity, for
he is the first Swedish sovereign who is mentioned
as having been crowned. That he augmented the
privileges of the clergy we learn from his charter
to the monastery of Risberg in 1212, empowering
the convent to receive from its vassals the royal
share in the amercements fixed by law for offences.
A reconciliation with Denmark was solemnized by
a marriage between Eric and Rikissa, sister of the
Danish monarch, Waldemar II. Sweden was still
deficient in many of the conveniences of life which
had already been introduced into Denmark. The
Danish princess, arrived on the coast of Sweden,
complained that she must climb on horseback, and
could not have, as in her father’s country, a car
and a driver; but the Swedish dames, we are told,
made answer; “Ye shall bring us no Jutish customs
here [8].” Eric Canuteson, who from the
abundant harvests which marked the seven years of
his peaceful reign, is called a good harvest-king,
died in 1216, his son Eric being born after the
father’s death.

The Swedish prelates and magnates now elected
John son of Swerker, called the young or the pious,


[1] In the southern part of lake Wetter, in Gothland. T.
[2] Or Olaus Petri, the chronicler. T.
[3] A letter of this king of the year 1199, quoted by
Lagerbring, has demonstrably an incorrect date.
[4] Celse, Bullarium, p. 45.
[5] Saga of K. Inge Bardson, c. 20.
[6] Chronica Erici Olai.
[7] Table of Kings in the Westgothic Law.
[8] See the popular song referred to this time in Peder Syv,
p. 212. (The name Jutes, Juta, pron. Yutar, seems to be a
mere variation of Götar, Goths, pronounced Yötar. T.)

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