- Project Runeberg -  The History of the Swedes /
46

(1845) Author: Erik Gustaf Geijer Translator: John Hall Turner
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to fill the throne, though he was still a child. On
his coronation-day he freed the estates and property
of the churches from contribution to the crown,
and granted to the bishops the right of levying all
fines from the peasants holding land of the church.
These privileges he confirmed in 1219, the third
year of his reign, by a special brief setting forth as
his ground, that ‘since our first father’s transgression,
all human memory is frail and perishable
without the undying evidence of letters.’ Against
the election of the Swedes king Waldemar appealed
to the papal chair, alleging the hereditary right of
his nephew, the young prince Eric, to the throne,
in preference to John [1]. On the other side, the
princes of Swerker’s family style themselves in
their letters hereditary kings of the dominion of
Sweden [2]. Considering the frequent civil wars,
which only died away because the competitors
were of too tender age to appear in person at the
head of their followers, it is impossible to suppose
that in the so-called partition of the kingdom
between the houses of Swerker and Eric, there was
any other compact between the parties than what
might be extorted by arms, and written in
characters of blood.

After John, the last of Swerker’s lineage, had
died in 1222, the young Eric Ericson, called “the
halt and the lisper,” was in fact raised to the
throne, which, however, was scarcely to prove
a more tranquil possession, although the family
which had so long struggled with his had now
descended to the tomb.

The contests between the Gothic and Swedish
ruling houses had gradually effaced the old generic
diversities among the population. At the same
time they powerfully contributed to elevate the
magnates of the country at the expense of the
kingly power, and one circumstance which marks
their growing importance is, that in papal briefs
they are separately addressed as the lords and
princes of Sweden [3]. One family in particular
attained great influence in affairs, that of the
Folkungers. Their ancestry ascended into the heathen
times; they were nearly related to all the three
royal houses of the north, and had held the rank of
Earl of Sweden since the days of Birger Brossa,
who died in 1202; for this ancient princely dignity
had now become the chief office at court, and
thereby also in the government of the country. Its
holder, who is called Earl of the Swedes, Earl of the
Swedes and Goths [4], Duke of Sweden by the grace
of God [5], is named in the public documents next in
order after the king, and was destined, like a
similar high officer among the Franks in former times,
speedily to usurp the power and place of the
sovereign. Canute Johanson, called the Long, a
member of this family, espoused the king’s sister,
and was powerful enough, both from natural
endowments and the alliances he had formed, to
assert claims to the throne against a sovereign yet
in his minority. Old writers denominate him the
Folkunger king; he took up arms, and with him,
says the Rhyme Chronicle, “all the rout of the
Folkungs;” and he in effect filled the throne from the
fight of Alvastra [6] in 1229, which compelled the
young king to flee into Denmark, till 1234, when
the victory of Sparfatra (near Upsala), won by the
king’s party after his return, ended the power of
the usurper with his life. Eric recovered his
crown upon his rival’ death, although his
influence in the government was really less than that
of the Folkunger Ulf Fasi [7], who had already been
earl under his kinsman Canute, and retained the
office under Eric. Holmgeir, son of Canute, fled
to Gestricland, and held his ground against the
king in the northern portion of the country. So
late as 1248, a papal legate who visited Sweden in
that year speaks of intestine war between the king
and the magnates as continuing, and the conflict
was brought to an end at this time partly through
the mediation of the legate himself, after the revolter
Holmgeir (who is nevertheless reckoned among
Swedish saints), had been made prisoner and
beheaded.

This papal legate was the Cardinal William,
bishop of Sabina, who had repaired thither to settle
ecclesiastical affairs. The first laws of the Swedish
Church were framed in the republican spirit which
reigned in the old political constitution, therein not
at all contravening the usages of elder Catholicism,
before the hierarchy, swelling in greatness, demanded
the separation of the Church from the state [8]. In
Sweden the priest was an officer of the people,
elected by them with the consent of the bishop,
who was himself chosen by the voices of the faithful,
and inducted into his office by the king, who
delivered to him the crosier and ring. But if the
Church was thus more closely incorporated with
the state, her members from this very cause took
in times of violence a more prominent share in the
disorders of the temporal commonwealth. Therefore,
when the popes make complaints of the “untamed
hardness” of the people of Sweden, these
in effect apply not less to the clergy themselves
than to the laity. We find the former as well as
the latter charged with homicide, outrages,
disorderly and vicious lives. Priests, who were bound
to keep aloof from the secular tribunals, appeared
in the diets to plead as advocates for others [9];
instead of husbanding the property of the Church, they
appropriated it to their own use, and transmitted
it as a heritage to their children, whence the sons
of priests often made solicitation, and with success,
to be appointed to their fathers’ office. From the
scarcity of preachers, little strictness could be
exercised in their selection. While the upper part
of the kingdom had too few churches, their number
in West-Gothland was already so large, that in
1234 the junction of the smaller parishes was
decreed [10]. For their privilege of contracting
marriage the Swedish priesthood appealed to an


[1] Celse, Bullarium, 56.
[2] So king Swerker II. entitles himself; Ego Swerco, filius
Caroli regis, rex Sweorum, ejusdem regni monarchiam, Dei
gratia, hereditario jure assecutus.
[3] Proceres Svethiæ, Magnates, Principes.
[4] Dux Sveorum—dux Sveorum et Gothorum.
[5] In a Swedish charter of 1248.
[6] The records have Oluström and Alvastrum, which are
manifestly the same.
[7] Compare the Saga of Haco Hakanson, c. 259.
[8] Antiquiores canones habent, quod consensus honoratiorum
in civitate requirendus et admittendus sit in electionibus
episcoporum. Disputatum est de illo canone acriter
postea. Celse, Bullarium, 37.
[9] This was forbidden under the penalty of excommunication
by a brief of Pope Gregory IX., in 1234, to the bishop of
Skara.
[10] Diplomatarium Suec.

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