- Project Runeberg -  The History of the Swedes /
48

(1845) Author: Erik Gustaf Geijer Translator: John Hall Turner
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Chronicle, the main source for the history of Sweden
during the latter period of the middle age, begins
with the revolt of the Folkungers against king
Eric Ericson. It is the production of several writers
nearly contemporary with the events it describes,
though for the most part unknown by name, of
whom the oldest lived about the year 1319. The
best treatise of morals or politics which the
Swedish middle age affords, upon “the government of
kings and princes [1],” was also composed under this
dynasty. The author, who is unknown, had probably
like many of his countrymen in this age
studied at Paris [2], where the dissertation of
Ægidius Romanus [3], composed it is said for Philip the
Fair of France, afforded him a model, although
his work has much that is peculiar to itself. He
seems to have written under a king who was still
in childhood, and probably under the minority of
Magnus Ericson. He is by no means zealous,
though himself in all likelihood a clergyman, for
the ascendancy of the church in temporal affairs;
and seems to have learned from the dangers of an
elective monarchy and the tyranny of an unbridled
oligarchy, to advocate a hereditary throne and a
kingly power fortified by the law and the people.
The language is admirable for its olden simplicity
and force, and its antique character affords the best
proof of the authenticity of the work. The great
Gustavus Adolphus, by whose order the book was
first published, valued it so highly that he desired
it to be used for the instruction of his daughter, and
designed to introduce it as a text book in the public
schools. From this age also have come down the
greatest number of our old popular ballads. It was
the age of knighthood in Sweden; the romances of
chivalry now found their way to the North, and
there are copies of some existing in the Swedish
language, of which the German and French
originals are lost [4].

Earl Birger, who in the last days of Eric Ericson
was already the real possessor of supreme power,
was absent on his crusade against the Finlanders,
when the throne became vacant. It was suddenly
filled by the election of the earl’s eldest son, young
Waldemar, brought about chiefly through the
influence of the lord Ivar Bla of Gröneborg, a powerful
baron, whose object in this expedient seems to have
been to avert a civil war. To elevate Waldemar to
the throne was to deliver the government into his
father’s hands; yet Birger, having returned with
his army, manifested no small dissatisfaction, and
demanded in wrath who it was that had dared to
appoint a king? “That have I dared,” was lord
Ivar’s answer; “and if thou rest not content herewith,
we know right well where stands a king.” The
earl was silent for a while, and at last exclaimed,
“Whom then would you have to be king?” “Under
this mantle of mine,” Ivar replied, “a king might
well enough be found at need.” With that earl
Birger was fain to be content, and Waldemar, yet
a child, who with his brother was under the care of
a preceptor, was crowned at Linköping in 1251.

They, whose rivalry for power the earl had really
to dread, were his own kinsmen. In those times, it
is said, the Folkungers were powerful for every ill
deed, and roamed through the land with their armed
bands, like robbers rather than nobles [5]. The
sagas of the Norwegian kings inform us, that great
dissensions were produced in Sweden by the
election which had been made, because there were
several claimants who regarded themselves as
having an equal title to the crown. The heads of
the malcontents were Philip, son of the Folkunger
king, overthrown under the former reign; Canute,
son of the powerful Magnus Brok, by a daughter of
king Eric Canuteson; another Philip, the chief
abettor of Holmgeir, who was beheaded in 1248 by
order of earl Birger; lastly, the young and brave
Charles Ulfson, whose father had been earl of
Sweden before Birger. These were all Folkungers,
and the first-named two were also pretenders to the
crown; the last is termed the most powerful of
Birger’s enemies, although he took no part in the
revolt of his kinsmen. Philip and Canute sought
foreign assistance, first unsuccessfully in Norway,
next with better fortune in Denmark and Germany.
Thence they returned with levies of troops, and
made a descent on Upper Sweden, where probably
the greatest number of their partisans was to be
found, as especial mention is made of the
Uplanders in their army. The earl met them at
Herrevad’s Bridge in Westmanland, and proffered
peace and reconcilement. The insurgent leaders
crossed the bridge unarmed to hold a conference
for the purpose of adjusting terms of agreement,
but Birger had them seized, and caused them to be
immediately beheaded. This is the account of the
Rhyme Chronicle, with which the sagas of Norway
agree, adding that the earl, for this deed, had to
bear much blame [6]. Tidings of it were brought to
Charles Ulfson in Norway, whither he had
conducted Birger’s daughter to be the bride of king
Haco’s eldest son. Dreading on his return home
that he might fall a victim to the machinations of
the earl, he quitted the kingdom, and fell in a
crusade against the Lithuanians. From this time no
man in Sweden dared to rise against earl Birger.

In 1255, the earl solicited and obtained permission
from the pope to confer upon his other
sons as well as Waldemar the government of
certain portions of the kingdom, which, as is said, had
legally devolved upon him as duke of the Swedes.
His design in this was to exalt his family above all
other competitors; but while he succeeded in this,
he also threw the torch of discord into his own
house. His first consort, mother of four sons,
whose dissensions broke out over their father’s
grave, had died in 1254. Birger contracted a
second marriage with Matilda, widow of the
fratricide king Abel of Denmark, where he had
also chosen a wife for his son in the daughter of
the murdered king Eric Plowpenny [7]. Waldemar


[1] Om Styrilse Konunga ock Höfdinga. First published by
Joh. Bureus, 1634.
[2] A letter of John, archbishop of Upsala, in 1291, contains
instructions for the Swedes studying in Paris, who inhabited
a particular house in that city bequeathed for their use, and
received a fund for their support from the tithes of the see
of Upsala.
[3] De regimine principum. The edition I have used, Leyden,
12mo. 1630, is published under the name of Thomas Aquinas.
[4] As for example, the Swedish Saga of Theodoric of Berne
(distinct from the Icelandic), and the poetical romaunt,
”Duke Frederic of Normandy,” published in the Journal
Iduna, Nos. 9 and 10.
[5] Rhyme Chronicle. Joannes Magnus Goth. Sueonumque
Historia.
[6] Saga of K. Haco Hakanson, c. 269.
[7] (Plogpenning. So called, ad invidiam, from a tax or gavel
imposed by him upon every ploughland. T.

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