Mått och vikter under 1300-tal

Denna artikel bygger helt på, och är i många fall tagen rakt av ifrån boken ’Vad kostade det’ av Lars O Lagerqvist och Ernst Nathorst-Böös. En kul bok med prisuppgifter från 1170 till 1995, men även med många bra översikter om gamla mått, vikter och valutor. Jag har tagit bort information om vikter efter medeltid där så förekommer.

Aln – Svealand, Östergötland, Gotland 56cm. Västergötland 64 cm. Öland 52 cm.
Ankare – 39,25 liter.
Bok – 24 ark skrivpapper. 20 bok = 1 ris.
Centner – 100 skålpund = 42,5 kg. Som Bergvikt 8 lispund (60 kg).
Decker (däcker) 10 st (mått för skinn och hudar).
Dussin – 12 st.
Famn – 1,78 m. Som vedmått varierande, mellan 3 och 5.65 m
Fat – 157 liter (flytande) 170 kilo (om Osmundsjärn, dvs järnet i ”råvara”) 1/32 tunna (spannmål).
Fjärding – Våta och insaltade varor, 12 kannor = 32,4 liter. Torra varor, 4 kappar = 18,3 liter.
Fot – 0,2969 meter = 1/2 aln, kan variera.
Gross – 12 dussin = 144 st.
Jungfru – 1/4 kvarter = 8,2 cl.
Kanna – 2,7 liter.
Kast – 4 st. 20 kast = 1 val (om fisk mest).
Kubikfot – 10 kannor = 26,17 liter.
Lass – skattepliktig körning av varor som varierade. Vanligen 2-3 skeppund. För hö mycket varierande.
Lispund – 8,5 kilo.
Lod – 13,16 kilo.
Läst – 12-13 tunnor. Ibland ifråga om vägda varor 12 skeppund.
Mark – 205-210g. Om järn och koppar 340-375 g. Markpund – Lispund om 6,8 kg.
Mil – 10, 689 km. Smålänsk mil 7,5 km. Västergötland 13 km. Dalarna och finland 5-6 km.
Ort – 4,25g. Som rymdmått samma som ’jungfru’.
Oxhuvud – Rymdmått – 90 kannor = 236 liter. Kan vid import av rödvin vara 225 liter.
Pund – Samma som lispund.
Skeppund – Oftast 170 kg. För järn och koppar användes 5 olika viktsystem mellan 136 och 194,5 kilo. 1 skeppund = 20 lispund.
Skålpund – 0,425 gram = 32 lod.
Skäppa – 24,8 liter.
Spann – Mycket varierande, Stockholm 47 liter, södra Norrland 30-60 liter, Götaland över 50 liter.
Stavrum – Mått för ved, varierande, ofta 6m
Stig – Kolmått, ca: 20 hl, Dalarna 17.-18 hl.
Stop -1/2 kanna = 4 kvarter = 1,3 liter.
Stycke (tyg) – 30 m (lärft/ylle) 15 meter (bomull/siden).
Timmer – 40 st. Om skinn.
Tjog – 20 st.
Tum – 2,47 cm.
Tunna – Varierar efter användning. Fisk och Öl – 125,6 liter. Smör – 16 pund. Spannmål – 142-165 liter.
Val – 20 kast á 4 st (om sill med mera).
Åm -144 liter (vin), kan dock vara 157 liter.

Den här artikeln, som är skriven av Johan Käll, fanns tidigare publicerad på vår gamla hemsida.

Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

When you are trying to understand the battle of the crown in 14th century Sweden, you will pretty soon be quite mixed up in relations. This family tree is simplified to show which people held keep positions in the struggle.

In short, ”our” king Albrecht was king Magnus Eriksson’s sister’s son, which meant he could make a (kind of) legitimate claim for the throne. Margareta Valdemarsdotter was married to Håkan Magnusson, Magnus Eriksson’s son, which meant her son Olof Håkansson could make a (kind of) legitimate claim for the throne. When he died at the age of 17, Margareta adopted her sister Ingeborg Valdemarsdotter’s grandson, Bogislav of Pomerania (who was also the grandson of ”our” Albrecht’s brother), which meant that he could claim the throne. Legitimate? Well, you tell me… That was the short version. The more elaborate story begins in this post.

We have chosen to be extra specific when it comes to king Albrecht’s immediate family (his name on this image is Albrecht III von Mecklenburg). Other characters of note is the strongheaded duchess Ingeborg Håkansdotter, mother of king Magnus Eriksson and self-appointed ruler of the realm, and her husband, the duke Erik Magnusson, who was put in a tower to starve to death by his brother Birger. Also, there is Håkan Magnusson – king of Norway and faithful son of king Magnus (not to mention king Erik Magnusson – the unfaithful son of king Magnus). Also, have a special look at the foster relation between Bogislav of Pomerania (to the far left) and his grandmother’s sister – queen Margareta of Denmark; the duo ruled Sweden after the defeat of king Albrecht, and when Margareta died, Bogislav ruled the entire Kalmar union.

Click the image to view a bigger version. We apologize for the colors, which look like they have been stolen from a nursery from the 1960’s…



This page might make more sense together with the following pages:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union
Who was Albrecht of Mecklenburg?

A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union

Winds of war

After the meeting at Dalaborg, Margareta starts to gather an army to fight the king, But Albrecht is not sitting idle. He makes the burghers of Stockholm renew their oath of fealty to him and departs for Germany to muster troops. Margareta is ahead of him, and with an army of Swedes her supporters besiege the stronghold of Axvalla. It is too strong to take by storm, and a long siege lead by Nils Svarte Skåning begins. The main part of the army marches on, under the command of Erik Kettilsson Puke (whose name has got nothing to do with throwing up).

Around new year 1389 Albrecht returns to Sweden with a host of men. He disembarks at Kalmar and march on Axvall. On the way there, he passes the south peak of lake Vättern, and manage to liberate the besieged Rumlaborg. When he reaches Axvall he also receives word that a Danish army, under the command of his old retainer Henrik Parow has been marching from Halland and is about to join the army of Erik Kettilsson Puke. Albrecht turn south to face the two armys, and the 24th of february they meet outside the village of Åsle, in the vicinity of Falköping.

The chronicler Detmar describes it like this:

In deme jare Cristi 1389, in sunte Mathias dage, was grot strid in Sweden bi Axewalde. De koninghinne van Norwegen hade dar sand wol vifteynhundert gewapent. Der hovetman was en riddere, de heet her Hinrik Parowe.

On this day of Christ 1389, in saint Matthew’s day, it was a great battle in Sweden by Axvall. The queen of Norway had sent a good fifteenhundred armed. The commander was a knight that was called Henrik Parow.

Henrik Parow’s troops take a defensive position flanked by a mountain and a marshland, which also stretches in front of his lines. Albrecht is eager to engage, and he is certain of victory; his host consists of glorious German knights and trained mercenaries. But everyone is not as sure as he is. Tradition tells us that an old knight called Tyke Olofsson asked the king to refrain from attacking, or at least try to negotiate the marshland before charging. ”We do not want to fight the Dane this day – it won’t do us any good.” he concluded, but the king wouldn’t listen. Even though some of his men weren’t ready, he lead his knights, including the bishop of Skara, his cousins and the counts of Ruppin and Holstein, on a charge across the frozen land and at first he was very successful: he ”conquered two banners”. But the battle would not go his way. One of his commanders, Gerhard Snakenborg, turned and fled the battlefield with 60 riders, and others is said to have stuck in the boggy ground.


In less than two months, through snow and during very harsh conditions, king Albrecht’s army marched over 300 kilometers – and had time to stop and liberate Rumlaborg before fighting at Åsle

The king was taken captive along with his son, prince Erich, and as they were taken from the field of battle by their captors, they passed Tyke Olofsson. The king cried out to him: ”Old man! Old man! Why didn’t I listen?” The battle of Åsle is a decisive victory for the rebels, but their commander, Henrik Parow, is killed. When the queen learns of the victory she rides to Bohus where she and her supporters celebrate their victory. The king and his son are eventually taken to Skåne and the castle of Lindholmen, where they are being held captive.

German resistance

Even though Margareta managed to beat her enemy at the battlefield, her fight for dominion of Sweden was far from over. Although she conquers Kalmar, Rumlaborg and Axvall, Stockholm is still in German hands, and the burghers of the city refuse to give up the fight. They are being supported by the Hansa, which send warships to commandeer ships belonging to the supporters of Margareta. They also bring food and soldiers to the besieged Stockholm. On a different note, these ships, crewed by knights, burghers, soldiers and peasants, according to Detmar, later cause much trouble on the Baltic sea as pirates (so called Vitalianer). As they are allowed to enter the harbours of the Mecklenburgish Wismar and Rostock, other Hansa cities, which suffered economic losses due to pirate attacks,  started to lose interest in the conflict between the Mecklenburgish dukes that supported Albrechts and the queen Margareta. Nevertheless, some of the Hanseatic towns, Rostock among some others, make alliances with noblemen and other cities to try to force Margareta into releasing Albrecht; among other things they try to enforce a trade embargo against Margareta. But their efforts are of little use. Some, like the old Albrecht-loyal knight Vicke van Vitzen even sells his estates to Margareta and swear loyalty to her. He was not the only one to do so.


The aggressive Vitalianer pirates put a hamper on trade in the Baltic sea. Many ships were just anchored as the risk of sailing was too great

In 1393 the conflict is putting a big hamper on trade in the Baltic sea, not least because of the Vitalianer. Margareta met with representatives from the Hansa and king Albrecht’s nephew Johann in Falsterbo at the end of September. At this meeting it was agreed that Albrecht and his son should be let free from captivity for a couple of years, until the parties had reached an acceptable agreement. As security, the city of Stockholm was to be handed over to four honest men, which should let Margareta occupy it if the king refused to go back to captivity after the said time.

The war goes on – but so does the negotiations

In July 1394 everyone finally seemed to agree. The king and his son had been imprisoned for more than five years, and the king himself probably knew that his days as king of Sweden were numbered. He was to be released against a huge ransom of 60 000 marks of silver (the old king Magnus bought the entire province of Skåne for about half as much in the 1330’s), and if that sum wasn’t paid back in six months, the king and his son should return into captivity, or the queen would be entitled to occupy Stockholm. At the same meeting, Margareta and the Hansa also agreed on taking actions against the Vitalianer, as they were still a serious problem for great parts of northern Europe. During the 1390’s tremendous efforts were put on ridding the Baltic sea from pirates. Several fleets with several thousand men hunted the Vitalianer and drove them from whatever harbors the controlled.

The final negotiations for the king’s release took place at Lindholmen were king Albrecht and his son had been spending their time since the defeat at Åsle. The 26th of September 1395 it is decided that Albrecht and his son should be released for a period of three years (until the 29th of September 1398), during which time they should try to raise the enormous ransom. If he succeeded, he wasn’t allowed to wage war on Margareta for at least a year. If he didn’t succeed, he could go back to prison but break the peace in nine weeks, or he could simply let Margareta have Stockholm and the peace should be everlasting. Albrecht was released in Helsingborg at the end of September 1395, about a month after Stockholm was entrusted to the Hanseatic cities (read more here) of Königsberg, Elbing, Thorn, Danzig, Reval, Greifswald, Lübeck and Stralsund, as a kind of peace keeping force, while Albrecht and Erich started to round up the money needed for the ransom. Their efforts was however in vain, and in 1398 the cities’ representatives leave Stockholm, allowing Margareta to occupy the city. The conflict between king Albrecht and Margareta is definetely over.


Today the castle of Lindholmen is nothing more than a grassy mound, but in the 14th century it was one of the most important castles in the entire Danish realm

A free man

Albrecht returned to his Mecklenburg of old and ruled the land for years. In a letter dated 25th of November 1405, in the end, he was able to forgive the peoples of Sweden, Norway and Denmark for what evil they had bestowed upon him. The same date he also writes other letters, in which he states that he will no longer claim Swedish regions, but rather support his son, duke Erich. Albrecht dies 1412, and with him dies the Mecklenburg dynasty’s hopes for the Swedish throne.

Margareta, Bogislav and the Kalmar union

Margareta, her adoptive son Bogislav, the Swedish council and many other Swedish nobles were gathered in 1396 to the recess of Nyköping, which in short meant that the crown reclaims all estates and all land that has been given or claimed since 1363, when king Albrecht came to power. All strongholds an castles that was built during those years should be torn down if the queen so wished. But that wasn’t all that was discussed. The most important thing at the meeting was that the congregated potentates agreed that none of the three Nordic realms should wage war on oneanother. They had ”in all these kingdoms one lord and king”. The young Bogislav of Pomerania could look forward to a splendid position as king over a great realm.

He was crowned in 1397, and at the same time the Kalmar union was signed between the three kingdoms. The statutes of the union stipulated, among other things, that the descendants of the king should inherit the crown – a direct dichotomy to the Landslag, accepted in the middle of the 14th century. Also, each country should have right to their own laws, but at the same time they should henceforth be seen as one kingdom – under ine king. Margareta was still holding the reins until 1400 when Bogislav came of age and at least formally took over power from his mother. He reigned the new union between 1400-1439 with two interludes. He was however forced to change his name into the more proper Swedish name Erik – Bogislav was too strange a name for the Scandinavians.

1400 Erik came of age, and rode his Eriksgata the following year, but his mother was still holding most of the power; she was in no way willing to let go of her influence.

In 1402 Margareta negotiated with Henry IV of England to be able to marry Erik with Henry’s daughter Philippa. The negotiations went well, and Erik and Philippa was married in Lund 1406.

He, his young queen and his mother worked hard to strengthen the three kingdoms against first and foremost the Germans, in the form of the Hansa and the Teutonic order. Their measures included instating foreign vasalls to control Sweden, which eventually lead to unrest amongst the population.

Before that, however, they declared war in the Hansa, as they considered the trade confederation too powerful. On the side of the Hansa, the Holsteiners joined, and the Baltic region was thrown into a war that lasted until 1435, with some armistices.

Margareta died the 28th of October 1412, when negotiating for the city of Flensburg, which had been seized by the Holsteiners. She is buried in a magnificent sarcophagus in Roskilde cathedral in Denmark. Curiously enough, king Albrecht died the same year, the 31st of March or 1st of April. He was laid to rest alongside Richardis in the Doberaner Münster in Bad Doberan of the Mecklenburg area.

This article was written by Peter Ahlqvist.

This article is the final part of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king 

These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century
Would you like to read more about Albrecht of Mecklenburg? Click here.

A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king

Long live the king

The war against Magnus Eriksson had been an expensive one. Magnus had acted decisively when Albrecht went to Åbo to continue the siege after his marsk (marshal/military commander) Nils Turesson was killed in 1364. As mentioned, Magnus’ actions culminated in the battle of Gataskogen, where he was captured. At the opposing side were German knights, for example the mentioned Henrik van Ouwen, Rawen van Barnekow and Vicke van Vitzen. They expected compensation and rewards for their loyalty, but the Swedish coffers were appallingly empty and Albrecht had to find another way to pay off his countrymen. His solution was to grant the foreging knights land. During his first year as a king the young king was forced to pawn more than half of his kingdom. The Swedish nobles were outraged, which is easy to understand; if the king pawned land to Germans, there wasn’t much land left for them.

Furthermore, the Germans tended to see the Swedish commoners as little more than resources to be exploited. The Swedish model with a free, armed peasant class with extensive rights wasn’t at all what the Germans were used to, so they merely scoffed at the commoners’ claims. A chronicler described them as ”birds of prey” and it was generally agreed that the new masters ruled against tradition and law. In Sweden it was formally peace, as the old king Magnus had recognized Albrecht as king. This meant that nobody needed German and Danish mercenaries, which as a result became unemployed. In the following years the unemployed soldiers drifted through the lands, pillaging and stealing.


These German mercenaries take what they want – from who they want

An old verse tells the tale of the relentless robbers

Jak wil idher tydha aff then rääff 
som wäl weet badhe hool oc grääff
ther menar iak mz then legodräng
som haffuer fordarffuat badhe aker oc äng
the wilia alla til hoffua rijda 
widh bondans kornladu at strijda
fik han eena kogerbysso oc pijla vti
tha skulle iw bonden til skogen fly
spangat bälte oc krusat haar
rostad swärd oc staalhandske widh hans laar
rijdher i gardh oc gar i stuffua
sidhan wil han fatiga bondan truffua
hustru huar är tin vnga höna
then skal tu ey länger for mik löna
ligger hon sik i bänk eller pall
bär henne fram oc äggen all
hon sitter ey sa högt a rang
iak slar henne nider mz min spiwtz stang
haffuer tu ey meer än ena gaas
then skulom wij i apton haffua til kraas
han beder uptända fempton lius
han drykker oc skrölar i fullan duus
thz monde the edela bönder söria
at legodrängar skola tolkin leek vpböria

I would like to tell you about the fox
That well know both hole and ditch
I mean by this the mercenary
Who has destroyed both field and meadow
They will all happily ride
By the farmer’s larder to fight
If he had a quivergun with arrows
The farmer would flee to the forests
Belt with metal plaques and curled hair
Rusty sword and a steel gauntlet by his thigh
He rides to the farms and goes in the house
Then he likes to force the poor peasant
Wife, where is your young hen
You should not hide it from me anymore
If she lies under bench or stool
Bring her to me along with her eggs
If she sits high on her perch
I will strike her down with my spear
Have you not more than a single goose
Tonight we’ll have it for a meal
He says to light fifteen candles
He drinks a shouts and feasts
That the noble peasants may mourn
That mercenaries should start such a game

This was, of course, a rebellion waiting to happen. But Albrecht was in no way out of the game. 1375 the old Danish king Valdemar Atterdag died, which meant that king Albrecht’s family could have a real shot at the Danish throne. Atterdag’s son Kristoffer was killed in 1363, which meant that the son of his oldest daughter Ingeborg was next in line. The good thing about this was that Ingeborg was married to duke Heinrich of Mecklenburg, king Albrecht’s older brother. Furthermore, Valdemar had signed a treaty with the Mecklenburgers in 1371, where he promised that the grandson in question should inherit the crown. Everything seemed to go Albrecht’s way – if his nephew, also an Albrecht, could be put on the throne of Denmark he would not only be rid of an enemy – he would also gain a powerful and rich ally.

There was only one problem. The treaty with the Mecklenburgers was never ratified by the Danish council. Instead the Danish nobles referred to an earlier, and ratified, agreement with the Hansa, where it was stated that the Hanseatic cities had a say when it came to which king that would rule Denmark if Valdemar should perish.

Enter Margareta

The Danish nobles turned to Margareta, the younger sister of Ingeborg. She had a son with Håkan of Norway, and because of Norwegian law he had already inherited the throne after his father. His name was Olof, and it was on him that the Danish highborns put their money. The conflict was a fact. The Mecklenburgers and the Holsteiners make an alliance to put young Albrecht on the Danish throne. They are lead by the old duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg – king Albrecht’s father, and invade Skåne in the end of the 1370’s. However, they achieve very little, and old Albrecht dies in the beginning of 1379. At this point king Albrecht of Sweden join the war to support young Albrecht (confused yet? It’s Albrecht VI von Mecklenburg who is in question here) in his struggle for the throne and to try and reclaim Halland and Skåne. He too achieves little, and in 1380 Danes and Norwegians burn the cities of Jönköping, Skara, Örebro and Västerås. In 1381, the war comes to a standstill and eventually it is discontinued. This, in effect, meant that the young Olof was elected king even in Denmark. As he was a minor, his mother ruled in his place, something that probably suited her quite well.

The mightiest man in Sweden


Albrecht may have been king, but in fact, he ruled very little of Sweden. Bo Jonsson Grip, the king’s drots (which meant he was the second in charge and also the supreme judge of Sweden) owned most parts of Sweden, including all of Finnland and the vast region of what was then called Hälsingland (now Norrland). More specifically, he owned or administered Stockholm, Nyköping, Kalmar, Viborg, Raseborg, Tavastehus, Korsholm, Öresten, Oppensten and Rumlaborg counties. But all good things must come to an end, and Bo Jonsson died in 1386. If king Albrecht could get his hands on even half of those estates, farms and castles, his fiscal problems would be over in a glimpse. He thought up a plan, and summoned the ten executors that were appointed to administer the deceased drots’ assets. None of them showed up, which was probably a wise move, but at the same time they took a stand by disobeying a direct order from the king.

But the king had another plan. He tried to force the widow of the drots, Margareta Dume, to choose him as her guardian. At the same time he wanted to reclaim lands and estates that the nobles ”unlawfully” claimed after the uprising in 1371. Last but not least he wanted to impose a special tax which would include otherwise tax-exempted lands. This was too much for the nobles, and as usual they tried to replace one master with another. They turned to Margareta and her young son Olof, king of Denmark and Norway. As Olof was a nephew of the late Magnus Eriksson (the ex-king who drowned), he was in fact entitled to compete for the Swedish throne. Ironically, it was just what the nobles feared in 1363, only now they saw it as their only chance to get rid of a hated garp (a medieval Swedish word for both a German and for someone who is a pain in the ass).

Allmighty mistress and proper master

Everything seemed to be set, and the Swedish nobility turned their hopes to the daughter of their old arch enemy, but the 3rd of Augusti 1387 Olof suddenly died from disease. It is easy to imagine that king Albrecht said his evening prayers with unusual enthusiasm when he heard the news. In theory, nothing could stop him now. Margareta was in an extremely precarious situation; her position, her power – her whole life – depended on her status as the queen mother of Olof. Now that he was dead she would quickly be swept aside. Only, she weren’t. A week after the death of her son she was elected protector of Denmark and ”allmighty mistress and proper master”. It is equally easy to imagine how king Albrecht just skipped his evening prayers when he heard those news. In february 1388 she was also elected sovereign of Norway. Her sister Ingeborg’s grandchild Bogislav of Pomerania, whom she adopted, was elected her successor.


Margareta Valdemarsdotter. Powerful. Clever. Scheming.

In March 1388, one month after the election in Norway, she met the leaders of the opposition against the king at the Swedish castle Dalaborg, deep into territories that the king never really was able to master, at the western beach of lake Vänern. Most of them were part of the council; nine of the 12 members of the council were the above mentioned executors appointed by Bo Jonsson Grip. It is no exaggeration to state that those that congregated at Dalaborg were enemies of the king. They elected Margareta as allmighty mistress and proper master of Sweden, on behalf of the people and the realm.

This article was written by Peter Ahlqvist.

Read the fourth and final part here.


This article is the third part of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union

These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

Who was Albrecht of Mecklenburg?


Albrecht with his first wife Richardis of Schwerin. Rest in peace

Would you like to know more about Albrecht of Mecklenburg? Read more about his life here.

King Albrecht I of Sweden has already been presented by name in a number of articles, but until now we haven’t really had the opportunity to get to know him. The man that was to be Albrecht I of Sweden, was born around 1339 (the sources state everything between 1338 to 1340) as the second son of duke Albrecht II of Mecklenburg (1318-1379), and Eufemia Eriksdotter (1317-1370), sister of the Swedish Magnus Eriksson – a man that was to be contesting with Albrecht of the throne. In other words – these relationships made our Albrecht next in turn to the Swedish crown, after king Magnus Eriksson and his son Håkan. Albrecht’s father ruled the Mecklenburg area at the north coast of Germany between 1329 and 1379, and that was a task that would later pass on to our Albrecht after his elder brother Heinrich (III von Mecklenburg) had died in 1384.

Speaking of Heinrich – he married Ingeborg Valdemarsdotter, daughter of the Danish king Valdemar. Heinrich’s son, Albrecht IV of Mecklenburg, would later take part in the struggle for both the Danish and the Swedish thrones, as he was Valdemar’s grandson.

Apart from Heinrich, Albrecht had three siblings: Ingeborg, Magnus and Anna, but none of them played any significant role in Swedish politics.

When Albrecht got the opportunity to be the king of Sweden, he was in his early twenties. He came from a relatively small area in northern Germany, but what his country lacked in size it regained in diplomacy and ruthlessness. Still, it must have been hard stepping onto a throne in a country where everybody behaved differently and, for the most part, saw you as either a tyrant or a puppet – even with your experienced father backing you up. Albrecht went through a number of difficult situations, which he handled with various amount of success, before he retired to Mecklenburg to rule the area until his death.

Albrecht married Richardis von Schwerin, the daughter of Otto von Schwerin, the year 1359. A contract of marriage had been set up in Wismar seven years earlier. The couple had at least three children; the sources indicate another daughter, but this is not confirmed. The three children were Erik (1359/1365-1397), which was to be Albrecht’s successor for the throne of Sweden, Richardis Katarina (born 1370/1372-1400) and Johann.

Richardis died in 1377, and Albrecht married Agnes von Braunschweig, the daughter of Magnus von Braunschweig, the 12th-13th of February 1396. They had a son in 1397, known as Albrecht V. He didn’t get any children of his own, and died in 1423, only 26 years old.

Albrecht himself died the 31st of March or 1st of April 1412, the same year as his nemesis Margareta, and was laid to rest in the Doberaner Münster church, close to Rostock.


A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker

Skåne is lost

The Hanseatic/Swedish attack on Valdemar and Helsingborg is a fiasco. The joint effort is disorganized and lacking in communication. The Hanseatic fleet lose 12 cogs (for which Johan Wittenborg, the mayor of Lübeck and also the commander of the fleet, is executed on his return to Lübeck). Evenso, the battle is a huge loss also for king Valdemar; his son, prince Kristoffer, is hit by a stone (probably from some kind of siege engine – the sources doesn’t mention any kind of firearms. Even so, a 16th century source states that he was shot by some kind of gun) and dies a year after the attack. Soon after the battle, the Hanseatic league and Valdemar agree to a truce – against the will of king Magnus. Skåne was irrevokably lost.


Duke Kristoffer, son of Valdemar Atterdag. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Helsingborg 1362, but didn’t die until 1363

A troublesome king

But the troubles began even before Magnus lost Skåne. Let’s look at the time before Magnus lost the wealthy province. When Magnus came of age he didn’t seem to share the Swedish nobles’ point of view of what is good for the country. He started to restrict the power of the nobles, and tried to make Sweden a country where the crown is passed down from father to son, as in Norway, where he also is king. Not surprisingly, this was bad news for the nobles – they wanted to put a weak king of their choice on the throne, not the son of an independent, mighty ruler. In the so called Magnus Eriksson’s Landslag (”The Magnus Eriksson law of the land”) of 1349 it is therefore stated:

Nu ær til kunungx rikit i Suerike kununger væliande ok ey ærvande
Now is to the kingdom of Sweden king elected and not inherited

Furthermore, it states that a man that is to be elected king is someone:

Huilkin en af inrikis føddum – ok hælzt af kununge sunum
Who is born in the kingdom and preferably son of a king.

Landslagen was composed by a council of lawmen, headed by the father of Birgitta Birgersdotter (internationally known as saint Bridget/saint Birgitta), and based on earlier county laws. This is the first law to pertain to the country as a whole, hence its name, and therefore an important milestone in the forging of a state. Even though Landslagen bears his name, Magnus never officially sanctioned it, quite possibly because he did not agree on above cited paragraphs…

Noble malcontent and a jealous son

King Magnus had two sons with his queen, Blanka of Namur. They were called Erik and Håkan and their father managed to get them both elected as king. Håkan, the younger, was to become king of Norway when he was old enough. He acceeded the Norwegian throne in 1355. Erik was to succeed his father at the throne of Sweden, and as his father was still decently young, it looked like a long wait for Erik. At this time the young nobleman Bengt Algotsson enters the arena. He is hardly mentioned in the sources before the king’s second crusade against the russians in 1350, but only five years later he had become dubbed a knight, gained a seat in the king’s council and was appointed duke of both Finnland and Halland. No doubt he was important to the king, but noone knows exactly why. Rumours of a homosexual relationship between the king and Bengt circulated. The gossip worsened after the Black Death hit Sweden in 1349-1350; Birgitta Birgersdotter, which had become very powerful due to her status as soon-to-be-saint, declared that the plague was caused by the wearing of immoral clothing and, worse, the king’s scandalous relation to another man. She dubs him Kung Smek (”King Fondle”), a derogative that sadly has survived through the ages and stuck to this otherwise quite able king. It is hard to tell if there is any truth in the claims, but frankly, it is not really important.


A 15th century painting of Saint Birgitta of Sweden

Erik rushed into action. He knew that many of the nobles hated Algotsson and his sudden rise to power. Most of them were also outraged by the king’s will to restrict the power of both the clergy and the nobles. It was very clear that Magnus wasn’t as weak as they had hoped, and now he was a direct threat to their way of life. Another part of the parcel concerned Magnus’ debts. Some of the nobles stood as guarantee and had to pay his creditors. On top of it all, Magnus faced excommunication for his disability to pay his debts to the pope. He and a band of nobles, as well as five of Sweden’s seven bishops, declare war on Bengt Algotsson in october 1356. This is in part a covert war on Magnus, who doesn’t take any particular action against his son. In 1357 a treaty is signed. Magnus agrees on giving his son great parts of the kingdom to his son. Erik takes on the title of king of Sweden, and banishes Bengt Algotsson from his new kingdom. Bengt Algotsson flees to Scania, where he is killed some years later (mentioned in this article). The new king of Sweden rules the country along with his father for two years, and constantly takes the liberty of ignoring the statutes of the treaty from 1357. His reign, though, doesn’t last very long. He dies in 1359 and Magnus becomes sole king again.

Even more trouble

In 1363 Magnus’ remaining son, Håkan, king of Norway, is forced to honor an agreement with his father’s nemesis king Valdemar. Before the troubles began, he was betrothed to Valdemar’s daughter Margareta. When her father waged war on Sweden, Håkan broke the agreement and made a new one: he betrothed Elisabet of Holstein, sister of count Henrik of Holstein, in 1361. In late winter 1362 she was sailing to Sweden with her escort to marry Håkan, but a storm drove the ship to Bornholm, which was controlled by the archbishop of Lund – loyal to king Valdemar. The archbishop declared that no marriage could take place between Håkan and Elisabet, as this was against canonic law; from the archbishop’s point of view Håkan was still to marry Margareta. They tied the knot in 1363.


Hammershus at the island of Bornholm, south of Skåne. This must have been a formidable fortress in its day

The Swedish nobles seethed with fury. Their arch enemy Valdemar was now bound to Sweden, which could well mean that a son born by his daughter could be king of Sweden – and run his grandfather’s errands. Meanwhile, the counts of Holstein were disappointed as their possibility of an important alliance was made impossible. The Hanseatic league worried about which consequences this new alliance could have when it came to their influence in Sweden and at the market of Skanör and Falsterbo.

Even more noble malcontent

The Swedish nobles acted first. Some of them, including the powerful Bo Jonsson Grip, went to Mecklenburg to offer duke Albrecht the crown of Sweden. His son, Albrecht the younger, was appointed the task. But what about that Landslag, which stated that a Swedish king must be born in Sweden? No problem. In this article you will learn the background of why Albrecht was actually related to king Magnus. In fact, he was his nephew, as Magnus’ sister Eufemia was married to Albrecht the elder. This was part of the politics of Magnus’ and Eufemia’s mother duchess Ingeborg before her campaign against Skåne in 1322.

Enter the Germans

Many of the burghers in the Swedish cities were actually Germans, which meant that the cities joined the two Albrechts when they and the Swedish nobles arrived in Stockholm with a fleet and about 1 500 soldiers the 29th of November 1363. The same day the burghers of Stockholm swear allegiance to Albrecht the younger and promise to ”live and die” with him. This marks the beginning of a time of strife; Magnus and his son Håkan of course had one or two things to say about the new ”king”, and mustered troops to face the invaders. In february 1364 Albrecht the younger was really elected king, and by july Håkan and Magnus are forced to negitiations after losing the castle at Örebro and the newly erected Svaneholm. A truce is signed by both parts but in the autumn the hostilities continues, and Albrecht himself lead the siege of Åbo castle in Finnland.


The 3rd of March 1365 Magnus and Håkan march from Arboga to Västerås, determined to capture Stockholm. Just before they reach Enköping they encounter an army of Albrecht loyalists at Gataskog under the command of Henrik van Ouwen. Father and son suffer a bitter defeat. Håkan is badly wounded but manage to flee the battlefield, while Magnus is captured and taken to Stockholm. The remaining forces of Håkan and Magnus withdraw to Västerås and Arboga. During the summer they negotiate for terms with king Albrecht’s vassal Raven van Barnekow, bailiff of Nyköpingshus. After this victory, most of the Swedish nobles join Albrecht’s side.


Håkan and his father lost the battle of Gataskog, 1365

Håkan continues the fight

In 1366 Håkan has recovered from his wounds and feel fit enough to reengage king Albrecht. He summons his troops and attack Öland, where the stronghold Borgholm is taken. Soon after, the duke of Sachsen, Erik – one of Valdemar Atterdag’s men occupy the northern parts of the province Halland, and meanwhile king Valdemar himself lays siege to Kalmar to help his son-in-law. This of course puts king Albrecht in an even tighter spot; now he is fighting a war on two fronts. His father, Albrecht the elder, is a sly old politician however, and starts dealing with Valdemar directly. He promises Valdemar big chunks of Sweden, and the Danish king withdraws his troops. This however, is nothing but a ruse; old Albrecht knows that the Swedish council won’t ever agree to such terms, and he is right. They refuse, but the old tactician has bought his son a great opportunity to finish the fight with Håkan before he has to attend to the Danish problem.

Old Albrecht’s plan is successful. The war starts going badly for Håkan. Some time in 1367, Albrecht’s troops manage to re-capture Borgholm and in 1368 Albrecht joins a federation of Hanseatic cities, which in the beginning of the year occupied Köpenhamn/Copenhagen, Skåne and Gotland, and at the same time managed to pillage the Norwegian coasts, which forces Håkan and Norway into a truce. In 1369 The war against Denmark ends, and both the Hanseatic league and king Albrecht withdraws after forcing Valdemar Atterdag to accept their terms.


The seal of Copenhagen

However. Already in 1370 the Swedes are growing weary of their new masters the Germans. King Albrecht is now without the support of the Hansa, and Håkan seizes the moment. In the beginning of 1371 an uprising against king Albrecht starts in the province of Svealand. Commoners urged their likes in other parts of the realm to rise against the Germans, and wanted the council to lead the uprising. They hade grown weary of

wold och orätt, träldom och omilde som I och wij och aller Suerikes almoge tolt haffuom aff tyskom mannom

violence and unjustice, serfdom and unkindness that we and you and all Swedish commoners have endured from German men

They wanted to rid Sweden of

herra Albrect som wor konunger skulle wara, huilkin som är en retter meenedhare och hans fadher, rikesens i Swerige rätta förrådhare

lord Albrecht who should be our king, but is a real liar and his father, a true traitor to the kingdom of Sweden

Actually, they declared that they didn’t feel any loyalty to the king or any German at all. Instead, they wanted to live

vnder then erliga och godha herran konung Magnus, ey tess sidher at han fongen är, huilken wij vthaff then wånda hielpa wiliom med allo wåro macht, och hopp till Gudh haffua vnder honom, at wij med honom vnder rett och lagh bliffua skolom, och med allom them som med oss bliffua wilia, wiliom wij gladheliga liffua och döö, och the oss emoot stonda och oss ey hielpa wilia, them wiliom wij nidhra och förderffua och lijka holda widher the tydzska

under the honest and good lord king Magnus, even though he is a captive, who we out of pity want to help with all our power, and hope to God under him, that we will obey justice and law under him, and all who is with us we will gladly live and die alongside, and those against us and those who would not help us, we want to bring down and destroy and treat as a German

Some knights and squires seems to have joined the rebel army, but mostly it consisted of burghers and peasants. The king was abroad at the time and had no time to muster his troops. The rebels lay siege to Stockholm and Bo Jonsson Grip, king Albrecht’s second in command, was forced to negotiate. Magnus is freed from captivity and is granted the provinces of Västergötland, Värmland and Dalsland to be able to provide for himself, although he is obliged to recognize Albrecht as king and to pay the huge sum of 12 000 mark to Albrecht. Albrechts himself  is forced to sign a document that in practice makes him powerless. Lands and titles he had given to his supporters were withdrawn and the king himself had to deed his personal domains to the state. He also have to admit that his knights and servants have been a bit too rough on the Swedes, but claims this was going on behind his back, and that the people responsible for the heinous deeds is being harshly punished.

The Swedish nobles were happy. They were now able to claim land for themselves, which made the balance of power completely different. The real power now lay with Bo Jonsson Grip – the greatest landowner of all times in Sweden.

A new era

But at the Swedish throne, there was a German. The nobles imagined that they would be able to control a 26-year old newbie of a king better than they could an old experienced one like Magnus. But their hopes crumbled fast enough; Albrecht was no puppet, and he had a completely different view on how to rule than the Swedish nobles, indeed most Swedes, had. He didn’t recognize the peasants as a free class; he looked upon them as serfs, just like in his old country. Albrecht ruled with his experienced and ruthless father as support. Both his father and his grandfather were known to break oaths and to excercise a very practical type of politics. Once again, malcontent started to brew.

At this time, the old ex king Magnus resided with his son in Norway. During a boat trip across Bømmelfjorden in the end of 1374 he drowned, and until this day it is not certain where he rests.


An image from the Mecklenburgischer Reimchronik, 1379. It shows Albrecht the older handing his son the royal banner of Sweden. The three crowns are still used as a symbol in moden day Sweden

This article, written by Johan Käll and Peter Ahlqvist, was in part previously posted on our old webpage under the name 14thc Political climate

What happened next? Read more in the next article.

This article is the second of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union
These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning

Ways of old

In many ways, Sweden was still a fledgling nation in the fourteenth century. There does not seem to be much national identity. Many probably thought of themselves as East Goths, West Goths, Svears or Finns. The king was elected in the area of Svealand, and then had to travel to the different areas to be accepted in the other areas. This journey was called Eriksgata (”Erik’s Way”) after the first king that made it. An Eriksgata was surrounded by rules and tradition. Failure by the king to follow them, was not taken lightly. The reign of Ragnvald ”Knaphuvud” (Short of head or Dumb head) was very short, as he ignored the rule of hostages upon entering Västergötland. This traditional rule means that the king needs to wait for ”hostages” or rather escort when entering a province. Ragnvald Knaphuvud was of the opinion that he was so powerful that he didn’t need any escort, and entered Västergötland with his own sworn men. The people of the area promptly killed him, and did not want anything to do with the kingdom of Sweden for several years after that incident.


In the latter part of the century a greater centralization of power starts to appear. The kingdom is becoming more structured and works more like a united nation than before. The power struggles between the king and the nobles dominates the national politics during the period. The true power was mostly concentrated to Sweden’s richest and most powerful man of all times; Bo Jonsson Grip. Only a squire (and hence not even a knight), he owned Finland (called ”the Eastern half of the Realm”) and most of two parts of the rest of Sweden at the time of his death in 1386.


The seal of Bo Jonsson Grip – the mightiest man yet in Sweden

A feud between brothers

But let’s look at how power and politics developed in Sweden in the beginning of the fourteenth century – it gives us something to fall back to when discussing the subject later in the century. The conflict between the brothers started in 1306 where the brothers Erik and Valdemar wanted a bigger piece of the action. Hence, they seized their older brother, king Birger, at his estate Håtuna, and imprisoned him in Stockholm. Several years later he was set free under condition that he split his realm with his younger brothers. Some years later, in christmas time 1317,  the king took his revenge, and seized his brothers at Nyköpingshus, where he confined them and according to tradition let them starve to death. Birger himself was forced to live in exile for most of his remaining life, and his son was executed by his brothers’ supporters.Erik, who after his death became a hero of almost epic proportions, and was portrayed as ”the true noble Swedish knight”. The Erikskrönika (Erik’s chronicle) that describes him as a true, gentle knight, also gives the modern reader a glance at something closer to reality – he was most likely as scheming and backstabbing as any noble of the time. In the fourteenth century however, he and his brother Valdemar was tragic victims to imprisonment (and starvation to death in the dungeon of Nyköpinghus castle) by his evil brother king Birger. The Mecklenburgische Reimchronik, written in the 1370’s, describes it thus:

Nu starb von dem hungere gar, der eyne herczoge Woldemar /…/ Do her des mochte getun nicht me, du starb her ouch yn hungirs we.

In 1319 the three year old Magnus Eriksson, son of the starved-to-death duke Erik, is elected king of Sweden and inherits at the same time the crown of Norway. Magnus was seen as the most fitting heir to the throne by his father’s supporters. A three-year-old on the throne suited the nobles just fine, since it in effect let them rule, even though the young king’s mother, the Duchess Ingeborg, was a bit more stubborn and powerful than the council of nobles really liked. She and her aide/lover Knut Porse planned an attack on the province of Skåne, which annoyed the nobles. In general, they also disliked the influence Knut Porse had over Ingeborg, and they had no intention whatsoever of helping them out. However, the expedition to Skåne couldn’t be successful without support from somebody, and that somebody turned out to be the north German nobleman Henrik of Mecklenburg. By betrothing her four year old daughter Eufemia to Henrik’s son Albrecht the elder of Mecklenburg, Ingeborg had the support of the north Germans. The campaign against Skåne was a failure, but the bond between the Swedish royals and the Germans remained, something that would be of the greatest importance some years later, as we will well see.

Enough is enough

The council lost what patience they had with Ingeborg. Fighting a long war on Novgorod in the Finnish part of Sweden, they certainly didn’t need another front. In 1323 the decided that something had to be done. They signed a treaty with the Novgorodians at the castle of Nöteborg, and thereby regulated the Swedish/Russian borders in Finland. Then they turned on the capable duchess, and besieged her strong castle of Axvalla. 1326 the nobles and Ingeborg finally come to terms and she is forced to give up much of her power. She is given the small Dovå castle to support herself.


Something rotten in the state of Denmark

At the same time, king Kristoffer of Denmark was in quite a pickle; his predecessors and himself had been leading an irresponsible foreign policy and hence they had to pawn one Danish region after another to creditors from Holstein in northern Germany. Skåne and the better part of mainland Denmark was under German rule. A lot of the people of Denmark and Skåne was less than satisfied with the ruling Holsteiners, because they were ”merciless” to the commoners. Under the command of the archbishop of Lund, Karl Erikssøn, the people rebelled against count Johan of Holstein, besieged Helsingborg and seized the count’s other estates in 1332.

The year before, in 1331, the young Magnus Eriksson, the son of countess Ingeborg, came of age. He was 15 years old and hence acceeded the formal royal power from his mother. He immediately proceeded to confirm the old privilegies of the rebelling archbishop Karl – even though he in theory was was subordinated to Johan of Holstein, who owned Skåne and therefore was the only person that really could confirm any privilegies of old. The young king took a longshot to consolidate his power in the wealthy province.

Magnus gain Skåne – and lose it

The counts of Holstein wanted to end the rebellion and mustered an army at Sjælland to come to Helsingborg’s rescue. Magnus, in his turn, sent ships and soldiers to oppose the counts, but he was in the end convinced to refrain from violence. He was allowed to buy the province of Skåne for the immense sum of 34 000 marks of silver (about 8 000 kilos of pure silver). The people of Skåne, including the archbishop, the nobles and number of burghers and peasants voluntarily swore an oath of fealthy to Magnus, whom they looked upon as their master and king. He was crowned in 1336. After this Magnus begins calling himself ”the king of Sweden, Norway and Scania”. Also, this is about the time when three crowns start to appear as a symbol of the realm.

Skåne held one of Europe’s most important markets which generated an enormous tax revenue, a prequisite for Magnus ability to repay his huge loan. But Skåne slipped out of hus grasp sooner than he could ever anticipate. Valdemar Kristofferssøn, more known as Valdemar Atterdag was celebrated as Danish king in 1340. He had come to terms with the Holstein counts after great efforts, cunning diplomacy and military action. In 1348 Denmark was his. Even though he in 1341 had agreed on an ”unbreakable peace” with Magnus, and 1343 renounced his claims for Skåne, he conquered the province after only a couple of months on campaign. The Swedish army under Erengisle Jarl and Karl Ulfsson is camped at lake Ringsjön but stays passive. The only thing they seem to manage is to kill the exiled Bengt Algotsson (we will return to Bengt Algotsson later); it is said his murderers were Karl Ulfsson of Tofta and Magnus Niklisson. Then the Swedish army returns north. The nobles showed very little interest in fighting in Scania. The revenues from the market in Skåne was no more, and king Magnus could never be free of his debts – he only switched creditors.


A fresco showing king Valdemar Atterdag of Denmark, circa 1370

Being on a roll, Valdemar sets sail for the islands of Gotland and Öland in 1361. Öland is taken relatively easy, and despite warnings from Magnus, the Gotlanders are taken by surprise. The campaign culminates the 27th of July in the battle of Visby where almost 2000 Gotlandish commoners were slaughtered by Danish and German mercenaries, and thrown into massgraves. Visby is plundered, and according to legend, Valdemar forces the inhabitants of the city to tear down a part of its city walls. Even though the attack was a great success, it was a mistake; Visby was part of the Hanseatic League. The city of Lübeck starts negotiations with the Swedes in August, and a combined attack is planned. The Swedish nobles, however, are showing usual reluctance to support their king. The mustering of troops is going slow, but about a year after the attack on Visby, Magnus (with some help from his son Håkon) has gathered enough men to launch an attack on Valdemar in the city of Helsingborg. 27 koggs and 25 other vessels set out to teach the Danes a lesson.

Continue reading here.

This article, written by Johan Käll and Peter Ahlqvist, was in part previously posted on our old webpage under the name 14thc Political climate.


This text is the first of a series of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union

These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

A note on 14th century warfare

To begin with, we shall have a short introduction to which types of arms and armour that were used in fourteenth century Sweden. The law of each county (or country, as Sweden more or less existed as a form of confederacy at this time) stated that each and every free man where to own arms and armor so they would be able to do service in the levy. Although this differed from one place to another, the laws provided very specifically which types of weapons and armor that the peasants were obliged to have in their possession.

The law stated that each man should have a muza (probably mail coif – a disputed interpretation), chainmail or plata (some form of body protection, most likely a coat-of-plates), järnhatt (generally kettlehat, but other types of helmets were also used) and a shield (the round shield existed side by side with the heater shield. Pavises however, doesn’t seem to have been in high use). Have a look here to learn more about the armor of the time. The weapons mentioned in the laws are first of all bows, with a specific amount of arrows (three tolfter, dozens). Some of the county laws state that a spear also should be part of the soldiers weaponry.


The kettlehat was a very common type of helmet for the foot soldier

The equipment mentioned in the laws correspond well with the archaeological finds from the excavation of the mass graves of the so called Korsbetningen. These graves were dug for the around 1800 local Gotland peasants, who died fighting invading Danes in the battle of Visby, the 27th of July, 1361, and are situated outside the city walls of Visby in the Swedish province of Gotland. One aspect that does not comply with the weaponry prescribed in the laws, is the lack of arrow points. A handful if any were discovered. Instead a great number of points of crossbow bolts were found. Whether this means that the crossbow had superseded the bow as the regulated weapon, or if bows simply were not used in this particular battle, is not easy to know.

The axe seems to have been a favoured weapon. The Viking style long axe survives long after the dark ages, and is still popular in the fifteenth century. The halberd does not appear until later (the first evidence – however doubtful – is dated to 1410-1415). Different types of war hammers and maces were in use, leaving tell tale holes in the skulls of excavated fighters.


Big war axes were used extensively

There is also evidence handgonnes were used. To which extent we do not know, but the oldest handgonne known is the Swedish Loshult handgonne (Loshult is a parish in the south of Sweden), dated to 1340-1350. Several other handgonnes have been found, like the famous Mörkö handgonne (dated to late fourteenth century), and this indicates they were not extremely uncommon. As Sweden was very influenced by Germans and German fashion, the weapons and armour in use were generally of German style.


The unique Mörkö bronze handgonne

The armoured horseman

The Alsnö stadga (the statute of Alsnö), 1279-1280, stated that each man that presented an armoured horseman to fight for the king would be void of taxes. It was a general opinion that the king should ”live off his own” (”his own” being the area of Uppsala öd north of Stockholm, lands with the purpose of providing the king with an income – generally referred to as Kronolän – ”the crown’s fief”), and therefore the taxes were not very high to begin with. Even so there weren’t many knights in Sweden, and hence the Swedish military forces during the fourteenth century was an army mostly consisting of free peasants. It has been suggested that at the height of Swedish chivalry, the kingdom could muster maybe 500 knights. During a period Sweden had as little as three knighted families.

A reason for the relatively few knights is the Swedish terrain. Apart from some areas in central Östergötland, Västergötland and parts of Svealand, it consists mainly of rocks, dense woods and lots of lakes and streams. When the knight was mounted he would have trouble manoeuvring the rough ground, and as the he relied much in his advantage of being on horseback, the terrain was certainly not an ideal one. As dense forests with lots of obstacles provides to little space for an army of riders, the purpose of knights are lost. The terrain simply prevents them from charging enemies in a broad line of battle (which were the knight’s preferred way of fighting). Another reason for the lack of knights might be that they could only be knighted by the king himself. The knights where divided in two groups, riddare (knight) and knape/väpnare/sven (squire). To keep their status as nobles, they were obliged to present themselves once a year at muster points.


Foreign knights were having trouble negotiating the dense forests

An army of peasants…

Sweden never had a continental style feudalism, and the free class of peasants were a strong and respected group. The nobles were always keen to have them on their side – for example to overthrow the king without the aid of the peasants, was impossible and unthinkable. Then again, the peasants mainly wanted to be left out of big game politics and mind their own business. Even so, the peasants were required by law to fight for the king in times of need. Even in the fourteenth century, this was an old law. It was based on the so called ”ledung” law, which stated the peasants obligation to provide ships for the fleet, but was some what modernized to fit the needs of the time.

The army was probably never very big. In chronicles such as Erikskrönikan absurd numbers of soldiers are often mentioned, but one must take into account that ballads and other poetic texts might mostly be fiction. In the case of the mentioned Erikskrönikan, it is a question of political propaganda, and this force us to be suspicious to the numbers described. However, other numbers has been suggested, based on treaties and personal letters.. In 1363, for example, Albrecht departs from Warnemünde in Germany along with Swedish nobles and not more than 1600 soldiers to claim the Swedish crown.

In the same year Albrecht’s predecessor Magnus and his son Håkan, king of Norway, puts up an army together with the Hanseatic league. It consists of about 4000 soldiers, siege engines and ships. Note that this relatively large army is put together by two kings and one of the mightiest political factions of the time. 1389 the Danish queen opposes king Albrecht with an army consisting of ”1500 horsemen along with footmen”, and four years later is mentioned a pirate fleet of 1200 men. As mentioned above the battle of Visby left about 1800 dead bodies, and it has been said that very few of the Gotlanders defending Visby survived. This can be compared to Henry Vs army of Azincourt – about 7000 soldiers (at the siege of Harfleur it has been said it was even bigger).


Approximately 1 800 peasants were killed outside Visby in 1361

The somewhat puny number of soldiers in the Swedish armies are probably based on two factors, the first being that Sweden at the time only had about a million inhabitants, of which only about 30% – at the very most – were suited for battle. Taking into account that a nation wide muster was impossible due to communication and transportation difficulties, 1500-2000 men is about the most that could be enrolled from the areas adjacent to the muster points. The second factor is simply a matter of logistics. In a country of poorly developed agriculture, armed free peasants and dense woodland it is not easy to provide enough food to sustain much more than about 2000 marching soldiers.

…reinforced by Germans

As complement to the levied troops, especially when waging war in foreign land (in this case mostly Denmark, Russia or Novgorod), the use of German mercenaries were common. They consisted mainly of different kinds of specialists (like for example gunners and bombard crews). The Hanseatic league supplied both Danes and Swedes with troops depending on who gave them the sweetest deals. Free mercenaries, not tied to the Hanseatic League, were most likely also employed. The North German Hanseatic city of Lübeck was the site of the North European mercenary market for centuries. Mercenaries were expensive, however, and the economy of the realm was almost always strained (the cocky Swedich peasants weren’t willing to pay too heavy taxes).


Mercenaries gathered in the north German city of Lübeck

This resulted in that parts of the land occasionally was held by German nobles as security for loans that the king could not pay. To squeeze out as much as possible from the stalwart peasants, these nobles themselves employed German mercenaries. These men did not care who got in their way; they were professional soldiers with no ties or bonds to the population – they might even have seen the Swedish commoners as nothing less than enemies, and Swedish laws meant little to them and their masters, as they were only ”guests” in the country.

This problem worsened under the realm of king Albrecht of Mecklenburg, himself a German, invited and elected to the throne by Swedish nobles, as a strategy in the always ongoing struggle for power; their plan was for Albrecht to serve as a puppet, and rule the land themselves. The monk Andreas Lydekini later describes the state of the realm: ”Then the birds of prey settled on the cliff tops, for the Germans oppressed the land for many a year.” Once Albrecht was seated in the throne, he realized that he hadn’t much to work with – it was expensive business being king, and he sort of inherited a lot of huge debts. His solution was to give his German knights and sheriffs areas of land as deposit.

The army in battle and on campaign

Most campaigning in Scandinavia took place during the winter time, when the ground was covered with snow, and the lakes and streams were frozen. The snow usually settles in November-December, and with few exceptions it stays until February-March. The army could travel the short routes across the frozen waters, and in some cases use sleighs to move quickly on the snow. We know at least scouts and vanguard used skis in the 15th C. It is mentioned that Karl Knutsson used skiers in his campaign against Skåne (Scania – a province in the south of Sweden, at the time more or less a part of Denmark), and there is little reason to doubt the usage of skis in the fourteenth century, as finds of skis from as early as the viking age has been made. Skiing and sleighing is a lot faster than to negotiate the hilly, dense forests by foot. Itineraries most often lists two different routes of travel, one during winter time and one during summer time. The one describing the winter time route generally describes a road that is two thirds shorter in both distance and time.

Another positive aspect of winter time campaigning is that the peasants were not needed at home to bring in crops, plough or tend the farm as much as during spring, summer and autumn. In some instances the winter was an advantage during defensive warfare. The Swedes made defensive position on the ice of a lake, cut holes in the ice in the evening, and allowed the water to freeze over night. In the early morning they covered the thin layer of ice with snow and waited for their enemies to charge them. There is, of course downsides with winter campaigning.


Winter campaigning has its disadvantages, but also its advantages

First of all, it is the cold. This could not have been a very big problem; the soldiers were used to being out in winter cold. Campaigning was not much different from the ordinary work day at the farm, in terms of physical efforts and being exposed to cold. Still, it is challenging to be outdoors for days, marching and maybe not having as much food and drink as you need. The real problem though, must have been the short days. During the darkest winter days, the sun sets at three or four in the afternoon, and rise again about nine or ten in the morning (in some parts of Sweden, the sun never rises at all during parts of winter time), which gives us seven hours of daylight at the most. As it is difficult to navigate an entire army through pitch black winter forest in the snow, the darkness put a hamper on the army’s movability.

How did this army of peasants and a handful of mercenaries stand up to the more continental armies of the Danes, packed with knights and great numbers of hired soldiers? As history tells us, quite well. The Swedes most often tried to avoid battle on open ground, where Danish knights would have the opportunity to ride them down. Instead they kept to the forests, which were essentially roadless, apart from the highways – little more than trails of mud or gorges, merely adapted for wanderers with sumpter horses. The roads were also kept to high ground, so that they wouldn’t turn into streams in case of heavy downfall. On these already narrow paths, the Swedes lay in wait for the invaders.


Swedish peasant soldiers lay in wait in the dense forests

When the enemy least expected, the defenders felled trees across the path, so called bråtar, and to make things worse for their visitors, they cut of any route of escape by chopping down trees at the rear of the enemy troupe. As soon as the falling trees hit the ground, the defenders started a deadly crossfire of arrows and crossbow bolts. Most peasants relied on hunting as well as farming for survival, they where most likely skilled archers, that did not have to be ordered to the butts for training like for example English bowmen. The enemy had no choice but to try and clear the road of the heavy trees, but the bråtar was well defended by Swedes with a grudge. The Danish cavalry was at a disadvantage when trying to charge over the bråtar, so clearing the trees from the opposition was not an easy task.

As soon as the Swedes were driven off, the time consuming work of dragging the bråtar from the trail began. At the meantime, the defenders went some kilometre along the path to the next prepared ambush, had a meal, bandaged their wounds and had some hours rest, until the invaders reached their spot, weary and with bruised morale. And then everything happened all over again. It was a hard, nigh impossible task to invade Sweden by land. The Swedes also enjoyed the advantage of being at their own turf, hence knowing every path and every bit of land in the area, and so they could navigate at their own leisure, when the invaders had to stick to the trails or get hopelessly lost.

Insignias and field markings

The Swedes does not seem to have made much use of insignias, badges, tabards or shield heraldics. As far as we know, no pictorial or written evidence speak of soldiers displaying badges or their masters colors, even in those sources when one might expect them. Shield paintings often seem to have had more decorative than heraldic purpose. It might be of interest, that no ”Grant of arms” was (or is) needed in Sweden. You simply painted a shield with a motif of your liking, and started to work the trademark in. German troops might have followed German fashion, and some of the mightier families might also have adapted to the German trend, as many nobles in Sweden were actually from Germany at the time. Even the society as a whole was greatly influenced by German habit, language and culture, as many merchants and people in positions of power originated from Germany.

In the above mentioned Karl Knutsson’s campaign against Skåne, we know that the gunners marched under the flag of St Erik (considered national and patron saint of Sweden, although he has never been canonized by the Vatican). Otherwise, evidence are scarce. The symbol of the kingdom of Sweden, three golden crowns on a blue field (as seen in Albrecht of Mecklenburg’s seal) seems to have been displayed on flags in the army. First appearing as the arms of Sweden in a cardinal palace in Avignon 1320, it is still the field insignia of the Swedish military. King Magnus Eriksson (Albrecht of Mecklenburgs predecessor) might have used it, and it fits well with him being king of Norway, Sweden and Skåne. We know for sure that king Albrecht used the three crowns, and on the effigies of bishop Henrik of Finnland, dating to early fifteenth century, Swedish crusaders are happily waving their three crown banners.


An old Swedish trademark, still used by our hockey team and the army – the three crowns

It took a long time before the Swedish army adopted uniform clothing. Even in the eighteenth century it was stated that ”the soldier fights in his own clothes”, even if royal regiments had uniforms. To recognize each other in battle, a sheaf of straw or a twig of fir was attached to the hat or helmet. Something close to insignia was the use of foxtails and wolf tails. The otherwise notoriously unreliable sixteenth century writer Olaus Magnus writes: ”To taunt their enemies, the Swedes tie wolf or fox tails to their spears.” Normally, we would treat this as nonsense, more or less, but as the German painter Albrecht Dürer actually depicts knights with foxtails or wolf tails on their lances, this might really be the case.

What is so taunting about wolf tails and fox tails? These animals was hated and scorned for killing livestock and (in the case of the wolf) sometimes even pose a threat to human beings. The punishment ”to be hanged with wolves” where a convicted man or woman was hung up alongside the bodies of wolves, was a most degrading execution.

Article by Johan Käll, previously published at our old webpage