The Stockholm Bloodbath!

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A Brief History

On November 8, 1520, the Stockholm Bloodbath began, an event  which followed the successful invasion of Sweden by Danish forces that resulted in the execution of around 100 people.

Digging Deeper

In 1520, Sweden was divided between two factions.  The first consisted of Swedes who favored a union of Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden), a union that had been established in 1397, and the second faction consisting of those Swedes who advocated for Swedish independence.  Denmark’s King Christian II launched the invasion of Sweden to maintain the union of Scandinavia.

Having succeeded in his military intervention to put down the Swedish separatists, Christian subsequently summoned key Swedish leaders to a private conference at the royal palace in Stockholm on November 7, 1520.  Rather than treat his guests as, well, “guests,” on November 8, 1520, Christian’s Danish soldiers essentially kidnapped various Swedish nobles from the palace and imprisoned others.  Thus, began the Stockholm Bloodbath or Stockholm Massacre, as it is alternatively known.

On November 9, 1520, a considerable number of those betrayed the previous day were then sentenced to death for heresy, because anyone who opposes Denmark’s king must be a heretic…   Even bishops who had opposed the union of Denmark and Sweden were beheaded, along with dozens of noblemen and commoners from Stockholm who were either hanged or decapitated.   More executions occurred on November 10, 1520, with at least 82 people becoming victims of the executioner.  To add insult to injury, Christian reportedly had the body of the leader of the anti-unionist faction dug up and burnt along with the body of his young child in addition to imprisoning his widow and other Swedish noblewomen.

Despite having won militarily, the above actions did not exactly win Christian II (who named this guy, anyway?) many friends.  In Sweden, Christian is remembered as “the Tyrant” and he even had to apologize to the Pope for having executed bishops.  (No apology needed for all the other murders!)  The brutality of the massacre did not terrify Christian’s opponents into submission, but rather outraged the survivors.  The union of Scandinavia ended just three years later in 1523 when Gustav Vasa, the son of one of the executed victims of the Stockholm Bloodbath, was elected King of Sweden following his victory over Denmark in the Swedish War of Liberation, thus ending a united Scandinavia.

Question for students (and subscribers): Were the Danes justified in their actions?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information on the Stockholm Bloodbath and other events in Sweden’s history, we recommend the following book:

Sprague, Martina.  Sweden: An Illustrated History.  Hippocrene Books, 2005.

For more information of the conflict between Christian II and Gustav Vasa, please see:

Watson, Paul Barron.  The Swedish Revolution Under Gustavus Vasa.  Pinnacle Press, 2017.

The featured image in this article, an image of the Stockholm Bloodbath, is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.

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About Author

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.