A Brief History
On November 8, 1520, the Stockholm Bloodbath began in which a successful invasion of Sweden by Danish forces resulted in the execution of around 100 people.
In 1520, Sweden was divided between two factions. First were those who favored a union of Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) established in 1397 and second, those who advocated for Swedish independence. Denmark’s King Christian II launched an invasion of Sweden to maintain the union.
Having succeeded in his military intervention, Christian subsequently summoned key Swedish leaders to a private conference at the palace 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 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 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 him many friends. In Sweden, Christian is remembered as “the Tyrant” and he even had to apologize to the Pope for having executed bishops. 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 with 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.
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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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.