Stockholm Bloodbath Led to Swedish Reformation
OWING TO A LAW that gave all property to the church for those persons who died without a legitimate will, Sweden’s bishops became rich and powerful. This was one of the reasons they tried to keep Sweden from having its own king, preferring instead the weaker rule of regents appointed by distant Denmark. In the fifteenth century one archbishop even shed his vestments for armor to fight against the Swedish regent. However, the people muttered that Sweden had always been a kingdom, not a parish.
The situation grew worse in 1514 when Gustavus Trolle became archbishop of Uppsala. He hated the regent appointed by Denmark, Sten Sture the Younger, a Swedish patriot. Trolle made trouble for Sture from day one. When Trolle’s Danish allies ravaged Sweden, Sture drove them off. Too late, Trolle tried to cut a deal, but Sture said, “Now that so much blood has flowed on his account, he could be considered but as a murderer, and, above all, unfit for the sacred office of bishop.” The Swedish Diet (parliament) unanimously deposed Trolle. Swedes demolished his castle because it had been used as a stronghold against the regent.
But the pope excommunicated Sten Sture and his followers, banning all marriages, baptisms, Eucharist, or church services until Trolle was reinstated. In the struggles that followed, Sture died of his wounds. Trolle once again became archbishop of Uppsala, and he thirsted for vengeance. With the help of the Danish King, Christian II, he lured eighty nobles and two Catholic bishops to a council. On this day, 8 November 1520, he butchered them all in cold blood—a deed known as the Bloodbath of Stockholm. Olavus Petri was an eyewitness. “It was a pitiful and terrible sight to see how, in that rainy season, blood, mixed with water and filth, ran down the gutters of the market place, where all were in anguish because nobody knew how long he might be permitted to live.”
Gustavus Vasa, son of one of the murdered nobles, led a furious revolt and drove Trolle out of Sweden, making it an independent country. Vasa’s new bishops introduced the Lutheran Reformation into their land. Meanwhile, the brutal Trolle died from battle wounds while trying to capture Odense, Denmark, where he had the promise of becoming archbishop.