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  • Writer's pictureastrid v.j.

The Bloody Origins of Sweden

The Last Vasa series: Insight and Inspiration

If the spilling of blood is the trigger for Milena’s powers in my series, then I have to also admit that it mirrors the history of Sweden. For just over 500 years ago, Sweden didn’t exist. Back then, it was an event steeped in blood that triggered Gustav Eriksson to rebel against King Christian II of Denmark who wished to see all of Scandinavia under his thumb and used the Kalmar Union as an excuse for his tyranny. Stockholm’s Bloodbath has gone down in Swedish history in infamy, and it was indeed the event that led to Sweden becoming an independent kingdom. It’s an event important enough that a screen adaptation is currently underway, expected to release in January 2024.

A photograph of Stockholm centre with the palace at the centre. Title of the post: The Bloody Origins of Sweden. The Last Vasa crest: A faces bundle of sticks and a stylized bear on either side.
View of Stockholm palace and city centre with churches

A brief overview of Stockholm’s Bloodbath:

In 1518, King Christian II of Denmark began his conquest to bring all of the Nordic countries under his banner. By 1520, he’d subdued most of what we now call Sweden. There were many aristocratic families that sided with Sten Sture against the Danish push for power, and after Sture’s death, his widow, Kristina Nilsdotter (Gyllenstierna), defended Stockholm for months.

As the winter of 1520 drew near, Christian II of Denmark offered Kristina terms of surrender as well as a wholesale pardon to all those who’d been involved in what he considered a rebellion. Kristina capitulated and opened the gates of the city to the new king.

On November 4th, 1520, Christian II was crowned king of the Kalmar Union and celebrated an immense banquet over the next three days.

On the evening of November 7th, a special invitation was sent to the Swedish aristocrats for private conference at the palace. It seems likely many of them expected it would be a moment for the new king to consolidate his power by offering his former enemies’ positions that would indebt them to him. Instead, as soon as the last man entered the hall, the doors were locked and a group arrest was made. Archbishop Gustav Trolle, who’d been re-instated by King Christian II accused the gathered men and women of heresy.

The next day, November 8th, the archbishop acted as prosecutor, jury, and judge at a trial where all the men were found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death. It just so happens, all these people were the former political enemies of King Christian II to whom he’d promised the pardon. The women became political prisoners of the Danish crown.

At lunchtime on November 8th, the executions started. Bishops and nobles were beheaded first. The beheadings continued throughout 9 November and it’s estimated that up to 100 people were executed. Historical records vary, but the number of deaths is confirmed at over 82. The town square is said to have run with blood, and accounts speak of the heads, which were placed in barrels. On November 10th pyres were lit and all the bodies were burned.

I personally find it interesting that although these events were the catalyst that led Gustav Eriksson to muster a new army and finally rout the Danish forces two years later, the 500th anniversary of Stockholm’s Bloodbath passed without the slightest interest from modern Swedes. The big blockbuster movie is only being made now, three years later, instead of having been ready for that anniversary.

Now it’s time for me to share how these events feature in Milena’s Fear, my short prequel story for the Last Vasa series. Here follows a short excerpt from Milena’s first dreamlike vision where she witnesses these events in her mind as the first spark of her magical powers.

Milena was plunged into a vision—well, it felt more like a memory, but she had no recollection of this place.

She stood on a cobble square—well, the stones were rectangular blocks, but uneven like the cobbles she knew from Lilla Torg in Malmö. Flagstones, her mind offered. The open area was surrounded by tall buildings and she noted that she didn’t recognise any of them. They all looked entirely old-fashioned with crenelations on the gables and moulding above the windows. Beside her stood something that looked like a water well from ancient times and in front of her a church spire rose up behind a tall building with sweeping columns that looked like it was super important. In the background, she made out an old castle with thick walls and defensive structures.

Milena turned in a circle, taking it all in and was unnerved by how quiet it was. There was no one in sight. She stood, alone, in the centre of a square she didn’t recognise. Never before in her life had she visited this place. The knowledge of it sat heavy in her stomach and added another clenched fist to the tension invading her body.

Everything around her was made of stone and Milena took in the flickering of torchlight, which cast strange shadows all around her. In front of the important-looking building there was a raised wooden platform and Milena’s attention was drawn to it when a man with a massive beard stepped up onto it. He was dressed all in black and his clothes seemed strange to her—coarse and bulky.

There was a creepiness to him and, with a shudder, Milena looked around her again, but there was no one else present. She tried to walk away, but whenever she looked behind her, Milena found she hadn’t moved from the spot beside the well.

Was she dreaming?

That didn’t seem quite the right conclusion because at the back of her mind, Milena knew she was at school. She sat on the cold, hard floor of the third-floor bathroom—of all places. But for some reason, she couldn’t shake the vision of the flagstone square or court yard or whatever it was. The man in black stood still, hands clasped behind him, staring away from Milena towards one of the streets that headed to the castle.

Something flickered in the firelight and Milena strained to see what moved beyond the edges of the glow. A knight, dressed in full armour strode into the light, followed by a shuffling procession of people in weird attire from some distant time in the past. There seemed to be close to a hundred of them, herded into the square with their hands bound behind their backs. They bowed their heads as they were led into the square. It was strange to watch the knight move silently, for Milena expected the iron plates to clank together with every movement.

Baptisms in blood are a continuous theme throughout my series, and in our times a veritable bloodbath is underway as we speak. However, that is the topic of my next post. Keep an eye out for it!

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