The Stockholm Bloodbath

There’s a super documentary series on Swedish TV just now about ‘Stockholms Blodbad’, when 80-odd prominent Swedish nobles and bishops were beheaded and hanged in Stortorget, in the old town, in November 1520, on the orders of the Danish king Christian II: known in Sweden as ‘Kristian Tyrann’, and in Denmark – allegedly – as ‘Christian den Gode’. It has been suggested that this 500-year old massacre lies at the root of the antipathy between Swedes and Danes which you can still detect today, perhaps surprisingly, bearing in mind that they’re all Scandinavians; but you mustn’t believe that the Nordics necessarily get along with one another. (You should just hear some of my Swedish friends on the Norwegians!)

My reason for bringing it up here is that it seemed to me that parallels might be drawn with present-day events; not the ‘bloodbath’, exactly – unless Brexit turns particularly nasty – but the dispute that gave rise to it. Sweden at the time was a member of the ‘Kalmar Union’ of the three Scandinavian countries (plus part of Finland) formed in 1397, which could be regarded as a kind of embryonic forerunner of the EU; but with the Swedish part of it wanting to break away. That was why Christian came down on it. Eventually – just two years after the Bloodbath, in fact – Sweden’s independence (Swexit) was achieved, with Gustav Vasa becoming its first real  Kung.

But… looking at the history of this event in detail, the cap doesn’t really fit. It was far more confusing than that. Religion – the Reformation – had much to do with it, for example, which I don’t think is the case with Brexit.  (See Brexit is complex enough in itself, of course, but not in any of the same ways. Boris Johnson is hardly a Gustav Vasa (below), for a start. And I can’t see M. Barnier ordering the beheading of him and the other the Brexiteer leaders, whatever the provocation. Historical parallels very rarely work like this. If they did, then history might be of more use to us.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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