A December intrigue with fatal consequences

In December 1317 the Swedish king Birger Magnusson invited his two younger brothers, the dukes Erik and Valdemar to a Christmas banquet at Nyköping Castle where he resided for the moment. The three brothers had a long period of power struggle and intrigues behind them. In 1306 the second brother, Erik, had persuaded the youngest to participate in a coûp d’état. They had then invited king Birger, the queen Marta, daughter of the Danish king, and the young prince Magnus to a feast at Håtuna Mansion. There they had taken the king and queen captives, while the prince was helped by a servant to flee to his grandfather, the Danish king. After a while the Royal couple was released, but the king had to after several battles with his brothers give the dukes large parts of the kingdom to rule. They tried to find peace, but the feelings were mutually suspicious.

However, in December 1317 the king and queen had managed to persuade the youngest brother to tell Erik that they were both welcome to a Christmas peace banquet. But it was only part of a deception. The Royalities had together with their councelor and military Commander in Chief Johann Brunkow set a trap for the dukes. When they arrived in Nyköping the dukes were told that they had to let their troups have their night quarters in the city, not at the castle because of the lack of space. They had though been warned beforehand by a knight, but still decided to come. At the banquet on December 10th everything seemed well on the surface and the food and drink was plenty. Late that night the two dukes went to their beds half naked to get some sleep.

The king assembled his troups and gave Johann Brunkow the order to arrest his brothers. In the middle of the night between December 10th and the 11th the troups went to their room and arrested them. Duke Erik put up a fight, but the soldiers were too many. Suddenly king Birger appeared. Then he asked: “Do you remember anything of the Håtuna game? I remember it well”. Then he had his brothers put in the dungeon and let them starve. When the dukes’ men and allies learned about this, armies from different parts of Sweden and Norway put a siege on Nyköping Castle and the king and queen were suddenly surrounded by enemies.

In January 1318 king Birger forced his brothers to sign a final will and testament, which still remains and then threw the large key to their prison into the river outside the castle walls. That key was later found by a boy in the river during the 1800’s and can now be seen at the castle museum. The dukes Erik and Valdemar starved to death soon afterwards, but their allies succeeded in taking the castle. The king had to flee to Denmark, prince Magnus fought on, but were captured during the war. Skirmishes and battles were fought in Sweden and Scania where I live, (then part of East Denmark). Prince Magnus and the king’s councellor Johann Brunkow were both taken prisoners and executed. The detronized king Birger and queen Marta both died in Denmark where they found refuge with Marta’s relatives. The son of duke Erik, also called Magnus, later became the new king of the young Swedish nation. This part of Swedish history is referred to as the “The Nyköping Banquet”.

What can we learn from all this? Well, even today the power struggles create lots of deaths and suffering. I chose this story to give you another example of how envy, hatred, corruption and power fights, (irrespective of time period or country), contribute to making our world insecure and agonizing. These things will continue to happen, and does so all the time in our world even as I write these words. Forming different groups and alliances will always be part of our human nature. Nevertheless I still want us to consider that there also are good and constructive ways of creating alliances and to build bridges in society. This week I will write more about the different Christmas traditions that might remind us of the finer parts of our human nature and also about a good society here in Malmoe that does a marvellous job. Until tomorrow I wish you all the best.

Anders Moberg, December 17th 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s