Jun 292014
 
Eric XIV of Sweden
(given in the painting as King of the Swedes, the Goths and the Vandals)

On 29 June, 1561, Eric XIV was crowned king of Sweden. He was the eldest son of Gustav Vasa, a relatively minor nobleman who had risen to royal status during the Swedish War of Liberation against King Christian II of Denmark in the 1520s. His ascension to the throne cemented the transition of Sweden to a hereditary monarchy under the House of Vasa, which was a clear break from medieval Sweden’s elective monarchy.

The coronation took place in Uppsala Cathedral, during which Eric wore a splendid coronation cape. New and spectacular regal symbols had been made in honour of the occasion, and have remained in use ever since; the crown, the spire, the key and the apple. The ceremony was followed by festivities in Uppsala castle for the nobility and in the streets of the city of Uppsala for the populace.

Despite the splendid beginning, Eric’s reign would come to a sad end. A very talented young man, given a very fine education in the spirit of the Renaissance, he was also suspicious, bordering on paranoid; a trait he shared with his father as well as his brothers (in fact, it’s not altogether farfetched to say that there was  a clear streak of mental illness in the early Vasas). The culmination was the so-called Sture murders in May, 1567, when he had five incarcerated members of the highest nobility brutally murdered in their cells, due to his suspicions of a conspiracy against him. According to the stories told, he struck the first blow himself, violently stabbing the young Count Nils Sture. Afterwards, when a political adviser and ally tried to calm him, he ordered the soldiers to slaughter him as well.

This obviously did not go down entirely well with the Swedish nobility. In 1568, the relatives of the murdered men joined forces with Eric’s younger brother John, who had earlier been imprisoned for several years due to Erik’s fear of betrayal. The uprising was also supported by the youngest Vasa brother, Charles, who would later rule as Charles IX and who fathered Sweden’s greatest claim to military fame, Gustavus Adolphus.

Erik was deposed by a parliament in 1569 and he spent his remaining life until his death in 1577 in prison. Every Swedish schoolchild has heard the apocryphal story of how Eric was supposedly murdered on Johan’s order by arsenic administered in a bowl of pea soup, a claim that was doubted by many historians for centuries. However, a chemical analysis of his remains in the 20th century showed a very large concentration of arsenic, leading to the conclusion that the evidence indicated that he really was poisoned. The pea soup, however, remains unsubstantiated.

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