Historical Tales: 9—Scandinavian - Charles Morris

How Sir Tord Fought for Charles of Sweden

In the year 1450 and the succeeding period there was great disorder in the Scandinavian kingdoms. The Calmar Union was no longer satisfactory to the people of Sweden, who were bitterly opposed to being ruled by a Danish king. There were wars and intrigues and plots and plans, with plenty of murder and outrage, as there is sure to be in such troublous times. There was king after king, none of them pleasing to the people. King Erik behaved so badly that neither Sweden nor Denmark would have anything to do with him, and he became a pirate, living by plunder. Then Duke Christopher of Bavaria was elected king of Scandinavia, but he also acted in a way that made every one glad when he died. In those days there was a great nobleman in Sweden, named Karl Knutsson, who had a hand in everything that was going on. One thing especially made him very popular at that time, when a new king was to be elected. The spring had been very dry and there was danger of a complete failure of the crops, but on the day when Karl landed in Stockholm, May 23, 1450, there came plentiful rains and the people rejoiced, fancying that in some way he had brought about the change of weather. So, when the lords assembled to elect a new king, Karl received sixty-two out of seventy votes, while the people shouted that they would have no other king. He was then crowned king as Charles VIII. There had been only one Charles before him, but somehow the mistake was made of calling him Charles VIII., and in later years came Charles IX., X., etc., the mistake never being rectified.

All this is in introduction to a tale we have to tell, that of a bold champion of King Charles. For the new king had many troubles to contend with. The king of Denmark in especial gave him much trouble, and the southern province of West Gothland was in danger of seceding from his rule. In this dilemma he chose his cousin, Sir Tord Bonde, a young but daring and experienced warrior, as the captain of his forces in that province. He could not have made a better choice, and the stirring career of Sir Tord was so full of strange and exciting events that we must devote this tale to his exploits.

Lödöse, a stronghold of Gothland, was still held by the Danes, and Sir Tord's first adventure had to do with this place. On a dark, rainy, and stormy night he led a party of shivering horsemen towards the town, galloping onward at headlong speed over the muddy road and reaching the place before day-dawn. Utterly unexpectant of such a coming, the Danes were taken by surprise and all made prisoners, Sir Tord's men feeding luxuriously on the enemy's meat and wine as some recompense for their wet night's journey.

Master of the place without a blow, Sir Tord 219 found there a bag of letters, containing some that had to do with plots against the king. These letters he sent to King Charles, but they put him upon a new adventure of his own. One of the traitors was Ture Bjelke, master of Axewalla Castle, and Sir Tord, fancying that the traitor would be as welcome a present to the king as his letters, set out for the castle with thirty men.

On arriving there Ture, not dreaming that his treason had been discovered, admitted his visitor without hesitation. The troopers were also permitted to enter, Sir Tord having told them to come in groups of five or six only, so as not to excite suspicion by their numbers.

That night, while they sat at table, and just as the cabbage was being carried in, Sir Tord sprang up and seized Ture firmly by the collar, calling out that he arrested him as a traitor to the king. The knight's men sprang up to defend him, but Sir Tord's men attacked them with sword and fist, the matter ending in the men as well as their master being taken prisoners, and the castle falling into Sir Tord's hands.

On receiving the letters, Charles laid them before the senate at Stockholm, but the traitors were men of such power and note, and there was so much envy and jealousy of Charles among the lords, that he dared not attempt to punish the plotters as they deserved, but was obliged to pardon them. As for Ture and his men, they managed to escape from the place where they had been left for safe keeping, and made their way to Denmark.

[Illustration] from Historical Tales - Scandinavian by Charles Morris


Meanwhile Sir Tord Bonde was kept busy, for King Christian of Denmark several times invaded the land. On each occasion he was met by the valiant defender of West Gothland and driven out with loss. On his final retreat he built a fortress in Smaland, which he called Danaborg, or Danes' castle, leaving in it a Danish garrison; but it was quickly attacked by Sir Tord with his men-at-arms and a force of armed peasantry and the castle taken by storm, the Danes suffering so severe a defeat that the place was afterwards known as Danasorg, or Danes' sorrow.

Sir Tord, to complete his chain of defences, had built several fortresses in Norway, then claimed by King Christian as part of his dominions. He had with him in this work about four hundred men, so small a force that Kolbjörn Gast, one of Christian's generals, proceeded against him with an army three thousand strong, proposing to drive the daring invader out of the kingdom.

Weak as he felt himself, Sir Tord determined to try conclusions with the Danes and Norsemen, proposing to use strategy to atone for his weakness. One hundred of his men were placed in ambush in a clump of woodland, and with the remaining three hundred the Swedish leader marched boldly on the enemy, who were entrenched behind a line of wagons. Finding that he could not break through their defences, Sir Tord and his men turned in a pretended flight and were hotly pursued by the enemy, who abandoned their lines to follow the flying Swedes. Suddenly Sir Tord turned and led his men in a fierce attack upon the disordered pursuers, falling upon them with such bold fury that he had two horses killed under him. At the same time the hundred men broke from their ambush, sounding their war-horns loudly, and fell on the flank of the foe, though they were so badly armed that they had no iron points on their lances.

Confused and frightened by the double attack and the blare of the trumpets, the Norsemen broke and fled, crying out that "all the might of Sweden was in arms against them"; but they were pursued so closely that the leader and all his men were taken by the brave four hundred.

Thus the bold and skilful Sir Tord defended the king's cause in those quarters, winning victories by stratagem where force was lacking and keeping off the attacks of the Danes by his watchfulness, bravery, and sound judgment; until men came to say, that his brave cousin was the king's chief support and that his secret enemies dared not undertake anything against him while he had so skilful and courageous a defender.

There are two ways of disposing of a troublesome foe, one by fair and open warfare, one by treachery. As Sir Tord could not be got rid of in the former manner, his enemies tried the latter. Jösse Bosson, one of his officers, though born a Dane, had proved so faithful and won his confidence to such an extent that the valiant Swede trusted him completely, and made him governor of the fortress of Karlborg. He did not dream that he was nourishing a traitor and one capable of the basest deeds.

During the warfare in Norway Sir Tord reached Karlborg one afternoon, proposing to spend the night there. He was received with much show of joy by Jösse, who begged him to take the repose he needed, promising to keep strict watch in the fortress during his stay there. Without a thought of danger Sir Tord went to the chamber provided for him. Jösse said the same to the followers of his guest, and as they were weary they were glad to go to their beds.

Having thus disposed of his visitors, Jösse got his boats ready, loaded them with his most-prized effects, and then turned the key on the followers of his trusting guest, hid their swords, and even cut their bowstrings, so much was he afraid of the heroic soldier who had been his best friend.

Then, axe in hand, he entered the room of Sir Tord. The sleeper, awakened by his entrance, raised himself a little in the bed and asked what he wanted. For answer the murderous wretch brought down his axe with so heavy a blow that the head of Sir Tord was cleft in twain to the shoulders. Then, taking to his boats, the assassin made his escape to the Danes, by whom his bloody act was probably instigated.

With the death by treason and murder of the brave Sir Tord, the chief bulkwark of the realm of King Charles, this tale should end, but the later career of Charles VIII. is so curious a one that it will be of interest to make some brief mention of it.

Never has king had a more diversified career. With the death of his brave defender, enemies on all sides rose against him, his great wealth and proud ostentation having displeased nobles and people alike. Chief among his enemies was the archbishop of Upsala, who nailed a letter to the door of the cathedral in which he renounced all loyalty and obedience to King Charles, took off his episcopal robes before the shrine of St. Erik, and vowed that he would not wear that dress again until law and right were brought back to the land. It was a semi-civilized age and land in which churchmen did not hesitate to appeal to the sword, and the archbishop clad himself in armor, and with helmet on head and sword by side, set out on a crusade of his own against the man he deemed an unworthy and oppressive king.

He found many to sustain him, and Charles, taken utterly by surprise, barely escaped to Stockholm, wounded, on a miserable old horse, and with a single servant. Besieged there and unable to defend the town, he hid part of his treasures, put the rest on board a vessel, and while going on board himself was accosted by one of the archbishop's friends, who asked him:

"Have you forgotten anything?"

"Nothing except to hang you and your comrades," was the bitter reply of the fugitive king.

King Christian of Denmark was called in by the archbishop to take the vacant throne, Charles was pronounced a traitor by his enemies, and for some years Christian ruled over Sweden. Then his avarice and the heavy taxes he laid on the people aroused such dissatisfaction that an insurrection broke out, Christian's army was thoroughly defeated, and he was forced to take ship for Denmark, while Charles was recalled to the throne and landed in Stockholm in 1464, a second time king of Sweden.

This reign was not a long one. Christian, who had imprisoned the archbishop because he opposed the heavy taxation of the peasants, now sought his aid again and sent him with an army to Sweden. As a result Charles found himself once more shut up in Stockholm and was again forced by his enemies to resign the crown, being given instead of his kingdom the government of Raseborg Castle in Finland. And instead of having treasures to take with him, as before, he was now so poor that he could not pay a debt of fifty marks he owed in Stockholm. He expressed his state of poverty in the following verse:

"While I was Lord of Fogelwich,

I was a mighty man and rich;

But since I'm King of Swedish ground

A poorer man was never found."

But his career was not yet ended. He was again to sit on the throne. Friends arose in his favor, the people again grew dissatisfied with Danish rule, and the archbishop, his greatest enemy, died. Charles was recalled and returned from Finland, a third time standing on Swedish ground as king.

He had still a hard fight before him. A Swedish nobleman, Erik Wase, sought to win the throne for himself, and Christian of Denmark sent a new army to Sweden; but by the aid of a brave young knight, Sten Sture, Nils Sture, his cousin, and some other valiant friends, all his enemies were overcome and thus, after years of struggle and a remarkably diversified career, he was at length firmly seated on the throne.

But the unfortunate monarch was not long to enjoy the quiet which he had so hardly won. He fell seriously ill in May, 1470, and feeling that death was near, he sent for Sten Sture and made him administrator of the kingdom, with control of the castle of Stockholm. But he earnestly warned him never to seek for the royal power, saying:

"That ambition has ruined my happiness and cost me my life."