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Grave covering of Holmger Knutsson from Skokloster, Sweden. From the Museum of National Antiquities in Sweden.
Sweden in the 12th century before the incorporation of Österland.      Swedes      Geats      Gotlanders

The Battle of Sparrsätra was a battle which took place in 1247 near Enköping in Sweden between king Eric XI of Sweden and rebels led by Holmger Knutsson. It took place during a poorly documented period in Swedish history; as a result, many details are uncertain and conjectural.

Although it was not the end of the Folkung rebellion, many scholars consider it to have marked the end of the old order, leading to the Uppland Swedes losing their semi-aristocratic status and being taxed by the king.

Contents

Background

The Swedes in Uppland[1] had since pre-historic times elected the king of Sweden, and their responsibility towards him lay not in paying taxes, but in providing warriors and ships for the leidang organization. Many scholars consider the reasons for the battle to have been the abolition of the leidang organization and its replacement with monetary taxes. The people of Uppland appear even to have refused paying taxes to the church.[2]

The Geats of Västergötland had begun to pay church taxes in the late 12th century, and that was a decision taken by the Geats themselves while the Swedes were not asked for their opinion.[2] It is not known whether the Geats had ever had any leidang organization and they had long since accepted paying taxes, which was a system that provided a more stable power basis for the king.[3]

The main source for what was at stake during the battle is the Annals of Sigtuna which relates that at Sparrsätra in 1247, the rural community of Uppland lost their freedom and were charged with paying taxes, which included taxes on the grain production and the right of laying up a ship:

Communitas rusticorum Uplandiae Sparsaetrum amisit libertatem suam et impositae sunt eis spannmale et skipuista et konera plura.[4]

The archaeologist Mats G Larsson comments that it is hardly surprising that such fundamental changes in the societal structure would meet fierce resistance. Taking part in the royal war expeditions was considered to be a natural and glorious tradition from pagan times. Paying taxes, on the other hand, was probably beyond the pale for the people of Uppland - that was something that the defeated tributary nations paid to the king of Sweden and not themselves.[2][5]

There may have been additional reasons for why the battle took place in 1247. The position of jarl in Sweden had passed from the old Ulf Fase to his younger and more dynamic cousin Birger Jarl. Moreover, Holmger Knutsson had come of age and he was a pretender to the throne being a son of the former king Canute II of Sweden. When Ulf Fase died, and Birger Jarl assumed the jarlship, it may have been time to deal with Holmger and his allies in Uppland.[6]

Location

The church of Sparrsätra.

The battle took place at Sparrsätra which is located in Uppland north of Enköping.[7][8][9] According to a tradition, the battle took place on waterlogged meadows west of the church of Sparrsätra, but it has been suggested that the rebels had their encampment some km eastwards in Rönne where there are remains of potentially strategic fortifications.[8]

Battle

One view holds that this was the first battle where heavy cavalry was used in central Sweden, although such cavalry had appeared a century earlier at the Battle of Fotevik in Scania.[10] The heavy professional cavalry that the king used defeated Holmger's army which consisted of a public levy.[11]

It is known from the 14th century Law of Södermanland that a levied farmer would be equipped with sword, javelin, lance and helmet, but it is known that these armies also consisted of people who had little more than an axe or a sword to fight with. In Snorri Sturluson's kings' sagas there are descriptions of battles where the combatants fought with stones.[11]

Aftermath

After the battle, Holmger fled north to Gästrikland, but he was soon arrested by the king and the jarl who had him beheaded.[5] The Eric Chronicles tell that the king took part in the funeral and walked him to the grave, which suggests that the old Norse code of honouring dead enemies was still alive, but such traditions would later change.[12] Among the people who had lost their leader, Holmger arose to an unofficial saint, and people would tell of miracles in his name as far south as Denmark, only a few years after the execution.[13]

When the Papal legate William of Modena arrived in the same year, he stayed in the less turbulent district of Östergötland, where he met Birger Jarl. William reported home that he had offered to mediate in the conflict,[14] and in March 1248, he reported that a peace agreement had been reached.[15] This was the time when the meeting at Skänninge took place, a meeting where Sweden was formally integrated in the Catholic community.

The Swedes of Uppland, who since time immemorial had been divided into folklands according to how many warriors they could provide, had lost their warrior status, and they had become taxpayers like the king's other subjects.[5] The taxes that the Annals of Sigtuna tells that they had to pay would also appear in the later law of Uppland, and the king used the taxes to buy the services of heavy cavalry that he could use against his own people.[16]

It would take several decades before a new tax exempted warrior class appeared in Sweden, but that time tax exemption was a privilege only afforded to the selected few that could provide a knight in full armour.[16]

The outcome of the battle was notorious enough to be mentioned both in Icelandic and in Danish chronicles, and elaborated legends would be told in Sweden until the 17th century. The Uppland Swedes had been transformed from a people that extorted tribute from other peoples, to one that paid taxes themselves.[14]

Notes

  1. ^ Before 1296, Uppland appears to have referred to the non-coastal area of modern Uppland, i.e. excluding Roslagen, see Lindström & Lindström 2006, pp. 147-150.
  2. ^ a b c Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.151
  3. ^ Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.152
  4. ^ Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.147
  5. ^ a b c Larsson 2002, p. 178
  6. ^ Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.153
  7. ^ Sparrsätra in Nationalencyklopedin, tome 17, page 113. (1995)
  8. ^ a b Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.154
  9. ^ Larsson 2002, p.177
  10. ^ Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.155
  11. ^ a b Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.156
  12. ^ Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.167
  13. ^ Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.168ff
  14. ^ a b Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.157
  15. ^ Lindström & Lindström 2006, p.158
  16. ^ a b Larsson 2002, p. 179

Sources

  • Larsson, Mats G (2002). Götarnas Riken : Upptäcktsfärder Till Sveriges Enande. Bokförlaget Atlantis AB ISBN 9789174866414
  • Lindström, Fredrik; Lindström, Henrik (2006) (in Swedish). Svitjods undergång och Sveriges födelse. Albert Bonniers förlag. ISBN 91-0-010789-1.  
  • Nationalencyklopedin

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