Erik XIV was mistrustful of his brothers and nobility in general. A good idea if you ask me. He surrounded himself with assistants and advisers of low birth. Best known of these was Jöran Persson, known as Erik’s evil genius.
Jöan Persson had a quick mind and a sharp wit. He was ambitious and ruthless. He believed astrology guided the lives of men. Jöran was raised and educated as a protestant, but was probably agnostic. Persson was elevated into the nobility, after Erik was made king, in 1560, He served both as a prosecutor, and the King’s representative. As prosecutor, he had some control over sentencing, but no one knows how many of the 300 death sentences handed down by the court were of his doing. He was regarded by many as the nation’s foremost executioner, and became very unpopular. Most Swedes thought he was under the evil influence of his mother who was widely believed to be a witch who influenced the king’s politics with sorcery. Most witches kept a cat around the house for good luck. They were well cared for and got to watch a lot of interesting magic stuff.
King Erik went to Estonia at the request of a collapsing regime there and came into conflict with its neighboring countries. He also pushed into his brother’s territory, and conflict between the two eventually led to war. The brother was defeated. Brother John and his consort, Jagiellon, were taken to Gripsholm Castle where their friends and associates were tortured and executed.
Erik’s move into Estonia angered Denmark and started another war. It lasted for seven years. Erik’s battle cry was, “Burn! Plunder! Kill!” Wars were basically what was happening in those days, sort of like now. Erik was most successful in Bleking, Denmark, where he orchestrated the murder of thousands. Herman Lindqvist’s History Of Sweden sites a joyous letter written by Erik.
“An enormous murder,” he said. “The water ran red with the blood of dead bodies. Our enemies were so tame we could cut them down like a herd of wild pigs and we spared nobody, but death did to all who could have carried weapons so that in the town there were no others left than some women and children, and those were killed by the Finns.”
The war ended in 1570, and despite the above, things turned out better for Denmark than for Sweden. A peace treaty was written and it was decided that Sweden could regain a fortress it had lost by paying 150,000 riksdaler in silver. This became known as the ‘First Ålvsborg Ransom’. Swedes were taxed 10% on all of the money, cattle, metal objects and grain in Sweden. Death and taxes. After a short period of time another war was started, this time by Russia.
All of this sounds so familiar.