The political impact of crusading ideology in Sweden, 1150-1350
By Raymond Johansen
Masters’ Thesis, University of Oslo (2008)
Introduction: The Danish crusades historian Kurt Villads Jensen writes in an article concerning crusading historiography since the 1970s that whereas there has been an increased interest in the Church’s and the religious orders part in the organization of the crusades, similar studies of the kings’ role and their interest in the crusading movement beyond appearing as pious men is strangely lacking. He also mentions an increased interest in the impact the crusades had on the societies that initiated them, as for example how they affected the position of those in power, and how such studies have been made on England, Scotland and the Spanish kingdoms. With this historiographical background in mind, I would like to do a similar study on Sweden in the period from the alleged crusade of King Erik IX in the 1150s to the last major crusading enterprise in the east by King Magnus Eriksson around 1350.
Over a period of approximately 200 years the Swedes colonised Finnish tribes and incorporated their lands into the Swedish kingdom while occasionally threatening the Russian city-state of Novgorod. In 19th century historiographical tradition these developments were summarily ascribed to three Swedish crusades; one led by King Erik IX in the 1150s, another led by Birger Magnusson in 1249 and lastly one led by Tyrgils Knutsson in 1293, King Magnus Eriksson’s fruitless campaign against Novgorod being excluded. At the same time there is not a single trace of evidence for the presence of Swedish crusaders in the Holy Land. Could this be telling us that crusading ideology in Sweden was a highly politicised force used mainly to legitimise worldly ambitions? Further, one could ask if the campaigns should even be considered as crusades, and if so; how important were the ideological motives of fighting for the Christian faith and the remission of sins compared with the more worldly motives of territorial conquest, plunder, controlling the Baltic trade and winning personal glory? Perhaps the importance of certain motives fluctuated over time and between individuals? In providing answers to these questions I hope to reach some conclusions regarding the political impact of crusading ideology in medieval Sweden, and considering the Swedish crusaders’ seemingly ambiguous motivations this seems to be a fertile field of study.
Swedish historiography has occasionally touched on the political impact of crusading ideology but the topic cannot be said to have attracted any great deal of research and only in recent decades have certain scholars given it their undivided attention. The scholars can be grouped as either positivists or negativists according to what extent they are willing to accept that crusading ideology impacted political developments. Most of them agree crusading ideology provided a legitimising tool at some point in my period, while there is less harmony as to when this can be dated at the earliest. Another issue concerns whether crusading ideology might have provided not just legitimisation but also a motive in itself, and if so at what point it ceased being a mere legitimisation and how important did it become compared with secular motives. When it comes to the political consequences a major question is to what extent the conquest of Finland and the wars against Novgorod were fuelled by crusading ideology, and in what measure some of the more prominent participants derived their political influence from prestige won as crusaders.