Swedish History: Birger Jarl

Born in either 1208 or 1210 ( the details are a bit hazy) Birger Jarl was the youngest son of Ingrid Ylva and Magnus Minnesköld. And if you look at his family history, it wasn’t surprising that he became jarl. Two of his uncles and one of his cousins were Jarls before him, and that is the ones that I am aware of. It is possible that there were other Jarls from his family during the early 1100’s. In Sweden, Jarls were appointed by the king. They were essentially second to the king when it came to power.

Birger Jarl didn’t hesitate to use his influence. Maybe it was because he had grown up in a time when Sweden was basically in civil war, but he was determined to stop the warring. He succeeded, at least while he was still alive.

The first mention of him as an adult was 1237, when he joined the circle of king Erik’s advisors. He spent the next decade, working for the king, getting contacts with the church and in the other Scandinavian kingdoms. He also married the king’s sister. During the following decade, the tension grew among the other nobles, who didn’t like the way Birger Jarl was gaining in power.

It all came to a head when the former king’s son decided to rebel in 1247. After that followed 4 years of skirmishes. Birger Jarl was appointed jarl by the king in 1248 after the old jarl died under mysterious circumstances.

The king himself died 1250, and after him his nephew Valdemar, Birger’s son, was elected king. It isn’t certain what Birger felt over the fact that his son was elected king.

The rebellion was squashed in 1251, and the next 15 years was peaceful. Once the peace was secured, Birger Jarl focused on the relationship with the church and the other Scandinavian kingdoms. He arranged marriages between his children and the children of the kings of Norway and Denmark, he negiotated trade treaties with German cities. He also founded cities, among them Stockholm.

But what Birger Jarl is remembered most for is the laws. It was during his reign, that a lot of the laws were written down. Among them was the law that allowed daughters to inherit ( I think they inherited half of their brothers share), but more important was the edsöre laws, which meant that the nobles swore to the king to upheld his peace, and then they did that. Among them were the peace laws, that forbid the following ( among other things, there was a lot of peace laws!):

* to kill or maim in church, churchyard or at ting ( =judical gathering)

*to assault and rape a woman ( and to kidnap her to force her to marry you)

* to maim or kill someone in his own house or the house of another man.

* Act to get revenge after peace have been made

* to dismember someone

All of these laws are very impressive, considering how early they were formulated. From what The peace laws were punished by death or fines, or biltog ( with is a kind of shunning, You couldn’t inherit ot own land etc).  In fact, they remained the law for almost 500 years, before they were changed.

Birger Jarl died as an old man, and I am sure that he at least on some level was content with the stability he had created. He attempted to make sure that the stability lasted, by giving his other sons dukedoms. Which worked. For awhile. But more on the later, since this blogpost is quite long already.