Eric IX of Sweden

Eric IX of Sweden
The third seal of the City of Stockholm, depicting the crowned head of Eric the Saint, attested for the first time in 1376.
Reign c. 1155 – 1160
Predecessor Sverker the Elder
Successor Charles Sverkersson or Magnus Henriksen
Died May 18, 1160
Burial Church of Old Uppsala, later moved to Uppsala Cathedral

Casket of Eric the Saint in Uppsala Cathedral.

Eric "IX" of Sweden, (Swedish: Erik Jedvardsson; Erik den helige), also called Eric the Lawgiver, Erik the Saint, Eric the Holy and in Sweden Sankt Erik meaning Saint Eric (d. May 18, 1160) was a Swedish king c.1155 – 1160. No historical records of Eric have survived, and all information about him is based on later legends that were aimed at having him established as a saint.

As later kings from the House of Eric were consistently buried at Varnhem Abbey near Skara in Västergötland, the family is considered to have Geatish roots like other medieval ruling houses in Sweden. He had a brother, whose name began with a "J". This brother has been identified with a Joar Jedvardsson, which is why modern sources sometimes use the name Eric Jedvardson, but this remains speculative.

He was a rival king, from 1150, to Sverker the Elder who had ascended the throne c.1130 and was murdered 1156, after which Eric was recognized in most or all provinces. Eric's reign ended when he was murdered in Uppsala. He is said to have been murdered by Emund Ulvbane, an assassin who was hired by people working for the Sverker dynasty, in order for them to regain the control of the kingdom, or alternatively by Magnus Henriksson, another claimant, who is said in some sources to have succeeded him briefly as king. Swedes believed a miracle occurred at Eric's death: a fountain was said to have sprung from the earth where the king's head fell after being chopped off.

Eric would later be considered a saint whose feast day in the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is 18 May, although he was never formally canonized by the Pope. The relic casket of Eric is on display in Uppsala Cathedral (Uppsala domkyrka). The casket contains bones of a male, with traces of injury to the neck. The original medieval casket was destroyed in the early years of the Reformation. The present Renaissance style casket was commissioned to contain his relics by Catherine Jagiellon, the Polish Catholic queen consort of John III. Eric is the patron saint of Stockholm and his crowned head is depicted in the city's coat of arms.

According to legends, Eric did much to consolidate Christianity in his realm and spread the faith into Finland. In an effort to conquer and convert the Finns, he allegedly led the First Swedish Crusade against the native Finns and persuaded an English Bishop Henry of Uppsala to remain in Finland to evangelize the natives, later becoming a martyr there.

Coat of Arms of Stockholm, depicting Eric the Saint of Sweden and based on the medieval seal.

Eric was responsible for codifying the laws of his kingdom, which became known as King Eric's Law (also the Code of Uppland). Additionally, he established a monastic chapter in Old Uppsala, which had come from the Danish abbey of Odense.

In reaction to Eric's insistence that tithes be paid to support the Church as they were elsewhere in Europe, some Swedish nobles joined forces with Magnus Henrikson, great-great-grandson of the late king Sweyn Estridson of Denmark. Magnus the Strong son of the Danish king Niels of Denmark (c. 1064–1134) has been confused with Magnus Henrikson but he did not outlive his father. Eric was accosted by the rebel Swedish nobles near Uppsala at Östra Aros as he was leaving church after hearing Mass on Ascension Day. He was thrown to the ground from his horse, tortured, ridiculed, then beheaded.

The king was buried in the church of Old Uppsala, which he had rebuilt around the burial mounds of his pagan predecessors. In 1167, his body was enshrined and his relics and regalia were transferred to the present cathedral of Uppsala, built on the site of Eric's martyrdom, in 1273.

In an effort to consolidate his position, Eric's son Knud encouraged the worship of his father as a martyr. Facts and fiction about his life were inseparably mixed together. The movement of Eric's relics extended the depth of his religious following. On his feast there were processions from the cathedral to Old Uppsala to petition for a good harvest.

Saint Eric is portrayed in art as a young king being murdered during Mass with the bishop Henry of Uppsala. In Uppsala Cathedral there is a series of late medieval paintings depicting Eric and Henry of Uppsala.

Archaeological evidence

According to the legend, King Erik the Saint was slain while he attended the mass at the ecclesia Sancte trinitatis – Trinity church - at Mons Domini. The current Trinity church in Uppsala was founded in the late 13th century and cannot be the church where Eric was slain. Scholars have discussed different locations of the older Trinity church, but the presence of pre-cathedral graves in the vicinity of the cathedral might suggest that the original Trinity church was located at the same spot as the cathedral. In an effort to elucidate this early history of the cathedral and Mons Domini, archaeologist Magnus Alkarp and geophysicist Jaana Gustafsson examined a large part of the cathedral with ground-penetrating radar (GPR). The results from this investigation confirmed the existence of an older building beneath the cathedral, in all the details corresponding with the outline of a 12th century Romanesque church, which implies that the cathedral is the site of the earlier Trinity church.


Married to Kristina of the Danish House of Estrid.

  1. Canute I of Sweden, King of Sweden 1167–1196.
  2. Filip
  3. Katarina Eriksdotter, married to Nils Blake.
  4. Margareta Eriksdotter, married in 1185 Sverre I of Norway, died in 1202.
Erik the Saint
Born: 1120 Died: May 18, 1161
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sverker the Elder
King of Sweden
Succeeded by
Magnus Henriksen

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