Eric XIV of Sweden

Eric XIV
Eric XIV by Domenicus Verwilt.
King of Sweden
Reign 29 September 1560 – 29 September 1568
Coronation 29 June 1561
Predecessor Gustav I
Successor John III
Spouse Karin Månsdotter
Princess Sigrid of Sweden
Prince Gustav of Sweden
Prince Henry of Sweden
Father Gustav Vasa
Mother Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg
Born 13 December 1533
Stockholm Castle, Stockholm
Died 26 February 1577(1577-02-26) (aged 43)
Örbyhus Castle, Örbyhus
Burial Västerås Cathedral, Västerås
Religion Lutheran

Eric XIV, Swedish: Erik XIV (13 December 1533 – 26 February 1577) was King of Sweden from 1560 until he was deposed in 1568. Eric XIV was the son of Gustav I (1496–1560) and Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg (1513–35). He was also ruler of Estonia, after its conquest by Sweden in 1561.

While he has been regarded as intelligent and artistically skilled, as well as politically ambitious, early in his reign, he showed signs of mental instability, a condition which eventually led to insanity. Eric suffered from schizophrenia. Some scientists claim that his illness began early during his reign, while others believe that he became sick after the Sture Murders.

Eric, having been deposed and imprisoned, was probably murdered. An examination of his remains in 1958 confirmed he likely died of arsenic poisoning.


Early years

Eric XIV was born at Tre Kronor castle, at 9 o'clock on the morning of 13 December 1533. Before the age of two, he lost his mother. In 1536, his father, Gustav Vasa, married Margaret Leijonhufvud (1516–55), a Swedish noblewoman.

Eric's first teacher was the learned German Georg Norman, whose services were shortly thereafter needed elsewhere within the Swedish state. He was replaced by French Calvinist Dionysius Beurreus (1500–67). Dionysius taught both Eric and his brother John, and seems to have been appreciated by both. Eric was very successful in foreign languages and mathematics. He was also an informed historian, good writer and familiar with astrology.

When Eric started to appear in public, he was referred to as the "chosen king" (Swedish: utvald konung) and after the parliament meeting in Stockholm 1560, he received the title of "hereditary king" (Swedish: arvkonung).

In 1557, Eric was assigned the fiefdoms of Kalmar, Kronoberg and Öland. He took up residence in the city of Kalmar.

Against his father's wish, Eric entered into marriage negotiations with Princess Elizabeth Tudor (later Queen Elizabeth I of England 1533–1603). Tensions between Eric and his father grew. He pursued Elizabeth for several years, but abandoned the attempts after his trip to England was interrupted by the death of his father in 1560. Eric also made unsuccessful marriage proposals to, among others, Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–87), Renata of Lorraine (1544–1602), Anna of Saxony (1544–77) and Christine of Hesse (1543–1604).


Coat of arms of Sweden during the reign of Eric XIV

He was crowned as Eric XIV, but was not necessarily the 14th king of Sweden named Eric. He and his brother Charles IX (1604–11) adopted numerals according to Johannes Magnus' partly fictitious history of Sweden. There had however been at least six earlier Swedish kings with the name of Eric, as well as pretenders about whom very little is known.

In domestic politics, Eric's ambitions were strongly opposed by the Swedish nobility, including his half-brother, the later John III of Sweden (1537–92). John was the Duke of Finland and was married to a Polish princess, which made him friendly with Poland. John pursued an expansionist policy in Livonia (now Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) which led to contention between the brothers. In 1563, John was captured and tried for high treason by Eric's order.

Unlike his father, who had been satisfied with ruling an independent state, Eric tried to expand his influence in the Baltic region and in Estonia, making Sweden a great power. This expansionism resulted in a clash with his cousin, Frederick II of Denmark (1534–88). Most of Eric XIV's reign was then dominated by the Livonian War and the Scandinavian Seven Years' War against Denmark (1563–70), during which he successfully repelled most Danish attempts at conquest, but was unable to keep his own conquests.

From 1563 onwards, his insanity became pronounced; his reign became even more arbitrary and marked by violence. In 1567, suspicious of high treason, he killed several members of the Sture family (Sture Murders), Eric himself stabbing Nils Sture. Eric likely thought of the killing as an execution rather than murder.

After the Sture homicide, John was imprisoned and Eric's conflict with the nobility came to its climax. In the fall of 1568, the dukes and the nobles rebelled, and Eric was dethroned. Eric was then imprisoned by Duke John, who took power. Eric's most trusted counsellor, Jöran Persson (1530–68), took much of the blame for the actions taken against the nobility during Eric XIV's reign and was executed shortly after John III ascended to the throne.

Eric XIV was held as a prisoner in many different castles in both Sweden and Finland. He died in prison in Örbyhus Castle: according to folklore, his final meal was a poisoned bowl of pea soup. A document signed by his brother, John III of Sweden, and a nobleman, Bengt Bengtsson Gylta (1514–74), gave Eric's watchmen in his last prison authorization to poison him if anyone tried to release him. His body was later exhumed; forensic analysis revealed evidence of lethal arsenic poisoning.


Johan Kristiernsson (Vasa)
Erik Johansson (Vasa)
Birgitta Gustavsdotter (Sture)
Gustav I of Sweden (Vasa)
Måns Karlsson (Eka)
Cecilia Månsdotter (Eka)
Sigrid Eskilsdotter (Banér)
Eric XIV of Sweden
John V of Saxe-Lauenburg
Magnus I, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg
Dorothea of Brandenburg
Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg
Henry IV, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Catherine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Catherine of Pomerania-Wolgast

Family and descendants

Eric XIV had several relationships before his marriage. With Agda Persdotter he had four daughters:

  1. Margareta Eriksdotter (1558–1618), married 1592 to Olov Simonsson, vicar of Horn.
  2. Virginia Eriksdotter (1559–1633; living descendants)
  3. Constantia Eriksdotter (1560–1649; living descendants)
  4. Lucretia Eriksdotter (1564–after 1574) died young.

With Karin Jacobsdotter:

  1. An unnamed child, died April 1565.

Eric XIV finally married Karin Månsdotter (1550–1612) on 4 July 1568; their children were:

  1. Sigrid (1566–1633; born before the marriage), lady-in-waiting, wife of two noblemen.
  2. Gustaf (1568–1607; born before the marriage), mercenary.
  3. Henrik (1570–74)
  4. Arnold (1572–73)
Karin Månsdotter, Eric XIV and Jöran Persson, in Georg von Rosen's painting of 1871

Eric XIV in literature

The life of Eric XIV is the subject of an 1899 play by Swedish playwright August Strindberg (1849–1912).

Eric XIV
Born: 13 December 1533 Died: 26 February 1577
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Gustav I
King of Sweden
Succeeded by
John III

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