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Bengtsson, Jöns Oxenstjerna (Joannes Benedicti)

Archbishop of Upsala, Sweden (1417-1467)

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Bengtsson, JONS OXENSTJERNA (JOANNES BENEDICTI), Archbishop of Upsala, Sweden, b. 1417; d. in 1467. He was a member of the illustrious Oxenstjerna family, various representatives of which had already become prominent in the public life of Sweden. At the time of his appointment to the archbishopric (1448) Bengtsson was archpriest of the chapter of Upsala. He asked the Council of Basle for a confirmation of his election, and he had himself consecrated (June 30, 1448) by his suffragans, the day after they had crowned Karl Knutsson Bonde as king. On July 1, Archbishop Bengtsson crowned the queen. The confirmation of his appointment by Pope Nicholas V did not reach him until the ensuing year.

The importance of Archbishop Bengtsson is political rather than ecclesiastical, though his pastoral visitations show that he was not unmindful of the spiritual welfare of those under his care. In 1457, as Archbishop of Upsala, he received from the pope the title of Primate of Sweden; the Archbishops of Lund, however, were permitted to retain their title of Primate of the Church of Sweden. The life of Archbishop Bengtsson fell in Sweden's most troublous days. By the Union of Calmar (1397) the three kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, while preserving their individual independence, were to be ruled by one king, and the foreign affairs of all three were to be regulated as those of a united country. The advantages of this union were lost sight of on the death of its promoter, Queen Margaret (1412). Her successor, Erik of Pomerania, by a change of policy, aroused in Sweden a spirit of discontent, which, after successive revolutions and the election of Karl Knutsson as viceroy (1438), resulted in the deposing of Erik. His successor, Christopher of Bavaria, died in 1448. In Sweden, which was torn by the strife between the partisans of a national kingdom and those of a government in union with Denmark and Norway, the national party elected Karl Knutsson king. A few months later Christian I became King of Denmark, and two years afterwards also King of Norway. Meanwhile, dissensions increased in Sweden. As King Karl Knutsson, to escape from money troubles, increased taxes and confiscated church property, dissatisfaction spread among clergy and people, and Archbishop Bengtsson placed himself at the head of the opposition (1457). Entering his cathedral, he laid aside his pontifical insignia, took up helmet, breastplate, and sword, and announced his intention not to resume his pontifical robes until Karl Knutsson should be banished from the country. Knutsson was forced to yield and fled to Germany. Thereupon Christian I came from Denmark and was formally recognized King of Sweden, and crowned at Stockholm by Archbishop Bengtsson.

General discontent soon followed, especially when Christian I, on becoming heir to his uncle, Duke Adolph of Holstein, found himself in great financial straits. To meet his obligations, he levied enormous taxes, even in Sweden, without exempting ecclesiastics, religious foundations, or the moneys collected by papal mandate to defray the expenses of a crusade against the Turks. During a temporary absence of Christian I in Finland, the archbishop held the regency of Sweden; seeing the people in revolt against him and the heavy imposts, he took up their cause and suspended the collection of taxes. The king showed his displeasure by arresting the archbishop and sending him to Denmark. A revolution broke out afresh in Sweden, Karl Knutsson was recalled to the throne, and Christian I, to recover the country, became reconciled with his prisoner. Bengtsson went at once to Sweden, where he roused the people against King Karl Knutsson, whom he excommunicated. The archbishop succeeded finally in bringing about Knutsson's abdication, and the recognition of Christian I once more as King of Sweden. In reality, however, the archbishop held the reins of power and administered affairs as though he were the actual sovereign. He was unable to sustain this role. Discontented factions combined against him and, in 1466, elected Erik Axelsson Thott as regent, whereupon Archbishop Bengtsson was compelled to retire. Dissensions continued, and the king of the Swedish party, Knutsson, once more took the place of the king who represented the union of the three countries. The archbishop found an asylum with his friend Magnus Gren, on the island of Eland, where he died December 15, 1467, "poor and exiled, regretted by no one, hated by many, and feared by all".

The key to the political activity of Bengtsson is to be found in the ambition that was a part of his character—ambition for his family and his country. There was a strong antagonism between the great Oxenstjerna family, to which the archbishop belonged, and the Bonde family, of which the king, supported by the national party, was a member. Moreover, the archbishop was aware that the nobility and the leading men of Sweden, before the Union of Calmar, had in general failed to respect the clergy and the property of the Church. In a union of Sweden with Denmark and Norway, he foresaw a limitation of the power of the Swedish nobles; in his character of archbishop, it was clear to him that such curtailment would be a safeguard to the temporalities of the Church.

E. A. WANG


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