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Nils Dacke and the Dackefejden

Illustration: In the land of fables

The Dackefejden - The greatest rebellion of all time. What injustices were at the root of the rebellion, why did it fail and how can we assess the rebellion today? These questions are not easy to answer, but history guide Ulf Nilsson makes a valiant attempt in this article.

A theme of some trips I have made is Nils Dacke and the Dacke RebellionNils Dacke belonged to the poorest of the peasant class, a so-called outlying farmer, who lived among other things on the farm Flaken near Lyckebyån, limit to then Danish Blekinge.
Memorial stone at Flaken farm
Memorial stone at Flaken farm
He is first mentioned in 1536 when he and another farmer kill a bailiff. The punishment was a fine, admittedly a small one, but it says something about the view of human dignity at the time. Around Midsummer 1542, he puts himself in the position ofof a growing dissatisfaction with the Gustav Vasa increased taxes and other charges. They assault bailiffs and get support from more and more peasants, for example in Växjö.
Örsled bridge
Örsled bridge
In July 1542, a major battle at Örsled bridge via Mörrumsån near Bergkvara castle, today a ruin - see picture and read more about the site here. The king suffers defeat and is forced to withdraw his troops. Now the rebellion spreads to Kisa in southern Östergötland, and Gustav Vasa who is at Stegeborg Castle (near Söderköping) writes in a letter: "...this Östergötland now hangs as good as on a silk thread", so the ground under the throne shook!
Bergkvara Castle
Bergkvara Castle
After the successes in Småland, Dacke went north and there was a general uprising in southern Östergötland, not least in the Kinda härad. Just north of Kisa in September 1542 a great battle took place. Dacke's troops had fallen into ambush when a large royal force moved south from Linköping. They had prepared so-called trouble, that is, trees that were partially sawn down and then felled behind and in front of the heavily armed German mercenaries, who were thus trapped. The Dacke peasants then attacked with, among other things, crossbows, a close combat weapon unlike the bow and arrow, which can penetrate armour. Perhaps as many as 1,000 of the mercenaries were killed. This was Dacke's greatest victory! The king was forced to agree to a truce that was concluded in Slätbacka, just south of Linköping. Dacke had set 17 points, the most important of which were an end to the arbitrariness of the Fogd and demands for bribes, reduced/abolished taxes (Gustav Vasa had introduced a number of new ones and increased the existing ones), an end to the looting of silver from the churches, and to keep the old (Catholic) ceremonies, protest against the Crown's monopoly on hunting deer and elk and the cutting down of oak and beech trees. But nothing about the border trade with Danish Blekinge, which continued anyway. This oft-promoted argument was in fact part of King Gustav's propaganda to portray Dacke and his men as traitors to the country. In reality, Dacke promised the king loyalty, putting 2,000 men at his disposal in exchange for "foreign enemies and domestic opponents", and to restore order in Småland.
Kronoberg Castle Ruin
Kronoberg Castle Ruin
Believing that promises made and signed were valid, Dacke and his entourage retreated to Kronoberg Castle, at the time a castle for the Bishop of Växjö, which was temporarily empty. There "drank Christmas" as it says in the old chronicle, but the king called the peace a "henpecked" ...and geared up for a spring offensive. The Dacke Rebellion was not, therefore, aimed at overthrowing the king, but at defending traditional self-government and, above all, at protecting the economic interests of the peasants, especially the poorest peasants, to whom Dacke himself belonged. As someone pointed out, Kinda (and Ydre) was probably in Småland at this time, it was a little later that it became part of Östergötland. But as King Gösta (Gustav Vasa) wrote in his letter "this Östergötland... hangs on a silk thread" so the rebellion spread even in this landscape. While Dacke and his men celebrated Christmas at Kronoberg Castle (where they received an envoy from Duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg and behind him stood Emperor Charles V!) charged Gustav Vasa up for new battles. 8 000 new mercenaries and a few hundred Dala farmers. The latter had been tricked by the king with a forged petition that portrayed Dacke and his men as traitors - the king claimed that they brought food to the Danes at the expense of other Swedes!
Lake Hjorten
Lake Hjorten
A decisive battle was fought on 20 March 1543 on the ice, probably on the lake The Deer (see picture) near Virserum where Dacke today stands statue. On the open ice, Dacke's men could not wage guerrilla warfare, and lost the battle.
Dachshund's hideout
Dacke's hiding place after the Battle of Lake Hjorten
Nils DackeDacke was badly wounded and was hidden in a cave next to the lake - very difficult to access, I took the picture myself! He was later taken to the safety and care of a farmer in the Kisa area. The portrait of him found by the 19th-century folklorist Nils Mandelgren was probably painted there. He made a drawing of the painting, but the original is unfortunately lost. The picture shows Nils Dacke supported on a cane in his right hand, a result of the injuries. Fighting continues throughout the spring and summer, leading to further losses, as more of Dacke's closest allies are killed or turn to the king's side. The rebellion ebbs... Later, Dacke himself came to seek his homeland south of Vissefjärda - which was exactly what Gustav Vasa had expected! With the help of former Dacke captain Per Printer bailiffs were lying in wait! During the spring and summer of 1543, the Dacke Rebellion was defeated in several battles. The peasants return home and some of Dacke's closest friends, the so-called Dacke captains, join the king's side. The king bans all grain sales to Småland "until the traitor Nils Dacke and his company are thoroughly weeded out and put down". Traditionally, Småland had a large livestock population, i.e. pastures, but a lack of grain, i.e. arable land. It's too rocky! You sold butter and meat, for example, and bought bread grain. Remember, this is before potatoes!
Hästmahultsgrottan, one of Dacke's hiding places
The battle at Lenhovda in early July 1543 is the last major one during the rebellion. Now Nils Dacke is quite lonely, and quite naturally he retreats to his homeland, south of Vissefjärda. According to tradition, he hid in the so-called Hästmahultsgrottan but there are some others too. It is near the farm in Flaken where he perhaps hoped to meet the family one last time before he, like many other opponents of King Gustav, fled south via Danish Blekinge to Germany. Dacke's stoneAnother report says that his son stayed with Sörsjö-Jon and that Dacke came there, but there lay the bailiff Fargalt on the lookout with 10 men. Dacke escapes, he is now south of Lyckebyån, thus on Danish soil, but Gustav has agreements with new Danish King Fredrik to jointly put down the riots. According to the written sources "Dacke fell in Rödeby forest", the place is marked with a stone (see picture). After this the body was dragged to Kalmar "where, after his traitor's wages, he was routed (his body broken - humiliated) and sat on ladder and wheel". His head, together with the heads of other rebel leaders, was placed on a pile in front of the castle (see pictures), with a copper crown (another humiliation, compare Jesus' crown of thorns!).
The Great Gate at Kalmar Castle
The Great Gate at Kalmar Castle
Despite this, Gustav Vasa was not entirely satisfied: "The traitor Dacke has received his reward, though he deserved a worse departure (i.e. death)". But the king wanted to see him tortured before death! What happened to his wife is not known, but about his son it is mentioned that he was taken to Stockholm, but then disappears from history... On a document from 1559, Vilhelm Moberg has found an insignia that was placed on Nils Dacke's head with the copper crown. The inscription is called Epitaph Nicolai Dacke and puts these words in Dacke's mouth:
A strange game I started to play, I thought I wanted to be a king, which I am, because I now in front of the Kalmar crown bear
This alludes to Gustav Vasa's accusation that Dacke wanted to become king of an independent Småland! As I told you earlier, there is no evidence of this, but it is another example of King Gustav's clever propaganda. Although the rebellion was put down and Nils Dacke (and many others) were killed, he is not forgotten as the pictures show. Although almost 500 years have passed, the memory and the name live on, even in the form of names of bus companies, schools, rally competitions and bread etc. Why did the rebellion fail and how can we judge it? It will not be easy to answer, and even harder to manage in a short blog post.
The memorial stone in Virserum
The memorial stone in Vissefjärda

Time to sum up the biggest rebellion of all time in the North - the Dackefejden!

"Thief, traitor, not a Christian man, but worse than a Jew and a heathen," "a gross beast and a forest hog, little better than a brute, a manifest fornicator"! It was Gustav Vasa review of Dacke. His followers were "forest thieves... and traitors to their rightful sovereignty". For several hundred years this was true, as late as the 19th century in Anders Fryxells extremely popular Stories from Swedish historyDacke was branded "a despicably mean man". In the latter part of the 19th century, there was a turnaround, partly based on source-critical research and partly on a change in attitude; G-O Hyltén-Cavallius addresses Dacke as a local patriot, champion of freedom, old law and tradition. In the 20th century there is a clear turnaround: Fabian Månsson and later Vilhelm Moberg sees Dacke as a fighter for the peasantry against oppressive royal power and exploiting nobility.
The pitiful statue of Dacca outside the residence of the king's commanders
The pitiful statue of Dacca outside the residence of the king's commanders
Still in the 1950s, Dacke was controversial. At the time, the proposal for a five-metre high Dacke statue was stopped by Carl Milles, it was not fitting that it stood in the square in front of the residence - "Royal Commander"! The current one was created in the 1990s and is based on Mille's proposal. It is so pitifully small (see picture to the right) that Mille's idea did not even get a thumb! As the statue in Virserum and the memorial stone in Vissefjärda - beautifully situated at the church next to Lyckebyån (picture above) - show, Nils Dacke and the rebellion he led are not forgotten. Today there are bread, schools, bus companies and speedway teams named after him. The rebellion was initially very successful, with Dacke gathering perhaps 15-20,000 armed men. A very significant force at a time when Sweden had less than half a million inhabitants and the king had no army of his own, but was dependent on enlisted, foreign mercenaries (expensive, unreliable). In addition, guerrilla warfare was successfully practised, for example at Kisa, as I have already described. Why did they lose? Some of Nils Dacke's closest people thought that they should not trust the king's promises in connection with the truce but prepare further fighting, trying to broaden the rebellion (it had not spread to Finnveden and Västergötland) but Dacke believed in King Gustav and took no action. When fighting broke out, the guerrilla tactics were partially abandoned and the battle was fought on open ice, which was a sure defeat. During the Christmas rest at Kronoberg, Dacke received the Rostock citizen Hans Plog, who was the agent of the Duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg. Nils Dacke told about this in letters to Swedish noblemen in order to influence them to continue the line of negotiation, to persuade them to agree to the demands of the rebellion. Perhaps this was a tactical miscalculation because it was used by King Gustav to portray Dacke and his followers as traitors who took German support. Whether Nils Dacke and his men felt like Swedes or inhabitants of Värendsbor is difficult to answer. What is more certain is that Dacke did not want to overthrow King Gustav. Letters sent before the rebellion and the demands made at the truce in November 1542 suggest this. What Dacke fought for - lower taxes and levies, an end to the abuses of power by the Fogdians and the restoration of Catholic worship and church silver, etc. - can be seen as a return to the "as before" to quote a Dack description. This was not carried out and the rebellion can therefore be seen as futile but...
  • Taxes and fees were not reduced, but bailiffs were encouraged to act more flexibly and not take anything extra for their own gain. One can also sense a softer tone in the king's letters.
  • The king began to build up a domestic, national, military force. Partly for economic reasons (mercenaries were expensive), partly to bring the people closer to the king and his war force. Some former Dacke captains such as Per Skegge and Jöns Verkmästare were enlisted in the king's troops because, as King Gustav put it: "learn in time what honour and honesty mean and not always lie down in the woods like a pack of wolves or beasts"
  • The king took a firm grip on the church. More property was taken to the crown, such as the bishop's castle of Kronoberg! But the parish priests got to keep "tendet" which made them more loyal to the royal power.
Kronoberg later became the seat of the governor, which gave the county its name! Gustav Vasa initiated a certain cooperation between the king and the peasant class, which partly kept the nobility in check and prevented mutual fighting between different noble groups. Things that benefited the commoners.

Reading tips if you want to read more about the Dackefejden:

Lars-Olof Larsson - Dackeland Bo Alvemo - The Dackefejden Gösta Hultén - The road to Lyckeby Fabian MånssonThe cradle of the dachshund [editor's reading tips]
The text was first published on Reprinted with permission from Ulf. Thanks!

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2 thoughts on “Nils Dacke och Dackefejden

  1. Pingback: Family chronicle

  2. Johannes Westman says:

    It may be interesting to know that many of the families of the rebels were "deported" to Finland. I am Finnish-Swedish and we(uncle) have managed to trace my mother's side of the family (Hellstrand) to Småland rebels and peasants (and indeed Catholics/religious extremists) who were sent to Ostrobothnia after Dacke's death.

    hello J. Westman

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