King Birger Magnusson (1280–1321) and his brothers Dukes Valdemar (1290–1318) and Eric (1282–1318) were all sons of King Magnus III (1240?–1290), known as Ladulås – meaning “Barnlock.” Perhaps a love of locks ran in the family?
Birger and his brothers had long feuded over the rulership of Sweden. Eric came into possession of the Nyköping Fortress twice in the 1300s. In 1306, Birger was betrayed by his brothers and imprisoned on the royal demesne of Håtuna in Uppland. Duke Eric playfully called this event “the Håtuna Games.”
Eric took over power and Birger was sent to captivity in the Nyköping Fortress. When he was released, he went to Denmark, returning with the Danish king Eric Menved and a Danish-German army, which attacked the Nyköping Fortress. After a month of stalemate, the army headed south again.
In 1310, the brothers reconciled, recognized Birger as the rightful king, and divided up the kingdom between them. Birger had control of Nyköping Fortress and Stegeborg, while the others held fortresses in Stockholm, Kalmar, and Bornholm.
Just before Christmas, December 10–11, 1317, King Birger invited his brothers to a banquet at the Nyköping Fortress. But when they arrived, he imprisoned them as revenge for the injustices he had suffered – and also to lay claim to the whole country.
The dramatic conclusion of the banquet is described in Eric’s Chronicle, which was written around 1330. The Eric of the chronicle is Duke Eric Magnusson, one of the brothers who died at King Birger’s hand. This excerpt from the chronicle is taken from R Pipping’s transcription.
“Do you remember the Håtuna Games?” Birger asked his brothers as they were bound and chained.
I remember them well!
And this will be no better!
This time you must follow me.
They tied both men’s handsand led them away togetherbarefoot to the tower.
A German named Walram Skytta
Laid fetters around their legs;
The king had nothing against this.
Then Birger took his brothers to the room at the bottom of the central tower and made sure they had no chance of escape. If we are to believe the chronicle, they were shackled with heavy iron manacles on their wrists, sitting in heavy wooden stocks with their hands nailed in place. They also wore neck irons that were attached to the stone wall, and in case all this was not enough, the door or hatch to the dungeon was locked from the outside.
Then the king did something wicked:
He took his two brothers
And placed them in the room at the bottom.
It little bothered the king
That they suffered night and day.
In the stock where Duke Erik sat
He received many a blow
And received very little food.
There they both sat in the stocks
Made from a large, solid, broad trunk.
Though they sat in the stocks,
They were also in chains.
The chains were heavy and uncomfortable,
Weighing seven pounds each.
Their hands were nailed to the stocks
Their suffering was merciless.
If anyone had seen it,
It would have been too much even for a heathen.
Their neck irons were thick and broad,
And attached to the wall
As if they were meant to hold forever.