Jöran Persson

Jöran Persson

: "See Göran Persson for the former Swedish prime minister. See Göran Persson (born 1960) for the Swedish politician from Simrishamn."

Jöran Persson, alternatively Göran Persson (c. 1530 – September 1568), was King Eric XIV of Sweden's most trusted counsellor and head of the King's network of spies. He was widely seen as a Machiavellian figure, and of holding too much influence over Eric. On both occasions that the King was removed from power Persson was quickly arrested by the nobility; the second time he was executed shortly after his arrest.

Persson was born in Sala, the son of a local priest, in about 1530. During the early 1550s he studied at the University of Wittenberg, where he proved to be a very gifted student and, according to legend, was highly regarded by the eminent theologian Philipp Melanchthon, who, on his journey back to Sweden in 1555, sent with him a recommendation letter to King Gustav I. Upon his return to Sweden he was given an annual pension and employment in the King's service, a year later he became personal secretary to the King and was given a castle in Vyborg. In 1558 he received another important commission from the king, namely being put in charge of the King's inspectors in Västergötland in order to establish a register of the estates, which, to the detriment of the Crown, remained loyal to Rome. To be entrusted with such an important matter showed that Persson, even at this early stage in his career, had made himself known in prominent circles as a man capable of getting difficult tasks done. Following the completion of his mission in Västergötland, Gustav allowed Persson to become personal secretary to his eldest son, Eric.

Persson had established a reputation for possessing a quick mind and a sharp wit, and of being ambitious, bold, and ruthless. It is also known that Persson was very familiar with astrology, which he believed to guide the lives of men to a certain extent; despite having been raised and educated in the Protestant tradition, he appears to have been an agnostic. Following Eric’s ascension to the throne in 1560, Persson was raised into the nobility. He took a coat of arms bearing a design of three bricks, and became the lord of Trögd Hundred; at this point he took the family name Tegel. He was married in 1561 to a woman named Anna Andersdotter. The couple had two children: the renowned historian Erik Jöransson Tegel, and his brother Anders Jöransson Tegel.

Persson played an important role in the Konungens nämnd (literally: King’s committee, the highest court in Sweden), where he served simultaneously as a prosecutor and the King’s representative. This meant that, as well as prosecuting, he also had some control over sentencing. It is not known how many of the 300 death sentences handed down by the court he had a personal involvement in, however he was regarded by many as the nation’s foremost executioner (it is still a point of contention whether he took orders from the King in such matters, or whether he acted on his own initiative). He became very impopular among the public, as was his brother, Christiern Persson (d.1567), who was also given a position in the court; they were, among the public, believed to be under the "evil influence" of their mother Anna (d.1568), who was widely believed to be a witch who influenced the politics with sorcery. Persson would go to any length to protect the King’s throne and power. The most famous example of this came in the summer of 1563 when he crushed the formative rebellion of the King’s half-brother, Duke John of Finland. He ordered that John be imprisoned in his home, Turku Castle, along with his followers, who were to be executed. Instead of being executed, the Duke was shortly afterwards taken to Vaxholm to meet with Persson, representing the King, who decided that they should be detained in Gripsholm Castle, so a close eye could be kept on the Duke and his wife. Persson also saw to it that the couple’s detention was harsh, far more so than the King had ordered.

Shortly after the imprisonment of Duke John, the Northern Seven Years' War began between Sweden and a coalition of Denmark-Norway, Lubeck and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The war, which was particularly bloody, went well for Sweden at sea, but went very badly on land. The war became increasingly unpopular as Swedish towns were damaged and destroyed, and casualties mounted. As the aristocracy’s frustration with Eric’s reign became increasingly apparent, the King and Persson feared a new rebellion. Eric, who at this stage was beginning to show signs of mental illness, decided to take action to prevent a rebellion and he invited those he suspected of plotting against him to Svartsjö Castle in May 1567. Those suspected of being a threat to the King were arrested upon their arrival at the castle and they were tried in Uppsala with Persson leading the prosecutions. All those tried were, unsurprisingly, found guilty and sentenced to death. The last nobleman to arrive at Svartsjö was Nils Sture, a descendent of Christian II, who had only just returned from a diplomatic mission to Lorraine. The King had long regarded Sture as the most dangerous nobleman in Sweden; in 1566 he had ordered Sture’s execution but ultimately decided against this and publicly humiliated him instead. Sture was arrested on May 22, the following day Eric murdered him in his cell. Following the murder, Persson managed to convince a council of the nobility, who were unaware of Sture’s murder, that those who had been arrested were traitors and that the death penalty was therefore justified; the assent of the nobility meant that the murder and the executions were legal.

The murder of Nils Sture, however, had a huge effect on Eric’s health. Within weeks he was removed from the throne on grounds of insanity. The regents elected to rule in place of Eric decided to release John from prison, and decided to arrest Persson for ordering the deaths of the prisoners in Uppsala; it had become apparent by this stage that those executed were not traitors, but victims of the King's increasing paranoia.

The King recovered from his illness later in the year and was allowed to retake his throne, his first act following this was to release Persson. He did not, however, send his brother back to prison; on the contrary he reconciled with him. John used the first pretext he could find, Eric’s marriage to the commoner Karin Månsdotter, to lead a rebellion against his brother. Almost the entirety of the nobility, wishing to have revenge for Eric’s treatment of them, rallied behind John. This rebellion, somewhat conveniently, resulted in the King once again showing signs of insanity.

In September 1568 Eric was forced to abdicate and was succeeded by his brother, who took the title John III. Following this, Persson was once again arrested. John, who had never forgiven Persson for his treatment whilst imprisoned in Gripsholm, ordered his death following a very hasty trial, which found him guilty of a number of crimes surrounding his role in suppressing the nobility. Persson died very slowly; he was sentenced to the breaking wheel and severely tortured before being beheaded at some point between 18 September and 21 September 1568. His mother was ordered to be executed with him, but trew herself of the horse on the way to the execution and died.


*This article is based on a translation of the corresponding article from the Swedish Wikipedia, retrieved on December 28 2005. That article was based on an article found in the second edition of the Nordisk familjebok; published between 1904 and 1926.

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