ERIC XIV. (1533-1577), king of Sweden, was the only son of Gustavus Vasa and Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg. The news of his father's death reached Eric as he was on the point of embarking for England to press in person his suit for the hand of Queen Elizabeth. He hastened back to Stockholm, after burying his father, summoned a Riksdag, which met at Arboga on the 15th of April 1561, and adopted the royal propositions known as the Arboga articles, considerably curtailing the authority of the royal dukes, John and Charles, in their respective provinces. Two months later Eric was crowned at Upsala, on which occasion he first introduced the titles of baron and count into Sweden, by way of attaching to the crown the higher nobility, these new counts and barons receiving lucrative fiefs adequate to the maintenance of their new dignities.
From the very beginning of his reign Eric's morbid fear of the upper classes drove him to give his absolute confidence to a man of base origin and bad character, though, it must be admitted, of superior ability. This was Göran Persson, born about 1530, who had been educated abroad in Lutheran principles, and after narrowly escaping hanging at the hands of Gustavus Vasa for some vile action entered the service of his son. This powerful upstart was the natural enemy of the nobility, who suffered much at his hands, though it is very difficult to determine whether the initiative in these prosecutions proceeded from him or his master. Göran was also a determined opponent of Duke John, with whom Eric in 1563 openly quarrelled, because John, contrary to the royal orders, had married (Oct. 4, 1562) Catherine, daughter of Sigismund I. of Poland, engaging at the same time to assist the Polish king to conquer Livonia. This act was a flagrant breach of that paragraph of the Arboga articles which forbade the royal dukes to contract any political treaty without the royal assent. An army of 10,000 men was immediately sent by Eric to John's duchy of Finland, and John and his consort were seized, brought over to Sweden and detained as prisoners of state in Gripsholm Castle. But Eric did not stop here. His suspicion suggested to him that, if his own brother failed him, the loyalty of the great nobles, especially the members of the ancient Sture family, who had been notable in Sweden when the Vasas were unknown, could not be depended upon. The head of the Sture family at this time was Count Svante, who had married a sister of Gustavus Vasa's second wife, and had by her a numerous family, of whom two sons, Nils and Eric, still survived. The dark tragedy, known as the Sture murders, began with Eric XIV.'s strange treatment of young Count Nils. In 1566 he was summoned before a newly erected tribunal and condemned to death for gross neglect of duty, though not one of the frivolous charges brought against him could be substantiated. The death penalty was commuted into a punishment worse because more shameful than death. On the 15th of June 1566 the unfortunate youth, bruised and bleeding from shocking ill-treatment, was placed upon a wretched hack, with a crown of straw on his head, and led in derision through the streets of Stockholm. The following night he was sent a prisoner to the fortress of Orbyhus. A few days later he was appointed ambassador extraordinary, and despatched to Lorraine to resume the negotiations for Eric's marriage with the princess Renata. Before he returned, however, Eric had resolved to marry Karin, or Kitty Månsdatter, the daughter of a common soldier, who had been his mistress since 1565. In January 1567 Eric extorted a declaration from two of his senators that they would assist him to punish all who should try to prevent his projected marriage; and, in the middle of May, a Riksdag was summoned to Upsala to judge between the king and those of the aristocracy whom he regarded as his personal enemies. Eric himself arrived at Upsala on the 16th in a condition of incipient insanity. On the 19th he opened parliament in a speech which, as he explained, he had to deliver extempore owing to "the treachery" of his secretary. Two days later Nils Sture arrived at Upsala fresh from his embassy to Lorraine, and was at once thrown into prison, where other members of the nobility were already detained. On the following day Eric murdered Nils in his cell with his own hand, and by his order the other prisoners were despatched by the royal provost marshal forthwith. These murders were committed so promptly and secretly that it is doubtful whether the estates, actually in session at the same place, knew what had been done when, on the 26th of May, under violent pressure from Göran Persson, they signed a document declaring that all the accused gentlemen under detention had acted like traitors, and confirming all sentences already passed or that might be passed upon them.
During the greater part of 1567 Eric was so deranged that a committee of senators was appointed to govern the kingdom. One of his illusions was that not he was king but his brother John, whom he now set at liberty. When, at the beginning of 1568, Eric recovered his reason, a reconciliation was effected between the king and the duke, on condition that John recognized the legality of his brother's marriage with Karin Månsdatter, and her children as the successors to the throne. A month later, on the 4th of July, he was solemnly married to Karin at Stockholm by the primate. The next day Karin was crowned queen of Sweden and her infant son Gustavus proclaimed prince-royal. Shortly after his marriage Eric issued a circular ordering a general thanksgiving for his delivery from the assaults of the devil. This document, in every line of which madness is legible, convinced most thinking people that Eric was unfit to reign. The royal dukes, John and Charles, had already taken measures to depose him; and in July the rebellion broke out in Ostergötland. Eric at first offered a stout resistance and won two victories; but on the 17th of September the dukes stood before Stockholm, and Eric, after surrendering Göran Persson to the horrible vengeance of his enemies, himself submitted, and resigned the crown. On the 30th of September 1568 John III. was proclaimed king by the army and the nobility; and a Riksdag, summoned to Stockholm, confirmed the choice and formally deposed Eric on the 25th of January 1569. For the next seven years the ex-king was a source of the utmost anxiety to the new government. No fewer than three rebellions, with the object of releasing and reinstating him, had to be suppressed, and his prison was changed half a dozen times. On the 10th of March 1575, an assembly of notables, lay and clerical, at John's request, pronounced a formal sentence of death upon him. Two years later, on the 24th of February 1577, he died suddenly in his new prison at Orbyhus, poisoned, it is said, by his governor, Johan Henriksen.
See Sveriges Historia, vol. iii. (Stockholm, 1880); Robert Nisbet Bain, Scandinavia, cap. 4-6 (Cambridge, 1905); Eric Tegel, Konung Eriks den XIV. historia (Stockholm, 1751).
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)