Septentrionalia: A Summary Guide to Medieval Archival and Library Holdings in Sweden

Sit` Eva Nilsson Nylander


Three conditioning factors should be considered, initially, in a discussion of written medieval evidence in archives and libraries in Sweden: the country's peripheral location in the far north, the problematic and destructive bi-effects of the Reformation 1527 and the devastating fire of the Royal Library and Archives in 1697.

First, in the flourishing medieval world of European Catholicism Sweden had a very marginal position and was a permanent source of Viking worries rather than a positive participant in the international Christian 6@4<0- culture. Long pagan and, in spite of a rich oral tradition and an extensive if laconic use of runes, basically illiterate, it is only with incipient missionary activities in the early 9th century that books and extended writing from the south begin to reach this peripheral sphere. And only some two hundred years later there is a slow birth of a local literate culture fostered by the needs of the local church, a good century after Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that Sweden got its present boundaries only in 1658 and that the culturally dominant parts of present day Sweden, above all the rich province of Scania, long belonged to Denmark. Much important medieval evidence in terms of architecture, art, and literacy in today's Sweden is thus to be considered Danish.

Further, the Reformation after the Parliament Act of 1527 meant the almost complete break-up of the traditional ecclesiastic culture, the closing of monasteries and the transferal of all church property to the state. This worked havoc with the old libraries and archives that were almost exclusively ecclesiastic. Much material was destroyed, much was cut up and reused as covers for bookkeeping or, in the best of cases, just abandoned and neglected. What was saved was to a great extent material of political, administrative, economic, and dynastic use to the government or the king and the new Vasa dynasty, in addition to small manuscripts and documents written on paper that could not be recycled. In short: through the confiscation, destruction, and neglect of ecclesiastic libraries and archives, the Reformation was a death blow to much of the source material for medieval literate culture and tradition in Sweden.

Finally, there was the great fire of the Royal Castle in Stockholm in 1697, which destroyed the great amount of archival material of importance to the state that had been collected in the newly organized National Archives. This was true also for the entire Royal Library, including some one thousand manuscripts, which had been left after Queen Christina's abdication and departure for Rome with part of the famous library including two thousand manuscripts. Although some of this exists also in transcriptions, the fire was indeed another major tragedy for the preservation of medieval material in Sweden.

In 829/30 the first books ever to arrive in Sweden, with the Frankish missionary Ansgar from Hamburg-Bremen on his way to Birka in the Lake Mälaren, were captured and destroyed by marauding Vikings. It would take another couple of centuries before Christendom and literacy prevailed.

Some three hundred years later pioneering, old-fashioned and rural Cistercians established the first Swedish monasteries and very modest libraries in the 1140s. They were soon outnumbered by the urban and learned Dominicans who founded their first monastery in the important centre of Visby on the island of Gotland in 1230 and then, in a short period, the two important centers of ecclesiastic education Sigtuna and Skänninge and six other monasteries. Contemporaneously the Franciscans settled in Visby and, by the end of the century, had
expanded to eleven other cities. Thus Sweden was opened up to letters and learning. These monasteries contained sizeable libraries, dominated by French theology, scholastic philosophy and homiletic. They had no scriptoria and books were imported from the continent. Through inventories and wills we know something of the contents of these libraries which, not rarely, were quite impressive.

By far the most important library in medieval Sweden was that of Vadstena, the original monastery of the Brigidine order founded by Saint Bridget in 1370 and inaugurated in 1430. The library contained some 1,500 volumes and is important not only with regard to its unusual size - a richer library did not exist in any other Nordic country at the time. The monks had mostly studied in Prague, Austria, and Germany, and their library thus reflected their intellectual and cultural affinities, German rather than the French of the Dominicans. Further, they had an important scriptorium and thus an extensive book production of their own, not exclusively copying, but also works by the monks themselves, such as homilies and Bridigine theology. Much of this material, 75,000 pages, is unique and little studied.

Today, about a third of the Vadstena library has survived: the Swedish manuscripts are mostly in Stockholm at the Royal Library whereas the Latin manuscripts are in Uppsala where they make up about half (450 volumes) of the C-collection of the University Library.

The dioceses had libraries and archives that have not survived the Reformation, with the exception of Strängnäs and Linköping, and little is known about them. Not even the library of the archdiocese of Uppsala survived, and the few books remaining ended up in the library of Uppsala University, founded in 1477.

The destructive effects of the Reformation on the libraries and archives of the Catholic Middle Ages in Sweden were, to some extent, counterbalanced by the country's nationalistic sixteenth century Gothic Revival and by Sweden's seventeenth century era of Great Power with its new interest in the past and the need for historical sources to solidify its present position. The antiquarian interest resulted in the founding in 1666-67 of the Board of Antiquities or the Archives of Antiquities as it was called from 1692 and the creation of the earliest antiquity laws in existence. The remnants of the old ecclesiastical archives were now assembled and collected here and an energetic transcribing activity of the medieval documents started immediately. Very fortunately, this activity to some extent compensated for the numerous losses of originals in the catastrophic fire of the Royal Castle and the National Archives in 1697.

In 1780 the Archives of Antiquities was dissolved, and six years later The Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities was founded. The archival collections were now distributed among three institutions: the new academy, the National Archives, and the Royal Library, all in the new royal castle built by Nicodemus Tessin after the fire.

National Archives

Today the National Archives is the main depot for medieval archival holdings in Sweden of which the old ecclesiastical archives form the nucleus.

The National Archives opened to the public in the early nineteenth century. In this period many collections, already in disorder, were broken up and organized systematically in accordance with library principles. In the 182l its many documents were chronologically ordered in connection with the publishing activities of the Diplomatarium Suecanum. After the late introduction in Sweden of the principle of provenance in the early twentieth century, reconstruction attempts were made but several nineteenth-century series still remain.
Today the medieval section of the National Archives is in Depabyran (formerly Medeltidsavdelningen, or section 4). The documents are distributed in different repositories in chronological series:

1) Stora pergamentsbrevsamlingen (Parchment letters) with some 14,000 documents.

2) Pappersbrevsamlingen (Paper letters), with some 2,000 documents divided in Rappr I with by originals and drafts, and Rappr II with transcriptions, translations, etc.

3) Sturearkivet, some 1,900 documents from the important Sture family (mainly political correspondence on paper that Sweden got back from Denmark, where Kristian II had brought it in 1520) in 1929 and 1947.

4) Utländska pergamentsbrev (Foreign parchment letters) with some 600 documents
chronologically ordered by country, in many different languages apart from Latin. The collection is internationally known because of several important Baltic archives (including one from the Teutonic Order) that the Swedish army brought back from Mitau in 1631.

5) Smärre pergamentsbrevsamlingen (Minor collection of parchment letters) 23 boxes, on deposition in the National Archives.

6) Documents, both parchment and paper, from noble families or archives of castles or mansions are kept apart in separate series.

7) Further, medieval codices were arranged in four series in 1880:

Codices A: 22 volumes of medieval copies and registers on parchment and paper.
Codices B: 32 volumes of post-medieval copies and registers on paper. Most valuable in this series are the copies made in early 1600s of state documents that were later lost in the fire of 1697.
Codices C: account books of secular provenance, 56 numbers.
Codices D: account books of ecclesiastical provenance, 17 numbers. The accounts of the archdiocese of Uppsala form a separate series of 6 volumes.

8) A special collection (MPO = Medeltida Pergaments Omslag) contains some 17,000 parchment fragments of 5,000 medieval manuscripts, slaughtered and used as book covers in the new administration. This unique material is being catalogued in a database to be made accessible on-line.

9) The National Archives also has a collection of 60 boxes of copies of medieval documents in the Vatican archives relating to Sweden, Baathska samlingen. It is the result of a Nordic Campaign in the 1920s through the 1930s when archivists from the four countries spent time in Rome transcribing relevant material.

10) The Medieval seal collection is valuable, and the National Archives conservation laboratory has a collection of copies, almost complete for the royal families, bishops, dioceses, monasteries, judges, and for geographical and administrative units and a number of private seals.

Regional Archives

Under the National Archives there are eight autonomous Regional Archives - the oldest
founded in the end of the last century with very little material from before the seventeenth century:

1) Vadstena, the oldest founded in 1899, covering the districts of Östergötland, Jönköping, Kronoberg, and Kalmar.

2) Uppsala, covering the districts of Stockholm, Uppsaia, Södermanland, Örebro, Västmanland and Kopparberg. The medical material consists of 81 parchment letters up until 1520, of which 13 from the twelfth and thirteenth century respectively and the rest from the fifteenth century. The letters are registered in a card catalogue in the reference room.

3) Lund, covering the districts of Malmöhus, Kristianstad, and Halland. The medieval material consists of some 200 parchment letters from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, both in Latin and in Swedish, registered and described with a short summary of contents in a card catalogue in the reference room.

4) Göteborg, covering the districts of Göteborg and Bohus, Älvsborg, Skaraborg, and Värmland. The medieval material consists of 247 parchment letters registered in a handwritten list in an unbound book kept in the reference room.

5) Östersund, covering the district of Jämtland. The medieval material consists of some 200 parchment letters.

6) Härnösand, coveting the districts of Gävleborg, Västernorrland, Västerbotten, and Norrbotten. The medieval material consists of 103 parchment and paper letters, chronologically ordered. A shelf list exists.

7) Visby, covering the island of Gotland. The medieval material consists of 50 parchment letters, catalogued in Regesta Gotlandica (never published, one copy kept in they Archives and one in the archaeological museum, Gotlands Fornsal).

8) Värmlandsarkiv, initially a local archive now with the status of Regional Archives.

The National Archives is responsible for a nation-wide project called the NAD
(National Archival Database). A CD-ROM (NAD-98) has been released with lists and registers of thousands of bonds in many archives, catalogues of microfilms, and two additional databases with information on more than 700 Swedish archival institutions (160 presented in detail), and the history of state and regional administrative units.

Libraries with Medieval Collections

1) The Royal Library has the biggest collection of medieval manuscripts, so far insufficiently catalogued. Its collection of Old Swedish manuscripts is the biggest in the country including verse chronicles, epics, and the laws. Internationally known are the collections of Icelandic manuscripts (Islandica, cataloged by Gödel in 1897-1900), one of the biggest outside of Iceland. Most of the manuscripts belong to Huvudsamlingen (Main collection) but there are also medieval manuscripts in other collections: Husebysamlingen, Tilanderska samlingen, Ralambska samlingen, Engeströmska samlingen and Codices orientates (catalogued by Riedel in 1923).

2) Uppsala University Library: The medieval material belongs to C-samlingen - seven-hundred-eighty manuscripts in all, most of them in Latin). Just over half come from the monastery of Vadstena, some twenty from the Franciscan library in Stockholm and as many from the Dominican monastery in Sign. The collection is catalogued (see bibliography). A small number of manuscripts belong to other collections: Swedish laws in B-samlingen whereas the most famous manuscript of the library, the Codex argenteus, belongs to the collection of the De la Gardie family.

3) Lund University Library, founded in the late seventeenth century to help the newly conquered province become Swedish, has a small but important collection of medieval manuscripts (fifty-six volumes) of various contents, briefly catalogued in a card catalogue.

4) Göteborg University Library, of 1890, has a small collection of Latin and Greek manuscripts (4 Greek and thirty-five Latin) of various nature (see bibliography).

Additional Resources

The material so far mentioned is all to be found in Swedish archives. There is however important material related to medieval Sweden in other archives. Of specific importance are the National Archives of the other Nordic countries and the German archives, especially those of Lübeck, today in the Deutsches Zentralarchiv in Potsdam, of Danzig/Gdansk, and the Archives of the Teutonic Order, today in Göttingen. The far most important archive, however, is the Vatican Archives, which were opened to the scholarly community as late as 1881. As mentioned above the Swedish National Archives has a collection sixty boxes of copies of medieval documents in the Vatican archives relating to Sweden, the Baath collection. Recent research, facilitated not least by Sweden's reestablishing, after a break of almost five hundred years, of formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican, has shown that important material of Swedish interest can still be found amongst the inexhaustible treasures of the Vatican.

Queen Christina Book and Manuscript Collection

There is one further category of interesting material with a complex background. When Queen Christina abdicated in 1654, twenty-seven years old and only four years after her coronation, she left Sweden immediately. Her book and manuscript collection, already famous at that time, accompanied her. The royal library consisted to a great extent of war booty from the Thirty Years War, above all the libraries of Olmütz, Nikolsburg with the famous Dietrichstein collection and the imperial library of Prague, all of which contained important medieval material. While some remained in Sweden, and were destroyed in the fire of 1697, much followed the Queen who then bought systematically in the Low Countries and in France through her prominent librarians, Nicolaas Heinsius and Isaac Vossius: Hugo Grotius' collection in 1648, Alexandre Petau's in 1650 and later a numerous collection of medical and philosophical manuscripts that had belonged to Christina's physician and friend, Pierre Bourdelot. After her death in 1689 the entire collection was sold to the cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, later pope Alexander VIII. The major part of the manuscripts (2,123 manuscripts known as Codices reginenses latini) were given by Alexander to the Vatican Library ca. 1900, where they still remain.

The diversified contents of this collection, already praised by the Queen's contemporaries, mirror the broad interests of its owner and the wide knowledge of her librarians. We find French medievalia, liturgical texts, missals, bibles, illuminated prayer-books, lives of saints and martyrs, theological dissertations, historical chronicles, classical texts, Fathers of the Church, ecclesiastical history, medicine, veterinary medicine, poetry, theatre, orations, political, philosophical, and occult texts. The greater part of the Queen's collection still remains
uncatalogued. In the reference room, there is an inventory made by the 'scriptor latinus' of the Vatican Library Domenico Teoli in the eighteenth century. Ongoing cataloguing work and research on this collection will ultimately document the extent of Swedish material.

Basic Bibliography

Andersson, Margarete, Hallberg, Hakan & Hedlund, Monika, Mittelalterliche Handschriflen der Universithtshibliothek Uppsala Catalog fiber die C-Sammlung, 1-8, Uppsala 1988-1995.

Catalogus codicum graecorum et latinorum Bibliothecae Universitatis Gothoburgensis, digessit Tonnes Kleberg, Göteborg 1974 (2 ed. auct. et corr.)

Fritz, Birgitta, De svenska medeltidsbrevens tradering till 1800-talets början. En arkivhistorsk översi Meddelanden Fran Svenska Riksarkivet for dren 1976-1977, pp. 68-135.

Fritz, Birgitta, Svenska Riksarkivets medeltidssamlingar. En orientering in Historisk TidsErift for Finland 3, 79 (1994), pp. 593-601 (with bibliography).

Helgerdnet. Fran m~ssbÖcker till munkeparmar,gd. Kerstin Abukhanfi'sa, Jan Brunius and Solbritt Benneth, Stockholm 1993.

Norborg, Lars-Arne, Källor till Sveriges historia, Lund 1972 (2 ed.)

Ranius, Allan, Handskriftssamlingen vid Link Öpings Stiftsbibliotek. Del 1

Riksarhvets best~ndsöversikt. Del 1:1-2. Medelffden. Kungl. Majt:s kansli Utrikesf rvaltningen, utg. av James Cavallie och Jan Lindroth, Stockholm 1996 (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Riksarkivet 8).


National Archives

Box 12541, Fyverkarbacken 13-17,
102 29 Stockholm,
Phone: +46-8-7376350,
Fax: +46-8-7376474,

Regional Archives

Box 19035, Geijersgatan 1,
400 12 Göteborg,
Phone: +46-31-7786800;
Fax: +46-31-7786825;

Box 161, Jonas Bures Plats,
871 24 Harnosand,
Phone: +46-611-83500;
Fax: +46-611-83528;

Box 2016, Dalbyvägen 4,
220 02 Lund,
Phone: +46-46-197000;
Fax: +46-46-197070;

Box 135, Dag Hammarskjölds väg 19,
751 04 Uppsala,
Phone: +46-18-652100;
Fax: +46-18-652103;

Box 126, Slottet,
592 23 Vadstena,
Phone: +46-143-13030Fax: +46-143-10254;

Visborgsgatan 1,
621 57 Visby,
Phone: +46-498-210514;

Box 475, Hööksgatan 2,
651 11 Karlstad;
Phone: +46-54-107730;
Fax: +46-54-107731

Arkiwägen 1
831 31 Östersund,
Phone: +46-63-108485
Fax: +46-63-121824


Carolina Rediviva,
Dag Hammarskjölds väg 1
Box 510
751 20 Uppsala
Phone: +46-18-4713953
Fax: +46-18-4713941
E-mail mss. dept:

Kungliga biblioteket,
Box 5039
102 41 Stockholm
Phone: +46-8 4634321/4430
Fax: +46-8 4634004

Göteborgs universitetsbibliotek,
Box 222,
405 30 Göteborg
Phone: +46-31-7731713
E-mail mss. dep.:

Lunds universitetsbibliotek, Handskrifsavdelningen,
Box 3,
221 00 Lund
Phone: +46-46-2229171
Fax: +46-46-2224243

Linköpings stiftsbibliotek
c/o Linköpings universitetesbibliotek,
581 83 Linköping
Phone: +46-13-281000;
Fax: +46-13-282947;
E-mail:; URL: http:t/