The National Library of Sweden (Kungliga biblioteket) paid 2.4 million kronor ($304,860) to buy the copy of “Gesta Danorum” (Deeds of the Danes) from a Danish antique seller. It was not the famous work of Danish history itself that the library paid for, but the handwritten notes on the pages by its owners.
The book belonged to Olaus and Johannes Magnus, Catholic historians who would later write several Swedish books of note. They were in Stockholm when in November 1520, King Christian II of Denmark (known in Sweden as Christian the Tyrant) ordered a mass execution in the Old Town's Stortorget square.
“Over 120 people: two bishops, knights, nobles, councillors and citizens, he had them decapitated. I, Olaus Magnus, canon of Linköping, saw everything with horror,” the notes recall.
Olaus Magnus goes on to explain how the following day the Danish King hung, lashed and used Catherine wheels on more victims:
“The bodies of the decapitated lay untouched for three days until they were taken outside of Stockholm to be buried.”
The events of the Stockholm Bloodbath were a catalyst for a major turn in Sweden's history. One of the men executed was Erik Johansson, and his son Gustav would go on to become Gustav Vasa.
King of Sweden from 1523 until 1560, Gustav Vasa rebelled against the Danes, ended the Kalmar Union, and started the line that would result in the building of the Swedish Empire through grandson Gustav II Adolph.
“In a Swedish context it is difficult to find another book with as many unique and scientifically interesting qualities. By studying notes in older books we get information about how they have been used and what they meant for the people. This example of Gesta Danorum which the KB has now bought is also unique because it includes a previously unknown source on a very central event in Swedish history,” national librarian Gunilla Herdenberg said in a statement.
The book's journey back into Swedish hands was a long one. In 1519 it was donated to the monastery of St Brigitta in Rome, a shelter for Swedish pilgrims including the brothers Magnus at the time. Olaus Magnus became director of the monastery in 1549, and it is thought that his notes date from that period.
From Rome the book somehow ended up in Avignon, France, before falling into the book market in the 19th century following the French revolution. The entire text including scribbled notes is available to read online.