Olav Engelbrektsson was of wealthy farmer or gentry
ancestry. He was born in Trondenes ca 1480. Including Olav, we know
that they were a prosperous family, and that there was a strong church
or religious interest in the family. In 1503 Olav Engelbrektsson was
enrolled in the university in Rostock, and was by then already
consecrated as a priest.
In 1505 he received his baccalaureate and in 1507
his master's degrees. He possibly spent some time at the university in
Louvain, and later became the principal of the Norwegian students'
college in Rostock, St. Olav's regens, and in that capacity he was
probably also an instructor. From 1503 to 1514 he had his main
residence at Rostock, and the theology he learned there was
conservative Catholic. Additionally, Rostock was a centre for north
German humanism with the strong national feelings that went with that.
From Rostock it seems that Olav Engelbrektsson had
come to Oslo and became a Canon there, but this must have only been for
a short time, because by the 10th of May, 1515 he is mentioned as a
Canon in Nidaros. The 17th of September the same year he was appointed
as Dean by Pope Leo X. Despite his young age he was therefore now the
foremost man in the Cathedral Chapter right after the Archbishop. He
also became 'officialis,' that is to say, ombudsman for the Archbishop
in the ecclesiatical legal procedures of the bishopric. Finally he
became the economist and treasurer. In addition to all these tasks,
Olav Engelbrektsson, was also, together with the Cantor Peter
Sigurdsson, involved in the editing of Archbishop Erik Valkendorf's
missal, 'Missale Nidrosiense.'
When Erik Valkendorf went to Rome in 1521, it was
Olav Engelbreksson who governed the archbishopric. On the 27th May 1523
came the word that that the archbishop had died in Rome in November,
the previous year. Only three days later the Chapter met to elect a new
archbishop, and elected unanimously, Olav Engelbrektsson. He went
immediately to Rome to receive the pallium and be accepted by the new
Pope, Clement VII, without difficulty.
About Olav Engelbrektsson's governing of the Church
we do not know much, but it seems that he lay special stress on schools
and studies. Olav Engelbrektsson was also one of the greatest builders
the nation has had. He had built a large part of
'erkebispegården' (The Archbishop's Palace) in Trondheim,
http://home.online.no/~shelberg/trondheim/erkb.jpg but above all, he
was the the master builder of Steinvikholm fortress.
Olav Engelbrektsson returned to Trondheim the 31st
May 1524. On the trip the new Archbishop attended an important Royal
Council meeting at Hamar. After this Olav Engelbrektsson convened
another Norwegian Council meeting in Bergen in August 1524. The
realationship with the Danish nobleman and fortune hunter Vincens Lunge
becomes clear in a letter from Lunge to the archbishop after the
With the cooperation between these two powerful men,
it looked like Norway's independence now could be achieved. To the
bishopric in Oslo fikk they got what they wanted, the king accepted the
man they wanted to have. That was Hans Rev, also Danish. He had been a
Canon in Nidaros and so was a good friend of the archbishop.
With Olav Engelbrektsson as lord in
Trøndelag, Vincens Lunge at Bergenshus and loyal men both at
Akershus and in the bishop's seat in Oslo, there was, for a couple of
years, what one could call Norwegian government in Norway. Political
self-preservation had drawn them together, nevertheless they soon came
to separate in rancorous enmity.
In 1529 the farmers of Sogn complained to the
archbishop about the tyranny of the bailiffs and other servants of
Vincens and Fru Inger of Austråt. And they sent 4 officials to
Trondheim to confirm that the complaints were accurate. It was just at
this time the archbishop began his war against Vincens, and had
withdrawn his fiefs. The farmers complained about Vincens' unjust
conduct, and asked at the same time to have the archbishop as their
lord. In their recent difficult times they were still able to scrape
together a tax of 400 marks for Olav Engelbrektsson.
What really made the enmity incurable, was
protestantism. Already in the fall 1526, Bishop Olav of Bergen sent a
pitiful letter of complaint to the archbishop and asked to be allowed
to move out of the city so he could live free of Vincens and all the
"violence, scorn and injury that he hath done me and for the dishonour
the Holy Church suffers from the Lutheran sect." The archbishop wrote
to Vincens about the complaints, but he answered it superficially,
turning it over to the King and Royal Council. A couple of years later
there was a strong complaint to the archbishop from the Dean of
Sunnmøre, Nils Mogensson, about "the arrogance of the Lutherans"
in his area.
The future must hav looked black for the archbishop.
In 1527 assemblies at Odense in Denmark and Vesterås in Sweden
experienced conclusive breakthroughs to the advantage of Lutheranism
both in Denmark and in Sweden. Could there then be any hope for
Catholicism in Norway? With Fredrik as king, clearly not! Fredrik's
son, Duke Christian, was a friend of Lutherans. But these were
unsettled and revolutionary times, and perhaps there could be a way
out. This then, became the archbishop's course of action, to wait and
see. It was necessary to hinder the king from for gaining too much
power in Norway, and therefore, the archbishop always found ways to
avoid crowning the king. Especially in 1528 there was a tense conflict
between the king and the archbishop about the coronation. This ended
when the archbishop drew on a visitation trip northward right to the
Russian border. A certain way the delay the coronation, for none of the
bishops dare crown the king when the archbishop did not agree.
These delaying tactics seeem to have succeeded, but
against a nearer and less dangerous enemy like Vincens he used war.
After a demand from Gustaf Vasa of Sweden the king took Bergenhus
castle and the fief from Vincens, and instead Vincens received all of
Nonneseter monastery. With this he bound Vincens to him, and who paid
for it, was the Catholic church.
At the same time Vincens also plundered the
Apostle's Church in Bergen for its riches, and was about to rob the
monastery of the Preaching Brothers in Bergen. Against this open enmity
the archbishop began a war against Vincens. This was in defence of the
populace, against the fleecing by Vincens and his bailiffs, and to
punish him for his attacks on the church. The latter was likely the
main reason. To begin with the archbishop was the strongest.
Surprisingly, the king kept out of this war.
The war also created much unrest both in Norway and
Denmark. The King and councillors strove to find a settlement,
especially at the assembly in Oslo the summer of 1529. Vincens and fru
Inger came at the right time, but not the archbishop nor any of the
bishops. It looked like an organized opposition from the church's side,
and it was so understood by the Danish councillors in Oslo. After they
had waited for 8 weeks, they gave up and went home. The great assembly
in Oslo became a total fiasco. Now Olav Engelbrektsson was at a great
crossroads of his political life. He chose through his sense of duty
and conviction, but the duty was more toward the Catholic Church than
The struggle with Vincens could not have been very
well planned, politically, and the archbishop finally agreed to a
reconciliation in the spring of 1530. It was the new son-in-law at
Austråt, Nils Lykke, who arranged the agreement. The archbishop
managed to make a fool of Nils Lykke, he swore that he was loyal to the
king. He used this oath as pretext for not going to the assembly in
Copenhagen in 1530. He had to stay at home to prevent hostile attacks
on the kingdom. Purely legalistically the archbishop could defend this
oath, but morally it was a false oath.
But then Olav Engelbrektsson got a better excuse not
to go. This was the terrible fire on the 5th May 1531 that burned down
the cathedral and nearly the whole city. The archbishop used the funds
set aside for the trip, to get a roof for the church, and to help
Chapter and other poor. The archbishop again took up his private war
with Vincens and the Austråt people. Nevertheless, after a
command from King Christian, the formalities were in order. It took
more than that King Fredrik and Eske Bille sent a couple of war leaders
to Trøndelag, and the archbishop escaped to Steinvikholm. And he
could not prevent them from burning the archbishop's palace or
extorting the people of Trondheim.
When the king finally gave up on the matter, the
archbishop's power was not worth much "He has heard," he said, "that
they would kill him during peaceful negotiations, therefore he would
remain at Steinvikholm." It was not before he got safe conduct for
himself and 60 men that the archbishop came personally to Elgeseter
monastry. The archbishop then swore a new oath of loyalty to the king,
and paid Vincens and fru Inger for all the damage. A half year later
King Fredrik died. The archbishop was once again the stand-in for royal
We know absolutely nothing about what religious
efforts Olav Engelbrektsson did against the disorganization that
threatened the Catholic Church at that time. He was strongly against
the secularisation of the monasteries, but he seems to have done
nothing to prevent the tragic actions against the Cathedral and
Munkeliv Monastery in Bergen.
Olav Engelbrektsson summoned a new Royal Council
meeting, this time in Trondheim 23rd May 1535. This was the second such
meeting in less than two years, a very unusual thing. King Christian
now sent Claus Bille to Trondheim to arrange the acclamation of the
king and to demand a large silver tax from the kingdom. After meeting
for some days it seems that Olav Engelbrektsson agreed to both.
Then things changed abruptly: in the archbishop's
palace on the 3rd January 1536 the archbishop stood before the meeting
and announced that he had received a promise from the Holy Roman
Emperor and Count Palatine that they would come in the spring with a
large army and take both Denmark and Norway. Then the archbishop wished
to imprison the Councillors. This was not enough for some, they
demanded the death of Vincens. The archbishop agreed to this, and
Vincens Lunge was cut down in his lodgings and the others imprisoned at
The meeting in Trondheim was just the dismal prelude
to the last part of the political tragedy that the time of archbishop
Olav Engelbrektsson would come to be. He now stood all alone in his
leadership, and the Emperor's army never came. Once again Olav
Engelbrektsson was forced to negotiate with the Danish lords as a
beaten man. In April he released the prisoners from Tautra. To no
avail, power now ruled, and his own bishops abandoned him, yes, even
opposed him. Only the bishop of Hamar stood by his side.
Olav Engelbrektsson was a completely defeated man..
On the 12th August the king imprisoned the Danish bishops, and demanded
that Norway be incorporated into Denmark. As early as August, Olav
Engelbrektsson had sent Christoffer Trondsson to the Burgundian court
for help, and by the end of the year he came back with a few ships.
The archbishop waited a long time before he set off
on his sad final journey, it was only when Danish troops had come to
Romsdal, he finally sailed out from Trondheim on the 1st april 1537. He
took the cathedral's archives and treasures with him, so that they
would not fall into the hands of the king. On his way, he once more
plundered Austråt. The sea trip was hard and dangerous, and the
archbishop did not reach the Netherlands before May. He settled in
Lierre in Brabant, where he died the 7th February 1538, and was buried
before the high altar in Saint Gommaire church.
Olav Engelbrektsson received the task to lead the
heaviest and most difficult struggle that any Norwegian had to conduct
for his country - a struggle for the church in a time when the Catholic
church was disappearing in the north. A struggle for independence when
the nayion had less military power than at any time. Olav
Engelbrektsson was a man of the church and led the struggle as a such.
His policies were certainly national, but first and foremost, Catholic.
It became misfortune for the country. One cannot
escape the fact that the murder of Vincens Lunge together with the
burning of Nils Lykke casts a shadow over the memory of Olav
Engelbrektsson. But nevertheless testimony from that time speaks of an
engaging and attractive man. Good friends and warm testimony of
gratitude, we have from his young years in Rostock, as well as from the
many capable and renowned men. He was a clever man, learned and highly
cultivated. If one looks at Olav Engelbrektsson in comparison with his
contemporaries, he is no small man, but he is a solitary man.
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