The 12-15th centuries are reckoned as Sweden’s Middle Ages. Politically, it was a highly volatile period, where the average tenure of a ruler was less than 11 years. One trait that can look modern to a present-day observer is that some of these tenures were divided up into several separate terms interleaved by other rulers. The man who managed most terms – four of them – was Karl Knutsson.
Karl was born in 1408/9 and first ruled Sweden/Finland from age 29/30, becoming elected Steward of the Realm in 1438 after taking part in Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson’s uprising against the king of the Scandinavian Union. Karl would in all likelihood have preferred to rule uninterrupted until his death in 1470, but instead he lost power three times and had to fight to regain it.
1440. Insufficient support for his stewardship from the Swedish nobility. Karl hands over power to the Danish king and moves to Finland. Elected king of Sweden/Finland in 1448 and of Norway the following year, becoming ruler of much the greater territorial part of the Union nominally ruled by the Danish king.
1457. War with the Danes. Populace unhappy about paying for this. Archbishop leads an uprising and Karl flees to Gdansk. Regains power in 1464.
1465. Archbishop leads an uprising and Karl flees to Finland. Regains power in 1467 and keeps it until his death.
Karl ruled Sweden/Finland for a total of about 15 years, which was above average. It is the more remarkable because Medieval Kings tended to leave the office feet first on a stretcher. This is a sign of an important difference between the early and late parts of the Scandinavian Middle Ages. Over time, political power became far more grounded in negotiations, intrigue and money, and less in battlefield prowess and luck. Karl’s recurring problem was the Swedish high nobility, from which Archbishops were recruited. Only in the following century would a King of Sweden come to terms decisively with this problem.