Nicolaus Ragvaldi (the older)

From medieval

by Eva Odelman

Nicolaus Ragvaldi, or Nils Ragvaldsson (ca. 1380–1448), bishop of Växjö 1426–1438 and then archbishop of Uppsala up to his death in 1448, is above all known for the oration that he delivered as King Erik’s ambassador at the great Council of Basel on 12 November 1434, in which he describes the glorious history of the Swedes, descendants of the Goths. He also gave a speech at the Congress of Arras 1435, intended to stop the war between England and France, where he acted as mediator on behalf of the Council.


Information on Nicolaus’s life is afforded by a considerable number of documents, such as parchment charters telling about his ecclesiastical career and his land transactions. There are certain notices about him in the Diarium Vadstenense (The Memorial Book of Vadstena Abbey). Short biographies are given in the Chronicle of Archbishops, which is to be found in the Registrum ecclesie Upsalensis, and by Johannes Magnus in his Historia metropolitanae ecclesiae Upsalensis. Very little is known about his family (see LJUNG 1963). There is no evidence of his having acquired any academic degree, although Johannes Magnus says in his biography (SRS III:2, 64) that Nicolaus, when a youth, was sent to famous universities (ad praeclariora gymnasia) in Germany or France. In the contemporary acts Nicolaus is first mentioned in 1409, as canon of Strängnäs; thus he was probably born no later than the beginning of the 1380s. He also became canon of Linköping as well, then dean of Strängnäs and bishop of Växjö. Already in 1421 he was one of three candidates for the archiepiscopal see of Uppsala. In 1423 he appears as secretary to King Erik, whom he represented in several international affairs. Some years after his appointment as bishop, he was sent as one of the king’s two representatives (the other one being Bishop Ulricus of Aarhus) to the Council of Basel, where he stayed from 1434 until 1436. During this time he performed several commissions for the Council, for example that of mediation at the Congress of Arras. Having returned to Sweden, he became archbishop by postulation in 1438. In this capacity he was to exercise great political influence, as for instance with regard to the election of King Christopher. The date of his death, 17 February 1448, is attested by the >Diarium fratrum minorum (Memorial Book of the Franciscans) of Stockholm, the Chronicle of Archbishops and Johannes Magnus, as well as by Nicolaus’s tomb-stone, now lost, in Uppsala Cathedral (GARDELL 1945, 371).


(1) Oratio habita in concilio Basiliensi

The speech was given on 12 November 1434. It was occasioned by the fact that there had been long discussions on which seats were to be taken by the various participants, according to their rank. The Spanish delegation claimed the foremost seats, through a speech given by Bishop Alphonso of Burgos, due to their descent from the famous Goths. Then Nicolaus Ragvaldi replied that, on the contrary, the Swedes were the real descendants of the Goths and thus entitled to the most prominent place – or at least to the most prominent but one. To prove this he summarizes the glorious history of the Goths and ends up by making a formal protestation that the position given to King Erik’s ambassadors should not mean any harm to the rights and privileges of the Nordic countries in the future. He asks to have this protestation entered into the acts of the Council.


Oratio habita in concilio Basiliensi (Oration delivered at the Council of Basel). This title is used by BENZELIUS (see Editions).


Optavimus a principio, patres reverendissimi ...


... ac ad vota feliciter conservari. Amen.


6 pages.


  • JOHANNES MAGNUS 1554: “Propositio et protestatio ... cum esset orator sereniss. d. Erici Gothorum & Suecor. regis in Concilio Basiliensi ...,” in Historia de omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque regibus (Gothorum Sueonumque historia), Romae, fol. 533–38 (new edition: Basileae 1558, 618–24; reprint Coloniae 1567; [Wittenbergae] 1617).
  • BENZELIUS, E. 1709: “Oratio habita in concilio Basiliensi,” in Monumenta historica vetera ecclesiæ Sueo-Gothicæ, Uppsala, 4°, 101–6.
  • • SVENNUNG, J. 1963: “Tal om svenskarnas ättlingar goterna inför kyrkomötet i Basel 1434,” in Från senantik och medeltid 1 (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Klassikerförbundet 49 a) Lund, 174–80.
  • ODELMAN, E. 1990: “Nils Ragvaldssons tal vid kyrkomötet i Basel,” in Röster från svensk medeltid, ed. H. Aili, O. Ferm, H. Gustavson, Stockholm, 286–98 (with translation, see Translations).

(A summary of the oration by Thomas Ebendorfer, 1463:)

  • PEZ, H. 1725: Scriptores rerum Austriacarum 2, Leipzig, 690–92 (incomplete).
  • • LHOTSKY, A. 1967: Thomas Ebendorfer, Chronica Austriae, Berlin–Zürich (repr. München 1980), 44–54.



  • PETRE[I]US, P. 1611: En kort och nyttigh chrönica om alla Sverikis och Göthis konungar ... samt een oration som hållen är uti Basel, anno 1440 ..., Stockholm, 139–48 (new edition: 1614, 175–85; 1656, 163–74).
  • SCHRODERUS, E. 1620: Joannis Magni ... Swea och Götha Crönika ..., Stockholm, 472–77; reprint: PETERSSON, TH. 1945: “Växjöbiskopen Nils Ragvaldssons tal om goternas fornbragder på kyrkomötet i Basel” in Hyltén Cavallius-föreningen för hembygdskunskap och hembygdsvård. Årsbok 1945, Växjö, 173–79.
  • ODELMAN 1990 (see Editions), 287–99.


  • (Swedish) SVENNUNG, J. 1963 (see Editions): Från senantik och medeltid 2 (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Klassikerförbundet 49 b), Lund, 110–15.

Summary of contents, composition and style

Nicolaus starts by addressing the Council in an exordium (§§ 1–7 in SVENNUNG’s edition), formulated in a rather Classical Latin style and showing certain traces of traditional rhetoric, such as the modesty topos (the orator’s apologizing for speaking). It cannot, however, be excluded that this introduction was added or revised by Johannes Magnus, whose Historia de omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque regibus is the oldest witness of the longer version of the oration (see Medieval reception and transmission). Both the introduction and the concluding protestation are missing in the summary that Thomas Ebendorfer, who represented Vienna University at the Council and who listened to the speech, made in his Chronica Austriae, finished in 1463.

The exordium is followed by a fairly monotonous enumeration, mostly lacking rhetorical embellishment, of Gothic rulers and their fabulous exploits (§§ 8–48). The account is a mixture of historical facts and mythological material; we are told, for instance, that the Goths took part in the Trojan war. It is explained that the original kingdom of the Goths is identical to Sweden (§ 9 de regno Gothorum, quod nunc ... Suetia nuncupatur). Another important point is the piety and religiousness of the Gothic kings. Finally, the orator states that there is no kingdom more ancient, strong and noble than his fatherland (§ 45 ubi nostro regno antiquius, ubi fortius, ubi nobilius unquam ... legitur?); it was not even conquered by the Romans, and, in fact, it adopted Christianity before nearly all the Roman emperors.

These arguments lead up to a short conclusion (§§ 49–50), introduced in a Ciceronian way (Cum ergo ista ita sint), and the above-mentioned protestation stressing the rights of the Nordic King (§§ 51–55).

It has been pointed out that Nicolaus claims the importance of Sweden only, not that of the united Nordic kingdoms. Thus he says in § 2: Nos ... a serenissimo Gothiae et Suetiae rege missi ( “We who have been sent by His Majesty the King of the Goths and Swedes”), although officially he was the ambassador of the king of Dacia (Dacia may mean Denmark, but also Scandinavia). (SÖDERBERG 1896, 191; SVENNUNG 1967, 41; a different view is expressed by LOSMAN 1967–1968, 217.) The longer version of the oration transmitted by Johannes Magnus does not mention Denmark or the Danes at all, whereas Ebendorfer’s summary does. This might possibly be due to the redaction of Johannes Magnus, whose antipathy towards the Danes is notorious; nevertheless it is stated by Ebendorfer as well that Nicolaus in his conclusion explicitly stresses the glory of the Swedish kingdom (Swedorum regnum, p. 54).


The most important source used by Nicolaus – directly or indirectly – for the history of the Goths ought to have been the Getica of the sixth-century Gothic historian Jordanes (mentioned by Nicolaus together with the Goth Ablabius and the Greek Dio – in Ebendorfer: Dionysius –). A compilation of Jordanes was made in the thirteenth century by Rodericus Toletanus in his Spanish history, where the Spanish kingdom is said to have been founded by the Goths who had emigrated from Scandia (SVENNUNG 1967, 1 f., 26 ff.). Another possible source proposed by LOSMAN (1967–1968, 219) is the Chronicon of Ekkehardus Uraugiensis (twelfth century). There also existed various collections of historical excerpts of the same kind.

Purpose and audience

Nicolaus’s aim was to obtain a better position for the Nordic delegates at the Council, but he was not successful. Bishop Alphonso replied that the Goths who had left their homes for the battlefields should be more honoured than those who had stayed in their country. The speech is attested in a short notice in the official record of the Council, where it is said that the protestation had to be submitted in writing. Evidently it aroused attention, as can be seen from the summary of Ebendorfer. It is also briefly reported by the Spanish historian Johannes of Segovia, who describes the controversy over the seats, and in a diary written by an anonymous participant (SVENNUNG 1967, 35–37).

Medieval reception and transmission

This performance of Nicolaus’s was to have a great ideological impact. It was the first programmatic manifestation of the so-called Gothicism which so deeply influenced Swedish historiography during the years and centuries to come and, from now on, caused international interest as well. These ideas are reflected in the introduction to the new national Swedish law that was passed in King Christopher’s reign (WEIBULL 1955–1957). They were adopted by the Swedish historian >Ericus Olai, which is apparent from the very name of his work, Chronica regni Gothorum (mentioning Nicolaus’s oration in Chapter 52), and later on developed on a large scale by Johannes Magnus and Olaus Rudbeck.

Until the end of the nineteenth century the only known source of the oration was Johannes Magnus’s Historia de omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque regibus, Book 16, Chapters 28–30. Some scholars even suspected that Johannes Magnus had composed it himself as a basis for his own enthusiastic exposition of the achievements of the Goths. However, since SÖDERBERG (1896) drew attention to the shorter version of the speech given in Ebendorfer’s chronicle (for the man(uscript tradition of the chronicle, see LHOTSKY 1967, XLIX ff.), there is no doubt as to its authenticity. In the early seventeenth century the ideas of Gothicism were very much exploited for Swedish war propaganda. Thus, translations of Johannes Magnus’s work into Swedish, including Nicolaus’s oration, were made by Petrus Petreius and Ericus Schroderus and published on the initiative of King Gustavus Adolphus.

(2) Collacio episcopi Wexionensis in dieta Atrebatensi pro negocio pacis regni Francie facta

In the summer of 1435 the Council of Basel sent an embassy to Arras in order to try to make peace between the combatants of the Hundred Years’ War, England (with Burgundy as its ally) and France. The embassy was led by the papal legate, Albergati, and included Hugues de Lusignan, cardinal of Cyprus, Nicolaus Ragvaldi, Matteus, bishop of Albenga, Nicolaus Lasocki, provost of Cracow, and Guillaume Hugues, archdeacon of Metz (DICKINSON 1955, 86 ff.; LOSMAN 1967, 53). The two bishops and the provost were each to deliver a speech in Latin on a specific theme, and they had received detailed instructions from the Council. Matteus of Albenga spoke before the French, Nicolaus Lasocki before the Burgundians and Nicolaus Ragvaldi before the English. The latter’s speech was given on 4 August as the second in order, and its theme was: “Pacem habete, et Deus pacis et dilectionis erit vobiscum” (Keep peace, and the God of peace and love will be with you) (2 Cor. 13,11).


Collacio episcopi Wexionensis in dieta Atrebatensi pro negocio pacis regni Francie facta (Speech delivered by the bishop of Växjö at the Conference of Arras for the sake of peace in the kingdom of France). Title used in LOSMAN’s edition, taken from the Erlangen manuscript (see Medieval reception and transmission). In the Paris and London manuscripts the speech is headed “proposicio” (SCHNEIDER 1919, 128; DICKINSON 1955, 114, n. 6).


De mandato reverendissimi in Christo patris ...


... et in via per graciam et in patria per gloriam. Amen.


7 pages.


  • SCHNEIDER, F. 1919: Der europäische Friedenskongress von Arras (1435) und die Friedenspolitik Papst Eugens IV und des Basler Konzils, Griess, 128–35.
  • LOSMAN, B. 1967: “Fredstalen i Arras 1435. Till kännedomen om Nikolaus Ragvaldis diplomatiska verksamhet,” Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift 67, 58–65.

(Neither of these editions should be considered a standard one, since they are both uncritical and do not take all manuscripts into account.)


(Swedish) LOSMAN 1967 (see Editions), 56–58 (gives a short analysis of the contents and structure of the speech).

Summary of contents

Setting out from his theme “Pacem habete ...” (see above), Nicolaus praises the blessings of peace, t=hen points out that peace-making is the particular duty of princes and bishops. Fraternal discord is especially destructive, because it prevents peace between man and God. In order to avoid prolixity – a traditional topos – the speaker says that he will deal very briefly with the two main reasons for the necessity of peace: these are the doctrine and actions of Christ and the preserving of the Christian religion, which is in great danger because of the long internal hostilities among the Christians, particularly between the English and the French. Everyone should now try to make peace, its advantages being obvious. Nicolaus clearly adapts his message to the audience. Speaking before the English, he deviates somewhat from the conciliar instructions, which were very much in favour of the French, for instance in praising a number of French princes. Instead, he tries to appear neutral, stressing that neither of the contending parties should be blamed for the conflict and emphasizing the great services rendered to the Church by English and French princes together in the past.

Composition, style and literary models

Throughout the speech, Nicolaus’s arguments are supported by quotations, mostly from the Bible and St. Augustine but also from Cicero, Ovid, Cassiodorus, St. John Chrysostom and canon law.

Here Nicolaus shows a rhetorical skill of a much more elaborate kind than in the Basel oration. However, it is difficult to form a reliable opinion of his style because of the bad quality of the existing editions. Nevertheless, his syntax is essentially classical, and he makes frequent use of rhetorical ornaments. This is very conspicuous in § 9, where he starts by recalling the good times when the English and the French were allies: O felicissima tempora ...! O beatissimam tunc christianam religionem ...! O gloriosissimos principes illos ...! (Oh, most blessed times ...! Oh, most happy Christian religion ...! Oh, those most glorious princes ...!), a three-fold anaphorical exclamation. Then follows a highly pathetic description of the miseries caused by the war, culminating in this passage:

... fera regnat herinis, sanguis funditur innoxius, spoliantur pauperes, innocentes stuprantur et vi opprimuntur virgines, in captivitatem et carcerem ducuntur nobiles et mercatores contemptu et oprobrio habentur, ymmo et sepenumero iugulantur ecclesie ministri et sacerdotes nephandissime polluuntur et vastantur sacre edes

(... the wild Fury reigns, innocent blood is shed, poor people are robbed, innocent virgins are debauched and raped, noblemen are brought to imprisonment and jail, and merchants are exposed to contempt and disgrace, nay, very often the ministers of the Church are murdered, priests are defiled in the most impious way, and sanctuaries are devastated).

Here we note for instance, besides a mythological personification (herinis = erinys), a substantial series of chiastic expressions. Other passages offer alliterations, rhetorical questions, tripartitions according to the classical pattern, etc.

Purpose and audience

Despite Nicolaus’s oratorical efforts the English were not persuaded to make peace, and they left the congress a month later; on the other hand, the negotiations led to a treaty between the French and the Burgundians (DICKINSON 1955, 158 ff.). Nevertheless, Ericus Olai and especially Johannes Magnus (SRS III:2, 65) praise Nicolaus in an exaggerated way, saying that he brought his task to a successful end and was consequently rewarded by the princes present with magnificent gifts.

Medieval reception and transmission

Three fifteenth-century manuscripts contain the speech (DICKINSON 1955, 101, n. 1; cf. LOSMAN 1967, 53):

  • Erlangen, Universitätsbibliothek 537, fol. 153v–156r.
  • Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, latin 1448, fol. 126r–128v.
  • London, British Museum (now British Library), Harley 4763, fol. 213v–216 r.

(SCHNEIDER 1919 only used the London manuscript for his edition. LOSMAN 1967 used the Erlangen manuscript as well, but the Paris manuscript was neglected by both editors.)

(3) Compendium statutorum provincialium Upsaliensis provinciae

(Summary of provincial statutes for the Church province of Uppsala).

As a result of the provincial council of the Swedish Church held at Söderköping in 1441, a collection of statutes common to the entire Church was drawn up by Nicolaus in collaboration with his nephew, Birgerus Birgeri, provost of Strängnäs. An interesting point in these statutes is the commission given by the council to the archbishop and his chapter to try to establish a university (studium privilegiatum) or in any case a school of high quality (studium particulare) (LINDROTH 1968, 15 ff.; NELSON 1927, 12 f.). Already some years before, the King’s Council had, on Nicolaus’s initiative, taken steps to bring about academic lectures in Uppsala.


Membrum primum. Quia prolixa vagaque traditio statutorum ...


... tam pro perjurio quam homicidio poenitentia injungatur.


36 pages.


  • 1525, Uppsala (only fragments preserved; see COLLIJN 1937, 298).
  • VON NETTELBLA, CHR. 1728: Schwedische Bibliothec 2, Stockholm & Leipzig, 139–79.
  • REUTERDAHL, H. 1841: Statuta synodalia veteris ecclesiæ Sveogothicæ, Lund, 128–64.

(These editions, being reprints of the 1525 edition, are antiquated.)

Medieval reception and transmission=

No manuscript sources for the Compendium, as it appears in the printed editions, are known of, but a different version is found in the manuscript Linköping, Diocesan Library J 73 (fol. 4r–17r); the copy is dated 7 March 1506.


  • BECKMANN, G. et alii (ed.) 1904: Concilium Basiliense, Studien und Quellen zur Geschichte des Concils von Basel, vol. 5, Basel, 108.
  • BRILIOTH, Y. 1941: Svenska kyrkans historia II. Den senare medeltiden 1274–1521, Stockholm, 375–95.
  • COLLIJN, I. 1937: Sveriges bibliografi intill år 1600. I:4–5. 1514–1530, Uppsala, 296–99.
  • • DAHLBÄCK, G. 1988: “Nicolaus Ragvaldi,” in SBL 129, Stockholm, 617–24.
  • • DICKINSON, J.G. 1955: The Congress of Arras 1435. A Study in Medieval Diplomacy, Oxford.
  • GARDELL, S. 1945: Gravmonument från Sveriges medeltid 1, Stockholm.
  • HALLER, J. (ed.) 1900: Concilium Basiliense, Studien und Quellen zur Geschichte des Concils von Basel, vol. 3, Basel, 249–50.
  • JOHANNES MAGNUS 1557: Historia metropolitanae ecclesiae Upsalensis , Romae (repr. in SRS III:2, 64–67).
  • JOHANNESSON, K. 1982: Gotisk renässans. Johannes och Olaus Magnus som politiker och historiker, Stockholm.
  • LINDROTH, S. 1968: “Till Uppsala universitets förhistoria. Några notiser,” in Universitetet och forskningen. Studier tillägnade Torgny Segerstedt på sextioårsdagen (Acta universitatis Upsaliensis C. 17), Uppsala, 15–23.
  • LJUNG, S. 1963: “‘Prelatskolan’ på Fjällskäfte gård. Till ärkebiskop Nicolaus Ragvaldis biografi,” Personhistorisk Tidskrift 1963, 41–53.
  • LOSMAN, B. 1967–1968: “Nikolaus Ragvaldis gotiska tal,” Lychnos, 1967–1968, 215–21.
  • LOSMAN, B. 1970: Norden och reformkonsilierna 1408–1449, Göteborg.
  • NELSON, A. 1927: “Om Uppsala universitet under medeltiden. Några anteckningar,” in Symbola litteraria. Hyllningsskrift till Uppsala universitet vid jubelfesten 1927, Uppsala, 9–14.
  • NORDSTRÖM, J. 1929: Johannes Magnus och den götiska romantiken. Akademiska föreläsningar 1929 utg. av Michaelisgillet genom C.-O. von Sydow, Stockholm 1975, 75–90.
  • PERNLER, S.-E. 1999: Sveriges kyrkohistoria 2. Hög och senmedeltid, Stockholm, 134, 137–39.
  • • SVENNUNG, J. 1967: Zur Geschichte des Goticismus (Skrifter utgivna av Kungliga Humanistiska Vetenskapssamfundet i Uppsala 44:2 B), Uppsala, 34–43.
  • • SÖDERBERG, V. 1896: “Nicolaus Ragvaldis tal i Basel 1434,” Samlaren, 187–95.
  • SÖDERBERG, V. 1902: “Nicolaus Ragvaldi och Baselkonciliet,” Bidrag till Sverges medeltidshistoria tillegnade C.G. Malmström 15, Uppsala.
  • WEIBULL, C. 1955–1957: “Goternas utvandring från Sverige,” Scandia 23, 161–86.