Johannes Brask

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by Per Stobaeus

Titled as decretorum doctor, Hans Brask (1464-1538) was from 1513 the Bishop of Linköping (Sweden). He devoted himself to political, historical, economical and literary issues of his days. In the 1520s, i.e. the last years of the Union of Kalmar and the first years of the reign of King Gustav Vasa’s, he fought for legal and economical independence of the church. Moreover, he was the leader of those in opposition to Lutheranism in Sweden. As a consequence of the Parliament of Västerås in 1527, he went into exile in Danzig (Poland). For more comprehensive surveys, see SCHÜCK 1959 and SJÖDIN 1926.


Hans Brask, who was son of the chief magistrate of Linköping, was to begin with educated in Skara, whereas his higher education took place in the 1480s, in Rostock and Greifswald. Hence he belonged to the generation of students that preceded the emergence of Humanism at these universities. By Bishop Henrik Tidemansson of Linköping, Brask was commissioned to carry out the printing of the Breviarium Lincopense, a task which was accomplished in Nuremberg in 1493. The sojourns in Germany gave a stimulus to his interest in both handicraft and cooking. Most likely he received the degree of iuris utriusque baccalaureus in Leipzig. After his return to Sweden, he was made chancellor at the episcopal court of Linköping. Bishop Tidemansson, who pursued a politic of centralization in the diocese, and Archbishop Jakob Ulvsson, whose politics aimed at a peaceful kingdom and a strengthened Council, both served as role models to Brask. At the turn of the century, he spent some years in Rome. As episcopal legate and as aspirant for higher ecclesiastical offices, he got insight into papal administration and bureaucracy, and, at some point, he received a doctorate of Canon Law. Before the departure from Rome, Brask was appointed to provost of Linköping, of which his adversary Hemming Gadh was the bishop elect, and to his new office was added a responsibility for the administration of the diocese. Brask had other official duties as well: as councillor he took an active part in several official assemblies. In addition, he also gained vast knowledge about the royal archives, from which he made transcriptions and inventories of records dealing with the relationship between church and regent as well as territorial claims of the kingdom (SCHÜCK 1976).

In 1513, Hans Brask was appointed and ordained Bishop of Linköping. Some years later, in 1515, he performed the translation of the remains of Nicolaus Hermanni. The ideal of a powerful and sovereign church and a state primarily governed by the Council characterized the politics of Brask. Due to his vast business in estates he made, however, several enemies among the aristocracy and the bourgeois. In the struggle for power between Sten Sture the Younger, i.e. the then regent, and Archbishop Gustav Trolle, Brask took up the role as mediator, but was in 1517 eventually forced to seal the Council’s non-canonical removal of Archbishop Trolle. Hoping that the enemies of the church should meet with a just retribution, Brask joined the Union king, the Dane Christian II. After the Massacre of Stockholm in 1520 when several prominent officials, for example four bishops, were executed, he took up another attitude. The events of 1520 had made Brask one of two bishops resident in Sweden. In the following year, Brask joined the ringleader Gustav Eriksson (Vasa), who was elected as king in 1523. At this point, Brask indulged in great expectations of how the government of the young nobleman would change the state of affairs, both as revenge for the unheard territorial claims of Sweden within the Union of Kalmar as well as more peaceful situation of the ecclesiastical province of Sweden. The politics of the new king fell, however, short of the bishop’s expectations and instead the diocese of Linköping had to make vast financial contributions to the Crown. Furthermore, although counteracted by the king himself, Brask fought for the elected bishops to obtain papal confirmation. By way of his contacts in Rome and Lübeck, he continuously obtained information about the activities of the Lutheran movement. Hence, as one of the first, he supported the use of harsh means, i.e. inquisitorial, towards the Lutheran movement in Sweden, but mostly had to do so much on his own. Nonetheless, Brask collected and also distributed polemic, i.e. anti-Lutheran, writings, in particular letters and pamphlets by e.g. Henry VIII, John Fisher, Johann Eck, Kaspar Schatzgeyer, Duke George of Saxony, Emperor Charles V (HÄRDELIN 1998; WESTMAN 1918). The recipients were for the most part colleagues and monasteries. He also wished to transmit Swedish translations of, for example, epic novels and Christiern Pedersen’s Danish commentary on the Mass, more widely. Contemporaneously, he had printed the Historia sancti Nicolai episcopi Lincopensis and the Manuale Lincopense in Söderköping (LJUNG 1948). Due to the prevailing situation in Germany, however, Brask was most hesitant towards the idea of a translation of the New Testament into Swedish.

He shared with >Petrus Magni an interest in various handicrafts and wished to get skilled craftsmen to Sweden. Additionally, he had plans of establishing a channel system between the Baltic Sea and the Western Sea for the purpose of weakening trading dominance of the Hanseatic League. Most of his visions were, however, not realized. There has wrongly been suggested that there was paper manufacture in Sweden in the days of Hans Brask (SJÖDIN 1944).

After the Parliament of Västerås in 1527, or the Reformation Parliament, Brask went into exile in Danzig. The letters of this era (ed. COLLIJN 1912; KOLBERG 1914) bear witness to his connections with Polish bishops, for example Johannes Dantiscus, and with King Sigismund I. Brask died in the Cistercian monastery of LD (Landa), Poland, in 1538.


The most significant manuscripts in Latin are referred to below. On D 2 in the Royal Library, Stockholm and Kh 53 of the Diocesan Library in Linköping, see SCHÜCK 1976, 468-80, and SETTERKRANS 1958. Apart from these record books a number of original letters by Brask are preserved, for example, in Stockholm, National Archives, see especially Sturearkivet and Pergaments- och pappersbrevssamlingarna. The collection of manuscripts, which came into being under the supervision of Brask himself, consists for the major part of letters and other writings in Swedish and Latin. Various hands could be distinguished, among them Brask, Hans Spegelberg and the provost Johannes Magni (Jöns Månsson). A palaeographical analysis has been undertaken by GUNNENG (1981; 2003, 20-28).

The letter-book of Hans Brask (Stockholm, National Archives, A7)

  • ROLL (now GUNNENG), H. 1973: Latinsk korrespondens 1523, Stockholm (contains a critical edition of the Latin letters of 1523 in Stockholm, National Archives, A7, along with a commentary).
  • GUNNENG, H. (ed.) 2003: Biskop Hans Brasks registratur. Textutgåva med inledning (Samlingar utgivna av Svenska fornskriftsällskapet. Serie 1. Svenska skrifter 85), Uppsala (critical edition with introduction. For previous editions of A7, see 9-10).
Stockholm, National Archives, A7

One of the most important sources of knowledge about e.g. the obligations of a bishop of the Late Middle Ages, the first years of King Gustav Vasa’s reign and the initial phase of the Reformation era in Sweden. The letter-book, which deals with the period 1523-1527, bear witness to the various functions of Brask, for example as bishop and councillor. The major source of such knowledge is the preserved correspondence, in Swedish and in Latin, between Brask and, for example, the king, the newly elected bishops (i.e. Magnus Haraldi, Johannes Magnus and others) and the monastery of Vadstena. The manuscript also comprises references of sentences passed on by Brask in connection with matrimonial cases and other legal matters (KORPIOLA 2004; GUNNENG 1996; ODELMAN 1990), but also inventories, comments on ordinations and collations of benefices.

Linköping Cathedral’s paper register (Linköping, Diocesan Library, Kh 54)


Parts of the Kh 54 have been edited, see ARNELL 1904, NYGREN 1941-1944 (with a codicological analysis), SCHÜCK 1959, 12-18, ANDRÉN 1976.

Linköping, Diocesan Library, Kh 54

Initiated on the initiative of Brask during his time as provost of Linköping and contains texts in both Swedish and Latin. For example, there are copies of letters, deriving from various periods of the Middle Ages, dealing with the relation between church and state. There are also Latin references to Canon Law. Further additions to the register were made during the episcopacy of Brask. Most of these later texts are written in Swedish and deals with the administration of the mensa episcopalis and with instructions for the servants of the episcopal residence (the instructions for the cancellarius, capellanus and scolaris capelle are in Latin, ed. ARNELL 1904) and, finally, regulations for the domestic life (such as a calendar and instructions for the order at the table). (3) The political letter-book of Hans Brask (Stockholm, National Archives, A 6) The major part of this manuscript consists of letters in Swedish, German, Polish and Latin concerning the relation between the kingdom of Sweden and the Union Kings, the town of Lübeck, Poland, Russia and the Pope. There are also texts of numismatic content (ed. LIEDGREN 1969) along with Brask’s authentic commentaries on the rights of the kingdom as regards Gotland (ed. SCHÜCK 1976, 472-73). For a description of the manuscript, see SCHÜCK 1976, 470-80.

Composition and style

In many ways, the Latin of Hans Brask reflects his personality. The Swedish professor E. ODELMAN refers to him as “an innovative reactionary” (“nyskapande reaktionär”). Contrary to Archbishop Johannes Magnus, Brask did not adopt the stylistic ideals of Humanism but carried on cultivating a Latin of the Middle Ages, albeit with a personal touch. In some of his letters, for example to the canon Petrus Benedicti in the A7, Brask alternates between Latin and Swedish. Sometimes his makes use of an odd vocabulary, which may be considered as a forming of new words from the vernacular. Such examples are, according to Odelman, copisteria (i.e. scriptorium), inamoramentum (i.e. infatuation), iubilarius (i.e. jeweller) and littorizo (i.e. disembark).


  • ANDRÉN, Å. 1976: “Stadgan om ärelöshet och vittnesrätt av den 29 juni 1538,” Kyrkohistorisk Årsskrift 76, 93-142.
  • ARNELL, E. 1904: Bidrag till Hans Brasks lefnadsteckning, Uppsala.
  • BERNTSON, M. 2003: Klostren och reformationen. Upplösningen av kloster och konvent i Sverige 1523–1596, Skellefteå.
  • BRASK, H. 1973: Latinsk korrespondens 1523, ed. H. Roll (now Gunneng), Stockholm.
  • COLLIJN, I. 1912: “Smärre bidrag till Hans Brasks sista lefnadsår,” Kyrkohistorisk Årsskrift 13, 170-79.
  • GUNNENG, H. 1981: “Vad har Spegelberg skrivit,” Filologiskt arkiv 25, xx–xx.
  • GUNNENG, H. 1996: “Biskopen som stiftsdomare,” in Kyrka i bruk (Östergötland: meddelanden från Östergötlands länsmuseum 1996), Linköping, 257-62.
  • GUNNENG, H. (ed.) 2003: Biskop Hans Brasks registratur. Textutgåva med inledning (Samlingar utgivna av Svenska fornskriftsällskapet. Serie 1. Svenska skrifter 85), Uppsala.
  • HÄRDELIN, A. 1998: “Vadstena klosters långa dödskamp: 1521–1596,” in Kult, Kultur och Kontemplation. Studier i medeltida svenskt kyrkoliv, ed. A. Härdelin, Skellefteå, 126-55.
  • KOLBERG, J. 1914: “Aus dem Leben der letzten katholischen Bischöfe Schwedens,” in Verzeichnis der Vorlesungen and der Königlichen Akademie zu Braunsberg im Sommer-Semester 1914, Braunsberg, 1-48.
  • KORPIOLA, M. 2004: Between Betrothal and Bedding: The Making of Marriage in Sweden, ca. 1200–1610, Helsinki.
  • LIEDGREN, J. 1970: “Texterna om myntning i Hans Brask kopiebok A 6,” Nordisk numismatisk årsskrift 1969, 66-93.
  • LJUNG, S. 1948: “Biskop Hans Brask och tryckeriet i Söderköping,” Nordisk tidsskrift för bok- och biblioteksväsen 35, 83-91.
  • NYGREN, E. 1941-1944: Registra ecclesie Lincopensis (Särtryck ur Linköpings bibliotekts handlingar, n.s. 3–4:1), Linköping.
  • ODELMAN, E. 1990: “Klockarkärlek och blodvite,” in Röster från svensk medeltid. Latinska texter i original och översättning, ed. H. Aili, O. Ferm & H. Gustavson, Stockholm, 36-45.
  • ODELMAN, E. 2000: ‘‘Per’ perperam pro ‘pro’’. En lexikografs vedermödor och glädjeämnen,” in Språkets speglingar. Festskrift till Birger Bergh, ed. A. Jönsson & A. Piltz, Lund, 507-13.
  • ODELMAN, E. 2002: “Biskop Brask – en nyskapande reaktionär, eller tvärtom,” in Mimesis förvandlingar. Tradition och förnyelse i renässansens och barockens litteratur, ed. H.-E. Johannesson, Stockholm, 273-81.
  • OLSSON, G. 1947: Stat och kyrka i Sverige vid medeltidens slut, Göteborg.
  • SCHÜCK, H. 1959: Ecclesia Lincopensis. Studier om Linköpingskyrkan under medeltiden och Gustav Vasa, Stockholm.
  • SCHÜCK, H. 1976: Rikets brev och register. Arkivbildande, kansliväsen och tradition inom den medeltida svenska statsmakten (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Riksarkivet 4), Stockholm.
  • SETTERKRANS, G. 1958: “Hans Brasks kopiebok. Kh 53 i Linköpings stifts- och landsbibliotek,” Nordisk tidsskrift för bok- och biblioteksväsen 45, 1-18.
  • SJÖDIN, L. 1926: “Hans Brask,” in Svenskt biografiskt lexikon 6, Stockholm, 45-65.
  • SJÖDIN, L. 1944: “De äldsta pappersbruken i Sverige,” in En bok om papper tillägnad Carl Joh. Malmros, Klippan, 153-88.
  • SJÖDIN, L. 1967: ”Brevfynden i Roggeborgen”, HistTS 87, 357-71.
  • STOBAEUS, P. 2005: “Biskop Hans Brask – både patriotisk och internationell,” in Diocesis Lincopensis II. Medeltida internationella influenser, ed. K.O. Lejon, Skellefteå, 168-213.
  • WESTMAN, K.B. 1918: Reformationens genombrottsår i Sverige, Stockholm.