Paulus Helie

From medieval

by Kaare Rübner Jørgensen

Paulus Helie (Poul Helgesen, 1480-1539) was a Carmelite friar and a Catholic reformer, theologian and history writer during the Danish Reformation. He was the period’s greatest intellectual character and most eloquent writer. His Lutheran antagonists called him a turn-coat, present-day historians describe him as the first political journalist in the history of Denmark. His many works in the Danish and Latin languages include translations, religious and political controversies, poems, letters, and historical narratives. Among the latter is the famous Chronicon Skibyense, which was the greatest intellectual work of literature in Denmark since the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus.


Paulus Helie was born about 1480 in Varberg (Halland) to a Danish father and a Swedish mother. As a child he entered the Carmelite friary in his native town and spent the rest of his life as a friar of that Order. The scattered biographical information, given by himself and his contemporaries, should therefore be interpreted in the light of the life and traditions of the Carmelite Order. (Unfortunately, this is seldom the case as up to now only four historians have tried to do it: ENGELSTOFT 1848, ANDERSEN 1936a, 1936b, 1944–1946, VALKNER 1963, RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 1979, 1986, 1991–1995). The Swedish humanist, Sveno Jacobi, who later became bishop of Skara, was among his teachers, but where he was educated is not known. However, after the lector degree of the Order he must have followed courses in Rhetoric and Theology either at the University of Copenhagen or at some foreign university. His handwriting, which is a fine humanist cursive similar to those used in Italy in the 1490s, could support the latter alternative. In our sources he is first mentioned in 1517 and was presumably already then a Bachelor of Theology. Two years later he became regent of the newly founded Carmelite College in Copenhagen and lecturer in Theology at the University. Already in his early lectures he seems to have been influenced by the Italian humanists and Erasmus Roterodamus’s biblical humanism. Despite the impetuous and passionate attacks on Erasmus by the Carmelites elsewhere in Europe, this humanist attitude with its demand for a moral reformation, based on the Bible and the Fathers, not only of the Church, but also of living human beings in general, affected him for the rest of his life.

In the years around 1520 he appears to have supported King Christian II (1513–1523) and the king’s wishes for clerical and educational reform, but in the summer of 1522 he quarrelled with the king and took refuge in Jutland, where he joined the rebel party and became one of the king’s most ardent enemies.

Also, in the last years of the 1510s he seems to have favoured the Lutheran cause. When Luther, however, broke with the Roman Church, he reacted against the German reformer and became a prominent Catholic writer and protagonist, although he was in no way a conservative Catholic. Like Erasmus he often advocated a middle course between traditional Catholicism and Lutheranism, difficult to understand for his contemporaries, Lutherans and Catholics alike (cf. RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 2002).

Soon after being elected provincial prior of his Order in 1521 or 1522 he left the University, but continued with his studies, readings and writings. During the 1520s and 1530s he often participated in the diets of the realm. In the diet of 1530, for instance, he was one of the Catholic theologians officially debating with the Protestants, and in the diet of 1533 he functioned as prosecutor against the reformer, Hans Tausen, who was condemned to exile by the judges.

After the publication in October 1534 of his book on a Christian union and reconciliation, the Danish sources are silent about his existence. Most historians have therefore assumed that he died during the winter of 1534–1535. But as the General Chapter of the Order confirmed him in his office on 25 May 1539, he may still have been alive then. If that is true, he may have lived incognito in Demark or in exile, as a royal edict of 1537 forbade mendicants to stay in the king’s dominions (RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 1986, 19).

Works in Danish

(1) En cristhen førstis lære (The Instruction of a Christian Prince). 1520. A translation of Erasmus Roterodamus’s Institutio principis Christiani of 1515, meant as a gift to King Christian II. It is, however, uncertain whether the translation was ever presented to the king (RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 2000a).

(2) A Catalogue of Complaints against King Christian II. 1523. An anonymous and extensive catalogue, introducing the election charter of King Frederick I (1523–1533). It has been attributed to Paulus Helie by some historians (ENGELSTOFT 1848, 64–67, et al., but this theory has been repudiated by ANDERSEN 1936a, 632). A stylistic and rhetorical analysis of the catalogue seems, however, to confirm the attribution (RÜBNER JØRGENSEN, forthcoming).

(3) King Christian II’s Rhyme Chronicle. 1523. A popular catalogue of complaints against the king in verse. It was attributed to Paulus Helie by the editors of his collected works (KRISTENSEN & ANDERSEN 1948, 22–23, cf. ANDERSEN 1936a, 632), but since the verses were known both in contemporary Denmark and Sweden, the attribution is questionable.

(4) Een cristelig vnderwyszningh paa the thy Gudz budord (A Christian Instruction about the Ten Commandments of God). Rostock 1526. An adaptation into Danish of one of the many printed editions of Martin Luther’s Eyn bett buchlin from 1522–1524.

(5) En christelig undervisning om Luthers handel (A Christian Instruction about Luther’s Dealings). 1526. This work, the first of Paulus Helie’s writings against the Lutherans, was dedicated to the Danish Lord High Constable and nobleman, Tyge Krabbe. It has been lost for centuries and its content is only known through quotations in a response, written by the Swedish reformer, Olaus Petri, in Stockholm 1528. On the basis of these quotations it seems that Erasmus’s De libero arbitrio Diatribh sive collatio from 1524 could have been the source for this work of Paulus Helie.

(6) Response to a letter by Hans Mickelsen. Rostock 1527. In the name of the exiled King Christian II a Danish translation of the New Testament, printed in Wittenberg 1524, was smuggled into Denmark together with a letter written by the former burgomaster of Malmö, Hans Mickelsen, who was agitating for the restoration of the king’s régime. Paulus Helie’s long response was composed on behalf of the ecclesiastical counsellors of the realm. It was anonymous, but has long since been attributed to him (HUITFELDT 1596, 325). Rhetorical and linguistic analyses confirm this attribution.

(7) Nogre christelige suar till the spørsmaall som koning Gøstaff till Swerigis rijge lodt wdgaa (Some Christian Answers to the Questions Put Forward by King Gustav of Sweden). 1528. A Catholic response to the king’s Luther-inspired questions about religion, ceremonies, etc.

(8) Huore krancke, mijslige, saare, arme oc fattige menniskir schule tracteris oc besørgis, een kort vnderwijsning (How Ill and Poor People Should be Treated, A Short Instruction). Copenhagen 1528. The first printed book on medical care, hospitals, etc. in the Danish language, dedicated to one of the burgomasters of Copenhagen. This work is inspired by Juan Luis Vives’s De subventione pauperum, printed in Bruges 1526 (cf. RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 2007, 531–36)

(9) Sancti Athanasij bog om Psalterins Krafft (St. Athanasius’s Book about the Power of the Psalter). Rostock 1528. A translation of the Italian poet Angelus Politianus’s summary, Magni Athanasii in psalmos opusculum of 1508. It was an addendum to a Danish translation of the Book of Psalms by the Carmelite friar, Franciscus Wormordi (Frans Wormordsen).

(10) Response to the Book of Malmö. 1530. Paulus Helie’s principal work on theology and the Reformation. In over 400 pages he refuted the changes in religion in the town of Malmö and advocated a middle course between traditional Catholicism and Lutheranism.

(11) A Treatise against Clerical Marriage. 1530. A translation of a work by an unknown foreign Doctor of Jurisprudence. Lost.

(12) Een kortt vnderwiisning paa then hellige messe (A Short Instruction about the Holy Mass). 1531. This work is lost, too, but extracts appear in its refutation by the Danish reformer Hans Tausen, printed in Copenhagen 1531.

(13) Een kortt oc christelig vnderwiisning paa thet hemelige støcke ij messen som kaldis canon (A Short Instruction about the Secret Part of the Mass called the Canon). Aarhus 1531. A translation of the Canon followed by an explanation of the different prayers and readings of the Canon together with a confutation of the Lutheran arguments against the Catholic mass.

(14) An Explanation of the Confession of the Christian Faith by the Bishops and Prelates of Denmark. 1531. Lost.

(15) En kort oc Christelig formaning medt en føge underwisning om then Luthersche Handels vrange och uretsindige willkaar (A Short and Christian Exhortation with a Small Instruction about the Erroneous and Unjustified Conditions of the Lutheran Dealings). 1532. This work is largely based on Erasmus’s Epistola ad fratres Germaniae inferioris et Phrysiae orientalis of 1530.

(16) Menige Danmarkis rigis biscoppers och prelaters christelige oc retsindige geenswar till the lwtherianscke artickle (A Christian and Upright Response to the Lutheran Articles by the Bishops and Prelates of the Realm of Denmark). Aarhus 1533. An adaption into Danish of the third part of Confutatio Lutheranismi Danica, written by one or two German theologians, who visited Denmark in 1530.

(17) Een christen furstis wnderwiisning oc lære (An Instruction and Doctrine for a Christian Prince). Roskilde 1534. A new translation of Erasmus’s Institutio principis Christiani, dedicated to the ecclesiastical and secular councillors of the realm (cf. RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 2000a).

(18) Een kortt vnderwiisning til een christelig foreening och forligilse (A Short Instruction for a Christian Union and Reconciliation). 1534. This work is mainly a translation of Erasmus’s Liber de sarcienda ecclesiae concordia of 1533.

(19) Religious and Devotional Poems and Psalms.

Works in Latin

(1) De simoniaca pravitate Oratio

(Oration on the Depravity of Simony). 1517. Lost.

(2) Catalogus accusationum adversus regem Christiernum

(A Catalogue of Complaints against King Christian II). 1523. In an apologetical letter to the canon of Lund, Petrus Ivari, of 3 November 1523, Paulus Helie writes about his translation of the Catalogue of Complaints under the above-mentioned title and states that he expanded the original version on several points, especially concerning the Church and Chapter of Lund (Skrifter af Paulus Helie 1, 179–81).

The Latin Catalogue, presumably circulated in manuscript only, no longer exists as an independent work. In addition to two minor quotations in the letter to Petrus Ivari the Catalogue is extensively quoted in the Chronicon Skibyense.


In Chronicon Skibyense: Rex itaque Christiernus summa iniuria omnipotentis Dei ...


The Explicit cannot be given, as the text of the Catalogue passes smoothly into the continued narrative of the Chronicle.


About 10 pages.


  • SEVERINSEN, P. 1932: Skrifter af Paulus Helie 1, Copenhagen, 180–81 (two fragments in the letter to Petrus Ivari, 1524, only).
  • KRISTENSEN & RÆDER 1937, 85–96.


  • (Danish) HEISE, A. 1890–1891 (reprint 1967): Skibykrøniken. Lektor Povl Helgesens historiske Optegnelsesbog, Copenhagen, 202–3, 73–91.


  • KRISTENSEN & ANDERSEN 1948, 20–22, 161–64.

The first Latin translation of the Catalogue was made in the spring or summer of 1523. In the version we know today, which is an expanded version from the same summer or autumn with emendations and additions from the mid-1530s, it lists twenty-three points of complaint against the king, four of which are new compared to the original Danish Catalogue of March 1523. Petrus Svavenius’s Frederici I ad Christierni Patruelis calumnias responsio, 1527, seems in part to have been the source of these additions.

Stylistically the Catalogue is characterized by an excessive use of tautologies and other word enumerations, which often consist of words with emotional and affective connotations. It is in a rhetorical style similar to that of the Danish Catalogue and known from other polemical works by Paulus Helie.

One must assume that the translation was meant for a non-Danish audience. It may have been sent to the Archbishop-elect, George Skotborg, in Rome by the new government, as we know that one of the Roman representatives of the dethroned and exiled king informed him that a list of complaints, circulating in the city, was damaging the king’s cause at the Holy See (cf. ALLEN 1854, 94; RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 2001). The work is transmitted in Chronicon Skibyense (see below).

(3) Annales 826–1415 (Chronologia anonymi, Annales Dano-Svecani 826–1415)

These annals give an account of events in Denmark and Sweden from 826 (i.e. 916/966?) to 1415. Unlike those of the other Danish and Swedish annals most of the entries are not merely rhetorically and stylistically elaborate, but also express a moralizing attitude to the events told by the author, and thus have a personal touch, quite unusual in the traditional annals.


As the text is known in later manuscripts only, the original title cannot be given.


Anno Domini DCCCXXVI vel ut alji DCCCXVI Danici cum Haraldo rege suo ad fidem Jesu Christi Domini nostri sunt conversi ...


MCDXV. Celebratum est concilium generale in vrbe Constantia.


28 pages


  • BENZELIUS, E. 1709–1713: Monumenta vetera ecclesiae Sveogothicae. Uppsala, 81–97.
  • LANGEBEK, J. 1772: SRD 1, Copenhagen, 387–98.
  • FANT, E.M. 1818: SRS I:1, Uppsala, 50–61.
  • JØRGENSEN 1920, 138–41 (only covering the years 826–1296).
  • • PAULSSON 1974, 374–401.
  • KROMAN 1980, 300–6 (only covering the years 826–1296).


  • ENGSTRÖM 1966, 1–80.
  • PAULSSON 1974 (see Editions), 202–34.

Date and place

Earlier historians have thought that these annals were originally compiled in Denmark and then transferred to Sweden, where they were supplemented with Swedish material. The final compiler was said to be a cleric from Östergötland, perhaps a Cistercian monk in Alvastra (JØRGENSEN 1920, 23, KROMAN 1980, 300). Traditionally the work has been dated to the first half of the fifteenth century and regarded as one of the three Swedish annals constituting the so-called “Annales triplices” (together with the Annales 916–1430 and Annales 1298–1473), which in turn partly were based on lost annals (“Annales X” or “Annales Maiores”) from the first half of the fourteenth century (WESTMAN 1904, 171 n. 1, BOLIN 1931, 297–99, 315–17).

On the basis of a linguistic analysis ENGSTRÖM argued that it was compiled and written by Paulus Helie in one of the first decades of the sixteenth century (ENGSTRÖM 1966). Today this late dating is generally accepted, but the attribution of the authorship to Paulus Helie is more questionable (PAULSSON 1974, 228–34, AXELSON 1976, 50–52). However, since there are more verbal and rhetorical phrases and expressions in the annals peculiar to the style of Paulus Helie than those mentioned by ENGSTRÖM, the attribution seems quite reasonable (e.g. the characteristic endings with an emphatic ablative sentence: 1208: ... cessitqve victoria Sverchero verum maxima sui exercitus jactura. 1226: Liberatus est a captivitate Waldemarus rex vna cum filio suo, interveniente maxima mulcta.) This does not mean, of course, that he collected all the material by himself. He may have emended and elaborated material which had at least in part been collected by others. As many entries, in fact, are verbally identical with those transmitted in other annals, it seems today that they may have been copied from common sources.

Summary of contents

The Danish material is prominent in the first half of the annals. Here there are many entries concerning the foundation of Cistercian abbeys, and in other parts of Scandinavia, too. The Swedish material, which is scattered among the Danish entries, becomes prominent after 1200 and dominates the annals after 1300. In particular the entries concerning the civil war in Sweden in the early fourteenth century are verbally and stylistically ornate and contain evaluations expressing the author’s personal sympathy with the dukes’ cause.

Composition and style

The composition is that of traditional annals, a recording of events in chronological order. As to the style see below, Chronicon Skibyense.


As mentioned before, many of the entries show a greater or lesser degree of verbal similarity to other medieval annals, now to one, now to another. At first glance it thus seems that the author must have copied those annals. But as independent information is often given, too, it is impossible, on the basis of these similarities, to prove any direct dependency between the Annales 826–1415 and the other Danish and Swedish annals, at least not on the basis of the versions known today. Nevertheless, the author must have utilized Danish material of Cistercian origin (from the Abbey of Sorø?), which was also available for the compilers of the Annales Ryenses, Annales Lundenses, and other Danish annals. As regards the Swedish sources, he has particularly collected and used materials that are now extant in the Annales 266–1430, Annales 916–1430, and Annales 1298–1473, the Chronica Wisbyensis and the Chronicon regni Gothorum by Ericus Olai. Apart from these the Erikskrönikan, too, could have been among his sources.

Medieval reception and transmission

No pre-Reformation version of Annales 826–1415 exists and the text is only known in its entirety through Stephanus Stephanius’s Systema from about 1630–1640. There are, however, frequent quotations from the annals, often with better readings, in Paulus Helie’s other historical works, in the Historia compendiosa and the Chronicon Skibyense. In addition, many extracts, also with better readings than those transmitted by Stephanius, are to be found in Petrus Olai’s AM 107 8° from about the middle of the sixteenth century. As the entries in the latter sometimes have a different verbal form it seems as if Paulus Helie might have composed these annals in different versions. Other extracts exist in Arild Huitfeldt’s Varia historico-Chronologia of 1580–1590 and in AM 907 4° from the early eighteenth century. An Annales 1241–1410, printed by LUDEWIG (1731, 79–90) and LANGEBEK (1783, 528–34) is, as demonstrated by ERSLEV, only a fragment of the extracts found in AM 107 8°, and thus without independent value (ERSLEV 1897–1899, 493 n. 1). For further information about the manuscripts, see PAULSSON (1974, 203–9).

(4) Historia compendiosa regum Danorum

A Short History of the Danish Kings is a Series regum Danorum, i.e. a list of the Danish kings with biographies, from the mythical King Dan I to King Christian II (1513–1523).


The original title is not known, but in a later apograph it is called Compendiosa et succincta regum Daniæ historia in hoc congesta ut studiosi cuiuspiam memoriam adjuvaret (Hamburg,University Library, Cod. hist. 24, p. 1).


Primus Danorum rex Dan est appellatus.


Ceterum quia viuit adhuc toto orbe famosissimus, rebus ipsis de illius tyrannide testimonium perhibentibus, post fata habiturus est in scriptis memoriam tam immanibus flagitijs dignam.


48 pages.


  • LINDENBRUCH, E. 1595: Historia compendiosa ac svccincta serenissimorvm Daniæ regvm ab incerto avctore conscripta, nvnc vero vsqve ad Christianvm IIII dedvcta, primvmqve in lvcem edita, opera & stvdio Erpoldi Lindenbrvch, Lugduni Batavorum, 1–64 [i.e. 1–55].
  • STEPHANIUS, S. 1629: De regno Daniæ et Norwegiæ Insulisque adjacentibus juxta ac de Holsatia, Ducatu Sleswicensi et finitimis provincijs, Tractatus varij, Lugduni Batavorum, 168–214.
  • JØRGENSEN, A.D. 1886: “En upåagtet krønike af Povl Helgesen,” HistTD ser 5, vol. 6, 334–38 (covering the first three kings of the Oldenburg dynasty only).
  • RØRDAM 1887, 433–51 (covering the part of the chronicle from King Valdemar I to King Christian II only).
  • • KRISTENSEN & RÆDER 1937, 3–50.


  • ANDERSEN 1944–1946, 12–19.
  • HANSEN 1943, 23–44.
  • JØRGENSEN 1886 (see Editions), 323–34.
  • KRISTENSEN & ANDERSEN 1948, 148–53.
  • RØRDAM 1887, 425–31.

Date and place

The work is anonymous, but has been attributed to Paulus Helie by A.D. JØRGENSEN (1886, see Editions) because of the resemblance in attitudes to those of the Chronicon Skibyense. Later, E. JØRGENSEN added that there was “a striking similarity in the choice of words and in the construction of sentences” between the two chronicles (JØRGENSEN 1931, 78). This attribution, moreover, can now be confirmed by a fragment of the Chronicle with the author’s name from about 1555, found by the present author in Stockholm (RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 1997). As Paulus Helie was regent of the Carmelite College in Copenhagen and later as provincial prior resided partly in the college, partly in the priory of Elsinore, the Chronicle must have been written in one of those two towns. According to the traditional view, first expressed by A.D. JØRGENSEN, Paulus Helie began writing the Chronicle after reading the edition of Saxo’s Gesta Danorum printed by Christiern Pedersen in Paris 1514. Later, about 1524, he added the biographies of the Oldenburg kings, Christian I (1448–1481), Hans (1481–1513), and Christian II (1513–1523). This part of the Chronicle is, however, dated by ANDERSEN to about 1527, and by HANSEN to 1534. The argument for such a late dating is the phrase nuper defunctus in connection with a reference to King Frederick (d. 1533), two words which A.D. JØRGENSEN had regarded as an addition made by a later reader. As the Chronicle does not mention the dethroning of King Christian II in 1523, it seems reasonable to assume with A.D. JØRGENSEN that it was originally composed about 1520. An analysis of the autograph manuscript of the Chronicon Skibyense, however, shows that Paulus Helie often changed the narrative by rewriting parts of the text. Although there is no attempt to bring the narration up to date, it is thus not unlikely that he himself added words, phrases and sentences at some later date, so the present version could very well be a work from the mid-1530s.

Summary of contents

The Chronicle lists the 102 kings of Denmark from Dan I to Christian II. For the mythical and older kings the author is of course dependent on his sources, but from the 99th king (Eric of Pomerania, 1397–1439) he begins to compose the biographies independently and to express his attitudes more clearly. He presents himself as a vigorous supporter of the Nordic Union and deplores its numerous dissolutions, which he regards as a result of the faithlessness of the magnates and the violence and tyranny of the regents.

Composition and style

Under the heading of the king’s name each of the 102 kings has his own chapter, in chronological order. The length of these chapters varies from a few lines to several pages. The many quotations from the sources, incorporated in the narrative, often interrupt the stylistic and logical coherence of the narration. Nevertheless the style and vocabulary are similar to those of the Chronicon Skibyense.


A.D. JØRGENSEN believed the primary sources to be Saxo’s Gesta Danorum, which is explicitly mentioned six times in the Historia, and the Annales 826–1415. RØRDAM, on the other hand, assumed that the Danish Rhyme Chronicle, printed in 1495, was the primary source with only occasional use of Saxo (RØRDAM 1887, 426). Later HANSEN, who added the Reges Danorum to the sources, returned to the opinion of A.D. JØRGENSEN (HANSEN 1943, 23–27). A renewed analysis of the sources has shown that a large part of the narrative is in fact an adaptation into Latin of the Rhyme Chronicle. This chronicle must thus have been the basic source. Interwoven into the narration are, however, quotations and details that originate from Saxo, the Reges Danorum, the Annales 826–1415 and Ericus Olai. HANSEN’s statement (1943, 27, 44) that the author only had access to a few sources, which he “discreetly copied”, must be rejected (RÜBNER JØRGENSEN, forthcoming).

In the biographies of the three Oldenburg kings there are many passages verbally identical with the ones found in the Chronicon Skibyense. A.D. JØRGENSEN regarded these as drafts for the later Chronicle, whereas ANDERSEN thought that they were originally written for the Chronicon Skibyense and later entered into the Historia (ANDERSEN 1944–1946, 12–13). As a result of Paulus Helie’s tendency to rewrite bigger or smaller parts of his narratives, the exact relationship between the chronicles cannot be determined with any certainty. (The factual correspondence, but not the mere verbal simililarities and identities between the chronicles, is listed by VALKNER 1963, 131 n. 2, see Chronicon Skibyense, Commentaries.)

Purpose and audience

According to A.D. JØRGENSEN, the purpose of composing the Chronicle was to deliver a short survey of the kings in Latin for students and other scholars interested in the history of Denmark. It may be true.

Medieval reception and transmission

No contemporary version of the Chronicle exists, but the text is transmitted in two manuscripts, both from the middle or the second half of the sixteenth century:

  • H: Hamburg, University Library, Cod. hist. 24, pp. 1–54.
  • U: Uppsala, University Library, H 112, f. 30r–45r.

Of these the Uppsala codex has the best readings, but, alas, only transmits three fifths of the Chronicle. Furthermore, a short fragment can be found in a copy-book in Stockholm, written by Göran Gylta about 1555 (Medeltida kopieböcker B 9, f. 249r–v, cf. RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 1997).

(5) Chronicon Skibyense

The Skiby Chronicle is a chronicle of events, primarily in Denmark but also in Sweden and Norway, from 1448 to 1534, where the narrative ends abruptly after dealing with the siege of Varberg.


No original title exists.


Anno ab orbe reconciliato Millesimo quadragesimo sexto electus est in regem Danorum Sueno quidam ...


Dum hec aguntur


97 pages.


  • LANGEBEK, J. 1773: SRD 2, Copenhagen, 554–99.
  • RØRDAM, H.F. 1873: Monumenta historiæ Danicæ. Historiske Kildeskrifter og Bearbejdelser af dansk Historie, især fra det 16. Aarhundrede 1.1, Copenhagen, 11–107.
  • • KRISTENSEN & RÆDER 1937, 53–149.


(Danish) HEISE, A. 1890–1891 (reprint 1967): Skibykrøniken. Lektor Povl Helgesens historiske Optegnelsesbog, Copenhagen, 19–189.


  • ANDERSEN 1944–1946, 1–149, 334–447.
  • BØGGILD-ANDERSEN, C.O. 1956–1959: “Studier over Povl Helgesen. I. Nogle Skibykrønike-problemer,” HistTD ser. 11, vol. 5, 1–101.
  • ENGELSTOFT 1848, 527–44.
  • HANSEN 1943, 45–197.
  • HØRBY, K. 1972: “Skibbykrønikens politiske tendens,” in Festskrift til Povl Bagge på halvfjerdsårsdagen 30. november 1972, Copenhagen, 109–28.
  • JØRGENSEN 1931, 79–81.
  • KRISTENSEN & ANDERSEN 1948, 154–79.
  • PALUDAN-MÜLLER 1858–1859, 1–54.
  • RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 1991–1995, 337–71.
  • VALKNER 1963, 98–105.

Date and place

The last entry of the Chronicon concerns the siege of Varberg in October 1534, but in connection with the assassination of the Lord Steward, Paul Laxmand, in 1502 the author states: “Nec in hodiernum usque diem sequuta est tanti sceleris uindicta (nam hec scripta sunt anno ab orbe redempto 1524” (KRISTENSEN & RÆDER (ed.) 1937, 68: “To this day no punishment of such a great crime has followed (this is written in the year of the world’s salvation 1524)”). Unfortunately it is not clear how much of the Chronicle was composed in that year, and consequently the termini ante and post quem of composition have been disputed among scholars.

The traditional view, established by ENGELSTOFT and PALUDAN-MÜLLER, is that the Chronicle was written at five different periods of the author’s life, i.e. between 1514/1520 and 1534. This theory of periodic composition was repudiated by HANSEN, who assumed that the Chronicle was composed on the basis of a short set of annals, written by Canon Hans Henriksen of Aarhus, during the winter of 1534–1535. (These annals are transmitted in the codex AM 108 8° and printed by RØRDAM 1873, 403–31, see Editions). The date 1524 should then have been transferred directly from the source. ANDERSEN accepted these assumptions with the reservation that the annals must have been composed by Paulus Helie himself. BØGGILD-ANDERSEN who vehemently rejected the opinions of HANSEN and ANDERSEN, returned to the traditional view of the composition and regarded the postulated annals as a later extract from the Chronicle. Lastly, HØRBY stated that the version of the Chronicle known today was a result of two editing phases, one in 1524, the other in 1534 (HØRBY 1988, 102. Earlier, 1972, 119–29, he had assumed that the Chronicle had been written 1534 vel post). In fact, some statements about the Bishop-elect, Joachim Rønnow, may indicate a much later date of composition, i.e. a date after the bishop’s dismissal and incarceration in August 1536. Palaeographic and codicological analyses of the original manuscript indicate a rather late date of composition, showing that the manuscript is a fair copy with emendations and additions made by the author during and after the entry of the narrative in the codex. On the basis of a linguistic analysis it is, moreover, possible to reject the theory of periodic composition as asserted by ENGELSTOFT and PALUDAN-MÜLLER (RÜBNER JØRGENSEN, forthcoming). Of course, some previous drafts must have existed, but the number, extension, character and dating of these are questions which are unanswerable. Still further, a collation of the narrative with the so-called Annals of Hans Henriksen proves beyond doubt that the latter was an apograph, made by some unknown copyist.

As the priory of Elsinore, which was the residence of Paulus Helie, functioned until late autumn, 1537, there is no reason to believe that Paulus Helie lived extra ordinem and composed the Chronicle in Roskilde (so HØRBY 1980, 211; 1988, 102–3. He also thinks that there was a history writing workshop in Roskilde, but no sources exist to support this theory).

Summary of contents

The author begins his Chronicle with a royal genealogy, demonstrating that the Union king, Christian I (1448–1481), and his successors were descended from Sven Estridsen, the father of the old Danish saintly kings, Knud the Holy (1080–1086) and Erik the Good (1095–1103). But, unlike modern genealogists, he does not trace their descent back through Danish kings and North German princes, but through the Swedish Folkunga-family. In this way he demonstrates that King Christian I was descended from the Swedish King Erik the Holy (d ca. 1160) as well as from the Norwegian kings, and was thus a legitimate monarch of all the three Nordic kingdoms.

Then follows a brief survey of the rebellion of the Swedes against King Christian I and annalistic entries covering the years 1472–1522. In connection with the rebellion against King Christian II the author quotes his own Catalogue of Complaints (see above) and continues with annalistic entries dealing with the events that took place during the reign of Frederick I (1523–1533) and the interregnum with the civil war which followed after the king’s death.

Some of the entries are concise in the traditional annalistic manner, but most of them are verbally and rhetorically elaborate. The author expresses his personal attitude to the events, based on a Christian-ethical point of view. He castigates the Swedes for their frequent rebellions, sees King Christian II as a tyrant worse than all previous tyrants and rages against King Frederick I and the Lutherans. He vigorously condemns rebellion and war, which, he insists, are usually caused by the selfishness and lust for power of kings and magnates. The mercenaries used in those wars he regards as the devil’s bloodhounds, who deserve a life in the flames of hell for killing, raping and ruining innocent people.

Composition and style

The Chronicle is composed as a set of annals with the words Anno Domini or similar phrases at the beginning of each entry. Exceptions to this traditional scheme are the introductory genealogy, the survey of the Swedish rebellion against King Christian I, and the catalogue of complaints against King Christian II.

As in the other Latin works of Paulus Helie (Annales 826–1415, Historia compendiosa) the vocabulary and the style are influenced by the humanism of his time, especially by the rules laid down by Cicero, Quintilian, and Erasmus Roterodamus. Therefore, we find words such as arx (castle), templum (a church building as opposed to ecclesia, which is the Church in a spiritual or institutional sense), respublica (state), publica or solennia comitia (diet), tartarus (hell), pontifex rhomanus or summus pontifex (the Pope), proceres (magnates), magister equitum (the Lord Steward), eques auratus (knight), proconsul (burgomaster), belli dux ac princeps (commander in war), miles (soldier), paranymphus (nuptial messenger), pseudepiscopus (a bishop not confirmed by the Pope and thus not consecrated), antesignanus (standard-bearer, i.e. a prominent protagonist of Luther), digamia (bigamy), orthodoxus (Catholic), animicida (murderer of souls), papista (adherent of the Pope), priapista (adherent of Priapus) etc., of which the last two words originate from Martin Luther. Of medieval origin are e.g. words such as ditio (dominion), fura (gallows), globus (cannon-ball), occasio (cause), rebellio (rebellion), pulveres (gun-powder), scortatio (harlot), tunna (barrel), and usurarius (usurer). The frequent use of the word nomen, when a person is mentioned, is partly biblical and fairly common among contemporary humanists (e.g. Sophia nomine, Christiernus rex eius nominis primus).

On the one hand the vocabulary is characterized by a variatio sermonis (e.g. the alternation between beatus, sanctus, divus; the different phrases used to say that a person is dead, etc.), on the other by the many expressions which are repeated again and again. The syntax is normally that found in Classical Latin. Medieval are, however, the use of the gerund (pro firmando pace, de seruanda fide), and the verb restituo with a dative construction, not referring to a person (restitutus gradui pristino). In the sentence quod illos multo crudelius interficeret, quam bestias bestiarum laniatores (“that he murdered them with much greater cruelty than butchers do animals”) the expression bestias bestiarum seems to be a Hebrew genitive, which is not unusual in the Church Fathers. The style is characterized by the frequent use of sentences expressing a hypothesis (etiamsi, nisi, quod si, si, etc.), or of correlatives (adeo .... ut, non solum .... sed etiam / verum etiam). Among other characteristics are the tendency to place the verb before the subject, and to let the sentence end with either the subject (or predicate to the subject) or an ablative construction. This later ending often expresses an emphatic antithesis:

Huius Christierni temporibus defecit Suetie regnum a federe trium regnorum, electo sibi proprio rege, Carolo Chanuti marscalco regni, sed maximo suo malo. (In this Christian’s times the kingdom of Sweden deserted the union of the three kingdoms by choosing Karl Knutsson, the constable of the realm, for its own king, but with the greatest harm for themselves.)

qui mox, coacto grandi exercitu, cepit opidum Halmstadense, non sine graui iactura Suecorum. (who soon, after a huge army had been collected, took the town of Halmstad, but not without great loss to the Swedes.)

Furthermore, the style of Paulus Helie is rhetorical to a degree which is unusual in contemporary Danish literature. All the rhetorical tropes and figures can be found in the Chronicle. One of his favourites seems to be that of tautology (e.g. insania et impudentia, sacra et diuina, instante et urgente, etc.). Like his Italian contemporaries the author does not always feel obliged to follow the medieval rules of the cursus. Nevertheless, the conscious use of hyperbaton (artificial word order), often combined with alliteration and assonance, together with the use of isocolon and parison (see below) produces the rather rhythmic narrative.

Of other rhetorical devices common in the Chronicle, only a few will be mentioned here. Comparison: ut factus ipsa impudentia impudentior et ipsa insania insanior. (that he became more impudent than impudence itself and more insane than insanity itself). An inspiration for this hyperbolic comparison is presumably Erasmus, who recommends a similar mode of expression in his book on rhetoric (ERASMUS 1512/1703, 35D). Chiasmus: et pia deuotione ac deuota pietate (both pious devotion and devout piety).

Paronomasia (play on words): ibidem futurus priapista quia noluit esse papista (Where he will be an adherent of Priapus because he did not want to be an adherent of the Pope). From a formal point of view the style is marked by an extensive use of isocolon (cf. the last mentioned example with four stressed syllables in each colon) and parison, i.e. a member-to-member correspondence inside the colon or the sentence.

(Putabat ... ) epíscopátum non ésse offícium sed státum (5) non ádministrátiónem sed présidéntiam (5) non fúnctiónem áliquam spírituálem dírigéndis anímabus déstinátam (10) sed séculárem quándam dígnitátam cóngregándis pecúniis délegátam (10) (he believed ... the episcopate not to be an office but a state, not an administration but a presidency, not a spiritual function designed to direct souls, but a secular dignity created for the purpose of collecting money).

The isocolon appears in the balance of stressed syllables (5–5–10–10). This is, moreover, strengthened by the repetition of non ... sed and the dual use of final rhyme: episcopatum/statum and destinatam/delegatam. Further, the last two cola end with the cursus velox. The appearance of parison, however, is often just a balance of syllables: pertinaciter – et – contentiose (5–1–5) omnis impietatis – ac – abhominationis (7–1–7) sacrilegam tyrannidem – ac – infamem crudelitatem (8–1–8) These are tautologies, but a similar parison can frequently be found elsewhere in the Chronicle: quod ex profunda ignorantia – multa fecit ignorans et errans (10–10, note also the derivatio: ignorantia – ignorans). Siquidem proximo sermone – adeo laudibus extulit – hoc nephandum sacrilegium (9–9–9)

The last example also illustrates the tendency to place the verb or the central word(s) in the middle of the colon. Other examples are: Eodem anno – venerunt – ex Colonia (5–3–5) in quibus ab uniuerso regni magistratu – erat – consultandum de electione noui regis (14–2–14) electus est – in regem Danorum – Sueno quidam (4–6–4) idem Chanutus – quibusdam e circumstantibus – dixisse fertur (5–9–5)

An example of two cola with identical verb position: posteaquam multis annis – fuerat – eiusdem ecclesie Haffnensis tutor et dispensator (8–3–17 = 28) que sub illius tutela – susceperat – multa et preclara incrementa rebus testantibus (8–4–16 = 28)

That an entire entry can be composed with a balance of periods is illustrated by the narrative about the death of Carmelite friar Martinus Petri in 1515. The narrative consists of the following five periods: (1) His death (5 cola) (2) His administration (5 cola) (3) His abilities (3 cola) (4) His conduct (2 cola) (5) His temper (2 cola)

From a stylistic point of view the composition of the Chronicle thus appears much more elaborate and artificial than scholars have traditionally thought (cf. RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 1991–1995, 355; 2000b).


The sources of the Chronicle can be regarded from a literary-linguistic and a historical point of view. Despite the fact that there are only three quotations and one explicit reference to the Bible and, astonishingly, none to classical writers, an analysis of the language proves that about 140 expressions and phrases are of biblical origin and that about another 300 can be traced back to classical writers. It is, of course, mostly Ciceronian expressions that are used by Paulus Helie (about 120), but there are also many phrases and expressions which originate from Caesar, Suetonius, Tacitus, Sallust, Livy, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Terence, Pliny, Curtius, Quintilian, Seneca, and Valerius Maximus. Ten expressions at least are of Erasmian origin and several others can be traced back to Luther and other contemporary writers. Besides this there are expressions borrowed from the Rituale Romanum and the Confutatio Lutheranismi Danica, from St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and Tertullian, from Gregor of Tours and Saxo Grammaticus.

As regards the historical sources, the reference to Petrus Svavenius is the only explicit reference in the whole Chronicle (Frederici I ad Christierni Patruelis calumnias responsio, 1527). The sources have been investigated by HANSEN (1943), but generally his results have been refuted convincingly by ANDERSEN (1944–1946). In addition to the sources used in his other historical works (see (3) Annales 826–1415 and (4) Historia compendiosa), Paulus Helie seems to have made use of the pamphlets against King Christian II, the Söderköping manifesto by King Gustav, and the lost Register of the University. Materials, now extant in Petrus Olai, AM 107 8°, and in the so-called Cronica expulsionis fratrum minoritarum, must also have been available to him. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to think that in part he based his narrative on material transmitted inside the Carmelite Order, and on information delivered by correspondents. As he himself participated in, or at least was present at several of the occasions mentioned in the Chronicle, personal experience must also be taken into account.

Purpose and audience

According to PALUDAN-MÜLLER the Chronicon Skibyense was written, not for any special group in contemporary Denmark, but for posterity (PALUDAN-MÜLLER 1858–1859, 53). In opposition to this E. JØRGENSEN assumed that the Chronicle “circulated among adherents of the old Church,” who by reading the narrative “could absorb themselves in bitter memories” (JØRGENSEN 1931, 81). Later both HANSEN and HØRBY have argued that the Chronicle was a commissioned work, ordered respectively by the magnate family, Bille (HANSEN 1943), and by some Catholic councillors of the realm (HØRBY 1988, 102–3, cf. 1972, 128). Although these assumptions are not unlikely, the opinion of HØRBY that the Chronicle was an official or semi-official piece of work seems not to be true. To Paulus Helie the purpose of the narrative must, of course, have been to influence his audience, who could only have been some Catholic or crypto-Catholic ecclesiastics with an interest in the most recent and deplorable history of Denmark. Recently it has been suggested that Paulus Helie may have combined two historical genres in the Italian Renaissance: the annales sui temporis and the commentarius, and thus to have created a new kind of historiography in Denmark (RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 2008).

Medieval reception and transmission

The Chronicle is extant in the autograph codex (Copenhagen, AM 858 4°), which after the death or emigration of the author may have been delivered to some clerics at the see of Roskilde. Here the Franciscan friar, Petrus Olai, and perhaps another person, too, copied the manuscript in more or less detail, while suppressing at the same time the too obvious religious and political utterances of the author. (Abbreviated apographs of these lost epitomes are to be found in GKS 2461 4° and AM 108 8°, cf. RÜBNER JØRGENSEN 1991–1995, 338–40).

After the Chronicle was copied, the original codex was hidden by some unknown person in the wall of the parish church of Skiby. It was discovered in 1650.

(6) A Parody of Biblical and Liturgical Texts

This literary parody of biblical and liturgical texts is an attack on the Lutherans.


No title is known.


Inicium noui euangelij Secundum Manicheum.


... per secula seculorum. Amen.


3 pages.


  • KRISTENSEN & RÆDER 1937, 173–75.


  • KRISTENSEN & ANDERSEN 1948, 182–84.

Date and place

No date and place can be given.

Summary of contents

The parody consists of six pieces:

(1) Inicium noui euangelij Secundum Manicheum. A travesty of Matth. 1,1–16 in the form of a Liber generationis Antichristi, that is, a postulated relationship between 35 heretics and schismatics from ancient times to contemporary Denmark in a fictitious genealogy. The ending Per hec diabolica dicta seducat vos Lutherus prothopriapista is an alteration of the words Per hec evangelica dicta deliantur nostra delicta, which are said by the priest after reading the Gospel during the mass.

(2) In principio erat error. A travesty of John 1,1–14.

(3) A hymn Te Lutherum damnamus, te hereticum confitemur. A travesty of the Te Deum.

(4) An Antiphona: O periurum virum. The ending mane nobiscum in eternum is an alteration of John 14,16: ut maneat vobiscum in aeternum.

(5) A Versiculus: Constitue super eum peccatorem Et diabolus stet a dextris eius. A quotation of Ps. 108 (109), 6.

(6) A prayer called Ploremus instead of Oremus. The phrases Deus qui conspicis and Concede propicius vt are not uncommon phrases in the oratio of the mass. The ending per omnia secula seculorum. Amen forms the closing words of the oratio. The parody is a sarcastic piece of literature, which not only shows the author’s bitterness against the Lutherans, but also his delight in playing with words, and thus his wit, in the Renaissance interpretation of that word. One of the pieces is a quotation and three others are travesties, which in structure and composition closely follow the original texts, simply replacing words and phrases with others that have the opposite meaning.

Purpose and audience

It is not known whether the parody had any public audience or not, but only Catholic clerics could, of course, have had any fun in reading such a parody of the familiar biblical and liturgical texts.

Medieval reception and transmission

The parody has survived in the autograph codex of Paulus Helie: Copenhagen, Royal Library, GKS 1551 4°, f. 22r–24e.


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