Petrus Olai

From medieval
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by Jørgen Nybo Rasmussen

Petrus Olai (Peder Olsen), ca. 1490–ca. 1570, was a Danish Franciscan Friar, whose historical works in many respects build a bridge between medieval and modern historiography.


Most of the dates of his life must be concluded from his manuscripts. The personal inscription on the inside of the cover of his “Collectanea ad historiam danicam pertinentia” reveals his identity: “Petro Olavo Saneropio Minoritano”. Sonnerup is a parish between Holbæk and Roskilde. As a young man he must have entered the Franciscan friary in Roskilde, where he seems to have stayed during the greater part of his life, even after the dissolution of the convent by the Reformation. Lyschander ca. 1620 called him “Petrus Olai ….Roschildensis” and mentions that in his older days his subsistence in Roskilde was guaranteed by the nobleman and naval hero Herluf Trolle. The inscription of the later historiographer Anders Sørensen Vedel on Coll. fol. 171v testifies to the destiny of the manuscript: “Dom. Petrus Olai, previously of the Franciscan Order, has with great diligence composed this book from various sources, and by his death handed it over to me as a memory”. This must have happened about ca. 1570. His “Danorum Gesta post Chronica Saxonis facta” must have been written in his later years, but can only be identified as his work through analysis of style and content.

Inside this framework further details of his life can be concluded from a codicological analysis of Collectanea, above all from his treatise on the history of the Franciscan Order in sheet 10 (= Coll. fols. 103–126) (RASMUSSEN 1976). Ca. 1515 the young friar Peder Olsen seems to have begun his Collectanea as a notebook for copies and extracts of older sources about Danish history. From ca. 1522 his historiographic interests and abilities were taken into service by his order, as his superiors entrusted him to write a chronicle about the progress and victory of the Observantine reform-movement among the Danish Franciscans from 1468–1522, supplementing it with a list of the provincial ministers of the province of “Dacia” etc. Throughout the following years of growing crisis for the Catholic Church and also for the Franciscan Order, Friar Peder augmented his work with contributions about Franciscan bishops, lists of chapters of the province of “Dacia” and ca. 1533 with an important section about the foundation of all Franciscan convents in “Dacia”, including Denmark, Norway and Sweden. With the legal dissolution of the mendicant orders in Denmark in 1537 further work on this subject became meaningless and stopped. His work on Danish history was however continued until ca. 1560, and bore fruit in his second work: Danorum Gesta. The authorship of the Danish excerpt of Danorum Gesta, “Roskilde-årbogen”, is unknown.

Collectanea ad historiam danicam pertinentia

(Collections concerning Danish history), AM 107 8° (172 folia). These manuscripts have never been edited as a whole. Collectanea is, as mentioned, a notebook with a very complicated codicological and textual structure (JØRGENSEN 1920, RASMUSSEN 1976). The little volume of historical notes, copies and excerpts has when needed successively been supplemented with extra pages or loose slips. The texts often consist of an original layer supplemented with additions between the lines and in the margins, and are in some cases not in Peder Olsen's own hand. This character of Collectanea as an aid or a tool for further studies has made the work of the editors extremely difficult, and their editions are not always satisfactory. From Collectanea LANGEBEK and the other editors of SRD selected and edited different fragments and in most cases invented their titles. This work was continued in the twentieth century by the editors of medieval annals, JØRGENSEN and KROMAN. Petrus Olai's contributions to the history of the Franciscan Order were edited a second time by GERTZ in SMD.

In the following the partial editions of Collectanea are first mentioned in their chronological order with a rough indication of their place in the manuscript. But this is only meant as a survey; detailed problems cannot be discussed here.

Danorum Gesta post Chronica Saxonis facta

(History of the Danes after Saxo's Chronicle), Uppsala, University Library, DG 37 fol. (86 folia) or Paraleipomena chronicorum (Excerpts of the Chronicles), Copenhagen, Royal Library, GKS 2461 4° (92 folia). The Danorum Gesta is on the other hand a well composed and coherent text, treating Danish history from 1191–1559. But it has been left forgotten and almost unedited for the doubtful reason that it mainly consists of materials already known from other sources! A little fragment of Danorum Gesta and the whole of its Danish popularization, “Roskilde-årbogen”, was edited in the nineteenth century by RØRDAM.


  • LANGEBEK, J. 1772: SRD 1:

“Series et brevior historia regum Danie,” 64–68 = Coll. fol. 38. (Cf. GERTZ (ed.) 1918), “Chronica regum danorum, a Dano ad obitum Johannis regis,” 68–148 = Coll. fol. 1–39 and 68–91 (with many omissions and without the marginal notes). “Annales rerum danicarum a Cimbrorum exitu ad An. Chr. 1541,” 171–97 = Coll. 9–39 and 68–91, (insertions and marginal notes). “Anonymi Roskildensis Chronica Danicum ab An. 826–1157,” 373–87 = Coll. fol. 145–159 (copy by Petrus Olai), (Cf. GERTZ 1918: “Chronica Roskildense”)

  • LANGEBEK, J. 1773: SRD 2:

“Excerpta Normannica et Danica ab An. 841 ad 1050,” 10–17 = Coll. fol. 33–34 and 36 (partially). “Excerpta ex historicis Danorum, a Suenone Tiugskæg ad Ericum Menved”, 203–65 = Coll. fol. 40–66.

  • LANGEBEK, J. 1774: SRD 3:

“Historia Martyrizationis S. Kanuti regis,” 322–25 = Coll. fol. 8–9 (cf. commentaries by GERTZ 1908–1912: Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, 51–53.)

  • LANGEBEK, J. 1783: SRD 5:

“Historia de inchoatione et propagatione ordinis fratrum minorum in Dania et regionibus septentrionalibus,” 511–28 = Coll. fol. 106–121 (cf. GERTZ 1922: “De ordine fratrum minorum”). “Historia mirabilium in Ecclesia B. Petri Slesvici factorum,” 581–82 = Coll. fol. 75.

  • LANGEBEK, J. 1786: SRD 6:

“Archiepiscopi Hamburgenses,” 608–10 = Coll. fol. 94–96. “Frustrum chronici Episcoporum Lundensium,” 638–39 = Coll. fol.81?

  • LANGEBEK, J. 1792: SRD 7:

“Episcopi Roschildenses,” 152–55 = Coll. fol. 102.

  • LANGEBEK, J. 1834: SRD 8:

“Duodecim excellentiæ regni Daciæ”, 493–502 = Coll. fol. 133–139.

  • RØRDAM, H.F. 1873: “Roskildeårbogen fra 1448–1549,” Monumenta historiæ Danicæ 1. ser. 1, 297–381 (the abridged Danish excerpt of ”Danorum Gesta” from the 16th century).
  • RØRDAM, H.F. 1887: “Danorum Gesta post chronica Saxonis facta (1191–1559),” Monumenta historiæ Danicæ 2. ser. 2, 1–33 (only fragments treating the periods 1241–1275 and 1552–1559).
  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1908–1912: “De S. Erico rege Danorum,” Vitæ Sanctorum Danorum, 423–24 = Coll. 72. Ibd. 434–35 = Coll. 64–65.
  • GERTZ. M.CL. 1918: SMD 1:

“Chronica Roschildense,” 14–33 (among other copies also Petrus Olai's) = Coll. fol. 145–159. ”Series et brevior historia regum Danie,” 161–66 = Coll. fol. 38.

  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1922: SMD 2:

”De ordine fratrum minorum,” 279–324 = Coll. fol. 103–121.

  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1920: Annales Danici medii aevi

“Franciskanermunken Peder Olsens Collectanea”, 203–11 (selected texts from Coll. which seem to originate from lost medieval works). “Annales Dano-Svecani 826–1415”, 130–31.= Coll. fol 39c, 50, 61bis, 62, 64 and 66–67 (This text was known and partially copied by Petrus Olai) (cf. new editions by KROMAN and PAULSSON.)

  • CAVALLIN, S 1957: “Provinciale Ordinis fratrum minorum,” in Bland latinska inskrifter i Ystads klosterkyrka (Skrifter utgivna av Ystads fornminnesförening 7), Ystad, 58–59 = Coll. fol. 112.
  • TOLDBERG, H. 1961: “Introduction to the Danish Rhyme-Chronicle (Fortalen til den danske rimkrønike),” in Den danske rimkrønike, 4–6 = Coll. 97–98.
  • PAULSSON, G: 1974: Annales Suecici medii aevi, 374 ff., Lund.
  • RASMUSSEN, J. NYBO 1976: “Broder Peder Olsen,” Memorial-tablet of the Greyfriars Church in Odense (Odense-tavlen), 159 = Coll. 109r (Petrus Olai's text edited and compared with Lorez Widow's text from 1623).
  • KROMAN, E: 1979: Danmarks middelalderlige annaler, 300–6.

The two manuscripts of Danorum Gesta contain the same text with the exception that Uppsala, University Library, DG 37 fol. begins with the year 1191, but Copenhagen, Royal Library, GKS 1461 4° with 1319. None of them exists in Petrus Olai’s own hand; they are contemporary anonymous copies. Though the greater part of the text consists of copies from texts in Collectanea, there are also other insertions, as from the Skiby-chronicle. Danorum Gesta in fact represents the friar’s own systematic synthesis of his diligent collecting activities during his youth. The work must justly be evaluated as the first essential essay to create the “Continuation of Saxo”, which was later realized by A. Hvidtfeldt. It therefore deserves a better historiographic appreciation than the existing, almost contemptuous, silence.

The influence of the two works was very different. Already in the lifetime of Petrus Olai Collectanea was used by contemporary historians. It has been convincingly argued that the Carmelite friar and Catholic apologetic, Paulus Helie, also used it as a source for his “Skiby-chronicle” (BØGGILD-ANDERSEN 1956). The first historian after the Reformation, Hans Svaning, reaped so much advantage from the works of Petrus Olai that they have been called the main source for his description of the kings Hans and Christian II (JØRGENSEN 1931). After having acquired Collectanea at the death-bed of Friar Petrus and also as the owner of the manuscript Paraleipomena Chronicorum, Anders Sørensen Vedel used them both for his historiography. Some information in Cornelius Hamsfort must also derive from the history of the Danish Franciscans in Collectanea. But about 1600 the manuscript disappeared, until in 1726 it was acquired by Arne Magnusson, and LANGEBEK in 1772 began the editions in SRD.

The Danorum Gesta had a wider influence in earlier times and there exist besides the two here mentioned manuscripts in several other copies. Its greatest influence was owed to the fact that its later part – concerning the period 1448–1559 – was translated into Danish in an abridged version as the “Roskilde-annual” (Roskilde-årbogen). According to its editor (RØRDAM 1873) Roskilde-årbogen was copied so often in the sixteenth century, that – despite the fact that it was not printed – besides Rimkrøniken it seems to have been the most widespread account of the later Danish history of this century and remained so until the edition of the “Danske Krønike” by Arild Hvidtfeldt in 1600.


An exhaustive biography of Petrus Olai has hitherto not been written. Dispersed contributions to his bio-bibliography can be found in the introductions and commentaries to many of the already-mentioned editions, above all by LANGEBEK in SRD, and by RØRDAM, JØRGENSEN and GERTZ.

  • ANDERSSON, I. 1967: KLNM 12, col. 265–66.

–– 1894: Katalog over den arnamagnæanske håndskriftsamling, vol. 2, 395 (a description of Collectanea).

  • BØGGILD-ANDERSEN, C.O. 1956: “Studier over Poul Helgesen. Nogle Skibykrønike-problemer,” HistTD ser. 11, vol 5, 1–109 (treats Petrus Olai’s contribution to Danish history).
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1931: Historieforskning og historieskrivning i Danmark indtil år 1800, 82–85 (treats Petrus Olai's contribution to Danish history).
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1939: DBL 17 (2nd ed.), 447.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1975: DBL 8 (3rd ed.), 45.
  • LINDBÆK, J. 1914: “De danske franciskanerklostre,” 1914, 258–60 (treats briefly Petrus Olai's Franciscan historiography).
  • RASMUSSEN, J. NYBO 1976: Broder Peder Olsen som de danske franciskaneres historieskriver (Skrifter udgivet af det Historiske Institut ved Københavns Universitet 6), (has made an analysis of Petrus Olai's treatment of the Franciscan Order).
  • RØRDAM, H.F. 1899: DBL 8 (1st ed.), 437–38.