Lord Olav Engelbrektsson (c. 1480–1538) was Archbishop of Norway (until 1537), Regent of Norway (1533–1537), and a member of the Norwegian nobility. Going into exile in 1537, Olav was the last Catholic Archbishop of Norway.
Olav Engelbrektsson was born ca. 1480 to Engelbrekt Gunnarsson and Jorunn in Trondenes in Northern Norway. Engelbrekt had been a wealthy farmer and a leading person in the farmer community in Romerike in Eastern Norway. Due to conflicts with a Danish regional bailiff named Lasse Skjold, whom Engelbrekt subsequently killed, Engelbrekt and his wife went to Trondenes, where his son Aslak Engelbrektsson lived.
It has been claimed that Olav and his family belonged to the lower nobility, allegedly having been ennobled my Christian I of Norway somewhen before 1480. In 1961 cand.philol. Trygve Lysaker claimed that no documentation supports such claims. Nevertheless the family had a coat of arms (on a blue shield a red rose surrounded by three lilies).
Five of Olav's relatives belonged to the clergy, among others his paternal uncles Sakse Gunnarsson and Gunnar Gunnarson. Gunnar was a canon in Oslo, a profession that even some of his sons chose. It is known that Olav and four of these relatives studied at foreign universities. Sakse was the one who gave Olav clerical education.
Education and clerical profession
In the time when Olav lived Norway had no university. Alike other men of wealthy noble families Olav was educated abroad. In 1503 he entered the University of Rostock in Germany. Back in Norway he was a canon in Oslo, and in a document of 10 May 1515 he was a canon in Nidaros (Trondheim). On 17 December the same year, with a papal provision from Leo X, he was appointed as a deacon.
The Archbishop served as leader of Norway during this interregnum period, serving as a defender of the Catholic faith as the Reformation swept through northern Europe. His cousin Kristoffer Trondson defended Norway, until 1536. As Archbishop, Olav built Steinvikholm Castle outside Trondheim.
During his tenure Olav tried and failed to break away from the union that bound Norway to Denmark. The failure of this effort, in 1536, and the resultant subsumption of Norway under the Danish crown, marked both the end of Catholicism, as well an end to Norwegian sovereignty. In 1537, Olav went into exile from Norway, leaving behind St. Olav's shrine and other valuables.
The Council of the Realm elected the Danish Frederik I as King of Norway, yet, Engelbrektsson greatly disliked and distrusted the Danish king and worked assiduously to prevent Frederick's coronation as King of Norway, managing to delay it three times. Olav preferred that the former Danish King Christian II, nephew of the current Danish King Fredrick, should return as King of Norway.
In March 1532, Engelbrektsson was recorded as paying 21 kg of silver, in minter form, to mercenaries hired by Christian II during his unsuccessful struggle against Fredrik I for the throne of Denmark-Norway. Following Christian's defeat, Archbishop Engelbrektsson was fined heavily for this support to the amount of 15,000 Danish marks, the equivalent of about 134 kg of silver, to be paid in three installments.
The 1533 accession of a new Danish king, Christian III escalated the political situation; here was a king who not only continued the claim over Norway, but who actively promoted the Protestant Reformation there. Being in that Engelbrektsson was the representative of the Vatican in Norway, this of course was not a welcome gesture. As a response, he attempted to formalize Norwegian sovereignty and independence vis-a-vis a meeting of the Norwegian Privy Council at Bud.
Tensions rose in 1536, when the Danish Privy Council declared Norway annexed. A Danish earl Vincens Lunge was sent to Norway to enforce this new mandate on behalf of the Danish Crown; the response was not friendly; Lunge was murdered by followers of Olav. The actual murder of the earl was said to have taken place at the hands of Engelbrektsson's cousin, Admiral Kristoffer Trondson., Norway's functioning military commander who had been active in battle against Danish ships, funded by capital raised principally from the Netherlands.
In 1536, Olav fled Steinvikholm Castle to Nidarholm Abbey. In 1537, he took exile from Norway, coming to Lierre, in Brabant (Belgium), where he died in 1538. He is buried under the high altar of the Church of Saint Gommaire, Lierre.
A Midnight Opera
The drama of the Olav Engelbrektsson saga, including the violent murder of Niels Lykke, is reenacted in a modern evening-opera, in Trondheim. The murder of Nils Lykke is reenacted in a song. The opera was created in 1993 and remains ongoing as from 2009; it is held biannually held on the premises of Steinvikholm Castle during the summer months and at night. It is held only every-other-year such as to protect the premises of the historic castle grounds. The opera was originally funded with grants from the Norwegian Ministry of Culture.
- Also spelled: Olaf, Olavus; Engelbertsen.
- Lysaker, Trygve: Erkebiskop Olav Engelbrektssons bakgrunn, pp. 1–10 in Det Kgl. Norske Videnskabers Selskabs Skrifter, nr. 3, ao. 1961.
- Thomas Kingston Derry, The History of Scandinavia (2000), p. 92.
- Hoem, Edvard (2006) Come Forward Prince!, Aschehoug Agency Publishers] -
- McLees, Christopher, The late medieval mint workshops at the Archbishop's Palace, Trondheim, Antiquity , June, 1994