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Nikulás of Jönköping (The Kalmar Union)

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Nikulás of Jönköping
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Nikulás of Jönköping (The Kalmar Union)
Portrait of Nikulás of Jönköping

Bishop of Vinland
October, 1351 - 30th May, 1380

Born: August, 1302
Jönköping, Gothenland
Died: 30th May, 1380
Stadísumarljós, Álengiamark
Profession: Bishop

Bishop Nikulás of Jönköping is a deeply divisive figure in the history of Vinland and Álengiamark. Usually seen as corrupt he is also praised in some circles for holding Leifian Christianity together after the horrors of the Black Death and the Great Unami Revolt.

Early Career

Studying at Cologne Nikulás had worked as a canon before becoming a favoured chancellor for Karl V. Falling out of favour after the succession of Premyslas in 1339 he briefly served as Bishop of Hamar until irregularities were found in his private life. When the Bishopric of Vinland became free in 1350 he was promoted by Denmark eager to show its power in the North and to outmaneuver Viken (which was angling for an archbishopric of its own).

Bishop of Vinland

Founded in 1082 the diocese of Vinland had slowly spread to cover a wide area of Northeast Leifia. All the Christian tribes of Leifia fell under its sway so it effectively directed the clerical affairs of Vinland, Álengiamark, Abernakriga, Passamaquoddia, Erie and Algonquinland. It was however a suffragan bishop, of either Nidaros (the Pope considered Leifia in the same bracket as Greenland and Iceland) or Lund (longstanding Danish influence over the affairs of the North Atlantic colonies tended to mean the Archbishops of Lund got to influence the new appointments). The papacy had so far not seen the need to give it primacy or provide more bishops, and the desultory and infrequent tributes of 'Peter's Pence' only reinforced the rather haughty but deeply entrenched idea that Leifia was a small, poor and sparsely populated place and one bishop was more than enough. Papal legates rarely visited whilst the endless but mostly fruitless attempts to convert the mass of population to Christianity demoralised the church hierachy. Though a fine cathedral had been built in Fjallasay the bishops tended to stay in the old centres of Isafjordhur and Eikland to be closer to the wealthy Álengsk provinces.

As central authority in Álengiamark crumbled the lands of the various wealthy and well-endowed Álengsk abbeys became virtually independent. The closest the country had to its own bishop-figure was the Abbot of St. Hafdiss and his attempts to bend the other abbeys to his will were not well received. This had allowed the Bishops of Vinland to intervene and promote their own power. The level of bribes and embezzlement that flowed northwards to secure the succession of abbots appalled many but kept the abbeys out of St. Hafdiss' grasp. Several bishops could even afford to field their own private army in Álengiamark to further their aims.

In all of the Leifian territories there was a severe lack of priests. The entire class had been close to wiped out during the Black Death and its re-occurrences. The first wave killed perhaps 10% of Vinlanders while the clergy was hit by around 80%. While the southern kingdoms seemed to cope well with this and began refilling vacancies in Vinland itself there was no slack and it fed into a general disaffection, exacerbated by endless taxation and tribal raiding. While churches were certainly plentiful in the rural areas their were simply no priests to fill them. And while priests remained scarce the bishop's bailiffs were certainly well-represented and eager to extract the church's rents from often desperately poor farmers. Many churches simply stood empty, with pagan gods being worshiped in consecrated buildings or, potentially more disturbing to authorities; lay preachers attempting to interpret the scripture themselves.

The Vinlanders had over the centuries generally come the conclusion that while Christianity was fine as code for life what real bearing could a god from the distant Middle-East have on the farms, forests and waters of Leifia? Therefore the not particularly secret veneration of the old Norse gods continued, usually at home but sometimes creeping into the public sphere. References to St. Balder and St. Freyr appear in more than one scripture from the 13th century. Meanwhile the more devout Icelanders and Greenlanders who had been emigrating from their overcrowded homes were appalled by the lax attitude to religion. Even in the great stave cathedral in Fjallasay while the altar sat below a magnificent crucifix and rood screen carved by Italian craftsmen, the side walls brimmed with offerings to Odin, Thor, Hel (especially after the Black Death ravaged through) and even Leifian and grotesque Mexic gods. A 'cult of death' certainly seems to have overtaken society, much as it did in Europe following the outbreak of Great Pox. While many tried to explain away the pagan gods' roles as merely offering to ease passage into heaven and reduce the time spent in purgatory - effectively providing the same service as christian chapels would do for the more wealthy, the very fact they were involved at all was of much concern.

On his arrival in 1351 Nikulás appeared uninterested in changing any of his predecessors' practices. If anything, he simply added a new level of vice to the already corrupt role. While outwardly decrying the Black Death behind the scenes he took at least two mistresses and would father six acknowledged children during his incumbency. Geirfrithur appears not to have expected anything else from her bishop and allowed him to share the spotlight in 1353 when Greenland and its bishopric were subordinated to Vinland. Her daughter Snaedis would be a different matter however.

Relationship with Snaedis II

Even as a princess Snaedis had taken great interest in the affairs of state. Her aunt, Kristjana IV's marriage to Otto of Denmark had brought several Danish bureaucrats to Vinland and Snaedis and her brothers were tutored by them. She was influenced enough to realise, amongst other things, that the church should not be allowed to run its own affairs unimpeded. It therefore fell to Snaedis, once her coronation was out of the way, to try to subordinate Nikulás and the church to the Althing's will. She was soon presented with an opportunity.

The level of donations from Vinlanders to the church leapt in the wake of the Black Death and faced with continued loss of tax income Snaedis banned donation of land, or at least forced each donation to be ratified by the Althing, knowing perfectly well that the Althing could delay decisions for years if they needed to. Meanwhile she sent complaints to Lund, Nidaros and Rome asking for more priests. However the trickle of immigrants had dried up and no priests were forthcoming whilst the papacy itself was in turmoil so was of little help. A slow rebuilding of the clergy occurred in the 1360s but still many parishes were only covered haphazardly, and many of those entering the church preferred the sheltered airs of monasteries or chapels rather than the isolated communities of rural Vinland.

Nikulás campaigned without much success against the law and retreated ever more to Álengiamark where central authority was breaking down ever further and he could get his way more often. Eventually he eased off the collection of taxes in Vinland, especially after the Peasant's Revolt of 1367, which killed several prominent clergy in the Hafsvaedaland and threatened his own revenue streams anyway. To answer his critics and prise open the coffers of the Althings both in Vinland and Álengiamark he plouwed funds into the building of chapels specifically dedicated to pray for the safe deliverance of souls into heaven. Snaedis in turn gave the nod to allow donations to restart, dampening considerable anger amongst the nobility. While the nobility certainly did want their souls prayed for it diverted even more clergy away from the rural parishes and only entrenched pagan rites amongst the peasantry.

A further dispute over liturgical issues in 1372 brought the two together for the first time since the coronation and Nikulás hung the threat of excommunication over the queen in a tense stand-off at the Althing. Refusing to pledge his fealty, either temporal or spiritual, Snaedis seized his property in Eikland and promoted a rival, Jórundr, to bishop in his place. The fourteen months of two bishops led to considerable confusion in the Leifian church with both Snaedis and Elin III backing Jórundr whilst the clergy were mostly in Nikulás' pocket. Both Snaedis and Elin taxed the church twice during this period significantly increasing her income but further incurring the wrath of Nikulás' agents. His private army fought the Álengsk royal army on two occasions during the general chaos of 1373. Eventually the queens backed down after Jórundr died and a strongly worded letter from Rome re-iterating the promise of excommunication arrived.

By the late 1370s the colleges at Hvilirábey and Fjallasay were finally producing enough numbers of priests to service the rural communities. Official catholic mass was heard once more out in the villages of Markland and Hafsvaedaland. Whilst Nikulás no doubt felt deep down that the strengthening of Christianity was right, he no doubt warmed to the fact tax incomes increased in the areas a fixed priest was installed. A brief tour of his entire diocese in 1378-9 ended in another disagreement with Snaedis over taxation and a stand-off in the Breiduras between ships belonging to threatened another excommunication.

In 1380 after a particularly blatant display of corrupt dealings the Álengsk finally had enough of old bishop's greed. He was kidnapped on his way from St. Hafdiss to the manor at Stadísumarljós and was drowned in a sack in the Úlfuras. Publicly this was blamed on bandits but several subsequent medieval histories put the blame squarely on Abbot Jón, and the advisors of Snaedis II and Elin III.

Legacy

Hvilirábey College (The Kalmar Union)

The grand college building at Hvilirábey, now part of the University of Hvilirábey

Both Snaedis and Elin restarted their entreaties to Rome (or rather Pisa, after a papal schism produced three competing popes). Without waiting for an answer Snaedis simply promoted her personal confessor, Vilhjálmur of Rakvélvik, to bishop. Even after Lund sent a replacement, Snaedis rejected their authority arguing that European clergy were all corrupt and only looked to Leifian institutions to line their pockets. Emperor Olaf's pope, John XXIII would accede to their demands sent a papal legate to reorganise the Leifian diocese.

At the First Congress of Fjallasay in 1388 to settle the end of the Great Unami Revolt, Snaedis's patience was rewarded. No longer a suffragan diocese of Lund, Fjallasay became the seat of a new Archbishopric and Vilhjalmur was elevated to Archbishop. Under him filed a new set of bishops, two each for Vinland and Álengiamark and one each for the other Christian nations.

Snaedis's daughter Kristjana V would soon be embroiled in a whole new conflict with the church but that was yet to come.

The chapels built by Nikulás would largely remain in place and, surviving the advent of Lutheranism, their colleges became the cores of Vinland's private schools and universities.

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