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Magnus IV (April or May 1316 – 1 December 1374; Swedish Magnus Eriksson) was King of Sweden from 1319 to 1364, King of Norway as Magnus VII (including Iceland and Greenland) from 1319 to 1355, and ruler of Scania from 1332 to 1360. By adversaries he has been called Magnus Smek (English: Magnus the Caresser). Magnus's young favourite courtier was Bengt Algotsson, whom he elevated to Duke of Finland and Halland, as well as Viceroy of the province of Scania. Because homosexuality was a mortal sin and vehemently scorned at that time, rumours about the king's alleged love relationship with Algotsson, and other erotic escapades, were spread by his enemies, particularly by some noblemen who referred to mystical visions of St. Bridget. Bridget and these allegations caused Magnus in posterity to be given the epithet of Magnus smek (Magnus Caress) and caused him a lot of harm, but there is no factual basis for them in historical sources. Another angle is that the epithet Caress had nothing to do with the allegations of homosexuality but was given because of his alleged foolishness and naivety, as smek at the time was an insult inferring such weakness.
Magnus was married to Countess Blanche of Namur in 1335, crowned in Stockholm in July 1336, excommunicated by Pope Innocent VI in 1358, and held a prisoner in Stockholm castle from 1365 to 1371. One of the most remarkable Swedish rulers, Magnus abolished thraldom in 1335, established national legislation, organised communications and bought the province of Scania from Denmark in 1343 for 49,000 silver marks. Birgitta Birgersdotter (St Bridget) first supported Magnus, but later turned against him. The enormous Scanian ransom forced Magnus to borrow from the church and nobility, increase taxes and confiscate noblemen's land. Magnus’ debt to the Holy See provoked his excommunication in 1358.
Leading families were vexed by the advancement of Magnus’ favourite, Bengt Algotsson, whom he made Duke of Finland and Halland and Stateholder of Scania. Duke Bengt was fiercely hated by the nobility and was slain in Scania in 1360. In a revelation written by Bridget in Rome in 1361, the Virgin Mary expresses her disappointment with Magnus's rule and exhorts Swedish noblemen to tell him: ‘You have the foulest reputation that a Christian man can have, that you have had intercourse [naturabland] with men. We think it may be true, because you love men more than God or your own soul or your own wife.’ Furthermore, Mary accuses Magnus of defying his excommunication by going to mass, ‘robbing land and goods’, and betraying the faithful Scanians. These accusations were repeated and spread by St Bridget's allies after Magnus's imprisonment in 1365. He remained a prisoner until peace was settled with his successor in 1371. Magnus spent his remaining years with his son Haakon, king of Norway, until he drowned in a storm off the Norwegian coast.
Magnus's posthumous reputation was sombre. In Libellus de Magno Erici rege (fourteenth century), Bridget's accusations were repeated, and they were further elaborated in a rhyme chronicle, Förbindel- sedikten (fifteenth century). Johannes Magnus, the last Catholic archbishop of Sweden, thought Magnus worse than Caligula, Domitianus and Nero. After the Reformation, however, some positive judgements were passed. A king with such disastrous relations to the Vatican, it was said, could not be all bad. The tendency in contemporary history is to interpret Bridget's accusations as the stereotypical canon of evil characteristics that would be associated with a rex iniquus, and to emphasise Magnus's ability as a ruler. Duke Bengt's birthright has also been a bone of contention. If he were of humble origins, his advancement would be the more exceptional. Magnus's ancient nickname, Magnus Smek (literally, Magnus Caress), is explained in two ways. Those who wish to emphasise his possible perversion explain it as connected with his sexual practices, while those who want to downplay this possibility link it to his failure as a warlord.
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