Diarium Vadstenense

From Medieval

by Claes Gejrot

Diarium Vadstenense is the memorial book of Vadstena Abbey (Sweden). Vadstena was founded as the first Birgittine monastery in the second half of the fourteenth century, and dissolved by the end of the sixteenth century. Eighty-five sisters and brothers lived their separate lives inside the monastery walls. The Vadstena brothers kept the memorial book in their part of the monastery and used it for annotations of varying length and content. In the Diarium descriptions of ordinary monastic life alternate with reports of memorable occasions in the history of the monastery and glimpses of events in the outside world. For a limited period (the mid-fifteenth century) the latter kind of external material takes up a considerable part of the text.


There is no internal evidence of the title of the work, but a Latin name referring to our book – Liber memorialis – is to be found in another Vadstena manuscript, written between 1418 and 1442 (Uppsala, University Library, C 75, fol. 233v). A preserved letter from Peder Månsson (>Petrus Magni) to the abbey (dated Rome, 6 December 1512, now in Stockholm, the National Archives, printed in GEETE 1900–1916, 315) reveals a corresponding Medieval Swedish title, “Tænkiebok”. The title Diarium Vadstenense was first invented for the editio princeps (BENZELIUS 1721), and it has been in use since then.

  • Uppsala, University Library, C 92: fol. 9v: Anno Domini m°ccc°xxiii...
  • Uppsala, University Library, C 89: pag. 1: mcccxliiii. xii die mensis Februarii obiit nobilis miles dominus Ulpho Gudmarson, quondam maritus beate Birghitte, quam Christus in suam sponsam assumpsit post mortem viri sui...
  • Uppsala, University Library, C 92: fol. 10v: mcccxliii.
  • Uppsala, University Library, C 89: pag. 232: Deinde, 1545, desumserunt nobis civitatenses allan klosterswal a parte australi, ut aparet.


Ca. 250 standard pages.


  • BENZELIUS, E. 1721: Diarium Vazstenense ab ipsis initiis monasterii ad ejusdem destructionem, ..., Uppsala.
  • FANT, E.M. et. al. 1818: SRS I, Uppsala, 99–223.
  • NYGREN, E. 1963: facs. ed. in CCS 16, Copenhagen.
  • GEJROT, C. 1988: Diarium Vadstenense. The Memorial Book of Vadstena Abbey. A Critical Edition with an Introduction (Acta universitatis Stockholmiensis, Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 33), Stockholm (The Latin text reprinted in GEJROT 1996, see Translations).


  • (Swedish) LUNDBERG, A.W. 1918: Vadstena klosters minnesbok (“Diarium Vazstenense”), Stockholm.
  • (Swedish) GEJROT, C. 1996: Vadstenadiariet. Latinsk text med översättning och kommentar (Kungl. Samfundet för utgivande av handskrifter rörande Skandinaviens historia. Handlingar 19), Stockholm.


  • GEJROT 1996 (see Translations).

Date and Place

We have no explicit information as to when the Diarium Vadstenense began to be written down, but it must have been some time shortly after the taking of vows in Vadstena in 1392 of >Thorirus Andreae (Tore Andersson, d. 1418), who has been identified as the first “editor” and most probably the initiator of the book. Brother Thorirus was responsible for the book until 1414 (entry no. 235), when he acted as the Abbey’s representative at the Council of Constance. During previous absences Thorirus had been replaced by the Abbey Librarian, Andreas Lydekini (Anders Lydekesson, d. 1410). Thorirus was succeeded by the Sacrists Andreas Jacobi (Anders Jakobsson, d. 1438) and, after him, >Johannes Benechini (Johan Benekesson, d. 1461); they wrote a large part of the book, covering almost five decades (nos. 236–714). After Johannes Benechini’s time follows a homogeneous part (nos. 715–799) dealing with the political crises of the 1460s (see Summary of contents); most of this section was taken down at one and the same time, probably by Johannes Johannis (Johan Johansson, d. 1482), at the time leader of the brothers – confessor general. Brother >Clemens Petri (Klemens Petersson, later confessor general, d. 1500) was responsible for the annotations of the next section (entries nos. 800–886), completed soon after the year 1489. In the subsequent period, nos. 887–988, we find contributions made by several brothers, among them >Nicolaus Ragvaldi (Nils Ragvaldsson, later confessor general, d. 1513) and >Petrus Magni (Peder Månsson, d. 1534); this part of the Diarium was finished by 1507. The next series of entries, nos. 989–1063, was written down between the years 1507 and 1520 by Nicolaus Amundi (Nils Amundsson, later confessor general, d. after 1541). The final row of annotations, nos. 1064–1197, is the work of two unidentified brothers, the last entry being hastily jotted down in 1545. During all this time the book probably never left the care of the Vadstena brothers, and it seems that the annotations — with some exceptions — were taken down at regular intervals of one or two years.

Summary of contents; Composition and style

After an initial series of entries focusing mainly on important moments in >Sancta Birgitta’s life, the varied contents of Diarium Vadstenense to some extent reflect the interests of the many different writers who took part in the long, continuous recording of events. There was, quite naturally, a basic need to report and describe abbey matters, expected or unexpected as they were, e.g. the introduction of a new member, the death of one of the sisters, brothers or benefactors, the election of an abbess or a confessor general, the construction of monastic buildings, the outbreak of fire or disease, the visits made by the diocesan bishop or by kings and queens, or the urgent travels abroad made by the brothers: rediit frater Iohannes Haquini de Romana curia emissus ante duos annos pro negociis monasterii ad concilium Constanciense (Brother Jöns Håkansson returned to us from the Roman curia. Two years earlier he had been sent to the Council of Constance in order to take care of monastery business) (1420, no. 307).

Here and there the Diarium editors inserted reports from the secular world; thus we learn from an entry just a few lines further down that “the king led an army against the people of Holstein…” (eduxit rex exercitum contra Holzaticos..., the same year, no. 312), and the Diarium goes on to give us facts and details of the battles. The style is simple, often formal, and the vocabulary is typical of everyday monastic Latin. Sometimes we find instances of information of a more unofficial nature, flavoured with brief comments on a personal level. During Andreas Jacobi’s period, for instance, an entry may reveal that a nun, deceased in 1422, had not been living according to the rule (no. 331: reliquit post se multa superflua – et utinam non propria! – scilicet forraturas et similia; she left many unnecessary things – I sincerely hope they were not hers! – such as fur garments...), or with disasters and rumours from the world outside, as in an entry from 1415 (no. 250), reporting in detail the hideous discoveries of casualties after a fire: et erat horribilis visio... (a horrible sight it was...).

By the middle of the fifteenth century, the text of the Diarium gradually changes its focus. Beginning with the ousting of the Union monarch, Erik of Pomerania, in the 1430s, the text now gives more and more information on national history. From the 1450s we obtain facts about and comments on events during the long and bitter conflict between Karl Knutsson (Bonde), who was elected king of Sweden in 1448, and his Danish arch-rival, Christian I. After the former’s sudden exile and Christian’s assumption of power in Sweden in 1457 there is an exhaustive and detailed account of the tumultuous political situation and civil war that characterized Sweden in the following decade. Central roles were now played by the two most important Swedish ecclesiastical leaders at the time, the archbishop of Uppsala, Jöns Bengtsson (Oxenstierna), and his younger cousin, the bishop of Linköping, Kettil Karlsson (Vasa); both of them also acted as military leaders. The narration culminates in 1464 with the vivid description of the battle of Haraker, where Kettil’s forces, particularily the Vallenses (“men from [the Swedish province of] Dalarna”), met Danish troops:

Cumque rex cum suis sequacibus appropinquaret Arosiam, iterum Vallenses secundario fugam simulaverunt et accesserunt ad quandam magnam silvam iuxta ecclesiam Haraaker sitam. Et in eadem silva latitabant et ascultabant adventum regis. Est autem prope eandem silvam campus magnus et planus, in quem cum rex venit, et ibidem per horam cum suis pausavit monens omnes suos, ut arma apponerent et se viriliter contra hostes prepararent, proponens pertransire silvam et nesciens hostes in eadem latitare. Cum vero rex ex campo predicto iter arripuit ad silvam, statim ex improviso totus exercitus Vallensium ibidem regi obviavit et cum impetu maximo in regem et suos irruit et hostiliter invasit. Commissumque est bellum grande inter eos fere per duas horas et facta est strages magna in exercitu regali; Vallenses vero campum et victoriam optinuerunt... (As the king and his followers were approaching Västerås, the Vallenses pretended once again to escape. They turned now to a large forest, not far from the parish church of Haraker; in this forest they took cover and listened for the king’s arrival. There is a large, flat field near the forest, and coming there, the king and his men paused for an hour. He encouraged his men and told them to arm themselves and to be strong and prepared to meet the enemy. Not knowing that the enemy was hiding there, he explained that they were to pass through the forest. The king began the march from the field to the forest, and, unexpectedly, soon encountered the mighty force of the Vallenses, who threw themselves violently at the king and his men in a fierce attack. This was the beginning of a great battle between the two sides that went on for almost two hours. Many men fell among the king’s troops – but the Vallenses won the camp and a victory!) (no. 755)

There is a striking difference between the well-structured prose exemplified in this passage and many of the brief entries that dominate in other parts of the book.

It is worth noting that on a few occasions portions of Diarium text have been erased from the pages of MS C 89 – most likely by a careful later editor. One of the censored sections, partly decipherable under ultra-violet light, criticizes in strong words the bellicose bishops mentioned above, Jöns and Kettil, in a poem composed in the late medieval sequence metre:

... Nullus gaudet in tellure nec in mare nec in rure; sed letantur impii. Quis predatur non est cura; latro firmus stat cum fure, cum sunt ambo socii. (... No one is happy on this earth – not at sea, not on land – but the impious enjoy themselves. No one cares who is being robbed; the robber is safe with the thief, as the two of them are companions.) (1465, no. 762a)

Towards the end of the book comments on internal monastery business again dominate the contents. The last two contributors to the Diarium worked during a difficult and complex period. For Vadstena Abbey the decades after Gustav Eriksson Vasa’s assumption of power in the 1520s were a period of economic and cultural decline. In the Diarium several entries show the new regime demanding liturgical changes and taking valuables, books and people from the abbey. By this time the text reveals various signs of a diminishing competence in Latin, now and then leading to a macaronic mixture of Swedish and Latin, as in the last, laconic sentence of the book; desumserunt nobis civitatenses allan klosterswal a parte australi, ut aparet (The townspeople [of Vadstena] tore down the whole monastery wall on the south side, as it seems) (1545, no. 1197).


Disregarding here the fact that many entries give us first-hand evidence, we will now look for some of the written sources used by the brothers behind the Diarium. In 1384, as the solemn, first introduction of members (introduccio generalis) in Vadstena Abbey was taking place, it was decided (cf. Stockholm, National Archives, A 20, fol. 189–189 1/2) that the brothers were to keep official records of names and years (of introduction and death) of all the members of the abbey in a Liber vitae. This book, which is now lost, must not be confused with the Diarium, but it is conceivable that the Liber vitae was a reliable source for information of this kind.

Turning to the facts coming from the outside, we may conclude that the coherent “chronicle” of the 1460s was based on a detailed description of these events that is now lost; the problem is discussed in WESTIN 1946, 376 ff., and GEJROT 1988, 49. But it is clear, and that goes for other parts of the book as well, that many external entries were founded upon facts in charters and letters that reached the abbey. This is proved above all by the documents that are still extant, either in the original or transcribed in the copy-book (MS A 20) and in the privilege-book of the abbey (MS A 19) in the National Archives. To take only a few examples: The papal indulgences mentioned in the Diarium nos. 223 and 464 may be compared with the bulls in the same matters, which were transcribed in A 20 fols. 16v–17r and fol. 297 1/2r respectively; and the detailed description of a murder committed in 1492 (no. 907) is clearly based on the facts of the case as presented in an original parchment document of 11 February 1493, issued after the trial of the murderer.

Medieval reception and transmission

Since 1718 the original text has survived in two manuscripts: Uppsala, University Library, C 89 (the bulk of the text) and C 92 (the first few pages). Earlier these manuscripts were bound together forming a single, larger volume.


  • ANDERSSON-SCHMITT, M., HALLBERG, H., HEDLUND, M. 1988–1995: Mittelalterliche Handschriften der Universitätsbibliothek Uppsala. Katalog über die C-Sammlung 8 vols., Uppsala.
  • GEETE, R. 1900–1916: Småstycken på forn svenska (SFSS 2), Stockholm.
  • GEJROT, C. 1988: Diarium Vadstenense. The Memorial Book of Vadstena Abbey. A Critical Edition with an Introduction (Acta universitatis Stockholmiensis, Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 33), Stockholm
  • GEJROT, C. 2000a: “Kloster och kungar. Senmedeltida rikspolitik ur ett Vadstenaperspektiv,” in Språkets speglingar. Festskrift till Birger Bergh, ed. A. Jönsson & A. Piltz, Lund, 527–36.
  • GEJROT, C. 2000b: “Travelling Bridgettines,” in Texts and Tongues Unlimited. Studies in Honour of Tore Janson, ed. H. Aili & P. af Trampe, Stockholm, 71–81.
  • GEJROT, C. 2001: “Vardagsnyheter och skvaller i Vadstena. Några glimtar ur brödernas minnesbok,” in Riseberga Rediviva III, ed. P.-A. Wiktorsson, Örebro, 31–51.
  • GEJROT, C. 2003: “Kvinnan i grått – Birgitta i Vadstenabrödernas bok,” in Birgitta av Vadstena. Pilgrim och profet, ed. P. Beskov & A. Landen, Stockholm, 180–200.
  • HÖJER, T. 1905: Studier i Vadstena klosters och birgittinordens historia intill midten af 1400-talet, Uppsala.
  • NYBERG, T. 1965: Birgittinische Klostergründungen, Leiden.
  • NYBERG, T. 1976: “Das sogennante Vadstena-Diarium, libellulus des Tore Andersson,” in Grundwissenschaften und Geschichte. Festschrift für Peter Acht (Münchener historische Studien, Abteilung geschichtliche Hilfwissenschaften 15), München.
  • NYGREN, E. 1924: “Vadstena klosters tänkebok och annalhandskriften C 92 i Uppsala universitetsbibliotek,” in Historiska studier tillägnade L. Stavenow den 12 okt. 1924, Stockholm, 59–66.
  • ROSÉN, J. 1958: “Diarier” in KLNM 3, 64–69.
  • WESTIN, G. 1946: Historieskrivaren Olaus Petri. Svenska krönikans källor och krönikeförfattarens metod, Lund.