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|Military Justice and Popular Legal Culture in Sweden 1680-1900|
|Swedish popular legal culture is represented in the chapbooks on malefactors. In the collection I study, the songs before 1800 are almost exclusively on executions, and people condemned to death. Throughout the period about half the people executed are military personnel, and half the male main characters of the songs in the chapbooks are soldiers. The proportion of female offenders is steadily falling from early 18th century and onwards.
Printed songs from 17th and early 18th century usually display a religious zeal, where a repenting sinner hopes to be received in Paradise. The prisoner is said to have composed these texts while awaiting capital punishment, but probably the minister assigned to prepare him. Among the chap books there are also several stories in prose with narratives of crimes and executions. In this paper songs and stories on soldiers give indications of popular ideas to crime and punishments, religion and justice and other aspects of the military legal culture.
There are several functions of the military legal system; most obvious it is a disciplinary apparatus, but is could also serve as a protection for the soldiers against civilian courts, and as a social arena where ordinary soldiers could raise complaints against their superiors, both officers and NCOs. Of these it is mainly the disciplinary function that is discussed in the songs – unruly soldiers are heroes of some songs, in a rather picaresque form; protests against arbitrary punishments come to fore in others.
The songs display a male ideal, the chaste and just warrior, a soldier fearful in battle, but docile at home or in peacetime. During the 18th century, many of the soldiers to be executed seem to be satisfied with this manliness, stubbornly refusing to accept the idea of the repentant sinner. Many were convinced that they have done nothing wrong, according to their own code of honor, and therefore hopeful on the scaffold.
Towards the turn of the century, it seems like the Christian ideal of a repentant sinner had conquered the minds of the soldiers condemned to death. But it was a short lived victory. The rate of executions was diminishing, and the topics of the songs on crime were changing. There were songs of deserters and other (military) criminals roaming the countryside, engaging in petty theft and sexual adventures, as well as songs about soldiers committing suicide to avoid corporal punishment.
The last person to be publicly executed in Stockholm, in 1862 was a soldier of the Royal guard, Per Viktor Göthe. He had been beaten by a NCO, as an arbitrary punishment for some offense. To secure the money he found necessary to make desertion possible, he robbed and murdered a young woman.
After some legal reforms in the 1860.s only ten persons were executed in Sweden, and none of them was a soldier. How the social and legal changes correspond to the changing narratives, displayed in the songs on crime is the topic of present investigation.|