Johannes Magnus (1488–1544), the last Catholic archbishop of Uppsala to hold residence in Sweden, was the author of a monumental work about Swedish history, in the form of biographies of over 200 kings, from the grandsons of Noah to Gustavus Vasa. The work is entitled Historia de omnibus Gothorum Sueonumque regibus, the ‘History of all the Kings of the Goths and the Swedes’, and was published posthumously in Rome in 1554.
Johannes’ work gained spectacular importance in the 17th century, when the dominions of Sweden were increased through the bellicose efforts of King Gustavus II Adolphus and his successors: it became the ideological basis for Swedish patriotism and was translated into Swedish by order of the king. But when historians eventually began to ask questions about the factual accuracy of the work, they found it doubtful. Johannes was claimed to have used his imagination to invent his history, instead of having subjected his sources to critical evaluation in order to find out about the past, as was demanded by later historians. In short, the work was seen as full of invented people and events.
However if a work of history must be explained in that manner when it is measured against a certain notion of truth, it might be that the notion is at fault, and not the work. In the present study, I have investigated Johannes’ explicit intentions with his work and the methods he uses in accordance with contemporary ideas of historiography. It has enabled me to throw new light over the notion of truth found in the work.