Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity 9789048543533

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Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity

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Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Gendering the Late Medieval and Early Modern World Series editors: James Daybell (Chair), Victoria E. Burke, Svante Norrhem, and Merry Wiesner-Hanks This series provides a forum for studies that investigate women, gender, and/ or sexuality in the late medieval and early modern world. The editors invite proposals for book-length studies of an interdisciplinary nature, including, but not exclusively, from the fields of history, literature, art and architectural history, and visual and material culture. Consideration will be given to both monographs and collections of essays. Chronologically, we welcome studies that look at the period between 1400 and 1700, with a focus on any part of the world, as well as comparative and global works. We invite proposals including, but not limited to, the following broad themes: methodologies, theories and meanings of gender; gender, power and political culture; monarchs, courts and power; constructions of femininity and masculinity; gift-giving, diplomacy and the politics of exchange; gender and the politics of early modern archives; gender and architectural spaces (courts, salons, household); consumption and material culture; objects and gendered power; women’s writing; gendered patronage and power; gendered activities, behaviours, rituals and fashions.

Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court Power, Risk, and Opportunity

Fabian Persson

Amsterdam University Press

Cover illustration: Pehr Hilleström, Lektyr på Drottningholms slott, 1779, Copyright Bodil Beckman/ Nationalmuseum (Stockholm) Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6372 520 0 e-isbn 978 90 4854 353 3 doi 10.5117/9789463725200 nur 685 © F. Persson / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2021 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of illustrations




Note on names


Dramatis personae


Genealogical charts


Introduction: Women living with power Opportunities Growing interest Sources and the challenge of invisibility

31 35 37 42

Outsiders 1. Rituals of royal compassion Who and when Institutionalisation The quality of compassion

47 51 53 56

2. Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


Insiders 3. All the Queen’s women The creation of the Swedish court in the sixteenth century The women in service The recruitment process Pay and perquisites Marriage The appeal of the court

77 79 84 87 93 96 101

4. Noblewomen crossing borders Change over time Princely women visiting and residing in Sweden Swedish noblewomen in service abroad Clean break or gradual erosion? From melting pot to enclave

103 106 109 111 114 120

5. Servants of power Everyday power – and more Maids of Honour as power brokers Everyday power – and high politics Power struggles on several levels Emerentia Düben Juliana Schierberg Anna Catharina Bärfelt Measures of success

121 122 124 127 131 135 138 141 146

6. Left behind Reputational damage Beata Sophia Horn, trapped at court Ageing and unmarried

149 152 156 167

7. Filth among the apples: Hierarchy and gender at court A Swedish Table of Ranks Formal hierarchies Royal decisiveness Increasing formality Marks of status Negotiating the hierarchy

169 171 172 174 177 182 186

8. A small circle with wide horizons Living under surveillance Socialised into a group Widening interests and attitudes Changes in appearance The best school in the world

189 191 193 197 201 203

9. Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress A golden age of adultery A passing fancy

207 209 211

An emotional anchor A lesser sort of marriage The extraordinary success of Karin Månsdotter Pimped to a king The role of a royal mistress

212 213 215 216 224

Royals 10. The performance of a lifetime: Being Queen Consort Being foreign Being sociable Being self-assured Being a success

229 231 235 239 241

11. The winding road: Royal marriage negotiations A queen’s worth How to pick a marriage partner Successful failures

243 244 247 250

12. The broken mirror: Gender differences in the system of royal apartments Mirroring apartments Royal apartments outside Stockholm Renovations A mirror cracked In-built gender

253 255 258 259 262 263

13. Death and beyond A Swedish Artemisia manquée Commemorating a dynasty Dynastic memory

265 268 280 284

14. The court as substitute family The Princess, her sister and the need for trust A court of her own Court rather than family A long-lost sister The entertaining princess

287 290 293 297 300 304

15. Epilogue


Glossary Court positions Abbreviations Coinage The calendar

311 311 312 312 312

Bibliography Manuscript sources Published sources

313 313 315



List of illustrations

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3

Figure 4 Figure 5

Figure 6

Women at court took part very visibly in public ceremonies, such as the coronation of Queen Hedvig Eleonora. Juriaen Ovens, Coronation of Hedvig Eleonora, c. 1654. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). The secret to Aurora von Königsmarck’s success was her mastery of codes of court life, not just her beauty. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Aurora Königsmarck, late seventeenth century. Copyright Skoklosters slott. Kerstin Abrahamsdotter Rommel was a Maid of Honour to the adventurous Princess Cecilia and her daughter Gertrud Laxman served as a Maid of Honour to the Duchess. Unknown painter, Kerstin Abrahamsdotter Rommel and Her Daughter Gertrud Laxman, epitaph for Mauritz Laxman (dead 1611) and his family in Stora Malm church. Copyright Riksantikvarieämbetet (Stockholm). One of several impoverished aristocratic sisters serving at court, Ebba Maria Sparre made a good match marrying a wealthy elderly courtier. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Ebba Maria Sparre, late seventeenth century, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). The Chamberer Sara Larsdotter came from the part of the elite breaking into noble status and married an ennobled official. The gloves in her hand still exist and are thought to be a gift from the Queen. Unknown painter, Sara Larsdotter, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). A foreign Maid of Honour, Amalaia von Hatzfeldt made a brilliant marriage to a Count Lewenhaupt, a relative of the royal family. Unknown painter, Amalia von Hatzfeldt, 1596. Copyright Skoklosters slott.







Figure 7 Coming from Germany and marrying a German courtier at the Swedish court, the former Maid of Honour Maria von der Grünau was one of the people who established a court dynasty. Unknown painter, Maria von der Grünau with Three Children, early seventeenth century, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 8 The great favourite Emerentia von Düben devoted her life to service at court and had a spectacular career as the always present shadow of Queen Ulrika Eleonora. Possible copy after David von Krafft, Emerentia von Düben, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 9 The niece of the favourite Emerentia von Düben, Ulrika Eleonora von Düben reached favourite status herself and was ruthless in shutting out any possible competitors to the Queen’s favour. Gustaf Lundberg, Ulrika Eleonora von Düben, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 10 The daughter of a bishop and serving as a Chamberer, Catharina Wallenstedt represented the rising non-aristocratic elite (though she and her siblings were ennobled). She was also a trenchant letter writer. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Catharina Wallenstedt, 1676, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 11 A court veteran who never married as her two fiancés died before they could marry her, Beata Charlotta Taube displayed an even temper but could show a melancholic side to friends. A courtier deplored that her funeral turned into an undignified spectacle due to the mismanagment of its main organizer. Lorens Pasch the Elder, Beata Charlotta Taube, 1739, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 12 Eva Magdalena ‘Lona’ Ekeblad was born into a court family. She served for decades at court and never married. The latter out of choice as she declined at least one offer of marriage. Pehr Köhler, Eva Magdalena Ekeblad. Copyright Bodil Beckman/Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).







Figure 13 The dining in public was a major court ceremony and hierarchy was manifested though seating. The women of the royal family are sitting by the table while the Court Mistresses and the Ladies of the Palace are sitting watching and the Maids of Honour are standing. 181 Pehr Hilleström, Repas Public, Le Jour de l’An 1779. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 14 Victimized by the Queen for her mercantile background, Countess Hamilton (born af Petersens) was a Lady of Honour for two decades. 185 Unknown painter, Johanna Maria af Petersens, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 15 Chief Court Mistress Charlotta Fredrika Sparre was born into the court and married a member of the court family Fersen. The miniature portrait of the Queen that she wears indicates her favour and high status. 187 Anton Ulrik Berndes, Charlotta Fredrika Sparre, late eighteenth century. Copyright Bodil Beckman/Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 16 Referred to in letters as ‘Aunt’, Brita Stina Sparre, Count Törnflycht, was a long-time presence at court. 164 Pehr Krafft the Elder, Brita Stina Sparre. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 17 A Maid of Honour whose parents traded her charms for influence, Hedvig Taube became a royal mistress who was both admired for her charm and reviled for her relationship with the King. 218 Lorens Pasch the Elder, Hedvig Taube, 1731, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 18 The formidable Lovisa Ulrika both impressed and terrorized the people surrounding her. 234 Alexander Roslin, Lovisa Ulrika, 1775. Copyright Åsa Lundén/Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 19 Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta kept up a voluminous correspondence in her many years as Duchess and later as Queen.239 Duc de Pienne, Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta, Vadstena landsarkiv. Copyright Fabian Persson.

Figure 20 In the manner of a Becky Sharpe, Lolotte Forsberg managed to climb and reach a position both in the heart and court of Princess Sophia Albertina. Giovanni Domenico Bossi, Fredrica Charlotta (Lolotte) Forsberg, 1799. Copyright Hans Thorwid/Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 21 Emotional and a bit spoilt, Princess Sophia Albertina also had qualities of upholding royal hospitality and staying true to her friends. Unknown painter, Sophia Albertina, early nineteenth century. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 22 Taken in by the court with her siblings as a reward for her father’s royalists activities, Catharina Sophia Sinclair became a court veteran and fought hard to establish her daughters there as well. Possibly Stålbom, Catharina Sophia Sinclair, 1768, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). Figure 23 The daring Ulla von Höpken (née Fersen) was admired for her free spirit and her beauty. She did not hesitate to take advantage of the freedom provided by life at court. Johan Tobias Sergel, Ulla von Höpken, 1781. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).





List of tables and genealogical charts Genealogical chart 1. The Vasa and Palatine dynasties 29 30 Genealogical chart 2. The Holstein-Gottorp dynasty Table 1. Royal marriage partners in Sweden and Denmark245

Acknowledgements As a historian you spend the time in the company of long-dead people, reading their letters, glimpsing them in accounts, and getting to understand them. Jack Hexter in ‘The Historian and His Day’ describes finding inspiration by immersing himself in the early modern period, and in many ways that has been my life, too, and with it the privilege and responsibility of doing the past justice. At an early stage, Eva Österberg kindly included me in a project she was heading on early modern women. I was to study women at the seventeenth-century Swedish court, and it proved fascinating, rewarding, and very challenging. I have continued and expanded my work in depth since those faraway days, and it has further impressed on me the importance of women at court, and the fact that so many of them had fallen into oblivion. My mother, Ann-Mari Sellerberg, an academic herself, has been encouraging and usefully insistent that I finish this book and a number of related articles. Many of my sources are in Stockholm, and my long-suffering siblings have all cheerfully put up with visits from their archive-bound brother. My friend Peter Ullgren has never failed in believing I can publish. Andreas Anderberg has kindly helped me to get hold of Swedish literature of the more obscure kind. Over the years two heads of Slottsarkivet, Jan Brunius and Mats Hemström, have been helpful and knowledgeable in the many happy hours I have spent in the depths of the Palace. I wish to thank the many archivists and librarians at Riksarkivet, Rigsarkivet, Kungliga biblioteket, and Uppsala University and Lund University libraries for their kind help. Lars Ljungström, Senior Curator of the Royal Collections, has been a fount of wisdom. Eva Lena Karlsson of the Nationalmuseum has been constantly generous with her time and expertise. Lena Dahrén has provided useful hints and been a cheerful presence in the Slottsarkivet. That Linnaeus University has kindly allowed me to take leave to focus on research and writing has been a huge boon. Natalia Nowakowska has been very kind, and Somerville College, Oxford, with its friendly atmosphere and marvellous library, is a place I love, now rivalled in my affections by Wolfson College and the Bodleian. Janet Dickinson has been of central importance in getting this book over the finishing line, dispensing home truths, tea, and encouragement in Gail’s in Little Clarendon Street. Martin Stiles has given the draft a close reading to root out the weird Fabianisms still lurking within it. With her expert knowledge and the occasional trenchant comment, Charlotte Merton has


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

helped whip my English into shape. Charlotte’s unrivalled expertise on women serving at the courts of Mary I and Elizabeth I has helped me to find the right words and also on occasion challenge my assertions about Sweden. Language-wise, I must also thank Helen Whittow, who helped translate eighteenth-century Swedish poetry into English. I’m grateful to Markus Gunshaga for expertly helping to design the genealogical charts. I am very fortunate in my editor at AUP, Erika Gaffney, who has been patient, encouraging, and practical in her approach. My f irst thoughts on women at court were published in Nadine Akkerman’s volume on early modern women. I am grateful to several publishers and editors who have allowed revised versions of those texts to be published here: Picard and Monique Chatenet for ‘The Broken Mirror: Gender Differences in the System of Royal Apartments’, first published in Princes, Princesses et leur logis: Logis masculins et féminins dans l’élite de l’aristocratie européenne, 1450-1650; Beate Christine Fiedler for ‘Navigating in a Changing Political Landscape: The Königsmarcks at the Dawn of Swedish Absolutism’, first published in Maria Aurora von Königsmarck: Ein adeliges Frauenleben im Europa der Barockzeit; and Anders Bergman of Natur & Kultur for ‘Äktenskapet i döden: Maria Eleonora och Hedvig Eleonora som änkor’, in Henric Bagerius and Louise Berglund’s Politik och passion. Oxford, June 2020

Note on names

The problem of the many names unfamiliar to the reader was pointed out by a peer reviewer. In order to overcome this difficulty, I have compiled the skeleton for an additional ‘Dramatis personae’ section in the book following this note. This has taken the form of names, dates of birth and death, and some short explanatory words. Stable family names inherited over generations were unusual in Sweden until the beginning of the seventeenth century. In the sixteenth century names would in most noble families change every generation as they were patronymic, that is daughters and sons taking the Christian name of their father and adding a ‘-dotter’ (daughter) or ‘-son’ (son). In accordance with scholarly usage and to keep things clear, I have added the family names later used by families for sixteenth-century women within parentheses. That does not mean that, for example, Agneta Arentsdotter (Örnflycht) actually used the name Örnflycht. She would be either Agneta Arentsdotter or Mistress Agneta to Sjösa (her manor). Örnflycht would only come into use later but can help readers to identify her and it is common scholarly practice to give the later family name within a parenthesis. Women in Sweden normally continued to use their maiden names after marriage until the later part of the eighteenth century. Thus, I have in general followed that rule. English



Adolf Frederick

Adolf Fredrik Lovisa Ulrika Sophia Magdalena Fredrik Johan Casimir Johan Erik Hedvig Eleonora Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta Maria Eleonora Sophia Dorothea Katarina Katarina Jagellonica

Adolf Friedrich Luise Ulrike

Frederick John Casimir John Eric

Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte Maria Eleonora Sophia Dorothea Catherine Catherine Jagiellon



Sophie Magdalene Friedrich Johann Kasimir Johann Hedwig Eleonore Hedwig Elisabeth Charlotte Maria Eleonora Sophie Dorothee Katharina Katarzyna Jagiellonka


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court




Frederica Charles Cecilia Christina

Fredrika Karl Cecilia Christina Ulrika Eleonora Gustaf II Adolf


Gustavus Adolphus



Cäcilie Christine Ulrikke Eleonore

Place names In general I have striven to use English forms of place names when possible, such as Tuscany, Prussia, and Sweden (rather than Toscana, Preussen or Sverige). These cases are in my view the obvious choices. A bit more complicated are the many instances where there are English forms of place names but these are less well-known, such as Hesse rather than Hessen and Brunswick rather than Braunschweig.

Dramatis personae

Ulrika Adlersten (1694-1757). Acting Court Mistress. Sharp observer. Adolf Frederick (1710-1771). King of Sweden, 1751-1771. Transformed from a minor German princeling to heir to the Swedish throne in 1743 at the wish of the Russian Empress Elisabeth. Happily married to Queen Lovisa Ulrika. Unhappy with diminished royal power, though with limited talent for political manoeuvring. Agnes of Holstein (1578-1627). Daughter of Duke Adolf of Holstein. Sister of Queen Christina of Sweden and resided with her in later years. A hunchback who got into skirmishes with other members of the royal family. Buried in Riddarholmskyrkan in Stockholm. Agneta Arentsdotter (Örnflycht) (?-1602). Court Mistress from the lower nobility. Grandmother of Christina Kursell. Anna (1545-1610). Daughter of Gustaf I of Sweden. Married Georg John Count Palatine of Veldenz. Given a lavish dowry but her husband spent it all and got heavily into debt. Anna (1573-1598). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married to King Sigismund of Sweden and Poland. Daughter of Charles of Austria. The briefest of stays in Sweden in the 1590s. Wrote that she would not send a dog she liked to Sweden. Countess Armfelt see Hedvig Ulrika De la Gardie Anna Catharina Bärfelt (1673-1738). Seamstress and later Chamberer. Favourite of Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora. Overthrown and lived her later years ‘in great misery’. Märta Berendes (1639-1717). In her youth Maid of Honour and later long-time Court Mistress. Niece of Kerstin Kurck. Referred to in letter by Charles XII as Aunt Märta. Wrote numerous prayers and rather sad notes on her life. Countess Bielke see Fredrika Eleonora von Düben


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Magdalena Catharina Biörnmarck (fl. 1700s). Daughter of a clerk in Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora’s court. Served as her Chamberer from 1704 to 1716. Disliked by her colleague Bärfelt as a potential competitor. Rebecka von Brandenstein (?-1615). Maid of Honour. Married to Joachim von Berfelt. Grandmother of the favourite Anna Catharina von Bärfelt. Sibylla von Brandenstein (fl. 1590s and 1600s). Maid of Honour and later Lady of Honour. Maria von Brunkhorst (?-1607). Maid of Honour. Unhappy in love. Mrs. Cardell see Karoline Fliess Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg (1513-1535). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married Gustaf I. Catherine (1535-1621). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married Gustaf I. From a Swedish noble family. Niece of her predecessor as queen. Her 61 years as Queen Dowager partly spent squabbling about inheritance with her step-son Charles. Survived all her many step children but one. Catherine (1539-1610). Daughter of Gustaf I of Sweden. Married Edzard II, Count of Ostfriesland. Imperious, energetic, and staunch Lutheran. Catherine (1584-1638). Daughter of Charles IX. Married John Casimir of Zweibrücken-Kleeburg. Resided mostly in Sweden. Catherine I of Russia (1684-1727). From very humble origins rose to become mistress of Peter the Great, then Empress, and eventually his successor. Cecilia (1540-1627). Daughter of Gustaf I of Sweden. Married Christopher, Margrave of Baden-Rodemachern. Visited Queen Elizabeth of England and lived an adventurous life including involvement in a sex scandal at her sister’s wedding and a conversion to Catholicism. Beata Christiernin (fl. 1740s). Short-term mistress of Frederick I. She was ‘infinitely dissatisfied, so that the King in the end grew tired of her’.

Dr amatis personae


Margareta Christiernin (fl. 1740s). Veteran Chamber Mistress. Unhappy about her colleague Charlotte Forsberg’s royal favour. Christina (1626-1689). Queen Regnant of Sweden, 1632-1654. Daughter of Maria Eleonora. Abdicated 1654 and later lived in Rome. Christina the Elder (1573-1625). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married Charles IX. Did not allow her Maids of Honour to be trifled with. Anna Claesdotter (Uggla) (alive in 1559). Court Mistress. Married leading royal advisor Georg Norman from Pomerania. Anna Maria Clodt (?-1708). A member of the Livonian nobility whose mother had been Maid of Honour. Was herself Maid of Honour and later acting Lady of Honour. A great favourite with Ulrika Eleonora the Elder. Hedvig Ulrika De la Gardie (1761-1832). Maid of Honour and later Court Mistress. Married to the great favourite Armfelt and daughter of Court Mistress Magdalena Stenbock. Approached the knocks of life with some calm common sense. Sophia von Deppen (was dead in 1646). From a family with court links and served at court herself. Married Otto Christopher von Metzerode. Managed to cling onto donation of land. Eufrosyna Heldina von Dieffenau (1550-1636). Maid of Honour. Married the Spanish officer in Swedish service Alfonso Cacho y de Canuto. Veteran service at court. Michelle Elisabeth d’Ivry (?-1795). Originally from France but later Chamber Mistress and reputed spy on her mistress, Lovisa Ulrika. Doska or Dosieczka or Dorothea (fl. 1560-1570s). Dwarf and servant of Queen Catherine. Came with her from Poland and was probably named Dorothea Ostolska. A close confident of Queen Catherine. Alerted the guards when the deposed King Erik XIV tried to escape. Had as colleague Baska the dwarf. Emerentia von Düben (1669-1743). Served at court since her youth and became the great favourite of Queen Ulrika Eleonora. Ennobled and made a baroness.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Fredrika Eleonora von Düben (1738-1808). Maid of Honour and later Chief Court Mistress. A member of the Düben court clan. An enemy claimed that she was ‘overly proud and rude and mistress of two ambassadors after each other’. Ulrika Eleonora von Düben (1722-1758). Maid of Honour. The niece of Emerentia von Düben and ‘a hot-tempered and cunning woman’. Hedvig Ekeblad (1746-1812). Court Mistress who was not a smooth operator. Elisabet (fl. 1620s). A female jester, ‘narrinnan Elisabet’. Elisabeth (1549-1598). Daughter of Gustaf I of Sweden. Married Christopher, Duke of Mecklenburg-Gadebusch. Lived most of her life in Sweden. Maria Elisabeth Falkenberg (1638-1693). Maid of Honour. Married an officer in a remote province. Unhappy in the sticks. Fedossa (fl. 1589-1594). Russian woman serving Princess Sophia. Countess Fersen see Lovisa Piper Ulrika von Fersen (1749-1810). Married a handsome young alcoholic courtier. Renowned for her beauty and bold behaviour. Anna Charlotta ‘Nickalotta’ Fleetwood (1742-1780). Bookish Maid of Honour. Anna ‘Ancus’ Fleming (1682-1737). Maid of Honour and later Lady of Honour. Ursilia Sabina von Flentzen genannt von Münchhausen (alive in 1660s). Maid of Honour. Married an unsuitably young aristocrat. Karoline Fliess (?-1821). Jewish divorcée married to German upstart and artillery officer Cardell. Her forced presentation at court created much resistance and she did not return to court. Charlotte Forssberg (1766-1840). Scheming Chamberer known as Lolotte. Part of a plot to establish herself as the illegitimate sister of Princess Sophia Albertina. Married the wellborn but feeble Count Stenbock.

Dr amatis personae


Frederica (1781-1826). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married to Gustaf IV. Daughter of the Prince Hereditary of Baden. Struggled in Sweden as a shy princess from a minor court. Exiled with her family after the coup d’état in 1809. Frederick I (1676-1751). King of Sweden, 1720-1751. Married to Queen Ulrika Eleonora, he was a German Prince who never learned any Swedish and was later seen as lacking interest in government. His devotion to hunting and young women was never in doubt. Anna Charlotta von Friesendorff (1776-1818). Lady of Honour. From a distinguished court family. High spirited or even foolish. Sent away from court in disgrace. Anna Hansdotter (Garstenberg) (alive in 1590s). Long-serving Court Mistress. From minor nobility. Gunilla (1568-1597). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married at age sixteen to the widowed King John III. The daughter of a noble Swedish family, her non-princely birth became a bone of contention within the royal family. Little Gunnell (fl. 1589-1590). Serving Princess Sophia. Presumably a dwarf. Brita Gyllenstierna (1606-1653). Maid of Honour and later Lady of Honour. Ingeborg Gyllenstierna (1633-1689). Maid of Honour. Battled with Hedvig Eleonora Stenbock about precedence. Anna Bengtsdotter (Gylta) (?-1579). Mistress of the Court. Countess Hamilton see Johanna Maria af Petersens Hedvig Eleonora (1636-1715). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married to Charles X. A Holstein princess who was attached to the Holstein family all through her long life. Kept up a voluminous correspondence with her many German relatives. Known for her work in building, patronage of artists, collection, and her love of card games.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta (1759-1818). Royal Duchess and later Queen Consort of Sweden. Married to her cousin, Duke Charles (after 1809, Charles XIII). Daughter of Duke Frederick August of Holstein-Gottorp. Wrote diary annotations for decades showing both wit and her knowledge of key political players. Hedvig Sophia (1681-1708). Princess. Daughter of Charles XI and Ulrika Eleonora. Married Duke Frederick of Holstein. Died early of smallpox. Anna Hogenskild (1513-1590). Mistress of the Court. Beata Sophia Horn (1736-1778). Veteran Maid of Honour from a Pomeranian family. Taken on at court after her uncle was executed for his part in planned royalist coup. Feeling increasingly trapped and despondent in the 1770s. Catharina Ebba Horn (1720-1781). Mistress of King Frederick I, who paid well but lost interest. Erik Horn (?-1626). Caddish nobleman who failed to slither out of a betrothal. Maria Horn (?-1725). Maid of Honour. Took part in political manoeuvrings. Second wife of Nicodemus Tessin. Juliana of Hessen-Eschwege (1652-1693). Raised at the Stockholm court. Gave birth to a son when in her carriage with the Queen Dowager. Later seduced her housekeeper’s son. Not marriage material for Charles XI. Frederike Wilhelmine von Knesebeck (fl. 1740s). Prussian noblewoman accompanying Lovisa Ulrika to Sweden. Stayed on as acting Maid of Honour and emotional support for some years. Aurora von Königsmarck (1662-1728). Never served at court but active participant in court life. Later left Sweden and became the mistress of August, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, which resulted in the famous General Maurice, Maréchal de Saxe. Ended her life as Provostess at Quedlinburg. Ulrika Koskull (1759-1805). Recruited to the court because of her outstanding beauty and made a brilliant marriage. After her death her widower married her niece.

Dr amatis personae


Margrethe Luise Kressen (fl. 1740s). Chamber Mistress accompanying Lovisa Ulrika to Sweden. Stayed on for several years. Aunt of the two Mulacks. Christina Kurck (1721-1769). Maid of Honour and Lady of Honour. Unusual in being unmarried and acting as Court Mistress for Princess Sophia Albertina. Kerstin Kurck (1617-1688). Long-time Maid of Honour of Queen Christina. Got the distinction of being named the only known Chief Lady of Honour. Her uncle by marriage was head of the court. After the Queen’s abdication, she left court and seems to have lived on her estate. Christina Kursell (alive in 1647). Daughter of courtier and granddaughter of Agneta Arentsdotter (Örnflycht). Maid of Honour. Through some heavyhanded royal intercession married in 1624. Gertrud Laxman (?-1640). Maid of Honour. Duke Charles had to issue a letter to guarantee her virtuous behaviour, which may have been unhelpful. Charlotta Liewen (1683-1735). Maid of Honour. Political mover and shaker. Rumoured to have had little respect for her husband. Henrika von Liewen (1710-1779). Maid of Honour and Lady of Honour. Politically active favourite of Lovisa Ulrika. Lovisa Ulrika (1720-1782). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married to Adolf Frederick. Prussian Princess and sister to Frederick the Great. Dazzling in her literary and scholarly interests as well as in her looks. More admired than liked. Happily married. Had both a strong sense of duty and a rather vicious streak. Main aim was to strengthen royal power and was a prime mover behind the disastrous failed coup attempt in 1756. Magdalene Sibylla of Hessen-Darmstadt (1652-1712). Moved to Sweden at an early age and was raised by her aunt, Hedvig Eleonora. In 1673 married the heir to the Duchy of Württemberg. Brita Carlsdotter (Månesköld) (alive in 1623). Court Mistress from a minor noble family. Niece of Agneta Arentsdotter (Örnflycht). Impressively imaginative in naming her children and getting them into court service. Served the challenging Princess Sophia.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Karin Månsdotter (1550-1612). Queen Consort of Sweden. From lowborn mistress to Erik XIV, she was promoted to queen, which was seen as scandalous. Margareta (?-1551). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married to King Gustaf I. From a non-princely noble family. Very active in handing out money and gifts. Maria (1561-1589). Royal Duchess. Daughter of the Elector Palatine. Married Duke Charles (later King Charles IX). Maria Eleonora (1599-1655). Queen Consort of Sweden. Married to King Gustaf II Adolf. Daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg. Waged long battle against the Council to be allowed to keep control of her husband’s corpse after 1632. Eloped to Denmark in 1640. Sophia Amalia Marschalk (fl. 1670s to 1690s). Maid of Honour to Ulrika Eleonora in Denmark before her marriage to Charles XI in 1680. Accompanied her to Sweden as an informal courtier and remained as a favourite. After the Queen’s death in 1693 she left Sweden and converted to Catholicism. Ingrid Maria Möller (1731-1793). Served Sophia Magdalena as a Danish Princess and followed her to Sweden in 1766. Chamber Mistress and favourite. Disliked by King Gustaf III. Fredrika Mörner (1732-1803). Maid of Honour and later Lady of Honour. Many admirers but never married. Miss Mulack (fl. 1740s and 1750s). Two sisters who served Lovisa Ulrika as Chamber Mistress. Accompanied her to Sweden from Berlin together with their Aunt Kressen. Distinctly less well liked than their Aunt Kressen by Lovisa Ulrika, who thought them ‘impertinent creatures’. Margareta Oxehufvud (1617-alive in 1655). Maid of Honour. Manette Noverre (ca 1731-1762). Daughter of a Parisian perfume maker. Taken on by the Tessin family and later became Chamber Mistress at court. A court servant with shifting loyalties. Hedvig Margareta von der Pahlen (1672-1755). Did not serve at court but received a pension.

Dr amatis personae


Hedvig Margareta von Parr (1620-1686). Court Mistress. Made to suffer for not being born within the Swedish high nobility. Agda Persdotter (fl. 1550s and 1560s). Mistress of Eric XIV. Johanna Maria af Petersens (1755-1810). Lady of the Palace. Married the ugly Count Hamilton to climb, but was singled out for humiliation, probably because of her low birth. Countess Piper see Hedvig Ekeblad Lovisa Piper (1777-1849). Maid of Honour and later Court Mistress. Marianne Pollet (1773-1867). Maid of Honour from Pomerania. Overcame her initial homesickness and flourished at court, though seen as fast living. Her interest in and connection to Gustavian eighteenth-century poets (such as Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna) made her into their staunch guardian when she had long outlived them all. Brita Sofia Psilanderhielm (1725-1788). Short-term mistress of Frederick I. Occa Johanna von Riperda (1619-1687). Dutch noblewoman married into the Swedish high aristocracy. Court Mistress. Disliked at court. Carolina Rudenschöld (1762-1804). Maid of Honour. Friend of Sophia Albertina. Magdalena Rudenschöld (1766-1823). Maid of Honour. Mistress to the favourite Armfelt. Disgraced at his fall and involved in machinations to push aside the Duke Regent in the 1790s. Letters published by enemies to smear her name through her love affair and abortion. Lady Jane Ruthwen (?-1668). Maid of Honour. Daughter to Scottish royalist general in exile. Returned to England and married Lord Forrester. Margareta von Scheiding (?-1650). Maid of Honour from an established court family. Eloped abroad with a courtier in 1640, which created a scandal. Juliana Sophia Schierberg (?-1712). Chamberer. Favourite with Princess Hedvig Sophia.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Catharina Sophia Sinclair (1750-1818). Court Mistress. From court family. Furious when not allowed to insert a second daughter into court service. Maria Catharina Siöblad (1681-1750). Maid of Honour. Ridiculed in old age by Lovisa Ulrika. Märta Christiersdotter (Siöblad) (alive in 1596). Maid of Honour. Helena Snakenborg (1549-1635). As a Maid of Honour to Princess Cecilia she came to England in the 1560s and stayed. Karin Ulfsdotter Snakenborg (?-1640). Court Mistress. Got donations of land belonging to political refugees in exile. Sister to Helena Snakenborg. Anna Maria Soop (1660-1735). Maid of Honour from a court family. Very wealthy and rumoured to have initiated Miss Bärfelt in sorcery. Sophia (1547-1611). Daughter of Gustaf I of Sweden. Married the brutal Magnus II, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg. A deeply unhappy marriage and a troubled soul, in general. Courtiers and servants in the habit of absconding from her court. Sophia Albertina (1753-1829). Princess. Daughter of Lovisa Ulrika and Adolf Fredrik. Abbess of Quedlinburg Abbey. Both ridiculed and respected. Sophia Magdalena (1746-1813). Married to Gustaf III. Danish princess. Stately but shy. One of many unsuited and unhappy royal marriages. Beata Sparre (1662-1724). Maid of Honour and Lady of Honour for many years. At the end had to leave court and retire to her castle Grönsöö. Brita Stina Sparre (1720-1776). Court Mistress and married to prominent courtier. Ebba Sparre (1626-1662). Maid of Honour. Forced by the Queen to give up fiancé. Known as Queen Christina’s favourite ‘Belle’. Margareta ‘Greta’ Carlsdotter Sparre (1682-1728). Maid of Honour to Swedish Princess Hedvig Sophia. Niece to Beata Sparre. Poor but admired by a Holstein prince.

Dr amatis personae


Sophie Sparre (1761-1832). Maid of Honour. Married to admiral and artist Ehrensvärd, who sent her letters with lively drawings of their life. Christina Elisabeth Spetz (?-1762). Daughter of the goldsmith Petter Hartman. Chamber Mistress and favourite. Hedvig Eleonora Stenbock (1655-1714). Fröken at court. Known for her pride in her high birth. Married the lowborn courtier and climber Nicodemus Tessin. Magdalena Stenbock (1730-1801). Court Mistress to Princess Sophia Albertina for decades. Margareta Stenbock (1609-1631). Maid of Honour. Wooed in the sauna. Karin Jöransdotter (Stiernsköld) (fl. 1590s). Maid of Honour. Jeanna Stockenström (1754-1809). Maid of Honour. Close friend of Duchess Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta. In opposition to King Gustaf III. Anna Magdalena Strokirch (1743-1797). Maid of Honour. Avid reader of newspapers and helped her mistress to master courtly conduct. Agneta Strömfelt (1725-1761). Maid of Honour with many suitors. Beata Charlotta Taube (1736-1778). Lady of Honour. Veteran at court who was said never to have been in great favour but neither out of favour, either. Hedvig Taube (1714-1744). Maid of Honour. Mistress to King Frederick I. Carl Gustaf Tessin (1695-1770). A child of the court. Brilliant impresario of court entertainments. Dramatic break with the Queen as he fell from grace in the 1750s. Christina Juliana Thun (?-1769). Chamberer. Wanted to marry her lover and rejected her husband, which Carl Linnaeus sees as the reason why she was struck by divine retribution in the form of cancer. Countess Törnflycht see Brita Stina Sparre


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Margareta Magdalena (Greta) Torstenson (1673-1747). Maid of Honour and then a veteran Lady of Honour. The last of her illustrious family. Ulrika Eleonora (1656-1693). Swedish Queen Consort. Married to Charles XI. Mother of Ulrika Eleonora. Danish princess. Gained a reputation for being shy, sickly, and helping the poor. Ulrika Eleonora (1688-1741). Swedish Queen Regnant, 1718-1720, and Queen Consort, 1720-1741. Long-suffering wife of Frederick I. Combined an earnest sense of duty with scant regard for the new restrictions on royal power. Emotionally dependent on her favourite Emerentia von Düben, who had served her since childhood. Eleonora Wachtmeister (1684-1748). Maid of Honour. Margrete Westeborch (fl. 1579). Chamberer to Duchess Maria. Widow of Doctor Jacob Canisius of Worms. Beata Wittenberg (1644-1705). Court Mistress who got into a scuffle. Maria Christina Wrangel (1638-1691). Mother of Aurora von Königsmarck as well as a son who was murdered by the future George I of Britain.

Genealogical charts

Genealogical_chart_1 The Vasa and Palatine dynasties


Genealogical_chart_2 The Holstein-Gottorp dynasty

Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Introduction: Women living with power Abstract Over the last decades women at court have been rediscovered, but focus has primarily been on royal women and their artistic patronage. The wider machinery of royal power of both royal women and women at court has been less explored. A challenge here is that women were often made invisible in early modern primary sources and listed without names. Keywords: Female agency, gender, patronage, invisibility, sources

One day in March 1719, Ulrika Eleonora, born a princess of Sweden and now Queen Regnant Elect after the death of her brother King Charles XII approached the gate to the churchyard of Uppsala Cathedral. She walked in stately fashion under a canopy carried by eight generals, her train borne by Gentlemen of the Chamber from her court. Inside the cathedral the Archbishop and the other bishops took their positions as directed by the Master of Ceremonies. The Court Marshal then marched in with members of the court and the Diet’s Estate of the Nobles. As the Queen processed into the cathedral, the musicians accompanying her – two kettledrummers and twelve trumpeters – stopped at the cathedral gate, and her entrance was heralded by a prayer led by one of the bishops, while other bishops and Royal Councillors took their places around the altar. The Archbishop stood ready with the balm in the ampulla, or oil horn. Once the Queen had taken her seat on the throne in front of the Banner of the Realm, one of the Councillors took her coronation mantle, a purple velvet affair decorated with golden crowns and tongues of fire and lined with ermine, and placed it on the altar. Another prayer followed, after which the regalia were placed next to the coronation mantle by the Royal Councillors, who then withdrew. There was a full divine service with music. The Queen then stood up, her robe was removed by the Mistress of the Court, Countess Horn, assisted by

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_intro


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 1: Women at court took part very visibly in public ceremonies, such as the coronation of Queen Hedvig Eleonora. Juriaen Ovens, Coronation of Hedvig Eleonora, c. 1654. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

two Ladies of Honour (kammarfröknar), Countess Torstensson and Baroness von Düben. The Archbishop then lifted the coronation mantle from the altar and placed it on the Queen’s shoulders while the three women helped fasten it. The Queen knelt before the altar on a golden cushion and swore her coronation oath. Then the Archbishop took the ampulla and anointed her head and wrists with oil while saying the consecratory formula. The Queen rose and took her seat on the throne again. The Archbishop then took the golden crown from the altar and together with a Royal Councillor placed it on the Queen’s head. Only after Baroness von Düben had made sure the crown was ‘properly fastened’ did the Archbishop continue, uttering the words required by ritual, and handing the Queen the sceptre, the orb, the Key of the Realm, and, finally, the Sword of the Realm. Then a herald stepped forward and declared ‘Now is Queen Ulrika Eleonora, and no one but her, crowned King over the realms of Svea and Götha and their dominions.’ Outside there was a gun salute, while in the cathedral the music began and the congregation sang ‘God give our Queen and Royals peace and good rule’, to the accompaniment of the organ.1 1 Riksarkivet (RA), Stockholm, Kungliga arkiv, Handlingar rörande Ulrika Eleonoras levnadsförhållanden och egendom K 258, Coronation ceremony, 1719. Unless otherwise stated,

Introduc tion: Women living with power


The coronation of 1719 saw a Queen Regnant crowned and hailed as king to scotch any attempt by her ambitious husband, Frederick, Prince Hereditary of Hesse-Kassel, to slip into that position. It also saw several other women take a leading role in this, the most solemn ceremony of the reign. Countess Horn, Countess Torstensson, and Baroness von Düben all played a part in this highly public performance, the latter, the Queen’s beloved favourite Emerentia von Düben, having the key role of making sure the crown was securely in place. This highlighted the political role of the upstart favourite, Emerentia – known as Menza – who, in 1718, when the question of the succession was raging, had been used by Ulrika Eleonora as a go-between and negotiator, to the chagrin of the leading Councillors. Düben was not just there for the Queen’s coronation. She had been a constant feature of Ulrika Eleonora’s household since joining it in 1691 when the Princess was three years old, during Ulrika Eleonora’s courtship and eventual marriage, Düben was a key player in the negotiations. Years later, after the Queen’s death from smallpox in 1741, Düben was one of two people who set out the Queen’s possessions to be registered in the probate inventory. Ulrika Eleonora and Menza von Düben were just two of the women at the Swedish court to wield power. Even when royal authority was at an ebb, contemporaries never doubted the power women could exert and the prominence royal favour could give women. After all, Ulrika Eleonora and Düben’s relationship was almost an exact parallel to Queen Anne in Britain and her favourite, Sarah Jennings, just a decade earlier.2 Influential women wielding power through the court was therefore a well-established phenomenon in 1719. In France, the late Louis XIV had been influenced by Madame de Maintenon; in Britain, George I had Melusine von der Schulenburg; in Spain, the Princess des Ursins was highly influential.3 The court was largely a male world. Most courtiers and servants were men. And yet women were always there – even when there was no female member of the Swedish royal family in the 1740s, a small group of women served at court. Rather than an aberration, women were a natural part of the jigsaw puzzle of early modern government. That did not mean that the opportunities open to women equalled those of men. Women and power is a complex issue today and was a complex issue in the early modern period. all translations are the author’s own. For the earlier coronation of Queen Christina in 1650, see Grundberg 2005; Tegenborg Falkdalen 2003 discusses rhetoric focusing on two Swedish queens regnant. 2 Harris 1991. 3 Bryant 2004; Beattie 1967; Hatton 1978; Noel 2004.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

To be seen openly to wield power could scandalise contemporary observers. Yet, the vast machinery of informal power comprised both women and men, as was well known. When the English ambassador, Bulstrode Whitelocke, visited Queen Christina’s Lady of Honour Lady, Jane Ruthwen, to offer his help, he had an ulterior motive because he had ‘found that, among other visits, those to ladies are not unnecessary for an ambassador, especially in the Court of a Queen, whose ear they have more than her Councillors; and in all States their influence in the highest affairs is not to be despised’. 4 Whitelocke also illustrated how the pursuit of influence at court often required taking part in its social life.5 The Puritan ambassador dutifully attended various social occasions during his stay in Stockholm, and Lady Jane Ruthwen danced with Whitelocke’s son at court.6 Whitelocke not only cultivated Ruthwen, but ‘received civilities and respect from divers of the Queen’s ladies’. As most of them could speak French, Whitelocke was able to converse with them easily, and, as with Ruthwen, he had an ulterior motive here: when chatting with the women who served the Queen, he would ‘discourse with them in drollery, yet of such matters as he was willing should come to the Queen’s ear, and he knew the ladies would not fail to relate to Her Majesty; and this he found they did, and not to the disadvantage of him or his business, through the good opinion which his civility had gained them’.7 Women had a given place in monarchical regimes, although their opportunities and circumstances varied.8 Jeroen Duindam has remarked that ‘[d]ynastic reproduction and succession could be organised in many ways, and entailed a marked presence of women at court, even if their presence did not as a rule imply a share in formal responsibilities of government.’9 That was an evident truth: at the heart of early modern European power there were always women. Women lived in the palace itself.10 That placed them in a prime position to act not just as courtiers, servants, consorts, and 4 Reeve 1855, i. 282-283. 5 Hannah Smith (2006) has written about culture, politics, and social life at the early Georgian court, Elaine Chalus (2005) has discussed aristocratic women as political hostesses, and Susan Whyman (1999) has looked at elite sociability. 6 Reeve 1855, i. 293. 7 Ibid., 283. 8 This volume focuses on Sweden in a European context, but naturally women in princely states outside Europe could also play vital roles. See, for example, Duindam et al. 2011; De Nicola 2017; Joshi 1994. 9 Duindam 2011, 1. 10 The gendered structure of space in royal residences has been studied in a volume edited by Chatenet and De Jonge (2014).

Introduc tion: Women living with power


daughters, but as powerbrokers: the omnipresence of women at the heart of power was evident to contemporaries. As Olwen Hufton has remarked, ‘a court without women both looks and feels wrong’, and even in superficially very male cardinalate or papal courts women played an important part.11 That said, it was a given that in the patriarchal society of early modern Europe, women did not have the same opportunities as their fathers, brothers, and husbands. In Sweden, daughters normally inherited half of what sons inherited. The sons of the nobility could make a life for themselves by finding a position in the army or the administration. Noblewomen had few chances of making a living through work, so for them the handful of places at court were a golden opportunity. Women’s lives were, at least in theory, supposed to be more limited, and they were to conduct themselves accordingly. Furthermore, women, to an even greater degree than men, were expected to act for their family networks. Hufton has emphasised how women at court were agents working for their families, noting that ‘most had a family agenda, varying from individual to individual, from marriage strategies to posts for husbands’.12 Barbara Harris has also emphasised how women at court acted for their families – ‘For women from court families, appointments to the Queen’s household enhanced their familial careers by situating them in the most advantageous position to secure royal patronage.’13 I will return to the question of whether women were agents for their families or for themselves.

Opportunities It could be said that any community is worth studying, sometimes because its intrinsic ordinariness may say something about the rest of society, sometimes because its unique character provides insights. Courts were spectacular places with consequences that reverberated through society. In a time when elites wielded immense power, courts were at the centre of elite life and imagination. A number of issues will be addressed in this volume. At its heart is the question of whether women at court acted as intermediaries between the royal house and the elite. The received wisdom among scholars of early modern courts is that they were an all-important link between the ruler 11 Hufton 2000, 2. 12 Ibid., 8. 13 Harris 2002, 6.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

and the national elite. Courtiers were recruited to reflect the polity of the realm. David Starkey characterised the early Tudor court as ‘built on rock’ because it included the leading magnates and their networks.14 Geoffrey Elton famously described the court as a ‘point of contact’ between monarch and elites.15 The archetypical early modern courtier mediated between monarch and a throng of eager petitioners of all kinds. In words reminiscent of Elton’s and Starkey’s, Robert Evans characterised the early modern court as ‘the nodal point’ where monarch and elites met.16 Neil Cuddy viewed the court of King James VI & I as a balancing act, where both Scotsmen and Englishmen were represented because ‘the court was regarded as the mirror of the ruler’s territories’.17 Britain was only one of many conglomerate states in early modern Europe, and the court has been said to be the glue used to unite ‘the extraordinarily heterogeneous élites of a union of kingdoms and territories’.18 Elton, Starkey, and Cuddy all had their gaze firmly on men serving at the Tudor and Stuart courts. Men, naturally enough, have long been the focus of many historians researching the early modern court. Women have increasingly come to the fore since the 1990s, however, though often in the form of articles and monographs focusing on queens and princesses rather than the institutional context of the women who served them. As will be made clear in this book, women at the Swedish court were not mere mirror images of their male counterparts. While men could move on to positions in the army and the administration, women at court either had to stay, marry, or retire from service; there was no matching cursus honorum for women. Another aspect was that women at court often lacked links to the elite for the simple reason that they were foreigners. The arrival of a royal bride from abroad brought an influx of foreign noblewomen in her retinue. To analyse why women served at court it is imperative to understand how they were recruited and their family backgrounds. It is also necessary to chart the rewards of court service, from salaries and all kinds of perquisites to the influence reached by a minority. In some ways, women courtiers have always been thought different to male courtiers. A somewhat lazy assumption has been that women were instruments of family networks. As they could not aspire to high office 14 15 16 17 18

Starkey 1987, 22-23. Elton 1976. Evans 1991, 487. Cuddy 1987, 256. Asch 1991, 35.

Introduc tion: Women living with power


or overtly political offices like Royal Councillor, it has been easy to see them as mainly working for the benef it of family members. While this was true to a certain degree, a number of women had their own agendas rather than their families’, and the agency to match. To grasp the context, opportunities, and limits for women at court it is important to consider the organisational and spatial structure of each court, and of course any changes. It is in this context that the queens and princesses must also be seen. In the later chapters, I discuss the royal marriage market, what was required to be a successful queen, the roles that queen dowagers carved out for themselves, and the stark loneliness of life at the top of the court pyramid. The book falls into three parts. The first looks at outsiders at court such as petitioners and beggars, but also aristocratic women taking in part in court life without strictly being part of the court; the second looks at insiders, the women serving at court; and the third, members of the royal family. The book sets out the spectrum of opportunities open to women both serving at court and interacting with the court, the complexities of women’s agency in a court society, and, ultimately, the precariousness of power.

Growing interest The last 30 years have seen an upsurge of interest in royal women and, somewhat later and to a lesser degree, women who served at court. This has had consequences both for political history and gender studies. Natalie Zemon Davis pointed out in the early 1990s that ‘the courts of female rulers and their kingly counterparts encouraged women to political action within the framework of sovereign monarchy’.19 At the same time, empirically based research expanded and brought new nuance to the issue of women at the early modern court. In 1984, Simon Adams published his article ‘Eliza Enthroned’ dealing with the Elizabethan court as an institution, including women and not focusing merely on men.20 One of the earliest systematic studies of women at an early modern court was Ruth Kleinman’s article on the household of Anne of Austria.21 Kleinman analyses the people who 19 Zemon Davis 1993, 173-174. 20 Adams 1984. 21 Kleinman 1990. Naturally, there were others who were even earlier, such as Scheller (1966), but they rarely analysed the women who served at court as a collective with an understanding of the court as an institution.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

served the Queen and tries to trace the complex threads of patronage and influence which linked the female and male courtiers to the rest of French nobility. In another article Barbara Hanawalt studied Lady Honour Lisle’s networks.22 In 1990, Barbara Harris could write that ‘the new emphasis on the centrality of the great household, patronage, and the court has made it both possible and necessary to integrate upper-class women into early Tudor political history’.23 Harris followed this with a number of important texts.24 Perhaps even more seminal was the work by Sharon Kettering on early modern French aristocratic women. In a series of publications, Kettering analysed the complex web of early modern patronage and power and the role of noblewomen.25 Her detailed analysis fleshed out the words of one of the women who served Anne of Austria that ‘the house of kings is like a large marketplace where it is necessary to trade for the maintenance of life, the interests of life, and the interests of those to whom we are bound by duty and by friendship’.26 This new scholarship meant that in both gender studies and court studies as a whole, women at court became a recognised field. This brought a swift correction to one early text in an influential book on court studies, Pam Wright’s ‘A Change of Direction: The Ramifications of a Female Household’ in David Starkey’s trailblazing The English Court: From the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War.27 While most contributors to the Starkey volume argued for the court as a place of power long overlooked by more formally minded historians, Wright painted the Marian and Elizabethan Privy Chambers as drained of influence due to the exclusion of early modern women, apart from queens, from arenas of formal decision-making such as royal councils. According to her, the Elizabethan Privy Chamber ‘retreated into mere domesticity’.28 Wright’s stance, shared by David Loades – who described the change from the powerful Privy Chambers of Henry VIII and Edward VI to the female Privy Chambers of the 1550s as ‘a glorified boudoir’ – would not survive the onslaught of scholarship for long.29 Almost immediately, Joan Greenbaum Goldsmith’s dissertation, a mainly literary analysis focusing on the image of women at court, made the case for the power of Elizabethan 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Hanawalt 1988. Harris 1990, 260. Harris 1997; Harris 2002. Kettering 1997, 1989, 1993. Madame de Motteville, quoted in Kettering 1993, 69. Wright 1987. Ibid., 150. David 1989, 191-192.

Introduc tion: Women living with power


women.30 A far more ambitious and empirically groundbreaking early study was Charlotte Merton’s analysis in 1992 of women serving the Tudor queens Mary and Elizabeth.31 This has been widely used by later scholars of the Tudor court. With the force of her detailed empirical research, Merton drove home the many facets of power available to women serving Mary and Elizabeth, describing how the Marian and Elizabethan women at court did not sit in the Council or in Parliament, or fight wars, or run the administration of the country; yet they held the key to the greatest power in the land simply because they organised the queens’ lives, and spent hours in their company every day. Not only did they hold the key, they used it in the pursuit of wealth, power, and reputation for themselves, their close relatives and friends, and for any number of fee-paying clients.32

Somewhat later, Helen Payne looked at women who served Queen Anne at the Jacobean court.33 Payne, however, has argued that women were excluded from ‘those positions in government and in the royal households which gave the degree of authority necessary for the exercise of significant direct and formal power, major influence and patronage’.34 While conceding that most male courtiers were in a similar position, Payne argues that they could still aspire to such positions of power. While true as far as it goes, I will argue this view is unhelpful in understanding early modern power mechanisms. Such a dichotomy between formal and informal, vesting real clout in the latter, is misleading. It is of course true that women could not go on to careers in the same way as their spouses, brothers, and fathers, yet men with formal power, such as Councillors, were largely reliant on indirect power, too. The nature of early modern monarchical power was informal, and based on family and personal relationships rather than Weberian, formal, bureaucratic structures. As a further boost to the power of women at court came studies emphasising their influence not just in matters of appointment. Thus, Natalie Mears has seen women in the Elizabethan Privy Chamber as acting beyond patronage and in matters of high diplomacy.35 This scholarly field encouraged me in my first research into women, serving at the seventeenth-century Swedish court, as part of a research project led 30 31 32 33 34 35

Goldsmith 1987. Merton 1992. Ibid., 245. Payne 2001. A later dissertation on women and the Elizabethan court is Howey 2007. Payne 2004, 169. Mears 2004, 68.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

by my supervisor, Eva Österberg.36 Another early scholar, Caroline Hibbard, broke away from the Tudors and analysed the household of Henrietta Maria in the influential volume Princes, Patronage, and the Nobility: The Court at the Beginning of the Modern Age, c. 1450-1650, edited by Ronald Asch and Adolf Birke.37 Since 2000, the role of women at court has been more widely acknowledged, though it should be noted that scholarly interest has focused more on royal women than those serving them.38 A diversification in the history of royal women has helped this field to move beyond the trivial – as in ‘some women had power’ – into the meaningful. This has been a more obvious focus for scholars interested in the importance of royal courts for literature, music, and the other arts.39 The arts’ centrality in dynastic glorification at court has been highlighted. Queens as collectors and patrons of art have become a more systematic field of research. An early scholar in this field was Annemarie Jordan, who studied the Portuguese court. 40 Portugal’s trading – and early colonial – outposts provided a supply of exotic items beyond the scope of most courts. Several other scholars have shed light on queens as collectors, including Erin Griffey on Henrietta Maria, James Anderson Winn on Queen Anne, and Joanna Marschner on Queen Caroline.41 For Sweden, Lisa Skogh has carried out a detailed analysis of Queen Hedvig Eleonora as a collector. 42 Theresa Earenf ight was one of the f irst to study female royal power per se, in her case in fifteenth-century Castile. 43 Queenship studies has quickly expanded in the last fifteen years. Clarissa Campbell Orr edited two important volumes on British and European queenship, followed soon by Carole Levine and Robert Bucholz’s edited volume on English queens and power. 44 Individual case studies such as Magdalena Sánchez, Barbara Stephenson, and Elena Woodacre have greatly enhanced our knowledge of the opportunities, expectations, and challenges facing early modern queens. 45 Nadine Akkerman has analysed the important role of a queen 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45

See Persson 1997. Hibbard 1991. For example, Schulte et al. 2006. See, for example, Broomhall 2018; McManus 2003. Jordan 1994. Griffey 2015; Winn 2014; Marschner 2014; Marschner 2017. Skogh 2013. Earenfight 1997. Campbell Orr 2002, 2004; Levin and Bucholz 2009. Sánchez 2002; Stephenson 2004; Woodacre 2013.

Introduc tion: Women living with power


through her correspondence. 46 The crucial importance to royal women of maintaining and creating dynasties has also come into increasing focus. Royal women moving across borders and the potential for cultural transfer inherent in that has also been a new field of interest. 47 Scholarly work on royal women in the context of a royal household, and not primarily as cultural patrons, has seen less progress. There are two major exceptions. In The Augustan Court, Robert Bucholz analyses a decline in court inf luence under Queen Anne, perceptible in both power and culture. 48 Indeed, in his analysis Bucholz integrates politics and culture as two sides of the same coin, in an approach not far from the one taken later by Tim Blanning. 49 Dries Raeymaekers’s analysis of the archdukes in Brussels covers crucial institutional aspects such as spatial organisation and the structure of the court.50 Work focusing specifically on the women who served at court rather than the royal women per se has been sparser after Merton, Kleinman, Kettering, Hibbard, and Bucholz. An important volume edited by Werner Paravicini and Jan Hirschbiegel in 2000 took that approach.51 Even clearer was the volume edited in 2014 by Nadine Akkerman and Birgit Houben.52 Two substantial studies have cast light on women serving at the Imperial and Bavarian courts, respectively. In her very thorough and scholarly study, Katrin Keller charts the careers, family backgrounds, and marriages of women at the Imperial court in Vienna.53 Keller emphasises Bourdieu’s concept of ‘cultural capital’ as a reward for court service rather than the pecuniary advantages.54 Britta Kägler has published a similarly thorough book on women at the Bavarian court.55 Various articles have highlighted case studies of isolated but important aspects of the women in royal households.56 For example, there is the question of how the reconstruction of the Queen’s household could be part of a national reconstruction after a long period

46 Akkerman 2011-2015; see also Akkerman 2014. 47 Palos and Sánchez 2016; Watanabe-O’Kelly and Morton 2017. 48 Bucholz 1993. 49 Blanning 2002. 50 Raeymaekers 2013. 51 Paravicini and Hirschbiegel 2000. 52 Akkerman and Houben 2014. 53 Keller 2005. 54 Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of ‘cultural capital’ had been used for the Austrian nobility by Karin McHardy (1999), and would continue to be used (for example, Persson 2014). 55 Kägler 2011. 56 Zum Kolk 2009; Whitelock and MacCulloch 2007; Richter 2005; Frost 2013.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

of foreign domination.57 There has been interest in the struggle for key positions for women reflecting political groups and differences.58 It is as the benef iciary of this rapidly evolving and ever-richer f ield that I have written this book.

Sources and the challenge of invisibility What primary sources can help an analysis of women at the Swedish court? There is always a source problem in that women tended either to be overlooked or demonised. Kevin Sharpe has written about how contemporaries saw ‘the spectre of influential, powerful women’ at the court of Charles II.59 The female favourite was immediately pilloried and the extent of her power – and its origin – was the subject of malicious gossip even more than for male favourites. Another aspect was the challenge of informal influence defying written records, because such power tends to be elusive. In the records of the deliberations and decisions of formal forums such as the Royal Council or the Diet, women have a low profile. They have to be tracked down through letters, diplomatic reports, and gossip, all carefully weighed and analysed. For Sweden, the informal sources such as correspondence began in quantity after about 1600. Before that, the surviving letters are few and give a very patchy image of aristocratic life, and even after 1600 there were many gaps – for example, in the aftermath of a treason trial in 1651, letters appear to have been destroyed intentionally by the noble families concerned.60 To study women at court is to be constantly hampered by the institutional invisibility of individual women in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In many financial records, individual women are not named, and only figure as nameless members of groups such as ‘three Maids of Honour’ receiving fabric or shoes. Typically, expenses for noblewomen at the 1540s court normally did not mention names – just the number of Maids of Honour. At other times incomplete names or brief descriptions – ‘English Lady’ – make identification very hard.61 In English sources, women at court were usually named in coronation proceedings, even if not in the normal course 57 Marçal Lourenço 2005. 58 Borgognoni 2018. 59 Sharpe 2013, 216. 60 The trial of Arnold Messenius. 61 RA, Gustav Kassmans samling, vol. 2, ‘Mantalet på min N. Drotningz hoffolck datum den 13 Julij åhr 1613’ with ‘the English Lady’ (‘Engelske fruwen’).

Introduc tion: Women living with power


of events. In Swedish procession lists, women, unless royal, are normally not named. In some cases women were simply left out of records, despite serving at court. Thus Queen Maria Eleonora, who had followed the King on campaign in Germany in around 1630, was characteristically late in paying Elizabeth Langenberg, one of her Chamberers. The reply she got was that the Treasurer had ‘carefully searched the records of payments for the past years, in particular for when Her Majesty was in Germany, to there ascertain what Your Majesty’s Chamberer should receive. But as her name among the salaried persons is nowhere to be found’, he could not pay Langenberg.62 Still, when Langenberg got married the following year, Maria Eleonora celebrated the wedding at one of her properties, Gripsholm Castle, and invited aristocratic guests.63 To provide as full a picture as possible of women at the Swedish court, I have used a wide array of sources. Among the more important are the wardrobe accounts (klädkammarräkenskaper), kitchen accounts (hovförtäringen), cellar accounts (vinkällaren), royal correspondence (riksregistraturet), and diplomatic reports. To study space at court it is natural to study the royal palaces still in situ in Stockholm, Drottningholm, and Kalmar, as when studying courts the written sources can be used alongside built remains. The introductory example of Menza von Düben at Queen Ulrika Eleonora’s coronation can thus be compared to a painting of the coronation of Ulrika Eleonora’s mother in 1680, showing four women of the court attending on the Queen.64 They were presumably her four Danish Maids of Honour who, dressed in white silk, carried her train in church.65 There is, however, no mentioning of them helping the Queen with her coronation mantle or adjusting her crown. This constant hunt for pieces of a jigsaw puzzle where most pieces are lost sometimes provides tantalising phantom pieces instead of more tangible and useful evidence. One of the earliest traces of women at the Swedish court is an account noting the cost of 26 pairs of red shoes for the Queen’s maids in 1539.66 Hopefully this book can fill those shoes, and others like them, with people of flesh and blood. 62 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Maria Eleonora Ingångna skrivelser K 86, Gabriel Oxenstierna to Maria Eleonora, Stockholm, 2 November 1637. 63 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Maria Eleonora Utgående skrivelser K 83, Maria Eleonora to Knut Posse, Gripsholm, 2 July 1638. 64 Painting by David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl. 65 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Handlingar rörande Ulrika giftermål m.m. K 202, Coronation ceremony, 1680. 66 RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1539:4.


Rituals of royal compassion Abstract In the seventeenth century there were signs of a more gendered quality of compassion. Queens were expected to be more compassionate than kings. Compassion switched from being part of kingship to being part of queenship. Royal compassion in the early modern period took various forms. It shifted from the personal to the institutional. From men to women. But it remained a powerful idea, and a concept that no one could afford to ignore. Keywords: compassion, virtue, alms, beggars

The poor were always with the court, hoping for charity. The gates of the palace were haunted by the destitute; those not quite so desperate lay in wait inside, in the corridors and staircases of the residence. Many would have begged for succour in vain, but the lucky ones who did receive help can be glimpsed in the royal accounts. The steady flow of help from the royal family was something to be taken into account when planning the court’s expenses. As a budget for the use of grain by the sixteenth-century court noted, after the regular expenses had been estimated, ‘as is known, much grain is usually given away. Also given to hospitals and other poor, and also in payment and many other expenses, which will amount to a large sum over the year’.1 In 1551, Queen Margareta gave four cows to a Mistress Agnes because of her poverty.2 The Queen’s benevolence benefitted a wide range of people: in 1547 she had given away cushions, rugs, bed linen, flax, barrels of mead, cheeses, 62 salmon, and other items, reflecting the influx of taxes in kind to the royal palace.3 A slew of Russian items such as gloves and purses were also handed out by 1 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Odaterade handlingar rörande kungliga hovet K 8, n.d. (the second half of the sixteenth century). 2 RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1551:7. 3 Ibid. 1547:9.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch01


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

the Queen.4 The recipients ranged from the Queen’s mother, who was given three barrels of apples, and clerics, who were given textiles, to servants like the washerwoman who was given an ‘old painted tapestry’, and simply ‘the poor’.5 Queen Margareta’s old wet nurse was included, as were the nuns of Sko Abbey. The nuns had various gifts from the Queen over the years, such as mead.6 She not only gave to Catholics, though; the Swedish Protestant reformer Olaus Petri also received royal gifts.7 In the 1551 accounts Queen Margareta received money to ‘give to poor people’. At Christmas that year the Queen and the royal children gave 28 marks as ‘sacrifice money’. The King himself gave to 21 ‘poor people’ on Christmas Day and then more money to nineteen other poor people three days later. When Queen Margareta died in 1551 – her will channelled substantial gifts to cathedrals, clergy, hospitals, and the poor8 – the children continued the tradition of giving to people in need. On 31 January 1553, fifteen-year-old Prince John received two marks from the royal treasury. This money, it was noted in the accounts, the Prince gave to ‘poor children’.9 On two other occasions in the same month his older brother, Prince Eric, had also received money, which had been dispersed in parishes near Kalmar where he was residing as duke, and the following month he gave two marks to ‘a poor man’ in ‘the name of God’. At the edge of the court, by the palace gates or at stops when the court was travelling, beggars and petitioners clustered in the hope of receiving alms from the royal family and members of the court. To be compassionate was seen as a royal virtue, and all members of the royal family, women and men, handed out money to the poor, especially at holidays. In what can be called rituals of compassion, money marked the royal family’s compassionate and forbearing nature in their dealings with their deserving subjects. Over time this changed, and the alms became more institutionalised, though female members of the royal family continued to dispense charity personally. Elite women’s direct contact with the poor served to emphasise how they fulfilled traditional royal duties, which became increasingly feminised. Gifts in early modern society could be highly socially charged and symbolic.10 Higher-ranking courtiers would receive precious objects at 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Ibid., fol. 45v. Ibid., fol. 36. Ibid., fol. 37. Ibid., fol. 37. Dahlbäck n.d. RA, Räntekammarbok 1553, p. 70. Heal 2014.

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New Year, which singled them out and marked their status. Royal gifts to the poor were of a very different kind. They marked the status of the royal giver as compassionate and Christian.11 At the French court, aumôniers were used to distribute royal alms, while at the English courts almoners fulfilled that function.12 These were normally clerics, which emphasised the associative link between religion and charity towards people in need. There was no official royal almoner at the Swedish court, and often quite lowly court servants, such as lackeys (lakejer), were charged with dispensing money to the poor. The most famous ritual of early modern royal compassion was touching for the King’s Evil, described in Marc Bloch’s ground-breaking work Les Rois thaumaturges, focused on the royal touch.13 The practice died out in Britain after the Hanoverian dynasty came to the throne, but persisted a bit longer in France.14 In Sweden no ceremonies of the royal touch are known: members of the royal family displayed their compassion towards the poor in other ways, even though it may not have sacralised the monarchy in the same manner. Swedish royals instead handed out alms and made certain occasions more memorable by increasing their largesse. Some also found additional ways, such as feeding the poor from the royal or ducal kitchens. Indeed, royal compassion was often very tangible, as when Queen Catherine in 1578 gave a hospital ten old sheets from the court to be used for bandages.15 Prince John and his brothers had obviously been instructed by Queen Margareta, as well as their distinctly parsimonious father, King Gustaf, that a display of compassion towards the less fortunate was an important royal virtue. When Prince John was given the dukedom of Finland to rule in the 1550s, he continued to practice the royal virtues he had seen at his father’s court, handing out money to the poor at the castle gate of Åbo at Christmas. His sister, Princess Sophia, also gave grain to ‘the poor in God’s name’, ‘to the poor in Uppsala’, and to ‘schoolboys in God’s name’ once she had her own court.16 As king, John III composed an inscription for the tomb of the medieval king Magnus Ladulås in which he praised his thirteenth-century predecessor for never being avaricious and being loved by the poor.17 John also tried to uphold the rights of the poor, for example, when they had been 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

An ideal queen should be bountiful towards those in need. See Brzezinska 1999. Houston 2010. Bloch 1924; see also Levin 1989. Smith 2006, 95. RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1578:9, fol. 14. Ibid. 1600:13, fols. 14v and 16v. Ericson Wolke 2004, 145.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

wronged by more wealthy citizens. His Church Ordinance of 1571 said that whoever failed to care for the poor was no better than a heathen. Thus it was suitable that ‘Compassion and Truth are the Guards of the King’, from the Book of Proverbs, was one of John III’s chosen mottos as king.18 In the main chronicle of his reign, he was characterised as ‘compassionate towards poverty and suffering’, although he was notably keen to uphold the difference in dress between the common sort and their betters.19 His Queen, Catherine Jagellonica, was also praised for her compassion. At her death, the poor and destitute in particular were said to have mourned her and the loss of her support.20 These were standard panegyric tropes, of course, but they still expressed the expectation that early modern monarchs, and in particular queens, would be bountiful towards the poor. For early modern monarchs, then, compassion was a crucial virtue. As a reflection of God and his vice-regents on earth, they were expected to display compassion and clemency. King John’s father, King Gustaf, was said to have felt compassion (medlidande) for his fatherland when it suffered under the oppression of the tyrant King Christian II, thus provoking him into rebellion. In medieval ‘King’s Mirrors’ the key royal virtues were sapientia, prudentia, justitia, and misericordia. The Swedish royal saint, Erik, was naturally associated with all these virtues. However, we can see a change over time in how compassion was displayed. It should be noted that compassion (medkänsla or medlidande) was not the word commonly used for acts of kindness towards the less fortunate; instead mildness (mildhet) or mercy (barmhärtighet), were the terms of choice; yet, even so, compassion (or kindness or mercy) was a powerful concept, and the language of compassion was used both by monarchs towards their subjects and vice versa. In politics, appeals were often made to ‘innate royal compassion’ and ‘royal clemency’. Royal decrees emphasised the monarch’s compassion and others’ lack of compassion. Thus, the deposed Christian II was frequently referred to as lacking compassion, and his nickname was not only ‘Christian the Tyrant’ but ‘Christian the Unmild’; likewise, King Erik of Pomerania, deposed in the 1430s, was also referred to as ‘Unmild King Erik’. When King Gustaf was challenged by rebels he was also called ‘Unmild King Gustaf’.21 King Gustaf’s oldest son, Erik, was deposed in 1569 and he was also later criticised for ‘his harsh and unmild rule’. One contemporary claimed that 18 19 20 21

Hildebrand 1874, 38. Girs 1745, 176. Ibid., 98. See a letter from the rebellion in 1529, in Thyselius and Ekblom 1841-1842, 179.

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the study of astrology had turned King Erik’s head and made him into ‘an unmild and suspicious Master’.22 By contrast, ‘royal mildness’ was a constant theme. The decidedly unmild King Charles IX drafted a law to regulate royal power and also habitually talked about ‘royal mildness’. One of the main paragraphs in the draft says that Sweden’s kings must not oppress the poor and should uphold justice. King Charles also drafted a law to criminalise evicting poor people in a way that resulted in their deaths. Yet, compassion had to be balanced against justice. Monarchs were not expected to issue pardons to everyone or to support every pauper.

Who and when Who was on the receiving end of this display of compassion, and when? The simple answer is that the royal virtue of compassion was ever present. When Duke (later King) John was in London on his brother’s behalf to court Queen Elizabeth I, he took up tennis with a vengeance. Yet even in the thick of his new pastime, John could take a break to dispense money to a poor woman ‘through the window of the tennis hall’.23 That said, it is clear that certain times of year were deemed especially suited for a show of compassion. Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer seem to have been standards times for the distribution of alms on a larger scale. Thus, it was a matter of course when Duke John, back in his duchy of Finland, sent his bailiff to distribute alms ‘to the poor who begged at the palace gate’ on Christmas Day.24 When receiving communion was another such occasion. Major royal ceremonies were also usually accompanied by the handing out of alms. A coronation was an obvious opportunity. At the coronation of King Erik in 1561, the vicar of Stockholm was given 100 daler to dispense to the poor, and the next day another 100 daler for the poor, while the hospital also got 100 daler. Another chaplain handed out 360 daler to the poor at seventeen different times in 1561. On Christmas Day in 1561 a further 300 daler were given to the hospital and 200 to Stockholm’s ‘husarme’ – people who were struggling to survive, such as burghers and widows, but were not destitute.25 In all 1,588 daler were given to the poor in 1561. In the year 22 23 24 25

Elander 1938, 99. Ericson Wolke 2004, 68. Ibid., 53. Lager-Kromnow 1992, 200-201.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

following Erik XIV’s coronation, similar distributions to the poor were made through the royal chaplains, especially as an ‘Easter sacrifice’, while at Christmas ‘His Majesty sacrificed in person’ 500 daler. His sister gave 160 daler to poor people in the hospital and to poor students. Certain places were associated with royal largesse. ‘The poor at the gate’ were often mentioned. In the 1550s King Gustaf gave money to ‘a poor man at the castle gate of Västerås’, and a few days later there was a gift for ‘a blind man’ on the road. The following month Prince Eric gave money to ‘four poor people at the castle gate of Västerås’. Gates were often mentioned, not just in Västerås, but at an array of royal residences such as Stockholm, Kalmar, and Gripsholm. Most of those seeking help flocked to the palace gates, waiting for a royal entrance or exit. A step up the hierarchy was those seeking help who were allowed to enter the palace itself. They often stationed themselves on the stairs. In 1667, it was remarked that petitioners usually crowded the stairs inside the palace.26 Who was deemed worthy of royal bounty? Plainly, only some categories of people were thought to be so, and only for certain reasons – poverty, for example, or royal service. It was not unusual for several reasons to coincide, personified by the poor widows of royal servants. In 1577 the accounts contain a mixture of royal servants and people who received money ‘for their poverty’.27 A special case was probably the woman whose husband was killed on a royal barge.28 Sickness was a reason for compassion. A ‘sick young man by the palace gate in Stockholm’ was given money from the King in 1551; another stricken person had money from Prince John at the same gate a few days later. Though not strictly ill, a woman was given wine ‘while giving birth’.29 Royal service was another valid reason. Old soldiers were perhaps the most common beneficiaries of royal alms closely followed by servants such as court servants or scribes. Past service was important: the washerwoman Brita received malt as a gift from the Queen in 1555 even though she was no longer in service.30 When in 1588 Queen Gunilla gave butter, salmon, herring, and dried fish to a widow ‘for her late husband’s old service’, the 20-year-old queen was unlikely to have known the dead skipper personally, but it was the principle of reward for service that mattered.31 26 RA, Det odelade kansliet Rådsprotokoll, Huvudserien A I:48, 5 August 1667, fol. 321. 27 RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1577:10. 28 Ibid. 29 RA, Strödda kamerala handlingar, Strödda kamerala handlingar 1520-1828, vol. 3, Accounts, July 1567. 30 Ibid., vol. 18, Spannmålsräkenskaper 1555:5, 16 July 1555. 31 Ibid., vol. 1, Accounts, 1588.

Rituals of royal compassion


Service also carried over to royal servants’ families. In the same year, Queen Gunilla gave grain to the wife of a scribe ‘in her illness’.32 In the same way the daughter of the Linen Mistress (fateburshustru) at the royal palace in Stockholm, Tre Kronor, had received grain for her wedding.33 One category was royal servants or soldiers who had suffered because of their service. In 1565 Dominicus the feathermaker and Roland the goldsmith both received gifts as they had been stabbed at the King’s feast in the great hall. Others had been kicked by horses, while some had their feet frozen off during campaigns or had been hurt by fire on land or at sea. Three soldiers who had been released after thirteen years of Polish captivity were given money in 1615, at the same time as seven lame peasants (ordinary peasants were thought especially deserving if they had suffered as hostages in the war against Denmark, for example).34 In 1594 King Sigismund and Queen Anna washed the feet of twelve poor beggars in Stockholm.35 This was a deeply Catholic ritual, and the deposition of King Sigismund precluded any further such ceremonies – this was one ritual of royal compassion and humility that was performed only once in the early modern period. It was said that angry Lutherans afterwards beat up the beggars.

Institutionalisation In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, royal compassion tended to be referred to as clemency and grace. From the throne, the monarch graciously granted clemency: a distant ideal, in reality more honoured in the breach. There may have been personal differences. Queen Catharina Jagellonica primarily made gifts to court servants, while others such as Queen Margareta appear to have given freely to a wider range of people. An interesting example was Duke Charles (later Charles IX). At his residences in the 1580s and 1590s he fed certain people in need, noted in the accounts as receiving ‘[b]read until their dying day’.36 In the 1590s, the Duke fed between five and ten ‘almschildren’ (allmosebarn) from the ducal kitchen. These children were normally boys, with a few exceptions.37 It was noted in 1595 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid., vol. 20, Spannmålsräkenskaper 1560:4. 34 RA, Räntekammarböcker 1526-1630, 1615; RA, Räntekammarböcker 1526-1630, vol. 42, 1565, fols. 148-149. 35 Geijer 1852, 321. 36 RA, Landskapshandlingar Södermanlands handlingar 1578:7. 37 Ibid. 1595:7.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

that his wife was engaged in the selection of these children, as there was an addition of two ‘almschildren who the Duchess sent from Stockholm’.38 The practice of supporting almschildren at the ducal court was interestingly reminiscent of the Catholic penance of feeding the poor and caring for almschildren. The Duke’s stepmother, Dowager Queen Catharina, provided for an almswoman at her own court, for example.39 Nineteenth-century stories had Queen Christina the Elder (wife of Charles IX mentioned above) as being famously mean, which shows why it is so important to analyse the primary sources rather than unsubstantiated tales: there is no basis in reality for her miserliness, and Christina appears perfectly normal in dispersing charity. 40 A list from February 1621 had the people who had applied to her for succour, and normally had a ‘Will receive’ scribbled in the margin. 41 The requests ranged from buying church bells and tax relief for an old soldier to ‘a poor person who has suffered a stroke begs something in the name of God’. The following year barrels of grain were distributed to ‘poor people in God’s name’ who ‘at numerous times have requested God’s alms’. 42 It should be noted that Queen Christina always gave grain not just to individuals but also to institutions such as hospitals. 43 Beggars as part of the display of royal compassion largely faded away in the seventeenth century. Instead, institutions were emphasised. Queen Christina was not the only one to give money to hospitals. Eric XIV had supported Danviken Hospital in the 1560s, as did his brother, Charles IX. 44 Gustaf II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) in the 1610s regularly gave an annual gift of 200 daler to Danviken. 45 He went on to issue a decree against beggars while supporting hospitals in 1624. Both he and his father, Charles IX, had been at pains to differentiate between the wrong poor and the right, ‘deserving’ poor. The harsher tone adopted against the undeserving poor may have been one result of the Reformation, with the poor increasingly viewed with suspicion. They were thought lazy and workshy. Thus, it was natural that 38 Ibid. 1595:4, Week 23. 39 RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1622:2. 40 RA, Kungliga arkiv, K 79 Handlingar rörande Kristinas levnadsförhållanden och egendom, Various receipts from the 1620s. Two barrels of grain appears to have been a standard form of help. 41 Ibid., Protocol then 19 February 1621. 42 Ibid., [1622]. 43 Ibid. 44 RA, Räntekammarböcker 1526-1630, 1608. 45 Ibid., 1615 and 1617.

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the poor gradually retreated as receivers of royal alms. No longer do we find hordes of poor people at the castle gates, begging for alms. When King Charles IX and King Gustaf II Adolf gave money at the beginning of the seventeenth century it was mainly on an individual basis to the deserving poor: a great many former soldiers who had suffered captivity in Poland received support; money was given to old servants who were ill or to assist with their funeral costs; and exulants (religious refugees from Bohemia) also received royal aid. Yet the number of unnamed poor in the financial accounts began to dwindle. Instead, they receive money through the institution of the Danviken Hospital. Every year the kings gave lump sums to Danviken to be dispersed by a chaplain. Then in the 1620s an orphanage was founded in Stockholm, and in 1640 an institution was opened for old soldiers (Vadstena krigsmanshus). The shift towards formal institutions was matched by a shift in gender when viewing compassion. Gustaf, Erik XIV, John III, and Charles IX were all active in supporting the poor and distributing alms. There is evidence that queens and princesses gave to the poor, but it is scant. In the seventeenth century we see a clear change: the display of royal compassion by giving to the poor became a duty for the women of the ruling house far more than the men. Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora in the 1630s is a good example. Her accounts had numerous examples of her support for the poor. ‘Various times given to beggars who often seek help from Her Majesty’ ran one entry in 1637. Her focus was old soldiers, widows, and, strikingly, people pressing their suits with the minority government – with whom the Queen Dowager was barely on speaking terms. Again and again we meet poor peasants, soldiers, and widows in the Queen’s accounts. There are notes of wooden legs, poor eyesight, or bad burns. At one point she even interceded (successfully) with the ruling Council on behalf of a man held ‘in irons’ in Tre Kronor. 46 Later in the century Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora provides a similar picture. Her accounts listed many handouts to ‘poor supplicants’. Several times money was given ‘to the poor by Her Majesty’s carriage on the way to Jacobsdal [Palace]’, or ‘to the poor on the way by her Majesty’s carriage’. 47 Later again, Queen Ulrika Eleonora was lauded after her death in 1693 for being mild and helping the poor. Her personal accounts do show a great deal of money distributed to named poor people. (Indeed, on her deathbed 46 Council minutes, 23 August 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii. 379. 47 Slottsarkivet (SLA), Stockholm, Hovstatsräkenskaper, Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonora, vol. 21, Kassaräkenskap, 1670.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

she is said to have pressured her husband, the King, to keep her promises of gifts, demanding, in German, ‘Loben sie mir das?’ [‘Do you promise me that?’]). Ulrika Eleonora also neatly illustrated both the shift in gender and the shift towards institutions in that she founded an institution for poor women in Stockholm, the Queen’s House (Drottninghuset). In the eighteenth century, male royals appear to have re-engaged with such compassionate enterprises. This may have stemmed from the fact that royal power was then severely curtailed. One way to gather more support for the Crown was to spread the image of a compassionate monarch as the benevolent father of his people. The emerging press helped such endeavours further. King Adolf Frederick offers a telling example. Finding an old beggar sick and unconscious at the roadside, the King had him taken into his own carriage and brought to a doctor for treatment. The value of such an action was not lost on royalists, and a painting was made of the King showing the depths of his royal compassion.48 The message could be warped, though. A malicious courtier, who later opposed the royal family, was behind a very different anecdote about King Adolf Frederick, saying that he wanted to give money to a guardsman, but as he only had ducats on him asked for change: this was royal pettiness rather than generosity and compassion. 49

The quality of compassion A real king was mild, merciful and compassionate. Deposed kings were regularly described as lacking in compassion – unmild King Erik, unmild King Christian. Sermons and speeches referred to compassion in the form of mercy and generosity towards the poor as an important part of kingship. Swedish princes in the sixteenth century were taught by experience that a display of compassion towards the poor was an important kingly virtue. From childhood they handed out money to the poor and needy, often in person at the palace gates. Particular seasons of the year such as Christmas and Easter were also especially suited for displays of royal compassion. That was when larger sums, often to the Danvik Hospital, were handed out. In the seventeenth century attitudes towards beggars hardened. The distinction between 48 Painting in Nationalmuseum by Pehr Hilleström Adolf Fredrik (1710-1771) vid Loka Brunn 1762. Painting number NMGrh 2670. The anecdote both portrayed and inscribed on the canvas. 49 Tegnér 1876, vol. 1, 56-57.

Rituals of royal compassion


deserving and undeserving poor became more important. Now kings showed their compassion for the poor by giving money not to beggars at the gate, but to deserving old servants, religious refugees, and old soldiers, or as a lump sum to an institution such as a hospital. In the seventeenth century there were signs of a more gendered quality of compassion. Queens were expected to be more compassionate than kings. Compassion switched from being part of kingship to being part of queenship. Queens dowager Maria Eleonora and Hedvig Eleonora freely gave alms to beggars, poor peasants, and destitute widows. The enduring image of Queen Ulrika Eleonora, who died in 1693, is of her kindness to the poor. In a way it had not been in the sixteenth century, this was now a main part of the duties of a queen, but not of a king. In the eighteenth century, the weakness of royal power and the emergence of a popular press made royal compassion a powerful instrument for boosting support for the King. Thus, the occasion when King Adolf Frederick halted his carriage and picked up a poor ill man to take him to a physician was lauded and even commemorated with a painting. King Adolf Frederick’s son, King Gustaf, even emphasised his compassion towards the less fortunate by holding public receptions several times a week in 1772. These were open to anyone seeking help from the King – even though aristocrats despised the whole business and referred to such events as ‘beggar receptions’. Royal compassion in the early modern period took various forms. It shifted from the personal to the institutional – from men to women – but it remained a powerful idea, and a concept that no one could afford to ignore.


Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks Abstract The Königsmarcks belonged to the highest echelons of the aristocracy, but they also possessed buckets of what Pierre Bourdieu has called ‘cultural capital’, essential to keeping one’s place in any societal hierarchy. Bourdieu’s experiment with the concepts of field and habitus, and how access to one or both can be gained, is revealing. Clearly Aurora von Königsmarck and her siblings had acquired a startling amount of cultural capital, which was invaluable in their social manoeuvrings. This cultural capital was then deployed in order to gain access to members of the royal family. Keywords: cultural capital, network, noblewomen, manners

Many early modern aristocratic families were vast networks, covering political allies, friends, servants, and officials as well as immediate family and distant relations. While medieval magnates had been relatively independent, early modern aristocrats had to wield influence through the machinery of monarchy. This was presented by Norbert Elias as the absolute monarchies turning overmighty subjects into loyal courtiers, an interpretation applied to a number of early modern monarchies.1 As the overarching narrative of the increasing power of the early modern ruler and central government has not been questioned, significant adjustments have yet been made to this picture.2 The influence wielded by early modern monarchs could certainly be an opportunity for the aristocracy. If aristocrats managed to harness this vastly increased power they stood to benefit. Neil Cuddy has demonstrated how noblemen close to Charles I could reap huge rewards 1 2

Elias 1983; see, for example, Ehalt 1980. Duindam 1995.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch02


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

by leveraging royal favour – and Linda Levy Peck has shown how this was the subject of a lively discourse – while Dries Raeymaekers has illustrated how access to a ruler worked in the intricate context of the court of the Archdukes at Brussels.3 Stability can be overemphasised, though. If stability was at the heart of early modern political discourse, reality still forced its way in. This was a time when aristocrats had to adapt to several revolutions in Britain, for example, and in other European countries the political elite was partly dispossessed by absolutist power and the rise of bourgeois bureaucrats.4 Aristocrats in countries such as Brandenburg had to adapt to a new political landscape.5 The polity of many early modern monarchies had to be adaptable, with the consequence that flexibility was a survival skill. We can see how aristocrats were forced into political realignment.6 Among the key factors in such political dexterity was access to the ruler.7 Access did not guarantee political influence, but power was hard to achieve without it. The ever-increasing might of the early modern state and the ruler meant that more and more people were prepared to fight to gain this access. The rewards were higher and the competition much fiercer. Brian Weiser has underlined how ‘the commodity of access became both more rare and more prized’ by early modern people.8 It is thus an essential exercise to analyse how access was regulated. Among the many assets of the great aristocratic families, access became even more valuable as power shifted towards the absolute monarch. In the 1660s and 1670s few Swedish families were as grand as the Königsmarcks. When Aurora von Königsmarck was born in 1662, few people could match her family network. Aurora’s grandfather had risen to the rank of field marshal and count – the Queen Dowager, though sickly, attended his funeral in person. Her father, Conrad Christopher von Königsmarck, was Master of the Ordnance when he fell in battle in 1672. Her mother, Maria Christina Wrangel, was the daughter of Field Marshal Herman Wrangel and his third wife, Amalia Magdalena of Nassau. Thus, Aurora von Königsmarck was the niece of Carl Gustaf Wrangel, Sweden’s Commander-in-Chief, and related to a number of ruling houses in Germany and the Netherlands. The family’s connections also encompassed the leading families in Swedish politics in the 1660s and 3 4 5 6 7 8

Cuddy 2000; Peck 1990; Raeymaekers 2013. Bucholz 1993; Asch 1993; Marshall 1999; Norrhem 1993. Bahl 2001. Campbell 1996. See, for example, Raeymaekers and Derks 2016. Weiser 2003, 5.

Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


1670s. Aurora’s aunt Beata Elisabeth von Königsmarck was married to the Councillor Pontus Fredrik De la Gardie, brother of the Chancellor Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie. Her cousin Juliana Margareta Wrangel, the heiress of the Commander-in-Chief, was married to Nils Brahe, heir to the Chancellor of the Judiciary Per Brahe. Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie and Per Brahe were the two men who dominated politics at the time. Noble networks, as edifices that were integral to early modern power, sometimes depended on one single individual such as the Duke of Buckingham, Cardinal Mazarin, or Griffenfeld in Denmark.9 When that person fell into disgrace his whole network would have to reorganise and find new ways to secure influence. At the top of this structure was the throne. In Sweden, the great aristocratic families’ power rested in part on the fact that King Charles XI was a minor between 1660 and 1672. For twelve years, close relatives of the Königsmarcks ruled Sweden, wielding royal power. Even after the seventeen-year-old Charles XI came of age in 1672, his old guardians and Councillors continued to exercise great influence. The Königsmarcks were well situated to use an extensive network that few could rival, and ought to have felt confident. Their network was not built on a single person, as several of the main power brokers were linked to them: Carl Gustaf Wrangel, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, and Per Brahe. In the 1670s the family also had a rising star at court, in the shape of Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck, Aurora’s uncle. He served for a number of years as Chief Chamber Gentleman to the teenage king, a position hotly sought after as the proximity it gave was key to a personal relationship with the monarch – who was the pinnacle of this power structure. His usefulness to the family network is shown by the fact that he was deployed by Carl Gustaf Wrangel in an attempt to lobby the governing council. This happy state of affairs was about to crumble in a spectacular fashion, however. That a semi-German such as Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck was for many years the Chief Chamber Gentleman did worry other noblemen. The distrust of foreigners was formalised in an amendment to the Constitution in 1660, which set down that recently naturalised noblemen were not to be permitted to take part in the King’s education. The lower echelons of the nobility were often critical of the presence of foreigners at court. This animosity was obvious to the observer who wrote that Königsmarck was greatly loved by the King but was persecuted by the younger Swedish-born nobles because of his foreign extraction, as was usual in Sweden.10 9 Lockyer 1981; Olden-Jørgensen 1999. 10 Simon de Petkum to Christian V, Stockholm, 31 January 1672, in Fryxell 1836, i. 221.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

In 1674 Sweden was dragged into war on behalf of France. The result was a disaster. The ruling aristocrats were exposed as inefficient: the army and navy were poorly trained and badly equipped. The old war hero from the Thirty Years’ War, Carl Gustaf Wrangel, was frail, although he managed to ride into battle once again together with his brother, Wolmar Wrangel, another of Aurora’s uncles. The Swedish army was defeated by Brandenburg’s forces in 1675 at Fehrbellin. The following year Carl Gustaf Wrangel died. Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie and Per Brahe were also discredited by their abysmal performance in the war. The latter was very elderly and died in 1680; the former was pushed aside by the King, who removed him from the Chancery. The Königsmarcks’ sprawling and impressive family network was in tatters as the war ended in 1679. It was also increasingly obvious that momentous political changes were brewing in Stockholm. Demands grew for a reassumption of royal land handed out to aristocrats in the preceding decades. In the face of this, the obvious strategy was to rebuild the network and try to shield family interests, and this was best done in proximity to political power in Sweden. To be present in person was always preferable to pressing one’s suit from afar. This chapter thus addresses how the Königsmarcks strove to build a network on the ruins of the old one. They aimed for access to the royal family and used their contacts and their cultural capital. Using existing networks and eventually gaining access to various members of the royal family, Aurora’s mother, the Dowager Countess Königsmarck, Maria Christina Wrangel, acted vigorously. To procure a suitable office for her son, Carl Johan, in 1679 she turned to Johan Gyllenstierna, one of the most forceful advisers to the King and a leading light in the new political landscape, and therefore much more important to cultivate than old connections such as Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie and the Brahes. She wrote to Gyllenstierna from Hamburg to ask for Gyllenstierna’s assistance in making her son a Chief Gentleman of the Bedchamber of the King.11 Both she and the boy’s uncle, Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck, desired it. The latter had held the office himself, and in the 1670s Nils Brahe, a cousin by marriage, had been holder of that office. It was a very telling effort. If she succeeded, Carl Johan would be placed in close physical proximity to the King. He would be able to act as intermediary for the interests of his family and the extended Königsmarck network – ‘for all our fortunes’. Otto Wilhelm had managed to survive the 11 Linköpings stiftsbibliotek, Maria Christina Wrangel to Johan Gyllenstierna, Hamburg, 22 February 1679.

Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


political storms, possibly because he was personally appreciated by the King, and now his nephew should have a similar opportunity. Maria Christina Wrangel, however, knew that King Charles rated military exploits highly. Consequently, she stressed that ‘but as I know you cannot press suit with the King, if you lack the penchant for war, rest assured, Monsieur’ that in all his letters the younger Königsmarck displayed a passion for war. Thus, she suggested that the King could combine the gift of the office of Chief Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Carl Johan with a military office. To make her point she included a letter, brimming with martial delight, from her young son, who was then on campaign with the Maltese Order in the Mediterranean. As the war ended in 1679 the political landscape was changing fast, bringing new opportunities. First among them was the King’s marriage to the Danish Princess Ulrika Eleonora. The arrival of a new queen in Sweden meant the creation of a new royal household, with offices for aristocratic men and women to be filled, and if royal children appeared even more court positions would be created. Yet the old mainstays of the Königsmarck network were discredited, and now Field Marshal Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck was made Governor of Swedish Pomerania, and thus was distant from the throne and the power struggles in Stockholm. Maria Christina Wrangely very rationally decided that her and her children’s best interests demanded her presence in Stockholm. Without her former contacts she needed to pursue her own suits. The reorientation of her network can be discerned from her efforts to get into the good graces of Johan Gyllenstierna in 1679. She was to write at least one further letter to him in 1680, this time in pursuit of the Königsmarck inheritance.12 For good measure she also fired off a letter in the same vein to her relative Nils Brahe at the same time.13 That year she also decided to leave Stade for Stockholm. Maria Christina Wrangel had several interests to guard. A court case about claims on the estate of the late Claes Tott was one important reason to be in Stockholm; there were legal proceedings concerning her allowance; there was the reassumption of Crown land; she wanted court offices for her children, so it made sense to be at the heart of the decision-making machinery; and advantageous matches could also be made within the court context. Thus the Countess Dowager wanted to leave Hamburg in the spring of 1680, but a disagreement with her brother-in-law, Field Marshal Königsmarck, resulted in the latter trying to force her to stay. She had written another letter to 12 Ibid., Maria Christina Wrangel to Johan Gyllenstierna, Hamburg, 23 March 1680. 13 Ibid., Maria Christina Wrangel to Nils Brahe, Hamburg, 9 March 1680.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Johan Gyllenstierna begging for his assistance to increase her income as dowager, and the King had already ordered the judge in Bremen-Verden to come to a verdict in the matter. The Hamburg Council declared she was not allowed to leave. The Countess Dowager, from a princely family on her mother’s side and well connected, managed to get the support of the Elector of Brandenburg, who told Hamburg to release her. Not waiting for an answer, and leaving her children behind, she managed to sneak out of Hamburg and board a ship to Sweden. Initially, the young Königsmarck children were left to amuse themselves in Hamburg. A masked ball was organised where Aurora was a gypsy, her sister Amalia a French huntress, and her brother Carl Johan a galley slave. A letter in July 1680 revealed that the siblings had at first not been allowed to visit the court of the Duchess of Celle, but after some consideration the Duchess had relented. The siblings’ taste of court life was the sort of cultural capital that was essential to early modern aristocratic life. A Swedish manual stated that however well educated you were when you came to court, you began as if at school again. Court life had its own rules and codes of conduct. A premium was put on politesse and courtoisie, of course. You had to be well versed in modern languages, music, poetry, and literature. You needed the means to dress well. Dancing skills were essential. On top of that were the darker arts of how to press suits, how to persuade a prince, how to ingratiate yourself, and how to elbow competitors out of the way. That meant different things in different reigns, so you had to be able to adapt. Antonio de Guevara’s handbook for courtiers, which had been published in Swedish translation in 1616, gave the following advice: ‘to gain your Prince’s favour it is useful to observe his inclinations carefully, whether he most likes music, hunting, fishing, or birdsong, and having considered this carefully pursue the same interests as the Prince’.14 This may seem trifling, but in absolutist Europe the princely court was the apex of power, and the rewards of access to royal decision makers were sharply increasing. At court, decisions were made on the things might make or break a fortune, and offices were handed out or clawed back, likewise lands and titles. The little court at Celle may have been small change compared to Sweden, England, or France, but the principles remained the same. In the summer of 1680, the Königsmarck siblings at last followed their mother to Sweden. The same autumn the Swedish Diet was convened in Stockholm. The political upheaval so long in the making was finally realised 14 De Guevara 1616, 61.

Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


Figure 2: The secret to Aurora von Königsmarck’s success was her mastery of codes of court life, not just her beauty. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Aurora Königsmarck, late seventeenth century. Copyright Skoklosters slott.

when the Diet decided to launch an investigation into corruption and misrule by the King’s guardians in the Council. Even more importantly, major grants of Crown land were to be revoked, undermining the great wealth of families such as the De la Gardies and Brahes. In 1682 Royal Councillors replaced the Councillors of the Realm, and a number of aristocrats were thrown out altogether, Aurora von Königsmarck’s uncle Pontus Fredrik De la Gardie among them. All this meant that power was concentrated in the hands of the King, who was surrounded by a group of close advisers. To press a suit, it was crucial to have access to the throne,


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

but Charles XI was not a very accessible monarch. Intensely shy, he tried to avoid social life. At one point he hid in the forest in order not to have to meet the French diplomat Isaac de Feuquières.15 How then to go about things with an invisible king? Charles disliked supplicants and petitioners, which did nothing to detract from the depressing, even humiliating, experience for people who were used to being important on their estates in the countryside. To present a petition far from home could mean that you had to stay for a long time in Stockholm, consuming the money you had, or did not have, and sometimes ending in debt even if your suit was successful.16 In 1681 the King tried to stem the flow of petitioners by referring them to the provincial governors. This did not work and the people still come to Us daily from all and most far away places, sometimes with suits that lack such weight as We should or could act upon them, or of such a nature that We f ind it diff icult to decide on one-sided stories in other ways than referring them back, and sometimes the complaints are so dark and unreasonable that We should not listen to them.17

An earlier decree in the same vein had been proclaimed several times in law courts and from church pulpits across the country.18 The King did not relish ‘matters and suits that droves of petitioners burden Us with’,19 and especially not the important group of petitioners made up of Crown creditors. In 1682 money was so scarce and other business so pressing that the King tried to get rid of them by declaring that creditors who petitioned him would receive no money that year.20 The efforts to direct petitioners away from the King to provincial governors met with protests from representatives of the peasants. Some claimed that ‘the mighty ones will always press their suits better and can easily find many patrons and friends near His Majesty, whereby the poor will be pushed aside and oppressed by them’.21 The King refused to budge, answering that his only 15 Carlson 1861, 189. 16 RA, Riksregistraturet, Charles XI to Likvidationskommissionen, Stockholm, 17 May 1682. 17 RA, Riksregistraturet, ‘Placat angående sollicitanterne att dhe först skole sökia landzhöfdingarne innan dhe bewära kongl. maij:tt’, Kungsör, 26 April 1682. 18 Ibid. 19 RA, Riksregistraturet, Charles XI to all Swedish bishops, Kungsör, 26 April 1682. 20 RA, Riksregistraturet, Charles XI to Likvidationskommissionen, Stockholm, 17 May 1682. 21 RA, Riksregistraturet, ‘Kunglig Majestäts nådige resolution över allmogens allmänna besvär’, 3 January 1683.

Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


interest was to save ordinary people from expensive and fruitless journeys to court.22 The petitioners the King was keen to hold back seem to have been those after legal redress or payment, and although both groups were numerous, their temporary absence did not mean that the court would be empty of people pressing suits – whatever measures were taken, in the end there was always a melange of petitioners at court. In the 1690s a system of weekly Court Days was started to offer opportunities for the aristocracy to attend on the royal family. In the 1680s, however, this was yet to come, and Queen Ulrika Eleonora was sickly and out of the public eye, so only a limited number of aristocratic men and women served at court. Aurora’s mother, Maria Christina Wrangel, had tried to get one of those rare offices for her son Carl Johan, but she failed. Aurora herself, along with a number of her coterie, were often later labelled ‘Ladies-in-Waiting’ (approximate translation of the Swedish hovdamer) by scholars, but this was a misunderstanding. They did not serve at court. In fact, their lack of court office is central to my argument. They lacked any formal position at court, so, because one’s presence under the royal gaze was essential, they had to arrange ways in which to be seen by the royal family. As a courtier wrote, ‘he who falls out of sight, falls out of mind’.23 How to gain this all-important access? We can see how the Königsmarcks focused their attentions on Sweden’s queens, probably because they thought them more approachable than the King. In 1681 Aurora’s older brother, Carl Johan, met their younger brother, Philip, at the English court. He emphasised the importance of using life at court to further his prospects. In a letter to his uncle, the Königsmarck enthusiasm for networks and gaining access to influential princes was very much to the fore in Carl Johan’s proposal that young Philip should leave London and travel north to Scotland to attend the heir to the throne, the Duke of York: ‘He would form connaissances which might one day be to his advantage, especially at the court of the Duke.’24 These were the words of an early modern aristocrat, knowing full well the importance of allies at court. It should be remembered that life at court was dangerous and could bring huge debts, illness, bad repute, and nasty habits. Later the same year, one of Philip’s uncles decided to remove him from London to Paris, but to keep him from the French court for at least a year. The older brother, Carl Johan, left England for France at the same time, and proceeded to make 22 Ibid. 23 Johan Ekeblad to Christopher Ekeblad, Stockholm, 25 October 1654, in Sjöberg 1911, i. 376. 24 Mörner 1913, 13.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

himself known to Louis XIV. He took part in the royal supper and attended the couchér, where, he reported, ‘I had the privilege to entertain His Majesty with stories of the customs of the Moors.’25 It did not end there, he continued: ‘I was so fortunate to profit from this beautiful occasion to speak in front of His Majesty, that He Himself in a loud voice declared Himself fully satisfied therewith and told me to sometimes again attend at His coucher and lever to further satisfy His curiosity.’26 Louis XIV also offered Carl Johan the office of colonel. While Carl Johan von Königsmarck made his mark at the English and French courts his sisters did the same at the Swedish court. In the summer of 1682, the Königsmarcks visited the new Swedish spa at Medevi. Their uncle had taken the waters there for his gout the previous year and it was patronised by the royal family. To people wanting to remain in the royal gaze, Medevi was an excellent opportunity. From there, Aurora wrote to her cousin De la Gardie with news of mingling with relatives such as her Wrangel cousins and the De la Gardies and other important Swedes. For their entertainment, games and dances were organised. Aurora’s descriptions were by her own admission modelled on the Mercure galante, the most influential literary and artistic journal of the time for court society – a mark of how well she not only practised but mastered the manners of court life. At the same time Maria Christina Wrangel was pressing her suit hard. She attended on the King, paying ‘frequent visits’ in 1682 and 1683.27 Late in 1683 her legal troubles seemed to be partly solved by the personal intervention of the King, but the case rumbled on because of inconsistencies in the court verdicts – which left her, in her own words, ‘completely ruined’. While these cases were continuing, she began to be invited to supper with the Queen Dowager, starting in February 1683 – or at least, that was when her name first featured in the cellar accounts.28 She might have been invited to boost the court in an effort to entertain a visiting German princeling. In August 1683 a prince of Wolfenbüttel visited Sweden, and Countess von Königsmarck was again invited to the Queen Dowager at Drottningholm.29 The following year we f ind not only Countess von Königsmarck but Aurora and her sister at court. On 20 May 1684, ‘Countess Königsmarck and 25 Ibid., 21. 26 Ibid., 22. 27 Bergman 1918, 20. 28 SLA, Vinkällaren Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonoras vinkällarräkenskaper 1683, vol. 33, 28 February 1683. 29 Ibid., 24 August 1683.

Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


her daughters’ took part in meals with the Queen Dowager and were given Rhenish wine.30 The three of them then stayed on with the Queen Dowager at Svartsjö until 26 May. Tellingly, the King joined his mother and her court at Svartsjö at the same time as the Königsmarcks.31 This was access of the highest degree – a chance to cultivate proximity to the key political decision makers over several days. The three were invited to join the Queen Dowager again the very next month.32 This time the visit lasted for five days. A week later they returned yet again for another sojourn of five days, after which the Queen Dowager invited Countess Königsmarck again in late July.33 This was possibly to congratulate Queen Ulrika Eleonora, who had given birth at Jacobsdal two days earlier.34 Aurora and her sister were at court for the day on 30 July, while the Countess stayed on at Jacobsdal, where the following day the King joined his mother.35 Countess Königsmarck and her daughters then remained at Jacobsdal until 10 August. They were not alone, though. Supplicants crowded around the royal family. This can be seen from the ‘foreign people who have come to wait upon their Majesties’ who were given drink by the Queen Dowager.36 The summer of 1684 was unusually dry and hot.37 From the accounts we can see that the Queen Dowager and her court at Svartsjö and Drottningholm consumed a surprising number of melons. It seems to have been all the rage, and certainly would have been cooling in the summer heat. By 16 August Countess von Königsmarck was back at the Queen Dowager’s court for a couple of days.38 Three weeks later she paid a one-day visit.39 In October she was at the Queen Dowager’s side again at Drottningholm, at the same time as the King and Queen were there. 40 They returned to Stockholm the next day and the Königsmarcks did not stay long after. Countess von Königsmarck also assisted the Queen Dowager under more formal 30 Ibid. 1684, vol. 34, fol. 93, 20 May 1684. 31 Hildebrand 1918, 99. 32 SLA, Vinkällaren Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonoras vinkällarräkenskaper, 1684, vol. 34, fol. 109, 11 June 1684. 33 Ibid., fol. 117, 21 June 1684; ibid., fol. 148, 24 July 1684. 34 Hildebrand 1918, 101. 35 SLA, Vinkällaren Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonoras vinkällarräkenskaper, 1684, vol. 34, fol. 154, 30 July 1684; Hildebrand 1918, 101. 36 Ibid., fol. 158, 2 August 1684. 37 Fryxell 1836, ii. 269. 38 SLA, Vinkällaren Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonoras vinkällarräkenskaper, 1684, vol. 34, fol. 170, 16 August 1684. 39 Ibid., fol. 193, 7 September 1684. 40 Ibid., fol. 211, 4 October 1684; Hildebrand 1918, 103.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

circumstances, for when the Dutch ambassador was given a ceremonious send-off in October 1684 the Queen Dowager was accompanied by Countess Oxenstierna and Countess von Königsmarck in her carriage. 41 Why did Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora keep inviting the Königsmarcks to her court? It was a rare privilege, especially in the 1680s. Only a few other guests were regulars, such as the King’s favourite Axel Wachtmeister. The Königsmarcks belonged to the highest echelons of the aristocracy, but they also possessed buckets of what Pierre Bourdieu has called ‘cultural capital’, essential to keeping one’s place in any societal hierarchy. 42 Bourdieu’s experiment with the concepts of field and habitus, and how access to one or both can be gained, is revealing. Clearly Aurora von Königsmarck and her siblings had acquired a startling amount of cultural capital, which was invaluable in their social manoeuvrings. This cultural capital was then deployed in order to gain access to members of the royal family. Writers of handbooks for court life stressed the use of cultural capital in this way. In his classic The Book of the Courtier from 1528, Baldassare Castiglione laid down how aristocratic behaviour at court should be defined. 43 ‘Elegance and grace in social interaction’ was paramount. 44 This elegance was the result of years of hard training, but should come across as natural and unforced. Castiglione used the term sprezzatura to describe this graceful manner – ‘the highest degree of grace is conferred by simplicity and sprezzatura’ – which must never appear contrived or affected, even though it was the result of years of hard training.45 Castiglione did not underestimate ‘the skill that goes with all this kind of amusing talk’. 46 Courtiers had to be well-read and proficient in many languages and music. 47 Jorge Aditi has emphasised how to Castiglione ‘grace cannot be simply possessed; it must be transformed into an integral element of oneself’. 48 Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora did indeed appreciate elegant manners, and she quickly took to people who mastered the social codes.49 The polished manners, worldly experience, dignified comportment, and amusing ways of 41 Fryxell 1836, ii. 275. 42 Bourdieu 1984. 43 Castiglione 1976; see Burke 1995. 44 Ghose 2012, 377. 45 Castiglione 1976, 86. In his translation, however, George Bull translates sprezzatura as ‘nonchalance’. 46 Ibid., 151. 47 Ibid., 147 and 94. 48 Arditi 1998. 49 See, for example, the case of Miss St. Julien as described by Johan Ekeblad in his letters (Sjöberg 1915, ii).

Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


the Königsmarcks were great assets. Aurora had written her elegant pastiche of the Mercure galante from Medevi, and her sister Amalia Vilhelmina also deployed her artistic skills in the Medevi entertainments, and later wrote poetry and painted, completing at least one portrait of Queen Ulrika Eleonora, which was given as a present to the Queen. Both sisters used their considerable literary and artistic talents to charm. And the best-known example of the Königsmarcks’ use of their cultural capital was a performance of a very particular play. In January 1684, the younger female members of the Königsmarck and De la Gardie families organised a performance of Iphigenie by Racine. The Königsmarck residence, the Wrangel Palace in Stockholm, was chosen as the venue. The families had to cover the cost themselves. The royal family was invited and attended the performance. Aurora von Königsmarck wrote a prologue in French. In the temple of history we find History writing the history of Sweden, supported by Time, and in the presence of Poetry, Music, and Drama. These august personages all brought the royal family their tribute, ending with a chorus to the glory of the royal house. After that followed a grand ballet danced to a slow march, adapted from Lully, and danced by eleven Amazons. These all had symbols on their shields glorifying Queen Ulrika Eleonora’s virtues. After this followed the actual play, Iphigenie. The evening concluded with a supper arranged by Maria Christina Wrangel. One of the King’s closest advisers, Erik Lindschöld, wrote three long poems full of loyal fervour towards the monarch to be recited during the proceedings. The opportunity to work with Lindschöld was too good to miss – it could cement a family’s connections to the new regime.50 The performance of Iphigenie in 1684 has been read in various ways. One interpretation sees it as an effort to push a pro-French political agenda.51 Another has been more literary – that Aurora and her fellow actors wanted to introduce Racine and French drama to Sweden.52 My view is that while Aurora von Königsmarck was certainly enthusiastic about French poetry and plays, her main point was to remain part of court society. Without formal positions at court, the Königsmarcks had to make concerted efforts to stay within the court circle. That might be achieved by arranging something that gave their talents free rein while celebrating royal power. While Iphigenie was the zenith of the Königsmarck presence in court circles, they could not afford to flag in their efforts to belong. On at least two other occasions some 50 It was not unknown for Maids of Honour to approach Lindschöld for his assistance in suits. 51 Blanck 1936. 52 Johannesson 1968.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

of the same young noblewomen, including Aurora, performed ballets to celebrate a royal birthday or name day.53 In 1688, Johanna De le Gardie and Aurora both took part in a celebration at Karlberg Palace for the birthday of Princess Hedvig Sophia. Women dressed in Indian, Turkish, Tartar, Moorish, and Egyptian costumes all danced and sang tributes to the royal family in their respective languages. Aurora’s prominence was evident from verses dedicated to her on this occasion. In 1686 there had been another occasion to mingle with the royal family, when Aurora was given a Turkish girl captured in war as a servant, and Fatima was then re-educated and the royal family invited to her christening.54 After 1684, however, the Königsmarcks largely faded from court life, with the few exceptions noted above. Why did the Königsmarcks disappear? I would argue that the answer was the scandal that broke in the summer of 1684.55 After a game of tennis, Aurora von Königsmarck and her sister Amalia were socialising with their De la Gardie relatives and some other young aristocrats. Suddenly one Axel Sparre called another gentleman, Claes Gustaf Horn, a ‘sot’ and proceeded to hit him in the face with a fan. This escalated and threatened to end in a duel. Countess von Königsmarck was deeply upset and told her servants to throw Sparre out of her house. He ended up seeking refuge with the Dutch envoy for having breached the King’s laws against duelling. Countess von Königsmarck then took the case to court, guaranteeing it became a cause célèbre. The court case ended with Sparre swearing to his innocence. In late September, however, Sparre and Horn had a new fight and that gave the scandal new life. This time Horn cornered Sparre at the tennis court (bollhuset) in Stockholm and beat him with a stick, and then fled to the house of the Imperial ambassador. The news made its way all the way back to the Emperor in Vienna.56 The scandal in 1684 thus spelt the end of the Königsmarcks’ privileged access to the royal family. Such a valuable asset was always only provisional, and subsequent years dealt the Königsmarcks a number of blows, despite their cultural capital and their newly reassembled network. One of their mainstays was their illustrious uncle, Field Marshal Otto Wilhelm von Königsmarck. He managed to stay in the King’s good graces and in 1682 he even married the King’s cousin. A hard but inevitable blow came when the 53 Ibid., 148. 54 RA, Rydboholmssamlingen, Königsmarck-Rabelska brevsamlingen, vol. 453, E 7918, Maria Aurora von Königsmarck to Rabel, 1686. 55 Mörner 1913, 68-78. 56 Fryxell 1836, ii. 186.

Why be at court? The example of the Königsmarcks


family’s property in their former county of Västervik was revoked by the Crown, leaving them with the title but no land. Even though they still had land in Germany, Otto Wilhelm’s important estates of Börrevadskloster and Lindholmen in the southern Swedish province of Skåne were taken back by the Crown in 1686. Another blow to the Königsmarck network was the death of both Otto Wilhelm and Aurora’s brother Carl Johan in Greece. They were buried in Stade in 1691. Aurora wrote that her uncle was ‘a great protector of his family, especially of me and my sister, who were his wards and feel this loss hard. If the Marshal had still been alive, he would have preserved our good.’ The Königsmarcks now faced crushing debts. One way to make new contacts was Aurora’s new guardian after the death of her uncle. Instead of her aristocratic but discredited relatives, a new man, Nils Gyldenstolpe, was appointed – one of the King’s advisers and a rising man. As Aurora herself wrote, the Königsmarcks needed ‘a man who will look for the salvation of the family and who will act for us’.57 The death of her mother, Maria Christina Wrangel, after a long battle with kidney disease in 1691, cut a further bond to Swedish court society. Now Aurora had no one close left in Sweden. Her sister and surviving brother had returned to Germany. It was also more problematic to act alone without her widowed mother as chaperone. Thus, Aurora von Königsmarck left Sweden for good in the summer of 1692. There was, however, a very telling coda to Aurora von Königsmarck’s time hovering around the Swedish court. In 1693, Queen Ulrika Eleonora died after many years of failing health. Aurora composed a poem commemorating the dead Queen, whom she had celebrated so many times in the 1680s. However, adopting a very different approach, she immediately set about using her connections. She contacted her guardian, Nils Gyldenstolpe, who was now tutor to the Crown Prince and an important political figure, and wrote to him to lament the Queen’s death, while in the same breath plotting quite openly.58 After a pious preamble, she launched the idea of Princess Henriette Christine of Wolfenbüttel, daughter of Duke Anton Ulrich – and Aurora’s friend and admirer – as a suitable replacement for the late Ulrika Eleonora. ‘I find in her the virtue of Our late Queen. She is furthermore good, mild, and complacent, beneficial and very devout, and if you want to look at the exterior she is a well-made Princess […] of the age of 23.’ Aurora’s aim here was quite apparent. If she managed to pull off the coup of placing Henriette 57 Mörner 1913, 93. 58 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Gyldenstolpeska samlingen, vol. 5, Maria Aurora von Königsmarck to Nils Gyldenstolpe, Brunswick, 28 August 1693.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Christine on the Swedish throne, she, Aurora, would be in an excellent position to act as the confidante of the new Queen. Then she would have reached the very heart of the Swedish court. Women wielding power through queens or princesses were not a rarity around 1700. In Britain Sarah Jennings was a political force to be reckoned with because of her friendship with Queen Anne. In Spain Princess Ursins was a great favourite with Queen Marie Louise. At the Swedish court several princesses and the Queen Dowager had female favourites. Thus, we find Aurora von Königsmarck, skilled and experienced in clawing her way towards the throne after a decade on the outskirts of the Swedish court, now making an open grab for the most central place – confidante to a monarch. If she were to succeed, instead of relying on relatives or on upstarts, such as Lindschöld or Gyldenstolpe, Aurora would have become a political power in her own right. Unsurprisingly, she did not give up this great matter easily. She continued to make her case in several more letters to Gyldenstolpe. She effused that ‘This Princess is perfectly made for our court and our country. She has the best soul in the world. Pious, doing good, and patient,’ and that ‘I have seen most of the princesses in Germany; some of them are younger, others more beautiful, but there is no one else with the qualities needed that can settle the court and make the country fortunate.’59 Were Gyldenstolpe to assist in this endeavour, she could assure him that Duke Anton Ulrich would show his gratitude. When another Princess of Württemberg was discussed, Aurora fired off a letter to try to put a stop to it, yet again pressing Henriette Christine’s suit by pointing out her rival’s shortcomings. Aurora von Königsmarck had by this time fully mastered the courtly manner. She could be elegant and amusing. And she ruthlessly deployed her cultural capital in a quest for influence. By building a network and gaining access to decision makers she knew she could shape her own future. After years of taking part in court life, Aurora von Königsmarck made a determined effort to take over the Swedish court through a woman. When this failed, she turned her gaze instead towards other courts.

59 Ibid., Maria Aurora von Königsmarck to Nils Gyldenstolpe, Quedlinburg, 26 November 1693.


All the Queen’s women Abstract The several hundred noblewomen who served at the Swedish court from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries shared some characteristics, the most important of which was noble birth. Perhaps the increasing freedom coupled with, paradoxically, limited means meant that the court was a more attractive long-term prospect. Service at court could also bring a degree of freedom. It meant an income and an array of perquisites. It could also mean, increasingly so over time, greater freedom in meeting and assessing men on the marriage market. To have one’s own livelihood and the freedom to explore and even reject possible suitors was perhaps something to savour for many years. Keywords: recruitment, marriage, rank, perquisites

In 1635, Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora dispatched a letter instructing a provincial noblewoman, Margareta Lillie, to send her seventeen-year-old daughter Margareta Oxehufvud to become a Maid of Honour. Lillie had been visiting Stockholm, but was now bound for her estates. Lillie acceded to the request and promised to send her daughter to the Queen Dowager. Then the Queen arranged transport for young Margareta Oxehufvud to come to court together with her mother.1 Six months later the girl’s father invited the Queen to the double marriage of Oxehufvud’s sisters.2 The Queen was indisposed, but instead asked a highly aristocratic woman, Countess Beata Brahe, to act as her stand-in at the wedding.3 In 1637, Oxehufvud herself married a well-established and successful courtier almost 20 years her 1 RA, K 81 Kungliga arkiv utgångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Margareta Lillie, Stockholm, 30 May 1635. 2 RA, K 86 Kungliga arkiv ingångna skrivelser, Anders Oxehufvud to Maria Eleonora, Säby, 12 September 1635. 3 RA, K 86 Kungliga arkiv ingångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Beata Brahe, Stockholm, 25 September 1635; RA, K 86 Kungliga arkiv ingångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Anders

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch03


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 3: Kerstin Abrahamsdotter Rommel was a Maid of Honour to the adventurous Princess Cecilia and her daughter Gertrud Laxman served as a Maid of Honour to the Duchess. Unknown painter, Kerstin Abrahamsdotter Rommel and Her Daughter Gertrud Laxman, epitaph for Mauritz Laxman (dead 1611) and his family in Stora Malm church. Copyright Riksantikvarieämbetet (Stockholm).

All the Queen’s women


senior: a widower who had been married to another Maria Eleonora’s Maids of Honour. Oxehufvud’s brother some years later was given a position as a courtier, and her own daughter would serve as Maid of Honour at a one of the lesser royal or satellite courts. The following year, Maria Eleonora approached another mother in similar fashion and got her to send her daughter to serve as Maid of Honour to Queen Christina. 4 The Queen Dowager promised to care for her and look after her affairs, taking on a parental role. This seems to have been the standard way to recruit noblewomen to serve at the Swedish court, as will be seen. At least formally the initiative came from a queen, though naturally behind that ritual negotiation may have been a reality of families pressing the Queen to accept a member into service. It is also telling that the transactions were between queens and mothers, without the fathers being involved. The Oxehufvud family were provincial nobility, of a sort who by the 1630s had generally been supplanted at court by the greater aristocratic houses. What counted in the Oxehufvud girl’s favour was her aunt, who had served at court in the past, and one of the other women recruited in 1636 had a brother who had served at court and several relations at the Danish court. They were all part of existing court networks. This chapter highlights the ways women could enter court service, be it through family connections or at royal request. It also looks at the more immediate rewards they could reap in the form of salaries and perks. The composition of the court – who was there, and when – had major implications for political networks in early modern society, while salaries and perks provided an unusual degree of personal freedom to noblewomen not often afforded to their non-court sisters. Three main advantages came with court service: salary with perquisites, marriage opportunities (like Margareta Oxehufvud above), and power.

The creation of the Swedish court in the sixteenth century When Maria Eleonora recruited new Maids of Honour in the 1630s, the Swedish court had traditions and an institutional framework, yet it was, as early modern European courts went, a fairly new creation. The 1520s had seen the end of a century of absentee royal couples and an interruption Oxehufvud, Stockholm, 25 September 1635; RA, K 86 Kungliga arkiv ingångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Margareta Lillie, Stockholm, 25 September 1635. 4 RA, K 82 Kungliga arkiv utgångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Helena Daa, Stockholm, 13 August 1636.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

in Sweden’s union with Denmark and Norway, so that the country had to acquire a royal court. The marriage of King Gustaf to the German Princess Catharina of Saxe-Lauenburg in 1531 meant the creation of the first Swedishbased court since the 1450s to have a group of noblewomen in service. Who served Queen Catharina is unknown. It is only with her successor, Queen Margareta, that the sources begin to throw some light on the individuals involved. We should keep in mind that the question of who served at court versus who stayed at court with no formal position was clearly fluid, and would become more formalised over the next half century. In the sixteenth century, members of the nobility were often drummed up to boost numbers at court for various occasions, only to go home again afterwards.5 This book will focus on the women who served the royal family in close proximity, collectively called the fruntimmer (the same word as German Frauenzimmer) or hovfruntimmer. This was a German word, and the structure of the court, including its positions for women, was also very German. The hovfruntimmer was refounded, along German lines, in the 1530s. The court tradition Sweden knew best by that time was Denmark’s, which also followed the German closely in structure.6 The collective of the hovfruntimmer was headed by a Court Mistress (hovmästarinna). Quite often two women held this post in tandem, which may have helped incumbents take time off to attend to family matters. Under the Court Mistress were several noble Maids of Honour (jungfru, later hovjungfru). The number of Maids of Honour varied according to the size of the royal family they served. In 1552, there were six Maids of Honour, which was the average number.7 In 1568, with several adult princesses to serve, the number of Maids of Honour had increased to 20; in 1577, when they served one queen, one adult princess, and one nine-year-old princess, it had fallen to fifteen. In the eighteenth century, the standard number for a queen was still six Maids of Honour.8 The Court Mistress and the Maids of Honour constituted the aristocratic elite of the women serving at court. 5 RA, Riksregistraturet, March 1581, fol. 150, ‘To some of the nobility to come to Princess Elizabeth’s wedding’ (‘Till några av adeln att inf inna sig på fröken Elizabeths bröllop’); RA, Riksregistraturet, 4 May 1569, ‘To Nils Persson of Holma to order the nobility to get beautiful clothes for the coronation’ (‘Till Nils Persson på Holma att tillsäga adeln att skaffa sig vackra kläder till kröningen’), and 4 May 1569, ‘To Jacob Turesson Rosengren to order the nobility of Östergötland to get beautiful clothes for the coronation’ (‘Till Jacob Turesson Rosengren att tillsäga adeln i Östergötland att skaffa sig vackra kläder till kröningen’). 6 For an overview of various German courts, see Kern 1905-1907. 7 RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1552:20. 8 See, for example, SLA, Personella hovstater 1744-1751 H III:1.

All the Queen’s women


The Maids of Honour had their own chamber maids (jungfrupigor), as did the Court Mistress (hovmästarinnans pigor). There was a separate group of commoners who served at court as Chamberers (pigor later kammarpigor), with a Chamber Mistress (kammarhustru) who appears to have been in charge of the Chamberers and other female Chamber staff.9 Later, the Chamberers had their own maids to attend on them. Other positions that might be included in the hovfruntimmer were seamstress, washerwoman, and wet nurse, along with other, more occasional categories such as dwarfs or a jester.10 In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was known for a ‘Frenchwoman’ to be included, presumably to teach French.11 In the sixteenth century, the Swedish court was still firmly focused on its German counterparts, however. The commoners who served at court could sometimes provide stability, staying in office for many years, while the turnover in noblewomen was quite fast until the mid-seventeenth century.12 In some cases, women were listed by name, with no official title. Hence ‘Elsa holländska’ (‘Elsa the Dutchwoman’), who was clearly a trusted member of the court for two decades at the start of the seventeenth century. There were women at court outside the hovfruntimmer, but they very rarely had any closer association with power or members of the royal family. The court as a whole was overwhelmingly male, but some areas had female servants, such as the Linen Chamber (fataburen) where a Linen Mistress and her maids looked after the royal bed linen, tablecloths, and napkins. Even further removed were the women who worked in the royal kitchens. The cooks were usually men, but women washed up the copperware (kopparskurerska) and silverware (silvertvätterska) and there were some kitchen maids. Various royal castles employed female bakers at times. And far removed from the machinations of the court were the many women employed in the maintenance of the palaces: each royal residence had a skeleton staff, including a Linen Mistress, bakers, and servants. The actual court was generally in the Stockholm area, though in the fifteenth century it was still partly peripatetic, and the royal family could descend on castles or manors with the court in tow. The actual duties of the women at court were vague. An eighteenthcentury overview of various parts of the Swedish monarchy said of the Court 9 From about 1640 the title kammarhustru was upgraded to kammarfru. 10 ‘Narrinnan Elisabeth’ (Elisabeth the jester), is mentioned in wardrobe and wine cellar accounts in the 1620s (SLA, Vinkällaren Kungl. Maj:t Reviderade räkenskaper 1624-1625 11:1, fols. 52v-53). 11 For example, Claudine Pellisson around 1700. 12 One example of a long-serving commoner was the Chamber Mistress Mrs. Malin or Magdalena Dallerina in Queen Christina’s reign.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Mistress and the Maids of Honour only that ‘the duty of these is to attend on Her Majesty the Queen, who besides these has her Lady of Honour who also have maids under her command; in the duties of all these you do not want to meddle or seek to detailed knowledge about’.13 A more detailed insight into the duties of the Court Mistress was provided by the very unusual set of instructions that survive for the German Court Mistress whom Duchess Maria brought with her to Sweden.14 The Court Mistress was to obey orders promptly. If she heard about anything that could harm the Duchess she was to report it and not keep quiet. She was to keep an eye on the preparation of the Duchess’s food in the kitchens to ensure it was done cleanly and served promptly. She was not to leave court to see to her own affairs without the express consent of the Duchess. She was to make sure the other women lived god-fearing, pure lives, and said their prayers at meals and in the morning and evening. The maids were not to go to bed until the Duchess had gone to bed, and they were to keep an eye on the fire and candles. The Court Mistress was to keep careful watch so no unknown person gained access to the women’s rooms, and to ensure the doors to the women’s quarter were shut, especially at night, ‘for the sake of talk’. The keys to these rooms were to be kept by the Court Mistress or the person she entrusted them to. If anyone, ‘of whatever quality’ wanted to talk to any woman or send them a letter, the Court Mistress was to discuss it first with the Duchess. The Maids of Honour and the maids were not allowed to conduct secret correspondence. Their letters had to ‘first be scrutinised and read through’ by the Court Mistress before they were sent. All incoming letters were to be opened and read by the Court Mistress, with the exception of family letters. In the women’s quarter there was to be no cursing, no ‘discourteous talk’, and no private gatherings or meals. The Court Mistress was to keep the women in order at meals and especially when there were guests. If anyone was troublesome it was to be brought to the attention of the Duchess. Another set of draft instructions for the Ducal Court Mistress Agneta Arentsdotter (Örnflycht) was less conclusive.15 It exhorted the Court Mistress to attend on the Duchess with great care, and gave her responsibility for the Maids of Honour. A surviving instruction for a Chamber Mistress is typically vague.16 It simply states that Margrete Westeborch should attend dutifully 13 RA, Manuskriptsamlingen, Mårten Kammecker Sweriges nuwarande Stat pag. 75. 14 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Handlingar rörande hertigens hovhållning, ekonomi, förläningar m.m. K 349, Instructions for Anna von Steckheim und Gesswein, Nyköping, 18 November 1579. 15 Ibid., Draft instructions for Court Mistress Agneta to Sjösa, Nyköping, 22 December 1584. 16 Ibid., Contract and instructions, Nyköping, 18 November 1579.

All the Queen’s women


on the Duchess and to make sure the other women acted in a dutiful and god-fearing manner. If there was any untoward behaviour she was to inform the Duchess or the Court Mistress, and she was to be careful that nothing happened which might harm the Duchess or be to her disadvantage. The women’s specific, mundane duties included dressing and undressing the royal women they served.17 Attendance for the noblewomen could encompass a range of duties, but the key was always to be at hand, both as company and to perform various duties. As a rule the women in attendance would always be in proximity to the royal women. From various financial accounts, such as the wine cellar, it is also plain the women ran errands, fetching and ordering drink or food for the princesses. Needlework was something several royal women and their attendants occupied themselves with. Card games were another way to make time pass, whether on ordinary days or during receptions. The women also attended royal ceremonies ranging from coronations to diplomatic receptions and everyday social functions. Unlike most male courtiers, the women lived in the palace. A number of them even slept in the same room as their queen or princess, in some cases sharing their bed for company and warmth. This constant presence was a key feature of their lives at court and gave them potential influence. Over time, an increasing formal hierarchy in women at court crystallised. In the first decades of the seventeenth century, the position of Lady of Honour (kammarjungfru) was introduced. This was an unmarried noblewoman who was the superior to the Maids of Honour, though often that was how she had begun her court career. In the 1610s, the daughters of the high aristocracy began to serve at court, and that too meant a new category was created: they were simply listed apart from the Maids of Honour with the title of fröken.18 Only members of a few families (Brahe, Stenbock, and De la Gardie) received this distinction. The office of fröken was in use for about half a century before it fell into abeyance, possibly because counts, whose daughters might aspire to become a fröken, became more numerous and less exclusive. A further differentiation was instituted around 1650 in the reign of Queen Christina. She introduced the title of Chief Court Mistress (överhovmästarinna) in the 1640s, and with it Chief Lady of Honour 17 Stockholms stadsarkiv (SSA), Stockholm, Stadens kämnärsrätt, A 3 B:8 konceptprotokoll i kriminalmål 1709. 18 RA, Gustav Kassmans samling, vol. 2, ‘Mantalet på min N. Drotningz hoffolck datum den 13 Julij åhr 1613’ with ‘frökenn Ibbe’ (Ebba Brahe). For a later Ebba Brahe together with Margareta Brahe also listed as Fröken, see RA, Räntekammarbok 1629, vol. 87, fol. 127.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

(överkammarjungfru).19 The first title soon fell into disuse for over a century, while the second lapsed completely in the 1650s. This proliferation and differentiation of titles mirrored developments for male courtiers at the same time. In the 1710s, the titles of Lady of Honour and Maid of Honour were changed to kammarfröken and hovfröken, using the more distinguished term fröken, which in the sixteenth century had been reserved for princesses. Chamberers took over the old title of kammarjungfru. For the sake of clarity, I use Lady of Honour, Maid of Honour, and Chamberer throughout. The underlying structure at court remained very stable from the midsixteenth century, despite some additions and differentiations. The static structure of the women serving at court underwent its most drastic overhaul in 1774: with inspiration from Versailles, King Gustaf III introduced the highly prestigious position of Lady of the Palace (statsfru) for married women, and later in the 1780s Lady Companion (sällskapsfru).20 This resulted in a sudden increase in the number of married women at court and changed the nature of service for aristocratic women. At the same time he abolished Maids of Honour in the court of the Queen. Until 1795 Maids of Honour only existed in the service of other royal women. It should be noted that in the 1770s, Gustaf III also centralised all court appointments into his own hands, including the satellite courts of his mother and his brothers, sister, and sister-in-law. That meant he controlled appointments and could block candidates. He could also try to foist unwanted attendants on his family. His sister-in-law, Duchess Charlotta, tried to avoid the King appointing a sister of his favourite, Bror Cederström, to be her Maid of Honour. She wrote that she would ‘under no circumstances take into my service a spy, who without doubt would report everything about my private life’.21

The women in service Presumably some of the first women in the service of Queen Catharina of Saxe-Lauenburg were Germans who accompanied her from her homeland. These women, however, are invisible in the sparse sources of the 1530s, which indicates that they were few and did not marry into the Swedish nobility. 19 See, for example, SLA, Vinkällaren 1653, vol. 42, fol. 127. The long-serving Maid of Honour Kerstin Kurck became Chief Lady of Honour. 20 SLA, RMÄ Hovexpeditionen B I:6 1774, a number of letters of appointment for Ladies of the Palace issued in March 1774. 21 Bonde and af Klercker 1902, i. 190 (May 1779).

All the Queen’s women


Only with Queen Catharina’s successor, Queen Margareta, is some light shone upon the noblewomen serving at court. Various lists of courtiers survive from the 1520s, 1530s and 1540s, but the first reasonably full list of women serving at court dates from 1550, with similar ones in 1551 and 1552 and many gaps in subsequent years.22 Whereas a significant proportion of the male courtiers of King Gustaf I (1523-1560) were German, these documents show that the women at the Swedish court were the daughters of the King’s Swedish supporters. The Court Mistress in charge of hovfruntimret in 1551, Anna Claesdotter (Uggla), was distantly related to the Queen, and her late husband was related to one of the King’s closest men. In 1551 she went on to marry one of the King’s chief advisers, Georg Norman, with the King’s brother-in-law predicting ‘so much I have discerned her mind and understood that I fear little friendship will grow between them in the end’.23 Anna Claesdotter came from the provincial nobility in Västergötland, a background she shared with many other women at court in the 1550s. The Maids of Honour in the 1550s generally came from established noble families with links of service to the King, but not the absolute elite of the older nobility. Service to the King and his new dynasty was evidently an essential credential, which brought to court young women who were usually not the King’s closest relatives or the high nobility, though a few daughters of well-educated aristocrats who had taken official positions were present at the early Vasa court.24 They married men with similar careers, and the first generations of noblewomen at the Vasa court were thus used to further weld King Gustaf’s affinity together. During the 1560s there was a discernible change, as aristocratic family background became more important. A family nexus formed around Court Mistress Anna Hogenskild, though without monopolising the court after she left in the mid-1560s. Hogenskild was Mistress of the Court in 1555, and still held the post in 1565. Of the thirteen Maids of Honour in 1563, eight were Hogenskild’s relatives, including two of her granddaughters. Two other Mistresses of the Court serving at the same time, Marina Grip and Anna Bese, were related to four Maids of Honour (with some overlap). Only three Maids of Honour in 1563 cannot be linked to the Court Mistresses, and one of those was Virginia, the illegitimate infant daughter of King Erik XIV. Several Court Mistresses were also related to one another. Thus Marina Grip was the widow of a cousin of Anna Hogenskild’s mother. Anna Bese had been 22 RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1550:5, fol. 53. 23 Svalenius n.d.a. 24 Such as the daughters of the Councillors Holger Karlsson (Gera) and Bengt Gylta.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

married to a cousin of both Anna Hogenskild’s mother and Marina Grip’s husband. Anna Hogenskild’s mother’s family Tott and her grandmother’s family Gyllenstierna were present everywhere. A Court Mistress in 1559, Magdalena Gyllenstierna, was a member of the clan and also a sister-in-law of Marina Grip, a cousin by marriage to Anna Bese and a cousin of Anna Hogenskild’s mother. The Gyllenstiernas were also socially pre-eminent because Erik Gyllenstierna, Anna Hogenskild’s great-grandfather, had married a daughter of King Charles VIII. It is noticeable that there were a number of Court Mistresses from quite obscure noble backgrounds. The longest-serving, Anna Hansdotter (Garstenberg), was the daughter of a German courtier and widow of a scribe from a very minor family. She was a fixture at court from at least 1571 to 1590, possibly for longer. The satellite court of the King’s sisters Elizabeth and Sophia also opened up opportunities for the lesser nobility, especially as they could later move between courts. Agneta Arentsdotter (Örnflycht) served Princess Elizabeth as Court Mistress from at least 1572. After the Princess’s marriage to the Duke of Mecklenburg in 1581, Agneta Arentsdotter was employed instead by Duchess Maria, wife of Duke Charles. Often recruits in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries arrived as package deals. A Court Mistress might be employed along with her husband as Master of the Court (hovmästare). Thus in 1595, Queen Dowager Gunilla issued a letter employing a husband and wife simultaneously.25 In some cases the woman serving at court appears to have been the more prominent person with her husband simply latched on and fobbed off with an office. This simplified matters, because it was problematic for aristocratic women to give up their role in running families and estates. A small satellite court, such as that of Princess Sophia, offered the opportunity to control it and fill it with family members. Arguably, the price to pay was serving Princess Sophia, a recalcitrant member of a dynasty with many moody or bad-tempered members. Brita Carlsdotter (Månesköld) was another example of a Court Mistress drawn from the lower nobility, and she got her daughter Angoria placed as a Maid of Honour to the Princess (another daughter was already there) and her son Melchizedech became a courtier. It is also significant that Brita Carlsdotter was the niece of the Court Mistress Agneta Arentsdotter. The female court networks of lesser nobles were gradually pushed out in the course of the seventeenth century as the aristocratic trend became stronger. Women with no close links to aristocratic, conciliar families became the exception, unless they were foreigners. 25 RA, Riksregistraturet, Duke Charles to Bengt Knutsson, 1 April 1595.

All the Queen’s women


There were both similarities and differences to other courts. Compared to the women who served at the Tudor court later, the absence of close female relatives of the royal family is remarkable.26 The bastard daughters of Erik XIV and Duke Magnus served at the Swedish court, but there were no members of the Leijonhufvud, Stenbock, Sture, or Brahe families until the seventeenth century.27 In her seminal analysis of the court of Anne of Austria in seventeenth-century France, Ruth Kleinman notes that ‘very few of the ladies and none of the girls belonged to the highest nobility’, and that ‘[o]n the whole, the Queen’s ladies and maids of honor were of middling or lesser nobility’.28 By that time, however, the Maids of Honour at the Swedish court were highly aristocratic – meaning there was a considerable disparity between the French and Swedish courts – and families which were highly aristocratic or already had a strong hold (like Posse) largely monopolised the positions for women, with the lower nobility soon squeezed out. This trend seems to have been irreversible. By the early 1720s, the King was being strongly advised to keep the old nobility in their place and make sure ‘that courtiers and the Queen’s Maids of Honour were not always replaced by children of these families’, thus widening the court’s base.29 This widening of the court as a point of contact had already been initiated in 1719 by the introduction on a grand scale of unsalaried courtiers, with a concomitant influx of new blood into the court. Many sons of the new nobility then obtained court offices, but the court’s doors remained firmly barred to women of the new nobility. Women continued to be recruited from the most aristocratic families.

The recruitment process Often letters to act as Mistress of the Court seem to have been issued as a summons. In 1567 King Erik issued orders to Margareta Grip (niece of the former Court Mistress Marina Grip and, quite exceptionally, also related to the King) to shoulder the role. The King had just installed his low-born mistress, Karin Månsdotter, as Queen, much to the outrage of his siblings, so to appoint a lady as Court Mistress who was both a member of the established circle and a close royal relative (her mother was the King’s cousin) was obviously an effort to shore up the status of the new Queen. Margareta Grip 26 27 28 29

Merton 1992. One exception was Ebba Gustafsdotter (Stenbock). Kleinman 1990, 526. Valentin 1915, 169.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

was told that she must ‘without any opposition travel to Her Majesty and for some time act as Mistress of the Court’.30 Half a century later a noblewoman was ordered to travel to the Queen ‘and bring with you the little maids you have staying with you’.31 At another point a chosen Mistress was told to ‘set aside all other excuses’ not to accept the position.32 This echoed the case when one woman was ordered to Stockholm, while her young sister-in-law received a less binding message asking if she was ‘minded to become one of the Maids of Honour’.33 Some Mistresses of the Court first came to court when very young. As Margareta Grip reminisced, ‘Soon after my mother died, I came to King Gustaf, became well-liked by King, Queen, and Princes.’34 To have been educated at court as a Maid of Honour was an advantage when being considered for the post of Mistress of the Court later in life, as Katrin Keller has noted for the Imperial court.35 There were several qualifications needed. Apart from belonging to the right family, they had to have experience of court service – the talk of ‘a courtly Lady’, ‘used to be at court’, and ‘has been since childhood at court’ when discussing candidates is illuminating36 – and widows were more likely to be chosen than married women with families, because they were better able to ‘step away from their household’.37 A Maid of Honour, meanwhile, normally came to court as a girl or young woman. The age of new Maids of Honour was remarkably constant. In the 1660s and 1680s the median age of a new Maid of Honour was 20, and in the 1700s it had risen to 21.5 years.38 Most decades provide a similar picture, with the median age in the 1750s being 21; the 1760s, eighteen and a half; the 1770s, seventeen and a half; the 1780s, still seventeen and a half; the 1790s, 30 RA, Riksregistraturet, Eric XIV to Margareta Grip, 12 December 1567. Only a few months later the King issued a letter of tax relief for Margareta Grip (RA, Riksregistraturet, Eric XIV to Margareta Grip, 18 July 1568). 31 RA, Riksregistraturet, Queen Christina to Mistress Brita, 3 January 1608. 32 Kullberg et al. 1895, vii. 474. 33 RA, Riksregistraturet, Queen Christina to Ingeborg Gyllenstierna and to Gunilla Gyllenstierna, 19 August 1606. 34 Fries 1909, ii. 32. 35 Kullberg et al. 1895, vii. 379. 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid. 38 The statistics on women who served at court draw on a wide range of primary sources (primarily hovstatsräkenskaper, landskapshandlingar, personella hovstater, räntekammarböcker, vinkällarräkenskaper, klädkammarräkenskaper, brevböcker, hovexpeditionen, handlingar angående statsverket, rikshuvudböcker, and generalstatskontoret) and genealogical handbooks (Elgenstierna 1925-1936; Transehe-Roseneck et al. 1929-1944; Ramsay 1909-1916; Hiort-Lorentzen et al. 1884-; Almquist 1960; and Schlegel and Klingspor 1875).

All the Queen’s women


eighteen; and in the 1800s, 20. One outlier was the 1710s, when new Maids of Honour were 25 years old, possibly reflecting the ageing of both Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora and her granddaughter Queen Ulrika Eleonora; another outlier was the 1730s, when the median age of new Maids of Honour was thirteen and a half years, in what was clearly an attempt to rejuvenate a court which by that point had begun to grow alarmingly old. Youth at court could be seen as appealing and vivacious, but it came with drawbacks. The fact that a Maid of Honour normally began to serve between 18 and 21 had consequences for female court service. It meant that these women would be at the court and in the marriage market at the same time. It also meant that many new Maids of Honour lacked the ‘world’, the ton, the bon usage, considered necessary for court life. Instead, court could help teach women how to behave. An extreme case of this was Ulrika Koskull in 1776. When she was seventeen and living in the southern province of Småland, her family was not court nobility apart from a brother who was serving as a page. Yet the King had heard about her unusual beauty, and when passing through the town of Växjö he arranged with the rather servile Governor that young Ulrika Koskull would attend church in the cathedral the following day so the sovereign could decide if she was as beautiful as rumoured and consequently a possible Maid of Honour for his sister-in-law. ‘The first Maid of Honour to have been promoted in a cathedral’, noted a courtier.39 When Gustaf III left the Cathedral he greeted Miss Koskull ‘very graciously and you could see straight away that it would not be the last salutation she would receive’. 40 Through her brother, the 20-year-old Page, she was then offered the position of Maid of Honour. After wavering she accepted, although the veteran courtier Ehrensvärd found her education sadly wanting: She has that kind of conduct which a young lady in the provinces can have, who has many young admirers with the same conduct. She is said not to speak the necessary languages. She dresses badly and without taste, but improvement in all this can easily be achieved, though it should be achieved before coming to court. It is a strict school where faults are rarely forgiven, and being ridiculed worse than having vices. 41

Another provincial young woman had also hoped for the same opening, but her hopes were dashed by the dazzling Miss Koskull. 39 Montan 1877, i. 192. 40 Ibid., i. 192. 41 Ibid., i. 193.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 4: One of several impoverished aristocratic sisters serving at court, Ebba Maria Sparre made a good match marrying a wealthy elderly courtier. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Ebba Maria Sparre, late seventeenth century, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

When Crown Princess Lovisa Ulrika in 1750 asked Countess Sparre Wrede to send her daughter to be a Maid of Honour it created a quandary.42 The Countess’s brother-in-law, Count Tessin, was head of the court of the Crown Prince and Princess and a great favourite with the latter. Offering a place to a fourteen-year-old was part of the Queen’s project of courtly rejuvenation at the time, but the Countess was worried that her daughter lacked the refinement 42 Leijonhufvud 1918, ii. 162-163.

All the Queen’s women


necessary for life at court. She declined the Princess’s offer, dreading disgrace, and was promised a future place for her daughter – a promise never fulfilled. Marianne Pollet described coming to court in 1792. She was born in German Zweibrücken and grew up in Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania. When she was nineteen, Queen Dowager Sophia Magdalena made her a Maid of Honour. That meant leaving Stralsund and her parents behind. Her experience of coming to court was different to Magdalena Rudenschöld, in that she was a comparative foreigner with few links to the court. ‘Without my parents, without family relations, without friends, and almost without knowledge, I found myself in the midst of a court where all customs were strange to me, and whose etiquette was different from my days of happiness under my father’s roof.’43 Marianne was treated kindly – ‘Queen Sophia Magdalene was all kindness to me and kindly welcomed me for the love of my father, who was honoured with her special protection. Our Grand Mistress Countess De la Gardie and my new companions were kind and considerate towards me’ – but yet it was a depressing experience. She cried and admitted that ‘I felt alone in the middle of all this’. ‘The young German’, as she was called, finally settled in once she was taken under the wing of the leading literary courtier, Count Oxenstierna, and his coterie. Miss Pollet did not know much Swedish, so the Oxenstiernas patiently taught her. In 1797 there was a large influx of young teenagers to serve the new Queen, Queen Frederica. Her aunt by marriage, Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, despaired at their lack of savoir faire. 44 ‘Of all the young Maids of Honour almost none has been into the Great World, even less to court. Most of them are real children without any experience, so it is no surprise they behave foolishly.’ With her decades of court service Countess Piper, the Chief Court Mistress, was in theory the perfect choice to educate teenage aristocrats, but she proved to have severe limitations as well. ‘She only scolds them from morning to night, and does not understand how to treat them with courtesy. She has an animus against first one then another, and the poor victim will then receive reprimands all day and be abused; so that the poor girls are utterly distraught.’ The only one who did not care was a Miss Friesendorff – who ‘appears completely unmoved and does exactly as she pleases’. 45 However, the uppity demeanour and ‘free manners’ of Miss Friesendorff soon lead to her dismissal. 43 Svenska akademien (SA), Stockholm, Marianne Ehrenström ‘Souvenirs contemporaines’, vol. 86. 44 Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 63 (October 1797). 45 Ibid.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Ulrika Koskull was unusual in being a relative outsider whose beauty won her a place at court. By the eighteenth century, the position of Maid of Honour had become increasingly select. Like Margareta Oxehufvud, most Maids of Honour came from families with established court service, and/or noble titles (in Sweden every child of a count or a baron inherited his title), and most of them had fathers in the upper echelons of the official Table of Ranks (rangordningen). It is interesting that the women serving at court were in the end more aristocratic than the men. From the mid-seventeenth century, the really aristocratic stronghold at court was the Maids of Honour, with more of them titled than their male peers and, with virtually no exceptions, drawn from the old nobility – while the male courtiers were often the sons of ennobled upstarts, this was not true of the women. At this stage hardly any second-generation noblewomen managed to enter this closely knit and interrelated group. Once established, it was hard to break the grip a few prominent families had gained over court offices for noblewomen. This is not to say that women who served at court were always wealthy. Some were very rich, but others were taken on to support a noble family in need, and the same argument produced in favour of the appointment of some noblemen – the family’s straightened circumstances – could be used for women. In particular, the post of Maid of Honour was sometimes used to provide an opportunity for the offspring of noble families who were relatively poor.46 Thus it was said of a Maid of Honour, Greta Sparre, that she was ‘very poor, and does not have the slightest thing apart from what she gets in wages from the court’.47 A court appointment on such grounds seems to have been made in the spirit that noble birth was a quality that could outweigh wealth. If so, it was not unique: late Stuart and early Hanoverian court appointments in Britain were also sometimes made to help distressed aristocratic families. 48 The length of service of Maids of Honour changed from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Maids of Honour at the sixteenth-century Vasa court tended not to stay very long. Exact numbers are impossible to collate, but despite the gaps in the sources it is clear that they were only at court a few years, and Anna Bengtsdotter (Gylta) was a rare female court veteran. 46 Catharina Wallenstedt to Greta Ehrensteen, Stockholm, 4 November 1685, in Wijkmark 1995, 376; Casten Feif to Nicodemus Tessin, Bender, 28 April 1712, in Anderson 1859, i. 150. 47 Rigsarkivet, Copenhagen (DRA), T.K.U.A. Speciel Del Sverige, vol. 111, Johan Grüner to Oversecretary NN, Stockholm, 22 July 1708. 48 Bucholz 1993, 100-101; Beattie 1967, 156-157.

All the Queen’s women


The Maids of Honour in the service of the late Vasas (1620-1654) were still characterised by a quick turnover: about 60 per cent served fewer than five years, and about 30 per cent between five and nine years, while the group who lasted ten years or more was only 8 per cent or so. The Palatine dynasty (here counted as 1654 to 1744), however, saw the Maids of Honour age dramatically. In that period, the group that served fewer than five years shrank to about 26 per cent, and a similar number served between five and nine years, meaning that almost half the Maids of Honour remained in court service for a decade or more. The Palatine dynasty thus saw a sharp shift towards a stable court with long tenures. This remained largely unchanged under the Holstein-Gottorp dynasty (1744-1818). The number of Maids of Honour in their service did climb back a bit towards short service with about 61 per cent serving fewer than ten years, but nevertheless 39 per cent were in harness for ten years or more. 49

Pay and perquisites Why put up with demanding princesses, humiliation, and a lack of freedom in your daily life? The answer was that the rewards of court office could be considerable.50 The salary was important to women at court, as can be seen from complaints when it was delayed. When war broke out in 1700, the Chief Marshal entreated the King to pay the court salaries in full because the noblewomen at court and other court servants ‘come daily with lamentations and petitions’.51 Added to that was a panoply of important, non-monetary remuneration such as lodgings and food. In some ways the court was an early modern welfare system for those on the inside. Among the most important was lodging, which was always provided for noblewomen in service at court and for their servants – an exclusive privilege which they could turn to further advantage. Another important perquisite was dining at court. The women in service had to take part in daily meals at court. An overview of meals at Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora’s court divided 49 I date the advent of Holstein-Gottorp rule to the arrival of the new Crown Princess Louisa Ulrika in 1744 rather than to the death of King Frederick I in 1751. 50 See Persson 1997, 1999a. 51 RA, Skrivelser till K. Majt från allmänna verk, Chief Marshal Johan Gabriel Stenbock to Charles XII, Stockholm, 11 July 1700. The King’s decision of 16 July is noted on the front of the letter.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 5: The Chamberer Sara Larsdotter came from the part of the elite breaking into noble status and married an ennobled official. The gloves in her hand still exist and are thought to be a gift from the Queen. Unknown painter, Sara Larsdotter, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

the meals into different tables.52 Leftover food from Maria Eleonora’s own table was distributed among her Chamber Mistress and her Chamberers. The Court Mistress and the Maids of Honour dined at another table with 52 RA, Kungliga arkiv, K 88 Handlingar rörande drottning Maria Eleonoras levnadsförhållanden och egendom.

All the Queen’s women


twelve dishes at every meal, and their leftovers were served to their own maids and other servants: meals, and sometimes salaries, for the women’s own servants were also provided by the court. The Wardrobe handed out large quantities of cloth, both as a salary and sometimes as gifts. In 1584, two Court Mistresses received seventeen ells of satin each and four Maids of Honour received eight ells of satin as well as velvet and other cloth.53 Satin was a prestigious textile that was reserved for the noble courtiers, while commoners at court received simpler types of cloth. Subsidised health care was another advantage. Early modern medicine may seem a dubious perquisite, but it was still valuable to have the best medical expertise of the day close at hand, and one’s apothecary and surgeon’s bills paid by the court. Thus in 1595-1596, Maid of Honour Sibylla von Brandenstein was treated for wounds to her head, while Maid of Honour Karin Jöransdotter (Stiernsköld) was treated several times for problems with her foot and neck.54 In 1597, Sibylla’s relative and colleague Rebecka von Brandenstein was treated for a hurt finger.55 Another way to restore health was to go to a spa – at royal expense. If the early modern spas and surgeons killed you off, the Queen would pay your funeral costs. This would cover things such as a coffin, the tolling of bells, and other essentials. In some cases, considerable amounts were paid for especially splendid funerals, including a printed sermon. To this was added an array of incidental perks such as New Year’s gifts. Queen Christina in 1654 gave silver bowls, beakers, bottles, and jugs to the women in her service.56 The weight was carefully noted, as the women higher up in the hierarchy were to receive heavier and more expensive items. Maids of Honour were mostly given silver objects that weighed just under a kilo. This was a standard event, and a valuable source of income for the women. Sometimes they might receive money instead, as in 1647 when every Maid of Honour was paid 25 ducats as a New Year’s gift, while their superiors were given ‘diamond roses’ and other precious objects.57 Noblewomen serving at court received help with their weddings of a remarkable magnitude.58 It was customary to give the bride the equivalent 53 RA, Kungliga arkiv, K 14 Johan III Förslag op k: M. hoffolch till enn klädning anno 84. 54 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Handlingar rörande hertigens hovhållning, ekonomi, förläningar m.m. K 351, Barber Philip’s accounts, 1595 to June 1596. 55 Ibid. 1597. 56 RA, Räntekammarbok 1654. 57 Ibid. 1647. 58 See, for example, the contemporary overview drawn up in the 1650s, SLA, Bröllop ‘Bröllops Bekostnader’.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

of five years’ salary, so a Lady of Honour thus got 3,000 daler, a Maid of Honour 2,000 daler, and a Chamberer 1,000 daler. The weddings themselves were often arranged and paid for by the Queen; in itself a considerable advantage as they were costly affairs. Thus, when Brita Gyllenstierna married in 1640 the food cost 1,102 daler and included 12 calves, 28 turkeys, 80 lambs, 28 pigs, 200 chickens, 5,200 eggs, and 471 litres of milk, to which was added clothing, wine, confectionery, and torches and candles, none of it cheap. At the wedding of a Maid of Honour in 1644 over 5,700 litres of wine and more than 5,000 litres of beer were consumed, at a cost of more than 2,000 daler.59 The Countess Christina Catharina De la Gardie, Fröken to Queen Christina, received a large wedding gift of 3,000 riksdaler and a silver service worth another 3,000 riksdaler.60 Non-noble women also received substantial help when they married, as did the seamstress who was given a brocade dress and other clothes, together worth 365 daler.61 Even noblewomen who left court without marrying were sometimes given the customary ‘wedding help’. Some women managed to extract a string of useful privileges. Thus in 1600 the Court Mistress Karin Ulfsdotter Snakenborg received assistance for her son studying at university, and four years later she received land forfeited to the Crown by treason.62 Perks could also be expected long after someone had left court. Märta Christiersdotter Siöblad served as Maid of Honour in the early 1560s. A quarter of a century afterwards she petitioned to receive assistance because of ‘my long service’ in much the same way as she tried to help her son who had fallen in disgrace with Duke Charles.63

Marriage On New Year’s Day in 1607, the distraught Maid of Honour Maria von Brunkhorst committed suicide having discovered that Alexander, the Page she was infatuated with, was having an affair with another Maid of Honour, Sibylla von Brandstein.64 Marriage – and sometimes love – was a crucial 59 SLA, Hovförtäringsräkenskaper (?-1818) Kungl Maj:ts hov Journal 1644 receipt number 469. 60 RA, Räntekammarbok 1648, fols. 225-226. 61 RA, Riksregistraturet, 25 June 1696. 62 Ibid., 15 January 1600 and 22 July 1604. 63 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Skrivelser till hertig Karl K 346 Märta Christiersdotter Siöblad to Duke Charles, n.d. (but 1587 or after); RA, Kungliga arkiv, Skrivelser till hertig Karl K 346 Märta Christiersdotter Siöblad to Duke Charles, 3 September 1594. 64 Lewenhaupt 1903, 147 (diary entry, 1 January 1607).

All the Queen’s women


part of life at court, be it present or painfully absent.65 In this small circle, intense feelings of friendship and love could thrive, but so could jealousy and hate. Court ordinances sought to control life at court, but this often proved difficult. It was hard to prevent romantic liaisons at the court. In some cases they got out of hand and ended in scandal. Women serving at the court had the Queen in loco parentis. Thus, suitors had to approach the Queen when desiring to marry a Maid of Honour. In 1623, a minor nobleman had his more prominent courtier relative speak for him with Queen Dowager Christina to woo one of her Maids of Honour, Christina Kursell. The Queen’s Court Marshal was approached and informed that Lieutenant Erik Horn from Finland, with the support and advice of his relatives, sought the hand of Christina Kursell – who had already said yes by the time the Queen was approached. Queen Christina knew his family, assumed Erik Horn would follow in the footsteps of his parents, and knew that Miss Kursell’s family approved, and so gave her consent. Horn then left Gripsholm Castle where the Queen was residing at the time; however, he soon began to claim to various people that he had ‘never intended to, much less asked’ to marry Christina Kursell, nor had he approached the Queen for her consent. Among those he told was the Queen Consort, Maria Eleonora. This provoked the fury of the Queen Dowager, who fired off an icy letter of displeasure to the caddish Horn’s courtier cousin and spokesman ordering him to get his act together; she pointed out that as Maid of Honour Miss Kursell was under her ‘tutelage and care’, and this humiliation would dishonour not just her but all the noblewomen at court. She would thus deal with this ‘gravely’, in a manner that would ensure others shied away from such levity in the future.66 In the name of the Court Master, the Queen sent off another letter to Horn’s cousin some months later, telling him that the Queen had heard that Erik Horn had returned to Sweden. The cousin was told to make Horn come to the Queen’s court to decide with her on a date for the nuptials.67 At Christmas the same year, 1623, the Queen invited Miss Kursell’s aunt to the wedding at her castle of Nyköpingshus.68 Two days later, nine other prominent aristocrats were also invited.69 The Queen also asked the King for the loan of his trumpeters 65 Persson 1999a. 66 RA, K 75 Drottning Kristinas registratur, Queen Christina to Claes Horn, Nyköping, 30 May 1623. 67 Ibid., ‘In the name of the Court Master’ to Claes Horn, Nyköping, 12 September 1623. 68 Ibid., Christina to Mistress Karin, Nyköping, 24 December 1623. 69 Ibid., Christina to Carl Carlsson [Gyllenhielm], Nyköping, 26 December 1623.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

and kettledrummers for the wedding.70 The most prominent guests invited were the Queen’s stepdaughter, Princess Catharina, and her husband, Count Palatine John Casimir, who were asked to ‘pay the couple the great honour’ of attending.71 After the wedding ceremony in January 1624 the bridegroom eventually left for the war in Germany, where he died two years later. Queen Christina was not without influence, and if Erik Horn had continued to try to wriggle out of the Kursell match she would have had both the means and the motive to ruin him. Miss Kursell’s father had been a long-time courtier of Duke Charles (later Charles IX), the Queen Dowager’s husband, and the Duke had tried to help Jost Kursell in his own marriage negotiations in the 1580s. Queen Dowager Christina acted to force through the marriage of Christina Kursell. It was not the only instance of a queen intervening when matchmaking at court went astray, of course. Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora’s Maid of Honour Margareta Scheiding eloped with a courtier, which caused a furore as the man was already engaged to another woman. When news reached the Queen Dowager she wrote demanding to know what had happened.72 The man tried to placate Miss Scheiding’s father and ensure she would not be cut off, and he sought the support of the Queen’s uncle in asking for her forgiveness, writing of his ‘long exile and miserable condition’.73 The son born in exile also had to be legitimised by the Queen.74 A queen who directed her women’s marriages could give the court pause for thought, though. In 1638, it was clearly thought unsuitable that the Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora arranged a marriage between her Maid of Honour Ursilia Sabina von Flentzen genannt von Münchhausen and a Swedish nobleman without the consent of the family and relatives.75 It was taking her role in loco parentis too far, as the groom was only ‘a youth of sixteen or seventeen years’ and his guardians were in the dark about the match.76 Maria Eleonora’s daughter Queen Christina (the Younger) forced her Maid of Honour Ebba Sparre to give up her fiancé Bengt Oxenstierna, and, despite her resistance, instead marry a brother of the Queen’s favourite, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie. 70 Ibid., Christina to Gustaf II Adolf, Nyköping, 28 December 1623. 71 Ibid., Christina to John Casimir, Nyköping, 31 December 1623. 72 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Maria Eleonora Utgående skrivelser K 83, Maria Eleonora to Christina, Gripsholm, 15 February 1640, and similar to Axel Banér on the same day. 73 RA, Biographica S.81a, Claes Stiernsköld to Philip Scheiding [n.d.]; RA, Biographica S.81a, Claes Stiernsköld to John Casimir [n.d.]. 74 RA, Biographica S.81a, Queen Christina [draft letter, March 1652]. 75 Kullberg et al. 1895, vii. 316-317, 15 September 1638. 76 Ibid., vii. 387, 17 January 1639.

All the Queen’s women


Rightly handled, however, suitable marriages were one of the main attractions of court life. The noble part of the court consisted mostly of a great many young, rich, unmarried people on the lookout for a suitable partner. And there could be several different candidates to chose from, and the sources often contain talk of courtships and romances. In 1749 it was noted that the ambitious Colonel Per Kalling had ‘proposed long and hard’ to Maid of Honour Agneta Strömfelt – right up to the point when another woman accepted him.77 One of his more dangerous rivals was one Wrede, a fortification officer, and Kalling could not hold back his dislike, telling ‘many how that puppy Wrede left [Sweden] useless and came home the same’. The 25-year-old Wrede in turn said that 49-year-old Kalling was ‘old’, and though he had shown some promise in his youth he was now useless and had not been improved by foreign travel. The observer noted, however, that ‘Wrede is not serious in his suit even though Miss Strömfelt shows him great favour’. (In the end Miss Strömfelt married a different man five years later.) At court, then, young noblemen and noblewomen could view the selection of suitable marriage candidates, and the gossip is especially interesting when it concerns marriages that never were realised as it indicates certain possibilities of choice. A Maid of Honour might be courted by several men, and a Swedish poet wrote about women who had three or four suitors ‘in court manner’.78 When serving at court in the 1660s, Maria Elisabeth Falkenberg was courted by Chamber Gentleman Bengt Rosenhane (later her correspondent and confidant), while the Chief Chamber Gentleman Königsmarck courted another Maid of Honour, ‘la belle mad: Clodt’, and Count Lillie was wooing the Maid of Honour Christina Wrangel.79 All three women eventually got married, but not to any the suitors mentioned in that particular letter. Naturally, not all were as eagerly courted, and the same letter noted drily that no one was pursuing the Maid of Honour Ingeborg Gyllenstierna, ‘even though the whole court is wishing her a husband’.80 She never married. A good marriage could mean many things, but did women serving at court always manage to marry within their own exalted rank? I have used the official Table of Ranks to gauge the answer for the Maids of Honour – a crude measure, admittedly, but still an indication of where people were in the official Swedish hierarchy. In order not to be misled by small differences, 77 Uppsala universitetsbibliotek, Uppsala (UUB), Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter pag. 86. 78 The poet Lars Lucidor, in Hanselli 1869, x. 72. 79 KB, Engeströmska samlingen Thomas van der Noot to Johan Ekeblad, n.d. [1660s]. 80 Ibid.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

I have measured the difference in rank on a twelve-step scale, comparing the official rank of the fathers of the Maids of Honour to their husbands. How many Maids of Honour married up by twelve steps? The answer is a fairly small group of sixteen, of whom seven were in the seventeenth century (of a total of 65 weddings in 1620-1699) and nine in the eighteenth century (of a total of 90 weddings in 1700-1809). How many married down by twelve steps? Again, a group of sixteen, of whom eleven in the seventeenth century and only five in the eighteenth century. Maids of Honour were making slightly better marriages in the eighteenth century, but either way they were managing to maintain their family’s position. It should be kept in mind that Maids of Honour, though not necessarily rich, already came from the top stratum of the hierarchy, and maintaining their position should probably be counted a success. That said, the women at court did enjoy comparative freedom of choice. In 1631, when Field Marshal Herman Wrangel proposed to Maid of Honour Margareta Stenbock, she accepted him, provisionally on her mother’s consent: in other words, the marriage had been arranged by the couple themselves, and maternal agreement was only sought afterwards. Countess Stenbock’s opportunity of choice was further emphasised by a Danish diplomat who pressed his suit with her at the same time, seeking her out in the women’s quarters in the palace and – less delicately – once having sweets carried to the sauna and going there himself before Margareta Stenbock was due to arrive for her bath, which enraged Wrangel and led to the Dane being whipped.81 It was still the case much later in 1784, when the Maid of Honour Sophie Sparre was courted by the much older Admiral Ehrensvärd.82 When he proposed, she replied that she was unwilling to tie herself for a lifetime to someone without knowing him better, and she asked for time to make his acquaintance while he approached her parents. The parents replied that it was entirely her decision, but they also thought it better that they get to know each other first. Then Sophie Sparre spelt out her two main worries to her suitor: was he too hostile to religion and was he in too much debt? After Ehrensvärd had calmed her worries in these respects, Sophie Sparre gave her consent. This emphasises how women at court could see a broader range of suitors and also have a higher degree of freedom in their choice.

81 Carlsson 1947, 138. 82 Frykenstedt 1971, 8-10.

All the Queen’s women


The appeal of the court The several hundred noblewomen who served at the Swedish court from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries shared some characteristics, the most important of which was noble birth. Beyond this, however, were considerable differences: the court was the preserve of the high aristocracy in the seventeenth century, having been a place for the daughters of the King’s advisers in the sixteenth century, and there was the shift from brief periods of service by young women to decades of service at an ageing court. Several factors may have coalesced to keep noblewomen at court. Perhaps the increasing freedom coupled with, paradoxically, limited means meant that the court was a more attractive long-term prospect. As the period progressed, well-born but less wealthy women could enjoy greater freedom at court than elsewhere. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries there were severe strictures on life, detailed in the instructions for the Court Mistress in 1579, and heavy-handed interference in marriages; the eighteenth century, however, appears to have offered a freer life. Service at court could also bring a degree of freedom. It meant an income and an array of perquisites. It could also mean, increasingly so over time, greater freedom in meeting and assessing men on the marriage market. To have one’s own livelihood and the freedom to explore and even reject possible suitors was perhaps something to savour for many years.

4. Noblewomen crossing borders Abstract Of the women at and around the Swedish court, there were a sizeable number who were of foreign extraction. Whenever a foreign princess became queen she was accompanied by a retinue largely consisting of women from her homeland. European courts handled the presence of foreign noblewomen in different ways. From a relatively tolerant approach in the sixteenth century, there was a hardening of attitudes in the seventeenth century, and France, England, and Spain all tended to quickly expel foreign noblewomen who arrived with royal brides. Yet while the clean break model was practised at several important courts, it was not the whole story, for at many German courts, for example, a gradualist approach was the norm. Keywords: aristocrats, foreigners, integration

In 1570, the King’s Polish Carver (Bissare), Pzebastianus Pbimiski, was given items for the Polish women who were about to return ‘home to their country again’.1 On her marriage to Duke (later King) John, Princess Catharina Jagellonica had brought courtiers and servants with her from Poland. About 60 Poles and at least one Italian were listed in her entourage at the time of her marriage in 1562.2 Of these, two were older ladies, six were Maids of Honour, and one was the Chief Maid of Honour.3 A further four women were Chamberers and two were the dwarfs Doska and Baska. 1 RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1570:6. 2 Palmén 1903, 355-356. 3 Ibid. In 1562, two older ladies Biechowska and Ostolska, with five Maids of Honour and one Chief Maid of Honour: Barbara Wąsowiczówna, Marussa Krupska młodsza, Helena Krupska starsza, Orsula Niemojowska starsza, Dorota Niemojowska młodsza, Anna Biechowska, Anna Witkowska. In 1568 Catherine was served by Maids of Honour called Ursula, Barbara, Dorota, Dorota, and Jadwiga – three of whom may have been Orsula Niemojowska starsza, Barbara Wąsowiczówna and Dorota Niemojowska.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch04


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

When Catharina and her husband were imprisoned by her brother-in-law Eric XIV in 1563, she pleaded with the King to allow some of her incarcerated Polish entourage return to Poland. 4 Not all, though, for when Catharina became Queen in 1568 she still had a number of Poles in her employ – most of her women in 1568 bore Polish names.5 By 1569 a number of Swedish women had been added, but there was still a strong Polish presence.6 This included a number of men, such as Laurens Rylski and Nikolaj Opaski, who served the Queen as body servants. King John III had also several Polish courtiers and servants. Soon, however, these Polish women were cleared out in what appears to have been a conscious action to de-Polonise her household. As Queen it was more important who served her than it had been when she was a Royal Duchess. The remaining Poles were primarily body servants such as the Queen’s favourite, the dwarf Doska, her Valets, and a few courtiers, such as the Carver Pbimiski. In 1571, a group remaining at court was categorised as ‘The Queen’s Valets and other Poles’.7 The young heir, Sigismund, was still served by one of his mother’s Polish Valets in the 1587. At about the same time as all the Polish women had left Sweden, a new batch of foreign noblewomen arrived, this time in attendance on Maria, a Palatinate princess who in 1579 married Duke Charles, John III’s brother. Maria brought with her a number of German women, some of whom were to stay in Sweden for the rest of their lives. The last surviving member of this group, Eufrosyna Heldina von Dieffenau, died as late as 1636. The presence of these Polish, and in 1579 German, noblewomen highlights an important aspect of early modern European courts: they were highly international places, but at the same time environments where foreign elements could always be singled out for disapproval. Concepts of nationality were of course different from today, but there was still plenty of evidence of ‘Poles’ being perceived as foreign – along with Germans, English, Italians, and others. The fact that Poland was described as ‘home’ when the women were sent back, or that ‘Poles’ were called such is an indication that the presence of foreigners at court was a sensitive issue. This was not just true of Sweden, but other European courts as well. Over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a pattern emerged according to which foreign 4 Lager-Kromnow n.d.a. 5 RA, Kammararkivet, Strödda äldre räkenskaper, Ny serie Mantalregister Hovet Mantal 1568. 6 Ibid. 1569. 7 Ibid. 1571. In the same year also a page, Sebastianus Zbiznischi.

Noblewomen crossing borders


Figure 6: A foreign Maid of Honour, Amalia von Hatzfeldt made a brilliant marriage to a Count Lewenhaupt, a relative of the royal family. Unknown painter, Amalia von Hatzfeldt, 1596. Copyright Skoklosters slott.

courtiers in the service of a foreign princess would normally be sent back fairly soon. The arrival of a foreign royal bride brought an influx of new people, and with them new objects and new customs. The importance of these


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

moments as exchanges of culture has been emphasised.8 At the same time, such infusions could easily turn into a clash of cultures. On the arrival of Catherine of Braganza in England in 1662, it was later claimed she did not make a good impression. Her attendants were said to have been called the ‘six frights’. The English viewed Portuguese dress and hairstyles and the strictness of their etiquette as alien and off-putting. Soon after they married Charles II sent most of the Queen’s attendants back to Portugal.9 The only significant exception was the Countess of Penalva, and even she only remained in an unofficial, unsalaried position. Interestingly, Catherine in the 1670s managed to partly re-Portuguese her household by introducing several Portuguese maids. Such a clash of court cultures was not unique. Nor was it always the princess and her entourage who had to adapt. When a Spanish Infanta married the Duke of Savoy she happily relaxed the strict Spanish etiquette, but her attendants took umbrage and in the end forced some adaption of Savoy etiquette to Spanish norms.10 In this case the might of the Spanish empire trumped the more common solution of the princess adapting to her new court. In reverse, when the Archduchess Mariana arrived as the new Queen of Spain in 1649, she found Spanish court etiquette oppressive, and undermined it persistently, which created an atmosphere of chaos in her household.11 When a new court had different customs it could easily result in cultural clashes. Cultural transfer was not always a smooth process.

Change over time Attitudes towards foreign princesses’ attendants was not static, nor uniform across Europe, but there was a clear change in attitudes towards foreign noblewomen at early modern European courts. Initially, the presence of foreign noblewomen at court was not without its complications, but appears to have been largely tolerated. Some fifteenth-century French queens were served partly by women from their homes, whereas others were served more exclusively by Frenchwomen.12 Anne of Brittany stood out, but that was 8 See the international project ‘Marrying Cultures’ lead by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, Jill Bepler, and Svante Norrhem. See also the project on the Jagiellonian dynastic network lead by Natalia Nowakowska. 9 Corp 2002, 55. 10 Sánchez 2016. 11 Malcolm 2005. 12 Mooney 1977, 233 and 242.

Noblewomen crossing borders


natural, given that she ruled a principality in her own right. There were numerous Bretons at her court and several women of princely birth. The acceptance of foreign noblewomen was seen in many courts at the time. Thus Catherine of Aragon was served by a number of Spanish women, the most important of whom was Elvira Manuel de Villena Suárez de Figueroa, who exerted a strong influence until her political manoeuvrings led to her departure in 1506.13 A few of Catherine of Aragon’s original attendants were still in England in the 1510s. Similarly, when Catherine de Medici arrived at the Valois court in 1533, ten Italian women remained with her in France, and as late as the 1580s she had an Italian in her service, her relative Alphonsine Strozzi, as her dame d’atour.14 Mary Stuart was served by mostly Scottish noblewomen in France, but that reflected her special status as a queen regnant, albeit of another country – Henry II had tried to expel her Scottish retinue, but backtracked after resistance from the Guise family.15 Once Mary was Queen Consort in 1560 her household ballooned, and her attendants, apart from a small nucleus, were largely French and connected with her mother’s Guise family. Catherine de Medici herself had little compunction in expelling four young woman who were Lorrainers and close companions of her next daughter-in-law, Queen Louise of Lorraine.16 Queen Louise complained loudly and stayed in bed in protest, but to no avail. France’s relative acceptance of foreign courtiers and servants faded after about 1600. Fewer women stayed – generally lower-ranking female attendants, and few aristocrats – and for shorter periods of time. Thus Marie de Medici’s dame d’atour was her infamous favourite, Leonora Galïgai, and Virginia Belioti was her Chamber Woman but otherwise her attendants were French.17 The next Queen, Anne of Austria, was from Spain. She had a foreign dame d’atour (Loyse Ozoria) for the f irst three years, but within a few years most of her Spanish attendants had been expelled.18 As Queen of France, the Spanish Maria Teresa in 1663 had an Italian-born sur-intendante de la maison, Olympe Mancini, but she was a natural part of her uncle Cardinal Mazarin’s strategy to influence the court and did not reflect Maria Teresa’s origins.19 Neither her dame d’honneur nor her 13 De Witte Bowles 1989, 32-38; Earenfight 2018, 351; Paul 1966. 14 McIlvenna 2016, 46. 15 Marshall 2013, 212. 16 Boucher 1995, 55. 17 Griselle 1912. 57. 18 Ibid., 89; Olivan Santaliestra 2010. 19 Besongne 1663, 312-313. The five were Dona Maria Molina and her niece Anna Molina, Maria Espinoza, Catalina Rizzo, and Dona Felippe Maria Térésa Abarca.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

dame d’atour nor her five filles d’honneur (Maids of Honour) were Spanish. Her sister-in-law, Madame, was allowed a Scottish dame d’atour, though no English or Scottish Maids of Honour or Chamber Women.20 This was probably an exception made for a woman who had lived in France for a long time, as Madame’s German successor, Liselotte, had practically no German women in her service, and likewise Louis XV’s wife, Queen Marie Leszczyńska, had no Polish women serving her soon after the marriage in 1725.21 Tellingly, though, among the lower-ranking body servants there was a Spanish presence for Queen Maria Teresa’s first decade in France: she had four femmes de chambre françoises and a première femme de chambre françoise (Madame Anselin, the King’s wet nurse and the mother of one of the women) and a matching five femmes de chambre espagnoles. In the early 1670s, however, this Spanish section was abolished and the only remaining Spanish woman was listed among the femmes de chambre françoises. A few years later they were simply referred to as femmes de chambres.22 The development towards a quick, clean break between a royal bride and her foreign attendants was mirrored at several other courts. Thus the French-born English Queen Henrietta Maria had a large French entourage at her wedding in 1625, but the majority were expelled and returned to France in June 1626, and much the same thing happened to Catherine of Braganza later in the century. Confessional differences made foreign queens and therefore their attendants handy scapegoats. At the eighteenth-century British court, foreigners were given short shrift, and even the Queen’s body servants were English: Caroline of Ansbach; Princess Augusta; Queen Charlotte.23 The lone exception was Queen Charlotte’s two German commoners who were her Keepers of the Robes. In a similar fashion, foreign women were not thought desirable at the Spanish court. When Maria Anna of Neuburg arrived in Spain in 1689, she took leave of most of her German servants, although her favourite, Countess of Berlepsch, remained in her retinue, to 20 Henrietta Gordon Huntley. She was still listed in 1672, after the English-born Madame had died and been succeeded by the more famous German Madame, Elisabeth of the Palatinate (Besongne 1663; Besongne 1672, 465). It was claimed that at this time she was ‘on bad terms with her mistress’ and ‘[s]he seems to have been generally unpopular, and Blakhal gives her a character for the basest ingratitude’. Still, she was a remarkable survivor as a foreign woman at the French court, and also served Queen Maria Theresa as a fille demoiselle (Rigg 1885-1900). 21 Besongne 1674, 465-467; Simplicien 1727, 342-345. 22 Dona Felippe Maria Térésa Abarca, by this point Madame de Vizé. She was still in service in 1682. 23 Bucholz 2006.

Noblewomen crossing borders


the chagrin of many at court.24 The most infamous court favourite of the 1710s was a Frenchwoman, but then the Spanish King was himself French. The political heft of the princess’s court of origin was a decisive factor in whether foreign-born courtiers were allowed to remain. Marie Leszczyńska came from a politically insignificant upstart dynasty, and it showed in the composition of her court where Poles were not significant. Elizabeth Stuart, meanwhile, was widely seen as a great catch, and when Elector Frederick secured her hand in marriage it was something of a coup. It was therefore unsurprising that Elizabeth still had English Maids of Honour two years after the wedding.25 Yet powerful or not, in the seventeenth century France, England, and Spain all tended to quickly expel foreign noblewomen from the courts of incoming princesses. The clean break model was practised at several important courts, but if the geographical scope is broadened the picture becomes less clear. At German courts, for example, it was sometimes claimed that in order for a princess to recruit someone from her homeland, she had to get rid of one first, so that the number of foreigners in her household would never grow and ultimately shrank.26 As Britta Kägler has noted of the Bavarian court, ‘the longer an Electress of Bavaria lived, the higher was the percentage of Bavarian women’.27 This was a more gradualist approach, where the number of foreign women dwindled over time. An important factor here was the similarities in culture between German courts. A princess arriving in France or England from Spain or Austria spoke different languages, wore different fashions, and had different forms of etiquette; to marry between German courts was to move between culturally closely linked environments with a shared language. Interestingly, Denmark appears to have belonged to the German model, and the associated German Duchy of Holstein.28 There was a very strong German presence at the Danish court, and the main language of the royal family seems to have been German.

Princely women visiting and residing in Sweden How did Sweden fit into this pattern? It is best to start with the complexities of which princely women resided in Sweden and why. The number of queens 24 25 26 27 28

Labrador Arroyo 2018. Thomas 2010, 67. Kägler 2011, 86. Ibid., 87, my translation. See, for example, a list of women serving at court in 1664 in Bruun 1885, 139.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

and princesses who required aristocratic female attendants varied wildly over the course of the early modern period. The birth of King Gustaf’s daughter Catharina in 1539 was a great novelty as she was the first Swedish-born princess resident in Sweden since the 1440s. Catharina was soon followed by her sisters Cecilia in 1540, Anna in 1545, Sophia in 1547 and Elisabeth in 1549. The princesses all went on to marry German princes, but two of them returned to live in Sweden permanently and a third paid visits. Such visits could be protracted. When Princess Elisabeth returned as the Dowager Duchess of Mecklenburg, she brought her daughter, who stayed in Sweden until her marriage to a Mecklenburg cousin in 1608. Another long-time visitor was Princess Agnes of Holstein, who moved to live with her sister Queen Christina, and despite serious frictions with parts of the royal family remained in Sweden until her death in 1627. Visits could overlap, too. Dowager Electress Anna of Brandenburg, escorted Princess Maria Eleonora to Sweden in 1620 and stayed on until 1623. Far shorter was the visit by four-year-old Elisabeth Augusta, daughter of Christian of Denmark, who was at the Stockholm court from 1628 to 1629. A similarly brief appearance was made by Princess Anna Margareta von Solms-Hohensolms (1597-1670), whose brother was in Swedish service, in order to accompany Queen Maria Eleonora to Germany when the Swedish court went on campaign in 1632.29 When she married a minor German aristocrat, Johann Konrad, Graf zu Solms-Greifenstein, the wedding was paid for by the Swedish court.30 To open the court for princely relatives was a characteristic of the Vasa dynasty – once they had managed to acquire princely relatives in the second half of the sixteenth century, that is. An important fixture was the family of Catharina, daughter of Charles IX and his first wife, Maria of the Palatinate. She married a Prince Palatine but resided in Sweden, and her children lived at the Swedish court from the 1620s to the 1650s (one of them becoming King Charles X in 1654). There were also more distant relatives, such as Princess Augusta Sophia von Sulzbach, Maria Eleonora’s great-niece, who stayed at the Swedish court for some years in the 1640s, and later in the century Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora invited several relatives for long-term stays. One, Princess Juliana of Hessen-Eschwege, was seen as a possible bride for the young Charles XI – until she gave birth to a child.31 Another, Magdalene Sibylla of Hessen-Darmstadt, was thirteen when her mother died and she 29 SLA, Hovförtäringsräkenskaper 1632. 30 SLA, Kungl Maj:t Reviderade Räkenskaper, 1632, vol. 16, Wedding expenditure in 1632, 828. 31 Fryxell 1853, xix. 92-93.

Noblewomen crossing borders


was packed off to her aunt, the Queen Dowager in Stockholm, where she remained until her marriage with a Duke of Württemberg.32 Once Juliana and Magdalene Sibylla had left in the 1670s, the long-term presence of foreign princesses ended, to be replaced by shorter visits by relatives who hoped to dun their more important Swedish kin for money. Three weeks after a diplomat noted that the King’s cousin, the Princess of Bevern, had arrived in Stockholm in 1692, he wrote that ‘both queens are very fed up with her’.33 The economically minded King might also have felt his patience stretched as he had to pay her expenses. The Princess stayed on for another month before finally leaving.34 A few years later the Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, another of the King’s cousins, visited.35 Her aim was to secure Swedish support in a Mecklenburgian succession quarrel, and she remained for several months, lodged in the palace.

Swedish noblewomen in service abroad Very few Swedish princesses married abroad in the early modern period, and those who did all took Swedish courtiers with them. When Princess Elizabeth married a Mecklenburg duke in 1581, she was accompanied by two Maids of Honour, a maid, and a cook.36 In 1593, she returned to Sweden a Dowager Duchess, and brought her German courtiers with her, some of whom, such as the Maid of Honour Maria von der Grünau, entered the service of her sister-in-law, Duchess (later Queen) Christina.37 When Princess Hedvig Sophia married the Duke of Holstein in 1698, she soon returned to live in Stockholm until her death in 1708, attended only by Swedish noblewomen. After Hedvig Sophia, no Swedish princess married a foreign prince and lived abroad until the twentieth century. An adventurous Swedish royal and a cache of confiscated letters provide some unique snapshots of life for the women who did accompany a Swedish princess following one of those rare foreign marriages. Princess Cecilia of 32 Magdalene Sibylla is mentioned in the correspondence between Maria Elisabeth von Falkenberg and Bengt Rosenhane in UUB. 33 Fryxell 1839, iii. 259. 34 Hildebrand 1918, 246. 35 Ibid., 377. 36 Lucretia Magnusdotter (illegitimate daughter of the Princess’s brother Duke Magnus), Märta Johansdotter, the Maid Karin Grelsdotter, and the Cook Brita Henriksdotter (RA, Landskapshandlingar Uppland 1578:9). They all received gifts of fabric and fur from the Queen. 37 Jonas Petri ‘Lijkpredikan’ (funeral sermon) for Maria von der Grünau, in Klingspor 1876, i.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Sweden, having married the Margrave of Baden in 1564, set off to travel Europe, accompanied by a number of Swedish women and servants. Some of their correspondence with friends and families back in Sweden was seized by the Danes during the war between the two countries. A cache of letters from Maids of Honour overseas thus survives in the Danish National Archive, while practically all letters written by Maids of Honour in Sweden have vanished.38 From them we can distil some fascinating insights into prevailing attitudes among women at court. Accompanying Princess Cecilia on her journey through Livonia and Germany to England were originally five Swedish noblewomen.39 A number of traits are discernable from their letters. All the Maids of Honour were strongly linked to their family and relatives in Sweden, and all of them wrote letters home, anxious to receive news. This reflects the fact that women at court were part of an aristocratic network. When they entered court they did not give up their old identity; they kept their aff inities, but also created new ones. This was borne out by the almost claustrophobic feeling of a closed circle. They wrote constantly, demanding news of other people at court – they were part both of their original family, but also of a collective identity at court. One letter ended with ‘Greet the Princess and the Mistress and all wives, servants, both wives and Chamberers, and do not for God’s sake forget Mrs. Barbro the Cook and all who serve at court that I know, both gentlemen and guards and grooms and the grooms of grooms and cooks and grooms of the cellar; though I fear, there are not many left that I know.’40 Tellingly, this letter was addressed to the Maids of Honour who served Princess Elisabeth back in Sweden. Another point was the women’s dependency on the princess they served. This entailed a lack of freedom. When Princess Cecilia decided to set off on a journey, they had to go, too. Loyalty was expected, and we can see how it was expressed in demonstrations of gratitude and attachment to Princess Cecilia and her young sons. This lack of freedom was paradoxically combined with a certain freedom of action. As a Maid of Honour each received a salary of her own – and it was plain that the women valued the money and gratuities. One part of the relative freedom of life at court was 38 DRA, Danske Kancelli, Opsnappede svenske breve fra Syvårskrigens tid. 39 Kristina Gabrielsdotter (Oxenstierna), Birgitta Hansdotter (Bååt), Kristina Abrahamsdotter, Anna Jöransdotter, and Helena Ulfsdotter Snakenborg. 40 DRA, Danske Kancelli, Opsnappede svenske breve fra Syvårskrigens tid, Brita Hansdotter (Bååt) to the Maids of Honour at the court of Princess Elisabeth, Rodemachern, n.d.

Noblewomen crossing borders


the possibility to arrange marriages. We can add to that the chance to wield power, although that varied enormously. By living close to decision makers, the women could hope to influence them. One determined Maid of Honour tried to ensure that if a particular English enemy ever returned to Sweden ‘see to it that he ends up on the gallows, which he has long deserved, as he brought us to England, Our Mistress and Master to great shame, and us poor maids to much harm.’41 A shared attitude at court was naturally a strong sense of hierarchy. The Maids of Honour belonged to some of the most aristocratic families in Sweden, and they rubbed elbows with princesses. Thus it was an affront to them when this hierarchy was upset. When the mother of one Maid of Honour, Helena Snakenborg, married a low-born Englishman in Swedish service, the outrage that ensued was to be expected. 42 ‘We have not believed it to be true; but it is true, may God forgive her, that she has not done better for herself in her old age. She would have done better had she married the poorest nobleman in Sweden.’ The Englishman in question, Sigfrid Preston, had given himself airs in Sweden, but ‘he is not such a great Lord in England as he pretends in Sweden’. The Maids of Honour had ‘seen his mother well and his stepfather. And she was just like some other burgher’s wife’. Helena Snakenborg was humiliated when news reached her in England about her common stepfather. The disdain for commoners also shone through when another Maid of Honour wrote about both Helena Snakenborg’s stepfather and a merchant who had visited Sweden.43 ‘When he and Sigfrid Englishman are in Sweden, they are great Lords, but when we arrived in England, Master North was the son of a tailor and Sigfrid a poor son of a burgher.’ The example of Princess Cecilia’s Maids of Honour highlights some of the vicissitudes to which they were subjected: their personal dependence on their mistress; the opportunity to see more of the world and a much wider marriage market; the constant scramble for money. This at a time when the sources for women at the Swedish court are sparse at best. It should be noted that being thrown into a much wider circle than the Stockholm court could have its advantages. One of the Maids of Honour, Helena Snakenborg, married William Parr, Marquess of Northampton and brother of Queen Catherine Parr, and went on to establish herself at the Elizabethan court. 41 Ibid., Kristina Abrahamsdotter to Jakob Turesson Rosengren, Rodemachern, 30 June 1568. 42 Ibid., Kristina Gabrielsdotter (Oxenstierna) to Beata Trolle, Rodemachern, July 1568. 43 Ibid., Anna Jöransdotter to Beata Jöransdotter, Rodemachern, 1 July 1568.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Clean break or gradual erosion? This chapter began with Queen Catharina Jagellonica’s women returning to Poland in 1570. Yet that was not a sudden break. They had been in Sweden for eight years, and at least one woman, the Queen’s great favourite, Dorothea the dwarf (or Dosieczka or Doska), remained. Similarly, when Duke Charles married a German princess in 1579, she arrived with her German noblewomen, and further Germans were recruited after the wedding, to the extent that a two-year contract was drawn up with Margarete Westeborch, the widow of Dr. Jacob Canisius of Worms, to come to Sweden and be the Duchess’s Chamber Mistress (kammarfru). 44 Several of the women married Swedish noblemen and remained in Sweden for the rest of their lives. When Duke Charles married his second wife, Christina of Holstein, in 1592, only one noble Maid of Honour and two Chamberers remained with her in Sweden. One reason might have been that there were already several women serving at court. Some years after the wedding there was a new influx of German Maids of Honour, possible from the court of Princess Elisabeth, Dowager Duchess of Mecklenburg, who died in 1598. At the court of King Gustaf there were so many foreign men that some categories were divided into Swedes and Germans. Until the mid-seventeenth century the Swedish court employed noblemen not just from its Baltic provinces, but from various princely German states alongside Poles, Italians, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Scots, Russians, and others. In the seventeenth century this cosmopolitan melting pot was increasingly subject to criticism, and it had become an evident good to employ Swedes – something that Hedvig Eleonora was at pains to point out in her will.45 On the whole, there had been no great pressure to expel foreign nobles from the sixteenthcentury Swedish court. In the seventeenth century this changed. Some Swedish aristocrats were more open to the international mixture at court. Chancellor Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie (himself the grandson of a French adventurer) tried to persuade the Council to be open towards Germans from Sweden’s provinces. In a Council discussion in 1667 the issue of including or excluding foreigners arose again: Chancellor De la Gardie wanted more men from Swedish Livonia to be appointed to the Council in future, for example, in order to win the love of the provincial nobilities 44 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Handlingar rörande hertigens hovhållning, ekonomi, förläningar m.m. K 349, Contract and instructions, Nyköping, 18 November 1579. 45 RA, Konungahusens urkunder, vol. 43a, Will of Hedvig Eleonora, Stockholm, 27 January 1704.

Noblewomen crossing borders


Figure 7: Coming from Germany and marrying a German courtier at the Swedish court, the former Maid of Honour Maria von der Grünau was one of the people who established a court dynasty. Unknown painter, Maria von der Grünau with Three Children, early seventeenth century, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

so they would not consider themselves ‘treated as slaves’. 46 This, however, coincided with initiatives to expel foreigners from court. Back in the 1630s, Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora had been criticised for the number of Germans serving at her court. In this she continued a trend set by her late 46 RA, Det odelade kansliet Rådsprotokoll, Huvudserien A I:48, 15 February 1667.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

husband, for in 1631 Gustaf II Adolf had encouraged the recruitment of Pomeranian aristocrats to his court, writing ‘if you could get any German noblemen, which We do not doubt could be achieved, since in Pomerania there are whole droves of middle-aged men and other noblemen who would willingly serve these days, […] if you instead could use the Swedes to other ends than to go and waste their time at court, it would be very well.’47 This attitude probably also reflected Swedish plans, soon to be realised, to seize Pomerania. Such uncomplicated attitudes towards foreign courtiers were doomed to change. Indeed, within a few years the Swedish council was worrying about the predominance of Germans at the Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora’s court. In reality, Maria Eleonora’s court was fully Swedish by the late 1620s, but she then reverted and began recruiting Germans again. Under the onslaught of conciliar criticism, Maria Eleonora then once again tried to Swedify her court. In October 1635, she dismissed one German Maid of Honour; a month later she dismissed two further Maids of Honour, who were sisters. 48 This was an unusual step, presumably taken because of the new Swedish Maid of Honour who was recruited. 49 The result, as was surely the intention, was that by 1636 all the noblewomen serving Maria Eleonora and her daughter were Swedish. This act of goodwill on the part of the Queen Dowager appears not have to been much appreciated, and as relations between her and the ruling Guardians in the Council deteriorated further she began to recruit Germans to her court again, including noblewomen. In 1638, her Court Marshal Pentz was to ‘get out of here’ so that ‘a loyal Swedish man’ could replace him.50 In a 1639 Council discussion it was said: We cannot but find it suspect that Her Majesty has no one Swedish in her court nisi janitores. The Mistress of the Court gone, a German in her place. No Swedish nobleman or Maid of Honour (apart from Lady Elisabeth). They are such that if they were in power, we could ask for none worse. In France this is not so; all the officers are French. England is the same and also Spain. They may be good enough, but since Her Majesty cannot tolerate any Swede, they also come from places that could be held in suspicion.51 47 RA, Riksregistraturet, Gustaf II Adolf to Johan Sparre, Hall, 13 September 1631. 48 RA, K 81 Kungliga arkiv utgångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Olof Christophersson, Gripsholm, 5 October 1635; ibid., Maria Eleonora to Johan Jacobsson, Stockholm, 9 November 1635. 49 Ibid., Maria Eleonora, Stockholm, 30 May 1635; see also ibid., Maria Eleonora to Philip Scheding, Stockholm, 10 November 1635. 50 Council minutes, September 1638, in Kullberg et al. 1895, vii. 318. 51 Council minutes, 26 January 1639, in ibid., vii. 443.

Noblewomen crossing borders


Two days later it was said in Council that the young Queen must not be brought up by someone like the Queen Dowager, for fear she would be possessed ‘with contempt against our nation, its humour, customs and habits’.52 Later that year a plan was drawn up to cut the size of the Queen Dowager’s court, to include only four Maids of Honour.53 After she fled to Denmark in 1640, her dwarfs and her German Maids of Honour were among the few courtiers she wanted to retain.54 Maria Eleonora’s daughter, Queen Christina, was not averse either to foreigners or to Baltic Germans or Pomeranians serving as her courtiers. Rather, she seems to have relished a more cosmopolitan atmosphere at court, and she employed both Dutch and Scottish noblewomen as well as harbouring Palatinate princesses. The return of Maria Eleonora from her self-imposed exile also brought a number of German women. While Charles IX, Gustaf II Adolf, and Queen Christina do not seem to have minded, native Swedish noblemen worried about such things, and were often downright aggressive towards the elite from their country’s overseas dominions. ‘Hither has gathered so many Livonians that they here crawl as thick as the grey cat’ wrote one Swedish nobleman to another in 1649.55 In the 1640s Councillors recalled how Charles IX had ‘tried to pull the Livonians into our midst’ some decades earlier.56 People from this part of the Baltic region were much disliked and regarded with suspicion by the native Swedish nobility.57 Terms of abuse such as ‘you Livonian cur’ were heard.58 During the Diet following the death of Charles X Gustaf in 1660, the nobility who were approved by and registered with the Swedish House of Nobles demanded that ‘all they who are closest to his Person [Charles XI] in the years of his minority should be Swedish men, and by preference of noble birth’. This distrust of foreigners was formalised by means of an amendment to the Constitution in 1660, proclaiming that recently naturalised noblemen were not to be permitted to take part in the King’s education. The lower echelons of the nobility were often critical of the presence of foreigners at court. This animosity was 52 Council minutes, 28 January 1638, in ibid., vii. 441-442. 53 Council minutes, August 1639, in ibid., vii. 568-569. 54 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Handlingar rörande drottning Maria Eleonoras levnadsförhållanden och egendom K 88. The Maids of Honour were given money to get back to Germany (RA, Räntekammarbok 1639-1640, fol. 325). 55 Ellen Fries, ‘Moderlandet och de eröfrade landskapen’, in Lydia Wahlström (ed.), Svenska kulturbilder ur 16-och 1700 talens historia. Populära föredrag af Ellen Fries (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1901), 97. 56 Council minutes, 14 June 1643, in Kullberg et al. 1905, x. 194. 57 Kirby 1994, 151 and 178-179. 58 Ibid., 179.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

obvious to the observer who wrote that Chief Chamber Gentleman Count Königsmarck was greatly loved by the King, but was persecuted by the young aristocrats because of his foreign extraction, as was usual in Sweden.59 The marriage of Charles X and Hedvig Eleonora in 1654 was the last time a group of foreign noblewomen arrived at court to stay and become integrated with the Swedish elite. Hedvig Eleonora brought with her several women from her native Holstein, and soon took over the women who had served Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora (who died in 1655). The German women in Hedvig Eleonora’s service soon left court: all but one had married and left by 1659. The last remaining German noblewoman (Babezin) had only been thirteen years old at the time of her arrival in Sweden, and was the one who stayed on the longest before her marriage in 1665. After that Hedvig Eleonora recruited Swedish noblewomen to her court. The process visibly sped up as attitudes towards foreigners hardened further. At the next royal wedding, in 1679, the Danish Queen Ulrika Eleonora brought a Danish-German entourage, but they and their male colleagues caused much opprobrium. One of the Maids of Honour married a Swedish courtier, but the others left within a few years. There was then a long hiatus until the next foreign princess arrived in Sweden: Lovisa Ulrika, the new Crown Princess, in 1744. The gradualist approach had by then been completely abandoned, and all the noblewomen in her service came from Sweden. The change could not have been starker. When Lovisa Ulrika arrived she was accompanied by 142 people to the border.60 At the border she was met by her new Swedish court.61 Only ten Germans then continued with her to Sweden: most were body servants such as the Valet Keilhorn and the two Chamberer sisters Mulack, and only one was a noblewoman, the Maid of Honour Frederike Wilhelmine von Knesebeck. The latter, a statuesque and merry eighteen-year-old, appears to have been not only highly favoured by the Princess but also popular with others as well. A Swedish courtier noted that she won the approval of all, because she only cultivated the friendship of some of the other Maids of Honour and refused to intrigue – ‘If all foreigners had those traits, you would not have to fear their infiltration at court.’62 In reality, Knesebeck was not formally part of the Crown Princess’s court, but used something of a loophole to remain with Lovisa Ulrika in Sweden for two years in an unofficial capacity. (Back 59 60 61 62

Simon de Petkum to Christian V, Stockholm, 31 January 1672, in Fryxell 1836, i. 221. KB, L 82:1:8 Tessin’s diary, 1759, fol. 1526. Ibid., fol. 1534. Ibid., 9 September 1759.

Noblewomen crossing borders


in the 1680s Ulrika Eleonora had used the same strategy to keep her close friend and favourite Miss Marschalck nearby, which had the advantage that it was difficult to expel her from court service.) Knesebeck was recalled to Berlin in 1746 by the Prussian Queen Dowager, to Lovisa Ulrika’s dismay. She complained to her brother in Prussia that she found it hard, ‘as she is the one and only person with whom I can talk about Berlin’.63 In the absence of courtiers of noble birth, low-born servants could fill some of the void left. This was true of Lovisa Ulrika’s German-born husband, King Adolf Frederick, too. ‘His body servants were loved and trusted above everyone else’, claimed an aristocratic Swedish contemporary.64 The King and Queen’s foreign extraction was also evident in the reaction to the failed royalist coup of 1756 by their personal attendants such as their Valets and Hunters, themselves Germans, who gathered in the royal apartments, discussing how to defend the royal couple against the Swedes.65 In fact, foreign-born commoners had long been part of court life as servants. They often came from the Queen’s homeland, and in some cases a ‘Frenchwoman’ was added on to provide a further cosmopolitan air. Occasionally, foreign women entered court service after the Queen had arrived in Sweden, because they were related to court servants – numerous wives of court physicians, barbers, or musicians found employment among the commoners at court. In 1750, a female courtier claimed that the women among Lovisa Ulrika’s German servants ‘long have petitioned to be allowed to return to Prussia’, but were kept in Sweden by Countess Hårleman, who hated them but feared their possible Swedish replacements more.66 The next Queen, Sophia Magdalena, was not allowed any aristocratic Danish courtiers, either. Indeed, the King begrudged his wife the few Danish commoners she managed to retain on her staff, and wanted to expel them. She was especially close to her Danish Chamberer, Ingrid Maria Möller, who had accompanied her from Denmark in 1766 and married the royal physician, Wenner. Despite the King’s best efforts, Mrs. Wenner, as she now was, stayed on at court until her death in 1793. When the Queen lay dying in 1813, the people closest to her heart were revealed when she talked with her confessor about her impending death. ‘Then I will again meet my mother, my son [in exile], and kind Wenner.’67 63 Lovisa Ulrika to August Wilhelm, Stockholm, 30 December 1746, in Arnheim 1909-1910, i. 341-342. 64 Klinckowström 1868, ii. 7. 65 Ibid., ii. 106. 66 UUB, Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter, p. 56. 67 Ribbing 1959, 290.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

From melting pot to enclave Of the women at and around the Swedish court, there were a sizeable number who were of foreign extraction. Whenever a foreign princess became queen she was accompanied by a retinue largely consisting of women from her homeland. These foreign aristocrats often met with deep hostility and were sent back as soon as possible; some, however, did manage the transition into a new elite and found acceptance. Contemporary views about these women tell us about the openness, or lack thereof, of the Swedish elite. Furthermore, they could, at least ostensibly, be thought a barrier between a queen and her new subjects, obstructing the normal workings of the court as a point of contact. They could even be seen as spies for foreign powers or a malevolent presence poisoning the Queen’s mind. European courts handled the presence of foreign noblewomen in different ways. From a relatively tolerant approach in the sixteenth century, there was a hardening of attitudes in the seventeenth century, and France, England, and Spain all tended to quickly expel foreign noblewomen who arrived with royal brides. Yet while the clean break model was practised at several important courts, it was not the whole story, for at many German courts, for example, a gradualist approach was the norm, with foreigners replaced by native-born noblewomen over time. In Sweden the gradualist, tolerant approach was the norm until the early seventeenth century. Foreign noblewomen often stayed on for a long time, marrying into the Swedish aristocracy and being a very visible presence at court. In the seventeenth century this evolved into a model where foreigners remained for some time, but were gradually replaced by Swedes. By the eighteenth century, however, the clean break model had superseded the earlier gradualist approach, and no foreign noblewomen remained (except in an unofficial capacity), while the few foreign commoners who bucked the trend to stay on as body servants were resented and put under pressure to return. The aristocratic melting pot had then truly been replaced by a small foreign enclave.


Servants of power Abstract That women could have political power is especially interesting, as they were locked out from formal arenas of influence. By analysing women at court we thus gain a most valuable corrective not only to those scholars who tend to overlook informal power, but also to those who tend to denigrate the opportunities open to all early modern women. Keywords: power, patronage, risk, favourite, opportunity

In 1613, at the intercession of Queen Dowager Christina, Sophia von Deppen was given a grant of land by the King.1 The manor Finsta had been granted by Duchess Sophia in 1577 to Deppen’s father, presumably for life, given that it had lapsed by 1613. By 1616 the reason for the grant to Deppen had become clear, for she was a Maid of Honour to the Queen Dowager.2 She was in all likelihood named for Duchess Sophia, whom her father appears to have served, just as she served the Queen Dowager. In that way the manor of Finsta stayed in the family and continued to support them for decades at a time. It illustrates both the increasing dependence of the nobility on service to the Crown and women’s part in the web of royal service. Everyday power flowed constantly from the throne, so to be situated in close proximity was a great advantage. Even at a time when the Queen Dowager was politically marginalised she could bestow considerable favours. Thus, in 1638, a grant of six farms was made to Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora’s former Maids of Honour, the Flentzen sisters.3 The following day the Queen requested that the newly-wed husband of one of the sisters should receive leave to spend time with his bride. 4 A month later the Queen demanded 1 RA, Riksregistraturet, vol. 120, 23 July 1613, fol. 126. 2 RA, Sandbergska samlingen ÄÄ:6, fol. 6574. 3 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Maria Eleonora Utgående skrivelser K 83, Maria Eleonora to Ursula Sabina von Flentzen and Barbara Sophia von Flentzen, Gripsholm, 28 April 1638. 4 Ibid., Maria Eleonora to Fredrik Stenbock, Gripsholm, 29 April 1638.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch05


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

that the Council give her former Chamberer Anna Persdotter an improved grant of four farms as inheritable property.5 A former washerwoman was given an annual gift of six barrels of grain at the same time.6 A single grant or office could maintain the position of a noble family for a long time. To most people serving at court the potential to bend royal power to one’s benefit was the pinnacle of their ambition, yet the vast network that managed the fount of royal favour was complex. On the face of it, Sophia von Deppen was a prime example of how women were placed at court by their families as an instrument of family ambition. Yet, power and service at court made for a complicated mix. To what degree did women serve their families and to what degree did they serve themselves? The two aims naturally overlapped, but were not identical. So much early modern power was mediated by chains of people that there was no fundamental difference between women at court working the system without direct formal influence and most men who also had to work through others.7 Yet, there has been a perception that women primarily worked to further their families’ interest, while there is a willingness to accept that men worked in their own interest. Naturally, early modern women and men were part of a context of families and relatives, but female agency could vary enormously. There are women whose documented intercession concerned close family members, but others who largely acted in their own interest and that of a group of friends. Sharon Kettering has demonstrated the role of women in French court patronage, and quotes a woman who served Anne of Austria: ‘the house of kings is like a large marketplace where it is necessary to trade for the maintenance of life, the interests of life, and the interests of those to whom we are bound by duty and by friendship’.8 In an English context Charlotte Merton has demonstrated the influence exerted by women at the Tudor court, while Katrin Keller has analysed power wielded by women at the Imperial court in Vienna.9

Everyday power – and more Women and early modern power is a complicated theme. Women’s nominal powerlessness plainly did not apply to women at court (and indeed outside 5 Ibid., Maria Eleonora to the Council, Gripsholm, 5 June 1638. 6 Ibid., Maria Eleonora to Anna Trämcken, Gripsholm, 29 June 1638. 7 The most influential woman to serve at the Swedish court was probably Ursula Meyerin, but she served the Swedish King and Queen in Poland rather than in Sweden. 8 Kettering 1993, 69. 9 Merton 1992; Keller 2005.

Servants of power


court as well). At the same time, patriarchal society did give women and men different opportunities and had different expectations of their behaviour. Queen Lovisa Ulrika was more determined politically than her affable husband Adolf Frederick and that was a cause for comment, but it would not have been were the roles reversed. Similarly, while favourites at court always were easy to castigate, this criticism was automatically amplified whenever they were women. Yet, most members of the elite were aware that women did wield power, and they were prepared to make use of that fact if need arose. Sophia von Deppen and the Flentzen sisters made use of everyday power of a kind which was always there at court. This was the bread and butter of early modern elite politics; a mainstay of the political system, with the elite providing service and (at least superficially) loyalty to the monarch, while getting in exchange valuable grants of land, offices, or money. In some political contexts, however, the opportunity for power could grow exponentially. In his analysis of the Spanish court, Alistair Malcolm has tried to identify when women at court reached unusual levels of power – ‘[T]here needed to be some kind of factional situation, such as might arise if the King were a child […] or if he was particularly indecisive […] or if he was unusually sexually or emotionally dependent on women.’10 If Malcolm had studied a court other than the Habsburg Spanish court he would have added a queen regnant to his list. As Merton has shown with the court under Elizabeth I, when the Queen ruled in her own right the women surrounding her were in direct contact with supreme power, which opened up more opportunities. One important gender difference was that women at court did not have other offices outside the household. That meant a sudden change in favour could have an immediate impact in a way it rarely had for men, who could be buffered by other offices: where a male courtier who fell from royal grace might still retain some influence thanks to other offices in the administration or army, a woman had no such fallback. Furthermore, when it came to powerful women at court, though gossip may have thrived, it was in general harder to pinpoint favour. Men could be promoted to different, better positions; women normally stayed in office, or at least at court. In the eighteenth century, men could be festooned with the ribbons and stars so essential to orders of chivalry, while women would not stand out in that manner. As will be seen, there was naturally a hierarchy at court, but to the outsider it was still the case that female power at court was, if not invisible, at the very least opaque. 10 Malcolm 2005, 167.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Opportunity did not come without risk. Royal favour was a commodity worth f ighting for, and when, on occasion, we get a glimpse of the internal workings of the court, we are almost inevitably treated to the sight of people trying to elbow one another out of the royal gaze. In court studies, analysis tends to centre on the top players – Olivares, Buckingham, Cardinal Fleury – but manoeuvring took place at all levels. While kings and queens normally represented the ultimate power, they were surrounded by other women, who themselves acted as power centres, had links down into the courtly pyramid, and could help others and eventually learn that people were ungrateful. When there was a strong favourite, she or he might try to quash other attempts to cultivate royal favour. Emerentia von Düben appears to have had no challenger for the Queen Ulrika Eleonora’s favour, though others, such as Hedvig Taube, had the King’s attention. In Sweden, there were several periods of opportunity for women to wield extraordinary power, such as two queens regnant (1644-1654 and 1719-1720).11 King Charles XII’s absence overseas and an uncertain succession created another such period for the first two decades of the eighteenth century. In the 1730s, King Frederick was emotionally dependent on his mistress, Hedvig Taube, whose family and friends benefitted from her rise. The long factionridden years of the Age of Liberty and King Adolf Frederick’s dependence on his Queen meant that Lovisa Ulrika had another opportunity to influence power between 1744 and 1771. After Gustaf III’s restoration of strong personal rule in 1772, the chance to wield power grew, and the King did indeed listen to a number of women at court, just not his Queen.

Maids of Honour as power brokers The ways in which women serving at court could turn favour into advantage were apparent on many fronts. One of the most obvious examples was the Sparre sisters, described by a contemporary as poor but (through their service at court) influential.12 When one of their brothers was sentenced to death, it was reported that the condemned man ‘has four sisters at court, one with the Queen Consort and three with the Queen Dowager, who persuaded both 11 Women who were not strictly at court, but who belonged to the nobility or were married to Secretaries or Councillors, also had some opportunity to wield influence, as discussed in Norrhem 2007. 12 Wijkmark 1995, 305.

Servants of power


queens and the Prince of Holstein to intercede for him’.13 Unsurprisingly, a pardon was secured. The women were later active in trying to get another brother a position as a colonel, and persuaded the King’s sister to write to her brother pressing their suit.14 Of all the sisters, Beata Sparre was perhaps the keenest lobbyist. In the 1680s she wrote to the man of the moment, Erik Lindschöld, to press a suit for ‘our poor House’, and to emphasise the desperate plight of her family she claimed that her daily anxiety for her mother ‘makes me forget all poetry and all pleasantries’.15 She was careful to thank Lindschöld for his assistance, and even feigned astonishment – ‘I was very surprised that His Majesty the King has seen my scribblings and badly written letters, that were not worthy of being seen by such high and mighty eyes’16 – although that was exactly the outcome she wanted, of course. Her activism meant that French diplomats thought her well worth cultivating, presenting her with a portrait of Louis XIV, which the resourceful Miss Sparre managed to save when Tre Kronor burnt down in 1697. Later, when she decided she wanted a castle that had belonged to one of her cousins, she petitioned the King and persuaded fifteen-year-old Princess Ulrika Eleonora to recommend it to her royal brother, having already brought in Princess Hedvig Sophia to do the same.17 In her letter, Hedvig Sophia said that Beata Sparre ‘well merited’ the castle ‘by 20 years’ service’, and a few months later Ulrika Eleonora again wrote to the King in the same vein.18 The assiduous Miss Sparre did secure the castle for her lifetime, and she was able to retire there after her fall from favour in 1720, when she was dismissed with a pension after some 40 years at court. The example of the Sparres and many others demonstrate that service at court gave noblewomen with limited financial resources the chance to act with considerable authority. Hence Court Mistress Occa Johanna von Riperda promised the brother of Hans Ulfsparre that she would speak for him with the Queen Dowager.19 Sometimes women acted for their own 13 Fryxell 1836, ii. 383. 14 RA, Skrivelser till konungen, Skrivelser till Karl XII, Ulrika Eleonora to Charles XII, Stockholm, 24 November 1703. 15 RA, Ericsbergssamlingen Autografsamlingen, vol. 196, Beata Sparre to Erik Lindschöld, n.d. [1680s]. 16 Ibid. 17 RA, Skrivelser till Karl XII, Ulrika Eleonora to Charles XII, Stockholm, 21 February 1703; ibid., Hedvig Sophia to same, Stockholm, 2 February 1703. 18 Ibid., Ulrika Eleonora to same, Stockholm, 1703. 19 UUB, Bref till Bengt Rosenhane, Åke Ulfsparre to Bengt Rosenhane, [summer 1672].


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

families, as when the Lady of Honour Countess Greta Torstenson managed to get the King to help her brother Erik Torstenson for, as Princess Ulrika Eleonora wrote to Charles XII, ‘The dear brother of my heart will thereupon graciously decide, as I know their poor estate well enough, and I have so far helped them to the best of my ability.’20 In a similar manner Magdalena Stenbock, Court Mistress to Princess Sophia Albertina, was approached by a poor young Finnish nobleman who wanted a promotion, though his colonel was unwilling. Countess Stenbock contacted her brother, a Gentleman of the Chamber to the King, and within a year the promotion was granted.21 It is from correspondence that we know of many of the strings that the women pulled. When Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora ‘puts herself out much’ to ask her granddaughter Ulrika Eleonora to recommend young Count Fersen to the King, the reason for the Queen Dowager’s interest was disclosed in Ulrika Eleonora’s letter of recommendation, which stressed that Fersen should be given his hoped-for commission of a regiment for his old father’s sake, but also ‘because he hopes to marry the Queen’s Maid of Honour Eleonora Wachtmeister’.22 The chains of influence could be long. A typical example was Princess Ulrika Eleonora’s recommendation that Gustaf Berend Hastfehr, the elevenyear-old nephew of the influential Lady of Honour Anna Maria Clodt, be appointed as Page, his older brother being a Page in the household of the Queen Dowager: rather than the Princess herself, it was Court Marshal Tessin who wrote to Chief Marshal Piper on the Princess’s behalf.23 Princess Ulrika Eleonora, like her sister, tended to be open to such requests when court offices were to be filled. Indeed, some months after Hastfehr was appointed, the two princesses together interceded for Carl Bogislaus von Zeidlitz to succeed his brother as a Page, at the behest of the boys’ aunt, Hedvig Margareta von der Pahlen, who had been at court for a long time, and successfully sought ‘his promotion from their Royal Highnesses, although he is still very small and young in years’.24 The cases of Miss von der Pahlen and Mrs. Clodt and their nephews are interesting because they shed light on how recruitment functioned. It should be noted that sometimes the relative 20 Carlson 1893, 165; RA, Skrivelser till Karl XII, Ulrika Eleonora to Charles XII, Stockholm, 9 December 1716. 21 RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Autografsamlingen, vol. 245, Magdalena Stenbock to Arvid Nils Stenbock, Stjernsund, 17 July 1777. 22 Ibid., same to same, Stockholm, 7 May 1714. 23 RA, Kanslitjänstemäns koncept och mottagna skrivelser, vol. 105, Nicodemus Tessin to Carl Piper, Stockholm, 9 May 1706. 24 Ibid., same to same, Stockholm, 19 October 1706; ibid., same to same, Stockholm, 30 May 1708.

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pushing his or her offspring into court office had left active service years before, but had remained in contact with the royal family and the court. Thus, just before she died Countess Christina De la Gardie, herself a Maid of Honour when young, petitioned for her two granddaughters to be appointed Maids of Honour, as the Queen Dowager had promised.25

Everyday power – and high politics A grant of money or property may have saved a family, but it has sometimes been seen as ‘low politics’ as opposed to ‘high politics’. In Council the monarch decided on matters of policy, and only during a royal minority or the reign of a queen regnant did women have access to the Council Chamber. This is true and not unimportant, and it did limit female power to some degree. Yet, it should be borne in mind that there was relatively little high politics that was determined by policy or differing political ideas – Sweden’s nascent party politics in the mid-eighteenth century was fairly light on ideological content – it was nevertheless high politics, in effect, as when Sweden aligned either with France (as the political grouping called Hats wished) or with Russia (as the group called Caps wished). Similarly, the question of the extent of royal power was by definition high politics, with the royal family and its adherents favouring a constitutional shake-up, with the lukewarm support of the opposition party of the day. In the feverish political machinations in the mid-eighteenth century, Queen Lovisa Ulrika was a key player in attempting to strengthen royal power. In 1745 she wrote to her brother in Prussia expressing her dissatisfaction with the weak position of a Swedish monarch compared to absolutist Prussia: ‘I scarcely dare to tell you, dear brother, that I do not believe it will be possible to live in this country without a complete change in how it is governed.’26 In another letter she told him, ‘How happy you are in a country which only has one master!’27 The Queen’s determination could frighten even a seasoned politician. As the planned royalist coup began to fall apart in 1756, the politician Scheffer left a critical meeting with the Queen and was heard muttering in the antechamber by her confident Düben ‘c’est une terrible femme’.28 25 RA, Kungliga arkiv, K 124 Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonoras koncepter, Hedvig Eleonora to Christina De la Gardie, Stockholm, 3 November 1704. 26 Jägerskiöld 1945, 130. 27 Ibid. 28 Klinckowström 1867, i. 266.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

One woman who rapidly gained Lovisa Ulrika’s confidence after her arrival as Crown Princess in 1744 was Henrika von Liewen (Maid of Honour, 1729-1747, and Lady of Honour, 1747-1749). She had already served the late Queen as a Maid of Honour since 1729, but was temperamentally more attuned to the vivacious and cultivated Lovisa Ulrika. Liewen and her brother became great favourites in the 1740s and 1750s; however, they were a comparatively solitary duo. There had been a family link to court through Charlotta von Liewen and Beata von Liewen, their second cousins and long-time courtiers who were a generation older, but they had both died before Henrika von Liewen arrived at court. Unusually for aristocrats, they were not part of an extensive familial network, as almost all their relatives were in the lost provinces of Estonia and Livonia, where both their parents were born. Henrika von Liewen was f irst mentioned in one of Lovisa Ulrika’s letters in 1744 apropos a prank played on her by the courtier Count Tessin when the court was at Ulriksdal Palace outside Stockholm. While she was having supper with the other court women, Count Tessin had her chamber rearranged and installed two families of peasants. ‘When she withdrew, she was very surprised to enter her chamber and f ind’ four peasants smoking by a table in the middle of the room with a woman and several children present. Liewen had to sleep with one of her ‘camarades’ as her own chamber was full.29 Henrika von Liewen took such pranks in her stride, and was witty and intelligent in a way much appreciated by Lovisa Ulrika. The following year Tessin was again in prankster mode. This time ‘all the ladies, but in particular Miss Liewen’ were fooled when Tessin put together extracts from old gazettes from 1740 and had them reprinted as if they were fresh news in 1745.30 Later, Lovisa Ulrika wrote to her sister that Liewen ‘is girl of much merit and has the soul of an angel, merry, light-hearted, and of all imaginable strength’.31 That Lovisa Ulrika treasured such traits can be seen from her concluding words, ‘all my ladies are very jolly and most amusing’. Henrika von Lieven was thus part of Lovisa Ulrika’s inner circle, where Count Tessin, as well as being in charge of the Crown Princess’s court, acted as the indefatigable impresario for various entertainments. After Lovisa Ulrika gave birth to a son in 1746 she sent Miss Liewen to deliver a gold and onyx pen to Tessin with the wish that he would one day guide the education of the 29 Arnheim 1909-1910, i. 80, Lovisa Ulrika to Sophie Dorothee, Ulriksdal, 22 September 1744. 30 Ibid., i. 187, Lovisa Ulrika to Sophie Dorothee, Ulriksdal, 13 April 1745. 31 Ibid., i. 285, Lovisa Ulrika to Amalie, [Ulriksdal, summer 1746?].

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little prince.32 The in-jokes could be complex, stressing the exclusivity of the court circle, hence the gambling jetton in Liewen’s honour, ordered by Count Tessin in a play on her interest in the book Henriette-Sylvie de Molière by Madame de Villedieu and some mistake she had made while playing tressette.33 When Henrika von Liewen married a member of the Hat party in 1748 and left court, Lovisa Ulrika wrote of her chagrin at losing her; however, the same Hat sympathies soon drove a wedge between her and the Queen. When the old King suffered a stroke that same year, a coup d’état was already being discussed within a small circle around Lovisa Ulrika. News of the plan reached the Hat Councillors, which effectively scuppered it, and Liewen has since been identified as the possible source of the leak.34 Liewen’s closeness to the Hats continued after she left active court service in 1748. It was claimed that an anonymous weekly paper supporting the Hats in 1755-1756, En Ärlig Swensk (An honest Swede), was edited in her home. Yet even so, in 1751 Lovisa Ulrika listed Liewen as an outstanding woman of merry conversation and good character. Henrika von Liewen had tried to keep out possible contenders for the Queen’s favour, such as Mistress Spetz, in 1750, but her nemesis proved to be Ulrika Eleonora von Düben. The niece of Emerentia von Düben, she served as Maid of Honour from 1748 to 1757. For decades the Düben family had been close to both the royal family and the Caps, and were thus in opposition to the Hats, who had been in government since 1739. One Hat leader later accused Ulrika Eleonora von Düben of systematically barring members of the Hats from the Queen. ‘She expelled from court everyone who could compete with her in wit and for the Queen’s confidence.’35 A hostile observer described Miss Düben as ‘a hot-tempered and cunning woman’.36 The leading Hat, Tessin, maliciously portrayed Miss Düben as ‘the magpie’ in a fable written for the court circle; a sharper version of his earlier court entertainments, and one which met with disapproval.37 Miss Düben and her future husband, Count Bielke, worked together to gradually shut Tessin out from his office guiding the education of the Crown Prince.38 It was claimed 32 33 34 35 36 37 38

KB, L 82:1:5 Tessin’s diary, 13 December 1758. Hildebrand 1860, 196. Jägerskiöld 1945, 136. Klinckowström 1867, i. 48. Ibid., i. 48. Ibid., i. 49. Ibid., i. 54-55.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 9: The niece of the favourite Emerentia von Düben, Ulrika Eleonora von Düben reached favourite status herself and was ruthless in shutting out any possible competitors to the Queen’s favour. Gustaf Lundberg, Ulrika Eleonora von Düben, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

that she invented things in order to alienate the Queen from Tessin.39 Miss Düben’s royalism was also on show at the succession in 1751. King Adolf Frederick wanted to create higher court offices as a reward for some long-serving 39 Ibid.

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courtiers, and Miss Düben criticised the ensuing resistance, saying it was ‘a shame to deny the first thing the King requested’, a criticism of the government that was intended to shock observers. 40 After the failed royalist coup of 1756, Miss Düben approached a Hat leader for assistance through her cousin. She had been deep in the Queen’s confidence and was now trying desperately to extricate herself. She volunteered to leave town for a relative’s country estate in order not to be put on trial for giving ‘evil advice’, though this may have been engineered by Miss Düben’s family, as the Queen claimed they wanted to save her, although she herself ‘displayed incredible courage’ at the prospect of interrogation. 41 The Queen thought that engineering Miss Düben’s absence was another manoeuvre by the hated Hats: she could have been a comfort to the Queen, and ‘it is true that by Miss Düben leaving she was left all alone’. The Queen’s later account added, ‘Miss Düben had a forceful character and was much attached to the one whose side she had taken. The Queen mourned her a great deal.’42

Power struggles on several levels The issue of individual agency is muddied further by the fact that some of the women serving at court did not belong to aristocratic family networks. A number of commoner Chamberers (kammarpigor or kammarfruar) wielded considerable influence. Thus the sometime royal favourite Tessin, by then in disgrace, noted acidly in his diary that Madame Spetz […] is dead; she was appointed by Her Majesty fourteen or fifteen years ago when a cartload of German Chamberers (Kressens and Mulacks) were transported off to Berlin. […] She is said to leave behind more than three barrels of gold in stone-built houses, shares in glass factories, and cash. None of my business. 43

Tessin’s frustration at Madame Spetz’s position was shared by many. She was the daughter of a Stockholm goldsmith and married to a middling civil servant, also a commoner, yet her standing with Queen Lovisa Ulrika made her a person of influence in the 1750s. Madame Spetz’s background 40 41 42 43

UUB, Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter, p. 17. Klinckowström 1867, i. 121, 291. Ibid., i. 291. KB, L 82:1:16 Tessin’s diary, 18 October 1762.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

also shows how commoners’ links could be useful. For many years both her uncle and cousin were royal surgeons, while her father and other relatives supplied jewellery to the court. The Kressens and Mullacks mentioned by Tessin were the Chamberers who accompanied Lovisa Ulrika from Prussia. 44 In her correspondence with her family back home, the Crown Princess several times mentioned ‘La Kressen’ or ‘La Vieille Kressen’ – obviously a person known to the rest of the Prussian royal family – while the Misses Mulack were her two nieces. 45 Miss Kressen was appreciated by Lovisa Ulrika even if she joked in letters about her and her inability to find a husband. Her two nieces had made a less favourable impression, and, as the Queen wrote to her sister, ‘between us: they are impertinent creatures who are the cause of the aunt’s departure’. 46 Their departure was postponed because of the manoeuvrings around the Queen. 47 In July 1750, Court Mistress Adlersten told a friend that these Germans had long petitioned to be allowed to return to Prussia. The powerful Henrika von Liewen, ‘who hates them and would like to see them gone because of their gossip’, had blocked it because it would leave a place open for Mistress Spetz to occupy. Being ‘malicious, boisterous, gossipy’ and already in great favour, because she had attended on the little Crown Prince, Spetz was a threat and ‘frightened’ Countess Liewen. Liewen managed to postpone Mistress Spetz’s appointment for another year, but in 1751 Miss Kressen and her two nieces finally left. The Queen wrote to her family and asked them to help her old servant Kressen, whom she ‘saw leaving with infinite regret’. 48 In the place of Miss Kressen and her impertinent nieces, the Queen appointed three new Chamberers. One was, as expected, Mistress Spetz; the others were Manette Noverre, a young French girl sponsored by the influential courtier Tessin, and the Queen’s Valet Keilhorn’s daughter, described by the Queen described as ‘beautiful as an angel’. It should be noted that when Tessin was still favoured by Lovisa Ulrika he had worked well with Mistress Spetz. Her influence was not to be trifled with, and she could push out other women serving at court.49 A woman who had been so outmanoeuvred complained that she had received 44 Margaretha Luisa Kressen, Chamberer since 1745 and informally before that (SLA, Personella hovstater, 1744-1751, H III:1). 45 Lovisa Ulrika to Amalie, August [?] 1751, in Arnheim 1909-1910, ii. 277. 46 Ibid. 47 UUB, Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter, p. 56. 48 Lovisa Ulrika to August Wilhelm, Stockholm, 31 May 1751, in Arnheim 1909-1910, ii. 277. 49 Sahlberg 1972, 26.

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a marriage proposal ‘which did not please Mistress Spetz and therefore not the Queen’, which ended in her retirement from court.50 Manette Noverre’s career both shows how influential courtiers could place their own servants at court and how loyalty in the end was a commodity in limited supply. When Tessin was in Paris in 1742 a perfume merchant approached him and asked him to take in his daughter, who was then about eight years old.51 Tessin could give little Manette an education that was beyond the means of the perfume merchant. The Count agreed and took the girl home to Sweden. By 1750 he had lined her up for the position of Chamberer, but another, Miss Reichart, was afraid of her and ‘made up a lot of untruths’ about her to Lovisa Ulrika.52 In the end she was one of the three women appointed when the Germans left in 1751. When she took a tearful leave of Tessin and his wife, Miss Noverre was still only in her late teens, and the prospect of serving so demanding a queen may have been intimidating. If so, she soon adapted. Miss Noverre also liberated herself from Tessin’s influence to the point of estrangement, and was used by the Queen to punish the Count. Thus Noverre refused to rise when Tessin’s wife, the Court Mistress, entered a room, displaying just how little respect the Tessins now commanded at court. As the Queen grew increasingly hostile towards the Hat party, Miss Noverre’s Hat links became a problem. Several sources claimed that she was a government plant, acting for the Hats.53 She was also seen as a person who informed the Hat government of the Queen’s plans for a coup d’état in 1756. Whatever the truth of that, the result was a disaster for the Queen and several of the conspirators were executed. By 1758 Tessin was holding her up as an example of ingratitude.54 She, who had professed to be so attached to Tessin and his wife, had not paid him a visit for four years, and did not hesitate to talk behind his back ‘when there was opportunity’. Manette Noverre was one example of a court servant with shifting loyalties. Another was Michelle Elisabeth d’Ivry. Like Noverre, D’Ivry was originally from France. She was Chamberer to Lovisa Ulrika once she was Dowager Queen in the 1770s and played an ambiguous role during Lovisa Ulrika’s last years. While enjoying the favour of the Queen to the point that she was allowed to play cards with her – a mark of distinction seen as 50 51 52 53 54

Ibid., 26. KB, L 82:1:4 Tessin’s diary, 16 March 1758. UUB, Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter, p. 56. Castrén 1917, 55. KB, L 82:1:4 Tessin’s diary, 16 March 1758.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 10: The daughter of a bishop and serving as a Chamberer, Catharina Wallenstedt represented the rising non-aristocratic elite (though she and her siblings were ennobled). She was also a trenchant letter writer. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Catharina Wallenstedt, 1676, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

highly unsuitable – D’Ivry was also spying on the Queen Dowager on behalf of her son, the King.55 The fact that some women at court appear to have used their influence for people outside their family circle indicates just how far their nets could reach. The renowned Carl Linnaeus cultivated Juliana Thun, Chamber Mistress of Queen Lovisa Ulrika, in order to influence academic appointments at the 55 For Michelle Elisabeth d’Ivry, see Bonde and af Klercker 1902, i. 436; Odelberg 1967, 91.

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University of Uppsala.56 At the same time Linnaeus obviously disapproved of Thun, and wrote a scathing sketch of her in his book on how divine misfortune always struck those who deserved it. Still, Linnaeus was one of many who tried to avail themselves of the influence of women at court. In one letter about a recommendation, the influential Maid of Honour Anna Maria Clodt sighed, ‘there are so many who have asked me for that’.57 Suitors naturally flocked to her and other important courtiers, such as her contemporary Sophia Amalia Marschalck. In 1685 Catharina Wallenstedt, herself a former Chamberer and now married to a Royal Councillor, observed that ‘it is more difficult to get to speak with Miss Marschalck than with the Queen herself’.58 This explains why a year later Wallenstedt smugly noted that ‘Miss Marschalck paid a call on me today, which she does for no one in the whole town. I know many who will envy me this. It was as satisfactory as if the Queen had come herself.’59

Emerentia Düben It is worth considering the careers of three leading Chamberers in greater detail. Perhaps the most famous was Emerentia Düben, who in 1701 was said in a diplomatic report to have a special hold on Princess Ulrika Eleonora.60 Anna Maria Clodt had sought out the diplomat in question to report that the Duke of Holstein was trying to arrange a marriage between his sister and the Swedish King Charles XII. This was worrying for a Danish diplomat, as Holstein was always an irritant and sometimes a threat to Denmark. What the diplomat must have heard with interest was that Princess Ulrika Eleonora’s Chamberer, Emerentia von Düben, said that ‘her Princess’ was most likely to succeed to the throne if anything were to happen to the King. Furthermore, Miss Düben ‘is said just like a favourite to possess the Princess’. This was no exaggeration. The Düben family had been at court since the early seventeenth century – the first Swedish Düben appears to have married a Chamberer of either the Queen or her mother, the Dowager Electress of Brandenburg, in around 1620 – but their fortunes improved spectacularly in the first decades of the eighteenth century. 56 Carl Linnaeus to Abraham Bäck, 17 November 1767, in Fries 1911, 154. 57 UUB, Bref till Bengt Rosenhane, Anna Maria Clodt to Bengt Rosenhane, Stockholm, 1 November 1673. 58 Wijkmark 1995, 387. 59 Ibid., 403. 60 DRA, T.K.U.A. Speciel Del Sverige, vol. 106, J. Grüner to the King, Stockholm, 26 January 1701.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 8: The great favourite Emerentia von Düben devoted her life to service at court and had a spectacular career as the always present shadow of Queen Ulrika Eleonora. Possible copy after David von Krafft, Emerentia von Düben, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

In 1691, when she was 22 years old, Emerentia Düben was appointed Chamberer to Princess Ulrika Eleonora, who was then three years old. The Queen died not long after, and the motherless princess turned to her Chamberer for affection and trust. She was the Princess’s dearest ‘Menza’, and in letters to his little sister King Charles XII always sent greetings to Menza. To cement the family’s position, Menza’s brother Gustaf was made the King’s Valet de Chambre and her brother Anders was the Master of the Chapel. In the early years diplomats could still talk about ‘little people’

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when referring to Emerentia von Düben: the Hanoverian ambassador in Sweden, pushing for a Hanoverian match for Ulrika Eleonora, wrote that ‘among other women of the little people [was] Princess Ulrika’s Chamberer who has complete possession of Princess Ulrika’.61 Over time, such dismissiveness had to give way as Emerentia von Düben proved to be a serious political operator. Ten years after her arrival at court, the bond between Menza and the Princess appeared unshakeable. Still, even though the Princess had some influence over appointments through her brother, hers was the potential to be a political player more than the reality. She could, possibly, succeed to the Crown if her brother died. The fact that Emerentia Düben was prepared to discuss this extremely sensitive topic with diplomats was telling in itself. In 1707, she and her brothers were ennobled. Some years afterwards her brother was promoted to Court Marshal and Chamber Gentleman, an unheard-of honour at the Swedish court, where the barriers between offices for nobles and off ices for commoners were almost insurmountable. Emerentia von Düben, as she was now called, was also contacted and paid by various foreign diplomats, keen to sound out their masters’ chances of winning Ulrika Eleonora’s hand in marriage. It was said that she ‘frequently corresponds’ with several envoys and was ‘the Channel in the known issue’.62 In 1710, Frederick of Hesse, heir the Landgrave of Hesse, began to court Princess Ulrika Eleonora. He used Emerentia von Düben’s services as a go-between, and in exchange she was paid the huge sum of 240,000 daler kopparmynt. In 1716, Düben broke through the formerly impenetrable wall between the noblewomen and the commoners at court by being promoted to Lady of Honour, a unique promotion for a woman of her background. Her colleague as Lady of Honour was the far more typical candidate for the post, Countess Margareta Magdalena Torstensson, the daughter of a Royal Councillor, member of one of the most prestigious families (though close to extinction), and related to several other women at court. As mentioned in the introduction, Emerentia von Düben even had a role at Queen Ulrika Eleonora’s coronation, checking that the crown was properly fastened on her head after the Archbishop had crowned her. In the 1720s and 1730s, indeed, Miss Düben was the constant companion of the Queen. It was later claimed that the Queen ‘could neither feel nor see

61 Ibid., J. Grüner to the King, Stockholm, 29 June 1701. 62 Samuel Bark to Olof Hermelin, Stockholm, 30 March 1704, in Rosen 1914-1915, i. 157.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

through eyes other than Miss Düben’s’.63 At the Queen’s receptions she was always present; a later anecdote described how she would be there carrying a basket with ‘favourite rings’ to be handed out to favoured guests. Even those who on the face of it were the most important people in government, such as a Secretary of State, had to resort to accessing the Queen through the good offices of the Düben family.64 On the death of the Queen, Emerentia von Düben inherited jewels, precious objects, and 120,000 daler kopparmynt. A few years later she too died, and was buried close to the royal tomb. A Swedish courtier described in a few lines how interwoven the memories of Emerentia von Düben and Queen Ulrika Eleonora were:65 As virtue and honour entwine So Queen and her courtier embrace When once bring Ulrika to mind Remember Miss Düben’s fair face

Juliana Schierberg Another example of success in capitalising on the proximity between a Chamberer and a member of the royal family was Juliana Sophia Schierberg. She became Chamberer to Queen Ulrika Eleonora in 1681. After the death of the Queen, Schierberg (‘Julianchen’) continued to serve as Chamberer to the princesses and developed a particularly close bond with the oldest princess, Hedvig Sophia. In 1698 it was noted that Juliana, as the Princess’s favourite, received money from diplomats.66 Their main concern was Hedvig Sophia’s marriage – a Holstein match seen as likely (and detested by Danish diplomats) – and in the negotiations, with potentially farreaching consequences, Juliana was seen as a key player. When William III was mentioned as a possible match, Juliana was said to have patted the Princess’s cheek, saying, ‘[N]o, we are satisfied with less.’67 This might of course have been a hostile gloss in the Danish reports, which saw Juliana as instrumental in arranging the dreaded Holstein match. Not long after, 63 64 65 66 67

Klinckowström 1867, i. 52. Stråle 1889, 105. I am grateful to Helen Whittow for her help with the translation. Fryxell 1839, iii. 154, Jens Juel to Christian V, Stockholm, 5 January 1698. Ibid., iii. 164, 5 February 1698.

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Juliana was observed crying a great deal when the Holstein match was resisted.68 Her importance was stressed several times by observers, who acknowledged her to be the person who ‘negotiates everything’.69 At the same time, her attachment to Hedvig Sophia shone through. Juliana worried and wept, and lamented that ‘no one cares about the Princess’.70 One Danish diplomat reported on ‘the damned Julianchen’, who had apparently scuppered plans to marry a Danish princess to the teenage Swedish king.71 It was the Danes’ fervent hope that Juliana would marry and leave the court.72 The Danish dream that an English match would be found for the Swedish princess and that Juliana would leave court both foundered. The Princess duly married the Duke of Holstein and Juliana stayed on at court. After the Princess’s marriage, Juliana stayed with the Holstein court when it settled in Stockholm. There she remained Hedvig Sophia’s confidante, and King Charles XII continued to send her his regards in his letters to his sister. In return, Juliana sent the King her greetings sometimes, together with pickled bitter oranges.73 Like many favourites, Juliana Schierberg tended to create hostility. It was said that she had spies acting for her and Princess Hedvig Sophia. She was also prepared to go on the offensive: when the Princess was widowed in 1702, new marriage negotiations began, whereupon Schierberg attacked another person she thought was working against her mistress – ‘[A]re you also one of those, who want my Duchess away from here?’74 In 1705 the Hanoverian envoy tried to win Schierberg over with a succession of presents, but she refused to help just anyone, but with ‘a particularly haughty expression’ snubbed those who tried to influence the Duchess through her.75 The wealth she accumulated as a royal favourite can be seen from her gift to the royal treasury of 4,000 daler in 1710, when Sweden was approaching bankruptcy following a decade of war.76 She seems to have amassed much of that fortune 68 Ibid., iii. 175, 16 March 1698. 69 Ibid., iii. 191, 24 March 1698. 70 Ibid. 71 Ibid., iii. 251, Report from Grüner, Stockholm, 2 November 1698. 72 Ibid., iii. 262, 8 February 1699. 73 RA, Skrivelser till konungen, Hedvig Sophia to Charles XII, 10 December 1704 and 14 July 1704. 74 For example, the Hanoverian court was seen to be sounding out a marriage. See Samuel Bark to Olof Hermelin, Stockholm, 14 March 1703, in Rosen 1914-1915, i. 49; Samuel Barck to Olof Hermelin, 20 August 1704, in Rosen 1914-1915, ii. 192. 75 DRA, T.K.U.A. Speciel Del. B: Gesandtskabsrelationer, vol. 109, Report from Johan Grüner, Stockholm, September 1705. 76 Fryxell 1856, vol. 24, 118.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

by taking money from foreign diplomats; it was even rumoured that she had received 10,000 riksdaler from the Duke of Holstein to further his suit for Hedvig Sophia’s hand and to hinder that of William III of England, and it could not be denied that Schierberg had marked her mistress’s birthday with a ‘magnificent’ feast for the Holsteiners.77 In 1708 it was reported that Fritze, another of Hedvig Sophia’s favourites, was trying to undermine Schierberg’s influence.78 Together with his ‘bande’, consisting of the Lady of Honour Maria Horn and the Maid of Honour Charlotta Liewen, Fritze tried to persuade Hedvig Sophia that she ‘could not much consider what Juliana says as she is old and almost a child again’. To discredit Schierberg, the conspirators had to prevent her being ‘alone with the Duchess from morning to evening’ – she had the advantage of always being with her mistress and sleeping in her bedchamber. The struggle ended abruptly with Hedvig Sophia’s death from smallpox a few months later. It is significant that Schierberg was the one who was closest to the young woman on her deathbed.79 Indeed, while some blamed the death of Hedvig Sofia on her physician, others want to blame this death on the interference and incaution of the women serving the Duchess, particularly to her Lady of Honour Maja Horn and Chamberer Juliana, who did not want to admit any other sensible Ladies into the bedchamber of the Duchess, scarcely even the Court Mistress herself, but have alone so dealt with the Duchess so that the pox turned inwards because they wanted to speed up the great fever that comes with the illness with various simples applied to the soles of the Duchess’ feet, such as camphor spirits, and sometimes beer possets.80

It is interesting to see that Juliana Schierberg and Maria Horn had more say in the matter of access to the Duchess than their nominal superior, the Court Mistress.

77 For example, she had 500 riksdaler from Grüner in 1698 (Fryxell 1843, iv. 154); Lundgren 1914, 51; DRA, T.K.U.A. Speciel Del. B: Gesandtskabsrelationer, vol. 111, Report from Johan Grüner, Stockholm, 7 July 1708. 78 Ibid., Report from Johan Grüner, Stockholm, 22 July 1708. 79 KB, L 82:1:14 Tessin’s diary, 14 September 1761, Nicodemus Tessin’s notes concerning the death of Hedvig Sofia, copy. 80 DRA, T.K.U.A. Speciel Del Sverige, vol. 111, Johan Grüner to Frederik IV, Stockholm, 16 December 1708.

Servants of power


Anna Catharina Bärfelt Anna Catharina Bärfelt is my third case study of a Chamberer who largely acted for unrelated people rather than her own family.81 She is also an example of the influence wielded by court servants rather than courtiers. She entered court service as a teenager in 1687 as a Seamstress, and appears to have got to know important power brokers such as Anna Maria Clodt and Sophia Amalia Marschalck. In 1691 she accompanied Miss Marschalck on a journey to Berlin. After the death of Queen Ulrika Eleonora, Bärfelt managed to transfer to Queen Dowager Hedvig Eleonora’s household, was made Chamberer, and soon emerged as the new favourite. Although Bärfelt does not seem to have played any major part in high politics, she managed to become rich, and made a large number of powerful enemies at the Queen Dowager’s court in the process. The French ambassador, Campredon, believed that she had earned 100,000 écus in bribes. The wheels of commerce were also oiled by flattery – blandishments could help persuade Bärfelt to act. One person reported how such flattery ‘has hired a creature with the Queen, who will always be in the ears of the old woman’.82 Even quite humble Swedes used her as a channel to the Queen Dowager; this was important because the court was in many ways not only a channel for the elite, but through the courtiers’ mediation other Swedes had a chance to reach the monarch. However, through her arrogant and provocative demeanour Bärfelt managed to jeopardise her position. She gave other people at court nasty nicknames, had affairs, and practised a mild version of witchcraft. And yet her influence was such that people still used her. Eventually the nobleman in charge of the Queen Dowager’s court, Count Gyllenstierna, joined forces with the Mistress of the Court, who viewed Bärfelt as her ‘mortal enemy’, along with some of the Maids of Honour: Bärfelt was a ‘mignonne’ and a ‘nasty creature’, and ‘the whole of her Majesty’s court is trying to overthrow her’.83 In 1709 this group used allegations of theft to force the ageing Queen Dowager to dismiss Bärfelt. This was not enough for her enemies, though, who were deeply angered that Bärfelt, ‘this miserable creature’, was given a pension.84 They did not rest until they had 81 SSA, Stadens kämnärsrätt A 3 B:8 konceptprotokoll i kriminalmål 1709; see also Beckman 1931. 82 Samuel Bark to Olof Hermelin, Stockholm, 3 August 1707, in Rosen 1914-1915, ii. 204. 83 DRA, T.K.U.A. Speciel Del Sverige, vol. 111, J. Grüner to Frederik IV, Stockholm, 10 April 1709. 84 DRA, T.K.U.A. Speciel Del. B: Gesandtskabsrelationer, vol. 111, Johan Grüner to Frederik IV, Stockholm, 27 April 1709.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

her convicted of theft and sent to jail – a salutary warning not to antagonise too many people at court, even if you were a favourite The legal proceedings reveal some of the nuts and bolts of court life. The main charges brought against Bärfelt were theft from the Queen Dowager, consorting with men, and using magic. Her possessions were stashed away in a number of chests, boxes, and cupboards placed with various friends around town. On inspection they were found to hold a remarkable array of things: mostly clothes, but some silver and jewellery. These she claimed were presents from the Queen Dowager, or in some instances from the late Queen or King. In the end a velvet jacket of the Queen Dowager’s found among Bärfelt’s things was the only hard evidence the prosecutor had to work with, but it proved her downfall. The charge of consorting with men remained circumstantial, though late visits do appear to have taken place. Reading between the lines, Bärfelt had been trying to secure a husband. She seemed to be tired of the court ‘and tried to come into calmer circumstances and make a good marriage’. A number of different men were in the running. Old Baron Sacken was ‘as an old cat’ in love, but in his 70s and Bärfelt seems to have had little interest in what would otherwise have been a brilliant marriage. Another candidate was an aristocrat, Fleming, but he said he ‘held her in esteem for her intelligence but would not take her’. A third candidate was General Beust, a Saxon in Swedish captivity, but that too came to nothing. Another was Colonel Johan Baptista Schommer, who was known to be her suitor, but when asked in court he said he had not been serious, but that Bärfelt had a powder to make him enamoured of her. It was also claimed that in the year before her arrest in 1709 Bärfelt had one main marriage candidate, a Baron Blumenthal, who was a German of rather dubious background. One witness had seen Blumenthal often leave her chamber late at night and Bärfelt taking leave of him in her dressing gown. She corresponded with him ‘as betrothed people tend to do’, and admitted he had remained in her chamber in the residence until two in the morning. Bärfelt tried to get Blumenthal to take a potion ‘so that he would fall in love with her’. The restrictions formally applying to women serving at court are evident in that Bärfelt was interrogated whether she had the consent of the Court Mistress to ‘be outside’ when socialising with the shady Blumenthal.85 Bärfelt was by this stage in her 30s and her scramble to marry may have been prompted by earlier encounters with the Sami wise man Nils Örn. In the 1690s he had been brought to the palace to tell the fortunes of a number 85 SSA, Stadens kämnärsrätt 1709 A 3 B:8 konceptprotokoll i kriminalmål.

Servants of power


of women. He had told one Chamber Mistress that she would soon marry but would not live long, which proved true. He had said to Bärfelt that if she did not soon marry she never would. Not only that, but he ‘[a]lso said that someone had given her some bottles of wine, lemons, and oranges and all who drank of this would never marry’.86 Bärfelt’s fall made it obvious that the role of upstart favourite was a precarious one. She lacked sound family backing, a power base on which she could rely. Instead of building a network of relatives, friends, and allies, she had estranged her colleagues at court. The purely personal character of her power, her relationship with the Queen Dowager, was her one strong point, and once it began to unravel she had no means of protecting herself. Without the right family connections she was isolated and had no one to call on in time of need. Her lawyer tried to cast doubt on a host of witness statements by stating that ‘it is commonly known that among those at court there is usually jealousy between them’.87 This was true, and in her rise Miss Bärfelt had naturally made enemies – but with her haughty, overbearing manner she had exacerbated the situation by upsetting both superiors and inferiors alike. One of the Lackeys (lakejer) testified that she ‘furthermore harmed everyone, or in his own words, abused everyone with hard words, wanting to be better than them’. When asked to be specific, he said that she ‘called Lackeys and others rogues and suchlike, but about the courtiers he has nothing to say’. The exasperated Bärfelt retorted that it was she who had got the Lackey his position at court. A Keeper of the Lights (fyrbytare) told the court that Bärfelt was ‘very rude in her commands with insults’, adding that her orders were often unnecessary. He and several others painted a picture of a woman who relished power and admitted to cursing court servants. A laundress said that Bärfelt ‘had always been her chief persecutor’. However, as she was banned from entering her chamber she had little real evidence other than the insulting nicknames Bärfelt used for the women at court. Bärfelt carried out vendettas and reserved her special disdain for her fellow Chamberers, whom she obviously viewed as competitors: rumours abounded about Bärfelt wanting to poison the other Chamberers, packets of poison being seen, or poison being added to sandwiches or biscuits. The Maids of the other Chamberers were predictably hostile towards her and protective of their own mistresses, and their hostility was repaid by Bärfelt, who likened the face of one of them to her dog. It was said of another witness’s relations 86 Ibid. 87 Ibid.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

with Bärfelt that ‘from the very first they were at court they quarrelled with each other’. It was typical that when the Queen Dowager’s cleaner Anna Catharina Berg was to testify, Bärfelt protested that she had first employed Berg, she had helped her to her present court position, and Berg now disliked her. Such resentment could also stem from Bärfelt’s refusal to help. Thus Maid of Honour Beata Sparre was said to be hostile after Bärfelt did not help her Maid find a position in the Queen’s household.88 The Court Mistress was said to be ‘so hateful’ against Miss Bärfelt, who claimed to have been told that the Maid of Honour Beata Sparre and Hedvig Pahl (a royal pensioner) were also her enemies, and had incited a Page called Rosen to disguise himself and violently assault Bärfelt. When Court Mistress Berendes set off to visit her estates in 1706, Miss Bärfelt told a Lackey ‘there she goes to hell or to the Devil at her manor in the country’. In the same breath she had insulted Count Gyllenstierna, head of the Queen Dowager’s court and one of the longest-serving Royal Councillors, calling him ‘the fat sow’. In general, Bärfelt was more circumspect when badmouthing aristocratic courtiers, and only those closest to her – such as her former servant, the cleaner Anna Catharina Berg – heard her refer to the likes of the Maids of Honour as ‘dirty bitches’, ‘harlots’, and ‘wasps’. When she did not like the food she complained that ‘the fat arses’ – the Maids of Honour – had better fare. Bärfelt was said to have been constantly at cross-purposes with the other servants, and beat Berg so that she had to serve the Queen with a swollen face and nose.89 Bärfelt’s imperious manner shocked others at court. Even a friendly witness had to admit there was ‘alarm at court’. A Porter said to his wife ‘God knows if not that rule will one day end, she is now becoming too strange.’ It was evidently considered far more dangerous to call aristocrats names – ‘That woman is so bold and calls the Governor’s wife Caronia’ – than to manhandle and abuse servants. One Lackey testified that when he held the door open for Bärfelt to enter the Queen Dowager’s rooms, she made a derogatory remark – ‘the merchant crowd or rabble’ – about Count Piper’s wife. Bärfelt did have a few friends, but most of them had little influence, including her sister and the wife of a Dancing Master. One witness talked about ‘a bevy of evil crones scurrying to her’ in the residence. Bärfelt singled out Countess Eleonora Oxenstierna as ‘her good friend’ (and claimed that though the fateful velvet jacket had been made for the Countess, she had it to wear because she was slimmer), but she was an outlier. Apart from 88 Ibid. 89 Ibid.

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her strong personal relationship with the Queen Dowager, Bärfelt mainly socialised with a handful of high-ranking Saxon prisoners, her German Baron Blumenthal, and a group of socially inferior women. These included women who had first made her acquaintance when they approached her to use her influence. Thus one witness, the wife of a sailmaker, first met Bärfelt when she asked her to present a petition about a legal suit to the Queen Dowager, and they renewed their acquaintance when she returned to present a petition on behalf of a friend. Another witness had made Bärfelt’s acquaintance when she wanted her recommendation to be made a Chamberer. One interesting aspect of Bärfelt’s intimidating rule as a favourite was her reliance on magic to maintain her hold over the Queen Dowager. In 1709, she tried to use the magical powers of an old man who lived outside Uppsala. She wanted her lover Blumenthal to return from abroad and her colleague, Chamberer Biörnmarck, ‘not have so much favour and success’.90 Falling back on magic was nothing new at court and Miss Bärfelt was no stranger to this means of operating. Among her possessions was a magical incantation she had copied, which had originally been in the possession of another Chamberer, Maria Anckarklo. This would ‘serve against your enemies and if read during a new or waning crescent moon according to your nativity, your opponents would have no success and manage nothing against whoever had this prayer and read it from time to time’. In her defence Bärfelt pointed to others, such as Mrs. Anckarklo, who used magic. She also argued that she had learnt most from Countess Anna Maria Soop, a former Maid of Honour now married to Bärfelt’s enemy, Count Gyllenstierna. Soop had at one point given her a little bag with an evil odour to carry on her person at all times. The use of amulets in Bärfelt’s case extended to an array of magical items, including a magnet and a horseshoe she carried with her.91 Amulets of all kinds were used to ensure a monopoly on the Queen Dowager’s favour. Bärfelt said that she had a collection of magical objects worth a fortune; thus when she held her hand on three snakes wrapped in green and red bast, any request that did not accord with her wishes would be refused by the Queen Dowager. Another amulet was a box with a tooth and lock of hair from the Queen. She also wrote down the names of her enemies on pieces of paper. Among them was Count Piper, probably the most powerful man next to the King. Bärfelt said, ‘[T]hat Devil is envious of me and my standing, and besides I will get such a rich man who has so many estates and farms.’ She would recite a sort of prayer that involved 90 Ibid. 91 Ibid.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

spitting between her fingers and cursing Count Gyllenstierna. During her trial Bärfelt was searched, and in her shoes were found silver coins and little scraps of paper with crosses on them. These were said to be yet another form of amulet. In 1709 Bärfelt’s impervious front began to crack under the threat from her host of enemies. One witness testified that she had wept at one point in front of an acquaintance, lamenting that she did not know what to do about her persecutors. Banned from court, sentenced to death, and then incarcerated: it broke her. In a petition years after her released, Bärfelt, now living in obscurity, deplored her fate. Yet it is customary, those who most closely serve the persons of the royal family, in general are by special grace preserved from destruction by poverty and want of food; indeed to the same degree that animals, by whose servitude the High Persons have been pleased to live, usually enjoy a special advantage over other beasts once they have been cashiered.92

Measures of success ‘At court, ten serve for one to succeed’ was a contemporary Swedish adage. Only a select handful of women managed to reach a position of power. Sometimes it was influence of an everyday kind, while others rose to positions that left them loathed and resented. At court, even commoners could rise to power and influence, as demonstrated by the careers of the three Chamberers in this chapter – Emerentia von Düben, Juliana Schierberg, and Anna Catharina Bärfelt – discussed in terms of the fickleness of court fortune. Physical proximity was potential power, yet at the same time physical proximity did not always equals power. Thus Schierberg, a force to be reckoned with, was one of the few at the Princess’s deathbed, and yet one of her colleagues, Magdalena Catharina Biörnmarck, slept every night in the Queen Dowager’s bedchamber on a truckle bed. When Hedvig Eleonora died in 1715 she was in the arms of Miss Biörnmarck, who had served her for two decades, slept in her bedchamber – and yet appeared to have had limited influence.93 Though that did not stop Bärfelt from using magic to ensure that Biörnmarck did ‘not have so much favour and success’.94 92 RA, Ämnessamlingar Personhistoria B 59b Anna Catharina Bärfelt to Frederick I, [n.d.]. 93 KB, L 82.1:17 Tessin’s diary, 1763, loose leaf at fol. 387½. 94 SSA, Stadens kämnärsrätt 1709 A 3 B:8 konceptprotokoll i kriminalmål.

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The presence of women at the heart of early modern decision-making, the court, is far too often discounted or merely thought of as a source of romantic intrigue. The very fact that these women were physically present at the apex of power could be translated into influence. Analysing the importance and activities of women at court, however, presents problems of its own. For power could be wielded by unexpected individuals. In the 1560s and 1570s Queen Catharina Jagellonica had a Polish dwarf as her confidante. Simply by being there, Dosieczka (Dorothea) or Doska as she was called, could exert influence, but as a royal favourite she could influence great matters. She was obviously highly valued by her mistress, whom she had accompanied to Sweden from Poland years before, to the extent that when Catharina was imprisoned by her brother-in-law, King Erik, she eventually gained permission to be attended on by her two Polish dwarfs, one of whom was Dosieczka.95 We can see Dosieczka’s remarkable status from the fact that she corresponded with the Queen’s sister, the Duchess of Brunswick. Dosieczka seems to have been more of a hawk than Queen Catharina, writing to the Duchess that she was worried the Queen would let the deposed King Erik out of prison – such weak folly was anathema to the hard-line Dosieczka. That she was a treasured servant can also be seen by the expensive treatment lavished on her when ill, which included half an ounce of saffron, one ounce of cinnamon, and eight ounces of figs.96 Other female dwarfs also served at court. Princess Sophia was served by both a Russian woman called Fedossa and ‘Little Gunnell’. A female jester, ‘narrinnan Elisabet’, can be glimpsed in accounts in the 1620s. Queen Maria Eleonora was later reviled by her daughter for her habit of employing entertainers – ‘the Queen Dowager amused herself by keeping a crowd of jesters and dwarfs, who filled up her chambers in the German manner. This was intolerable to me, as I by nature feel a deadly repulsion towards such rabble.’97 Clearly, dwarfs were treated very differently according to who sat on the throne. Dosieczka, a commoner, was a trusted companion who wielded power, but normally such power was monopolised by noblewomen. Early modern princely households comprised both court servants and courtiers. The former took care of menial duties in the kitchen, the cellar, the stable, the linen chamber and other departments, and only a few of them (such as the Chamberers) came into close contact with the royal family. Such proximity 95 Wester 1909. 96 Troels-Lund 1934, v. 64. 97 Platen 1957, 74.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

could be transformed into influence. Thus the access to royal persons was jealously guarded, and the positions that provided that all-important access were normally granted to courtiers, of whom aristocrats were the majority. Living in close proximity to the queens and princesses they served, women at court had the opportunity to wield considerable power. Much of it took the form of eliciting land and offices for their families, which in turn could benefit the Crown by binding important families from an increasingly diverse Swedish kingdom to the dynasty. The impact of the court women was especially strong under the two queens regnant, Queen Christina and Queen Ulrika Eleonora. The personal relationship between monarch and courtier was important, which was why foreign ambassadors took care to cultivate the friendship of women at court and to track their fortunes. Hence a Danish diplomat reported of one young Maid of Honour, known as ‘the beauty of her time’, that Charles XII ‘likes her well’ and that she was ‘looked on with favour by him’. The diplomat hoped it would benefit Denmark, as she was supposedly pro-Danish. What we do know is that the woman, Christina Catharina Lewenhaupt, tried to capitalise on her position, in this instance for her fiancé, who wanted to enter Swedish service.98 People who lacked court connections felt their disadvantage acutely. ‘He who marries a Maid from court, gains such an advantage that no one, be he ever so learned, may be promoted before him’, stated the clergyman Jesper Swedberg indignantly in 1689.99 Even those who did have the connections still had to work hard to gain the ear of the women at court. The English ambassador Bulstrode Whitelocke visited and helped Queen Christina’s Lady of Honour Lady Jane Ruthwen. Naturally, Whitelocke had an ulterior motive, as he ‘found that, among other visits, those to ladies are not unnecessary for an ambassador, especially in the Court of a Queen, whose ear they have more than her Councillors; and in all States their influence in the highest affairs are not to be despised’.100 That women could have political power is especially interesting, as they were locked out from formal arenas of influence. By analysing women at court we thus gain a most valuable corrective not only to those scholars who tend to overlook informal power, but also to those who tend to denigrate the opportunities open to all early modern women.

98 RA, Skrivelser till Karl XII, Ulrika Eleonora to Charles XII, Stockholm, 15 May 1712. 99 Swedberg 1710, i. 304. 100 Reeve 1855, i. 282-283.

6. Left behind Abstract A young woman coming to court was expected to marry at some stage. Yet many things might intervene. Life at court might be more enjoyable than tying yourself to some man. Certainly, an increasing number of women stayed on at court, ageing but unmarried. At such a personal institution as the court, the personality of the woman you served could be crucial to your happiness. The noblewomen who served the embittered Queen Dowager in the 1770s, had few routes of escape. They were becoming too old to marry in contemporary opinion. They were too poor to live a proper aristocratic life outside the court. Keywords: marriage, unmarried, trapped, noblewomen, age

In 1744, the new Crown Princess Lovisa Ulrika wrote to her sister in Berlin making fun of an elderly Maid of Honour she had inherited on her arrival in Sweden a few months earlier.1 Did her sister remember someone at the Prussian court who was known as the Old Dragon, who overdid the finery and went about bedecked with pompoms and orange ribbons? ‘I have an old Maid of Honour called Sjöblad who resembles her like two drops of water. […] She rarely comes to me as she is always ill.’ When Lovisa Ulrika did meet Miss Sjöblad she always thought of the Old Dragon. The Princess was careful to assure her sister that not all her Maids of Honour were dressed up (fagotée) like Miss Sjöblad, and ‘I have very pretty girls who have esprit and monde’. A few years later, Lovisa Ulrika told her mother to talk to a diplomat in Berlin, Count Fick, who was a gifted raconteur and ‘will tell the most beautiful tales in the world, but which, to be honest, are not palatable’.2 1 Lovisa Ulrika to Amalie of Prussia, Stockholm, 15 December 1744, in Arnheim 1909-1910, i. 141-142. 2 Lovisa Ulrika to Sophie Dorothee, Stockholm, 24 February 1747, in ibid., ii. 18.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch06


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Distasteful, perhaps, but entertaining, for ‘There are two antiquities at court, who are a century and a half old between them. One has been bedridden for 30 years and the other never steps outside her chamber. If my dear Maman wishes to be amused, she can talk to Count Finck about Miss Sjöblad.’ A little later one of the two antiquities, Countess Greta Torstenson, died, and Lovisa Ulrika noted pleased that ‘now I only have one old relic of the old Queen left; after her there will be only young beauties at court’.3 Lovisa Ulrika was very dismissive of old people, blind to the fact that Countess Torstenson had once been a young Maid of Honour, part of the court’s youthful festivities, and acting as a ‘Tartar Princess’ in a masquerade in 1699. 4 At her death Countess Torstenson left an extensive library, mostly of devotional books, while Miss Sjöblad’s room in the residence was crammed with clothes, fans, and jewels, including 332 loose diamonds, and other finery.5 They both had portraits of the princesses and queens they had served since the 1690s and the 1720s and Miss Sjöblad even had a portrait of another veteran female courtier, Emerentia von Düben, the great favourite of the previous Queen. But to the 24-year-old Crown Princess the two women were just old, and in the way of the young vivacious court she wanted to create. As a 63-year-old Maid of Honour, Maria Catharina Sjöblad was an object of ridicule rather than a person of experience, surrounded by memories of a lifetime at court, including portraits, gifts of jewellery, snuff boxes, and parrot cages. Like Lovisa Ulrika, many would have seen an old woman performing a young woman’s role and found it amusing and pathetic. The Queen’s favourite, Tessin, later referred to ‘the trembling Miss Sjöblad and her goblet’, possibly an indication of a fondness for drink.6 An ageing Maid of Honour would find marriage an increasingly remote goal, and even if she did not desire marriage herself, to remain unmarried would be perceived as a failure by many in her environment. Observers took it for granted that Maids of Honour were on the lookout for a good match. When Count Magnus Julius De la Gardie returned home after years in France, he went to court and ‘the Maids of Honour were battling terribly between them to catch his eye’.7 (Alas, his conversation consisted mainly of complaints about Swedish agriculture ‘and the careless distribution of dung’. In the end he did not even marry any of the Maids of Honour.) 3 Ibid., Same to same, Stockholm, 2 June 1747, in ibid., ii. 18. 4 KB, L 82:1:14 Tessin’s diary, 13-14 October 1761. 5 SLA, Övre borgrätten F II a:2, Inventories for Greta Torstenson (1747) and Maria Catharina Sjöblad (1750). 6 KB, L 82:1:8 Tessin’s diary, 1759. 7 UUB, Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter, p. 71.

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For unmarried noblewomen, court provided a window of opportunity; it was, however, a window that would inevitably close. To serve as a Maid of Honour was seen as a prelude to marriage, and life at court could facilitate a good match. Yet it could also dissuade noblewomen from marrying. Service at court could be attractive, as it offered various freedoms and forms of entertainment. It was easy to participate in a life that was freer than at home, and where romantic affairs were ever present. These romances could turn into sexual affairs, and, while still pleasurable, they could damage reputations. A long stint in court service entailed the risk of a stained reputation, fairly or unfairly, for liaisons with men, and this, paired with increasing age, meant the women were less desirable as spouses. And malicious gossip could easily spread. Thus Duke Charles had to issue a letter in defence of a Maid of Honour, Gertrud Laxman, who had left the service of the Duchess to support her widowed father. As he spelt it out, ‘some malicious people have taken the opportunity to spread strange talk about his [the father’s] dear daughter Gertrud Moritzdotter, because she has left our dear wife’s fruntimmer, as if it was because she had not acted there with such honesty and decorum as required’.8 It was not unknown for queens to be loath to see their women marry. Elizabeth I of England was a well-known example, but she was not alone. The marriage of a Maid of Honour caused Lovisa Ulrika to write to her mother despairingly ‘She is the third to leave court in less than a year; it is not agreeable to get to know new people.’ Thirty years later she threw a tantrum when one of her Maids of Honour got married – she was a ‘méchante fille’ – though the rumour was that it was because the Queen Dowager had a weakness for the groom.9 While many eighteenth-century Maids of Honour remained at court until marriage or death released them, sixteenthcentury Maids of Honour apparently dropped out of court unmarried. For example, Ebba Holgersdotter (Gera) was a Maid of Honour in 1550 but left soon after and only died in 1580, still unmarried. Another example was Filippa Eriksdotter (Fleming) who served at court in 1568, leaving soon after, and dying unmarried in 1578, though she left a betrothed. Later it became more common for unmarried noblewomen to stay on at court as ageing Maids of Honour. The trend was already clear in the seventeenth century when several women serving Queen Christina stayed on as unmarried 8 RA, Hertig Karls registratur, fol. 349, 9 November 1595 [open letter from Duke Charles]: ‘Öpet bewijs huru Moridz Jörenssons doter jungfru Gertrud haffuer sigh uthi H F Ndes fruentimmer förhållit.’ 9 Erdmann 1926, 116.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Maids of Honour, though the Queen’s abdication meant that most women in her service had to leave court: of the Maids of Honour who served the later Vasas and the Palatines between the 1620s and 1718 about 15 per cent remained unmarried. This increased significantly over the next century (1718 to 1809) to about 26 per cent. Eighteenth-century court life and service for women took on a different character, because more of them served for longer and remained single.

Reputational damage While serving at court brought an opportunity to explore the aristocratic marriage market, it was not without its pitfalls, for years of service could easily chip away at a woman’s reputation. The court was always a place where marriages could be arranged, but it was also a hotbed of rumour – and there appears to have been a change of tone over time. It seems that the code of conduct under the Vasas and Palatines was far stricter than under the Holstein-Gottorps. This was accentuated by leading courtiers, such as Count Carl Gustaf Tessin, who took great pleasure in writing risqué poetry. Morals at the court in the 1740s were far looser than they had been in the preceding century, and in general there was a greater acceptance of ‘galanteries’ in the eighteenth century than under the austere Palatine dynasty. This did not preclude occasional attempts to crack down on such behaviour, of course. In the late 1790s, the pious and austere King Gustaf IV Adolf tried to stamp out the rumours about loose court women. He made an example of Miss Kaulbars, a ‘young and fetching’ Maid of Honour who was forced to marry after falling pregnant by a young officer. The father, one Stackelberg, was unwilling to marry her because of her bad reputation, but buckled under royal pressure. He and the now heavily pregnant Miss Kaulbars wed in the Chief Stable Master’s apartment in the Opera House in Stockholm, but after the ceremony Stackelberg immediately left to spend the evening at a club – and a year would pass before he deigned to meet his bride again.10 The reason for the King’s determination to forge such an unhappy alliance was that another Maid of Honour had fallen pregnant shortly before and there were no fewer than three possible fathers.11 A third Maid of Honour, the rather intellectual Marianne Pollet, was rumoured to have gone to the Vauxhall, a Stockholm pleasure garden of increasingly ill 10 Ahnfelt 1880, 19-20. 11 Von Schinkel 1854, iv. 330.

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repute, dressed in a white gauze dress ‘transparent enough to make clear the shape of her body’ which ‘hurt decency too much’ so that she soon had to retreat.12 One woman at court wrote in faint surprise about Pollet’s sister that, unlike her disreputable sibling, she was ‘a sweet and decent person’.13 The waspish courtier Nauckhoff wrote, ‘the Maids at court, as usual, were not commonly deemed to be Vestals and least of all the Ehrenbill Maids of Honour’ (his unloved stepmother-to-be and her sister). In order to rid the court of Miss Ehrenbill, Nauckhoff’s father was set up by Countess Gyldenstolpe: [M]y father, then 54 years old and neither courtier nor a handsome man, was so blinded by the lure of the court, that he thought he had conquered the heart of Fredrika Ehrenbill and entered into marriage with her, receiving the Second Volunteer Regiment in Karlskrona: the bride brought nothing, neither dowry nor anything else.14

As a visitor to Stockholm noted around this time, ‘The Courts of despotic Princes are generally the very hot-beds of every species of revolting slander; and, in the list of these, the Court of Sweden was particularly conspicuous for the foulness of the calumnies which were set on foot against every individual about the throne.’15 But the rumours were not always groundless, as in 1652 when an unmarried Lady of Honour to the Queen Dowager gave birth to a child fathered by a Chamber Gentleman, a fact that was seized upon by diplomats as well as courtiers.16 When the court was seen as a den of vice, reputational damage was never far away. And court gossip frequently centred on sex. Old handbooks about court life by the likes of Antonio de Guevara were quite open about liaisons at court.17 Being jilted was a constant threat to single people at court, both women and to some degree men. The support of a determined mistress could force a recalcitrant suitor back to the woman he intended to abandon, as when Queen Dowager Christina backed Kerstin Kursell. Similarly, when Charlotte Laurent, Chamberer to Queen Dowager Lovisa Ulrika, became pregnant in 1779, it was Lovisa Ulrika who brought pressure to bear on Sparre, the 12 KB, I.n.1:1 Anteckningar av J O Nauckhoff. 13 Lunds universitetsbibliotek, Lund (LUB), De la Gardieska samlingen, vol. 343:a, Hedvig Eva Rålamb to Jacob De la Gardie, Stockholm, 28 November 1800. 14 KB, I.n.1:1 Anteckningar av J O Nauckhoff. 15 Clarke 1838, 60. 16 Molbech 1844, 331-332. Apparently the Lady of Honour was Anna Catharina von Löserin. 17 De Guevara 1616, 120ff.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

ungallant father.18 He too served in the Queen Dowager’s court, but he was an aristocrat of an ancient family while Laurent was a commoner. In her twelve years at court Miss Laurent ‘had had many adventures but no such evident misfortune’.19 When he refused to marry her they were both banished from court, which greatly alarmed Sparre, who dreaded the loss of income, for as well as his salary he stood to lose his annual bonus from the Queen Dowager’s privy purse. (Whether she had the right to stop both his salary and the bonus was hotly disputed at court.) At the same time the King made it clear that Sparre would lose his military commission in the King’s Body Guards (Livdrabanterna) if he did marry Miss Laurent.20 When the King discussed the case with his courtier Ehrensvärd, the later thought the Queen Dowager unduly harsh towards Sparre. ‘I replied, that Her Majesty, the Queen Dowager, was too strict and demanded conduct which in our times is rare, and that she rather should model her court on ours, where two Chamberers have had unplanned Christenings within a few months.’21 When in 1798 the courtier Count Gyldenstolpe threw over his fiancé Charlotte Forsberg, commoner and Chamberer to Princess Sophia Albertina, for a wealthier match it created an earthquake in the Princess’s court where they both served. Miss Forsberg wrote desperate letters to another courtier, lamenting Gyldenstolpe’s treatment of her – ‘His act dishonours me as our engagement was commonly known and his way to break it shows that he viewed me as a mistress, whom you can abandon at your marriage without any problem’ – and enraged by his fickleness – ‘[S]ometimes it seems incredible to me that I must despise the one, who despite everything, is dearer to me than ever.’22 ‘I have not the capacity to change my inclination as you change clothes’, she announced, although in fact she would marry her correspondent the following year.23 It could cut both ways, of course. A few years earlier Princess Sophia Albertina discussed with her closest friend and former Maid of Honour Caroline Rudenschöld how a woman had jilted 18 Montan 1877, i. 364-365. 19 Ibid., i. 359. 20 KB, Ep H 20:2, A.J. Höpken to Eleonore Höpken, Stockholm, 11 October 1779. See also Gustaf III to Fredrik Ribbing, Gripsholm, 10 October 1779, a letter in which the King discussed the affair and expressed his displeasure at a possible marriage (sold at auction in 2013, Stockholms Auktionsverk, http://auktionsverket.com/auction/ rare-books/2013-03-19/6368-egenhandigt-brev-av-gustav-iii/?page=19). 21 Montan 1877, i. 359. 22 Charlotte Forsberg to Gustaf Stenbock, Stockholm, 16 January 1798, in Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 293; same to same, Stockholm, 2 February 1798, in ibid., vi. 294. 23 Same to same, Stockholm, 16 January 1798, in ibid., vi. 293.

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a courtier.24 The Princess was disgusted, but Countess Rudenschöld said she saw the rationale in the young woman breaking off her engagement – ‘for since he has lost the protection of the King, he has no support, despised and hated by all; his wife would have been the same.’ People were quick to judge, and not always on grounds that we would recognise today, for example, over make-up. Rouge was commonly seen as a mark of lasciviousness. In 1773 one observer noted that ‘the women at court now wear make-up every day. Especially Countess Ribbing and Countess Fersen and even old Countess Carl Fersen. This ugly fashion has now become common.’25 The year before, rouge had spread like wildf ire in Swedish court society.26 After a 40-year-old woman was rejuvenated by a deft use of rouge, looking not a day over fifteen, other middle-aged aristocratic women were eager to try. All the women at one court ball, including the 54-year-old Chief Court Mistress, wore make-up. As the 1770s progressed, one courtier noted the women’s fashion for rouge several times.27 Manners and behaviour at court such as wearing rouge could easily be constructed as being lascivious, which could stain a reputation. Observers were not only censorious; they were ready to laugh at others’ misfortune. One courtier jotted down a selection of what passed for witticisms, ready to be recycled, several of which related to sex, such as when a noblewoman known for her sexual adventures died and someone exclaimed ‘Dear Lord! So she has put her legs together now.’28 Another cruel joke was when the mistress of Duke Charles and later his brother Duke Frederick Adolf was rumoured to have cervical cancer, and Ulrika von Fersen, a Lady of the Palace who fancied herself as a wit, sneered ‘Poor creature, it is just as if you cut the fingers off a seamstress.’29 When a Chamberer to Queen Lovisa Ulrika separated from her husband and wanted to marry another man, the great scientist Carl Linnaeus saw it as divine punishment that she died of uterine cancer.30 Prurient and nasty gossip mattered in an age where reputation and honour was precious. Salacious anecdotes and 24 RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Sophia Albertinas samling, vol. 28, Caroline Rudenschöld to Sophia Albertina, Hulterstad, 9 January 1788. 25 Näsström 1951, 55. 26 Erdmann 1926, 97-98. 27 Montan 1878, ii. 33. 28 KB, I.53 Erik Ludvig Manderströms anekdoter, p. 93. 29 KB, I.53 Erik Ludvig Manderströms anekdoter, p. 197. 30 Petry 2001, 112. The woman in question was Juliana Thun née Löfving. Whatever his views, Linnaeus was still careful to cultivate Mrs. Thun’s good graces in influencing academic appointments (see Fries 1911, 154).


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Linnaeus’s judgemental notes are testimony to the battering which female honour could take through life at court.

Beata Sophia Horn, trapped at court In April 1761, the inhabitants of Stockholm could see ‘what they maybe had never seen before, their Queen riding through town from Karlberg to the Palace’.31 Riding in the saddle rather than in a carriage was unconventional, and signalled Queen Lovisa Ulrika’s daring streak. Two other women were adventurous enough to ride through the city with her: her favourite, Countess Bielke, and her Maid of Honour, Countess Beata Horn. This is one of the first, more personal glimpses of Countess Beata Sophia Horn. She had come to court at 20 years old, several years after the death of both her parents. The same year, 1756, her uncle, a trusted courtier of King Adolf Frederick and Queen Lovisa Ulrika, was executed for his involvement in a failed royalist coup. The Queen took in young Beata to replace her great favourite Maid of Honour, Ulrika Eleonora von Düben, the latter having just been promoted in place of another woman who was suspected of having leaked the coup plans. Beata Horn made another public appearance at the arrival of the new Royal Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta in 1774, when she carried the train of Queen Dowager Lovisa Ulrika.32 Most of the time, though, she was not very visible to people outside court. The dashing unconventional ride through Stockholm with the Queen in 1761 and her family’s royalist credentials were not enough to instil any great affection in the Queen; instead, she carried on serving at court for more than 20 years without any spectacular marks of favour, and in March 1778 she died of a chest complaint, 42 years old.33 A number of her letters to her friend Count Gyldenstolpe give an insight into the life of an ageing Maid of Honour. She had begun in the group of young women, several of them closely related, who joined the court of Lovisa Ulrika in the 1750s and early 1760s. The first batch of the Queen’s Maids of Honour from the 1740s had left court by this stage, as had her German Chamberers. As usual, members of the new cohort served for a few years and then left to marry, but a number of them remained at court, unmarried, for the rest of their lives: Beata Charlotta Taube, at court from 1750; Fredrika Mörner, from 1755; Lovisa von Bohlen, from 1762; and Anna Charlotta ‘Nickalotta’ 31 KB, L 82:1:12 Tessin’s diary, 11 April 1761. 32 Inrikes Tidningar, 7 July 1774. 33 SSA, Hovförsamlingen F I:1, 17 March 1778.

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Figure 11: A court veteran who never married as her two fiancés died before they could marry her, Beata Charlotta Taube displayed an even temper but could show a melancholic side to friends. A courtier deplored that her funeral turned into an undignified spectacle due to the mismanagment of its main organizer. Lorens Pasch the Elder, Beata Charlotta Taube, 1739, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

Fleetwood, from 1764. Under the surface this environment was not entirely stable or harmonious. Two of the women, the Chamberer Annette Allarii and the Maid of Honour Brita Horn, would succumb to mental illness. And Queen Lovisa Ulrika herself was known not only for her intelligence and charm, but also for her nasty streak.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

A snapshot of the women serving the problematic Lovisa Ulrika is provided by an eighteen-year-old aristocrat, Claes Julius Ekeblad, in his diary in 1761. Beata Horn, he wrote, is of a rather keen mind and has wit enough. Though she employs it to be malicious. She also has the habit of keeping her countenance with you, but that is only to tease out what is in your heart, so that she may then make some use of it. In a word, a mite false. Talks a great deal, sometimes loudly and disputatiously. She wants to pass for a brunette, but is blonde so that her red hair cannot expose her character. Even so, you have to give her credit for being quite courteous, and she never lacks in courtesy towards anyone who shows her the regard you owe her sex.34

Of the other Maids of Honour he wrote of Countess Stenbock that he did not wish to talk to her ever again as she has absolutely no character, but a depth of coquettishness taken to its highest degree. I have observed with how much skill she tries to entangle those who just have met her, and how when she has caught them it is her pleasure to see them leave with unfinished business after they may have had great hopes about their anticipated conquest. She likes to see everyone flatter her, but she herself does not seem to care for anyone in particular. To be in her good graces you only need to compliment her on her clothes, as her only wit is in how to dress so it may please. She is not beautiful but always looks old, and a grave fault is that her eyes always look hard. Thus you may wonder how she could be capable of pleasing anyone, but her extensive knowledge of the elegant world and her long experience makes that playground easy for her; for she has made so many conquests, and of so many different temperaments, that she immediately knows which way to proceed. I do not deny that I have had a lot of affection for her, but since I have seen how many have been shipwrecked on this rock I have thought it the wisest to pull out of the game.

(The eighteen-year-old had evidently been infatuated with the older Maid of Honour.) Of Fredrika Mörner he wrote that her ‘character is almost the same, but she is better in that regard that she wants to keep all her conquered

34 KB, I.e.14:2 Claes Julius Ekeblad’s journal, 14 April 1761.

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territories and is polite to everyone. She is also capable of affection and some sincerity.’ As for Miss Düben, she had a surprising indolence. She wants everyone to be caught by her charms without making any effort of opening her mouth and saying something, as she wants to imitate the olds novels in which it is claimed that one look is enough to awake perfect love. She is so full of delusion about her own beauty that she thinks no one her equal. Gossip claims she does not talk on her own but is managed by Miss Horn, though I do not believe that, because then it would be more witty than it really is. When she intends to charm she starts to sing a tender chanson or an air which Major Rozelius has taught her, but then you have to give up, and either leave or stuff your ears with cotton.

Miss Düben could do nothing but ape Miss Stenbock, who constantly entertained with her music. Of Miss Grooth, he wrote that she seemed to be confused: ‘I think she would like to be malicious, but that requires skill and that is a stumbling block for her, as I think the upper apartment is otherwise empty.’ Miss Kurck also found little favour with young Ekeblad, as she had ‘a rather nasty character, nothing more needs to be said when it is added that she is quite ugly’. Miss Sperling he adored, though, and praised her good nature. Young Count Ekeblad often frequented the court, but rarely mentioned Beata Horn, whom he evidently did not view as a potential love interest. Instead, he had crushes on various other Maids of Honour. Another young aristocrat, Axel Oxenstierna, had intended to tease Ekeblad for falling in love at court, but that plan did not work out, for when Ekeblad began attending the court he was shown by the ‘Maids of Honour more courtesy than I had assumed. Fredrika Mörner was polite to me and to him impolite.’ This angered Baron Oxenstierna, who was known for his rather limited intellectual capacity – ‘it made him mad with the Maids of Honour and is so still’.35 The rather boastful Baron Oxenstierna may have deserved his unpopularity. Only a few weeks before he had made a bet that within a fortnight he would receive a romantic or sexual favour from the commoner Miss Plomgren, which threatened to stir up jealousy between other women at court – or so Oxenstierna and Ekeblad told themselves.36 When Ekeblad attended the theatre he was afraid of socialising too much 35 KB, I.e.14:1 Claes Julius Ekeblad’s journal, 19 May 1760. 36 Ibid., 26 April 1760.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 12: Eva Magdalena ‘Lona’ Ekeblad was born into a court family. She served for decades at court and never married. The latter out of choice as she declined at least one offer of marriage. Pehr Köhler, Eva Magdalena Ekeblad. Copyright Bodil Beckman/Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

with Miss Plomgren, a woman of the new mercantile nobility. ‘I did not dare talk much with her, as I know that the Maids of Honour do not like her. They say she looks so bourgeois and has a multitude of manners which are not befitting.’37 We hear more of Beata Sophia Horn a few years later. By then she had begun to age, but was still a Maid of Honour. Many of her colleagues were also still at court – the Lady of Honour Beata Charlotta Taube, for example, and Nickalotta Fleetwood. Another veteran was Ekeblad’s former romantic interest, the dashing Fredrika Mörner. Four years earlier, when Fredrika Mörner was almost 40, Ekeblad had been warned against pursuing her by a friend. ‘Fredrika Mörner still has the same feelings for you, as far as she can with her principles […] and of the three or four she favours, you are, perhaps because of the distance, the most loved.’ Ekeblad was told to distance himself from the object of his passion, 37 Ibid., 1 May 1760.

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Otherwise she has to obey the law of change which rules everything in this world, and not a day goes by but she loses some of her charms, though she stubbornly defends them. But at 38 […] charms stand on wobbly foundations. Therefore allow me to ask you slowly and without being noticed to change your tone and prepare her for friendship, as any other relationship would make at least you ridiculous.38

Fredrika Mörner had been a celebrated beauty with many admirers; Beata Sophia Horn had been less prominent, and her chances of marrying and leaving court had faded by the early 1770s. In November 1773 she wrote to the veteran courtier Nils Philip Gyldenstolpe. After many years at court, Gyldenstolpe had been made a County Governor in 1773. Despite having left court behind him, he kept up a correspondence with several old friends there, one of whom was Beata Sophia Horn. She was almost 38 years old and had served at court for seventeen years – a court where life gravitated around Queen Dowager Lovisa Ulrika. The turbulent relationship between the Queen Dowager and her two eldest sons, especially King Gustaf III, was a constant factor, while daily life was coloured by her mood swings, likes, and dislikes. In 1778 there was a full rift between the Queen Dowager and King Gustaf, and no Maids of Honour from her court were able to frequent the King’s court until she chose to do so in 1782.39 Women and men serving at court could easily be caught between the warring parties. For the three years for which her correspondence survives, Beata Horn continually watched and reported. A male courtier, Carl Adam Wachtmeister, served Prince Charles at the same time and also reported to Gyldenstolpe on the ups and downs between the Queen Dowager and her eldest sons. When talking about a quarrel between the Queen Dowager and Prince Charles in 1774, Wachtmeister reported that it was nothing out of the ordinary, ‘but which does not make a noise or scandal with the general public, as my master at least tries to save appearances and be careful not to be faulted in what he owes her as his mother’. 40 There was an undercurrent on loneliness in the letters. Beata Horn was clearly upset when Gyldenstolpe was in the palace and did not call on her. He was not the only one to forget the Queen Dowager’s court. When reaching a financial settlement, her courtiers worried about losing out: ‘Her court will likely be very forgotten. […] I cannot describe to you the discontent among 38 Erdmann 1925b, 148. 39 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Manuskript- och avskriftssamlingen, vol. 2. 40 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Gyldenstolpeska samlingen, C.A. Wachtmeister to Nils Philip Gyldenstolpe, Stockholm, 10 March 1774.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

them from the lowest to the highest.’41 The unhappiness and sheer loneliness shone through. At the start of the new year, a time for introspection, Miss Horn observed, ‘I am beginning to get melancholic as the world is so burdensome to live in.’42 The following year she wrote that Princess Sophia Albertina ‘has said that I have changed my disposition, because I am not as happy as I used to be. She is not wrong, as I am certainly sadder than in the past. Though she can little judge that, as she rarely or never talks to me.’43 Beata Horn’s colleague wrote to the Queen Dowager’s Court Mistress Törnflycht regretting that she had to ‘see and hear insults’ from the Princess, though she added darkly, ‘but it is true the apple does not fall far from the tree’, intimating that the Princess has learnt her unpleasant behaviour from her mother. She soon returned to the theme of the Queen Dowager tormenting the women serving her.44 Miss Horn dutifully reported court news to her friend Gyldenstolpe, such as the King’s efforts to persuade leading women to become Ladies of the Palace, the new office he had created in 1774 in imitation of the French court. ‘If I guess right I think she would like be a Lady of the Palace, we will see if she succeeds. It is said that Taube is now off to persuade Mrs. Örnsköld to accept.’45 Many duties at court were considered chores, including more informal but no less impractical meals in the Confidence building at Ulriksdal Palace. ‘Now we are at Ulriksdal. Our life is as it usually is here, with the difference that we are free from the Confidence, but they eat in the Yellow Room. […] [N]ow both our Misses are gone, God may be kind on them, poor children, they do appear to be pleased enough’, she added about two younger Maids of Honour marrying and leaving court. 46 Serving at court meant that royal likes and dislikes coloured your life. Schwerin was not there, yes, my friend J.C. can never believe how anxious it is to see her last year being so well liked and I this year so hated; though I have no reason to take any part in this it takes its toll on me, as she never or rarely speaks to me, but I have to wait up until two in the morning to lie in with Her Highness. 47 41 Ibid., Beata Sophia Horn to Nils Philip Gyldenstolpe, Stockholm, 7 February 1774. 42 Ibid., same to same, 1775. 43 Ibid., same to same, 22 April 1774 [wrongly given as 1776]. 44 RA, Börstorssamlingen, vol. 151, Magdalena Stenbock to Brita Christina Sparre, Stjernsund, 4 August 1776; ibid., same to same, 18 August 1776. 45 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Gyldenstolpeska samlingen, Beata Sophia Horn to Nils Philip Gyldenstolpe, Stockholm, 7 February 1774. 46 Ibid., same to same, 1775. 47 Ibid., same to same, Stockholm, 7 February 1774.

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Life at court was also shaped by royal fads. In the 1760s and 1770s, the Swedish royal family were enthusiastic theatre actors and directors – in 1775 Beata Horn remarked, ‘If only you knew how people rehearse Comedies here now.’48 That both the Queen Dowager and her court were ageing was evident from the many reports of illnesses. The Queen, for example, once took a good deal of quinine for a fever, and ‘she still keeps inside and does not show herself outside but only has a few for company. I have not seen her in eight or ten days.’49 Even the young fell ill, of course: ‘[I]t is too pitiful with the young people. Nickalotta seems to be better and is outside but is still coughing at times.’50 Miss Horn’s health began to fail in the 1770s. In 1776 she wrote, ‘since you left I have been quite ill with shingles. I was blind for four days in one eye. I am still not fully restored, but nevertheless outside.’51 At one point she wrote, ‘I am reasonably well, but very sad about many things.’52 Beata Horn was not the only despondent woman in the Queen Dowager’s service. Her colleague, Lady of Honour Beata Charlotta Taube, was only marginally cheerier when she wrote to her ‘sweet friend’ Court Mistress Törnflycht to tell her ‘whoever is not used to much and expects worse is satisfied with little’.53 In another letter, Taube wished she and Törnflycht could ‘sit and reflect on the vanity of the world, though what does it profit us, everything will take its usual course anyway’.54 Another colleague, Magdalena Stenbock, wrote to Törnflycht to say that Beata Charlotta Taube was in poor health and ‘she often looks unhappy’.55 On her death a few years later, Miss Taube was said to have ‘survived many changes and eras at a tempestuous court through much caution and a steady temper, rarely in much favour, but never in disgrace or not trusted’.56 She was said to have been very plain, but also to have looked the same through all her decades at court. One of Beata Horn’s main grievances was being subject to the whims by royalty who did not even appear to like her. When Lovisa Ulrika hit on the idea of taking part in the harvest, they all had to follow her with scythes, 48 Ibid., same to same, 23 November 1775. 49 Ibid., same to same, 11 December 1775. 50 Ibid., same to same, Stockholm, 24 March 1774 [wrongly given as 1776]. 51 Ibid., same to same, 16 May 1776. 52 Ibid., same to same, Fredrikshov, 4 January 1776. 53 RA, Börstorssamlingen, vol. 151, Beata Charlotta Taube to Brita Christina Sparre, Drottningholm 24 September [1772]. 54 Ibid., same to same, Svartsjö, 9 November 1772. 55 RA, Börstorssamlingen, vol. 151, Magdalena Stenbock to Brita Christina Sparre, Stjernsund, 4 August 1776. 56 Montan 1878, ii. 141.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 16: Referred to in letters as ‘Aunt’, Brita Stina Sparre, Count Törnflycht, was a long-time presence at court. Pehr Krafft the Elder, Brita Stina Sparre. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

cutting and sweating profusely.57 At other times it was walks, card games, or needlework. Horn was not alone in tiptoeing around the palace, unsure who was included and who excluded. ‘Today our Mistress goes to the opera. Sits in her own box, but which of her attendants she will take is not known. […] I am curious to see if aunt [the Court Mistress Törnflycht] will be there; 57 Erdmann 1926, 111.

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I almost doubt it, as she never said a word to her yesterday even though she saw her.’58 Then she added: ‘Just now word was sent to aunt and Miss Taube if they wanted to accompany [us] to the opera; but it was no order, they can do as they please, and today they went along.’59 Magdalena Stenbock, Court Mistress to the Princess, also noted the lack of private time. ‘I rush around to suppers and dinés, but it is not much fun, as I can hardly say that I have an hour to myself in the day.’60 On another occasion she wrote to Court Mistress Törnflycht that ‘I would assume you are happiest in your own chamber, and so would I be if I were there.’61 It seems neither the Queen nor the Princess normally spoke to Beata Horn. ‘Nickalotta is sick from coughing blood but now a bit better. Now the Queen has reminded me to lie in Her Royal Highness’s chamber all winter. Else she forgets me; says neither ill or good to me, with which I am satisf ied.’62 To have your own chamber and not have to live in the princess’s chamber was an advantage (though you would not gain many privileges that way). In another letter the Court Mistress to the Princess wondered if the Maid of Honour Sinclair ‘has got rid of her chamber up with Her Highness’.63 Beata Sophia Horn was not often mentioned in letters in the 1770s and appears to have been distant in her relations with several of her colleagues. Horn had a friend in Nickalotta, though Nickalotta was distracted by a doomed liaison. The prominent, and alas f inancially irresponsible, courtier Count Horn was pursuing Nickalotta, and she was miserable because Horn was unable to get a divorce from his insane wife, and thus no progress could be made.64 Under normal circumstances Nickalotta pursued erudite interests, and, for example, mostly socialised with scholars when she accompanied the Queen Dowager on a visit to Berlin.65 One courtier commented that they all dreaded the trip, because they ‘must accompany a person [the Queen Dowager] with whom service is, as you 58 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Gyldenstolpeska samlingen, Beata Sophia Horn to Nils Philip Gyldenstolpe, 11 January 1776. 59 Ibid., same to same, 11 January 1776. 60 RA, Börstorssamlingen, vol. 151, Magdalena Stenbock to Brita Christina Sparre, Berlin, 2 April 1772. The French diner was habitually called diné in Swedish high society. 61 Ibid., same to same, Stjernsund, 21 July 1776. 62 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Gyldenstolpeska samlingen, Beata Sophia Horn to Nils Philip Gyldenstolpe, Stockholm, 27 January 1776. 63 RA, Börstorssamlingen, vol. 151, Magdalena Stenbock to Brita Christina Sparre, Stjernsund, 21 July 1776. 64 Erdmann 1926, 103. 65 Ibid., 105.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

yourself know, not in any way agreeable’.66 Another of Beata Horn’s friends was the spirited Ulrika von Fersen.67 A leading figure, she was known as a famous wit with a sarcastic turn of phrase – and Beata Horn herself was known to be quite sharp. The Queen Dowager was often seriously ill, and a future without her employer alarmed Miss Horn. ‘My Stolpe can never believe my alarm and apprehension. Think if she dies, what will then become of us?’68 Though Queen Dowager’s resilience could still amaze. After one illness, Miss Horn noted that ‘now she is well enough to be out both noon and night, and plays her chess every evening. Does not look too affected, only a little pale. It is beyond comprehension how she resists everything and does not feel more ill and exhausted for longer.’69 Two months later the Queen had a relapse, with a severe fever that only with difficulty was lowered using quinine – ‘but now she is well again almost as if there had never been any illness. She has more strength than any other person who is or has ever been in the world.’70 A month later, Beata Horn informed Gyldenstolpe that she had not written for a week because of a ‘cold I had in my eye quite badly, so I had to stay inside for some days. Now it is good again, praise be to God, otherwise I have been fairly well, though there has been a great deal of sickness here; every other person has been ill.’71 The Queen Dowager’s bad temper and rudeness was a constant cross to bear for the women serving her. Our Mistress was so polite when she left that she never said a word to us who were to stay at home, not even goodbye. Why I do not know. At the end she was downstairs with the Court Mistress, and took her leave of Miss Taube, too, as they were both ill. Yes, her manners towards me are strange. I am quite happy that I have reproached her nothing, as, not to praise myself, I am the one who is the most discreet about her bad moods, though with shame as thanks.72

66 Ibid., 253. 67 RA, Ekebladska samlingen, vol. 21, Ulrika Eleonora von Fersen to Brita Horn, Skabersjö, 12 January 1774. 68 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Gyldenstolpeska samlingen, Beata Sophia Horn to Nils Philip Gyldenstolpe, Fredrikshov, 13 March 1776. 69 Ibid., same to same, Fredrikshov, 3 April 1776. 70 Ibid., same to same, Fredrikshov, 8 June 1776. 71 Ibid., same to same, 28 June 1776. 72 Ibid., same to same, 28 June 1776.

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This was contrasted to the King: You would not believe how gracious the King is on our account, with much surprise at her coldness. He did not say much to us, but to others as we have been told. He was very gracious to us; you are evidently right and I have been of the mind that it would be a great loss to us, but you cannot imagine how it wears you down to serve someone so cold towards you, who has been serving her with such sincerity. I am now doing everything I can not to let it show, but others are not so discreet, though I do it for my own honour. You would not believe how people talk about the way in which she treats us with such coldness.73

In 1778, Beata Sophia Horn died only 42 years old. Her friend Nickalotta wrote to a former Maid of Honour, ‘I am convinced, my dear friend, that you were struck by the death of Beata Horn; I myself regret it with all my heart because she had a lot of merit, and was a real friend, which is very rare in this time, where all is just tracasserie and inconsistency.’74 Nickalotta herself died only two years later. The inventory of Miss Horn’s belongings revealed some further aspects of her life. Her parents had lived in style, but their estate had been sunk in debt, with little left to Beata Horn and her siblings.75 Thus, she was wholly dependent on her salary from court. Of what money she did manage to save, more than half of her assets took the form of an IOU for money she had lent her youngest brother, without interest. A large amount of money was set aside for an old servant.76 Miss Horn’s possessions told of interests in tea, writing, clothes, and jewellery. Her reading was secular, unlike Countess Torstenson’s vast theological library. Beata Horn only had one religious tract; instead, she owned books such as Tobias Smollett in French, Molière, and Lettres de Maintenon.

Ageing and unmarried A young woman coming to court was expected to marry at some stage. Yet many things might intervene. Life at court might be more enjoyable than 73 Ibid., same to same, Fredrikshov, 23 March 1776. 74 RA, Ekebladska samlingen, vol. 21 [E 3572], Nicka Lotta to Brita Horn, Svartsjö, 9 June. 75 RA, Svea hovrätt, Adliga bouppteckningar E IX b:51, Inventory for Sophia Christina Horn. 76 RA, Svea hovrätt, Adliga bouppteckningar E IX b:108, Inventory for Beata Sophia Horn, 29 April 1778.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

tying yourself to some man. Certainly, an increasing number of women stayed on at court, ageing but unmarried. At such a personal institution as the court, the personality of the woman you served could be crucial to your happiness. The noblewomen who served the embittered Queen Dowager in the 1770s had few routes of escape. They were becoming too old to marry in contemporary opinion. They were too poor to live a proper aristocratic life outside the court. While it was probably easier to work for someone like the middle-aged Ulrika Eleonora, Beata Horn and her colleagues were caught with a less amenable mistress. They suffered her abuse and rudeness for years, and the attitudes of others when considering these old Maids of Honour was captured by a courtier poet writing in the 1770s. He pitied Lovisa Ulrika’s ageing, unmarried Maids of Honour.77 They had to tread the traditional ceremonial torch dance at court weddings year after year without ever getting married themselves: When Hymen and Astrild combine To garland a courtly young maiden Then dance the old maids of Lovisa Fine dressed, and with torch heavy laden Take pity, oh great Aphrodite You’ve seen them for full 40 years Gavotte at the weddings of others Oh, pity the vale of their tears Now respite and peace to them send By burning their torch to the end.

77 Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna, ‘Epigram öfver Enkedrottningen Lovisa Ulricas gamla Fröknar i Fackeldansen vid ett Bröllop på Slottet’, in Frykenstedt 1956, 29. I wish to thank Helen Whittow for her assistance with the translation.


Filth among the apples: Hierarchy and gender at court Abstract Negotiation meant managing the many nuances of early modern hierarchy. Despite the process of codification, especially from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, there was always room for manoeuvre. People at court tried to bend and tweak the etiquette to come up trumps in the hierarchical game. At court, women had the opportunity to rise through the ranks in their own right, and further than society would normally allow. Yet, this rank had to be fought for, defended, and, if possible, increased. The hierarchical game never ended. Keywords: hierarchy, rank, negotiation, etiquette

One Sunday in July 1779, a levee was held at court followed by a church service. Seating in church depended on rank, and one woman, Stauden, went to take a seat in the pew reserved for ‘Court Mistresses and Ladies of the Palace’, but was corrected by Court Gentleman Wallencreutz and had to move to another pew.1 Then Countess Rudenschöld and her thirteenyear-old daughter Magdalena posed another problem. As the wife of a Royal Councillor, Countess Rudenschöld was entitled to sit with the other wives of Councillors, though it was not clear what rules applied to her teenage daughter. The thirteen-year-old girl tried to sit down among the Maids of Honour. They, ‘who wanted to protect their rank’, told Magdalena Rudenschöld to go away, and she had to move to the pew reserved for unmarried young ladies. As the church was crowded, old General Charpentier squeezed in next to her, and ‘the old man and this miss like a bridal couple posed a ridiculous spectacle to God’s gathering’. Wallencreutz himself tried to improve his own social standing by smuggling in his father to a better 1

Montan 1877, i. 234.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch07


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

seat than usual, but was rebuffed. In the end ‘this whole day was used on church etiquette’. The coda to this well-orchestrated chaos came later in the day, after a performance of Amphion. The new, revised version of the opera met with general acclaim from the court, which, dressed in its gala best, moved on to supper. Once again Magdalena Rudenschöld was a problem. King Gustaf called over a courtier, Baron Ehrensvärd, to discuss whether the thirteenyear-old could be invited to stay for supper with the Queen? Ehrensvärd cited a precedent: ‘His Majesty within Stockholm Palace for some years now had established the etiquette that daughters of Councillors and Counts could sup with the Queen’, whereas others, such as a woman whose father had not yet become a Councillor, had been dismissed ‘without supper’. The King, a stickler for etiquette, agreed, and ‘she, who for a long time had been sitting worried at how she would be seen, became heartily happy, when she was ordered to stay’. This incident, only noteworthy because unlike most tussles about status at court it was actually documented, throws light on the nature of hierarchy in this environment. The first thing that strikes modern observers is the lack of clarity. Even the well informed, including the King himself, were unsure of Magdalena Rudenschöld’s rightful position. Precedent for the Swedish state was set down in the Table of Ranks, first issued in 1672 and then enlarged over the next century until officially abolished in 1766, and while the court was an arena where the early modern status game played out day in, day out, the noblewomen largely operated without formal tables of rank, and in that way distinguished themselves from the male courtiers. The arbiter elegantiarum was the monarch, who usually took his or her cue from precedent, but could always ignore it. Where it varied was in each monarch’s approach to the role of arbiter. Gustaf III was extremely interested and something of an expert; other monarchs were far more lackadaisical. Etiquette and hierarchy was increasingly codified, and especially from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. At the same time, almost everyone at court tried in various ways to bend and tweak its etiquette to come up trumps in the hierarchical game. Faced with the intrusion from the teenage Magdalena Rudenschöld, the Maids of Honour had defended their place in the hierarchy, while Wallencreutz tried to bend the rules to obtain a more prestigious place for his father. To hesitate or give way in matters of rank created a precedent which could be difficult to gainsay, so people tended to stand their ground, determined to set the precedent in their own favour.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


A Swedish Table of Ranks By the seventeenth century, many country’s acknowledged systems of social order were being formalised as European princes issued tables of rank and precedence. In Sweden, too, there was a legally determined Table of Ranks, issued for the first time in 1672 after fierce discussions in the Diet and endless bitter altercations about the ceremonial order to be observed at funerals, weddings, meals, and other occasions. The key question was which carried greater weight, office or birth? In 1664, the Diet had discussed rank, and it was when they turned to women that the fundamental differences in perception became unavoidable. Counts’ daughters who were married to men of rank expected to be given precedence over baronesses, and even untitled nobility. For example, the wife of the Treasurer of the Realm, Baron Bonde, was not born with a title, and it could be argued she ranked lower than counts’ daughters.2 The fact that a count such as Per Brahe could stand up in the Estate of the Nobility during a Diet and refer to his peers as ‘pig’s feet’ (svinefötter) says something about the bitter divisions within the aristocracy, and the amour propre of the titled aristocracy, especially the counts and countesses.3 Gustaf Bonde claimed that women’s rank was the issue most likely to ‘shock’ the nobility. 4 He proposed that countesses be ranked first, followed by wives, unmarried ladies, and unmarried gentlewomen. Another member of the old aristocracy, Count Carl Leijonhufvud, said it was ‘unreasonable’ for the wife of a newly ennobled man to take precedence over the daughter of a count or a baron. Various proposals were put to the Diet but failed to find a majority, and in the end the question was shelved. At the Diet of 1680 Colonel Örneklou raised the issue again, and this time the King stepped in to confirm that ‘the wife follows her husband’ in rank, and while unmarried women would be ranked by age.5 This was a victory for the new nobility. In this Sweden largely conformed to the practice in many European kingdoms in around 1700, although it went further by not including any provision for women of high birth (unlike, for example, Denmark), and skirted altogether the issue of women and rank at court. In a publication of various tables of rank in 1719 several courts 2 Loenbom 1768. 3 Bergh 1896, 119. 4 Ibid., 119. 5 RA, Riksregistraturet, 4 December 1680 Kongl: Maij:tz Nådige Resolution och förklaring uppå efterfölliande ährender, hwilka ridderskapet och Adelen underdånigst insinuerat hafwa.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

had prescriptions for women, and the Danish Table of Ranks from 1717 was unusually detailed.6 It operated according to the principle that women took the rank of their husband but that women could hold a rank of their own by holding a court office. The women serving at court would then be in a hierarchy according to office whereby serving the Queen trumped serving a princess. At the Prussian court in the 1710s, women serving at court were accorded a rank commensurate with the wives of specified military officers.

Formal hierarchies An official hierarchy was visible in the order in which women and men were listed and in the size of their salaries and perquisites. Women were normally listed separately from men in such lists, making gender-based comparisons problematic. Within the group of women who served at court a hierarchy based on office was apparent, however, and was reflected in various ways, such as the distribution of New Year’s Gifts. In the 1710s, the Queen Dowager still gave her women gifts according to a set tariff (325 daler for the Court Mistress and 81 daler each for the Maids of Honour).7 In such a hierarchical society it was to be expected that women at court would also assert their rank. A telling instance came in 1634 when a Council discussion revealed that the women serving at court ‘were minded’ to follow the Queen into the Hall of State when the Diet assembled and ‘there linger as long as the ceremony continues’.8 This did not appeal to the Councillors, and they settled on a solution whereby the women would walk through the Hall of State but only the Court Mistress and one more would be allowed to remain. Eight years later the Council again discussed whether women should be allowed into the Hall of State. The men decided the women would be conspicuous and might upset members of the Diet, and ‘with much curtseying, by their walking through the Hall of State, create some scandal and astonishment’. Later again, the women of the court hogged the best places so Councillors had to make do with places by the door, a situation seen as scandalous by the Council.9 The court women themselves were of course alert to all this. Overly alert at times: standing on one’s dignity could cause a great deal of friction, 6 Lünig 1720, ii. 7 SLA, Hovstatsräkenskaper Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonora, vol. 111, Kassaräkenskap, 1715, fols. 122-126. 8 Kullberg et al. 1886, iv. 197. 9 Gustaf Bonde in Council discussion, 25 October 1660, in Bergh 1896, 120.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


as shown by Countess Hedvig Eleonora Stenbock (stepdaughter of Court Mistress Countess Riperda). In her 29 years at court her pride in her ancestry grated on others. Almost as soon as she arrived she had clashed with Maid of Honour Baroness Ingeborg Gyllenstierna about precedence. As the daughter of a Count, Countess Stenbock was listed as Fröken, the somewhat freefloating category above the Maids of Honour that had been introduced around 1610 but by mid-century was being phased out because countesses were becoming more numerous. Indeed, Countess Stenbock was the last one to be singled out by this special arrangement when she arrived at court at the tender age of seven in 1662, and as such she was a representative of the old high aristocracy and their demands for special treatment. Baroness Gyllenstierna, for her part, claimed precedence over Countess Stenbock because she had served longer at court, thus emphasising the supremacy of office over birth – a typical stance for the new aristocracy (even though the Gyllenstierna family was one of the oldest it was only of baronial rank). It was, rather drastically, claimed that one reason for the opposition of the Gyllenstierna brothers to the ruling conciliar aristocracy of the 1670s was the treatment meted out to their sister. Twenty years later history repeated itself when the widow of a Royal Councillor, Barbara von Parr, was made Court Mistress. Parr immediately found herself on the wrong side of the now seasoned court veteran Countess Stenbock, and told a friend of the ‘numerous’ insults she had to endure at Stenbock’s hands. Parr had not been born into the high aristocracy, which made her formally subordinate to Countess Stenbock, who duly treated her with crushing contempt. Stenbock, meanwhile, was appalled that a person of such low birth had infiltrated the women at court, sniffing at the fact ‘that filth has come among the apples’.10 Even after Court Mistress Parr had left the scene, Countess Stenbock continued to complain that her treatment was not commensurate with her rank, largely because she was not seated at the royal table for a meal, which greatly upset her. Women were an integral part of royal ceremony, manifesting their place in the hierarchy. Queen Christina’s unusual status as King could have been compromised by what after all was her traditional female entourage, yet it was customary for female members of the dynasty to be accompanied by their women, as even the Council had to admit. At royal funerals, coronations, meals, entertainments, and other public occasions the women of the

10 Catharina Wallenstedt to Margareta Ehrensteen, Stockholm, 10 December 1681, in Wijkmark 1995, 329.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

court were always present in close proximity to the royal family.11 However, the sources are often vague on the precise seating arrangements or procession order. It seems early modern monarchs often hoped things would sort themselves out, and limited their efforts to exhorting participants to get along, which could easily see formal occasions descend into scuffles and squabbles.

Royal decisiveness Much of this vagueness was dispelled by Charles XI. A royal letter of 1696 set down that women who did not follow the Table of Ranks would be liable to the same fines as men.12 Charles XI’s original decision in 1680 that rank was determined by the husband’s office left many issues unresolved, although there were clarifications, as in 1725, when it was announced that women were to hold the rank of their current husband, thereby closing a loophole whereby some had claimed higher rank by referring to a previous marriage. Much of this was to be unpicked at court, which provided an arena where battles over status could be fought out, and high birth was much more prevalent than in the rest of society. As Giora Sternberg has demonstrated for a French context, such battles were deeply important to early modern individuals and families, and sometimes staying away from court ceremonies had to be deployed as a tactic.13 As an arena that was public to the elite, news of gains and losses in status at court quickly spread across the country, while foreign observers also noticed the nuances of rank. Thus at the funeral of Charles XI’s uncle, Duke Adolf Johan, in 1690, the King’s cousins (the Duke’s children) were allowed to travel in the carriages of the King and Queen; during the church service, however, a Danish diplomat noted that they were not seated with the King and Queen but ‘with the others’.14 The status of a noblewoman in early modern society was decided by combining her father’s and husband’s with her own – for the court provided a unique opportunity for noblewomen to achieve status of their own independently from the male members of their family. Court office and the trappings of royal favour could come together to help women up the slippery steps of rank. The Council in 1672 remembered how, decades earlier, 11 12 13 14

See, for example, after the death of Charles IX in 1612 (Mellin 1833). Swerikes Rijkes Lands-lag 1726, 102. Sternberg 2014. Fryxell 1836, i. 480.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


Queen Christina had asked Chancellor Oxenstierna to draw up a Table of Ranks for women, to which Oxenstierna was said to have replied, ‘I will obediently do anything Her Majesty graciously commands, but I beg to be spared from settling rank between women.’15 Misogynistic, yes, but it nevertheless confirms that members of the high aristocracy expected the nobility – because it was noblewomen who would be affected by a Table of Ranks – to nurture a passionate interest in hierarchies and their own standing. And it was true that the royal court was a place where hierarchical competition was at its most fierce, but, as I will demonstrate, it took various forms and in reality the hierarchies tended to be blurred. Queen Christina did have a draft Table of Ranks for women drawn up in 1653, and this reflected the bone of contention: was one’s place in the hierarchy determined by one’s birth or one’s office? In the preamble the Queen explained that as We Ourselves have often with displeasure seen the disorder that occurs at present on public occasions, as Countesses and Baronesses, not without mutual jealousy and frustration, run forward in estate and placement, so that they, as well as their relatives, who thereby appear to suffer prejudice and disagreeableness, have complained to Us and humbly asked that such disorder through Our authority in a comfortable manner be addressed and avoided.16

Thus the draft decreed that countesses married to Councillors would take precedence on all occasions and would receive the most prestigious places. After them came countesses who were daughters of countesses and married to counts, in order of age – all rather vague, as age was said to be both how old their family was and their own age. Then came counts’ wives who were not daughters of counts, ranked according to their registration number in the House of Nobles. They were followed by baronesses who were wives or widows of Councillors, ranked by their husbands’ position in the Council (in itself a moot point), and then baronesses whose husbands were not Councillors, ranked according to the registration number of their husbands’ families in the House of Nobles. After married baronesses followed unmarried counts’ daughters, ranked according to their mothers’ rank. Finally came the unmarried daughters of barons, again ranked according to their mothers’ rank. 15 UUB, Palmskiöld 163, quoting Council Minutes 1672. 16 UUB, Palmskiöld 163.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Interestingly, this Table of Ranks, though never issued, differed from the first full Table of Ranks for men in 1672. The latter was a much more crude affair, for it focused on office and overlooked the huge importance attached to birth. The draft of 1653 was a more nuanced effort, balancing birth and office, and it is interesting to see that it ranked women not only according to their marriage, but also to the status of both their parents. The Table of Ranks of 1672, meanwhile, was in reality a poor guide to status, as that was made up not just someone’s office, but by their family connections, perceived power, and royal favour. In the absence of a female Table of Ranks, the place of women in formal ranking systems was always contentious. Bitter struggles over precedence between women at court could evolve into long-running family conflicts. The court was an intensely competitive environment, where the struggle for status meant that hierarchies could be remarkably fluid and changing. After 1672 a very limited and crude Table of Ranks afforded a formal status system, but the personal character of early modern monarchy often trumped such blunt formalities. Countess Stenbock may have been unusually outspoken, but it seems that the other noblewomen serving at court shared her attitude. In 1716 Emerentia von Düben, the great favourite of Princess Ulrika Eleonora, was promoted by the King to be a Lady of Honour rather than a Chamberer.17 Although she and her brothers had been ennobled in 1707 – one of her brothers was Court Marshal and the other a Chamber Gentleman – her new colleagues considered her too base to be a Lady of Honour. Her appointment was ‘taken so ill by the other maids of Honr, who are of the best familys of the Kingdom, that they talk of quitting Her Royal Highnesse’s service’, an English diplomat reported back to London.18 Competition for status was the lifeblood of early modern courts. Members of the elite guarded their places in the societal hierarchy ferociously and often tried to improve them at the expense of others. The court has been seen has the arbiter of status and a place where status was very def ined and acknowledged. Proximity to the monarch was key in the early modern Swedish polity, and thus ceremony could denote the status of a person. This opened up a complex play between personal standing with the royal family and precedence, as ceremony could be a public way, and even more often a semi-public way, to enhance (or devalue) status. Where would women and men at court be placed in processions, at meals, 17 SLA, Hovförtäringsräkenskaper Kungl. Maj:ts hov 1716 I A:155, fol. 957. 18 National Archives (NA), London, SP95/22, Report from Robert Jackson, Stockholm, 25 September 1716.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


and on various other occasions? Who had the right of entry into the inner chambers? In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, chivalric orders were used to express hierarchy. Normally, orders were the reserve of men, but some were open to women, and favoured women were decorated with orders created by queens. Thus in the 1630s Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora created what became known as the Order of the Coffin to commemorate her late husband, Gustaf II Adolf, and a number of court women were initiated into this rather macabre circle. In the 1650s Queen Christina created the Order of the Amaranth. A further example was the Order of Harmony (also called the Order of the Fan), created by Crown Prince Adolf Frederick and Crown Princess Lovisa Ulrika to mark the occasion when the Princess broke a fan – any excuse to create an order to hand out to their closest friends and confidantes at court.

Increasing formality One ceremony that took on a clearer form in the eighteenth century was presentation at court. This was an indication of rank as a mixture of office and birth. In France the requirements were very high; in Sweden, while only women who belonged to the nobility could be presented, men who held office above a certain rank could do so in addition to noblemen.19 In order to be allowed to attend court functions you had to go through the presentation ceremony. This was carefully graded to reflect the status of the presentee. Wives of Royal Councillors were given ‘le salut’ – that is, they kissed the Queen and any princesses on the cheek. Married women kissed the Queen’s hand, while unmarried women kissed the hem of the Queen’s dress. This involved very deep curtseys, and women who were presented often dreaded this moment as it could mean losing their balance and keeling over in full view of everyone who mattered. It was not a one-off occasion: women were re-presented again as fiancées, and then again once they married. One woman has left an account of the procedure: Malla Montgomery, who was presented in 1797 in order to be allowed to take part in the coronation festivities.20 On the day she was escorted by Augusta Löwenhielm, one of the former Ladies of the Palace and a woman well versed in etiquette, to be introduced to a long list of court women before she could approach the royals. 19 Mansel 1988 has an interesting discussion of presentation at the French court. 20 Grandison 1908, i. 174-177.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Finally, after all the introductions had been made, Countess Löwenhielm’s sister, Countess Adelswärd, took Malla and a fellow presentee, a girl of similar age, to the palace. Malla’s companion was beside herself with worry in the carriage and cried once they arrived. A crowd of spectators had gathered at the palace to watch. Malla got lost in the palace, but was found by a kindly general and guided to the room where she would first be presented to the Duke and the Duchess. The Duke stood far too close to the girls as they were presented, while the Duchess said something to each girl ‘without waiting for an answer’. One poor young woman fell over when she tried to curtsey. Afterwards they went to be presented to the King and Queen. All the King said was ‘How do you do’, while the Queen impressed them by her looks. The following day the same women went to be presented to the Queen Dowager. In theory, once presented the young women were known to the royal family. As is clear from Malla Montgomery’s account, however, the process was in reality quite impersonal. In 1766 a young woman was presented to the King and Queen and noted some time after that ‘the Queen has not greeted me more than twice afterwards, and will not any more frequently as she hardly ever greets unmarried woman, and the young unmarried Princess acts in the same way’.21 The reality was that only a few women would actually frequent the court after their presentation. The meticulous Chief Master of Ceremonies, Leonhard von Hauswolff, made an extensive list of women presented at court at the beginning of the nineteenth century.22 He counted 478 women who had been presented at court since 1778. Some 123 of them had been presented dressed in ‘robe de cour’ before 1778, the date when Sweden’s new court dress made presentation at court even more socially important. At any one point about 200 women appear to have been presented and were participant to some degree in court life. In 1796 another courtier, Hamilton, compiled a list of women presented at court that gave the total as 107. Hamilton then tried to categorise the women into subcategories according to their attendance at court, concluding that sixteen women served at court and ten women were at court constantly, 25 were at court at times, while the majority of presented noblewomen (72) only attended at the really grand ceremonies. The act of presentation could both confirm status and be highly humiliating. Mishaps such as falling over when curtseying were embarrassing enough, but much worse was intentional humiliation. When a Mrs. Cardell, wife of 21 RA, Esplundaarkivet, Grevinnan Lovisa Ulrika Mörners arkiv I:117, ‘Salig grefvinnans Bok’, 28 October 1766. 22 RA, Stockholm, Sjöholmsarkivet, Manuskript- och avskriftssamlingen, vol. 2.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


a German-born artillery officer, was to be presented at court in the 1790s, it created deep divisions within the court society. The women at court who effectively ran the presentations refused all contact with Mrs. Cardell – she was from a Jewish family, a divorcée, and her husband was a parvenu.23 The aristocratic courtiers were of the opinion that Mrs. Cardell was not of sufficient rank to be presented, yet Duke Regent Charles forced it through. Cardell was a favourite with the Duke, and, enraged that the women at court dared to defy him, he ordered that she be presented. The result was that no woman could be found to act as her escort. Court Mistress Piper was suspected of leading the resistance. When she was contacted about receiving Mrs. Cardell for the ceremonial visit preceding the presentation proper, Countess Piper explained that Mrs. Cardell would have to be accompanied by the non-existent escort. Countess Piper was then ordered by the Duke to receive Mrs. Cardell, who was subsequently taken round to be presented – but not by an already presented woman, but by her husband, who knew no one. The experience was deeply wounding, and Mrs. Cardell appears to have stayed away from court afterwards. The Chief Master of Ceremonies noted later ‘there was a lot of strife before she was presented but she was never ordered to any [royal] suppers’.24 If nothing else, Mrs. Cardell’s example demonstrates how women at court wielded power over status simply by obstruction. Twenty years later a similar scene took place, when Mrs. Hall, the nobly born sister of the King’s mistress, Maid of Honour Mariana Koskull, was to be presented. A storm of protest met the King, and several aristocratic women at court who were ordered to take charge of the presentation conveniently fell ill. Ultimately it was the Lady of the Palace Ruuth who performed the task, but was so uncomfortable that ‘she immediately afterwards fainted’.25 When Gustaf III introduced suppers hosted by Ladies of the Palace, this also gave opportunity for the women to ‘make distinctions’ themselves.26 The power of obstruction also shines through in the 1680s, when Countess Stenbock made her displeasure about Baroness Parr as her superior known. For example, Countess Stenbock f irst glared at Baroness Parr during a christening and then deliberately stepped on her train as sabotage.27 In 1810, Queen Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta spoke to the Court Mistress Countess 23 24 25 26 27

Bonde and af Klercker 1923, v. 18-19. RA, Stockholm, Sjöholmsarkivet, Manuskript- och avskriftssamlingen, vol. 2. Carlquist 1921, 130. Montan 1878, ii. 15. Catharina Wallenstedt to Margareta Ehrensteen, 19 November 1681, in Wijkmark 1995, 318.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Gyldenstolpe, who felt that the Queen, by presenting the women of the highest rank to the new Crown Prince, had encroached on the privileges of Gyldenstolpe’s office. This was a right that had fallen to the Court Mistress almost by accident: when Queen Frederica had arrived in Sweden she had no knowledge of Swedish etiquette, and had allowed the Chief Court Mistress to present the wives of Royal Councillor, the wives of excellencies, and the Ladies of the Palace to her. ‘In former days wives of Royal Councillors never needed to be presented, but had the right just to give notice to the Chief Court Mistress and then be called to attend on the Queen,’ Queen Charlotta noted.28 The same had been true of wives of excellencies, while Ladies of the Palace had the right to be presented to the Queen by the King himself, after which the Queen presented them to the princesses – for the Court Mistress to have taken over the presentation encroached on the rights of these women. Then in 1810 Chief Court Mistress Countess Fersen was told that the Queen would present the women of the highest rank, and the King the men. Countess Fersen said nothing. The day before the new Crown Prince, the ceremony was discussed again, whereupon Countess Fersen ‘looked angry’. When asked the reason, she claimed her rights; when told it might be arranged according to her wishes, she said it was too late, as the King had made it clear in front of the court. She added acidly, ‘It is of no difference to me, but for the sake of my successor, I must maintain the rights to are part of my dignity.’ Countess Fersen then absented herself by pretending to be ill. Avoidance and obstruction provided members of the court with some leverage over ceremonies. After the debacle, the Queen had a discussion with Countess Fersen, who said she had intended to leave court after the coup d’état the year before, but had stayed, ‘hoping to be seen as devoted to Your Majesty and worthy to be consulted in matters of etiquette’. She wrote in her diary that the Queen had said, ‘remember that I was at the court of Gustaf III when you were but a child and could not have any idea of what happened there. It is always the King who decides in matters of etiquette.’29 Countess Fersen refused to give in, and said that her right had been a reward for all the hard work her husband had done preparing for the Crown Prince’s arrival. The Queen found her very demanding, saying that ‘though I treated her with every possible attention, she seemed to demand more’. All parties to a ritual interaction could use it to humiliate. Royalty were no exception. In 1739, Queen Ulrika Eleonora not only excluded Count 28 Bonde and af Klercker 1939, viii. 493-494. 29 Ibid., viii. 495, January 1810.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


Figure 13: The dining in public was a major court ceremony and hierarchy was manifested though seating. The women of the royal family are sitting by the table while the Court Mistresses and the Ladies of the Palace are sitting watching and the Maids of Honour are standing. Pehr Hilleström, Repas Public, Le Jour de l’An 1779. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

Gyllenborg from her receptions, but when he tried to kiss her hand, the Queen pulled her hand back, leaving the Count humiliated. Similarly, Gyllenborg’s stepdaughter tried to kiss the hem of the Queen’s dress, but found it whipped away as she bent forward. Ulrika Eleonora had form: as an eight-year-old Princess in 1696 she had held her hand so low that one kisser, Cronström, almost fell over; at her coronation in 1719, as a mark of displeasure, she only offered her gloved hand for the Speaker of the Nobility, and she refused to let the other deputies of the Nobility kiss her hand, while this was granted to members of the other Estates.30 In the eighteenth century, more formal nuances were added to the hierarchy. There was a process of codification. Weak royal authority made it imperative that the supremacy of royal status over, for example, the Council was emphasised, and Queen Lovisa Ulrika saw new ceremonies as a way of raising her game, hence the addition of the new ceremony of dining in public – the grand couvert – as a weekly practice from late 1754, at which only members of the royal family were allowed to sit at the table, while wives of Royal Councillors had to be content with le tabouret, the right to sit on a tabouret, or low stool. Every week a cour or reception was held at the palace, which saw members of the elite gather in the main gallery and 30 Schlözer 1768, i. 281; Fryxell 1862, vol. xxx, 46.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

wait for the royal couple to emerge and talk to them; favoured people were now granted an entrée to wait in a special room, the White Room, at these cours. On the same day the royal couple would hold a grand couvert to dine in public. It was said that the King found all this tiresome, snorting that ‘if he had been a burgher he would never have left his house and soup to watch any king eating’, and that he found the new business of tabourets for the Councillors’ wives stupid. The right of tabouret was somewhat tenuous: in the 1770s, on one occasion there was no one to occupy the tabourets apart from two countesses, Fersen and De la Gardie, whose right to do so was decidedly shaky. Those who ‘have a good court memory cannot remember the like in many years’.31 Outsiders who believed they belonged were mocked. As Prince Charles wrote in 1768, Last Sunday we went, after saying goodnight to the Queen from the White Sea [a room in Stockholm Palace] to the Gallery, where the Queen’s ladies were sitting with a Mrs. Linderstedt. My brother Gustaf saw how the King passed by quickly, and told the Maids of Honour so they could wish him a goodnight. The good Mrs. Linderstedt, who did not know that only ladies of the court had entry tried to come with them. Fortunately, she was warned by Mademoiselle Liewen and left as the others laughed loudly. If the Court Marshal had not grabbed her arm and led her outside I am not sure what would have happened. We laughed a lot all night.32

Prince Charles himself clearly worried that his mistress would be humiliated when she was presented to the King in the 1770s. If he sat down, the attending women could sit down, but not his mistress. To avoid her lower rank being made obvious, or even her committing a faux pas, the Duke remained standing for half an hour, even though one of the ladies implored him to sit down.33

Marks of status The Court Ordinances of 1754 and 1778 were very different from the ordinances and instructions of the sixteenth century. There was no mention of 31 Montan 1878, ii. 84. 32 Erdmann 1925a. 33 Montan 1878, ii. 4.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


opening and reading letters, locking doors, or controlling the women at court. Surveillance and control had given way to various forms of public hierarchies to be upheld. The new ordinances listed various rights, sometimes framed as duties, with very overt hierarchical overtones. The Court Mistresses thus had the right to enter the Queen’s rooms and the right to carry the Queen’s train. This public manifestation of the Queen’s status at the same time became a manifestation of the status of the woman with the right to carry her train, the Court Mistress. At the great cour receptions, the Ladies of the Palace followed immediately after the royal family when they made their entry into waiting crowd in the gallery.34 When these cours were followed by dining in public there was a very visible and public mark of distinction in the tabouret, the little stool which a few women were allowed to sit on during the ‘diné public’, as it was called.35 Entry to the White Room was already a mark of distinction by the 1750s. In 1778, Gustaf III issued lists of the people who had entry: of the current officeholders, twelve were women and 28 were men; eight women and nine men had entry because of former offices; and the final category was those who enjoyed entry as a personal mark of royal favour, of whom nine were women and fourteen were men.36 In all, 29 women and 151 men had right of entry into the White Room at this point. It is significant that all the women who had entry because they had, or had had, an office were in service at court. Of the women who enjoyed entry as a mark of personal distinction, four were women of the court (including the long-serving Maid of Honour Fredrika Mörner and the Lady of Honour Beata Charlotta Taube, both with the Queen Dowager). This very visible distinction, which would have been evident at every cour reception, was largely an advantage for people, and not least women, who served at court. A sketch was also made of the seating in the Chapel Royal at Stockholm Palace to ensure it was done correctly.37 When the royal family took Holy Communion, the women serving at court accompanied them, with the Ladies of the Palace seated in the row in front of the Maids of Honour, with the rest of the women seated in the row behind them. The Court Mistress sat to one side of them. In similar fashion, Gustaf III drew up a list of those who had the entrée at the opera.38 Everyone on the list was 34 Schück 1904, i. 58. 35 The French diner habitually became diné in eighteenth-century Swedish. 36 SLA, Överkammarherrens journal, fols. 15-21. A few more names were added in subsequent years. 37 Ibid., fol. 367. 38 SLA, Överkammarherrens journal, fols. 45-46.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

in service at court. All noblewomen in the Queen’s service were included, as were women who served the King’s sister and sister-in-law when they accompanied their mistresses to the opera. When Mrs. Cederström, the wife of a favourite, who herself came from quite an insignificant family, was ordered to sit in the King’s personal box she was all agog. It was a great distinction, and she bombarded the more knowledgeable Lady of the Palace Countess Löwenhielm with ‘millions of questions’, mostly about seating, with the clear drift that she hoped to be seated next to the King. Finally, Countess Löwenhielm delivered the put-down ‘you sit behind those who sit in front of you’.39 At Drottningholm Palace, the Ladies of the Palace were seated on a special bench for performances in its famous theatre, while other court women sat elsewhere. When the King summarily dismissed the Ladies of the Palace in 1795, they lost their right to sit there. They also lost their entrée to the White Room as a right of office, but retained it as a right of former office. 40 The Court Mistresses, among their various duties, had a right to use the Queen’s carriage. Indeed, another indicator of status was carriage access to the palace, with only a select few allowed to drive into the palace courtyard as of 1754. This right was reserved not only for women who served at court, but also for wives of the Royal Councillors. A fierce battle followed when the King wanted to deny a wife of one of the Royal Councillors this right. Marks of status were not limited to ephemera. In her analysis of women serving at the Bavarian court, Birgit Kägler has emphasised that the hierarchy of princely grace could trump formal office hierarchy, and this could be displayed with gifts of jewellery, snuff boxes, and other trinkets. 41 A similar situation was found at the Swedish court. Maria Eleonora’s Order of the Coffin, Queen Christina’s Order of the Amaranth, Lovisa Ulrika’s Order of the Fan all belonged to this category: none had any special formal significance, but they were all very visible marks of royal grace which added status to the bearer. Starting in the eighteenth century, it appears women serving at court were given jewelled monograms of the Queen, and when they left court service they received portrait miniatures. In some cases such material signs of favour were withheld, which was carefully noted by observers. For example, when the Queen dismissed her Ladies of the Palace in 1792, she singled out Countess Hamilton for special treatment. The Countess came from an ennobled merchant family, and had always been a bête noir, much 39 Montan 1878, ii. 63. 40 SLA, Överkammarherrens journal, fol. 363. 41 Kägler 2011, 409.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


Figure 14: Victimized by the Queen for her mercantile background, Countess Hamilton (born af Petersens) was a Lady of Honour for two decades. Unknown painter, Johanna Maria af Petersens, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

disliked by a Queen conscious of her rank and the importance of not being served by low-born interlopers. ‘People are convinced it was not done to cut costs, but only because Her Majesty has always viewed the attendance of Countess Hamilton with little pleasure. Contemporaries know many troubles which have happened in that manner.’42 The Countess was also banned from the farewell reception to which all the other Ladies of the Palace had been summoned. 43 42 RA, Överceremonimästarämbetets arkiv, vol. 5, 1 July 1792, fols. 188-189. 43 Ibid., fol. 189.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Negotiating the hierarchy In December 1803, Countess Armfelt was given the rank of Excellency. 44 This was a reward for her service as Court Mistress to the little Crown Prince. The court gave a woman like Countess Armfelt the opportunity to gain a high rank in her own right, through her own service, rather than through her husband. Armed with the rank of Excellency, Countess Armfelt was entitled to use a tabouret at court functions and to drive her carriage into the palace courtyard. These visible signs of her place in the hierarchy were further elements in the complex web of hierarchical nuance. Yet, there was a sting in the tail to this rank. Her royal mistress noted that former Court Mistresses to royal children had received the rank on their appointment rather than on their dismissal, meaning that it was long overdue; worse, there was no personal letter from the King expressing his gratitude. ‘It must have been hurtful to receive the letter [rank] of Excellency without a written word of thanks from the King for the care for his son.’45 Despite being dismissed, she had to continue carrying out her duties ‘which was rather insulting. She is, though, too sensible to show dissatisfaction.’46 A few weeks later a royal letter arrived with instructions for the future care of the children and the promise of portrait miniatures of the Crown Prince and his sister Sophia for Countess Armfelt. Yet these portraits were not given to her for a long time, which was also perceived as a slight. Status and hierarchy at court was a complex affair, being a mixture of formal rank, which women could gain through their own efforts, and more subtle marks of favour – or disfavour. In the early modern period there was process of codification of etiquette, which in theory would have given clear indication of where people were placed in the hierarchy. Women had no clear place in the Table of Ranks, and only the position provided by their male relatives, yet court office could remedy that, for it provided a foothold from where hierarchy could be negotiated in relation to social inferiors, colleagues, and even members of the royal family. Obstructionism offered women at court the chance to uphold some of their claims even against the royal will. One observer claimed that women at court were obsessed with competing against one another. 47 They would treat one another to ‘kisses, 44 45 46 47

Bonde and af Klercker 1936, vii. 263. Ibid., vii. 263. Bonde and af Klercker 1936, vii. 263. Odelberg 1967, 89.

Filth among the apples: Hier archy and gender at court


Figure 15: Chief Court Mistress Charlotta Fredrika Sparre was born into the court and married a member of the court family Fersen. The miniature portrait of the Queen that she wears indicates her favour and high status. Anton Ulrik Berndes, Charlotta Fredrika Sparre, late eighteenth century. Copyright Bodil Beckman/ Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

courtesies, flattery, visits, little services and polite friendship’, but fell out whenever one of them made a good match or was elevated above the others.48 Members of the royal family, on their side, had a battery of actions that would hurt or insult people at court. They could refuse to offer their hand to be kissed, whip away the hem of the dress when someone was kneeling to kiss it, or simply ignore people at court receptions. The latter was not unusual, and people at court noted who was not talked to. To be publicly ignored was to be publicly humiliated. Early modern power had to be interpreted partly through dress and objects carried on the person. Clothes, golden keys, the paraphernalia of court orders, jewellery, and portrait miniatures: all could be symbols of at least potential power and a place in the hierarchy at court. These objects took 48 Ibid., 87.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

different forms according to the gender of the wearer, but all were part of the constant play for power and status in court society. In the 1740s, the Crown Princess fought back by not allowing the King’s mistress, Countess Horn, to be presented as anything but an unmarried woman, forcing Countess Horn to kiss the hem of her dress rather than her hand. Negotiation also meant managing the many nuances of early modern hierarchy. Despite the process of codification, especially from the mideighteenth century onwards, there was always room for manoeuvre. People at court tried to bend and tweak the etiquette to come up trumps in the hierarchical game. Court Mistresses such as Countess Piper and Countess Fersen were defending what they termed their rights: Court Mistress Piper fought back not just against the Duke and his protégés, the Cardells; she also got embroiled in a quarrel about rank with the new Queen’s mother, the Hereditary Princess of Baden. Gossip said she claimed precedence by ‘referring to the Peace of Westphalia etc.’. 49 Not long after, Countess Piper was said to have been mocked ‘for her rank sickness’ (that is, her insistence on her rank) by Lady of Honour Friesendorff, and abruptly had to leave court having made too many enemies by her behaviour.50 At court, women had the opportunity to rise through the ranks in their own right, and further than society would normally allow. Yet, this rank had to be fought for, defended, and, if possible, increased. Even something that on the face of it was a success (as in the case of Countess Armfelt) could be interpreted as a veiled slight. The hierarchical game never ended.

49 Mattias Calonius to Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Stockholm, 3 January 1794, in Lagus 1902, 311. 50 Same to same, Stockholm, 3 January 1794, in ibid., 323.

8. A small circle with wide horizons Abstract Any person who joined a court changed. It was an immersive environment. Many entered court service to further their own goals – in all likelihood, that was precisely why they were there – but by living in the mental world of the court they inevitably adapted to its attitudes and norms. Most women who lived at an early modern court had commitments beyond its bounds, in most cases family, and on entering court did not surrender their old identity; they kept their existing affinities and created new ones. And, of course, they were supposed to learn and conform to the values and behaviour specific to the court environment, a point highlighted by the almost claustrophobic sense of a closed circle. Keywords: norms, community, sisterhood, exclusion, mentality

When new Maids of Honour were appointed for Queen Frederica on her arrival in Sweden in 1797, they were young. Most of them were teenagers aged between fifteen and nineteen, the Queen herself being sixteen years old, and ‘almost none have been out in the Great World and much less at court. They are mostly real children without the least experience.’1 The Chief Court Mistress Countess Piper may have been a long-serving courtier, but was viewed by Duchess Charlotta as ‘a foolish goose, who does not know how to behave’, and the young Maids of Honour were not much better. Confusion was evident even at the top, as another observer, Princess Sophia Albertina, wrote that her nephew’s new Queen ‘must have had an odd education, as she has not the faintest idea about common courtesy or how to behave in company.’2 Her cluelessness became more obvious when surrounded by nothing but novice Maids of Honour, with few old hands ready to guide

1 2

Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 63. Ibid., vi. 258.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch08


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

her. The fact that the new Queen came from a smaller princely state with a more modest court added to the problem. Any person who joined a court changed. It was an immersive environment. Many entered court service to further their own goals – in all likelihood that was precisely why they were there – but by living in the mental world of the court they inevitably adapted to its attitudes and norms. Most women who lived at an early modern court had commitments beyond its bounds, in most cases family, and on entering court did not surrender their old identity; they kept their existing affinities and created new ones. And of course they were supposed to learn and conform to the values and behaviour specific to the court environment, a point highlighted by the almost claustrophobic sense of a closed circle. Even so, there were women to whom their years at court were not life shaping, such as Anna Margareta Wrangel. She served Lovisa Ulrika as Maid of Honour for a number of years and was neither a veteran nor someone who just dipped her toe in court service beginning in 1749 and leaving at her marriage in 1755. At Wrangel’s appointment, Queen Lovisa Ulrika wrote that she was ‘very pretty and she has money. I don’t think I will keep her long. These two characteristics will be seducing enough for her to find a husband.’3 Wrangel seems to have adapted well and corresponded with other Maids of Honour after leaving court. The court wit Olof von Dalin also dedicated several poems to her as well as a jocular recipe collection. In 1755, she married her sister-in-law’s brother, Baron Johan Abraham Hamilton. That she was seven years older raised several eyebrows and the Queen wrote, ‘according to all appearances this marriage will not be happy’.4 At her death, the courtier Tessin noted that ‘the Court, this enchanted island, easy to approach for those who live there and surrounded by reefs for those who want to leave, was for her only an indifferent time’.5 To both him and Lovisa Ulrika, Anna Margareta Wrangel was a passer through court rather than someone to whom court life was a be-all and end-all, which was remarkable enough to be commented upon. The personal nature of a royal court meant that life there was in many ways determined by the personality of the main players. For women, furthermore, life at court was all-consuming in a way it rarely was for male 3 Lovisa Ulrika to Sophie Dorothee, Drottningholm 24 June 1749, in Arnheim 1909-1910, ii. 185. 4 Lovisa Ulrika to Sophie Dorothee, Ulriksdal, 30 May 1755, in ibid., ii. 374-375. The happiness or not of this union is unknown, but it was noted that her widower died many years later in agony due to a long-lasting case of venereal disease. KB, Depos 69.4, p. 52. 5 KB, L 82:1:4 Tessin’s diary, 1758, fol. 795.

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courtiers, with consequences for how it influenced women’s lives and views of the world.

Living under surveillance The degree of freedom women enjoyed at court grew as the period progressed. In the sixteenth century, there was a strong emphasis on control and propriety, at least in royal efforts to shape and contain behaviour. As with several other courts, there were strenuous efforts to control the lives and behaviour of court women. The instructions from 1579 for the Court Mistress serving the King’s sister-in-law Duchess Maria made this very plain. Great emphasis was put on the decorous behaviour of the women serving at court. Responsibility for this largely fell to the Mistress, who was to keep ‘a close watch that no outside person, not belonging to the women, comes inside there’ without the consent of the Duchess. In order to safeguard access, she had to see to it that ‘the doors of the Frauenzimmer be well closed and kept, especially at night, for the sake of talk’.6 The keys were also her responsibility. No social gatherings with food and drink were allowed in the women’s quarters unless a member of the royal family had given express permission. All meetings with or letters to the women had to be approved by the Court Mistress: family letters were to be delivered intact, but she had to read all other correspondence before it was dispatched, and letters received by the Maids of Honour were to be opened and read in her presence. If any news or talk harmful to the Duke or Duchess was overheard it was to be reported. At meals and other occasions, especially when the royals had visitors, the Mistress had to ensure the Maids behaved becomingly. If someone did not take heed she would be sent to a member of the royal family for a dressing down. The Court Mistress herself was not allowed to leave the court on her own business without leave from the Duchess. Similar regulations were found in the Court Ordinances of 1560.7 The honour and reputation of the women at court was to be upheld: ‘Whoever besmirches their honour and cannot prove it, will lose his life without any pardon.’ Equally important, however, was that misdeeds among the women had to be punished. So if anyone knew anything untoward about the women and did not disclose it, he would ‘lose his neck’. There were obvious reasons 6 RA, K 349 Hertig Karl Handlingar rörande hertigens hovhållning m.m., ‘Hertig Carls ordningh och Artikler för W N Frws hoffmestrinne’, Heidelberg, 4 July 1579. 7 Schmedeman 1706.


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for these draconian measures. One was the scandal in 1559 when Johan of East Frisia, Princess Cecilia’s lover, was caught in her bedchamber at night with ‘scarcely his breeches on’.8 Cecilia’s brother, Crown Prince Erik, burst into her bedchamber with his men and arrested the culprit, throwing him into jail. The Princess’s humiliation was complete; old King Gustaf was distraught, and was said to have both beaten the Princess and to have wept profusely. Such a performance was unworthy of a royal court, and especially one that was still arriviste. In 1563 the high-spirited Princess Cecilia was again the cause of mischief. Through his favourites, King Erik heard that she, their sisters, and their women were holding nocturnal drinking and dancing sessions.9 When one night he saw a light in the princesses’ chambers he strode over. The sight that met the choleric King’s eyes was indeed awful: goblets of wine on the tables and gaiety all round among the princesses and their women. As he burst into the room the Italian fiddlers fell silent, the dancing stopped, and everyone quivered before his wrath. The only one who dared to argue with him, and eventually calmed him, was Princess Cecilia, who was despite everything still his favourite sister. However, even before this incident he had complained that Court Mistress Anna Hogenskild did not keep good order, and now he issued instructions to Anna Hogenskild’s brother-in-law, the Court Master (hovmästare) Ture Bielke to ensure that order was maintained at the court of the princesses.10 These instructions included the use of both guards and spies. No one was to be admitted at night. Letters were to be supervised by the Court Master, who was to report back anything of note to the King.11 It was forbidden to demand a higher salary, or to accept gifts or bribes. There was to be frugality in all things. According to a draft of the instructions, the princesses were not to be allowed outside the palace early in the morning or late in the evening. On excursions, no one was allowed to stray from the rest of the group. The goings-on of Princess Cecilia reveal that even with such strict regulation the reality was messy. Sometimes Court Mistresses did not enforce order; sometimes Maids of Honour acted on their own initiative. We must also take into account the different personalities of the royal family at the top of the pyramid. If Princess Cecilia preferred a life with music and dance it was 8 Ödberg 1896, 14. 9 Ibid., 64. 10 Ibid., 44. 11 It should be noted that in the slightly later instructions for the Court Mistress of Duchess Maria mentioned above, it was the Court Mistress rather than the Court Master who had those duties.

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much harder to restrain the women in her household. Other princesses might be less adventurous, and simply more lax or lazy. Some queen dowagers lost their grip as they grew old and frail. While the regulations were a reflection both of the importance attached to the women serving at court and of an ideally ordered court, we must be aware that theory did not always match the practice. The ideal of a house of order applied both to men and women, and harsh punishments such as cutting off hands were included in court ordinances. Even so it was obvious that a greater emphasis was put on women at court when it came to decorum. The rules for supervision and restrictions on contacts with people outside court were more stringent for women. The feeling of being shackled by court service was common, and does not seem to have been just a literary pose. Of one newly appointed Court Mistress a possibly envious friend said that ‘She has exchanged her days for drudgery, but whoever loves a high station in the world must have such,’ and ‘I pity her who for her high rank has lost her freedom.’12 Having no influence over one’s own time put its stamp on daily life at court. As a former Maid of Honour said about the promotion of another’s promotion to Lady of Honour, ‘I wish Anna Maja Clodt well with becoming a Lady of Honour. I believe her joy in worldliness and display at court is greater than in being a nun, but I know what that office entails and believe she will not long endure it, as she is sickly, and must rise early and go to bed late, which she will not suffer.’13 It should be added that Anna Maria Clodt persevered in court service until her death 27 years later.

Socialised into a group Arriving at court meant being socialised into a group. The group sometimes had only a handful of women, such as under Hedvig Eleonora around 1670 when it numbered about six noblewomen. At other times it might number as many as 30 women. As discussed in relation to recruitment, the court was a wider group than the people who served there, yet it was still fairly exclusive. In 1796 one courtier made a list of women presented at court that came to a total of 107, distinguishing between the women in several ways: he underlined the women serving at court (sixteen); 12 UUB, Bref till Bengt Rosenhane, Elisabet Maria von Falkenberg to Bengt Rosenhane, Frösö, 19 March 1681. 13 Ibid.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

the women who were constantly at court were marked with two crosses (ten); the ones who were marked with one cross (25) were at court more seldom; and the ones without any crosses (72) only attended court for major occasions. His tally was 35 women who attended court regularly, of whom only one-third were permanently at court.14 A few years later, the Chief Master of Ceremonies, Leonhard von Hauswolff, drew up a similar, more extensive list of women who had been presented at court, making it 478 since 1778. Of them, about 123 had been presented before 1778, when the new court dress made presentation at court even more socially important. At any one moment, there seem to have been about 200 women who not only had been presented, but also were active participants to some degree in court life. Within this wider court society, the women in service were at its heart. They lived in the palace, in close proximity to one another. While for some it would have been akin to a boarding school experience for a few years, for others it lasted decades. Either way, it meant being socialised into their group. Paradoxically, small though it often was, the group could provide wider horizons than if the noblewomen had remained with their families. In some cases this group coherence became even more heightened. When Princess Cecilia travelled in Europe in the 1560s, the experience saw her Maids of Honour forge bonds that their relatives at home could never share. In similar fashion, when Maria Eleonora accompanied her husband on campaign in Germany in the 1630s, it was very different to court life back in Sweden. For some women the court was home from home, of course, because so many of their relatives were also in service there. Whatever their background, however, serving at court brought women in contact with people they would not have met at home, among them the Russian, Dutch, German, French, and Polish women who also contributed to making the court a special environment. In correspondence of all kinds this shared experience came across clearly. Thus Duchess Charlotta in her many letters to her former Maid of Honour, Jeanna Stockenström, frequently alluded to the idiosyncrasies of various people they both obviously knew. The feeling of being ‘in’ was also emphasised by various entertainments for the group, or the group with a very few additions. The nephew of King Gustaf reminisced that in the 1540s and 1550s every day after supper ‘all courtiers gathered at a certain hour in the dance hall. Then the Court Mistress came with the women and the 14 RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Manuskript- och avskriftssamlingen, vol. 115, ‘Receuille d’observations et de Nottes sur differns sujets’ by John Hugo Hamilton

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King’s musicians played dances for them.’15 Dancing was only one of many forms of courtly entertainment aimed at the select group of court nobility. From the 1630s onwards, for example, a number of different theatrical ballets were staged at Queen Christina’s court. Together with German-inspired diversions known as Wirtschaften (värdskap), for which participants dressed up as ordinary people, such as an innkeeper and his wife, such ballets were central to Swedish court entertainment until the early 1670s and again from the late 1690s. In the eighteenth century it was not unusual for courtiers of both sexes to organise plays. Count Carl Gustaf Tessin was indefatigable, organising small festivities for the inner court circle, of which Lovisa Ulrika and her women formed the core.16 Often this would include verse written by Tessin himself. On one occasion Tessin had a painting made of the Maids of Honour together, with human heads on chicken bodies. The story was that he had caught a glimpse of rather more than he should, and wanted to commemorate with painting with himself as a crowing cockerel. Tessin also had a medal struck to commemorate the occasion. It is telling that several women at court owned portraits of the royal family; even more significant, though, was the fact that several owned portraits of other women who served at court with them.17 Living in such close proximity created a collective identity. That did not mean rank and hierarchy faded away, but rather that the women at court got to know one another very well. Another sign of the attitudes fostered by the court was that some people talked about ‘my’ princess. It could even go to the lengths of physically defending their princess. In 1699, Court Mistress Beata Wittenberg got into a f ight when she tried to persuade a courtier that the Duke of Holstein (married to Wittenberg’s mistress, Hedvig Sophia) should cut down on his philandering. His reply was to make fun of her, which led to her first slapping the courtier and then losing her fontange in the ensuing melee.18 It was not a one-way exchange, for several princesses saw themselves as having a special bond with their women. In the 1570s, Princess Anna called herself ‘mother’ and her former Maid of Honour ‘daughter’ in their 15 Ahnfelt 1896-1897, i. 2. 16 For a recent analysis of Lovisa Ulrika’s network of international correspondents, see Dermineur 2017. 17 SLA, Övre borgrätten F II a:2, Inventory of Maria Catharina Sjöblad (1750), who owned a portrait of Emerentia von Düben; ibid., Inventory of Hedvig Eleonora Wrangel (1736), who owned portraits of Emerentia von Düben and Beata von Liewen. 18 Fryxell 1839, iii. 264, Report from Grüner, Stockholm, 25 February 1699. A fontange was a wire hair support also called a frelange.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

correspondence.19 Her sister, Princess Elisabeth, in one letter signed herself the ‘boon companion’ (stallbroder) of the woman. When Lady of Honour Ebba Bielkenstierna wrote to her cousin (and former superior) Margareta Brahe, she referred to her throughout as her ‘court sister’ (hofsystär) and said how ‘much I often missed your virtuous and trusty companionship’. When Court Mistress Kerstin Bååt also wrote to Margareta Brahe at much the same time she assiduously called her ‘sister’, and when she mentioned another woman at court she used the same epithet: ‘sister Ebba Gyllenstierna’. The rest of the women can be glimpsed in phrases such as ‘there is not a day passing but I do not wish you well and so do all here at court’ and greetings from ‘all the other ladies’. When Princess Cecilia’s women wrote home to Sweden they sent greetings to the court women and even addressed letters to them as a group.20 In the 1770s, Magdalena Stenbock wrote about her granddaughter to a colleague, Brita Stina Törnflycht, saying that she called Törnflycht her ‘grandmother’: ‘Little Ulla talks often and a lot about grandmother. She is a darling child. She is here now and sends her greetings to grandmother and all her Misses.’21 The sense of a collective with a shared identity and shared memories shone through in such monikers. One former Maid of Honour, the rather extravagant Ulrika von Fersen, when discussing her former colleagues with a woman who was still at court, talked of ‘notre Nickalotta’ and ‘notre Charlotte Duval’ and ‘Ma Tante Törnflycht’ about the Court Mistress.22 Several of the women serving Queen Ulrika Eleonora acquired nicknames, which the Queen herself used in correspondence. That said, there was always a distance between the women who served, be they of ever so exalted lineage, and the royal family itself. When Queen Ulrika Eleonora addressed her former Maid of Honour as ‘My good Ancus’ and ‘My Ancus of my heart’, she was using a nickname for Anna Fleming, and she would sign off as Ancus’s ‘most constant good friend Ulrica Eleonore’.23 Her letters are full of in-jokes (such as one that seems to revolve around lap dogs exchanging compliments) and have a familiar tone. The letters Fleming in her turn wrote to the Queen were always formal in style and were signed ‘Anna Fleming’. Other women of Ulrika Eleonora were called ‘Magdelengen’, ‘Elschen’, and ‘Emerenschen’ 19 Tegenborg Falkdalen 2010, 218. 20 DRA, Danske Kancelli, Opsnappede svenske breve fra Syvaarskrigens tid, Brita Hansdotter (Bååt) to the Maids of Honour at the court of Princess Elisabeth, Rodemachern, 29 June [1568]. 21 RA, Börstorssamlingen, vol. 151, Magdalena Stenbock to Brita Christina Sparre, Stjernsund, 21 July 1776. 22 RA, Ekebladska samlingen, vol. 21 [E 3572], Ulrika von Fersen to Brita Horn, Skabersjö, 16 February 1774. 23 KB, D 841:3.

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or Emerenza. Familiarity could also take very physical expressions, such as tickling. In 1774, a courtier commented on how the Duchess tickled her sister-in-law the Queen as well as her Maids of Honour.24 The Maids of Honour who served Princess Cecilia were far from the only collective group of court women to share an identity. It is clear that living and working together fostered a group identity. A Dutchman visiting Sweden in 1719 described the women in service at the Swedish court as amiable, caring, loving sisters – indeed, who called one another ‘sister’.25 Yet the idyllic picture should not blind us to the fact that women were linked to one another, like it or not. At court you might have friends, but you were sure to have rivals, and bitter animosity thrived where mortal enemies were forced to spend their days together. When Countess Occa Johanna Riperda was appointed Court Mistress in 1671, the relative of a Maid of Honour quailed at the prospect of her continued service under someone ‘who cannot come to terms with anyone’.26 A former Maid of Honour remarked on the death of Court Mistress Riperda in 1687 that ‘I hope no one mourns her, but rejoices over it’, and while the bonfires at one of the Queen Dowager’s residences to celebrate Countess Riperda’s death were considered ‘rather bad’, it was noted that the Dowager Duchess of Württemberg, Magdalena Sibylla, expressed her joy at the death, ‘as did others’.27

Widening interests and attitudes Living at court could also influence your interests and attitudes. Most Maids of Honour were between 18 and 22 when they were first appointed, which meant they were to some degree impressionable and still had plenty of scope to develop as individuals. It could also make people frustrated when the young women were seen as not ready for court. King Gustaf III tried to solve this by appointing older Ladies of the Palace in 1774. Axel von Fersen sniffed that the King made an enormous effort to persuade ladies whom he found pleasing; he wanted them to be of the most aristocratic families and be 24 Bonde and af Klercker 1902, i. ix. 25 Van Effen 1742, ii. 463. 26 RA, Bengt Horns arkiv, Skrivelser till Bengt Horn, Christer Horn to Bengt Horn, Jacobsdal, 16 September 1671. 27 UUB, Bref till Bengt Rosenhane, Maria Elisabet Falkenberg to Bengt Rosenhane, Jonsberg, 13 February 1687.


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economically independent, so they could wear expensive outfits, though he did not want to spend more in salaries than 1,000 riksdaler, which was not enough.28

Critics were certain that switching younger women for older would change the tone at court, for when the ladies who were appointed were older and did not have any of the charm of youth any more, life at court would become a haunt for tracasseries, gossip, and all the troubles of old age; and His Majesty would find it much harder to get rid of these ladies than he now found it to persuade them to leave their homes and families to follow the court.

These Ladies of the Palace did indeed stay on until the next King dismissed them in 1795. In the normal course of events, women at court were exposed to a far wider array of culture and learning than at home. Eighteenth-century Stockholm offered a much richer cultural scene, with theatre and opera, and amateur theatricals became quite the obsession among courtiers in the later eighteenth century. The probate inventories for a number of women give an indication of their reading habits (always with the caveat that books can be inherited, or owned but not read). A shift away from religious tracts is visible. Thus while the court veterans of the 1740s, Margareta Magdalena Torstenson and Maria Sjöblad, had almost exclusively religious texts, other women seem to have developed a taste for history, novels, and philosophy – Court Mistress Catharina Ebba Horn, who died in 1736, left an extensive library, including books on history.29 Horn’s successor, Court Mistress Wrangel, had varied intellectual interests if her book collection is to be believed: it ranged from religious classics such as Arndt and Luther to historical works such as Flavius Josephus, Messenius on Swedish history in fifteen volumes, and Samuel Pufendorf, along with Locke on education and a handbook for nobility by the Swede Åke Rålamb.30 Countess Wrangel was also interested in studying her own environment, the court. She owned Ésope à la cour, Les Sciences de personnes de cour and Gracián’s L’Homme de cour, along 28 Klinckowström 1869, iii. 174. 29 SLA, Övre borgrätten F II a:2, Inventories of Greta Torstenson (1747) and Maria Catharina Sjöblad (1750); RA, Svea hovrätt, Adliga bouppteckningar E IX b:2, Inventory of Catharina Ebba Horn. 30 SLA, Övre borgrätten F II a:2, Inventory of Hedvig Eleonora Wrangel (1751).

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with Le Courtisan desabusé and Amours de dames illustres.31 The longserving Lady of Honour, Beata Charlotta Taube, had a smaller library, but it did include three volumes of Voltaire.32 Others, such as Malin Strokirch, ‘who pretends to be learned […] but is not very clever’, owned only a few books (in her case, twelve of them, among them a volume by Marmontel, a mythological lexicon, and a work by the Swedish historian and court wit Dalin), but that did not mean they were not avid readers: Miss Strokirch, after all, ‘happily reads newspapers’, and King Gustaf III had her read them aloud to him.33 The Duchess wrote to her sister-in-law that ‘Malin […] reads all the newspapers carefully. The King usually talks with her, asks for her advice, and wants to know every piece of news she has gathered from there and listens to her with great attention, even though he knows much more through his reports.’34 For some women, encountering the cultural world of the court was life-changing. When the young Mariana Pollet came to court from Swedish Pomerania, she was sad and forlorn at first. When the courtier and poet Count Oxenstierna took her under his wing she became happier, and developed a deep interest in poetry and literature. Well into her 90s she continued to defend the poetry of the late Gustavian court, which became a foundation and love of her life.35Indeed, manners at court put great emphasis on language and conversation. Baldassare Castiglione in the sixteenth century pronounced wit to be crucial to court life, and this remained true throughout the period, even if the forms did change: where knowledge of French had been unimportant in the sixteenth century it became necessary, so that surviving letters from the eighteenth century by women at court were more often than not composed in French. The style everyone aspired to was light, elegant, and jocular.36 Those with a less lightning wit could 31 These would appear to be Edme Boursault’s Ésope à la cour (1701), La Science des personnes de cour, d’épée et de robe (1706), Baltasar Gracian’s L’Homme de cour (originally in Spanish in 1647), and Charles de Bourdonné’s Le Courtisan désabusé, ou pensées d’un gentilhomme qui a passé la plus grande partie de sa vie dans la cour et dans la guerre (1705) and Amours des dames illustres de notre siècle (1708). 32 RA, Svea hovrätt, Adliga bouppteckningar E IX b:111, Inventory of Beata Charlotta Taube. 33 Bonde and af Klercker 1903, ii. 66; RA, Svea hovrätt, Adliga bouppteckningar E IX b:152, Inventory of Anna Magdalena Strokirch. 34 Duchess Charlotta to Sophia Albertina, 25 September 1787, in Bonde and af Klercker 1903, ii. 182. 35 Schück 1919. 36 RA, Ekebladska samlingen, vol. 21. This volume contains a number of letters by various women at court, almost all written in French and clearly intended to have the same epistolary style.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

find these expectations daunting. Ulrika von Fersen was known not only for her beauty but for her rapier-sharp mind and gift with words: ‘Rarely has there been anyone with as many happy, and witty ideas as she, or who had the gift to be amusing and to charm those she wanted to.’37 Attitudes towards sex also seem to have been influenced by court life. This was nothing new, of course – the handbook writer Antonio de Guevara dealt with the issue of liaisons between gentlewoman at court and courtiers – but as has been seen, the regulations intended to control the lives of women at court under the Vasa dynasty did not always work, and as the years passed things became only more lax.38 The consequences could be serious, as in 1652 when one of the Queen Dowager’s Ladies of Honour gave birth to a child fathered by a Chamber Gentleman, or, worse, when the Maid of Honour Maria von Brunkhorst killed herself after finding out about a love affair between the Page Alexander Gerdin and the Maid of Honour Sibylla von Brandstein in 1607.39 The general tone at court can be gleaned from a trial in 1663, when a Gentleman of the Chamber, Gustaf Ulfsparre, who had had a love affair with a noblewoman, found himself sacked, banished from court, and pursued through the courts by the woman’s family: one of the charges revealed in passing that the noblewoman in question was believed to have had several lovers. Indeed, Maid of Honour Maria Kruse had said that Ulfsparre and two others had drawn lots to decide who would accept paternity of the child, and although Kruse herself was soon dismissed from court without marrying, a sign of royal disapproval of her malicious gossip, it still spoke volumes about permissiveness at court that it could be thought true. 40 In the eighteenth century, Lovisa Ulrika and others were more accepting of a slackening of the moral code. The young Ekeblad was wide-eyed in his description of the loose morals he saw among women at court in the 1760s. When the Ladies of the Palace were appointed in the 1770s, several were rumoured to be sexually liberated by the lights of the day. One was Prince Charles’s mistress, Augusta von Fersen; another was her even more famous sister, Ulrika von Fersen, who sought consolation for her husband’s alcoholism by taking lovers, at times several concurrently. 41 At one point she shared a lover with another Lady of the Palace, Ulrika Eleonora Örnsköld. When Countess Fersen allowed the sculptor Sergel to portray her as 37 38 39 40 41

KB, I.53 Erik Ludvig Manderströms anekdoter. De Guevara 1616, 120ff. Molbech 1844, 331-332; Lewenhaupt 1903, 147 (diary entry, 1 January 1607). RA, Svea Hovrätt Huvudarkivet A I A 1:14 Protokoll 1666, 26 February 1666, fols. 78-78v. Forsstrand 1912.

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Venus, it pleased the King, but created a scandal in Stockholm high society. Other liaisons were public knowledge, such as that of the Maid of Honour Magdalena Rudenschöld, while Mrs. Voltemat’s love affairs were no obstacle to her being appointed Lady Companion to the Duchess. 42

Changes in appearance When a Danish diplomat visited Queen Dowager Christina in 1618, she joked ‘here come my black nuns’ (‘hier kommen meine Schwartznunnen’) as her women came to escort her to dinner.43 On that occasion the women were in mourning for Duke John, who had died earlier that year, but mourning was a recurring feature of court life, which meant dressing according to quite specific rules with different degrees of mourning – including ‘chamber mourning’ (kammarsorg), which crystallised over time as a lesser degree of mourning – and for a certain amounts of time. 44 Six weeks was standard for crowned heads, for example, as mourning was traditionally worn for foreign monarchs: hence, in 1649 the Swedish court went into mourning for the executed Charles I. 45 Mourning also meant restrictions. Thus, the wedding of a Maid of Honour, Anna Wrangel, in 1662 had to be celebrated without music as the King’s aunt had died.46 Letters from court habitually mention mourning throwing its usual pall over things. In 1758, Miss Stenbock reported to her brother ‘now we have mourning for three months. The King’s sister is dead. I do not know any other news.’47 Mourning was a frequent occurrence. In 1780, the court went into mourning eleven times, stretching from periods of four days to six weeks. 48 The many periods of mourning also gave rise to the inevitable jokes, such as dressing a dog in mourning for the Queen’s late canary (when the green parrot should have died instead, added the Queen). 49 42 Mattias Calonius to Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Stockholm, 3 January 1794, in Lagus 1902, 8. 43 Rørdam 1878, 52. 44 See, for example, SLA, Klädkammaren II Reviderade räkenskaper 1631 B:11 for women being given clothes in 1631. 45 RA, Kammarkollegiet, Kansliet A I a:11 Protokoll Huvudserien 1649, fol. 50v, 8 March 1649. 46 R A, Ericsbergsarkivet, Svante Banérs almanacksanteckningar, vol.  4, 1662-1667, 9 November 1662. 47 RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Autografsamlingen, vol. 203, Fredrika Eleonora Stenbock to Gustaf Leonard Stenbock, Stockholm, 21 February 1758. 48 SLA, Överkammarherrens journal, fol. 429. 49 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Ulrika Eleonora d.y:s koncepter K 211, Ulrika Eleonora to Catharina Ebba Horn, Stockholm, 2 October 1721.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Mourning may have been one of the most obvious ways that women at court stood out, but there were others. When the peasants reacted against the fashionable modern dress at court – multi-coloured and slashed – the King replied angrily that he ‘must adapt after other Princes – so that we Swedes are no more swine or goats than they are’.50 When Count Tessin returned from Paris in the eighteenth century, the women accompanying him were said to be outrageously dressed. It was notable that early in the century most women at court were wearing fontanges, despite special taxes and the clergy thundering against the practice; and not just the women at court, but their female servants, too.51 Starting in the 1730s, the government tried to enforce an assortment of sumptuary laws, but women at court were exempt. In 1747 there was the first mention of black-and-white dress for women in service at court.52 In 1748, specific court dress for women was introduced on the King’s birthday. The dresses were in the latest fashion, black for everyday use and white for high days and holidays, and only women at court were allowed to wear it.53 Contemporaries talked of wearing robe de cour when being presented at court before 1778. The difference between court and the country in general became even plainer in the 1760s when panniers – or side hoops – were banned except at court. Then in 1772 Gustaf III created a special uniform for courtiers to wear when the court was in the countryside, a grey outfit became known as the country uniform or the Drottningholm uniform.54 A further uniform, the green Ekolsunds uniform, was very exclusive, and it was considered a great privilege to be allowed to wear it. In 1778, King Gustaf III launched his new project: national dress for all men and women of the Swedish elite. As part of this, court dress for women was regulated. Everyday court dress was still black, but now had white and red details, and the gala colours were white and red (later changed to just white, after they were compared to boiled crabs).55 Chamber Mistresses (as most Chamberers were now known) wore something similar, but in black and blue. The crucial part of the ensemble was the sleeves, known as court sleeves: short, puffed, white sleeves with crossed black ribbons. Only women who had been presented at court were allowed to have court sleeves, and it created resentment among the bourgeoisie who had no opportunity 50 51 52 53 54 55

Upmark 1912, 39. RA, Räntekammarbok 1710:1, fols. 883-906. Bergman 1938, 37. Ibid., 218. Bergman 1938, 82-83. Ristell 1790, 166.

A small circle with wide horizons


to be presented. As for the nobility, ‘vanity drove almost everyone to be presented, not to be humiliated’.56 Their vanity extended beyond their clothing, for a youthful appearance could also be conjured up with cosmetics. It was hardly a coincidence that several women with a history of court service in 1745 wrote down a recipe for a face mask – ‘Countess Augusta’s pomade for the beauty of the face’ (mainly containing white wax).57 In 1773 it was noted that ‘the women at court now wear make-up everyday. Especially Countess Ribbing and Countess Fersen and even old Countess Carl Fersen. This ugly fashion has now become common.’58 The year before, rouge had spread like wildfire in Swedish court society.59 It began when a 40-year-old woman gave the impression of being rejuvenated to fifteen by the judicious application of rouge, whereupon other middle-aged aristocratic women were eager to try. All the women at one court ball, including the 54-year-old Chief Court Mistress, were seen wearing make-up. One 1770s courtier noted several times how women wore rouge.60 Similarly, in 1797, a young woman who was presented at court found most of the very young women beautiful and enchanting, apart from the Court Mistress Countess Piper who ‘was an older lady who looked hard and tried to keep up her old face through make-up’.61

The best school in the world Court was bound to change the women who served there for any length of time. Expectations varied according to period, but also according to royal mistress. As a personal institution, the court was coloured by royal interests, which meant that when serving Lovisa Ulrika in the eighteenth century Voltaire was advised reading. Even then, it might not get you far, as Beata Sophia Horn showed. At court you had to adapt to the norms of court society. It said everything when young Claes Julius Ekeblad was afraid to be seen together at the theatre with a woman of the new mercantile nobility: ‘I did not dare talk much with her, as I know that the Maids of Honour do not like her. They say she looks so bourgeois and has a multitude of manners 56 57 58 59 60 61

Tegnér 1876, i. 25. RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Autografsamlingen, vol. 126, Ulrica Lewenhaupt, 27 July 1745. Näsström 1951, 55. Erdmann 1926, 97-98. Montan 1878, ii. 33. Grandison 1908, i. 177.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

which are not befitting.’62 Such unbefitting manners would have to be ironed out at court. Within the group they referred to one another as ‘court sister’, ‘comrade’, or ‘court muse’. Membership of the group affected women. The age when women first arrived at court remained fairly constant over the period, and being in their late teens or early twenties life at court was a formative experience. Over the period, length of service increased, and that naturally reinforced the bonds between women in service, and between them and members of the royal family. Most of the women at court, princesses included, were surrounded by people they had known for a very long time. That meant shared memories, which made talking about people and happenings years before in a way which would have been impossible with outsiders. That said, not all women were close. There was festering hostility between some, and indifference between others. Nor did proximity create a bond between every princess and the women who served her. After all, Beata Sophia Horn was not close to either Queen Lovisa Ulrika or Princess Sophia Albertina, despite decades of service. Nor did service at court necessarily bring political alignment in the form of royalism. In the 1780s, Jeanna Stockenström and Sophie Fersen were critical of the King’s policies, as was their friend and mistress Duchess Charlotta. It was a well-known trope that court was the best school in the world for a young nobleman. The same went for noblewomen at court. Indeed, the learning curve could be very steep. At the same time, women who had a mastery of court life stood out. When discussing who should become Court Mistress to the young Queen Christina in the 1630s, qualifications such as ‘a courtly Lady’, ‘used to be at court’, and ‘has been since childhood at court’ were all bandied about.63 When Gustaf III wrote about his first Court Mistress, Countess Wrangel, he acknowledged that her ‘40 years of experience at court gave her an authority which she knew how to use with discretion’.64 Furthermore, she ‘had the ton of the Great World, which is pleasing in any age, this politeness which the era of Louis XIV introduced, but now begins to be lost, and yet is the only true one’.65 Another woman, Ernestine Palmfelt (née Griesheim), was brought in as acting Court Mistress in 1766 because she had ‘lived all her life at court’ and knew what court duties entailed.66 62 63 64 65 66

KB, I.e.14:1 Claes Julius Ekeblad’s journal, 1 May 1760. Kullberg et al. 1895, vii. 379. Geijer 1843, 27. Ibid., 27. Montan 1878, ii. 185.

A small circle with wide horizons


Countess Wrangel was praised by Gustaf III for her dignified, courtly savoir faire. Expert knowledge of the court could take women in other directions, too. What was possible was demonstrated by Ulrika Eleonora von Fersen, who came to court as a seventeen-year-old Maid of Honour in 1766. Her parents, her sisters, her cousins: most of her family served at court. She became adept at court life, despite minimal book learning. Instead, she charmed through her great beauty, her wit, and her cheerfulness.67 She left to make an unwise marriage to a handsome Count Höpken, who soon turned out to be a drunk, a gambler, and violent to boot, but she consoled herself with numerous affairs. In 1775 the King, who seems to have thought her a great asset to the court, appointed her Lady of the Palace. Her return to court lasted 20 years. Duchess Charlotta was clearly afraid of her and wrote that she did not want her as a close friend and did not trust her, but even less did she want her as an enemy. Countess Fersen did not hesitate to use her sharp wit against her enemies, spread nasty rumours, and ‘lacks any idea of what is appropriate’.68 Actually, she probably had a shrewd idea of what was appropriate, and also how her privileged position at court allowed her to transgress boundaries. She entered her own quadrille of horsemen in the courtly tournaments of the 1770s, riding herself with dexterity and skill. Her knowledge, indeed love, of court life led her to see she could create a freer life there than was otherwise possible. It was a life of dazzling opportunities coupled with stifling restrictions and mind-numbing boredom. Sharing intense years of life together could lead to very mixed feeling on leaving court. The Maid of Honour Maria Elisabeth von Falkenberg described the joy of having finally escaped court: ‘God has helped me from all gallantry and vanity at court which pleased me greatly in my youth.’69 In another letter she exclaimed, ‘God be praised I got away from court.’70 Yet she felt marooned in the pastoral idyll of the countryside. It was poor, dull, and far away. Her manor was ugly and uncomfortable, the peasants annoying. As she wrote to a friend at court, ‘dear Bengt, write me some news because this is the end of the world’, and later begged him to ‘let me from time to time know how you are and some news, as here I am as if I were a living corpse and forgotten by all’, because ‘[h]ere we never get any news of what happens in the world’.71 At the same time, news 67 Bonde and af Klercker 1902, i. 175; Montan 1878, ii. xx. 68 Bonde and af Klercker 1902, i. 175. 69 UUB, Bref till Bengt Rosenhane, Elisabet Maria von Falkenberg to Bengt Rosenhane, Jonsberg, 4 June 1687. 70 Ibid., Frösö, 29 March 1681. 71 Ibid., Kroneberg, 27 July 1677; ibid., Jonsberg, 1 August 1684; ibid., Kroneberg, 20 July 1688.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

of the political upheavals and manner in which the old aristocrats who dominated the scene in the 1670s had been pushed aside, reached her ears, to her puzzlement. As she wrote in 1687, ‘your news appears very strange as I look on the time when I was at court; what then was of little worth, is now big in the world’.72 Another woman who had left court in a huff to live in the countryside began to have regrets. Countess Klinckowström ‘like many others these times has found that you can neither abandon court life nor be abandoned by the court. You always hope for some advantage, and whoever is not philosopher enough to be without is soon persuaded.’73 To spend years in the world of the court, at once paradoxically small and incestuous and remarkably wide and free, and then leave it for good could truly seem like the end of the world.

72 Ibid., Jonsberg, 13 February 1687. 73 Montan 1878, ii. 155.

9. Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress Abstract Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn is that the most important royal mistresses were the ones who had an emotional significance for their princes. That required being something more than a pretty face or an exciting bedfellow. To be comforting, calming, amusing, and able to maintain the prince’s interest for a long time is testimony to their extraordinary talents. The early modern royal mistress was ridiculed and feared by many, but may also have been a necessary part of life for princes who were insecure, bored, or simply lonely. Keywords: mistress, love, intimacy, trust

In her last hours, Queen Caroline of Ansbach took leave of her family. To the King she said she had nothing much to say as she had always shared her thoughts with him, and he knew whom she wanted him to show kindness to and whom she disliked ‘as well as herself’. She gave advice and encouragement to her children – not the estranged Prince of Wales, though, who was banned from her presence – instructing them ‘according to their different ages, situations, and dispositions’. Then she urged the weeping George II to remarry after her death. Between sobs, the distraught monarch managed to choke out, ‘Non, j’aurai des maîtresses’ (‘No, I shall have mistresses’).1 The realistic response from the dying Queen was simply, ‘Ah, mon Dieu, cela n’empêche pas’ (‘Ah, my God, that is no obstacle’). ‘When she finished all she had to say on these subjects, she said she fancied she could sleep. The King said many kind things to her and kissed her face and her hands a hundred times.’2 1 2

Sedgwick 1963, 247. Ibid., 247.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch09


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Queen Caroline’s deathbed is instructive in its early modern mix of strong emotion and acceptance of worldly ways. George II was generally thought a cold fish, and yet he harboured strong feelings for his queen, while simultaneously having mistresses. For many years Caroline’s Lady of the Bedchamber, Henrietta Howard, had been his mistress, and despite some friction the relationship between the two women was surprisingly good. Queen Caroline acknowledged the royal mistresses as a fact of life, though preferably facts of life who were discreet and well-mannered, as Henrietta Howard had been, staying carefully out of the factional wars at court and earning herself the nickname ‘the Swiss’ for her neutrality.3 Despite his dependence on his Queen, the plain fact was George II did have mistresses in the plural. At the same time, it was evident that they had a very different importance for him emotionally. Henrietta Howard was witty and pleasant as a companion; her replacement, Lady Mary Deloraine, less so. Lady Deloraine became the King’s mistress in the summer of 1737, and it was a position she clearly relished, boasting with wild indiscretion of the attention the King paid her. ‘Do you know the King has been in love with me these two years?’ she told an embarrassed courtier. George II himself was decidedly more lukewarm, and remarked with customary brusqueness that Lady Deloraine ‘stank’ of Spanish wine. It was clear to all but Lady Deloraine that she was a poor substitute for both the Queen and Henrietta Howard. After the death of Queen Caroline, the King struggled visibly to perform some duties. 4 The rather insensitive Lady Deloraine appears to have supplied limited comfort, and instead it was decided in the summer of 1738 to bring over a mistress from Hanover. This was Amalie Sophie Mariana von Wallmoden, a woman who had become the King’s Hanoverian mistress during his stay there in 1735. The besotted monarch had discussed Wallmoden extensively with his long-suffering Queen in letters, furnishing endless details of her looks, their pastimes, and what presents he bought her. Wallmoden now moved into the rooms formerly occupied by Henrietta Howard and became the new principal mistress. This meant a long period of a more settled and stable relationship with Wallmoden, who in 1740 was created Countess of Yarmouth. It was to be the last such title given to a royal mistress. The difference between Wallmoden and Lady Deloraine was that between a long-term relationship and a fling. George II and his mistresses may be a better guide to this early modern royal phenomenon than the more extravagant Louis XIV and Charles II. 3 4

Worsley 2010, 141. Thompson 2011, 127.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


A golden age of adultery The early modern court was arguably the golden age of royal mistresses, with women thronging the Versailles of Louis XIV and Whitehall of Charles II. The former’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of Orleans, wrote frankly to Caroline of Ansbach to say that ‘It is nothing new for a husband to have a mistress; you won’t find one in ten thousand who loves no one but his wife.’5 Some princes expressed their resistance to this practice. The King in Prussia, Frederick William I, made his distaste for mistresses clear in his instructions for his son: ‘Do not have mistresses – rather, call them whores – and lead a god-fearing life.’6 In a similar vein, Charles XII of Sweden dismissed the mistress of the Saxon Elector with the words ‘She is a whore, she has no rank.’7 While the Duchess of Orleans’s observation was an admission of the realities of arranged marriages, the phenomenon of mistresses, however, changed fundamentally over time. In the fifteenth century, mistresses could still realistically hope to make the jump to marriage and a crown. In Sweden, the dying Charles VIII in 1470 made his mistress Kristina Abrahamsdotter his Queen. That gamble did not pay off, however, as Queen Kristina was shunted to the side when the King died a few weeks later, and their son was never given a chance to succeed his father on the throne. The Middle Ages and beginning of the early modern period also had more fluid boundaries between legitimacy and illegitimacy. In a dynastic emergency, when a royal line was on the verge of extinction or when there were dominions which could be hived off, a favoured illegitimate son could still have a chance. After all, Pope Alexander spent a huge amount of effort trying to secure a principality for his son Cesare. Another example was Alfonso V of Aragon’s illegitimate son, Ferdinand, who became King of Naples in 1458. In England, Henry VIII groomed his illegitimate son the Earl of Richmond as a possible successor. When the House of Avis became extinct in 1580 in Portugal, the illegitimate son of an Avis prince, the Prior of Crato, made an attempt to claim the crown. As late as the 1590s, Henry IV of France appears to have considered marrying his mistress Gabrielle d’Estrées.8 This did prompt a fierce backlash, though, which might indicate that the time for kings to marry their mistresses had passed. 5 6 7 8

Kroll 1970, 197. Schilling 1989, 399. Bengtsson 1935, 329. Gerber 2012, 80; Wellman 2013.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

That said, it was in times of dynastic upheaval that such a measure could be contemplated, and illegitimacy could at the same time be used as a powerful weapon to taint other contenders for the crown. The spurious illegitimacy of England’s Edward V was used by his uncle Richard III as a reason to depose him: a f ig leaf of legality to usurp the throne. In similar fashion, the heir to the crown of Castile, Juana La Beltraneja, was defeated and deposed by her ruthless aunt, Isabella, who seized the throne. The rumour that Juana was not the daughter of King Henry IV of Castile but of a courtier Beltrán de la Cueva fatally undermined her position. Early modern royal mistresses fell into several different categories, which all need to be analysed in order to understand the function they filled. The first and most obvious was royal sexual gratification – a function practically all of them fulfilled, at least at the beginning. Some mistresses never rose above this level. Ettlinger talks about ‘primary mistresses’.9 It is clear that some mistresses were more important than others: in some cases it was a matter of prima inter pares; in others, being the only mistress. In this context it is worth considering the emotional importance of many mistresses. They could be emotional anchors providing support, a more relaxed atmosphere, and the semblance of family life. To succeed in this role was infinitely more demanding than providing sexual favours to a prince. It was not unusual for a mistress to be in the service of the Queen or a princess. Thus Lady Archibald Hamilton was the mistress of Frederick Prince of Wales and served the Princess of Wales in the 1730s.10 That this could create friction was obvious. When Charles II placed his mistress Lady Castlemaine as one of Queen Catherine of Braganza’s Ladies of the Bedchamber, she complained that this will ‘expose me to the contempt of the world’.11 John Rogister also noticed how in France, after the death of a mistress in 1744, ‘the Queen was spared the presence of a royal mistress in her household for over ten years’.12 The end of a career as a mistress could be grim. Flagging royal interest often simply meant being removed from court. In more dramatic cases, however, the death of the prince meant that his successor would dismiss, and sometimes even punish and incarcerate, the former mistress. There was an inherent instability and danger to the role of mistress. 9 10 11 12

Ettlinger 1994, 772. Newman 1958, 69. Corp 2002, 55. Rogister 2004, 205.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


A passing fancy In the 1560s, Eric XIV of Sweden had several mistresses at the same time. There was Anna Larsdotter who lived at Väntholmen, ‘His Majesty’s Mistress on that manor’, and alongside her a bevy of women, all listed in the royal accounts.13 At least nine mistresses were mentioned by name in the first half of the 1560s. The fact that all but two of them are almost unknown apart from their names is telling: they were accorded little importance. Louis XV’s mistresses faced an even more ephemeral situation, as his patronage of what has been termed a ‘private brothel’ at the Parc-aux-cerfs in the grounds of Versailles became infamous.14 Here the King could meet one young woman after another. Quick sexual gratification was the purpose and the women of the Parc-aux-cerfs largely remained nameless instruments for royal pleasure. A contemporary of Louis XV, Gian Gastone, Grand Duke of Tuscany, had a similar entourage, not of young women but of young men, the Ruspanti, who were expected to oblige the ageing Grand Duke for a pittance – hence their nickname, taken from a small coin, the ruspo. It was often the case that royal bastards were deemed far more important than their low-born mothers: many mistresses were nameless while their offspring were given titles and positions. And any name but the mother’s: in Sweden the name of Gyllenhielm was created for Swedish royal bastards, and later Hessenstein in the eighteenth century; in Denmark, Gyldenløve served a similar purpose. Robert Oresko has pointed out how bastards of the Savoy dynasty were ‘an additional pool of talent’ to draw from, and if the dynasty were threatened by extinction, bastards could prove a last resort.15 In 1520s England, Henry VIII appears to have countenanced the possibility of making his illegitimate son the Earl of Richmond his successor. The later claim, often repeated, that Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, had 354 bastards was anti-Catholic propaganda (the true number was a fraction of that). In fact, an important factor in the way a mistress was treated was whether she bore the King any children. Charles V’s daughter Margaret and his son John of Austria both became trusted members of the dynasty, despite being bastards. They were given important missions and enjoyed the trust of their legitimate relatives. Their mothers were shown a degree of respect, as they were married off to minor officials and received modest support. 13 Andersson 1948, 170. 14 Swann 1995, 45. 15 Oresko 1995, 40.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

In some instances, though, both mistresses and bastards alike were deemed unimportant. The Palatinate Count Charles Gustaf, King of Sweden from 1654, had several children born before his accession. Two he cared for. The first, his son by a Bohemian aristocrat, was sent to the University of Uppsala with a tutor and was later listed among the royal household. The second, his son by a Stockholm merchant’s daughter, was sent to live with his illegitimate great-uncle Carl Carlsson Gyllenhielm and later given a title. The others, however, lived ordinary, humble lives without any trappings of aristocracy. Few of their mothers are known with any certainty, and tended to be lowly servants at royal manors and the like.16 Very little support or money was forthcoming. The inference is that their humble social backgrounds made support optional. One son had a carpenter as his stepfather and became an animal keeper, another became a captain in the navy, and a daughter is known to have married a sailor.

An emotional anchor A number of princes were serial monogamists, or bigamists if already married. They had one long-term mistress on whom they relied. To have a mistress whom they could trust, and with whom they could relax, made life easier. John Adamson has written that early modern royal mistresses enjoyed an usual degree of intimacy with the ruler, on a par with their confessors.17 While in some cases there is little evidence of anything beyond physical intimacy, in others it was obviously true. Madame de Pompadour was probably the single most prominent example of someone who enjoyed the intimacy and trust of a king for many years. It should however be kept in mind that she was a certain kind of mistress – what could be called an emotional anchor for the prince. A stark example was Duke Magnus, younger brother of Eric XIV, who for several years had a mistress called Valborg. She openly signed her letters ‘Duke Magnus’s mistress’.18 Duke Magnus was mentally unstable and his royal siblings tried to care for him in various ways. By 1566, the 24-year-old Duke had to be kept from ‘harming himself’, and guards were needed to keep him under surveillance.19 Valborg appears to have been acknowledged 16 17 18 19

Olofsson 1961. Adamson 1999. Ödberg 1896, 211. Lager-Kromnow n.d.b.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


as a soothing influence, and received lavish gifts from the King. Even so, it seems she left the Duke and married, while their two daughters were sent to the royal court in Stockholm to be raised there. Christian II of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway seems to have been emotionally reliant on his young mistress Dyveke. The daughter of a Dutch merchant, Dyveke met Christian when he was regent in Norway, and followed him to Denmark when he became King. Christian’s marriage in 1515 to a sister of the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V led to requests that he should cast off Dyveke, but the King staunchly refused. Her sudden death in 1517 was considered suspicious and a nobleman was executed – a hostile chronicler claimed that the executed nobleman had fed ‘the sick whore’ poisoned cherries. The scandalous execution created a sensation, to the point that the King’s mental stability was called into questioned. Interestingly, Dyveke’s mother remained close to King Christian as one of his main advisers.20 Catherine I of Russia was able to calm and soothe the mood swings of Peter the Great. Even if he was shameless in demanding sexual favours from the Maids of Honour at court, it is clear that Catherine was emotionally important to the autocrat. (Unusually, she was made his official consort. Russia, however, was culturally outside the main European sphere, and the actions of the tsars were viewed with something approaching wonder in Western Europe, so it was not thought out of character for a Russian tsar to actually marry a mistress, who would later succeed him as ruler of Russia.) While Louis XV may have found a sexual outlet in the Parc-aux-cerfs, far more important were his lasting relationships with a few women such as Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry. Many mistresses provided much more than sexual gratification.

A lesser sort of marriage In 1540 Philip the Magnanimous, Landgrave of Hesse, married his, then living, wife’s Maid of Honour.21 The offspring of this bigamous mésalliance were not counted as fully members of the princely dynasty of Hesse; instead, they were given the title of Count or Countess zu Dietz. Here was an early example of elevating a mistress, or what would otherwise have been a mistress, to a marginally better position. The term ‘morganatic’ was later 20 Bagge 2011. 21 Kühn 1968.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

applied to such marriages, the assumption being that the great difference in rank between the parties would be recognised by the woman receiving a minor title, but not being made queen. There had already been examples of differences in rank in princely marriages, but the Hesse marriage was infamous. That did not stop other German princes with long-term mistresses from replicating it, however. Even the Imperial family had Archduke Ferdinand, who in 1557 married a commoner. Their children were excluded from inheriting the Austrian lands, but were equipped with estates and allowed to use the Habsburg coat of arms. Duke August of Brunswick-Lüneburg, as the fifteenth of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg’s fifteen children, had virtually no patrimony. In order to not splinter the dynastic lands further, he did not enter into marriage with someone of equal birth – ebenbürtig in German. Instead, he lived in marriage-like circumstances. The twelve children who were the result of this arrangement were called ‘Von Lüneburg’ and given noble status, though not princely. Another example was Charles Louis, who as Elector Palatine was far more lofty a prince than Duke August. In 1658, after divorcing his wife under somewhat dubious circumstances, he contracted a scandalous marriage with her Maid of Honour, Luise von Degenfeld. She was given the title Raugravine (Raugräfin) rather than Electress and the children became Raugraves and Raugravines. After the death of Raugravine Luise, the Elector married another noblewoman. They were followed by the princes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Brandenburg-Kulmbach, Anhalt, Mecklenburg, Baden-Durlach, and others. They all married beneath their princely status and created families who would not be fully part of their respective dynasties. Most of them were Protestant rulers of minor principalities. For Protestant princes of a different dignity we should look to Denmark, for a number of Danish monarchs followed in the footsteps of their German relatives.22 In 1615, Christian IV, by then a widower, became infatuated with a seventeen-year-old aristocrat, Kirsten Munk. He wrote a letter in which he promised to live with her as ‘a true boon companion’ until death parted them. This seems to have been a betrothal of sorts, and was soon followed by what appears to have been a wedding. The King referred to her as his wife, but she did not become Queen – after about a decade she was made Countess of Holstein. Christian IV’s great-grandson Frederick IV married bigamously and gave his new wife the title Duchess of Schleswig; after the death of the Queen in 1721, Anna Sophie Reventlow was elevated to Queen and their three children were made princes/princesses of Denmark. 22 Bregnsbo 2010.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


The habit spread to Catholic countries as well. Victor Amadeus of Savoy was a widower when in 1730 he married the widow Anna Canalis di Cumania. She was not made Queen of Sardinia, but instead Marchesa of Spigno. The most famous of all such women married to a prince without receiving commensurate rank was in fact married to a Catholic monarch: Madame de Maintenon and Louis XIV. His son, the Grand Dauphin, also appears to have married his mistress, Mademoiselle de Choin. In Sweden, Duke Charles Philip, brother of the King, entered into marriage in 1620 with the noblewoman Elisabeth Ribbing. The prince was still only eighteen years old and the match may have been the result of youthful exuberance – he was known to be hot-tempered, which may have added to their decision. Their daughter, born a few days after the Duke’s premature death in 1622, was carefully integrated into the dynasty, but never received princely rank. It is clear that his marriage, secret while the Duke was alive, was seen as similar to the ones in Germany. It provided semi-legitimacy for the children, but they were not equal and full members of the princely dynasty. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, monarchs tried to seize control of the situation by issuing so-called succession laws that would make marriages contracted against the rules void. In 1637, Georg Aribert of Anhalt-Dessau declared that the right of succession in Anhalt rested on both parents being of princely families.23 Another early outlier was the Lex regia (Kongeloven) in Denmark in 1665. In Britain, the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 gave the head of the dynasty, the sovereign, the power to validate or invalidate marriages. In Russia, the house laws of the Romanovs were amended with regulations about marriages and equal rank some decades later.

The extraordinary success of Karin Månsdotter In one of his first letters as King, Erik XIV granted land to his mistress, Agda Persdotter. She had been his documented mistress since 1558. Their daughters, Virginia and Constantia, were born in 1559 and 1560. They were raised at court and the King obviously took an interest in them. He even drew up horoscopes for them both. In 1561, King Erik decided to end his relationship with his mistress, who had already been given farms for her maintenance. The daughters were removed, the King instructing his sister 23 Kühn 1968, 15. It should be noted that later Anhalt princes disregarded this principle.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Princess Cecilia to do so by force if necessary, and Agda was married off to one of King Erik’s courtiers. The relationship between Erik and Agda Persdotter was straightforward enough. He was perhaps unusual in the sheer number of his mistresses, but his brothers also tended to have long-term mistresses before they married. His brother John’s mistress Karin Hansdotter was on the scene for several years. She followed him to Åbo in Finland and gave birth to several children. When John wed, Karin Hansdotter was married off to a courtier. In similar fashion their brother Duke Charles had a mistress called Karin Nilsdotter, a clergyman’s daughter, who bore the Duke a child. When Charles got married, Karin Nilsdotter was married off in turn. The pattern was clear: royal mistresses were commoners who were themselves unmarried until the prince married a woman of equal rank, and the mistress was married off to a courtier. Karin Månsdotter broke the mould. In 1565 when she was about fourteen years old, Karin Månsdotter was employed to be maid to the King’s daughter Virginia.24 She became the King’s mistress and in 1566 gave birth to their daughter, Sigrid, and then in July 1567 the King took the momentous step of secretly marrying her. It was made official in the summer of 1568 when they married publicly, followed by a coronation. In both European and Swedish terms, her elevation from low-born mistress to Queen was extraordinary. Her family were probably peasants, but we do not know their names, apart from some uncles and cousins who later received gifts. King Erik XIV had assiduously pursued a number of illustrious matches, the most prominent of them all with Elizabeth of England. Why did a man who had worked so hard to enhance the dignity of the Swedish Crown make such a strange marriage? Karin Månsdotter herself remains an elusive figure, but it seems she was important to the King emotionally. She may have given stability and comfort to Erik who was himself mentally unstable at times. That Erik was convinced he could make her Queen, and their son Gustaf heir to the throne, speaks volumes about his political miscalculations.

Pimped to a king When the King’s first child was born in 1734, aristocratic women began to make their congratulatory visits to show their loyalty to the monarch. Wives of leading Councillors were eager to curry favour with the monarch 24 The most complete account of Månsdotter’s life is still Ahlqvist 1874; see also Arnell 1951.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


by visiting the mother and her newborn child. In this case, however, the mother was not Queen Ulrika Eleonora but her Maid of Honour, Countess Hedvig Taube. She was the mistress of the ageing King Frederick. As rumours were rife in Stockholm about the King’s love affair, women of quality in Stockholm had agreed not to visit Taube. This intended show of disapproval crumbled when the wives of several leading Councillors and officials began paying homage to the royal mistress and her baby. ‘As soon as they had broken the ice, the swarm followed, and then no one wanted to be last.’25 By ingratiating themselves with the King in this way, through showing polite attention rather to his mistress rather than cold shouldering her, Count Gyllenborg, leader of the opposition in the council, could further undermine the cabinet and government of Count Horn. A Maid of Honour the mistress of the King: Sweden had not seen the like for more than a century, so it was understandable that the elite was somewhat at a loss how to handle the situation. Royal mistress was a category of court woman that fitted badly into the formal structures, which meant that Taube had to largely carve out her own niche, where the opportunities and limitations were even more fluid than normal. Her whole raison d’être was a liaison that was beyond the pale, and in many cases the role of royal mistress was a fleeting one. Queen Ulrika Eleonora was not blind to her husband’s behaviour. As early as 1719 a French diplomat had noted that she feared that ‘the Prince, made King, will ignore her and take mistresses in public’.26 It took a decade before he gave it full rein, but then the King fell passionately in love. The object was the sixteen-year-old Hedvig Ulrika Taube, daughter of Admiral Taube – a man with a great many children and a bad gambling habit. Most observers agreed on her beauty and her pleasant manners. Several times a week the King sent presents to the beautiful Miss Taube and her family, courting ‘La belle Colombe’ (a play on her surname, which means dove in German), and in 1732 she was made a Maid of Honour to the Queen. The new Maid of Honour came under intense pressure from her family to save the family fortune.27 She soon surrendered and became the King’s mistress. Falling pregnant, she declared herself ill and withdrew from the public gaze, and the Queen was persuaded to pay a prolonged visit to one of the palaces outside Stockholm, which meant Taube could give birth to her first child in March 1734 away from most prying eyes. The situation became increasingly 25 Klinckowström 1867, i. 53. 26 Holst 1953, 129. 27 Ibid., 180.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 17: A Maid of Honour whose parents traded her charms for influence, Hedvig Taube became a royal mistress who was both admired for her charm and reviled for her relationship with the King. Lorens Pasch the Elder, Hedvig Taube, 1731, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

awkward, and later the same year Taube left the royal household and took up residence in a neighbouring house, where she gave birth to her first son in 1735. Her father was elevated to Councillor of the Realm. Miss Taube’s power was soon acknowledged, and foreign diplomats sought her support. An English diplomat concluded in 1738 that in recent years Councillor Taube, through his daughter, had ‘made a sort of Monopoly in the

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


Disposal of all Vacancies’.28 The French Envoy Casteja offered her 100,000 livres, while the English diplomat Finch called her the ‘cornerstone of the Cabal’.29 A Swedish observed claimed that ‘[t]he dominance she wielded over the King’s mind and the use she made thereof would in the fullness of time have considerable consequences in both Swedish and foreign matters’.30 Her family and friends benefitted from her rise to power. She herself amassed a considerable fortune, and was given large estates and expensive presents by the King, who doted on her and their children. Her position was unclear; or rather, her prospects of an improved position were unclear. The King – and his brother back in Hesse – had signed a document promising that Miss Taube’s son would be given the title ‘Count of Hesse’.31 That would bind him to the Hesse dynasty in a manner similar to offspring of marriages of unequal rank. After the Queen’s death in 1741 there might even have been a hope that she would marry the King, and her sons made successors to the Swedish crown. The scandal of the King and his mistress was not just juicy gossip; it was used to fuel party politics. Pamphlets were published that decried and lampooned the King and Miss Taube. The clergy in the Diet were outraged and tried to persuade the King to give her up. They failed, and the King instead purchased what became known as the Hessenstein Palace, next to the royal residence, for his mistress and their children. He also bought several estates in Germany to safeguard their future. The sons were made Imperial Counts, and in 1743 Miss Taube in turn was created Imperial Countess von Hessenstein by the Holy Roman Emperor. The same year, the newly imported Swedish Crown Prince Adolf Frederick agreed to visit Countess Taube, as a favour to the King. She was already sickly and bedridden, but afterwards the Prince said ‘that he did not wonder about King Frederick’s attachment, as she was far more beautiful and amiable than he could have imagined’.32 In 1744, Countess von Hessenstein died after a short illness, only 30 years old. Hedvig Taube’s death left a vacuum that the circle round the King set out to fill. The grief-stricken Frederick isolated himself in his rooms for eight days, only seeing his body servants.33 His various favourites tried to distract him by taking him shooting and, one claimed, telling him ‘all sorts of news 28 Linnarsson 1943, 106. 29 Chance 1928, vii. 30 Stråle 1889, 94. 31 Jacobsson 1919, 61. 32 RA, Margaretha Cronstedts samling, vol. 3, ‘Egna infall och tankar sammanraspade mig til minnes ifrån 1747. Hans Gustaf Rålamb’. 33 Holst 1953, 239.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

and stories with which I could amuse His Majesty’.34 As time passed, the King began to think about female company again. He cross-examined his young favourite Tersmeden about various young women, and ‘desired to see them but realised the obstacles to him’ doing this easily as he was the King. Tersmeden decided the best tactic was to arrange a picnic together with two other favourites and invite all the young people of quality in town. As a surprise the King would then join the party in the evening. Tersmeden chose to invite a Miss Beata Christiernin as his candidate. When the King appeared he spoke graciously to everyone for an hour and then the dancing commenced. Tersmeden engineered things so that Miss Christiernin was shown at her best for the minuet and the King duly noticed her. Two days later, when Tersmeden was on duty at court, he noticed the King was unusually quiet. He said that he was ‘echauffé’ by the charming company and it would be hard to make a choice. Tersmeden did not hesitate. He singled out Miss Christiernin and said she was everyone’s favourite. The King agreed that she deserved it, and then began to talk about ‘her eyes, which were similar enough to the late Countess, her beautiful features, neck, hands, feet, and figure, so that I could well see that his heart was aflame’.35 The King, however, began by asking Tersmeden to sound out another young lady for a rendezvous, and his Chamber Lackey and favourite Billing prepared the house Taube had used. After a couple of false starts with other women, Miss Christiernin was persuaded to move in and become the King’s ‘secret mistress’. The challenges of being a mistress soon showed. Miss Christiernin felt stifled, locked up away from her friends. Even though she received numerous presents and money she was ‘infinitely dissatisfied, so that the King in the end grew tired of her and seldom went there’. Instead, some of his favourites procured less demanding company. Soon after the King dropped Christiernin, foreign diplomats reported that a tall eighteen-year-old, Brita Sofia Psilanderhielm, was about to become the new Countess Taube. Her father, a lower official, was suddenly promoted to the title of Court Intendant. A house was bought and presents were given. Yet Miss Psilanderhielm also fell short. A Danish diplomat reported that ‘though young and amiable, she lacks that merry disposition which pleases and amuses, nor has she the experience or the manner acquired in the Great World, and it is understood has not kept the King’s heart’.36 To please the King you had to be able to entertain him, 34 Ibid., 239-240. 35 Ibid., 241. 36 Ibid., 243.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


and to listen attentively to him as he droned on about serving under Prince Eugene of Savoy in the War of the Spanish Succession. The Crown Princess wrote maliciously, ‘Everything bores him and he bores everyone. He does nothing else all day long but walk from one room to another. He always talks about the same things, and you can make him tell a story several times over which he has already told a quarter of an hour ago. It is a real pain when you are with him and an obstacle to all real conversation.’37 Instead of Miss Psilanderhielm, a Miss Palmfelt was seen as a possibility, being merrier and of better birth, though this too came to nothing. The King – ‘who despite his age still has a tender and lustful heart’ – then decided to head out of town to inspect another possible candidate. Unlike several other families before them, the Saltzas received this news with alarm and packed off their daughter before she could be inspected by the monarch. In the autumn, however, the King and his favourites struck lucky with a tall, blonde, 25-year-old woman, Baroness Catharina Ebba Horn, from one of the oldest families. Her mother, Anna Regina Sjöblad, said to be ‘a demon, a Mazarin’, was enthusiastic and arranged it all.38 Crucially, though, the King was persuaded to sign an agreement before Catharina Ebba Horn was given up to him. This remarkable document, which survives in draft in the Hesse archives, was designed to bring some balance to the traditionally insecure position of royal mistress.39 It begins ‘Since during my stay in these parts I have become acquainted with Baroness Catharina Ebba Horn, I have in her found so many virtuous and laudable qualities, that it has resulted in me having a complete love and devotion for her person.’ It spoke of the King making his love known, and ‘yet again in writing to assure that I with a constant and unchangeable friendship, love, and affection devoted now and through my whole life only and solely to her, Baroness Catharina Horn, and I will not refrain from declaring this to everyone.’ He promised to care for her according to her station in life. An appendix set down that the King would pay Catharina Ebba Horn an annual pension of 10,000 riksdaler, her mother 1,000, and her sister 500, while her brother would be recommended for a captaincy in Brabant. The mistress contract is one of a kind. It was designed to bind the King to Catharina Ebba Horn for the rest of his life. He was to provide for her. Their association – and his feelings – was to be public. Clearly, Miss Horn and 37 Ibid., 247. 38 She was also a cousin of the Maid of Honour Maria Catharina Sjöblad. 39 Holst 1953, 249.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

her determined mother had no intention of seeing her thrown off like Miss Christiernin or Miss Psilanderhielm. If Catharina Ebba Horn surrendered to the King, it would be in return for as sure and stable a position as possible, which in itself was a contradiction for a mistress. All appeared ready, but then the Horn family upped their demands. Some weeks later the King sent his brother in Hesse a furious letter about how Miss Horn’s mother had declared that the honour of her daughter did not allow her to be ‘mine, unless I decided to marry her’. The outraged King wrote that because he had married twice before for ‘political considerations (where the feelings of the heart played the least part)’, he had no intention of marrying a third time, ‘in particular as it would then sully my honour with a mésalliance and give rise to endless complications. God keep me from that!’40 Anna Regina Sjöblad tried to force a morganatic marriage on the King; his rage and indignation said it all. To have a mistress was no stain on his honour, but to marry below his station was. He sent his servants and courtiers to negotiate with the Horn family, with orders that if they persisted in demanding marriage the deal was off. A compromise was quickly reached. Marriage was taken off the table, but a large estate (formerly owned by the previous Swedish Prime Minister) was settled on Catharina Ebba Horn along with a large sum of money. She was also elevated to Imperial Countess by the Holy Roman Emperor. The favourites who had facilitated the negotiations were richly rewarded, while others, less favourably inclined towards Baroness Horn, fell into disgrace. To begin with, the King was besottedly in love. The Crown Princess wrote that he was in an excellent mood as ‘he has found someone to replace his dead Colombe’. 41 Catharina Ebba Horn with her parents and a sister entered Stockholm in style – ‘with the greatest pomp’, to quote the Crown Princess – and the King accompanied by three Councillors travelled out to meet them. 42 She took up residence in the Hessenstein Palace, former home of Countess Taube (and the ephemeral Miss Christiernin). The Crown Princess described her as an innocent ‘country girl’, but her mother as a rapacious ‘devil’. 43 The Horn family then pushed hard to get Catharina Ebba presented at court. The Crown Princess absolutely refused at first, but later relented. However, there was no question of acknowledging her 40 41 42 43

Ibid., 250. Lovisa Ulrika to Sophie Dorothee, Stockholm, 8 October 1745, in Arnheim 1909-1910, i. 235. Ibid., 19 October 1745, in ibid., i. 241. Ibid., 28 October 1745, in ibid., i. 245.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


special status: she had to kiss the hem of the Crown Princess’s skirt just like any other unmarried noblewoman, despite efforts to allow her to kiss her hand instead like a married lady. 44 Catharina Ebba Horn may have surpassed the other minor mistresses, but the demands of successful mistresshood were beyond her. She was tall, which the King liked, and beautiful, ‘but has little esprit and less savoir faire’ wrote the Crown Princess to her relatives in Prussia. 45 She did not believe the King’s love would last long, fervent though it was for the moment. For the rest of 1745 and 1746 their relationship appears to have flourished, though a Danish diplomat reported that the King seemed less enamoured with Miss Horn, and ‘her conversation has never been either amusing or lively enough to quite please His Majesty, the more as she hardly speaks German and not a word of French’. 46 The international language of love obviously had its limitations. Together with his favourites, the King even began to mock Miss Horn. 47 The English diplomat also noted that ‘a young maid of seventeen’ had been brought to the King. This was something of a surprise, as he had supped with the King and Miss Horn only that week, but he was assured it would not undermine her position, and only was a sign of the King’s need for ‘a bit of a change’. 48 In 1747 the Crown Princess wrote that ‘his love affair with Miss Horn is flapping with only one wing, but such is the reign of grisettes!’49 Her view was that Catharina Ebba Horn lacked the talent to keep the King constantly amused and interested, and it was inevitable he would stray. In 1748 he went hunting for ‘elks or girls’, noted the Crown Princess maliciously. A Danish diplomat reported that an energetic night of passion followed that hunting trip, which was seen as having resulted in a stroke the following day.50 This frightened the old King, who began to think about death and decided it would be wise to be surrounded by clergy. In the summer of 1748, he told some of his Hessian servants to order Miss Horn to leave town. With tears in his eyes he said he had promised this to the clergymen, and he would still be generous to Miss Horn and her family.51 The ensuing negotiations were emotional and fraught, and took a considerable time. Miss Horn refused to 44 Ibid., 12 November 1745, in ibid., i. 249. 45 Ibid. 46 Holst 1953, 253. 47 Ibid., 253. 48 Ibid., 254. 49 Lovisa Ulrika to Frederick, Stockholm, 6 June 1747, in Arnheim 1909-1910, ii. 40. 50 Holst 1953, 263. 51 Ibid., 267-268.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

leave town. The King was adamant. She offered to leave the Hessenstein Palace and live elsewhere in Stockholm, and not show herself in the presence of the King. She added to the King’s emissaries that this ‘would not lead to anything but to put someone else in her place, as she knew very well about the new connections, which had been cultivated even in her house and in her presence, and how far this had been sought after and promoted’.52 It was said, however, that the King had indeed struck ‘all the women of easy virtue’ from his list of pensioners.53 The following year, the Crown Princess noted that ‘the reign’ of the ‘sultana favourite’ was completely finished.54 At the King’s death in 1751, Imperial Countess Catharina Ebba Horn went into mourning, and she remained in contact with his princely family in Hesse.

The role of a royal mistress The Duchess of Marlborough wrote that ‘women signify nothing, unless they are the mistress of a Prince’, though she herself was clear proof of female power which was not ostensibly based on being a mistress. Still, mistress-ship in one way symbolised the nature of power at court: it was intensely personal, subject to much hostility, fragile, and volatile. It was perhaps the most obvious sign of just how personal an institution the court was. Mistresses such as Catharina Ebba Horn could try and work against that with written assurances and contracts, but if royal favour was lost, a piece of paper assuring undying love, which could not in all conscience be made public, was poor protection. Royal mistresses shared some characteristics with the men who served as lovers of princesses or princes. Though there was also an important difference. Men could shore up their position by being given various offices. Another aspect was the manner in which a romantic, or at any rate carnal, relationship between a prince (or occasionally a princess) and a subject occasionally had far-reaching political repercussions. A mistress could be used by a faction to overthrow an existing power group.55 The powerful mistress was best exemplified by Madame de Pompadour. Even though her influence did vary according to ‘the shifting kaleidoscope of court faction’, 52 Ibid., 270. 53 Ibid. 54 Lovisa Ulrika to Sophie Dorothee, Stockholm, 13 February 1749, in Arnheim 1909-1910, ii. 160. 55 Campbell 1996.

Fumbling for power: Being a royal mistress


the power she wielded through the lazy Louis XV was enormous.56 In Sweden, Hedvig Taube was thought comparable to Madame de Pompadour, though on a smaller scale and with a king who lacked absolute power. Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn is that the most important royal mistresses were the ones who had an emotional signif icance for their princes. That required being something more than a pretty face or an exciting bedfellow. To be comforting, calming, amusing, and able to maintain the prince’s interest for a long time is testimony to their extraordinary talents. The early modern royal mistress was ridiculed and feared by many, but may also have been a necessary part of life for princes who were insecure, bored, or simply lonely.

56 Swann 1995, 55.

10. The performance of a lifetime: Being Queen Consort Abstract How could a queen succeed? To master the challenges facing a young, foreign-born queen she had to rely on her own personal skills, her education, the ability of the court to help her, and, ultimately, political realities. Some fundamentals could make or break the performance of a new queen. Was she deemed attractive? Was she robust enough to withstand exhausting ceremonies? And could she overcome any shyness? Most queens tried to adapt to some degree. Learning Swedish and claiming to be Swedish became increasingly important. Performing in public met with mixed success, with most queens scoring some victories, but some failing because they were shy or awkward. Keywords: foreign, language, performance, etiquette, shyness, sociability

When Queen Lovisa Ulrika in April 1761 decided to enter Stockholm on horseback the inhabitants were treated to a sight ‘they perhaps had never seen before, their Queen riding through town from Karlberg to the Palace’.1 A queen riding in the saddle rather than being drawn in a carriage was unconventional and a mark of the Queen’s boldness. Lovisa Ulrika riding through the streets of Stockholm illustrated that what a queen could do was shaped by tradition and circumstance, but also partly a choice made by an individual. The Grand Master of Ceremonies, Leonhard von Hauswolff, was impressed by Lovisa Ulrika’s talent at being a queen in public view. Her son was selfassured in his public appearances ‘which surely was a legacy from His Mother, who though fairly short, performed in public splendidly.’2 Lovisa Ulrika made her last public appearance in the summer heat of late July 1782. 1 2

KB, L 82:1:12 Tessin’s diary, 11 April 1761. LUB, Leonhard von Hauswolffs samling, vol. 6, dagbok, 3 March 1793.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch10


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

After her death she then lay in state for five days, her lit de parade on a podium in the palace for ‘public viewing’.3 Afterwards a large condolence reception (kondoleanscour) was held in the palace. 4 Everyone who was anyone attended: Royal Councillors, government officials, the city dignitaries, foreign diplomats and all. They gathered in the Great Gallery, and then went through to the reception line in the State Bedchamber where they were received by the King and the rest of the royal family. Early modern queens had to perform in public from the moment they became queen until after death. They attended christenings, they dined in public, they presided over presentations at court, they held receptions, and each performance had its own requirements. The great ceremonies of state had the largest audiences, but at the same time they were more distant. At the smaller, more intimate ceremonies the audience was primarily composed of the crème de la crème of the elite – the nobility who had been presented at court. The special bond between this elite and the Queen was marked in several ways. The presentation ceremony in the eighteenth century was graded according to rank, as we have seen. After a longer absence from court or after marriage, noblewomen had to be re-presented. Once presented, noblewomen were invited to dine at court and to attend various events, and they were seated in better places than people who had not been presented. Each set of circumstances spawned its own ideal typologies for a queen’s performance. Funeral sermons necessarily stressed piety, good deeds, and acceptance; other sources throw light on other expectations. Yet to be a successful queen, and to be seen as such, a woman had to do far more than lend a regal ear to poor petitioners. To ‘represent’, to act the part, was a crucial element in the duties of an early modern queen, and its challenges depended on tradition moulded over time and on each queen’s personal aptitude. Almost all queens consort had to contend with being foreign, and some had further difficulties in being awkward, shy, or badly prepared from a childhood at a more modest court. That was before the Queen raised the bar by deciding to influence or change the politics of her husband’s court and country. Lovisa Ulrika, for example, tried to change the fundamental political situation, and so attracted a great of criticism. Had she merely upheld the status quo, her contemporaries would have been kinder. There was a natural spectrum of roles and expectations. A queen consort faced one set of expectations, a queen dowager another (and a queen regnant something different altogether). They also changed over time. Such sources 3 4

RA, Överceremonimästarämbetets arkiv, vol. 2, 1782, p. 22. Ibid., 1 August 1782, p. 23.

The performance of a life time: Being Queen Consort


as survive from the sixteenth century indicate there was less preoccupation with foreignness than there would be later, for example. One particular challenge was to strike the right balance between acting with authority and being thought unwomanly. A queen consort such as Lovisa Ulrika was expected not to stray into the manly sphere of a queen regnant – but she did. Early modern Swedish queens consort who mismanaged their performances could turn their time in their new country into a disaster. And the first test was how to handle being foreign.

Being foreign Soon after her arrival in Sweden, Crown Princess Lovisa Ulrika had a medallion struck with her name and the inscription ‘Wholly Swedish’.5 By the 1740s it was important to emphasise one’s Swedish credentials. Likewise, her daughter-in-law Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta (first Duchess and later Queen) was presented by Gustaf III to the Diet with the ringing words that ‘though foreign born, she has already become completely Swedish’.6 This was a change from previous centuries when foreign princesses had met very different expectations. Foreign birth and foreign ties were always suspect, but there was no clear demand to become ‘wholly Swedish’, even though there was the notion that they had to adapt to their new court culture in order to be counted successful. It was not always easy, given that queens consort were foreigners, born in another country with a different language and often with different customs. As Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly has shown for queens consort in the eighteenth century, similarities between courts could smooth the way when a princess moved to new surroundings.7 Similar languages and forms of religion, and a particular focus on, for example, hunting, could help smooth the transition from one court to another. Of ten foreign-born Swedish queens consort between 1531 and 1800, seven were German, two Danish, and one Polish.8 Apart from one Austrian and two Brandenburg princesses, the German consorts came from more minor courts (Holstein, Saxe-Lauenburg, and Baden). In addition to the queens consort, there were two more German princesses who married Swedish 5 Fryxell 1868, xxxvii. 37. 6 Von Beskow 1860, 181; for a recent study of Duchess Charlotta, see Hellsing 2013. 7 Watanabe-O’Kelly 2016. 8 Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg; Catherine Jagiellon of Poland; Anna of Austria; Christina of Holstein-Gottorp; Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg; Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp; Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark; Lovisa Ulrika of Prussia; Sophia Magdalena of Denmark; Frederica of Baden.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

princes in the period.9 All the foreign princesses tended to come from courts with similar structures to the Swedish one, and all but two also came from Protestant princely families. Of the Protestants, only one was of the reformed faith, Lovisa Ulrika of Prussia. Even Maria Eleonora, daughter of the Calvinist Elector of Brandenburg, was a Lutheran as she never joined her father in his conversion. Lovisa Ulrika’s faith necessitated a conversion to the Lutheran faith, but that was hardly traumatic for her. It can be noticed that a planned match between Gustaf IV and a Russian princess collapsed as the young King refused to let his intended bride remain in the Orthodox faith. Still, there were always differences, such as the relative size of the courts. And, of course, language. In the seventeenth century, language was rarely commented on, and German was habitually the first or second language used between members of the royal family. Gustaf II Adolf wrote his letters to his mother, Christina the Elder, in German in the 1610s. Maria Eleonora commonly used German, but did learn Swedish.10 Hedvig Eleonora kept up a voluminous correspondence in German with her many relatives in various princely states. Well into old age she scribbled notes in German in German calendars, and after more than 50 years in Sweden she was still making annotations in German about small personal expenses.11 Her daughter-in-law, Ulrika Eleonora, came from a Danish royal family where German was the family idiom. On her deathbed she implored her husband, Charles XI, to do various deeds of kindness and ended each request in German with ‘Loben Sie mir das?’ (‘Do you promise me that?’).12 In the 1740s the Swedish royal family began to shift away from German towards French. Strong cultural influences during the Enlightenment and an admiration for France in general fostered the new direction. Lovisa Ulrika in the mid-eighteenth century wrote in French to her mother and siblings in Prussia, and when her husband, King Adolf Frederick, wrote to her it was likewise in French.13 Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta (later Queen, 1809-1818) corresponded in French with her closest Swedish friends. 9 Maria, daughter of Elector Louis of the Palatinate, married Duke Charles in 1579 and Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, daughter of Duke Frederick August of Holstein-Gottorp, married another Duke Charles in 1774. 10 Kromnow n.d. 11 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Hedvig Eleonora Egenhändiga anteckningar och utkast, vol. K 100, Kriegsund Friedens-Calender 1690; RA, Kungliga arkiv, Hedvig Eleonora Egenhändiga anteckningar och utkast, vol. K 104. 12 Fryxell 1853, xix. 82. 13 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Lovisa Ulrika Ingående skrivelser Privata, vol. K 262.

The performance of a life time: Being Queen Consort


Similarly, Sophia Magdalena received letters from her brother the King of Denmark in French, and she wrote in French to her daughter-in-law, Queen Frederica of Baden.14 Frederica was later said to have spoken Swedish well, though.15 The eighteenth century saw more than a move to French, however. Swedish became a new priority, largely thanks to one Queen: Lovisa Ulrika. She made a point of learning Swedish early in her career, and it was not long before she was prepared to give speeches in Swedish to parliamentarians and academics.16 Her determination to master Swedish may have stemmed from a combination of pride in her intellectual ability and a need to curry public favour to boost enfeebled royal authority. As a Princess in Berlin 1744 she had handpicked the theologian Carl Jesper Benzelius to be her tutor in Swedish, and he accompanied her to Sweden. Count Tessin, her great favourite in the 1740s and also one of Sweden’s leading politicians, gave her language lessons and made her promise to talk Swedish. After Lovisa Ulrika, the expectation was that foreign princesses would learn Swedish, and exceptions were noted with displeasure.17 The differences for a foreign princess were to be found on many more levels than language, and could be complex. When Lovisa Ulrika arrived as Crown Princess in 1744, she was used to a far plainer, austere court life in Berlin. Yet at the same time, the Prussian monarchy was an autocracy, and its strong royal power was in stark contrast to her new realm, which was ruled by monarch, Diet, and the aristocratic Council in an uneasy symbiosis. The differences between court of birth and the new court could be challenging. Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg made much of her high birth compared to previous Swedish queens. Indeed, the queens from backgrounds most different to Sweden, Queen Catharina Jagellonica and Queen Anna of Austria, belonged to Catholic dynasties of far greater distinction than the Swedish ruling house. They were active in the sixteenth century when both religion and what was expected of a queen were more fluid. Queen Anna, unsurprisingly, expressed her dislike of the country during one short stay in 1594. A virulent dislike of one’s new country could become an obstacle to a queen consort. To be successful in her new role, a queen had to adjust to her new country and overcome the barrier foreign extraction could 14 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Sofia Magdalena Utgående skrivelser, vol. K 272; RA, Kungliga arkiv, Drottning Fredrika Dorotea Wilhelmina, vol. K 332. 15 Knesebeck 1856, 17. 16 Jägerskiöld 1945, 91-92. 17 It became standard for foreign princesses married to Swedish princes to be assigned tutors in Swedish. For example, Princess Josephina had Axel Samuel Stål as a language tutor.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 18: The formidable Lovisa Ulrika both impressed and terrorized the people surrounding her. Alexander Roslin, Lovisa Ulrika, 1775. Copyright Åsa Lundén/Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

pose. Foreigners could always be seen as suspect – Queen Christina the Elder was occasionally branded ‘the Danish hussy’ (jutekonan) by her own husband Charles IX – but they in turn could be equally suspicious of their new country.18 Queen Anna of Austria wrote in the 1590s that she would not send ‘a small dear dog’ (‘einen kleinen lieben hund’) to Sweden, she had

18 Svalenius n.d.b. The Holstein dukes were a cadet branch of the Danish royal family.

The performance of a life time: Being Queen Consort


felt so humiliated there. Maria Eleonora’s hostility in the 1630s was evident to both the ruling Minority Council and to others. Another factor was the queen’s age on arrival in Sweden. A newly married queen could still be in her teens – a circumstance which might help her adapt in the long run, but also meant that she was still in her royal apprenticeship. Some queens do indeed come across as surly teenagers. A new court and country, with a new language and partly new culture could be a shock. Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta later remembered being miserable when she arrived in Sweden as a fifteen-year-old: ‘It is dreadful to come like that to a foreign country and be among only strangers. I know from my own experience how unhappy you feel then.’19 The sense of alienation could be further exacerbated by the custom of dismissing all accompanying courtiers and servants as soon as possible and sending them packing. The security and remaining bonds of friendship these people represented were brutally cut off for most young queens after the mid-seventeenth century.

Being sociable A sturdy physique was needed to cope with the numerous, interminable ceremonies a queen had to perform over the years. A number of queens consort evidently struggled to carry out their duties because of their physical shortcomings or ailments. Both Ulrika Eleonora the Elder and Ulrika Eleonora the Younger were often absent due to illness. A typical entry in one courtier’s diary from 1725 reads: The King’s birthday celebrated in customary fashion and dancing in the Quadrangle until eight in the evening. Treated to wine, lemonade, and almond milk. After the meal, dance in the Hall of the Ladies until one o’clock at night. The Queen was quite ill this day and kept to her bed with a bad headache.20

At Queen Ulrika Eleonora the Younger’s own birthday some years later the situation was much the same. As it was the Queen’s 45th birthday it was gala at court and Magister Lund paid the customary compliment. The Queen was not feeling well 19 Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 63 (October 1797). 20 RA, Mikrofilmssamlingen, Äldre serien, vol. 168, Johan Gabriel Sack’s journal, 17 April 1725.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

so no one got to see her, but nonetheless dance in the Circle and the Quadrangle until eight o’clock in the evening. Though after the meal no dance nor any Tafelmusik.21

Queen Frederica, from the small principality of Baden, for her part, visibly struggled to manage her public duties. Long cour receptions and a bal paré at her own wedding caused the frail teenager to faint. This was in contrast to the indefatigable Hedvig Eleonora a century earlier, who long outperformed the rest of the royal family in public appearances and ceremonies. It may appear shallow to concentrate on a pleasing appearance, but when performing in public it mattered. One courtier described his first meeting with the dazzling new Crown Princess Lovisa Ulrika in 1744 in glowing terms: As Her Royal Highness came from Germany and was anchored off Karlskrona, I was ordered by His Royal Highness to go to the ship, make compliments, and inquire about her health. On the way I arranged a compliment in my mind, but when I was introduced into her room I could not remember a single word of what I had thought before, but happily extemporised completely different words which were suitable enough, so no one realised I failed in my planned florid address. I was so disconcerted when I saw her, and she so fixed her large, beautiful eyes on me, that I could hardly get a word out. She was also indescribably beautiful at that time, and intelligence and fire shone through her eyes.22

Queen Frederica’s more delicate beauty also impressed spectators. ‘The young Queen had a charming look. Her fine and happy face and the character this indicated were a sharp contrast to the King’s serious exterior and stiff habits.’23 Hedvig Eleonora also made a positive impression as a young Queen, though in old age she was described as very small and shrunken. To be cripplingly short-sighted could also be a hindrance for a queen consort. Sophia Magdalena, who often withdrew to her rooms, was decidedly myopic. Thomas Wroughton, an English diplomat, wrote in 1783 of seeing her take a walk that ‘Her Majesty is extremely nearsighted and to preserve a greater Incognito is generally muffled up with voiles and capuchons.’24 21 Ibid., 23 January 1733. 22 RA, Margaretha Cronstedts samling, vol. 3, ‘Egna infall och tankar sammanraspade mig til minnes ifrån 1747. Hans Gustaf Rålamb’. 23 Suremain 1902, 41. 24 NA, FO 73/3 Thomas Wroughton to Lord Grantham, Stockholm, 9 May 1783.

The performance of a life time: Being Queen Consort


He saw the Queen coming and crossed to the other side of the road so as not to embarrass her. Sophia Magdalena was unaware of a deep ditch, some eight feet deep, took a wrong step ‘and in a moment she disappeared’. The Queen was ‘laying motionless in the Ditch’ and her woman was screaming ‘for God’s sake save the Queen’. Wroughton jumped down and retrieved the ‘terrified and dirty’ but otherwise unharmed royal. A year earlier he had reported of Sophia Magdalena that she was ‘the most timid Person upon Earth’, and not being able to see properly cannot have helped.25 Good looks had to be paired with a dignified manner. Lovisa Ulrika, as we know, ‘performed in public splendidly.’26 It was noted that her daughterin-law, Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, was far less in her element when performing in public – ‘public performances embarrassed her a great deal’. It could tip over from dignified into wooden, as Lovisa Ulrika’s other daughterin-law, Queen Sophia Magdalena, demonstrated. Of her far from vivacious manner it was said that the Queen was more stiff and could not walk very well (she was so sedentary that she had almost forgotten how to walk and she wore rather high heels), but she had a high and statuesque build, big, bulging eyes, and on the whole an appearance which impressed. […] I may be allowed to liken our then Queen at the cour reception to a well decorated white horse on parade with a high neck but rather staid in its movements. 27

Stately as she was, Sophia Magdalena could be a success at large royal ceremonies such as coronations, weddings, funerals, and openings of the Diet. More everyday public performances – cour receptions, presentations, suppers – made different demands, and a dignified performance would preferably be matched with gracious condescension. A queen who made an effort to be cordial with members of the elite was a successful queen. One courtier observed with satisfaction in 1725 that when he returned to Stockholm from the country ‘I greeted the King and Queen who were abundantly gracious’.28 To single people out with a friendly word, to remember their names, to make conversation: these were important skills in the context of a sociable public performance. 25 26 27 28

NA, FO 73/3 Thomas Wroughton to Charles James Fox, Stockholm, 30 July 1782. LUB, Leonhard von Hauswolffs samling, vol. 6, dagbok, 3 March 1793. Schück 1904, 58. RA, Mikrofilmssamlingen Äldre serien, vol. 168, Johan Gabriel Sack’s journal, 13 October 1725.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

It is evident that young noblewomen could feel crushed if the queen ignored them at their presentation at court. Lovisa Ulrika was socially talented, but also given to standing on her dignity. She normally refused to talk with unmarried young women presented at court, noted a young countess in the 1760s. The same was true of Sophia Magdalena, who also tended not to talk to young women at their presentation. Even quite mechanical, vacuous conversation was better than nothing. Queen Frederica memorised some Swedish phrases to use at balls. ‘It is just too jolly here. It is very hot. The company is quite good.’29 Another kind of public performance, in less company, required yet another talent: to be able to talk more intimately and make ready conversation. Sophia Magdalena was always ‘silent and stiff’ in larger gatherings in the presence of the King, but at her country residence of Ulriksdal she was ‘gracious, good, condescending and merry; and the court was not numerous, without cabals and intrigues’.30 The easy charm possessed by the likes of Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta seems to have come into its own on such occasions. Using the expertise available at court could help queens carry out their public duties. When Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta became Queen in 1809 she had been a Royal Duchess for more than 30 years, but still needed coaching in her new duties. Her Maids of Honour helped her get up to speed and keep her spontaneity in check. With her coronation approaching she worried about ‘looking stupid’, and had her court arrange a lesson in gala occasions.31 She practised greeting the crowds when processing to church, how to curtsey to the King, and so on. A dress rehearsal was held with the Queen in coronation robes and a long train carried by Ladies of the Palace and Maids of Honour, and she walked in ceremonious procession through her rooms, greeting the chairs and tables which stood in for members of the Diet, the Chinese porcelain figures which were officers, and a large vase as the King himself. One Maid of Honour later remembered that the rehearsals went well, despite the Queen’s standard comment, ‘Damn it, it is not good enough’ (‘Fy fan, det duger inte’). It was certainly how she succeeded in ‘learning the art of public performance’, and from Duchess was ‘transformed into a Queen’. The relieved Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta afterwards said that ‘her Malin’ would have been pleased with her, meaning the late Lady of Honour Magdalena Strokirch (‘very ugly and amiable’), who used to give her pointers on how to act as a Duchess. 29 KB, D 142 g:10 JC Barfods anteckningar, January 1800, p. 1294 30 Ridderstad 1854, 14. 31 Schück 1919.

The performance of a life time: Being Queen Consort


Figure 19: Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta kept up a voluminous correspondence in her many years as Duchess and later as Queen. Duc de Pienne, Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta, Vadstena landsarkiv. Copyright Fabian Persson.

Being self-assured Several diplomats saw Swedish queens who were self-assured in their dealings with visitors. The Danish Sivert Grubbe described a joking Queen Dowager Christina in 1618, while a French diplomat was bowled over by


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

the beauty and vivacious charm of Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora in the 1630s. Hedvig Eleonora and Lovisa Ulrika also appear to have suffered a little from shyness or awkwardness. The most obvious failure in this respect was Queen Frederica. The odds were stacked against her: she was a teenager at the time of her marriage, she was foreign, her health was poor, and she was excruciatingly shy. It was said that she was ‘extremely childish and so terribly shy, that she can neither greet politely or think of anything to say’. Her aunt by marriage, Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, noted how sad the young Queen seemed to be: [T]hat is not strange, as her condition is everything but pleasant. It is dreadful to come like that to a foreign country and be among only strangers. I know from my own experience, how unhappy you feel then, and commiserate with her with all of my heart, especially as she is surrounded by people who cannot be of the slightest use to her.32

It did not help that Queen Frederica’s courtiers were of limited use in supporting a forlorn German teenager. The Chief Court Mistress Countess Piper was characterised by Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta as ‘a foolish goose, who does not know how to behave’. Countess Piper had, for example, led the Queen astray over how to act at presentations by telling her she did not need to talk to those who were presented, while the Duchess knew that was exactly what she should have encouraged the shy Queen to do. In the Duchess’s opinion the young Maids of Honour were not much better. Of them ‘almost none have been out in the Great World and much less at court. They are mostly real children without the least experience.’33 Miss Friesendorff in particular was singled out as a bad example for the young Queen. Another observer, Princess Sophia Albertina, wrote that the Queen ‘must have had an odd education, as she has not the faintest idea about common courtesy or how to behave in company’.34 Another observer described Queen Frederica’s lack of comme il faut, but this time not her shyness but her lack of propriety at small gatherings. The young Queen was playful and this her husband could not abide. She let her Maids of Honour, as young as she, drag her around on chairs; the King rushed in and ferociously drove them out of the room. A merry and 32 Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 63 (October 1797). 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid., vi. 258.

The performance of a life time: Being Queen Consort


pleasant courtier was another time standing on two pedestals, acting as the colossus of Rhodes with the Queen and the Maids of Honour as ships sailing beneath him. The King looked inside and the colossus was lucky to flee headlong out of the door.35

Queen Frederica’s fear of ceremonies was an obstacle to her acting as a queen. ‘Because of the Queen’s boundless shyness, when she has to perform in public, the King had not since the marriage dared to give cour receptions.’36 These receptions were one of the mainstays of court life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and her failure would have made a very unfavourable impression on the Swedish elite. Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta tried to instruct her in how to act, but this was badly received. In time Queen Frederica did improve in her role as Queen Consort. ‘When she is performing in public she has to act like a queen, which she indubitably does, as she is then very dignified.’37 Another royal aunt, Princess Sophia Albertina, was also very critical of the young Queen, and expressed her surprise when Frederica at a cour reception ‘to general surprise and joy’ behaved perfectly. She ‘gave the cour very well, talked to everyone and was in one word charming’.38 For years, however, criticism rumbled on about Queen Frederica’s ‘stiffness and rudeness’ and her ‘awkwardness and nonchalance’, and this despite ‘courtesy for a person in her position is the best means to win the general public’.39

Being a success How could a queen succeed? To master the challenges facing a young, foreign-born queen she had to rely on her own personal skills, her education, the ability of the court to help her, and, ultimately, political realities. Some fundamentals could make or break the performance of a new queen. Was she deemed attractive? Was she robust enough to withstand exhausting ceremonies? And could she overcome any shyness? Most queens tried to adapt to some degree. Learning Swedish and claiming to be Swedish became increasingly important. Performing in public met 35 36 37 38 39

Björnstjerna 1851, i. 31. Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 93. Ibid., vi. 87 (February 1798). Ibid., vi. 259, Sophia Albertina to Carolina Rudenschöld, Stockholm, 27 February 1798. Bonde and af Klercker 1936, vii. 145, 148 (November and December 1801).


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

with mixed success, with most queens scoring some victories, but some failing because they were shy or awkward. The challenge posed by the social performance did vary, and some, like Sophia Magdalena, who disliked larger everyday ceremonies such as cour receptions, could thrive in smaller, more intimate settings in the company of a few members of the elite. To make a success of being queen in a new country at a new court was tricky enough. It was even more diff icult a task if the queen dared to challenge political realities rather than maintaining the existing political landscape. Her attempt to fundamentally change Sweden’s political structure created ill will against Lovisa Ulrika, who was otherwise very adept in public and if she wanted to could charm smaller groups of people as well. Certain skills and talents were needed to perform the role of queen with success. Few queens appear to have been such a general success as Hedvig Eleonora, but then, unlike Lovisa Ulrika, she stayed well within the given political parameters. Others such as Sophia Magdalena and Frederica preferred to withdraw to relative seclusion with a few friends. It was important to reflect on the task in hand and prepare practically, though few approached it with such vim and vigour as Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, whose nods to mahogany tables and curtsies to vases revealed a firm grasp of the theatricality of the task ahead.

11. The winding road: Royal marriage negotiations Abstract Christian II, Erik XIV, and John III certainly thought primarily to further their own interests when negotiating their marriages. In a telling reversal, it may be that the most influential network was that of Queen Constantia of Austria, married to King Sigismund, and only de jure Queen of Sweden. It appears she used her network to influence the King rather than the other way round. Keywords: Denmark, Sweden, marriage market, portraits, negotiations

In January 1569 the young Frederick II of Denmark wrote to his aunt the Duchess of Mecklenburg that he intended to marry a Danish noblewoman. A copy of the letter was quickly dispatched to the King’s sister, the Duchess of Saxony. Pressure was applied to dissuade King Frederick from his plan, which, it was said, would bring neither honour nor happiness to the Danish royal family. Both the King’s aunt and sister tried to dissuade King Frederick and his intended, Anna Hardenberg, from going ahead with the marriage – the liaison had been going on for years despite the furious opposition of the King’s mother, Queen Dowager Dorothea, whose Maid of Honour Anna Hardenberg had been for a decade. By stalling, they succeeded in persuading the King to consider a Pomeranian Princess. The Pomeranian envoy wrote that he did not believe ‘all the noise about the nobleman’s daughter’ would be an obstacle.1 A portrait was delivered to the King, and in 1571 he met the eighteen-year-old Princess to see if she was marriage material. She was accompanied by the King’s aunt, the Duchess of Mecklenburg. King Frederick was not pleased with the Pomeranian girl in real life, but was attracted to his fourteen-year-old cousin, 1

Grinder Hansen 2013, 129.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch11


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Sophia of Mecklenburg, who took part in the meeting. He duly married her instead the following year. Anna Hardenberg wrote in a letter, ‘God knows, I am so happy and calm in my heart as I have not been for many a year.’2 In Sweden, meanwhile, King Eric XIV had celebrated his marriage with his teenage mistress Karin Månsdotter in 1568. This was no princess from foreign shores, not even a noblewoman, but a young girl from the lowest ranks of society. He had earlier forced the Swedish Diet to grant him permission to marry. Notwithstanding, the match outraged the Swedish elite, and added to the impression that the King was unbalanced – something he had proven a year earlier by stabbing a number of his Councillors to death. Only a week after the wedding a rebellion was in full swing, and the King and his new Queen were defeated, deposed, and incarcerated. One of the reasons given for the deposition was that King Eric humiliated himself, his family, and the whole realm through his low marriage.3 Why did these different choices of royal marriage matter? Queen Sophia turned out to be a reliable pillar of the Danish monarchy for the next 60 years. Queen Karin was deposed together with her husband King Eric within a matter of months. It is clear that sixteenth-century monarchs of Denmark and Sweden married for status, politics, and in some cases for companionship. These queens also brought different forms of network to their marriages. Karin Månsdotter was an extreme case, as she lacked a real network. Queen Sophia was part of a princely network covering Denmark, Mecklenburg, and Saxony through a criss-cross of marriages. However, many of these networks were of limited political consequence once the marriage had been concluded.

A queen’s worth King Frederick’s relatives claimed that marriage to a simple noblewoman would damage the honour of the royal family. Cachet was a crucial part of all marriage calculations. A dynastic network could confer dazzling prestige – such as the Habsburgs. To be part of existing network could also help bring about marriages. Frederick II’s marriage was arranged by his aunt and sister, while in Sweden Princess Catharina, married to Count Edzard of East Frisia, was asked to sound out suitable marriage candidates for her youngest brother, Charles, in 1574 and then for her sister Elizabeth, 2 3

Anna Hardenberg to Birgitte Gøye, 31 January 1572, in Kroman 1953, x. Grundberg 2005, 118.

The winding road: Royal marriage negotiations


too. My analysis of the pattern of Danish and Swedish royal marriages in the sixteenth century is presented in Table 1. Table 1.  Royal marriage partners in Sweden and Denmark Royal/Imperial families – bold Electoral families – italic Ducal families – bold and italic Noble families – small caps Sweden


Habsburg: 3 Poland: 1 Brandenburg: 1 Pfalz: 1 Saxony Lauenburg: 2 Mecklenburg: 1 Holstein-Gottorf: 1 Ostfriesland: 1 Baden-Rodemachern: 1 Pfalz-Veldenz: 1 Stenbock: 1 Bielke: 1 Leijonhufvud: 1 Månsdotter: 1

Habsburg: 1 Russia: 1 Scotland: 1 Brandenburg: 2 Saxony: 2 Brunswick: 3 Mecklenburg: 3 Pomerania: 1 Prussia: 1 Saxony Lauenburg: 1 Holstein-Gottorf: 1 Hesse: 1 Anhalt: 1

As can be seen from the striking differences, change was afoot. The most obvious is that the Swedish list has not only four non-princely partners, but also more partners from minor princely houses such as East Frisia. The Danish marriages – apart from Christian II and Elisabeth of Habsburg – were considerably better without being exceptional. The Swedish dips in rank are probably best explained by the fact that as a new dynasty the Vasas struggled to make good marriages. The founder of the dynasty twice married noblewomen. His successor, Erik XIV, appears to have been relatively relaxed in his attitude, if not to his own marriage, at least to the marriages of his siblings. Thus in the 1560s he was prepared to entertain the idea of his sister Princess Cecilia marrying an English aristocrat (the Earl of Arundel) and even a mere Polish count, Jan Teczynski. It is also evident that the Danish royal family intermarried several times with strategic dynasties – the ruling houses of Mecklenburg, Saxony, and Brandenburg, for example. They were all Protestant powers in northern Germany. The Swedish


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

marriage pattern is more scattered, and there was no consistency across generations. Instead, they grabbed what they could get: East Frisia, Baden-Rodemachern, Poland. The key issue is whether the kings of Denmark and Sweden expected political support from their marriages? If so, they were doomed to disappointment. Take the various Mecklenburg marriages: if they did not yield any active support they might at least hinder Mecklenburg from being subversive – almost anything would be preferable to the Duke who in the 1530s and 1540s had supported rebellions in both Denmark and Sweden. Acquiescence rather than active alliance might have been the aim of many marriages. The brothers-in-law of the Swedish King, Count Edzard of East Frisia, and the Count Palatine Georg Hans of Veldenz both acted to threaten Denmark around 1570 by influencing Imperial policy. A match between the Danish Prince Magnus, who was made King of Livonia, and a Russian princess carried some brief advantages. The most brilliant of all the marriages, that of King Christian II to the sister of Charles V, did result in Imperial support once King Christian had been deposed and driven into exile. The help he received from his Imperial brother-in-law was limited, however, and did not suffice to retake his lost crowns. Likewise, when Sigismund of Sweden had been deposed and hoped for support from his Habsburg in-laws none was forthcoming. A different sort of dynastic network was provided by Queen Catharina Jagellonica, married to John III of Sweden. It was more a network of future ambition. Clearly the Jagiellonians were dying out and a marriage alliance would be a strong argument in an election to the Polish crown. John III considered himself a candidate, but ultimately it was his son who triumphed in the election in 1587. The dynastic network and legitimacy was the foundation of the Vasas’ ascent to Polish throne. A very different kind of network was provided by the Swedish-born queens. Queen Margareta Leijonhufvud was related to a number of the most important families, as was her niece and successor, Catharina Stenbock. Through them the Leijonhufvud, Stenbock, Sture, and Sparre families were closely bound to the Crown: they were awarded high offices and lands, and it was they who were given the newly created titles of count and baron in the 1560s. They formed a dominant power group, favoured by the Vasa kings, who expected loyalty in return – and sometimes got it. When King John III married for a second time in 1585 he chose the aristocratic teenager Gunilla Bielke. Her family was also prominent, but seems to have been less of a support for the Crown and more of a source of discontent.

The winding road: Royal marriage negotiations


How to pick a marriage partner Concentrate on Eric XIV’s marriage negotiations and John III’s second marriage, and some significant factors stand out in why certain matches were arranged and the arguments against others. Early modern princely marriages were a complicated business. They were a story of what could have been. For every successful match there were any number of failed negotiations. The road to a royal marriage was paved with, if not good intentions, then at least greedy, unsentimental ambition. Princes often used their existing networks when exploring possible matches. Attractive candidates were often courted by a swarm of princely suitors. Thus, Eric XIV and Frederick II of Denmark shared an interest in Renata of Lorraine among others. When Eric XIV was a little boy a match with Hesse was discussed. Later, as a Crown Prince in the 1550s, a Polish match was on the cards. A painter was dispatched to Poland to secretly paint a portrait of Princess Sophia, and then to proceed to Hesse and Saxony to make inquiries about the princesses there as well. Erik soon lost interest in the Polish marriage, and instead began negotiations with an assortment of German ruling houses, using his grandmother, the Duchess Dowager of Saxe-Lauenburg, to sound them out. A portrait was procured of Anna, daughter of the Elector of Saxony. It pleased Eric, but he complained to his grandmother about the difficulty of deciding on the basis of a portrait. He asked his grandmother to travel to his residence in Kalmar, bringing with her Princess Anna and two other German princesses from Hesse for good measure – ‘So that we may see them in living image, so we will no doubt at last give a positive answer.’4 At the same time, Eric was once again exploring to possibilities of a Hesse match, and was eyeing a princess of Brandenburg-Küstrin. His father, King Gustaf, was not amused, and warned the Prince that both the Margrave of Brandenburg Küstrin and the Landgrave of Hesse were upset about the failing negotiations, and were now intent on harming Sweden as a result.5 The Elector of Saxony flatly refused to send his daughter to Sweden to be inspected. Thus the Prince’s grandmother had to come alone, though negotiations still proceeded. Simultaneously, Prince Eric began courting Princess Elizabeth of England. When she became Queen six months later his interest redoubled. He was now focused on the greatest prize available in Europe – Queen Elizabeth of England. 4 5

RA, Hertig Eriks Registratur, Eric XIV to Catherine of Brunswick, Rävsnäs, 6 September 1557. RA, Riksregistaturet, Gustaf I to Eric XIV, 4 May 1558.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

The negotiations with Elizabeth continued over several years to the point where Prince Eric prepared to sail to England himself. It soon became obvious to others that there was little chance of success, but Eric, King from 1560, persisted. He told his envoy to hand out pensions to the English Councillors and to have the Queen’s favourite, Leicester, murdered.6 He had already told his envoy that he was prepared to fight Leicester in personal combat.7 To make Elizabeth jealous, Eric proposed marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots. He also sent an envoy to Scotland to find out if she was ‘as beautiful as people say’. To hedge his bets, King Eric also began to look into two other possible matches: the daughter of the Duke of Lorraine and the daughter of the Landgrave of Hesse. Princess Renata of Lorraine was the granddaughter of the deposed Christian II of Denmark and Sweden. Her mother, Christina of Denmark, still nursed plans to reclaim her father’s kingdom, which made this match especially interesting. The network Princess Renata offered was extraordinary. It was hoped her great-uncle Emperor Ferdinand would support a reconquest of Denmark. King Frederick of Denmark had already proposed marriage, but then retracted in a humiliating manner – plainly something of a speciality for Scandinavian monarchs. Negotiations would continue until 1566 about a marriage and an alliance to attack Denmark. As before, King Eric was eager to know about the looks of his proposed queen. He wanted to know ‘If the Princess is healthy and sound, not too skinny and bony, but well grown, beautiful, and white with natural colour. Even if we understand that she has dark hair, that may be less important if the other parts are good.’8 She should also have a good demeanour and not be sarcastic but jolly. Simultaneously, negotiations were underway with Hesse. They soon hit the first obstacle, though: King Erik only wanted to go ahead if the Landgrave offered him an alliance. King Erik was also less keen, as he had been told the Princess suffered from a bad complexion. In response the Landgrave suggested the King send courtiers to inspect the Princess, but he baulked at an alliance. These negotiations came to an abrupt halt when a letter from Erik to Queen Elizabeth was intercepted by the Danes. In it he claimed that Elizabeth was his true love, and that he was not serious about Christina of Hesse and only proposed to her to make the Queen jealous. This letter was dispatched to Hesse by the Danes with desired effect. The Landgrave 6 Ibid., Eric XIV to Nils Gyllenstierna, 29 March 1562. 7 Ibid., same to same, 12 June 1561. 8 RA, Riksregistraturet, Instructions for the Legates, 14 July 1565.

The winding road: Royal marriage negotiations


declared he would not send his dog to the Swedish King. When King Erik at last got married to his base-born mistress Karin in 1568, he had ten years of bungled marriage negotiations with numerous princesses behind him. King John III’s second marriage in 1585 shows just how problematic it was to make a native-born noblewoman queen by that stage. In December 1584, the newly widowed King presented a note to the Council in which he made his intentions clear. He had ‘for many reasons and especially to escape approaching illnesses and ill health, as well as many melancholic feelings, great and deep thoughts and many other troubles, which come from being alone’ decided to take a new wife. Of the possible candidates one stood out: the Queen Dowager of France, Elizabeth of Austria. Alas, most others were not of a suitable age. In Germany there were only young girls or daughters of counts. To conclude a marriage with Elizabeth of Austria would take time and money and would be complicated by religion, so instead he had opted for a sixteen-year-old Swedish aristocrat: Gunilla Bielke. He knew her looks and demeanour. ‘In that case there is no call for painters, who sometimes cannot well or want to depict all the characteristics.’9 It would also bring honour to the Swedish nobility. When he wrote to his brother Duke Charles, the King again tried to handle the obvious problem of marrying beneath his princely rank.10 He quoted the example of their father, and he also had a genealogy drawn up of Gunilla Bielke that showed her ancestors ‘were related to kings and princes some centuries ago’. Yet, the Duke refused to come to the wedding and thought it sad that the King had not made a better match. A destabilising rupture between the two most powerful individuals in Sweden was the result. The King’s other siblings were equally hostile. A furious letter to Princess Elizabeth makes clear the King’s anger at their response, and his efforts to justify the marriage.11 It would have been good if Our brother Duke Charles, and Our other siblings, especially Our sister the Countess of East Frisia, who most has used her mouth in this matter, as we have been told, had taught and lectured Our late Father of blessed memory before he twice married in Sweden, so that We and other Swedish kings could benefit thereof. […] Our sister, the Countess, who is the one to most bicker about this, was 9 Ericson Wolke 2004, 321. 10 RA, Riksregistraturet, John III to Duke Charles, 14 January 1585. 11 Ibid., same to Elizabeth of Mecklenburg, 18 November 1585.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

herself humiliated through her marriage as she is a born princess and daughter of a king and became a countess.

Among other insults, Countess Catharina of East Frisia had written that ‘the Devil has worn out many a pair of shoes before Our Dearest Wife would reach to such highness’. King John replied that ‘the Devil has worn out many pair of shoes before she and many others would write insultingly’. He fumed that his siblings despised themselves if they looked down on Queen Gunilla – their own mother had come from the same background.

Successful failures Few words are sadder than ‘what could have been’. Early modern dynastic networks were awash with failed marriage projects. Were sixteenth-century Danish and Swedish queens chosen for their useful networks? Yes and no. Good networks were often associated with prestige, so it may be difficult to disentangle the two. Yet, it is obvious that in a number of marriage negotiations, networks were sought after in the form of alliances with the powerful family of potential brides-to-be. For Sweden that was the case with Poland in the 1520s and Lorraine and Hesse in the 1560s. An English match would have been enormously influential. King Gustaf’s two marriages to Swedish noblewomen in 1536 and 1551 strengthened a group of important families closely linked to the Crown. In that way a national network had importance. Most Danish marriages, meanwhile, were focused on maintaining status without achieving brilliance, while at the same time building useful connections to a number of important Protestant powers in northern Germany, such as Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, and Brunswick. This said, it was obvious that many sixteenth-century princes did not want an ‘Anne of Cleves moment’. Portraits were exchanged, but trusted envoys were entreated to tell the truth about looks and personality. Erik of Sweden preferred to see his intended bride, as did his brother Charles in the 1570s. When John III remarried in 1585 he made the same point – that it was better to see and know the person than trust to portrait painters. He himself had already talked to his son, Prince Sigismund, about marriage at the time as the King’s sister Cecilia was making inquiries into a possible Habsburg match. Prince Sigismund declined as he said he could not agree to any marriage without having seen the woman in person. Whom would a network benefit? Christian II, Erik XIV, and John III certainly thought primarily to further their own interests when negotiating their

The winding road: Royal marriage negotiations


marriages. In a telling reversal, it may be that the most influential network was that of Queen Constantia of Austria, married to King Sigismund, and only de jure Queen of Sweden. It appears she used her network to influence the King rather than the other way round. The Austrian influence at the court of Sigismund was strong, and showed in such policies as banning the Jews. Queen Constantia also took care to control appointments to important positions and to deploy her network of former Maids of Honour. Perhaps there could be such a thing as an overmighty queen?

12. The broken mirror: Gender differences in the system of royal apartments Abstract Gender played an important but changing role in the construction of the Swedish royal apartments. From at least the 1540s onwards, the apartments of the King and Queen mirrored each other. They were placed on the same floor, adjacent to each other. The 1580s marked the first real change with a further break came in 1626. In 1680 King Charles XI continued the model of separate royal apartments, this time even on different floors. This new division according to gender was more traditional than the old mirrored one. The new royal space was paradoxically more dependent on traditional gender roles than the discarded mirrored system. Keywords: space, apartments, gender, family

In October 1620, Anna, Dowager Electress of Brandenburg, set sail for Sweden. She brought her daughter Maria Eleonora, the intended bride of King Gustaf II Adolf of Sweden, with her. At the court in Stockholm, there was frantic activity to get everything in order for the new Queen. Foreign policy in the form of negotiations with the Russian Tsar, as well as worries about outbreaks of plague, had to be pushed aside for now: everyone’s energies had to be focused on the impending royal wedding. The King fired off a barrage of letters to governors, Councillors, and courtiers. His apothecary was instructed to prepare treats for the wedding party and buy silver dishes in Germany; tapestries were ordered from the Netherlands; a new crown, orb, and sceptre for the Queen had to be made by the Stockholm goldsmith Ruprecht Miller.1 The King’s illegitimate brother, Carl Carlsson 1 RA, Riksregistraturet, fols. 671-672, Gustaf II Adolf to Caspar König, Stockholm, 6 September 1620; ibid., fol. 676v, same to Nils Stiernsköld, Stockholm, 7 September 1620; ibid., fol. 702v, same to Jesper Mattsson Cruus, Nyköping, 15 September 1620; see also Cederström 1942.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch12


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Gyllenhielm, was to take a Swedish flotilla to meet the Brandenburg ships off Kalmar.2 The Livonian nobility were told to send representatives to Stockholm to boost numbers at the wedding – ‘because We for that purpose need a large multitude of nobles with Us’.3 For the first reception at Kalmar Castle, Swedish aristocrats were also exhorted to attend, and the King wrote that the local nobility should be present to add to the magnificence of the reception of his princely visitors – ‘We would like to see them all received there with suitable Solemnity.’4 The increasing urgency was evident when bed linen had to be borrowed from the Queen Dowager and carriages were ordered down Kalmar as soon as possible, travelling ‘night and day’, followed by napkins, tablecloths, sweets, and a cook.5 While royal letters ordered people and items to be sent around in a whirlwind, the palace of Tre Kronor in Stockholm was being prepared, too. It was to be their main residence, and a suitable apartment for the new Queen had to be found. The choice fell on the suite of rooms originally built in the 1580s for Queen Gunilla, wife of King John III. In the summer and autumn of 1620, glass, paint, and other materials had been purchased, and a team of painters were put to restoring the chambers, while lodgings for Maria Eleonora’s female servants and courtiers were prepared in the same suite of rooms.6 A tiled stove was installed to provide much-needed heat.7 When choosing how to organise the new Queen’s apartments, the King adhered strictly to existing tradition. The Queen’s apartment was separate, but placed in conjunction with his apartment on the top floor of the West Wing – next to the first room in the Queen’s suite of chambers was the King’s Walking Chamber (Spatserekammare), through which the rest of the King’s apartment was accessible. This arrangement of separate but connecting royal apartments was common usage at European courts. Sometimes the layout of the Queen’s chambers mirrored that of the King, as, for example, at the Imperial court in Vienna, where the emperor’s and the empress’s apartments were on the 2 RA, Riksregistraturet, fol. 672, same to Carl Gyllenhielm, Stockholm, 7 September 1620. 3 Ibid., fols. 672v-673, same to Jakob De la Gardie, Stockholm, 6 September 1620. 4 Ibid., fol. 691v, same to Abraham Brahe, Stockholm, 8 September 1620; see also copy of the same letter ‘to the Nobility of Småland’. 5 Ibid., fol. 707v, same to Queen Dowager Christina, Kalmar, 23 September 1620; ibid., fol. 708, same to Claes Horn, Kalmar, 23 September 1620; ibid., fol. 710v, same to Gabriel Oxenstierna, Kalmar, 23 September 1620; ibid., fol. 711, same to the Marshal, Kalmar, 24 September 1620; ibid., fol. 717, same to same, Kalmar, 26 September 1620. 6 Olsson and Nordberg 1940, i. 262. 7 RA, Riksregistraturet, fol. 568. Gustaf II Adolf to Gabriel Oxenstierna, Västerås, 11 November 1620.

The broken mirror: Gender differences in the system of royal apartments


same floor, connected, and almost symmetrical in plan.8 Similarly, at the Palace of Whitehall in London, the English royal couple had connecting apartments, emphasised by the furnishings: for instance, both the King’s and the Queen’s apartments had their own baldachins.9 The Bavarian court, however, seems not to have adhered to this model; there the apartments of the Elector and Electress were wholly separate, or linked only by a long gallery alongside the chapel.10 Early modern queens consort were at the centre of the political and social universe.11 Their gender did not exclude them from wielding power in their own right as regents, though more often the influence exerted was informal. Women who served queens and princesses were also a visible and powerful group within the elite.12 In both politics and the eternal cycle of monarchical ritual, the Queen and her women were crucial. It is telling that queens habitually lived in apartments that mirrored those of their husbands. It emphasised their lofty status: they were on the same level as the kings. The gender of a queen consort did bring limitations, however. In a society where women were systematically subordinate to men, differences showed in how these mirroring royal apartments were used, and this, like the physical layout of the apartments, was true of Sweden at first. Mirrored royal apartments were generally abandoned after 1626, however, and different models of structuring gender in the Swedish royal apartments were tried, ending in a very traditional, yet non-royal, solution in the 1680s, with separate apartments that emphasised the queen’s role as a mother and the king’s as administrator.

Mirroring apartments Creating an apartment for the queen consort that interconnected with the king’s was a time-honoured tradition in Sweden. Indeed one of the wedding guests, the King’s grandmother, Queen Dowager Catharina Stenbock, could have told Maria Eleonora how royal apartments had been systematically ordered according to gender in the same way in the 1540s and 1550s. When her husband, King Gustaf, assembled Swedish court in the 1520s, he had also had to rebuild the run-down royal castle of Tre Kronor in Stockholm.13 8 9 10 11 12 13

Keller 2005, 117. Weiser 2003, 26; Baillie 1967, 170. Klingensmith 1993, 132-133. See, for example, Campbell Orr 2004. Akkerman and Houben 2013. If no other source is indicated for Stockholm Palace (Nordberg and Olsson 1940).


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

It is hard to know if King Gustaf followed earlier Swedish precedents, but he did follow international custom in his renovations. In the 1540s, the royal apartments in Tre Kronor were rebuilt.14 Located in the south-east of the castle, the royal apartment took up much of the top floor. The King’s main room, the King’s Chamber (Kungsmaket), was in the corner with an adjacent inner chamber in a tower. Above lay the King’s bedchamber. Next to the King’s Chamber was the Great Hall to the west and an antechamber to the south. The Queen’s apartment led off the King’s antechamber. Apart from the King’s bedchamber being one floor up from the King’s inner chamber, this seems to have conformed to international use. The King’s Chamber and the inner chamber had gilded walls while the King’s bedchamber was panelled. The Queen’s apartment consisted of the Queen’s Chamber (Drottningmaket), the Women’s Chamber (Frustugan), the Maids’ Chamber (Jungfrumaket), and the Little Hall, probably the dining hall for the royal family. Close by was the children’s apartment (Barnastugan), comprising several rooms, but so cold that special tents had to be made to shield the beds of the royal children. King Gustaf gave strict instructions that the doors between the chambers should have the best locks possible. He worried that master keys could be made by crafty and untrustworthy blacksmiths. Security was always a problem at court. Gustaf and later his son John III had to see off several plots, and they were mindful of the number of foreign princes who were assassinated.15 A number of soldiers and servants were always on duty to guard the entrance to the royal apartments, and a page slept at the threshold to the royal bedchamber at night.16 Guards who slept while on duty paid with their lives, according to the court ordinances of 1560.17 The impulse to secure the royal apartments was one seen across Europe, as was the aim of a more orderly court. Thus, Charles I tried to impose order in his palace in London by ordinances, as well as through strict control of keys: in the 1620s, old keys were revoked, new treble locks put in place and access became even more restricted than before.18 If the royal apartments were arranged to mirror each other architecturally, there were still some differences in functionality according to gender. Thus there was a gender difference in the accessibility to royal apartments. An 14 15 16 17 18

Olsson and Nordberg 1940, vol. i, 87. Persson 2002, 29-43. SLA, Husgerådskammarräkningar 1650-1655 G I a:2, fol. 305. Hovartiklar 1560 § 21, in Schmedeman 1706, 38. Sharpe 1987, 244.

The broken mirror: Gender differences in the system of royal apartments


ordinance from 1579 for the Court Mistress serving Duchess Maria, the King’s sister-in-law, put great emphasis on decorous behaviour by the women serving at court. The responsibility for it fell largely to the Court Mistress. She was to keep ‘a close watch that no outside person, not belonging to the women, comes inside there’ without the consent of the Duchess.19 In order to guard ‘the doors of the Frauenzimmer’ they had to be ‘well closed and kept, especially at night, for the sake of talk’.20 The keys were also the Court Mistress’s responsibility. No gatherings with food and drink were allowed in the women’s quarters, unless royal permission had been obtained. Another gender difference between the royal apartments was that more female courtiers and servants were lodged in the palace itself. Most people serving at court were men, but after the gates had been closed and locked at night, the people remaining in the palace would have been predominately female. Women in the service of the queens and princesses were habitually given chambers below their mistresses. In some cases they even slept in the same bedchamber as their princess. Little is known of arrangements in the reign of King Erik XIV (1560-1568). He erected a decorated portal for the entrance of the King’s apartment.21 Artisans also installed extensive wood panelling and there was a good deal of repainting. The disposition of the apartments of Queen Karin is unknown, since after their marriage in 1568 the royal couple only had three months before King Erik was overthrown. King John III (1568-1592), meanwhile, was to make a very different mark on Tre Kronor. He was passionately interested in building and gave the old castle its final, definitive form. During his 24 years on the throne, he constantly changed and rebuilt the royal apartments. At first he lived in the same royal apartments as his brother, Erik XIV, and father, King Gustaf, although even now he switched the order so that his Queen, Catharina Jagellonica, could reside in the former King’s apartment, while he lived in the former apartments of Queens Margareta and Catharina (his mother and stepmother). The ease with which the King’s and Queen’s apartments could be swapped demonstrates clearly how the royal apartments mirrored each other. The apartments may have been associated with the king and queen, but the actual rooms were interchangeable. Consequently, the chambers as such were not defined as male or female in ways that could not be altered. 19 RA, Hertig Karl Handlingar rörande hertigens hovhållning m.m. K 349 Hertig Carls ordningh och Artikler för W N Frws hoffmestrinne, Heidelberg, 4 July 1579. 20 Ibid. 21 Olsson and Nordberg 1940, vol. i, 101.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Royal apartments outside Stockholm The royal apartments in Kalmar Castle in southern Sweden are the best preserved from the sixteenth century.22 King Gustaf and his sons Erik XIV and John III all had work done to the castle. The King’s and Queen’s apartments were joined, but each was given its own staircase, with doors framed with impressive portals directly influenced by the sixteenth-century Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio’s Tutte le opere di architettura.23 This is unsurprising as King John himself studied Serlio’s book along with works by French architects Philibert de l’Orme and Jacques du Cerceau.24 Serlio’s inspiration has also been seen in the royal castle of Vadstena.25 The Italian influence extended beyond the architecture to the men who designed it. King John’s main architect working on Kalmar was Johan Baptista Pahr, originally from an Italian family.26 His brother Dominicus Pahr also worked on Kalmar as well as Borgholm Castle close by. The first rooms in each royal apartment in Kalmar Castle were similarly decorated. Best preserved is one of the rooms in the King’s apartment, the socalled Golden Hall. The most impressive element here is the richly sculpted and partly gilded coffered ceiling. It was done in 1575-1576 by Michael von Berini, whom the King had invited to Sweden, probably from Germany. The doors are framed by painted architectural decorations, while the walls are plain and unadorned, meant for tapestries. The Queen’s first room was similarly decorated, though the ceiling has been ruined by fire. After the Golden Hall in the King’s apartment was the Grey Hall, decorated with panelling and frescos by the Dutchman Arent Lambrecht van Emden in 1585, and with a coffered ceiling. The Square Hall (Rutsalen), named for the pattern of the floor, was the main chamber of the Queen’s apartment, adjacent to which were small chambers for the princesses. The King’s apartment also had the King’s Chamber in a tower, just as in Stockholm. This was lavishly decorated with panelling and intarsia ordered by Erik XIV. In the reign of John III, extensive stucco work by Antonius Watz of Breslau was added, as were paintings and gilding by the Dutch artist Baptista van Uther.27 Both the royal apartments had an extension in the form of a wooden pavilion, accessible from the royal apartments and placed on top of the ramparts. 22 23 24 25 26 27

Olsson 1931, 313-328. Ibid., 137-183. Cornell 1944, 191. Unnerbäck 1996, 126 and 226. Hahr 1907. Fulton 1994, 28.

The broken mirror: Gender differences in the system of royal apartments


The royal apartments in Kalmar Castle were elevated to a more lavish level by John III, but strikingly the King’s and the Queen’s apartments mirrored each other in decoration and were directly linked. Kalmar Castle offers clues as to how the royal apartments in the now destroyed Tre Kronor in Stockholm were decorated and used. John III also rebuilt the royal apartments at Vadstena Castle, where the layout of the royal apartments again mirrored each other.28 Another royal castle, Gripsholm, displays the same structure in its princely apartments.29 There the apartments of Duke Charles (later King Charles IX) and his Duchess each numbered five chambers, mirroring each other. Each apartment also seems to have had an additional antechamber in the continental, or rather German, fashion. The more modern European palaces were being fitted with a greater array of antechambers, graded according to the people allowed access, while some, like the Scottish court in the sixteenth century, were still restricted to very few rooms with little possibility of drawing social distinctions.30 German princely residences, especially, displayed a strong tendency to have several antechambers in their royal apartments.31 Swedish queens were often of German extraction and many Swedish courtiers also hailed from that area. It is easy to see how the Swedish court in the early modern period might be focused on Germany.

Renovations On his accession in 1568, King John immediately began to renovate the royal apartments in Tre Kronor. By the early 1570s, most rooms in the royal apartments were in the process of being rebuilt. The King was insistent on wanting higher ceilings and more rectangular, symmetric solutions. Thus, the arched windows in the Queen’s Chamber were to be exchanged for rectangular ones – ‘We are not pleased by the windows that are vaulted’.32 The coffered ceiling in the Queen’s Chamber was also swapped for the coffered ceiling in the Queen’s nearby pavilion. Panels were put in, decorated with carved and gilded leaves. Next to the Queen’s Chamber was the Maids’ Chamber (Jungfrusalen, formerly Jungfrumaket), and beyond it the Queen’s 28 29 30 31 32

Unnerbäck 1996. Westlund 1949. Baillie 1967, 180. Ibid., 196. Olsson and Nordberg 1940, vol. i, 114.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

antechamber, which also doubled as dining room for the royal family, and was sometimes known as the Winter Hall (Vintersalen). Access to the Queen’s apartment was by a staircase outside the Winter Hall; there was also a direct connection to the King’s apartment from both the Maids’ Hall and the Winter Hall. As with the Queen’s Chamber, the King’s Chamber was also to be made more rectangular and less irregular. A new coffered ceiling with gilded roses was installed. As in Kalmar Castle, an impressive entrance was added, with a new staircase that had a marble portal and a gilded coat of arms. This also gave the King’s apartment a more modern touch by moving the access point to the furthest chamber, instead of in the middle as before. The King’s apartment had a larger dining room called the Summer Hall (Sommarsalen), where the royal family ate in the warmer months. Both apartments were decorated in 1578 with paintings by Van Uther. The royal children had chambers in the vicinity, and at least Princess Anna had her chamber placed directly under the King’s Chamber. It should also be noted that the King also had a bedchamber in the wooden pavilion connected to the Queen’s apartment. The constant remodelling took on a new character in 1581. At this stage King John III decided that in order to provide an impressive enough framework for the royal family a new building was needed. The old royal apartments simply did not suffice. Instead, work began on a completely new wing of the palace. This West Wing reflected the King’s demands for modern architecture. It had high rectangular windows with rich decorations in a more international Renaissance style compared to most of the old medieval castle. One entrance to the new West Wing from the courtyard was more monumental than previous entrances to royal apartments. A lion holding the Swedish coat of arms with three crowns in one paw and a flag with a cross in the other decorated this entrance, echoing Tre Kronor’s main outer gate, where two lions held up the same coat of arms. The be-lioned entrance stood at the south end of the West Wing. To get to the King’s rooms at the northern end of the wing, visitors would have had to pass through the Queen’s chambers, so to avoid this inconvenience a corridor running parallel to the royal apartments was added. The problem with this new corridor, however, was that it ran counter to the King’s wish to have a courtyard that was characterised by open arcades on every side, in a southern European style. The Swedish climate would not allow such a design, so the new West Wing did not have open arcades. King John’s love of long galleries was on full show in the Green Gallery in the North Wing, however, and the Trumpeters’ Gallery in the East Wing,

The broken mirror: Gender differences in the system of royal apartments


the latter designed by the King’s Flemish architect, Willem Boy. All this was more impressive and modern, and intended for ceremonial use. Part of the plan was the creation of a new, arcaded courtyard suited for big ceremonies – the original courtyard, where the old royal apartments had been, was small, cramped, and cluttered.33 The King’s Chamber stood in the northern corner of the new wing. It was completely square, which must have pleased the symmetry-loving monarch, whose appetite for more modern, symmetrical architecture was also visible in the courtyard. What was also more in evidence was the German layout of the rooms: a small inner chamber, followed by the magnificent King’s Chamber, and then the antechamber, the King’s Bedchamber, and the Daily Hall (Dageliga salen) which was also the dining room. Next to the Daily Hall was the Queen’s apartment, on the south side of the new West Wing. The long corridor or gallery parallel to the chambers may also have served as a further antechamber for the King. The construction of the West Wing was finished in 1584, followed by several years of interior work, which an irritable and impatient King John III found very slow. What was striking about the interior design was that the King’s Chamber now stood out conspicuously. In previous incarnations, the King’s and the Queen’s apartments were similarly decorated. An emissary from the Order of St. John, Augustin von Mörsperg, visited Sweden in 1592 and was amazed by the rich decoration of the King’s Chamber. He noted how both ceiling and walls were covered in silver. It might not have been solid silver – in fact, it was silver-plated copper – but it was still enough to dazzle visitors. More than 3,000 brass and copper plates weighing a total of three and a half tonnes covered the 160 square metres of the floor. The silver walls were hung with tapestries of scenes from Ovid, woven in silver and gold thread.34 The silver-plated copper ceiling was coffered, its squares decorated with 50 gilt roses and 120 silver-plated leaves. This was a magnificence never before seen in Sweden. The inner King’s Chamber was expensive, but not on the same scale, and it reused some of the decor originally intended for the King’s Chamber, such as a large star on the ceiling. The Queen’s Chamber was no match for the silver resplendence of the King’s Chamber. The floor was made of stone, but not much more is known. This departure from similar decoration schemes for the royal apartments is striking. The mirrored model was adhered to in the architecture, but not in the interior decoration. Instead of identical royal apartments, similarly 33 For the rebuilding of Tre Kronor as a stage for outdoor ceremonies, see Persson 2015b. 34 Wollin 1993, 110.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

decorated, the King’s apartment outshone the Queen’s and reduced her status. Paradoxically, this ran against the King’s efforts to bolster his second Queen’s status, a marriage that was called into question by his siblings, outraged that he had not married a royal.

A mirror cracked In October 1620 Sweden’s new Queen, Maria Eleonora, arrived in Stockholm. She and King Gustaf II Adolf used the apartments in the West Wing of Tre Kronor, built and decorated by John III in the 1580s. By this time the silver radiance of the King’s Chamber was but a memory. The gold, silver, brass and copper seem to have been removed and melted down in the 1610s to pay a huge ransom to the Danes for Älvsborg Fortress. The 1620s were a tipping point in how royal apartments were organised according to gender. The royal chambers were situated adjoining each other until 1626. In that year the old Queen Dowager died and the Queen’s rooms were moved away from the King’s. Gustaf II Adolf remained in the royal apartments built in the 1580s, while Maria Eleonora was lodged in the former royal apartments in a different part of Tre Kronor. The break with tradition was plain. One reason for it may have been international influence, because at some courts the old model was abandoned around this time. The Spanish court, for example, seems to have separated the royal couple’s apartments, with the rooms of the princes and princesses being attached to the Queen’s apartment.35 Between 1632 and 1654, when Christina ruled as Queen regnant, there were no royal couples in Sweden and thus no corresponding royal apartments. In 1654 the new King, Charles X Gustaf, married the Holstein Princess Hedvig Eleonora. At first they followed the example set in 1626 – he lived in King John’s royal apartment in the West Wing, she moved into Maria Eleonora’s apartment in the part of the palace where the royal apartments had been in the sixteenth century – but the King was not satisfied with this arrangement. In 1656 the architect Jean de la Vallée drew up two designs, possibly inspired by the Louvre, to rebuild the royal apartments. The King approved a design in 1658 by which both the King’s and Queen’s apartments would be placed in the West Wing, connected by a shared bedchamber, in other words reverting to the old model of mirrored apartments, though for reasons that are unclear. It was apparently his own decision to opt for 35 Hofmann 1985, 178.

The broken mirror: Gender differences in the system of royal apartments


the novelty of a shared bedchamber. It is interesting that at the same time King Frederick III of Denmark had a shared bedroom with his Queen in Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen. After King Charles X Gustaf’s death in 1660 it was 20 years before the apartments had to be arranged in Tre Kronor for newlyweds. Yet again in 1680 it was demonstrated that the tradition of mirrored royal apartments had ceased to function, but this time a different solution was found. The new Queen, Ulrika Eleonora, was lodged in the King’s old rooms on the top floor of the West Wing. Surprisingly, Charles XI did not create an adjoining suite on the same level. Instead, he wanted his rooms to be one floor down, directly beneath the Queen’s. This proved difficult to realise. The official in charge of the court, the Chief Marshal, moved out of his apartments, which were situated on the middle floor in the north wing built by John III, and the King took up residence there instead. The new room functionality determined by gender roles was visible in the layout of Charles XI’s and Ulrika Eleonora’s apartments. When several princes and princesses were born, their rooms were placed on the same floor, adjacent to the Queen’s apartment. The shy Queen was associated with the traditional gender role of mother rather than the more public role of Queen Consort. Tellingly, the King connected his rooms by stairs and long corridors to both the Queen’s apartment and to the offices of the financial administration. Absolutist Charles XI was a bureaucrat who spent most of his time with his advisers. How unlike his near contemporary, Philip V of Spain, who worked closely with his wife, Queen Elizabeth Farnese, in government, to the point where government meetings were held in the Queen’s apartments rather than the King’s.36 Though to be fair, this was due to Elizabeth Farnese being forced to step in and keep the show on the road due to King Philip’s bipolar disorder.

In-built gender Gender played an important but changing role in the construction of the Swedish royal apartments. From at least the 1540s onwards, the apartments of the king and queen mirrored each other. They were placed on the same floor, adjacent to each other. Their comparable status was also emphasised by similar decoration schemes. The 1580s marked the first real change when the King’s Chamber built for King John III was decorated in a manner very 36 Noel 2004, 168.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

different from that of his Queen’s. A further break with the mirrored tradition came in 1626, when the Queen’s apartment was separated from the King’s and placed in a different part of the palace. It was only for a few years in the late 1650s that the royal apartments reverted to the old mirrored model. At that point the novelty of a shared bedchamber was added. In 1680 King Charles XI continued the model of separate royal apartments, this time even on different floors. This new division according to gender was more traditional than the old mirrored one. It enhanced Queen Ulrika Eleonora the Elder’s role as a mother as her apartment grew with every new royal child. At the same time it portrayed King Charles XI as administrator: this was a hard-working monarch who demanded that his apartment be connected to the treasury and its offices. The new royal space was paradoxically more dependent on traditional gender roles than the discarded mirrored system.

13. Death and beyond Abstract It should be noted that Maria Eleonora’s performance as her husband’s devoted widow was neither acknowledged nor appreciated by the Swedish elite. In memorialising Gustaf II Adolf she primarily celebrated their marriage rather than the dynastic function of that marriage. A more successful strategy was deployed by Charles X’s Queen Dowager, Hedvig Eleonora. For Hedvig Eleonora, her son Charles XI was present in her memorialisation of Charles X in a way in which Queen Christina was not in Maria Eleonora’s portrayals of Gustaf II Adolf. Hedvig Eleonora preserved the memory of her husband but also the image of her son – the future of the dynasty. Keywords: widowhood, Queen Dowager, Artemisia, memory

When the body of King Gustaf II Adolf was dissected, the throng was so great that the apothecary Casper Kenig had to ask the Court Marshal Craylsheim to expel some of the spectators from the room.1 A king had to be prepared to be gawked at even after death, though in November 1632 the battle over the King’s body had only just begun. Within months the jostling around his body would turn into a bitter struggle for control of the corpse. In the autumnal darkness in the little German town of Weissenfels, attention was thus far focused on trying to preserve the badly damaged royal remains. After Kenig had opened the body, the viscera and heart were removed. The body was stuffed with herbs and spices, while the viscera were buried beneath the floor of one of the churches in Weissenfels. The heart was weighed and placed in a box inside the church.2 Early modern widows often remarried, but this did not apply to royal widows. They represented dynasties and power, and a second husband 1 2

Council minutes, 28 March 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii. Grönstedt 1912, 27-28.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch13


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

was often viewed as an unwelcome intruder, and could pose a very real political threat, as Margaret Tudor’s remarriage in Scotland demonstrated: factions and political realignments could threaten a country’s stability as new royal relatives coalesced around a queen dowager and her new spouse. An analysis of a number of royal widows in a German principality indicate that remarriage was rare.3 The last royal widow in Sweden to remarry was Dorothea, who married her husband’s successor Christian I in 1449. After that queen dowagers in Sweden and Denmark stayed unmarried. Given the potential disasters of remarriage, it was natural that queen dowagers were encouraged to remain widows, and instead devote themselves to the dynasty and the memory of their husband, a duty which could manifest itself in tombs, poetry, and various other forms of art. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many royal widows in Europe were thrown into a situation where they had to manage the sudden death of their spouse. Public grief and a continued association with their late husband could then become not just an obligation, but a political weapon. Catherine de Medici was one such. Thrown into a difficult political situation when her husband, Henry II of France, died in 1559 from a jousting injury, she assumed the role of political guarantor for the continued influence of the royal family during her sons’ minority, and worked to build up the cult of her late husband. Queen dowagers could be expected to stay confined to their rooms for one or two months and to wear mourning for two years. Catherine de Medici exceeded all expectations. 4 As a manifestation of her grief, she tore down the building where Henry II had died. An observer described how ‘she made such lamentations, spouting such tears that she never exhausted them. […] When anyone spoke of him, as long as she lived, she always shed many from the depths of her eyes.’5 One room in the palace was kept in eternal darkness, draped in black cloth in remembrance of her husband. She remained in mourning until her dying day, and always carried on her person a celebratory poem about Henry II written by the pretentious royal historiographer Pierre Paschal. Catherine de Medici also planned a grand mausoleum to be added to St. Denis, the funeral church of the French monarchs. The Italian architect Francesco Primaticcio drew up the designs for this memorial, intended to commemorate not just Henry II but the whole Valois dynasty.6 Catherine 3 4 5 6

Bepler 2010. Crawford 2004, 30. Ibid., 30. Hoogvliet 2003.

Death and beyond


also ordered a marble equestrian statue of her husband.7 Together with an urn for the King’s heart, the statue was placed in the convent where the hearts of dead French monarchs were kept. What then were the expectations of an early modern queen dowager? What means did she have, what models to emulate? In her celebration of her late husband’s life, Catherine de Medici intentionally conformed to an established role for women. By nurturing and guarding the memory of a late husband, she as a royal widow was following the ancient model of Artemisia, sister and wife of King Mausolus of Caria.8 When Mausolus died, Artemisia was said to have drunk her husband’s ashes to become one with him. To make her husband’s memory eternal Artemisia built a magnificent funerary monument, the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus, presumably for his remaining undrunk ashes. In the sixteenth century Artemisia was held up as the paradigm of widowhood. In The Book of the Courtier, Baldassare Castiglione wrote of her greatness. She was referred to repeatedly in Catherine de Medici’s France, who as early as 1560 was celebrated as ‘the new Artemisia’.9 When the young King and the Queen Dowager entered Paris in a joyeuse entrée in 1571, the Carian Queen was depicted in several places. French poetry drew the obvious parallels with Artemisia’s monument-building and ash-drinking, and celebrated how Henry II lived on in his widow. The same theme was repeated in an inscription on the urn that held the King’s heart, stating that Queen Dowager Catherine carried Henry’s heart in her own bosom. In context, such actions become more understandable, though it did not mean that contemporaries thought all grieving queen dowagers sensible. Indeed, a number acted in ways which were seen as highly strung or inexplicable even then. Exaggerated forms of adoration could easily tip over from exemplary grief to unhinged annoyance. Use of the figure of Artemisia did not necessarily mean that a queen dowager had to throw herself into dramatic public mourning. Anne of Austria was hardly very close to Louis XIII, but still let herself be portrayed as Artemisia. The memory and glorification of the dead monarch was especially important when the dynasty and royal power was under threat, as in France in the 1560s, torn between Protestants and Catholics, or Scotland in the 1460s. After the Scottish King James II’s untimely death at Roxburgh, his widow, Mary of Guelders, founded Trinity College Kirk in Edinburgh in his memory. In 7 8 9

Lawrence 1997, 106. Bøggild Johannsen 2017. ffolliott 1986.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Denmark, queen dowagers also assumed responsibility for consolidating the dynasty by preserving the memory of their dead husbands.10 The cathedral of Odense served as a dynastic shrine for the Danish kings and several queen dowagers were closely involved in the construction of its royal tombs.

A Swedish Artemisia manquée On the death of Gustaf II Adolf in the Battle of Lützen 1632, his widow, Maria Eleonora, intended to take responsibility for his memory. Though she had accompanied her husband on campaign, she had been absent from Lützen, and a German prince had to give her the news in Erfurt. Once she had composed herself, she left for Spandau in her native Brandenburg. There in December 1632 she met the procession with the dead King’s body, which she threw herself at ‘with too many kisses’.11 She ordered Court Marshal Craylsheim, hitherto in charge, to retrieve the King’s heart from Weissenfels, and she kept it as a treasured relic.12 From Spandau they continued to Pomeranian Wolgast, which was then under Swedish occupation. There it was evident that Maria Eleonora had taken full command over the King’s body and his memory. Every morning she went to the body in church, where she usually remained for two hours, ‘doing nothing but with tears and sighs touching and caressing, despite His Majesty’s most holy face now is beginning much to blacken and change’.13 An observer noted that the coffin was a plain oak one, ‘which gives a mightily plain impression and truly goes to the heart of a true Patriot’.14 At home in Sweden the Council, ruling in the name of the six-year-old Queen Christina, began to worry about these goings-on, and exactly how the King’s remains were being treated. As early as February 1633 the Council discussed the ‘disorder’ around the Queen Dowager in Wolgast, and decided someone with authority had to be dispatched there.15 Kenig the apothecary, having returned to Stockholm after embalming the King, gave testimony to the Council that it was necessary to send someone. Maria Eleonora was negotiating with a person, deemed by Kenig and the Council to be a quack, 10 Bøggild Johannsen 2001. 11 Rodén 2008, 54. 12 Meyerson 1945, 38. 13 RA, Stegeborgssamlingen Skrivelser till Johan Casimir och hans gemål E 69, Nils Nilsson Tungel to John Casmir, Wolgast, 3 February 1633. 14 Ibid. 15 Council minutes, 27 February 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii.

Death and beyond


who had offered to preserve the decomposing royal body for another 20 years using a new method of embalming. This man had already been paid by the Queen Dowager, though he had not done anything, and he was evidently the person whose method meant that the King’s skin had been removed. When the Council later denounced the Queen Dowager’s treatment of her dead husband as undignified, it was claimed she handled the King’s body as if he was a miscreant: ‘We doubt if it is natural for a wife to pull the skin off her husband and put other clothes upon him.’16 Two senior Councillors were sent to Wolgast to try to get the Queen Dowager and the treatment of the King’s body under control. In Wolgast, Maria Eleonora was also trying to take over the funeral. She wanted a different coffin to the one preferred by the Council. She demanded that the Swedish regalia be sent to Wolgast to be used in the ceremonies, though the Council denied her request. She handed out expensive gold coins struck in memory of the King. She commissioned portraits of her dead husband, herself, and their daughter, Christina.17 In April, she bought costly textiles such as black-and-gold cloth, gold buttons, silk ribbons, and black silk-satin to dress the body.18 A few months later she ordered yet another set of new clothes for ‘His Blessed Majesty’s corpse’, and dressed herself and her court down to Casper the dwarf in deep mourning. One of the Councillors sent to Wolgast was profoundly unimpressed by the Queen Dowager’s preparations and dismissed the situation as ‘badly ordered and coordinated’.19 He found the court in disarray, money in short supply, and Maria Eleonora’s actions, such as inviting various German princely relations to take leave of the dead King’s body, strange. In the summer of 1633 arrangements were made to transfer the embalmed royal body from Wolgast Castle to Nyköpingshus (Nyköping Castle) outside Stockholm. In July the body and the Queen Dowager left Pomerania and set sail for Sweden. Once there she reiterated to a Councillor her startling decision that the dead King should not be buried as long as she herself was alive.20 The bitter struggle that ensued over Gustaf II Adolf’s remains was rooted in fundamental disagreements between Maria Eleonora and the Council. The first was simply how to cherish the late King’s memory. As Queen Dowager, 16 Council minutes, 11 January 1641, in ibid., viii. 17 Strömbom 1943, 191. 18 Grönstedt 1912, 29-30. 19 Gabriel Oxenstierna to Axel Oxenstierna, Wolgast, 11 May 1633, in Sondén et al. 1890, iii. 287. 20 Council minutes, 6 August 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

it was Maria Eleonora’s calling to continue her marital duties towards her dead husband by caring for his memory. The disagreements were also about power, however. It was soon evident that the Council wanted to shut her out from the regency government of her six-year-old daughter, Queen Christina, in an unequivocal show of no confidence on the Council’s part. Several of her relatives had been part of regencies as widows.21 In Sweden there was also a precedent, as Maria Eleonora’s mother-in-law, Queen Dowager Christina, had headed the short regency of 1611. Completely barring Maria Eleonora from regency was a drastic step, and one of the few ways she could counter was to use the King’s body as leverage. As the keeper and guardian of the King’s body, the Queen Dowager could step forward as the protector of the memory of the dynasty. That Maria Eleonora saw it as her duty to take care of the King’s body was clear from the first. She seized the box with the King’s heart, and in early 1633 wrote to Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, the leading man of the Council, to make it clear that she and the King would be together for the rest of her life. The embalmed body would not be buried during her lifetime: ‘As We enjoyed so little His Majesty Our late most honoured master and husband in life, it may be granted Us that We His royal corpse to some consolation in Our grieving lifetime may behold and keep.’22 Her desire to recruit new doctors to extend the embalming by another 20 years should be seen in this perspective. One diplomat commented how Maria Eleonora lived close to the King’s body which ‘she views, shows honour, and caresses, not minding that it now is so much blackening and decaying that it is hardly more to be recognised’.23 Dramatic mourning was a role fit for a queen dowager, as Catherine de Medici and others had show, and it certainly seems have come easily to Maria Eleonora. People close to her began to worry at how she was handling her loss. Her sister-in-law wrote anxiously that she needed to be calmed as she could not always ‘moderate herself’.24 It had been in Pomeranian Wolgast that the battle between the Queen Dowager and the Council began in earnest. Yet the struggle was not only about the King’s body, but about power in Sweden after the King’s demise. What further poisoned the atmosphere was the decision by the Council to completely bar Maria Eleonora from any participation in the regency 21 Her sister Catherine even succeeded as Princess of Siebenbürgen after the death of her husband, Bethlen Gabor, in 1629. 22 Bergh 1902, 277. 23 Sjöberg 1925, 18. 24 Kromnow n.d.

Death and beyond


during her daughter Christina’s minority.25 The Queen Dowager became very upset and asked Chancellor Oxenstierna’s brother why she was ‘wholly shut out from the government’.26 She compared her position with that of her mother-in-law, who had been part of the regency for the brief minority of Gustaf II Adolf. Gabriel Oxenstierna tried to exonerate the Council by saying it was unusual in Sweden, while flattering and complimenting Maria Eleonora. On the same occasion, plans were discussed to marry little Queen Christina to either the Queen Dowager’s nephew, the Prince of Brandenburg, or to a Danish prince. Chancellor Oxenstierna was determined she should be neutralised – which meant she could expend her energies on safeguarding the memory of her dead husband, something she could use to apply political pressure on the Council and to guard her financial interests. It was soon apparent the battle would be long and bitter. It was said that Maria Eleonora was extremely determined and stubborn – ‘in her made opinions very steadfast’.27 One of her own courtiers later said in another context that ‘the more you try to hinder it, the more passionate Her Majesty is to carry it through’.28 A resolute and temperamental Queen Dowager, hell bent on seizing control of her husband’s memory and at the same time defending her own interests, was an insoluble problem for the Council. For the Councillors it was an absolute demand that the King’s funeral should be planned, for in conjunction with the funeral a new Diet would be called, and the Councillors’ regency powers would be confirmed. Chancellor Oxenstierna shifted the goalposts in favour of the conciliar aristocracy by presenting a document which he claimed had been drafted together with the late King as a proposed constitution. Whether Gustaf II Adolf was in truth behind the new constitution is arguable as it strengthened the power of the Council. To shepherd this draft through the Diet; winning support for a Council that was ruling without the Queen Dowager; handpicking new Councillors: all this demanded skilful handling, given the delicate political situation. Nor was the Queen Dowager the only one excluded from power. The King’s brother-in-law, Count Palatine John Casimir, had been used for important tasks in the Swedish government, but now was barred by the Council. His wife, the late King’s sister, Princess Catharina, was also kept out of royal 25 For Maria Eleonora’s life, see ibid.; Matthis 2010. 26 Gabriel Oxenstierna to Axel Oxenstierna, Wolgast, 5 June 1633, in Sondén et al. 1890, iii. 294. 27 Same to same, Wolgast, 11 May 1633, in ibid., iii. 287. 28 Court Master Adam Pentz, quoted in Bergh 1902, 204.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

ceremonies whenever possible. The royal family as a whole was kept away from personal power, and manoeuvred out of positions where it might have seemed they had power to wield. Excluded from power, Maria Eleonora in turn blocked the Council’s plans by refusing to proceed with the King’s funeral, while bolstering her legitimacy by honouring her dead husband. This greatly worried the Council, which spent hours discussing this sensitive matter. Meanwhile at Nyköpingshus, Maria Eleonora draped her rooms with black cloth, while Gustaf II Adolf’s corpse stood in another room.29 Years later, Queen Christina reminisced about her mother’s court during this period. Immediately after her arrival she shut herself in her rooms, completely covered with black cloth from ceiling to floor. All windows in the suite of rooms were covered with cloth of the same colour. You could hardly see a thing, and day and night wax candles burned, by the light of which nothing could be discerned but signs of deep sorrow. She cried almost all hours of the night and day.

Some later writers have dismissed the rooms draped in black as a mark of excessive grief, but in fact it was a standard element in the ritual of royal mourning. Christina also remembered how her mother filled her function well – ‘the Queen Dowager performed her grieving role perfectly. She was inconsolable, but her grief was sincere.’30 When the former royal chaplain Johannes Botvidi, now a bishop, visited Nyköpingshus, he found her ‘much bound by grief’. Again it was apparent that she ‘wants to keep the blessed corpse with her’.31 Maria Eleonora was now in the habit of opening the coffin in order to sit together with the King’s embalmed body. At any mention of her late husband she would exclaim in despair in German, ‘My happiness is dead.’ The Queen Dowager had also ordered a coffin with space for two. In this she would rest together with the King after her death, their remains becoming one, as when Artemisia drank her husband’s ashes. Double coffins were very rare but not unique. George II of England later made arrangements so that he and his Queen, Caroline of Ansbach, could rest in the same coffin with a dividing wall being removed so their remains could mingle.32 29 30 31 32

Meyerson 1945, 32. Grönstedt 1912, 116. Council minutes, 19 August 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii. Worsley 2010, 318.

Death and beyond


Eventually in October 1633 Chancellor Oxenstierna wrote to persuade the Queen Dowager to agree to the King’s burial, with his tomb to be in Riddarholm Church, near Tre Kronor.33 In his letter, the Chancellor said that ‘to let His Blessed Majesty’s corpse remain unburied when it can be buried is unheard of’. Gustaf II Adolf himself had viewed it as wrong when other bodies remained unburied, claimed the Chancellor. He emphasised, in an argument tailored to impress Maria Eleonora, that the precious body would be safer buried in the royal crypt, for above ground it could be devoured in a fire. He referred to the King’s own will to give more weight to the argument: ‘I have so much in this matter of corpses heard His Late Majesty discuss, that if His Royal Majesty had known when alive, that His Royal Majesty’s corpse would remain unburied, that His Late Royal Majesty would not have received this with good grace.’ In October 1633 Maria Eleonora agreed to let her husband’s body be buried, though she wanted to decide his f inal resting place.34 Now she wanted the King buried in Uppsala, and said she would agree to proceed with the funeral if the Council gave way. She countered arguments that it would be costly and that work on the King’s tomb in Riddarholm Church was already under way by claiming to have ordered marble and craftsmen from Germany for a tomb in Uppsala. A little later the Council flatly refused to let the King be buried in Uppsala. Chancellor Oxenstierna had decided views on this matter, too. In his letter to the Queen Dowager he emphasised that he ‘himself often discussed this with His Late Royal Majesty’. According to Oxenstierna, the King had rejected Uppsala, Strängnäs, and Västerås and had chosen ‘himself to have his burial in the Grey Friar’s Abbey Church itself, with two old laudable kings, King Magnus Ladulås and King Karl Knutsson, as well as one of His Majesty’s own ancestors, the Chancellor of the Judiciary Christer Nilsson’.35 Oxenstierna wrote that ‘as one wants to follow the will and desires of one’s friends, in particular with regard to their own funerals’, the regency government could not ignore the King’s plans for his place of burial.36 Even less so should Maria Eleonora, argued the Chancellor, as she had usually tried to do as he wished during his lifetime.37 33 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Svenska Drottningars arkiv Maria Eleonora K 86, Axel Oxenstierna to Maria Eleonora, Frankfurt, 4 October 1633. 34 Council minutes, 7 October 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii. 35 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Svenska Drottningars arkiv Maria Eleonora K 86, Axel Oxenstierna to Maria Eleonora, Frankfurt, 4 October 1633. 36 There are some indications that the King may have intended Riddarholm Church to be his resting place (Liljegren 1947, 100). 37 RA, Kungliga arkiv, Svenska Drottningars arkiv Maria Eleonora K 86, Axel Oxenstierna to Maria Eleonora, Frankfurt, 4 October 1633.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

The Queen Dowager then relented and offered to hold the funeral in Stockholm as long as the body was afterwards taken to Strömsholm Palace, where she intended to build a magnificent tomb.38 The Council, however, ignored her plans and proceeded with the construction of the Gustavian Chapel in Riddarholm Church. Two years later, Maria Eleonora was still working on sketches and designs for a monument for her husband’s tomb.39 She showed the drawings to a French diplomat, along with verses she had dedicated to Gustaf II Adolf. The dispute between the Queen Dowager and the Council coloured all contact between them. Maria Eleonora may have been excluded from the regency, but as the widow of Gustaf II Adolf she had a responsibility to maintain the role of the monarchy to help people in need. Distressed people still saw her as a woman of power; supplicants still gathered around her. Here Maria Eleonora could take on the role of her dead husband. ‘Gustaf II Adolf’ had helped ‘widows and the fatherless, the poor and miserable, and crippled soldiers’; old soldiers with wooden legs, the blind, and others seeking help would now receive support from his widow. 40 In the accounts of the court it was noted that on her orders ‘on many occasions [alms were] given to beggars who most often have sought help’. 41 The Queen Dowager also helped people who had suits to the regency government. And defiantly she supported people who believed themselves maltreated by the regency. Thus two poor widows were given money for food ‘as they long waited for a decision by the Government’, and this was not an isolated case but a recurring theme. 42 A poor widow of a cavalryman also received aid as the regency was keeping her waiting. Maria Eleonora also tried to intercede in far larger cases. Her brother-in-law Count Palatine, John Casimir, wanted Stegeborg Castle, and she tried to persuade the Council to agree. She claimed that the late King had said he wanted John Casimir to receive Stegeborg as a hereditary fief. 43 The Council tried to parry her various suits by stressing the poverty of the kingdom and the sheer number of letters of intercession she sent. 44 As a friend of the dead King, the Marshal of the Realm Axel Banér was a natural go-between in the dealings between Maria Eleonora and the 38 39 40 41 42 43 44

Council minutes, 4 November 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii. Hallberg 1914, 85. Botvidi 1634. SLA, Hovstatsräkenskaper Änkedrottning Maria Eleonora, 1636-1637, vol. 3. Ibid., 1634-1635, vol. 2. Council minutes, 13 August 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii. RA, Kungliga arkiv, K 86, Regency government to Maria Eleonora, Stockholm, 20 March 1634.

Death and beyond


Council. In February 1634 the two parties had to negotiate her jointure (livgeding), the lands which were to support her as widow – a sensitive subject as Maria Eleonora was certain the Council was short-changing her. Banér reported back that in her view the Council was failing to provide for her in a way bef itting a queen dowager. Without enough resources she could not build monuments, hand out alms, or keep a proper court. She told Banér that with the death of her husband ‘all hope turned to charcoal’. Banér tried to persuade her that whoever tried to set her and the Council against each other was a traitor, but that only made Maria Eleonora go silent and ‘gave no reply to that’. 45 The Council reckoned she was surrounded by deceitful foreigners and wanted her to have Swedish courtiers, while she expressed her mistrust of the Council to Banér: ‘I have been told that when the King dies, I and my daughter would leave with a white staff and dog’s bread.’ Banér completely rejected that the Queen Dowager would be driven to take up a beggar’s staff – ‘who said that lied like a treacherous person’. After which Maria Eleonora ‘took her leave of him’. 46 Once preparations for the funeral were underway in the spring of 1634, the Queen Dowager felt, quite correctly, that she was being excluded. Instead of having responsibility for her husband’s funeral, she was being marginalised. To her great indignation there was also a rumour that one of the pallbearers was to be Erik Rålamb, a courtier who had been dismissed by Gustaf II Adolf under scandalous circumstances. To allow a man who had been banished in shame from the court to carry her husband’s coffin was a dishonour Maria Eleonora refused to contemplate, and the Council had to assure her this was only malicious gossip. 47 Clearly making a point that the practice was not that outrageous, Maria Eleonora wrote to the Chancellor requesting that two German princes whose bodies had been above ground for a long time should also be buried according to the wishes of her late husband. 48 In June 1634, Maria Eleonora at least got to pick the scripture for the funeral sermon. She chose a passage from Judas Maccabaeus – ‘And all the people of Israel bewailed him with great lamentation, and they mourned for him many days. And said: How is the mighty man fallen, that saved the people of Israel!’ – for Bishop Johannes Botvidi to preach from. 49 45 Council minutes, 4 December 1633, in Kullberg et al. 1885, iii. 46 Council minutes, 6 December 1633, in ibid. 47 Council minutes, 16 May 1634, in ibid., iv. 48 RA, K 81 Kungliga arkiv utgångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Oxenstierna, 26 July 1634 Stockholm, draft. 49 Council minutes, 11 June 1634, in Kullberg et al. 1886, iv.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

At the actual funeral, with cannons, flags, and war trophies in the procession, the Queen Dowager was not much in evidence. The sermon was dedicated to her, but she was hardly mentioned apart from their marriage in 1620. Then, only two days after the King’s funeral, she decided to go down into the crypt and open his coffin.50 She sent for Banér to let her into the crypt, but he wanted the permission of the Council. The bishops who advised the Council thought it was permissible to let Maria Eleonora into the crypt a few times as long as the coffin was kept sealed, but the Council was adamant in its resistance to letting Maria Eleonora get close to her husband’s body again. The Councillors felt there was a risk she would force the coffin open if she were let into the crypt. Her Master of the Court Adam Pentz was summoned to appear before the Council, where he was strictly forbidden to remove the stones that had been laid in front of the crypt, and so make it possible for the Queen Dowager to get in. Others were also summoned and forbidden to help her. The Chancellor of the Judiciary Gabriel Oxenstierna, brother of the Chancellor, reported in a letter that Maria Eleonora had once again reverted to ‘her old nature’.51 She wanted to get to the King’s body, and had offered him ‘lavish gifts’ if he made it possible. Maria Eleonora pleaded with individual Councillors to help her get into the crypt. She demanded that both the crypt and the coffin should be opened.52 Pentz was warned that whoever opened the coffin would be punished by death. The Queen Dowager herself went to bed for eight days ‘simulating speechlessness’.53 Two weeks later, one Councillor was called to the Queen Dowager, who explained that she would not be calm until she could ‘go and behold His Late Majesty’s corpse’. She refused to give up the heart cloth with the embalmed heart, and declared that the Diet that had been called would not be able to keep her away from the grave.54 The following day, Johannes Matthiae, tutor to the young Queen, came before the Council to pass on to them that the Queen Dowager ‘was wholly resolved to go down to His Majesty’s corpse’ and the Council ‘may do about this whatever they pleased’.55 The Councillors refused to budge and warned the Queen Dowager of the scandal which would ensue if she tried to get into the crypt. On behalf of the Council, a number of clergymen tried to dissuade her from visiting her husband’s body. She was now limiting her demand to just this one time. Bishop Rudbeckius thought this was acceptable, but the 50 51 52 53 54 55

Council minutes, 25 June 1634, in ibid. Grönstedt 1912, 127. Council minutes, 26 June 1634, in Kullberg et al. 1886, iv. Grönstedt 1912, 127. Council minutes, 11 June 1634, in Kullberg et al. 1886, iv. Council minutes, 12 July 1634, in ibid.

Death and beyond


Council absolutely refused to grant her request. The Councillors felt that if she did it once it would soon turn into a habit. A few days later the Council offered her a compromise devised by Johannes Matthiae. When the stone sarcophagus for Gustaf II Adolf’s coffin and her own was finished the grave would be opened and she would be allowed to be present.56 The following day the Council had gathered further support from the Estate of the Clergy in the Diet on whether a Christian could be allowed to open ‘the tombs of the dead and look on and inconvenience their wizened bodies’.57 At this stage the Council was already under great pressure. The draft constitution had not yet been confirmed and a raft of appointments to high office had been postponed until that was complete. It was only in September that things eventually fell into place in the political jigsaw puzzle devised the Axel Oxenstierna. If the Queen Dowager had managed to drum up support in the Diet, the political situation in the summer of 1634 would have turned chaotic – the Council’s plans all depended on her being firmly excluded from power – but in the event she did not. Maria Eleonora had decided to glorify her husband’s memory by hiring Daniel Heinsius, one of the great learned names and a professor in Leiden, to write a biography.58 If the project had come to fruition it would have further burnished Gustaf II Adolf’s international reputation, but it all petered out. Heinsius contacted the Chancellor for access to the sources promised by the Queen Dowager, but no text was ever published. (It was not the first such book project. In 1623 Maria Eleonora’s mother-in-law, Queen Dowager Christina, had tried to help with a book about her own husband, King Charles IX, and to that end sent documents to a Secretary and assured him the book was in accordance with ‘Our heart’s desire’.59) Similarly transitory was Maria Eleonora’s creation of an order in memory of her husband. The insignia was a crowned heart with a miniature coffin and the letters GARS (Gustavus Adolphus Rex Sueciae).60 When the King had courted Maria Eleonora he had travelled incognito in Germany under the name of Captain Gars. The insignia also wore the German inscription ‘Through my death I have proved the constancy of my heart and now, you heroes, persecute the enemy with grave vengeance’ as well as a Latin inscription. The insignia was handed out to the Queen Dowager’s relatives and women serving at 56 Council minutes, 15 July 1634, in ibid. 57 Council minutes, 16 July 1634, in ibid. 58 RA, Oxenstiernska samlingen E 621, Daniel Heinsius to Axel Oxenstierna, Leiden, 28 May 1635. 59 RA, Kungliga arkiv, vol. 75 Drottning Kristinas registratur, Christina to Erik Jöransson (Tegel), Nyköping, 3 February 1623. 60 Fryxell 1857, vi. 436.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

her court, but seems to have fallen into abeyance after a few years. Orders were part of the early modern royal paraphernalia, and far from being an unusual idea to found a new order, it was a trend among early modern princes and princesses – seventeenth-century Sweden also saw the equally short-lived Jehovah Order and the Order of the Amaranth – but this Order of the Coffin appears unusual in its rather macabre form. Another way to perpetuate the memory of her husband was to create a place with his name. In March 1634 she wrote to the Council that she wanted to found a town at Strömsholm Castle ‘in eternal memory’ of her dead husband.61 Plans were drawn up, people travelled to inspect the site, but this project foundered, too. Maria Eleonora did not let go of the idea, though, and in 1638 she decided to build a castle in her native Prussia and call it Gustafsburg, ‘an eternal memory’ of her husband.62 There were memorials that were simpler to arrange than a town or a castle. Portraits and objects to commemorate Gustaf II Adolf were now created on the order of the Queen Dowager, and she hired a number of prominent artists. Jakob Elbfas became her court painter in 1634 and portrayed her in mourning. There was a gold ring with the portraits of Gustaf II Adolf and Maria Eleonora, emphasising how she wanted to perpetuate his memory with herself as an integral part. The ‘great number’ of memorial coins with Gustaf II Adolf and Maria Eleonora’s image is also remarkable.63 They had been made and distributed during the King’s lifetime, but now continued after his death. The distrust between Queen Dowager and Council increased, and in March 1635 the Chancellor received a letter from his brother describing the harmful influence of the Queen Dowager on the young Queen. The nineyear-old Christina, he wrote, was being brought up in ‘all disgust and hatred against our persons and our nation’.64 Maria Eleonora also continued to employ German courtiers, who were viewed with suspicion by the Council. It is understandable that she wanted people around her whom she trusted, rather than the relatives and clients of her enemies on the Council, but nevertheless it further widened the gulf between her and the Council.65 The Chancellor’s 61 RA, K 80 Kungliga arkiv utgångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to the Council, Nyköping, 25 March 1634; RA, K 80 Kungliga arkiv utgångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to the Council, Nyköping, 13 March 1634. 62 Axel-Nilsson 1946, 66. 63 Hildebrand 1874, 225. 64 Gabriel Oxenstierna to Axel Oxenstierna, Stockholm, 20 March 1635, in Sondén et al. 1890, iii. 355. 65 It was a recurring theme for the Council to attempt to control the social life and access to a monarch who was a minor (see Persson 2016).

Death and beyond


brother suggested the dramatic step of excluding the Queen Dowager from her daughter’s upbringing. In the summer of 1636 the idea was raised again, but this time her enemies on the Council pushed through the decision and she lost custody of her daughter, with an array of reasons given by the Council – the Queen Dowager had criticised Sweden, she had a court full of foreigners, she was turning Christina against her kingdom, she was stirring up ill will towards the Council – but the argument that was deeply hurtful was the claim she had been a bad wife to Gustaf II Adolf. The King was said to have lamented his domestic misfortune and their marriage was portrayed as unhappy. For the efforts to rein in and control Maria Eleonora also extended to her relationship with her dead husband. In the autumn of 1636, the Council forced her to surrender the box with the King’s embalmed heart.66 Axel Oxenstierna gave her a written assurance that her wish would be honoured, and on her death the King’s heart would be placed on her bosom to be buried with her. Oxenstierna promised that Queen Christina would be bound by the same assurance when she came of age and assumed the reins of government.67 Maria Eleonora was allowed to retain the King’s heart cloth as a keepsake. Indeed, Nyköpingshus, the Queen Dowager’s castle, housed a number of relics: in addition to the heart cloth there were three shirts the King had worn at the fatal Battle of Lützen, a jacket with a lace collar and cuffs used when the body was shrouded, trousers, linen stockings, and a large sheet soaked in blood that had been under the royal body when it was embalmed.68 The Queen Dowager was also about to lose control of her dower lands. Much of her contact with the Council in the summer of 1636 had been about her finances. The Council was of the view that she was too generous and her court spendthrift. At the same time as she lost custody of her daughter, she submitted a list of financial demands to the Council but was refused.69 This left her without an obvious role. The Council’s decision meant that the last opportunity for the Queen Dowager to act as guardian of the memory of the dynasty was now extinguished; her bitterness towards the Council was deep that she now wanted to return to Germany. In the meantime she

66 RA, Oxenstiernska samlingen E 533, Koncept av Axel Oxenstierna personliga försäkran till Maria Eleonora, [September 1636]. 67 The promise was broken. When the coff ins of Gustaf II Adolf and Maria Eleonora were opened in 1744, the embalmed heart was found in a green taffeta bag in the King’s hand (SLA, RMÄ Ceremoniala, vol. 1). 68 Meyerson 1945, 30-31. 69 RA, Riksregistraturet, Riksrådet to Maria Eleonora, Stockholm, 22 August 1636.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

persisted as best she could. At Christmas in 1636 she ordered new black cloth to drape her rooms.70 In the spring of 1637, Maria Eleonora again complained that she ‘is denied to enter His Royal Majesty’s grave’. Nor had she had been allowed to keep her husband’s heart, which was ‘Her Majesty’s sole consolation’.71 If she had been allowed the heart she would not consider leaving for Prussia. Chancellor Oxenstierna, however, was completely unfazed and devoid of any sympathy. He talked about how unchristian, how ‘inhuman it is to be among the dead’ – good Christian people should be alarmed at such behaviour. The following year the Council again was united in its view that the Queen Dowager was unreasonable, for ‘Her Majesty has before this had many fantasies such as with the King’s corpse, when in the end she wanted to have the late King’s heart.’72 Maria Eleonora fled in secret to Denmark in 1640, after which the Council’s criticism only hardened. She had broken her obligations towards her dead husband, and by abandoning him ‘thereby shamed and disrespected him in his grave’: ‘Her Majesty has forgotten her late master’s grave, though Her Majesty ad fastidium usque [to the degree of nausea] appeared to have loved it.’73 The Danish King, who had given her refuge, was accused of ‘affronting His Royal Majesty in his earth’. Their anger at the Queen Dowager’s treatment of her husband’s body in Wolgast all those years before was now unleashed: ‘Was discussed Her Majesty’s manner in treating the King’s body and treating it like a felon. We wonder if it is natural that a wife should pull off the skin off her husband and dress him in other clothes.’ The embittered Councillors again brought up ‘Her Majesty’s dealings with the late King’s body in Wolgast and Nyköping’.74 From being her husband’s true companion in death, Maria Eleonora had become the unnatural wife who treated her late husband like a criminal and then dishonoured him by abandoning his grave.

Commemorating a dynasty Maria Eleonora’s failure as the guardian of her husband’s remains and memory was all the starker in comparison with the next Queen Dowager: 70 RA, K 82 Kungliga arkiv utgångna skrivelser, Maria Eleonora to Princess Catherine of Sweden, Gripsholm, 25 December 1636. 71 Council minutes, 9 May 1637, in Kullberg et al. 1895, vii. 72 Council minutes, 22 September 1638, in ibid. 73 Council minutes, 5 January 1641, in Kullberg et al. 1898, viii. 74 Council minutes, 11 January 1641, in ibid.

Death and beyond


Hedvig Eleonora, widow of Charles X Gustaf (1654-1660). Maria Eleonora was marginalised by the Council and was never allowed to erect a funerary monument to her husband and dynasty. Such a role, however, fell to her relative Hedvig Eleonora. From the start Hedvig Eleonora was in a very different position to Maria Eleonora. Her husband’s will stipulated she should be part of the regency council for her son, Charles XI, which gave her a part to play in ruling the kingdom. She did not feud with the Council; she was not excluded from exercising control over the late King’s memory. Like Maria Eleonora before her, she carried out her performance as the grieving widow with éclat. Following her husband’s death, her rooms in Tre Kronor were draped in 8,900 metres of black cloth.75 This was easily at the same level as Maria Eleonora. The royal funeral was lavish, and commemorated in engravings where the Queen Dowager can be clearly seen in the procession. Hedvig Eleonora soon began to plan her late husband’s tomb. In what was evidently a dynastic decision, the architect Jean De la Vallée drew up designs for a Caroline Crypt. The new Palatine dynasty (which had succeeded the Vasas only six years before in 1654) was to have its own resting place, even if they would have to use Gustaf II Adolf and Maria Eleonora’s crypt in the meantime while the new mausoleum was finished. The difference between the harmony in deciding on the burial of Charles X and the struggle over Gustaf II Adolf is striking. It meant that neither Hedvig Eleonora nor the Council had to rush the work on the new crypt, unlike the scramble to come up with a fait accompli for Gustaf II Adolf’s tomb. If anything, things moved too slowly: after eleven years it was said to be ‘indefensible’ that work on the Caroline crypt had not even begun.76 De la Vallée’s design was abandoned in favour of a far simpler one by the younger architect Nicodemus Tessin.77 At last work commenced, although when the Queen Dowager’s son Charles XI died in 1697 only the subterranean part of the crypt was finished, so the dead King’s coffin was placed there. At the same time, the coffin of Charles X was moved there from the Gustavian crypt, where it had been lying waiting together with the tiny coffins of two infant princes.78 It would be another 50 years before the chapel proper was completed. It was only as the Palatine dynasty was drawing its final breaths in the 1740s that the Caroline crypt was finally finished. By then Charles X and Hedvig Eleonora were at rest there, together with their son Charles XI and their grandchildren. 75 76 77 78

Ellenius 1966, 60. Olsson 1928, 224. Ibid., 224. Ibid., 228.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

The Caroline crypt, grand though it was, was by no means the only way in which Hedvig Eleonora glorified her dead husband and created enduring memories not just of their marriage but of their dynasty. For this she not only required the cooperation of the Council, but also time – and that she had in abundance, as she was Queen Dowager for 55 years. She may have looked for inspiration to her contemporary, Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, widow of the stadtholder Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange since 1647. The position of the House of Orange was insecure given that the Netherlands was formally a republic. As part of the glorification of the Orange dynasty, Amalia of Solms created the magnificent Orange Hall (Oranjezaal) in the palace of Huis ten Bosch, where members of the dynasty were celebrated by prominent artists (among them the Artemisia theme in paintings by Rubens).79 Hedvig Eleonora for her part celebrated her dynasty in her new palace of Drottningholm outside Stockholm. The most costly room, the State Bedchamber, honoured the marriage of Hedvig Eleonora and Charles X.80 The quality and expense of the materials used and the artists hired were what made the State Bedchamber the most impressive public space in Drottningholm. In the 1660s, a programme of decoration was drawn up for all the rooms, where ceiling and walls were covered in black lacquer as a way to perpetuate the mourning for Charles X. The new ceiling paintings by the court painter, David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, were highly symbolic. Starting with two linked hands to represent the marriage, a series of symbols commemorated the King, and the Queen Dowager’s desire to be reunited with him. Portraits of Hedvig Eleonora and Charles X hung in the room. Yet the State Bedchamber was not just a celebration of their marriage, but of the existence of the Palatine dynasty. On the ceiling, the royal couple’s newborn son, Charles XI, descended from the clouds. Further paintings depict his education and his early years as a boy king, walking the path of virtue. In the 1690s the noted war artist, Johann Philip Lembke, painted huge paintings of the martial exploits of Charles X, such as the Battle of Warsaw and the Crossing of the Great Belt.81 These were placed in the lower gallery, while huge paintings of the achievements of Charles XI, son of Hedvig Eleonora and Charles X, were hung in the upper gallery. Visitors could not fail to see the first kings of the Palatine dynasty in their martial triumphs. There were also portrait busts of both Charles X and Charles XI, and even a painting of the royal bedding ceremony at Hedvig Eleonora and Charles 79 Ellenius 1966; McGrath 1997. 80 Ellenius 1966. 81 Böttiger 1889, 60.

Death and beyond


X’s wedding in 1654. The whole of Drottningholm was a celebration of both her late husband and the continuing dynasty. The memorialisation of Hedvig Eleonora’s late husband and the Palatine dynasty was not limited to Drottningholm though. In her oratory at Ulriksdal Palace was a portrait of Charles X along with two portraits of her grandsons who died in infancy. There was a strikingly dynastic theme in a painting by Ehrenstrahl in 1683, which featured the Queen Dowager, her son Charles XI, her daughter-in-law, her first grandchildren, and her sister-in-law, while Charles X was included in a frame of his own looking down on his now established dynasty. Nor was the memory of Charles X limited to oil paintings: there were other forms of art, such as portrait busts and miniatures. The Queen Dowager’s courtier Erik Utterhielm painted the royal family tree, with the King and Queen bound together dynastically. Like Maria Eleonora, Hedvig Eleonora also handed out commemorative coins with images of herself and her husband, and portrait medallions of her son. Her fundamental dynastic vision is evident in the medallions which described her as the wife, mother, and grandmother of the three Charleses (X, XI, and XII).82 One medallion in memory of Hedvig Eleonora after her death in 1715 carried the inscription ‘This happy clover of three’ in Latin and three Cs for her husband, son, and grandson.83 There were court ballets which celebrated her son. The ballet Den stoora Genius (The great genius) for the King’s fifteenth birthday in 1669, lauded the Queen Dowager for how she had brought up her son, while the following year a ballet celebrated the Queen Dowager as the Moon while her son was the Sun. Hedvig Eleonora worked not just to keep the memory of her long-dead husband alive, but of her surviving family. The memory of the King and his dynasty was also preserved in the foundation of Regia Academia Carolina (the Royal Caroline Academy), or Lund University as it is today. The University of Uppsala had been named the Gustavian Academy for the Vasa dynasty; now the new Palatine dynasty had its own university. The Queen Dowager presented it with a gown and hat of purple velvet for the inauguration in 1668.84 The date chosen was Charles’s name day, and became the university’s ceremonial day, and Hedvig Eleonora continued to be very involved. To this was added other forms of keeping her husband’s memory alive, such as the volumes of biography by the polymath Samuel Pufendorf. It 82 Hildebrand 1874, 371. 83 Ibid., 372. 84 Manhag and Wittrock 2013.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

is evident that Hedvig Eleonora succeeded in a completely different way than Maria Eleonora in continuing her marriage after death. While Daniel Heinsius’s great project about Gustaf II Adolf faded into nothing, Pufendorf’s work was realised into several volumes, richly illustrated with engravings.

Dynastic memory In the early modern period, women often acted as their family’s memory.85 Noblewomen put together family histories or wrote down the story of their dynasty. In princely families women filled a similar function. It was not unusual for princes to leave widows, who participated in the regency government if the heir was underage. It was, however, not only queen dowagers who devoted themselves to the wielding of political power. Like aristocratic women, they had a responsibility to preserve the dynasty, which meant that marriage did not end with death. Ordinary widows often remarried, but not the widows of princes. The bond between royal spouses was not dissolved by death, for it was the duty of the Queen Dowager to preserve the memory of her husband and celebrate both him and their mutual dynasty. In Florence, one dowager grand duchess built a house whose whole theme was her late husband and dynasty, while in France Catherine de Medici had systematically created a cult around her late husband, taking her inspiration from the ancient story of Artemisia. How did Sweden’s royal widows handle the challenges of such a role? Maria Eleonora and Hedvig Eleonora are particularly illuminating. Maria Eleonora’s family background gave little indication that she would devote her life to her husband’s memory. Her parents had been in bitter conflict, to the point that her mother had stipulated that she should be buried in Königsberg rather than next to her husband in Berlin. Yet after the death of Gustaf II Adolf, Maria Eleonora did her best to construct an Artemisia-like cult for her dead husband, complete with a funerary monument, a chivalric order called the Order of the Coffin, various works of art, and, above all, her prolonged, public performance of mourning. In her role as the custodian of the late King’s memory, Maria Eleonora was following established tradition by devoting herself to her grief. At the same time, it is clear that her deep mourning and carefully framed bond with her late husband were also part of a vicious power struggle. In a remarkably ruthless manner, the Council decided to completely exclude Maria Eleonora from both the regency 85 Zemon Davis 1980; see also Skogh 2013, 247.

Death and beyond


government and the keeping of her husband’s memory. That left her with no clear duties to perform. If the Council had left the Queen Dowager to create the funerary monument her grief might have taken more acceptable forms, acting as the Swedish Catherine de Medici building a magnificent mausoleum for her husband. The Order of the Coffin and the interminable deep mourning would then have been part of the performance by a successful Swedish Artemisia. Instead, Maria Eleonora’s efforts came to nought. Her designs for the funerary monument were discarded; the planned biography by Heinsius came to nothing; the castle of Gustafsburg remained unbuilt. It should be noted that Maria Eleonora’s performance as her husband’s devoted widow was neither acknowledged nor appreciated by the Swedish elite. Instead, she came to be seen as highly strung and hostile towards her new homeland. She may have tried to become the custodian of her husband’s memory, but she lost custody of her daughter, which was a failure. In memorialising Gustaf II Adolf she primarily celebrated their marriage rather than the dynastic function of that marriage. Her daughter, Christina, was largely absent from the image of Maria Eleonora’s marriage to Gustaf II Adolf. It was all profoundly backward-looking. The Order of the Coffin, the struggle over the King’s body, the public mourning: it all highlighted Maria Eleonora as Queen Dowager, but had little to say about her daughter, Queen Christina, or the Vasa dynasty. A more successful strategy was deployed by Charles X’s Queen Dowager, Hedvig Eleonora. For Hedvig Eleonora, her son Charles XI was present in her memorialisation of Charles X in a way in which Queen Christina was not in Maria Eleonora’s portrayals of Gustaf II Adolf. Hedvig Eleonora preserved the memory of her husband but also the image of her son – the future of the dynasty. In paintings, buildings, medals, ballets, and genealogies, the memory of her husband and the hope of her son’s future achievements were integrated into a holistic dynastic message. Like Maria Eleonora, Hedvig Eleonora continued to act as her husband’s representative, though the role Hedvig Eleonora chose to perform was far less dramatic. The role of Swedish Artemisia was not tailor-made for her as it was for Maria Eleonora. Instead, Hedvig Eleonora was a systematic creator and keeper of a dynastic memory, where her marriage was the foundation, but not the only constituent part.86 There were obvious similarities between the situation of Maria Eleonora and Hedvig Eleonora; two young widows left with only one young child. At the same time there were important differences, Maria Eleonora preserved the memory of a husband and a dynasty that was dying out. When her 86 For a discussion of this in Swedish, see also Persson 2015a.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

daughter, Christina, eventually married, her husband would become a political factor. Maria Eleonora explored possible marriages with Danish or Brandenburg princes already in the mid-1630s, to the alarm of the Council. If the Queen married a foreign prince that meant foreign influence and possible even being ruled from Berlin or Copenhagen. That the diplomatic efforts of the Queen Dowager had to be hindered immediately was self-evident to the regency government. A boy king in comparison to a girl queen meant that marriage was not at all important in the same way. It also meant that the dynasty of the little Charles XI was not about to end and be replaced with that of his wife. While Christina was the last of her dynasty on the throne, Charles XI was the second of a dynasty with another century to go. In this perspective it became even more natural to Hedvig Eleonora to build a dynastic memory in colour, bronze, and marble where both the past, the dead husband, and the future, the live son, were celebrated. Maria Eleonora’s dynastic memory gazed back towards her dead husband. Her memory building tried to spread the image of Gustaf II Adolf with herself. In this image the dynasty became limited to the royal couple, to the marriage which would be for eternity as the coffins of the spouses were opened and their remains became one. Maria Eleonora’s hopes of what she could achieve were both more limited and more repellent than Hedvig Eleonora’s. The widow of Charles X preserved his memory in marble, paintings, and precious metals while the widow of Gustaf II Adolf preserved her husband’s memory through miniature coffins, the hope that new forms of embalming would preserve his body for eternity and her remains would one day mix with his or at least that on her bosom would for ever rest her husband’s heart.

14. The court as substitute family Abstract Not only people serving at court but members of the royal family could fall victim to their surroundings as demonstrated by Princess Sophia Albertina. It appears that the Lolotte affair was a fabrication cooked up by the brothers Gustaf and Magnus Stenbock. Yet in Lolotte the Princess found a longed-for sister, and in her court a replacement for the family that was gradually disappearing. She may have been deceived, but it also made her happy and gave her a family. Keywords: family, competition, favourite, control

How happy I am to have been given a sister! – Princess Sophia Albertina to her friend Carolina Rudenschöld, 17951

Every royal had a court. They were the people a queen or a princess met most frequently, usually every day for years, and the women in her service lived in the palace in close proximity. Over time, some members of the court would become her friends, in some cases very close friends. This was not automatic. There were plenty of examples of women who served royal women who were cold towards them – Beata Sophia Horn, after all, complained about being ignored by the Queen Dowager and Princess Sophia Albertina. Lovisa Ulrika could be dismissive about her aristocratic Maids of Honour in the 1740s. In a letter to her sister she wrote, You are surprised at what I have told you that my Maids of Honour attend in the afternoon and the morning at my dressing. For the afternoon, it is 1 Sophia Albertina to Carolina Rudenschöld, Stockholm, 30 November 1795, in Bonde and af Klercker 1923, v. 305.

Persson, F., Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court: Power, Risk, and Opportunity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021. doi 10.5117/9789463725200_ch14


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

very rare, and they do not all have these prerogatives, but in the morning, it amuses me. They are my parrots: they tell me nonsense, and that amuses me and does not bother me, for in the end they are my servants, and I dress as comfortably as if they were not there.2

Lovisa Ulrika’s words to her sister display a kind of proximity between the Princess and her Maids of Honour, but they also bear testimony of an amused disdain. These women were members of aristocratic families and would not have been happy to be described as ‘domestiques’. These women were constantly there as a key part of royal everyday life and yet they could be dismissed as ‘parrots’ and ‘servants’. In order to strike up such a friendship there had to be something more, something that many people at court were keen to identify. At the same time, everyone was aware that royal friendships were unlike all others. They were asymmetrical, yet the royal friend could at times be needy and clinging. It was a relationship where one party always had to overcome the suspicion that the other party was there for mercenary reasons. It was also a friendship where the princess could always throw her friend over. In such a deeply unequal relationship, trust had to be built up over time, and perhaps burnished in times of adversity. At court so much depended on the relationship to the king and to other members of the royal family. Through them you could succeed, and on your tailcoats your family and friends likewise. Under such circumstances, the court was paradoxically both intensely sociable and full of people who were at daggers drawn. It was hard to gauge the inner feelings of the courtiers, the petitioners crowding the staircases, and the members of the elite who thronged the balls, receptions, and card games. This was a paradox that did not escape contemporary observers. Much was written about courtiers wearing masks and hiding their thoughts and nature. It was thought a universal truth that ‘Many Courtiers carie that litle peece of suger in their mouthes, and it may bee saide, that their money seemeth to bee Golde, although in the touche it is found to bee silver, or of baser mettall’, and the deceit of the court was evident at every turn, for ‘Whoever wants to be at court, must suffer ignominy and kiss on hands as well.’3 There was an institutional loneliness at court at odds with the permanent context of sociability. Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta was miserable on her arrival in Sweden, surrounded by strangers. At the heart of this loneliness was the issue of trust. If someone befriended you, was it for their 2 3

Lovisa Ulrika to Amalie, Stockholm, 25 December 1744, in Arnheim 1909-1910, i. 147. Sullivan 1925.

The court as substitute family


own personal gain or for purer motives of friendship? For as Mia Rodriguez Salgado has written, ‘there was no such thing as mere friendship or family affection in the early modern court’. 4 This was at its most stark in friendships with members of the royal family. All relationships with royalty were circumscribed by the existence of royal power. Few Swedish courtiers of the period were put to the ultimate test of whether their attachment was strong enough to see them share the misfortunes of their master or mistress, but it was an unavoidable fact that only a very few courtiers accompanied Queen Christina after her abdication, and those that did soon regretted it. After Duke Charles Frederick of Holstein lost the race for the Swedish throne in 1718, many of those with links to the Holstein court dropped him. On the other hand, as the wheel of fortune turned, a prince or princess might shed previous friendships. Count Bielke, a long-time courtier and childhood friend of Gustaf III, had been promised the position of Marshal of the Realm, or head of the court. The King wanted to wriggle out of it, and Bielke’s sister-in-law, a Lady of the Palace in her own right, described the process. Fourteen days after Liewen’s death [the previous incumbent], he sent for him and declared with all possible ways of protesting friendship that he did not intend to make him Marshal of the Realm; there was nothing to reply to that, so what can I say. In this matter he has not acted very honourably, as in many matters, but there is no gain in talking about it.5

In 1793 a courtier wrote that ‘I have repeatedly told you that only two things would at present make a deep impression on me: the loss of my father and a decrease in the Friendship I thought I had with the Duke [Duke Regent Charles] and Baron Reuterholm [the Duke’s new favourite].’6 The loss of the friendship of the two most powerful people in Sweden would probably hurt even more than losing two more ordinary friends. The fickle nature of friendship at court was proverbial. As the saying went, ‘If you want to be at court, You need to turn your coat.’7 Friendships between courtiers were equally victim to the vagaries of royal favour. It is unsurprising that the concept of friendship became something almost mythological and sacred, for so many relationships at court were with fair-weather friends. 4 Rodríguez-Salgado 1991, 206. 5 RA, Ekebladska samlingen, vol. 21 [E 3572], Sara Düben to Brita Horn, [1781]. 6 RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Familjen Bondes papper, vol. 7, Carl Göran Bonde to G.U. Silfverhielm, Stockholm, 16 July 1793. 7 Forsius 1621.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

The Princess, her sister and the need for trust Seventy-five years was the time Princess Sophia Albertina lived with her court. Born in 1753, she was the youngest of four siblings born to King Adolf Frederick and Queen Lovisa Ulrika. In the summer of 1754, the eight-year-old Crown Prince Gustaf wrote to his parents that he danced every evening with his toddler sister Sophia Albertina. This snapshot captures two important elements of royal life: family relationships, and the fact that everyone was expected to dance as soon as they could walk. Being born into the royal family was, of course, what shaped Sofia Albertina’s way of life. And Sophia Albertina’s was an unusually close family. Court Mistress Adlersten told a friend about the King and Queen’s harmonious marriage. After Lovisa Ulrika had given birth, her husband Adolf Frederick would often serve her meals in bed. At one point, Adlersten was called into the bedchamber by the Princess. She expected some order, but was told, in jest, ‘Hab’ ich nicht ein bösen mann’ (‘Have not I got a bad husband’), to which Adolf Frederick smiled.8 Some time later, Lovisa Ulrika told Adlersten how happily she was married, for she had not heard a cross word in four years. Adlersten replied that Adolf Frederick was equally happy, but Lovisa Ulrika argued that men did not suffer as much from bad wives. She added that ‘she was even more happy, as royal persons have to marry without having met, and that rarely succeeded’.9 To Adolf Frederick, who at that moment entered the room, Lovisa Ulrika said that she was calumniating him, and Adolf Frederick joked that he was just hiding his true nature. Their open fondness seems remarkable now and was thought unusual even then. As Adlersten told her friend, the royal couple ‘live just like other married people in a wondrous trust and love. Call each other Du [the Swedish intimate mode of address] and jest &c.’10 The ever-overwhelming presence for the first 30 years of Sofia Albertina’s life was not her rather meek father, but her mother. This forceful, temperamental princess lavished her tenderness on her only daughter. In return Sofia Albertina grew very close to her mother and came to emulate her in some of the character traits that the court found tricky to manage. Later, Princess’s sister-in-law Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta noted that Sofia Albertina ‘was greatly spoiled by her mother, who always adored her, which made her

8 UUB, Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter, p. 93v. 9 Ibid., p. 93v. 10 Ibid., p. 93v.

The court as substitute family


capricious and difficult to handle’. Even her brother Gustaf spoke in 1768 of his sister being spoiled.11 The Princess had three brothers: Gustaf, Charles, and Frederick Adolf. She seems to have got on well with Gustaf and Frederick Adolf, even though her mother tried to prevent her and the others from playing with Gustaf – his rank as Crown Prince had to be upheld at all times.12 Since the daughters of King Gustaf I left Sweden it had been extremely rare for Swedish princes to have any sisters around, as the royal family was very small for most of the seventeenth century. Care of the first princess born in Sweden for more than half a century was entrusted to Court Mistress Ulrika Adlersten, who enjoyed the confidence of the Queen. After Adlersten’s death in 1757, the Maid of Honour Christina Kurck was promoted to serve as the Court Mistress; when she died in 1769 she was succeeded by Countess Magdalena Stenbock, who remained in the Princess’s service for the next 30 years. In general, Sophia Albertina’s court was small and very stable. Many served for a long time and a few for 50 or 60 years. The twin daughters of an old friend of the royal family, Fredrik Carl Sinclair, entered royal service in 1770, with Catharina Sophia Sinclair serving the Princess first as a Maid of Honour, then as Lady Companion (sällskapsfru) after her marriage, and finally from 1795 as Court Mistress in survivance to Magdalena Stenbock, meaning she had the right to the office once Stenbock died. When in 1797 Stenbock retired (by being made tjänstfri, literally freed from service), Sinclair took up the position and served until her death in 1818. Her sister Christina Charlotta Sinclair served the Queen, but the difference seems to have been negligible as long as the Queen was alive and Sophia Albertina lived with her. Catharina Sophia Sinclair in turn had the elder of her two daughters accepted as a Maid of Honour to the Princess. She planned for the younger daughter to become a Maid of Honour, too, and created a scene when she failed.13 A trusted intermediary, Charlotte Forsberg, was given the awkward task of telling Countess Sinclair the news. The Countess, outraged, swore to fight on, though as Forsberg noted, ‘I don’t know how or through whom she intends to work on the Princess, but I doubt it will succeed.’14 Countess Sinclair had apparently thought it a done deal, and already bought the 11 Bonde and af Klercker 1902, i. 51, July 1776; Hennings 1935, 258. 12 Lundh Eriksson 1946. 13 Charlotte Forsberg to Gustaf Harald Stenbock, Stockholm, 19 March 1799, in Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 296. 14 Same to same, in ibid., vi. 296.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 22: Taken in by the court with her siblings as a reward for her father’s royalists activities, Catharina Sophia Sinclair became a court veteran and fought hard to establish her daughters there as well. Possibly Stålbom, Catharina Sophia Sinclair, 1768, Svenska Porträttarkivet. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

requisite clothes for her daughter. Forsberg was treated to a three-hour rant, during which ‘I had to suffer real scenes of both tears and wrath,’ though as she wryly added, ‘This should give me at least ten years off in purgatory.’

The court as substitute family


Another of the Princess’s long-serving courtiers was the bookish Anna Charlotta Fleetwood, or Nickalotta (Beata Sophia Horn’s friend), while others came from court families of long standing, such as Lovisa Posse, who served for decades, and whose parents both had long careers at court, or the Maid of Honour Carolina Rudenschöld, later a friend of the Princess, who was succeeded by her sister Magdalena Rudenschöld. Gustaf Johan Stael would serve for decades as Chamber Gentleman, while Isaac Lars Silfversparre began his career as the Princess’s Page in 1770 and was still in her service at her death in 1829. This stability included her Chamberers, for while her mother the Queen had, rather tempestuous relationship with the commoners on her staff, some of whom she dismissed summarily, Sophia Albertina was more steadfast towards her close body servants. Thus, at least three members of the Christiernin family – Sara Catharina Christiernin, Margareta Christiernin, and Anna Christina Christiernin – served as her Chamberers. The young Princess naturally had a tutor, Erik Sotberg, and in addition a number of specialist teachers for the skills essential for a princess. The dancer Marguerite Dulondel instructed her in dance, although after a while Londel was expelled from Sweden for having a son by King Adolf Frederick – that harmonious marriage of the Princess’s parents had its limitations. The prominent artist Jean Eric Rehn taught the Princess writing, while she was taught music by Francesco Uttini and French by Pierre Lefebvre. The Princess’s great interest in theatre was widely commented on. Lovisa Ulrika talked of taking the Princess to see a comedy for the first time in 1755 – ‘she thought it was a lot of fun’. The two-year-old’s delight in the show would evolve into a lifelong passion. She took numerous roles in the divertissements at court. The courtier Count Claes Julius Ekeblad noted with approval that the Princess was the only one of the actors whose lines could be heard by the audience. Another area where the young Princess excelled was riding. However, in 1782 she was thrown by her horse, sustaining injuries that led to the christening of her nephew the Duke of Småland being postponed.

A court of her own King Adolf Frederick’s sudden death in February 1771 changed Sophia Albertina’s situation beyond all recognition. Now her older brother Gustaf was King, while her adored mother, Lovisa Ulrika, was forced to take a step back as Queen Dowager. The Princess accompanied her mother to Prussia in


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

the autumn of 1771, when Lovisa Ulrika was the first Swedish Queen Consort ever to revisit her homeland. In Berlin she met various maternal relatives and went on to correspond with several of them for decades to come, which would prove important later. Lovisa Ulrika and Sophia Albertina were on their way home and had arrived in Stralsund in August 1772 when they heard of her brother’s self-coup. Sophia Albertina was overjoyed by the news. After decades of fruitlessly trying to expand royal power, at last her brother had succeeded. In a congratulatory letter to Gustaf she wrote, ‘You have performed miracles. God be praised that it is no longer the clergymen and merchants who will give out benefices!’15 Greater political power had been the royal family’s overriding goal her whole life. Despite the sudden reascension of royal power, however, Sophia Albertina was in a difficult situation. The King and Queen Dowager were soon at loggerheads, which led to the latter being gradually marginalised. The King’s more lavish court was imitated by the Queen Dowager, who gave cour receptions along with her daughter, but the air of a shadow court lingered over these events. In the royal family’s spats, Sophia Albertina and Frederick Adolf were unstintingly loyal to their mother. Sophia Albertina did her best to mediate between her mother and the King on a number of occasions. In 1776, when a feast was held in what passed for an Asclepion to celebrate the Queen Dowager’s return to health after an illness, Sofia Albertina had a prominent role, scattering flowers on an altar and requesting that the god Asclepius restore her mother’s health.16 Dowager Queen Lovisa Ulrika suffered a great deal with her health in the 1770s. Her vile temper and constant quarrels with the King left her, Sophia Albertina, and their court living in relative isolation at Svartsjö and Fredrikshov. Her sister-in-law Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta later wrote in her diary that she pitied the Princess for ‘the sad life she is required to lead’ with the Queen Dowager.17 The final schism in the royal family came in 1778. Lovisa Ulrika was publicly sceptical that her son King Gustaf III was really the father of the Queen’s unborn child, causing a monumental scandal and upsetting the King deeply. His first impulse was to banish his mother to Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania. A family conclave rapidly descended into chaos as Sophia Albertina demanded to accompany her mother into exile and accused her brother of trying to kill the Queen Dowager.18 A shaky 15 16 17 18

Sophia Albertina to Gustaf III, Stralsund, 31 August 1772, in Geijer 1843, 27. Bonde and af Klercker 1902, i. 61, November 1776. Ibid., i. 353, February 1782. Ibid., i. 145, October 1778.

The court as substitute family


reconciliation was effected, but the birth of a Prince in November 1778 unleashed mayhem. By this point Sophia Albertina had assumed the role of mediator, for which she was conspicuously ill equipped. There were further outbursts of rage, accusations, and convulsions. From 1778 to 1782 Sofia Albertina was generally at her mother’s side at Svartsjö and Fredrikshov; however, she was not wholly absent from her brother’s court – in 1780 it was noted she was once again appearing there – even though their mother was now excluded. There were even attempts at a rapprochement. The death of their mother, Lovisa Ulrika, in 1782 affected the Princess greatly. King Gustaf’s decision to proclaim a mere six months of court mourning upset her deeply.19 At the same time, it marked the beginning of a new way of life for the now almost 30-year-old Sophia Albertina. Gustaf III now gave her the use of Stenbock Palace and a court of her own to go with it. Her court employed some 70 people, led by the Court Mistress Magdalena Stenbock and First Stable Master Otto Johan Zöge von Manteuffel. Many of her courtiers had previously served her mother, Lovisa Ulrika. Later, Sofia Albertina claimed that her court was underfunded because Gustaf III intended her to stay with him in the countryside in the summers, and therefore decided she needed less money and no residence of her own outside Stockholm. That said, in 1783, Torstensson Palace was bought for her and rebuilt, and the new palace (the current Ministry of Foreign Affairs) was completed in 1795. The death of her mother in 1782 meant that the Princess began a new life without parents. Her integration into the life of the King’s court was evident in many ways, such as the entertainments organised with Sophia Albertina as the main character. Her new life did not include marriage, however. In 1780, the Chamberlain Ehrensvärd had noted that ‘it looks like the Princess will never get married’.20 Her cousin Peter of Holstein had then visited, when it was said that Sophia Albertina ‘for the last time in her life would have seen a suitor’.21 As late as 1787 there was speculation that the Danish Crown Prince might be interested; the suitor who was otherwise usually mentioned was Prince Fredrik Vilhelm von Hessenstein, bastard son of Frederick I and Hedvig Taube. But, in truth, the Princess seems to have found her niche as an independent member of the royal family. She attended court and its ceremonies. Her circle seems to have consisted of the royal family (her brothers Frederick Adolf and Gustaf and her sister-in-law 19 Ibid., i. 420, August 1782. 20 Montan 1878, ii. 23. 21 Ibid., 99.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta) and some of her courtiers. Her former Maid of Honour Caroline Rudenschöld appears to have been the person who was closest to her at this point.22 And she remained in touch with her Prussian relatives, above all her uncle Prince Augustus Ferdinand of Prussia, his wife Elisabeth Louise, and their daughters Princess Louise of Prussia, Princess Augusta Frederica of Brunswick, and Princess Pauline of Lippe-Detmold. In her will, Sofia Albertina talked about her cousin Louise of Prussia ‘as I for many years have cared greatly about the friendship and my true friend in my Cousin’.23 Her uncle, King Frederick the Great of Prussia, had already appointed her coadjutrix of the Protestant Quedlinburg Abbey in 1767, and on the death of her maternal aunt Anna Amalia in 1787, Sophia Albertina succeeded her as Abbess of Quedlinburg. There had been some reluctance on the part of the King of Prussia, who wished to see his own daughter become Abbess, but Sophia Albertina did not give way and took up her tiny principality. On her departure for Germany, her sister-in-law Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta wrote that she ‘left behind a great void in the King’s society’, for despite her hot temper she was a reliable friend and a good person.24 In September 1787, Sofia Albertina left accompanied by an entourage of 54 people. She soon reached Quedlinburg where she made a solemn entry, and in October 1787 was installed as the 36th Abbess. By Christmas, however, she had quit the Abbey for Berlin. There she received a diplomatic mission from her brother Gustaf: she was to explore the possibility of an alliance between Prussia and Sweden with her cousin the Prussian King. It all turned out to be complete failure. It took her a fortnight to corner the King at a masked ball, and once she had conveyed the message she was dismissed with bromides about friendship. In the summer of 1788, she appointed Sebastian von Moltzer to be her Chancellor and representative in Quedlinburg and left for Stockholm. Her journey was accelerated by the outbreak of war between Sweden and Russia and the King’s impending departure for Finland. The Princess soon chose to speak out against the war. In September 1788, she tried to persuade Gustaf to convene a Diet and cease hostilities. Relations with her royal brother were now extremely strained, and the Princess’s court became a focus for opposition to the increasingly authoritarian Gustaf and his failed military adventure. She was voluble in her opposition, 22 A voluminous correspondence between Sophia Albertina and Carolina Rudenschöld is still preserved. 23 Lundh Eriksson 1946. 24 Bonde and af Klercker 1903, ii. 208.

The court as substitute family


unsurprisingly for someone known for her fiery nature, and of whom her sister-in-law Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta once wrote, ‘It is remarkable that this Princess, who has so many extraordinarily good qualities, should never be able to learn to control her hot temper and bad mood.’ Even Sofia Albertina herself later wrote, ‘Happy the ones who can take everything philosophically and calmly. Unfortunately, I am not one of their number, but everything upsets me most violently.’25 Gustaf III was obviously shaken by the break with his sister, as was evident from letters to his favourite, Armfelt. Armfelt himself was not a great fan of the Princess and her actions during the war. ‘What would this princess be with all her obesity, unless her brother were King of Sweden?’ he writes to his wife, adding what ‘this poor madwoman makes of hatred to her brother?’26 One of the Princess’s courtiers, Count Gustaf Stenbock, was banned from appearing at the King’s court when he resigned from his military office in protest at the King’s actions.27 However, it should be added that the Princess, despite it all, did try to calm their even more enraged brother, Frederick Adolf. His actions could have caused even greater political problems for the King.

Court rather than family After the assassination of King Gustaf in 1792, Sophia Albertina travelled to Italy with her household. She had stayed for a few months in Quedlinburg, but soon continued south. In Italy, her brother’s former royal favourite, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, joined the Princess’s entourage while on a diplomatic mission to the Italian courts.28 This was not a happy situation, as the relationship between Sofia Albertina and Armfelt was strained. In his letters, Armfelt wrote about her as ‘that nightmare’, and that ‘my person is not particularly agreeable to her, and were she not of royal blood, I would have said the same about her’.29 In the 1790s, gradually those closest to Sophia Albertina died or left. Her parents and her brother Gustaf were all dead. Her brother Frederick Adolf was still alive, but mainly devoted his time to his mistress before 25 Sophia Albertina to Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, Stockholm, 23 April 1799, in Bonde and af Klercker 1927, vi. 299-300. 26 Tegnér 1883, i. 304. 27 Ibid., i. 322. 28 Tegnér 1884, ii. 116. 29 Ibid.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

his early death in 1803. She had never been close to her remaining brother, Charles, and relations cooled further after the Princess snubbed his great favourite, Reuterholm. She was on amicable but distant terms with her two sisters-in-law, Queen Dowager Sophia Magdalena and Duchess Charlotta, although she did correspond with the latter, who was an important source of information about court goings-on. In 1783 her friend Carolina Rudenschöld had married Erik Filip Ehrencrona, a former courtier of the Queen Dowager, and moved to a manor in the countryside. That removed one of the Princess’s few close friends. She corresponded frequently with Mrs. Ehrencrona, her ‘Chère Amie’, until she died in 1804.30 She remained friendly with another former Maid of Honour, Sophie Sparre, for example, but their letters lack the easy familiarity of her correspondence with Carolina Rudenschöld. Thus the 1790s marked a decade when the Princess became even more reliant on her court for her social life; indeed, for friendship. Yet it was not a happy court. That much became clear during the Italian trip in 1792 and 1793. The Princess had first thought to stay in Quedlinburg with her court, but once there they conceived the idea to continue to Italy, even though money was short. Sebastian Moltzer, who as Chancellor of Quedlinburg appears to have handled her finances, lamented the acrimony that ensued: ‘Such scenes and a hundred times worse every time I open my mouth; counsel despised, and I blush when to that I add despicable and unworthy suspicions, these are the reward for one who courageously was the only one to object to this wretched journey.’31 The enraged Moltzer felt badly treated, and wrote that ‘In one word – only the grave can make me forget the manner in which I am being treated, and if I survive this journey, my one goal will be the sooner the better to throw off a yoke which only utter despair can make me suffer for now.’ Another courtier, Gustaf Stael von Holstein, also found the journey insufferable – ‘we live in a word as dog and cat in our little community’.32 The Princess did not just quarrel with Moltzer, but with anyone within range. The Lady Companion, Countess Sinclair, had a bad falling out with the Princess – ‘until the quarrel between Countess Silfversparre [Sinclair’s married name] and the Princess everything was fine’.33 It did not help that 30 RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Sophia Albertinas samling, vol. 2 and others. 31 RA, Tosterupsamlingen Skrivelser till I L Silfversparre, vol. 59, Sebastian Moltzer Stael to Isak Lars Silfversparre, Naples, 23 April 1793. 32 Ibid., vol. 60, Gustaf Stael to Isak Lars Silfversparre, Rome, 15 January 1793. 33 Ibid., 15 February 1793.

The court as substitute family


the Countess herself was probably not the easiest person to deal with, and ‘took it in her usual way’. Stael also remarked that the Princess took out her bad mood on Moltzer, who got the rough edge of her tongue ‘on all occasions’. Everything Moltzer said ‘is held up as ridiculous’. Stael ended one letter by saying that ‘With God’s help I will never make another journey with the Princess. I would rather beg for bread.’34 The key figures in the Princess’s life now were her courtier Count Stenbock and her Chamberer Charlotte Forsberg. The latter was a mere commoner, but ambitious and ruthless. In January 1793, Stael wrote from Rome that everything was ‘upside down’. ‘In a word, we are ruled by les très insupportables Comte de S and M:lle For’, meaning Stenbock and Forsberg.35 The Princess was a shadow of her former self, ‘but time should open her eyes, and then she will regret the power over herself she has given to others, as it is pitiful to see how she is treated.’36 The following month, Stael reported how Count Stenbock was meddling in the Princess’s quarrel with Countess Sinclair. He made a show of his loyalty to Sophia Albertina, stomping around their rented rooms ‘with all assurance and pride, nose in the air, feet stuck out’, all the while ‘shouting that they wanted to kill the Princess, she had no character, no good adviser, and that he, yes he, the miserable worm, would teach her to know herself’.37 Stael thought it was part of Miss Forsberg’s plan to put ‘a miserable creature’ (such as Stenbock) ‘which she can conduct how she pleases’ in charge. Sophia Albertina let Count Stenbock and Charlotte Forsberg take control, and became ‘insupportable’ when they told her to stand up for herself. At the same time Stenbock and Forsberg sometimes ventured to ‘treat her as a child’ and scolded her. Miss Forsberg had gained such a hold over the Princess that all the others at court flattered her. Stael tried to keep out of the sorry business, but was afraid that spies would report whatever he said. Soon after, Stael wrote about the ‘Two young ones’ – Stenbock and Forsberg again.38 Stael doubted Stenbock had serious intentions of marriage to Charlotte Forsberg, but things had become more complicated. Before the journey to Italy ‘he ran to everyone that she should be run out of society’, but then he changed his tune ‘so that no more tender and sweet friends can be’. This was all a deceit by Miss Forsberg, Stael concluded, ‘she leading the poor sap by the nose, so he is laughed at by everyone; it is a shame as he is 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., 15 January 1793. 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid., 15 February 1793. 38 Ibid., Quedlinburg, 21 October 1793.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

a man of talent and knowledge, but with whom pride has taken possession so he does not know which foot to stand on.’39

A long-lost sister Charlotte Forsberg, or Lolotte, had such a hold over the Princess that it survived their return to Sweden in 1794. Once home, a dramatic turn of events cemented it further. 40 In March 1795, after a grand supper at the Princess’s residence, a letter was found on the floor.41 It lacked an addressee, and in order to forward it the Princess had it opened. Its contents were sensational. The letter was anonymous, but was purportedly written by lady. It claimed that Lolotte was in reality a daughter of the Princess’s father, King Adolf Frederick. In some ambiguous passages it even hinted that Lolotte was a legitimate daughter of the King and Queen, secreted away and hidden because of Crown Prince Gustaf.42 In 1776, the Queen mentioned this to her Chamberer Michelle d’Ivry, who then contacted the girl’s foster mother and managed to persuade the Queen Dowager to take her in and raise her. 43 ‘La Petite’, as Lolotte was called, was then raised by the Queen Dowager, who seemed very taken with the beautiful child. That part of the story was remembered by her sister-in-law, Duchess Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, though any illegitimacy came as a complete surprise to both her and the Princess. 44 The latter tried everything to get to the truth of the matter. She sent Count Stenbock to interrogate the purported mother, Mrs. Forsberg, though she did not admit anything. She said Lolotte was her own daughter, but she had considered the Queen Dowager to have taken over her care. At this stage the mystery was known only to the Princess, the Duchess, Count Stenbock, and his brother, who was also at court. The mystery seemed impossible to solve, but then came a further twist. In October 1795 a package was handed to Lolotte in the Princess’s palace.45 It was addressed to Count Stenbock, who inside found a letter and a parcel 39 Ibid. 40 What follows draws on the Duchess’s diaries and the Princess’s correspondence with Carolina Rudenschöld, published in Bonde and af Klercker 1923, v. 46-49, 66-67, 105-110, 116-118, 129-130, 288, 300, 303 -308. 41 Ibid., v. 46 (April 1795). 42 Ibid., v. 47 (April 1795). 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid., v. 48-49 (April 1795). 45 Ibid., v. 105 (October 1795).

The court as substitute family


Figure 20: In the manner of a Becky Sharpe, Lolotte Forsberg managed to climb and reach a position both in the heart and court of Princess Sophia Albertina. Giovanni Domenico Bossi, Fredrica Charlotta (Lolotte) Forsberg, 1799. Copyright Hans Thorwid/ Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

addressed to the Princess. Stenbock took the parcel to Sophia Albertina, who opened it to find a box. On the box was her name – ‘To Louise Sophie Frédérique Charlotte’ – in her mother’s handwriting, sealed with a seal used for correspondence between Lovisa Ulrika and her husband, Adolf Frederick. She found it contained a necklace with oriental pearls, several diamonds, and a miniature portrait of King Adolf Frederick.46 To her friend Caroline Rudenschöld, the Princess described seeing ‘A madame ma fille la princesse de Suède’ written on it in the Queen Dowager’s hand: ‘Imagine my feelings at the sight of this loved and revered handwriting! They cannot

46 Ibid., v. 109 (October 1795).


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

be described and at first I was so upset that I could not read the letter.’47 The letter, which again was anonymous, said that only one, now deceased, person could have informed the Princess of the truth of Lolotte’s royal birth. More evidence was possessed by the letter writer, who did not dare show it to the Princess yet. More would be revealed if the Princess were to attend a royal ball on 1 November, wearing a rose. The Princess went to the ball and wore the rose, but no one came forward. This was the moment when Duchess Charlotta, in whom the Princess had confided everything, began to have serious doubts – ‘perhaps this whole story is a lie from beginning to end, invented by malice or by someone who wants to give the girl an advantage. Perhaps love is also part of this.’48 The Princess had no such doubts. She made discreet enquiries by placing a cautiously worded advertisement in a newspaper, but no information was forthcoming. 49 She was in little doubt that she had found a sister, however. The friendship the Princess demonstrated to Lolotte enraged her fellow Chamberer, Margareta Christiernin. ‘She is terribly jealous of Lolotte, against whom she is nasty, and teases her in all ways, saying mean things and malicious words when everyone can hear it. The Little One has repeated times begged me not to be so kind to her in the presence of others.’50 The emotional Princess could not be kept back and was fed up with her other Chamberer, who ‘is in truth insufferable. She either weeps and says I cannot stand her any more, or she is furious and says I care about no one else but Lolotte.’ The Princess’s feelings for Lolotte were now plain. She had been jealous of the favour the Queen Dowager had shown her, but even then she had loved Lolotte, ‘and now I understand that it was because of the ties of blood which bind us together, and which were stronger than everything else’.51 Lolotte explained to the Princess that she had always felt the same instinctive love towards her. When Sophia Albertina wrote to her oldest friend, Carolina Rudenschöld, she was exhilarated at the prospect of gaining a sister. By a sequence of mysterious, nay miraculous, events, an unknown sister had been uncovered, and the middle-aged Princess was ecstatic. She was careful to assured her friend, Rudenschöld, that their friendship would not change for all that – ‘You 47 Ibid., v. 301, Sophia Albertina to Carolina Rudenschöld, Stockholm, 31 October 1795. 48 Ibid., v. 117 (November 1795). 49 Ibid. 50 Ibid., 30 November 1795, v. 304. 51 Ibid.

The court as substitute family


should not be jealous, my best friend, as you have no reason for it; as my friendship for you can never change, I swear by everything sacred.’52 The Princess failed to persuade her brothers to recognise Lolotte as their sister. She was nevertheless determined to elevate her sister to a position in life more worthy of a daughter of Adolf Frederick. An overture to her relatives at the Prussian court met with surprised embarrassment and led nowhere.53 Then in 1799 Lolotte married Count Stenbock, after an engagement to another of the Princess’s courtiers ended in her being jilted. Stenbock had a passion for gambling and no head for business, but his family was one of the most aristocratic in the country and he was related to several important courtiers. This gave the Princess some leverage in foisting Lolotte upon the beau monde of Stockholm. Stockholm court society was unimpressed by the Princess’s belief in her new sister. The prominent courtier Hans Henrik von Essen was stunned by the Princess’s credulity.54 His late mother-in-law, the former Maid of Honour Ulrika von Liewen, was rumoured to be Lolotte’s mother, and her family was not amused.55 Her son went about threatening anyone who dared to spread such calumnies about his mother. This may have given the Princess and Stenbock pause, as they had spoken ‘in the beginning without caution, to anyone who wanted to listen’.56 Essen for his part saw the whole thing as fantastical nonsense and the Princess as gullible. According to Essen, she had even tried to persuade her nephew the King to present Lolotte at court and give her the title of Lady Companion and a letter of legitimation. Society wits had a field day. ‘Rumour has presumably told of the plot which was put in motion to make this Mademoiselle into a bastard of King Adolf Frederick and a half-sister of her Patroness. But the King did not want any aunt but the real one.’57 One courtier who collected jokes noted that ‘it had been put around that Chamberer Forsberg was the daughter of King Adolf Frederick, so that she would be considered worthy of marrying Count Gustaf Stenbock’. This then led to the joke that the old, ugly Chamberer Christiernin was the daughter of Charles XII (dead for 80 years) and Countess Göös.58 52 Ibid., v. 305. 53 Mathias Calonius to Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Stockholm, 28 May 1799, in Lagus 1902, 403-404. 54 KB, Autografsamlingen, Hans Henrik von Essen to Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm, Vik, 15 April 1797. 55 Ibid. 56 Ibid. 57 Mathias Calonius to Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Stockholm, 14 May 1799, in Lagus 1902, 398. 58 KB, I.53 Erik Ludvig Manderströms anekdoter, p. 42.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

The entertaining princess The Princess gradually wore down the opposition to Lolotte. She was never formally acknowledged as her sister, but she could be acknowledged as Lady Companion, and after 1818 even Court Mistress and Countess Stenbock. That gave her a social position. The resistance to her presentation at court yielded once she had married Count Stenbock, and an observer wrote in May 1799 that ‘at last she was presented at court’.59 This was a victory for the Princess, as Lolotte as ‘a Chamberer and former servant’ should have been ineligible for presentation.60 In 1818 she was listed among those presented at court who were married to Councillors or had equivalent rank. This put Lolotte at the very pinnacle of court society.61 The Princess was unabashed and continued to play an important part in keeping up royal traditions, despite her scandalous acceptance of the murky claims about Lolotte. She was a key link between the royal family and the elite in the early nineteenth century, as other members, in particular her nephew the King and his Queen, tended to be remiss in that respect. The Princess and her court invited prominent members of the elite to large seven o’clock suppers. From the surviving lists of invitees, it is apparent that these suppers were an integral part of elite life.62 There was usually a long break in the summer – for example, she left Stockholm between June and November 1806 to stay at her palace at Tullgarn – which meant she entertained about twice a week for the rest of the year when she was at her Stockholm palace.63 There were other less enjoyable pastimes, too, such as when the Princess had her court weighed, from which we know that Count Stenbock was rather petite in stature.64 For the last two decades of her life until her death in 1829, however, Sofia Albertina lived as an increasingly isolated relic from the Gustavian era. She was controlled by the two Stenbocks, First Stable Master Gustaf Stenbock and his wife Lolotte (‘completely tyrannised’ by them, according to her sister-in-law Charlotta) and her Court Marshal Lars Isaac Silfversparre.65 59 Mathias Calonius to Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Stockholm, 14 May 1799, in Lagus 1902, 298; for her listed as presented, see RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Manuskript- och avskriftssamlingen, vol. 115, ‘Receuille d’observations et de Nottes sur differns sujets’ by John Hugo Hamilton. 60 Mathias Calonius to Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Stockholm, 28 May 1799, in Lagus 1902, 405. 61 RA, Sjöholmsarkivet, Manuskript- och avskriftssamlingen, vol. 2. 62 RA, Tosterupsarkivet, vol. 66. 63 Ibid. In 1804 she held 73 suppers for aristocrats; in 1805, 87; in 1806, 62; 1807, 55 including a children’s ball; and in 1808, 34. 64 RA, Ericsbergsarkivet, Prinsessan Sophia Albertinas samling, vol. 44. 65 Bonde and af Klercker 1942, ix. 484, June 1815.

The court as substitute family


Figure 21: Emotional and a bit spoilt, Princess Sophia Albertina also had qualities of upholding royal hospitality and staying true to her friends. Unknown painter, Sophia Albertina, early nineteenth century. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

The trio disagreed and fought for power over the Princess’s finances.66 The parsimonious and shabby Silfversparre prevented her from keeping a large court and inviting guests to dine, while the wasteful Gustaf Stenbock squandered a lot of her income.

66 Ibid., ix. 484, June 1815.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Sophia Albertina still attended major ceremonies. By 1820 she was the only female member of the royal family to reside in Stockholm. As the last surviving representative of the House of Holstein-Gottorp, the ageing Sofia Albertina provided a sheen of legitimacy to the newly established Bernadotte dynasty. This meant that she occasionally came out of seclusion, where she devoted herself to sewing under the watchful gaze of Countess Stenbock.67 Relations with Charles XIV John and his family were, if not cordial, at least good. Charles XIV John was also careful that the ageing princess would be seen to be shown the proper respect and not lack for anything. In her will, her principal heirs were Countess Stenbock – as she had ‘continuously showed me her friendship and the greatest attachment, and thereby made the many great losses more bearable, which in my life I had experienced, especially when Death removed my closest relatives’ – and the Countess’s son Magnus. Count Stenbock received a mere 5,000 riksdaler banco, and that only under the guardianship of his wife.68 Not only people serving at court but members of the royal family could fall victim to their surroundings. It appears that the Lolotte affair was a fabrication cooked up by the brothers Gustaf and Magnus Stenbock. Yet in Lolotte the Princess found a longed-for sister, and in her court a replacement for the family that was gradually disappearing. She may have been deceived, but it also made her happy and gave her a family.

67 Lundh Eriksson 1946. 68 RA, Tosterupsarkivet, vol. 66.

15. Epilogue In the unfinished sketch by Carl Gustaf Pilo of the coronation in 1772, Queen Sophia Magdalena is seated on a throne not far from the King. Between the two young royals is a row of Royal Councillors in scarlet robes, but also, closest to the Queen, a group of women. They are a ghostly, translucent presence, barely visible. In both sources and scholarly research women at the early modern court often have a similarly ghostly presence. They are habitually hard to find in the empirical sources, and in scholarship they have rarely taken centre stage, but have at best been given supporting roles, mentioned in passing but with little context. Many sources focus on the formal areas of decision-making such as councils and parliaments. If we rely on these sources alone, women will be largely absent, appearing only intermittently as queens and only very rarely with agency. Even if we turn to the records that detail the everyday aspects of life at court, women remain at least partly invisible. Many are nameless, listed simply as ‘four Maids of Honour’ receiving cloth from the Wardrobe, or like ‘the English Lady’ reduced to their nationality or some other attribute – ‘the dwarf woman’. Yet if we succeed in bringing to life the spectral women in Pilo’s painting and all those nameless women in the accounts, we will better understand early modern monarchy and nobility. For women, living at court was above all a question of power. For some it involved traditional power-broking or playing the sought-after but risky role of favourite. Many could exert some traditional forms of influence – helping a petitioner, putting in a good word for a sibling, extracting a favour. Yet while they routinely helped siblings, nephews, parents, and others, that was only part of the story; women were not just instruments for their families. Some power could be used to help the friends they had made, or even to make their own lives better or richer. And there was the ever-present danger of riding for a fall, as there was competition and jealousy, and added hostility because they were not only powerful, but also women. For most women, to be at court meant power in all its senses. It was the power of living away from family; the power to have a greater say in your marriage; the power of having a salary; the power of having your own room. Paradoxically, a common trope used to describe court life was servitude – but this was mostly, though not solely, deployed by men. Men of the elite were unused to the shackles of court life, and the locks, bans, and restrictions at court were certainly very real. In the sixteenth century there were strenuous efforts to keep the women of the court separate from the men. They lived in


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

their own rooms and quarters; letters were opened and read; visitors were kept away. The ideal was to keep a tight control on women, if only because if their virtue was called into question it besmirched the rest of the royal household. The idea of isolating women at court was not unique to Sweden, for similar ideas were common at German courts – always the models for the Swedish and Danish courts. In some ways it would be a reasonable hypothesis that women at court could act more like men. That may seem a paradox for women who were, in many ways, the epitome of early modern womanhood. They dressed in brocade, velvet, and silk. They read poetry, danced, and performed balletic tableaux. Yet the court held out a chance at agency. This was deeply frustrating to a patriarchal society were women wielding power were anathema. There was open dismay at the prospect of the women at court venturing into male spaces. In 1634, the women serving at court ‘were minded’ to follow the Queen into the Hall of State when the Diet assembled and ‘there linger as long as the ceremony continues’.1 The Council found this intrusion into the male sphere repellent. Eight years later they again discussed whether women should be allowed in, but the idea was dismissed for fear that ‘with much curtseying’ they ‘create some scandal and astonishment’. In 1660 the women of the court hogged the best places, so Councillors had to make do with lower places by the door, a situation the Council thought was scandalous.2 This female presence was in many cases turned into female agency. Though the court offered the opportunity, it was still far from perfect, and come what may the women had to adapt to their mistress’s personal preferences and whims. Life at court also gave them a place in the hierarchy – normally dependent on fathers or husbands – from where they could join in the finely nuanced game of rank. Armed with better seats in church and at the theatre, different clothes, invitations to the best events, the right to sit on a tabouret when royalty dined in public or to go into the White Room before a cour reception, women at court gained and displayed rank. While the tedium of court service was often mentioned, it always had an edge to it. In the midst of all the boredom, there were always things happening. News would come from France or the Netherlands. Foreign diplomats came from Denmark, Russia, or Turkey. To live at court was to be at the centre of things. Its horizons were far wider than those of a country estate. The court changed the women who served there, and not just because 1 2

Svenska riksrådets protokoll, 29 July 1634, in Kullberg et al. 1886, iv. 197. Gustaf Bonde in Council discussion, 25 October 1660, in Bergh 1896, 120.



they arrived as young girls and grew up. They made friends and enemies, they learnt and appropriated new manners; they became part of a mental world which was still highly aristocratic, but far broader and more varied than home could offer. Their opportunities were legion: they could see, and even participate in, the heart of politics; they could relish news; they could attend the theatre or the opera – although as staff the women were always at the mercy of royalty deciding whether they should be included, or ignored, or whether they would have to sit through yet another rendition of a play written by the King. Much of life at court consisted in living together with people not of your choice. Some got on well and even became firm friends; others came to loathe one another. The heightened atmosphere of the court was unavoidable as so much power and money was centred there. That meant fierce competition, and some were more talented at that than others. Women who were not robust in handling competition, slander, and jealousy could have a hard time at court. Service at court offered women the chance to boldly go where men had gone before them. In April 1761, the inhabitants of Stockholm were agog to see ‘what they perhaps had never seen before, their Queen riding through town from Karlberg to the Palace’.3 Riding on horseback rather than in a carriage was unconventional and a mark of the Queen’s daring streak. Two other women were adventurous enough to ride with Queen Lovisa Ulrika that day, breaching the normal boundaries of seemly female behaviour: the Queen’s favourite, Countess Bielke (née Düben), and a Maid of Honour, Countess Beata Horn. Another woman at court, Christina Kurck, left a riding outfit when she died a few years later. 4 The court changed the women who were there. If Queen Lovisa Ulrika, Countess Bielke, and Countess Horn were daring horsewomen, the court beauty Ulrika von Fersen went further: in 1779, she dared to dress in the uniform of a page, with leather trousers, boots, and spurs.5 Her colleague as Lady of the Palace, Countess Hamilton, appeared wearing a similar outfit with boots and spurs, but it was clear who was the instigator. Ulrika von Fersen was ridiculed, reviled, and marvelled at. Her career at court gave her the freedom to make mistakes such as marrying a handsome young alcoholic gambler, but also to take lovers and to let herself be portrayed by a sculptor as Venus. Ulrika von Fersen may have been marvellously bold, 3 4 5

KB, L 82:1:12 Tessin’s diary, 11 April 1761. SLA, Övre borgrätten 1769 F II a:2 Christina Kurck inventory. Montan 1878, ii. 249.


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Figure 23: The daring Ulla von Höpken (née Fersen) was admired for her free spirit and her beauty. She did not hesitate to take advantage of the freedom provided by life at court. Johan Tobias Sergel, Ulla von Höpken, 1781. Copyright Nationalmuseum (Stockholm).

but she was also the opportunities of the court incarnate. The early modern court was a place of promise – and risk. The young women first coming to court were on the cusp of a great adventure.

Glossary Court positions Fateburshustru Fateburspiga Fyrbytare Försnidare Hovjungfru Hovjunkare Hovmarskalk Hovmästare Hovmästarinna Husgerådskammare Husgerådsmästare Jungfruknekt Kammarfru Kammarherre Kammarjungfru Kammarjunkare Kammarpiga Kammartjänare Lakej Landshövding Riksdag Riksmarskalk Riksråd Stallmästare Statsfru Sällskapsfru Städerska Tvätterska Överhovmästarinna Överkammarherre Överkammarjungfru Överstemarskalk Överståthållare

Linen Mistress Linen Maid Keeper of Lights Carver Maid of Honour Court Gentleman Court Marshal Court Master Court Mistress Furnishings Chamber Furnishings Master Groom of the Maids Chamber Mistress Chamber Gentleman Lady of Honour Chamber Groom Chamberer Valet Lackey Governor Diet Marshal of the Realm Councillor of the Realm Stable Master Lady of the Palace Lady Companion Cleaner Laundress Chief Court Mistress Chief Chamber Gentleman Chief Lady of Honour Chief Marshal Chief Governor


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court


Rigsarkivet (Copenhagen) Kungliga biblioteket (Stockholm) Lunds universitetsbibliotek (Lund) National Archives (London) Riksarkivet (Stockholm) Slottsarkivet (Stockholm) Stockholms stadsarkiv (Stockholm) Uppsala universitetsbibliotek (Uppsala) Svenska akademien (Stockholm)

Coinage For the period in question there were Swedish three coins in circulation: the riksdaler, the daler silvermynt, and the daler kopparmynt. Ducats, worth two riksdaler, were used from 1654 onwards. 1609 to 1619 1 riksdaler = 1½ daler silvermynt 1619 to 1681 1 riksdaler = 15/8 daler silvermynt 1681 to 1719 1 riksdaler = 2 daler silvermynt 1719 to 1776 1 riksdaler = 3 daler silvermynt 1 riksdaler = 9 daler kopparmynt Unless otherwise stated, the monetary unit used is the daler silvermynt (4 mark or 32 öre). Other equivalent values are as follows. 1633 to 1643 1 daler silvermynt = 2 daler kopparmynt 1643 to 1665 1 daler silvermynt = 2½ daler kopparmynt 1665 to 1776 1 daler silvermynt = 3 daler kopparmynt

The calendar The Julian calendar was in use in Sweden until 1700, in which year a transitional calendar was adopted that treated eleven successive leap years as normal years. By these means the Gregorian calendar was phased in gradually, and came into full use in 1741.

Bibliography Manuscript sources Kungliga biblioteket (KB) (Stockholm)

Autografsamlingen D 142 g:10 JC Barfods anteckningar D 841:3 Letters from Ulrika Eleonora to Anna Fleming Depos 69.4 Engeströmska samlingen, Brev till Johan Ekeblad Ep H 20:2 AJ Höpken to Eleonore Höpken I.53 Erik Ludvig Manderströms anekdoter I.e.14:1 Claes Julius Ekeblads Journal 1760 I.e.14:2 Claes Julius Ekeblads Journal 1761 I.n.1:1 Anteckningar av JO Nauckhoff L 82:1:1-31 ‘Åkerödagboken’ by Carl Gustaf Tessin Linköpings stiftsbibliotek Letters of Maria Christina Wrangel Lunds Universitetsbiblioteks handskriftsavdelning (Lund) De la Gardieska samlingen Leonhard von Hauswolffs samling National Archives (London) FO73/3 State Papers Foreign, Sweden SP95 State Papers Foreign, Sweden Rigsarkivet (Copenhagen) Danske Kancelli, Oppsnappede breve Tyske Cancellie Udriges Afdeling, Speciel Del. Sverige Riksarkivet (Stockholm) Ämnessamlingen, Enskildas ansökningar och suppliker; Personhistoria Bengt Horns arkiv, Skrivelser till Bengt Horn Biographica Börstorpsamlingen Det odelade kansliet, Rådsprotokoll Ekebladska samlingen Enskildas ansökningar och suppliker Ericsbergsamlingen, Autografsamlingen; Familjen Bondes papper; Manuskriptoch avskriftssamlingen; Sophia Albertinas samling; Svante Banérs almanacksanteckningar Esplundaarkivet, Grevinnan Lovisa Ulrika Mörners arkiv


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Generalstatskontoret, Personalstater Gustav Kassmans samling Kammararkivet, Handlingar angående statsverket; Strödda äldre räkenskaper Kammarkollegiet, Kansliet, Protokoll Huvudserien Kanslitjänstemäns koncept och mottagna skrivelser Konungahusens urkunder Kungliga arkiv, Johan III; Kristina; Fredrika Dorotea Vilhelmina; Handlingar rörande svenska konungars och regenters levnadsförhållanden, hov och egendom; Hedvig Eleonoras arkiv; Hertig Karl; Ulrika Eleonora den äldre; Ulrika Eleonora den yngre; Lovisa Ulrika; Maria Eleonora; Sophia Magdalena; Skrivelser till Ulrika Eleonora d.y. Landskapshandlingar, Södermanland; Uppland Manuskriptsamlingen Margaretha Cronstedts samling Mikrofilmssamlingen, Äldre serien, vol. 168, Johan Gabriel Sack’s journal Oxenstiernska samlingen Överceremonimästarämbetets arkiv Räntekammarböcker Rikshuvudböcker Riksregistraturet Rydboholmssamlingen, Königsmarck-Rabelska brevsamlingen Sandbergska samlingen Sjöholmsarkivet, Gyldenstolpeska samlingen; Manuskript- och avskriftssamlingen Skrivelser till K.Mt. från allmänna verk Skrivelser till konungen Stegeborgssamlingen, Skrivelser till Johan Casimir och hans gemål Strödda kamerala handlingar, Strödda kamerala handlingar 1520-1828 Svea hovrätt, Huvudarkivet; Adliga bouppteckningar Tosterupsamlingen, Skrivelser till I L Silfversparre Slottsarkivet (SLA) (Stockholm) Bröllop Hovförtäringsräkenskaper (1551-1818), Furstliga personers hov; Kungl. Maj:ts hov Hovkontoret, Brevböcker Hovstatsräkenskaper, Kungl. Maj:t; Änkedrottning Maria Eleonora; Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonora Husgerådskammaren Klädkammaren, Reviderade räkenskaper Övre borgrätten, Bouppteckningar Personella hovstater Riksmarskalksämbetet, Ceremonialia; Hovexpeditionen; Överkammarherrens journal

Bibliogr aphy


Vinkällaren, Kungl Maj:t Reviderade räkenskaper; Änkedrottning Hedvig Eleonoras vinkällarräkenskaper Stockholms stadsarkiv (SSA) (Stockholm) Hovförsamlingen Stadens kämnärsrätt, Konceptprotokoll i kriminalmål Svenska Akademiens arkiv (Stockholm) Marianne Ehrenström, ‘Souvenirs contemporaines’, vol. 86 Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek handskriftsavdelning (Uppsala) Bref till Bengt Rosenhane Nordinska samlingen, Nordin 947 Voltemats anekdoter Palmskiöldska samlingen

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Botvidi, Johannes Een predikning öffuer then Stormächtigste, högborne Furste och herre, her Gustaff Adolph then Store (Stockholm: Christopher Günther, 1634). Bucholz, R.O. (ed.), Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 11 (Revised), Court Officers, 1660-1837 (London: University of London, 2006), https://www.britishhistory.ac.uk/office-holders/vol11. Accessed 26 July 2020. Carlquist, Gunnar (ed.), Landshöfdingen Gustaf Wathier Hamilton och hans anteckningar från Karl Johanstiden (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1921). Carlson, Ernst (ed.), Konung Karl XII:s egenhändiga bref (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1893). Castiglione, Baldassare, The Book of the Courtier (London: Penguin, 1976). Chance, James Frederick (ed.), British Diplomatic Instructions, 1689-1789: Sweden, 1727-1789 (London: Offices of the Society, 1928). Clarke, E.D., Travels in Various Countries, 3 vols. (London: T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1838). De Guevara, Antonio, Hof-folcks Wäckiare, Theruthinnan medh monge herlige Lärdomar och märkelige Exempel beskriffues och affmålas, hurulunda en hofperson sig emot hwar och en skal förholla, Theslijkes igenom hwad medel han kan förwärffua sigh sin Furstes och Herres gunst, och henne framgeent niuta och beholla, trans. Ericus Schroderus (Stockholm: Christopher Reusner, 1616; first pub. as Aviso de privados y doctrina de cortesanos, 1539). Forsius, Sigfrid (trans.), Reyncke Fosz. Thet är: En skön och nyttigh dicht, full medh wijszheet, godh läro, och lustige exempel vthi hwilken alle menniskiors wäsende, handel, otroo, list och snillheet affmålat warder, sampt medh thet sedliga förståndet och thenne books bruuk (Stockholm: Ignatius Meurer, 1621). Fries, T.M. (ed.), Bref och skrifvelser af och till Carl von Linné, 7 vols. (Stockholm: Ljus, 1907-1917). Frykenstedt, Holger (ed.), Caractèrer, portraiter och epigrammer. Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1956). Fryxell, Anders (ed.), Handlingar rörande Sverges historia, ur utrikes arkiver samlade och utgifna, 4 vols. (Stockholm: L.J. Hjerta, 1836-1843). Geijer, Erik Gustaf (ed.), Konung Gustaf III:s efterlemnade och femtio år efter hans död öppnade papper, i (Uppsala: Wahlström & Låstbom, 1843). Girs, Aegidius, Konung Johan den III:des chrönika (Stockholm: Lorentz Ludwig Grefing, 1745). Grandison, Malla (ed.), Malla Montgomery-Silfverstolpes memoarer, 4 vols. (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1908-1911). Griselle, Eugène (ed.), État de la maison du roi Louis XIII, de celles de sa mère, Marie de Médicis, de ses soeurs, Chrestienne, Élisabeth et Henriette de France: Comprenant les années 1601 à 1665 (Paris: P. Catin, 1912). Hallberg, Sigurd (ed.), Från Sveriges storhetstid: Charles Ogiers dagbok under ambassaden i Sverige 1634-5 (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1914).

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Hanselli, Per (ed.), Samlade vitterhetsarbeten af svenska författare från Stjernhjelm till Dalin, 22 vols. (Uppsala: Hanselli, 1856-1878). Hildebrand, Sune (ed.), Karl XI:s almanacksanteckningar (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1918). Inrikes Tidningar. Kern, Arthur (ed.), Deutsche Hofordnungen des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1905-1907). Klinckowström, Rudolf Mauritz (ed.), Riksrådet och Fältmarskalken m.m. Grefve Fredrik Axel von Fersens historiska skrifter, 8 vols. (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1867-1872). Klingspor, Carl Arvid (ed.), Sveriges adel under 1600-1700-talen: Samtida minnesteckningar jemte anmärkningar, 2 vols. (Uppsala: W. Schultz, 1876-1877). Knesebeck, [Frederike Wilhelmine von], Drottning Fredrika af Sverige (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1856). Kroll, Maria (ed.), Letters from Liselotte (London: Gollancz, 1970). Kroman, Erik (ed.), Danske adelsbreve fra tiden indtil 1660: facsimiler af breve (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1953). Kullberg, N.A., et al. (eds.), Svenska riksrådets protokoll, 18 vols. (Stockholm: Riksarkivet, 1878-1959). (Handlingar rörande Sveriges historia, third series.) Lagus, Wilhelm (ed.), Mathias Calonii bref till Henrik Gabriel Porthan (Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 1902). Lewenhaupt, Adam (ed.), Calendaria Caroli IX (Stockholm: Föreningen för bokhandverk, 1903). Loenbom, Samuel (ed.), ‘Gustaf Bondes Anecdoter’, in Samuel Loenbom (ed.), Historiska märkwärdigheter, iv (Stockholm: Johan Christopher Holmberg, 1768). Lünig, Johann Christian, Historico-Politicum oder Historisch und Politischer SchauPlatz aller Ceremonien, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Moritz Georg Weidmann, 1719-1720). Molbech, Christian (ed.), ‘Bidrag till Dronning Christinas, det svenske Hofs og Corfitz Ulfeldts Historie, i Aarene 1651-1655, af Peder Juuls utrykte breve til Charisius’, Historisk Tidsskrift, 5 (1844), 269-408. Montan, Erik Vilhelm (ed.), Dagbokanteckningar förda vid Gustaf III:s hof af friherre Gustaf Johan Ehrensvärd, 2 vols. (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1877-1878). Mörner, Birger, Maria Aurora Königsmarck: En krönika (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1913). Näsström, Gustaf (ed.), En gustaviansk dagbok: Johan Fischerströms anteckningar för året 1773 (Stockholm: Lagerström, 1951). Odelberg, Wilhelm (ed.), Dagens märkvärdigheter: Gustavianska anteckningar av Johan Christopher Barfod (Stockholm: Natur och kultur, 1967). Petry, Michael John (ed.), Nemesis Divina by Carl von Linné (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 2001).


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Platen, Magnus von (ed.), Christina: Självbiografi och aforismer (Stockholm: Natur och kultur, 1957). Reeve, Henry (ed.), A Journal of the Swedish Embassy in the Years 1653 and 1654: Impartially Written by the Ambassador Bulstrode Whitelocke, 2 vols. (London: Longman, 1855). Ridderstad, Carl Fredrik (ed.), Anteckningar af en gammal gustavian (Linköping: F.G. Beijer, 1854). Ristell, Adolf Fredrik, Characters and Anecdotes of the Court of Sweden (London: E. Harlow, 1790). Rørdam, Holger Frederik (ed.), ‘Sivert Grubbes dagbog’, Danske Magazin, 1 (1878), 4-83. Rosen, Carl von (ed.), Bref från Samuel Bark till Olof Hermelin, 2 vols. (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1914-1915). Sahlberg, Gardar (ed.), Mina kärleksäventyr av Gustav Hallenstierna (Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1972). Schmedeman, Johan (ed.), Kongl stadgar, förordningar, bref och resolutioner, ifrån åhr 1528 intil 1701, ang. justitiae och executionsährenden (Stockholm: Johann Henrich Werner, 1706). Schück, Henrik (ed.), Den sista gustavianska hofdamen: Ur Marianne Ehrenströms minnen (Stockholm: Geber, 1919). –– (ed.), Excellensen grefve A. F. Skjöldebrands memoarer, 5 vols. (Stockholm: Geber, 1904). Sedgwick, Romney (ed.), Lord Hervey’s Memoirs (London: B.T. Batsford, 1963). Simplicien, P.L. (ed.), L’Estat de la France (Paris: Claude Prud’homme, 1727). Sjöberg, Nils (ed.), Johan Ekeblads bref, 2 vols. (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1911-1915). Sondén, Per, et al. (eds.), Rikskanslern Axel Oxenstiernas skrifter och brefvexling, 16 vols., f irst series (Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, 1888-1956). Stråle, G.H. (ed.), ‘Presidenten baron E. M. Nolckens berättelse om rikets tillstånd från 1719 till 1742’, Historisk Tidskrift, 9 (1889), 75-122, 164-202. Sullivan, Edward (ed.), The Civile Conversation of Steeven Guazzo, 2 vols. (London: Constable and Co., 1925). Suremain, G. de, Generallöjtnant de Suremains minnen från hans anställning i svensk tjänst 1794-1815, ed. and trans. Oskar Heinrich Dumrath (Stockholm: Geber, 1902). Swedberg, Jesper, Gudz Barnas heliga Sabbats Ro, 2 vols. (Skara: Anders Kiellberg, 1710-1712). Swerikes Rijkes Lands-lag (Stockholm: Johann Henrich Werner, 1726). Tegnér, Elof (ed.), Minnen och anteckningar af Lars von Engeström, 2 vols. (Stockholm: Beijer, 1876).

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Thyselius, P.E.L., and V. Ekblom (eds.), Handlingar till Sverges reformations- och kyrkohistoria under konung Gustaf I, i (Stockholm: Bagge, 1841-1842). Van Effen, Justus, ‘Relation d’un voyage de Hollande en Suède’, Le Misantrope, 2 vols. (Amsterdam: Herman Uytwerf, 1742), ii. 399-504. Von Schinkel, Bernd (ed.), Minnen ur Sveriges nyare historia, 16 vols. (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1852-1893). Wijkmark, Christina (ed.), Allrakäraste. Catharina Wallenstedts brev 1672-1718 (Stockholm: Atlantis, 1995).

Secondary Adams, Simon, ‘Eliza Enthroned? The Court and Its Politics’, in Christopher Haigh (ed.), The Reign of Elizabeth (London: Macmillan, 1984), 55-77. Adamson, John, ‘The Making of the Ancient Régime Court 1500-1700’, in John Adamson (ed.), The Princely Courts of Europe (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999), 7-41. Ahlqvist, Alfred Gustaf, Karin Månsdotter (Stockholm: Central-tryckeriet, 1874). Akkerman, Nadine, Courtly Rivals in The Hague: Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662) and Amalia von Solms (1602-1675) (Venlo: VanSpijk/Rekafa, 2014). Akkerman, Nadine, and Birgit Houben (eds.), The Politics of Female Households: Ladies-in-Waiting across Early Modern Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2013). Almquist, Jan Eric, Herrgårdarna i Sverige under reformationstiden (1523-1611) (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1960). Andersson, Ingvar, Erik XIV (Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1948). Arditi, Jorge, A Genealogy of Manners: Transformations of Social Relations in France and England from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). Arnell, Sture, Karin Månsdotter: Tolv kapitel om en drottning och hennes tid (Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1951). Asch, Ronald, Der Hof Karls I. von England: Politik, Provinz und Patronage 1625-1640 (Cologne: Böhlau, 1993). Asch, Ronald, ‘Introduction: Court and Household from the Fifteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries’, in Asch and Birke 1991, 1-38. Asch, Ronald, and Adolf Birke (eds.), Princes, Patronage, and the Nobility: The Court at the Beginning of the Modern Age, c. 1450-1650 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Axel-Nilsson, Göran, ‘Gustavianska gravkoret’, Rig, 29 (1946), 44-73. Bagge, Povl, ‘A. Heise’, in Dansk Biograf isk Leksikon, 17 July 2011, https://biografiskleksikon.lex.dk/A._Heise. Accessed 5 October 2020. Bahl, Peter, Der Hof des Großen Kurfürsten: Studien zur höheren Amtsträgerschaft Brandenburg-Preußens (Cologne: Böhlau, 2001).


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Baillie, Hugh Murray, ‘Etiquette and the Planning of the State Apartments in Baroque Palaces’, Archaeologia, 101 (1967), 169-199. Beattie, John M., The English Court in the Reign of George I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967). Beckman, Edvard, ‘Fröken Bärfelts hemlighet’, Personhistorisk Tidskrift, 31/3-4 (1931). Bengtsson, Frans G., Karl XII:s levnad. Till uttåget ur Sachsen (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1935). Bepler, Jill, ‘Enduring Loss and Memorializing Women: The Cultural Role of Dynastic Widows in Early Modern Germany’, in Lynne Tatlock (ed.), Enduring Loss in Early Modern Germany (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 133-160. Bergh, Severin, ‘Drottning Maria Eleonora och drottning Kristinas förmyndarregering’, Historisk Tidskrift, (1902), 174-181. ––, ‘Rangstriderna inom adeln under 1600-talet’, Historisk Tidskrift, (1896), 118-154. Bergman, C. Gunnar, Testamentet i 1600-talets rättsbildning (Lund: Gleerup, 1918). Bergman, Eva, Nationella dräkten: En studie kring Gustaf III:s dräktreform (Stockholm: Nordiska museet, 1938). Blanck, Anton, ‘Aurora Königsmarck spelar teater’, in Ur samma synvinkel (Stockholm: Geber, 1936), ?-?. Blanning, T.C.W., The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe 1660-1789 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Bloch, Marc, Les Rois thaumaturges: Étude sur le caractère surnaturel attribué à la puissance royale particulièrement en France et en Angleterre (Strasbourg: Istra, 1924). Bøggild Johannsen, Birgitte, ‘Genealogical Representation in Gendered Perspective: The Funeral Complex of Queen Christine at Odense’, in Truus van Bueren and Jerome Stumpel (eds.), Care for the Here and the Hereafter (Utrecht, 2001), 86-93. ––, ‘I Artemisias fodspor: Om kvindelig erindringskultur i Renæssancens Danmark’, in Grethe Jacobsen and Ninna Jørgensen (eds.), Kvindernes renæssance og reformation (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2017), 123-160. Borgognoni, Ezequiel, ‘The Royal Household of Marie-Louise of Orleans, 1679-1689: The Struggle over Executive Offices’, Court Historian, 23/2 (2018), 166-181. Böttiger, John, Hedvig Eleonoras Drottningholm (Stockholm: Gernandt, 1889). Boucher, Jacqueline, Deux épouses et reines à la fin du XVIe siècle: Louise de Lorraine et Marguerite de France (Saint-Étienne: Université de Saint-Étienne, 1995). Bourdieu, Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984). Bregnsbo, Michael, Til venstre hånd: Danske kongers elskerinder (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2010).

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Wellman, Kathleen, Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). Wester, E.S., ‘Ur Katarina Jagellonicas lif’, Nordisk Tidskrift för Vetenskap, konst & industry (1909), 116-121. Westlund, Per-Olof, Gripsholm under Vasatiden: En byggnadshistorisk undersökning (Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1949). Whitelock, Anna, and Diarmid MacCulloch, ‘Princess Mary’s Household and the Succession Crisis, July 1553’, Historical Journal, 50/2 (2007), 265-287. Whyman, Susan, Sociability and Power in Late Stuart England: The Cultural Worlds of the Verneys, 1660-1720 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Winn, James Anderson, Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). Wollin, Inga-Britt, Stugukläder: Rumsklädsel under tidig Vasatid (Stockholm: Nordiska museets förlag, 1993). Woodacre, Elena, The Queens Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Worsley, Lucy, Courtiers: The Secret History of Kensington Palace (London: Faber, 2010). Wright, Pam, ‘A Change of Direction: The Ramifications of a Female Household, 1558-1603’, in Starkey 1987. Zemon Davis, Natalie, ‘Gender and Genre: Women as Historical Writers, 1400-1820’, in Patricia Labalme (ed.), Beyond Their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past (New York: New York University Press, 1980), 153-182. ––, ‘Women in Politics’, in Natalie Zemon Davis and Arlette Farge (eds.), A History of Women in the West III: Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1993). Zum Kolk, Caroline, ‘The Household of the Queen of France in the Sixteenth Century’, Court Historian, 14/1 (2009), 3-22.

Index Abarca, Felippe Maria Térésa 108 Abrahamsdotter (Rommel), Kerstin 78 Abrahamsdotter, Kristina 209 Adams, Simon 37 Adelswärd, Countess see Eva Helena von Fersen Adlersten, Ulrika 17, 132, 290 Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden 17 charity 56 dependent on his queen Lovisa Ulrika 124 Adolf Johan, Duke 174 Agnes, poor woman 47 Agnes, Princess of Holstein 17, 110 Akkerman, Nadine 40-41 Allarii, Annette 157 Almschildren 53-54 Anckarklo, Maria 145 Anna, Princess of Sweden 17, 110 expresses bond with Maid of Honour 195-196 Anna, Queen Consort of Sweden 17, 53 Anna, Dowager Electress of Brandenburg 110, 253 Anselin, wetnurse 108 Arentsdotter (Örnflycht), Agneta 17, 82, 86 Armfelt, Countess see Hedvig Ulrika De la Gardie Armfelt, Gustaf Mauritz 297 Artemisia 267 Bååt, Kerstin 196 Babezin, Augusta Maria 118 Banér, Axel 274-276 Bärfelt, Anna Catharina 17, 141 Baska 103 Belioti, Virginia 107 Bengtsdotter (Gylta), Anna 21, 92 Benzelius, Carl Jesper 233 Berchner, Ulrika Eleonora 162, 200 Berendes, Märta 17, 141, 144 Berg, Anna Catharina 144 von Berini, Michael 258 Berlepsch, Countess of 108 Bese, Anna 85-86 von Beust, Bernhard Friedrich 142 Bielke, Countess see Fredrika Eleonora von Düben Bielke, Christina Sofia 169 Bielke, Nils Adam 129, 289 Bielke, Ture 192 Bielkenstierna, Ebba 196 Billing, Lorenz 220 Biörnmarck, Magdalena Catharina 18, 145-146

Blanning, Tim 41 Blumenthal, shady baron 142, 145 von Bohlen, Lovisa 156 Bonde, Gustaf 171 Botvidi, Johannes 272, 275 Boy, Willem 261 Brahe, Beata 77 Brahe, Margareta 196 Brahe, Per 171 von Brandenstein, Rebecka 18, 95 von Brandenstein, Sibylla 18, 95-96, 200 von Brunkhorst, Maria 18, 96, 200 Bucholz, Robert 40-41 Canalis di Cumania, Anna 215 Cardell, Mrs see Karoline Fliess Cardell, Carl Fredrik 179 Carlsdotter (Månesköld), Brita 23, 86 Carlsdotter, Elisabeth 116, 215, Castiglione, Baldassare 70, 199, 267 Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg, Queen Consort of Sweden 18, 80, 84 Catherine Stenbock, Queen Consort of Sweden 18, 54, 246 Catherine, Princess of Sweden 18, 110 Catherine Jagellonica, Queen Consort 246, 257 charity of, 49-50, 53, Polish courtiers and servants of, 103-104, 114 trusting her Polish dwarf Dosieczka, 147 Catherine, Princess of Sweden 18, 110 Catherine I of Russia 18 Cecilia, Princess of Sweden 18, 110 creating a sex scandal with a Prince of East Frisia, 192-193 travelling around Europe 111-112 Cederström, Antoinetta 84 Cederström see Catharina Maria Voltemat Charity, royal 47-57 for royal service 52-53 for illness 53 for being stabbed at the King’s feast 53 Charles IX, royal duke and later king of Sweden 104 charity 53-55 criticised for favouring Livonians 117 mistress of 215 surprising emphasis on compassion 51 Charles XI, king of Sweden decides on rank for women 171, 174 Charles XIII, duke later king of Sweden: forces the presentation of Mrs Cardell 179


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Chivalric orders (of sorts) for women and men 184 Order of the Amaranth 177 Order of the Coffin 177 Order of the Fan 177 Christian II, king of Sweden example of unmild tyranny 50 Christiernin, Anna Christina 293 Christiernin, Beata 18, 220 Christiernin, Margareta 19, 293, 302-303 Christiernin, Sara Catharina 293 Christiersdotter (Siöblad), Märta 26, 96 Christina, Queen Regnant of Sweden 19, 83 council feeling she should not be surrounded by Germans 117 dwarfphobic 147 handing out New Year’s gifts 95 handing out wedding gifts 95-96 table of ranks for women 175-176 Christina the Elder, Queen Consort of Sweden 19 charity (not as mean as often believed) 54 interceding for Sophia von Deppen 121 joking 201 not accepting her women being jilted 97-98 recruiting to her court and not accepting a no 88 sister Agnes comes to live with her in Sweden causing ructions 110 taking over a German Maid of Honour from her sister in law 111 Claesdotter (Uggla), Anna 19, 85 Clodt, Anna Maria 19, 99, 126, 135, 141, 193 Coronation 31-33, 43 Court Days 67 Court life boredom 192, 205, 308 drinking 150, 192, 205 humiliation 66, 93, 97, 113, 178-182, 186-188, 203, 235, 244, 248, 250 laughing, at others 155, 182, 188, 223, 299 loneliness 37, 161-162, 225, 288 Court Mistresses: from quite minor families 85-86 sometimes recruited as a set with husband 86 Court service, benefits of marriage opportunities 79, 89, 96-100, 105, 112-113, 142, 190, 205, 299, 307 potential power 33-35, 38-42, 59-62, 74, 79, 113, 121-148, 179, 187, 216-219, 224-225, 255, 274, 289, 294, 307-309 salary and perquisites 79, 93-96, 112, 167, 192, 198, 307 von Craylsheim, Bernolf 265 Cronström, Isak 181 Cuddy, Neil 36, 59-60 Cultural capital 41, 62, 64, 70

Dallerina, Magdalena 81 Deathbed 56, 140, 146, 207-208, 232 von Degenfeld, Luise 214 De la Gardie, Christina Catharina 96, 127 De la Gardie, Hedvig Eva 91, 182 De la Gardie, Hedvig Ulrika 19, 186, 188 von Deppen, Sophia 19, 121-122 von Dieffenau, Eufrosyna Heldina 19, 104 d’Ivry, Michelle Elisabeth 19, 133-134, 300 Dominicus, feathermaker 53 Doska or Dosieczka or Dorothea 19, 103-104, 147 von Düben, Emerentia 19, 32-33, 124, 129, 135-138, 150, 176 von Düben, Fredrika Eleonora 20, 156, 159, 309 von Düben, Ulrika Eleonora 20, 129-131, 156 Duindam, Jeroen 34 Dulondel, Marguerite 293 Duwall, Virginia Charlotta 196 Dwarfs 19, 21, 81, 103-104, 114, 117, 147, 269, 307 Dyveke 213 Earenfight, Theresa 40 Ehrenbill, Fredrika Christina 153 Ehrenbill, Johanna Lovisa 153 Ehrencrona, Erik Filip 298 Ehrenstrahl, David 282-283 Ehrensvärd, Gustaf Johan 295 Ekeblad, Claes Julius 157-161, 200, 203, 293 Ekeblad, Eva Magdalena 160 Ekeblad, Hedvig 20, 91, 179, 188-189, 203, 240 not a good guide to young Maids of Honour 91 Elbfas, Jakob 278 Elias, Norbert 59 Elisabeth, Princess of Sweden 20, 110 court mistress of 86 expresses bond with Maid of Honour 196 marries Mecklenburg duke 111 returning to Sweden as a widow with German entourage 111 Elisabet, jester 20, 81, 147 Elisabeth Augusta, daughter of Christian IV of Denmark 110 Elizabeth I, queen of England her women powerbrokers 123 King Erik’s unsuccessful wooing of 51, 247-249 Elton, Geoffrey 36 Erik of Pomerania, king of Sweden example of unmild tyranny 50 Erik XIV, king of Sweden 85 bastard of serving at court 87 charity of 48-52, 54 escape plan foiled by the dwarf Dosieczka 147 intervenes disastrously in his sister’s sexcapade with foreign prince 192



marriage negotiations 247-249 marriage 241 mistresses of 211, 215 Eriksdotter (Fleming), Filippa 151 Eriksdotter, Constantia 215 Eriksdotter, Sigrid 216 Eriksdotter, Virginia 85, 215-216 von Essen, Hans Henrik 303 Evans, Robert 36 Falkenberg, Maria Elisabeth 20, 99, 193, 205-206 Fedossa 20, 147 von Fersen, Christina Augusta 177-178, 184, 200 von Fersen, Eva Helena 178 von Fersen, Hedvig Eleonora 206 von Fersen, Sophie 204 von Fersen, Ulrika 20, 166, 196, 200-201, 205, 309-310 cruel wit 155, 200 Fersen, Countess see Lovisa Piper Fersen, Countess Carl see Charlotta Fredrika Sparre Fleetwood, Anna Charlotta ‘Nickalotta’ 20, 156-157, 160, 163, 165, 167, 196, 293 Fleming, Anna ‘Ancus’ 20, 196 von Flentzen genannt von Münchhausen, Barbara Sophia 121 von Flentzen genannt von Münchhausen, Ursilia Sabina 20, 98, 121 Fliess, Karoline 20, 178-179 Forssberg Charlotte 20, 154, 291-292, 299-306 Frederica, Queen Consort of Sweden 21 beauty impressing girls being presented 178 frail and struggling 236 getting clueless young Maids of Honour 91 shyness 240-241 women serving her young and/or confused 189 yields prerogative at presentations 180 youth of 189 Frederick I, King of Sweden 1720-51 21, 33 bribing Emerentia von Duben 137 emotionally dependent on Hedvig Taube 124 relationship with Catharina Ebba Horn 221-224 relationship with Hedvig Taube 216-219 relationship, less successful, with Beata Christiernin 220 relationship, less successful, with Brita Sofia Psilanderhielm 220-221 Freedom for women increasing for women at court 101, 112-113, 151, 200-201, 205, 307-310 restrictions on freedom 142, 191-192, 201, 205 von Friesendorff, Anna Charlotta 21, 91, 188, 240

Galïgai, Leonora 107 Gerdin, Alexander 96, 200 Goldsmith, Joan Greenbaum 38-39 Gordon Huntley, Henrietta 108 Gossip or rumour at court 82 Griesheim, Ernestine 204 Griffey, Erin 40 Grip, Margareta 87-88 Grip, Marina 85-87 Grooth, Eleonora 159 Grubbe, Sivert 239 von der Grünau, Maria 111, 115 De Guevara, Antonio 64, 153, 200 Gunilla, Queen Consort of Sweden 21, 52-53, 249-250 employing courtiers 86 Gunnell, Little 21, 147 Gustaf I, king of Sweden 49-50, 52, 80, 88, 202, 255-256 Gustaf II Adolf, king of Sweden charity of 54-55 corpse of 265-280 marriage 253-254 Gustaf III, king of Sweden 199 appreciates court experience 204 charity, image of 57 cuts down on the Maids of Honour 84 disliking his wife’s Danish servants 119 dress reform 202-203 gracious compared to his mother Lovisa Ulrika 167 introduces Ladies of the Palace 84, 197 introduces Lady Companion 84 introduces supper hosted by Ladies of the Palace 179 meticulous in etiquette 170 recruits a stunning (female!) beauty to court 89 Gyldenstolpe 154 Gyldenstolpe, Christina Charlotta 179-180 Gyldenstolpe, Nils 73-74 Gyldenstolpe, Nils Philip 156, 161-163 Gyllenborg, Carl 181, 217 Gyllenborg, Elisabeth 181 Gyllenhielm, Carl Carlsson 253-254 Gyllenstierna, Brita 21, 96 Gyllenstierna, Carl 141 Gyllenstierna, Ebba 196 Gyllenstierna, Ingeborg 21, 99, 173, Gyllenstierna, Magdalena 86 Hall, Mrs see Constantia Koskull Hamilton, Countess see Johanna Maria af Petersens Hamilton, Johan Abraham 190 Hanawalt, Barbara 38 Hansdotter (Garstenberg), Anna 21, 86 Hansdotter, Karin 216 Hardenberg, Anna 243-244


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Hårleman, Countess see Henrika von Liewen Harris, Barbara 35, 38 Hastfehr, Gustaf Berend 126 von Hatzfeldt, Amalia 105 von Hauswolff, Leonhard 178-179, 194, 229 Hedvig Eleonora, Queen Consort and Queen Dowager of Sweden 21, 126-127, 240-241 appreciation of polished and courtly manners 70 bedchamber, sharing with the king 262 charity 55 creating memory of her husband and dynasty 280-286 entertaining and being lobbied 68-71 fed up with visit of Princess of Bevern 111 German Maids of Honour of 118 interceding on behalf of the Sparre sisters 124-125 lobbied on by Occa Johanna von Riperda 125 New Year’s gifts to her women 172 painting of coronation of 32 relationship with Anna Catharina Bärfelt 141-146 relatives come to stay at Swedish court with mixed success 110-111 sleeping in the same room as and dying in the arms of Miss Biörnmarck 146 tries to help her Maid of Honour’s fiancé 126 Hedvig Elisabet Charlotta, Royal Duchess and later Queen Consort of Sweden 22 arriving 156 bond with Jeanna Stockenstrom 194 casual towards young ladies being presented at court 178 claws back prerogative at presentations 179-180 despairs of lack of savoir faire of young Maids of Honour 91 exasperated by demands of prerogatives of rank 180 performing in public and embarrassed by it 237 social ease 238 trying to avoid being saddled with a spy for the King 84 Hedvig Sophia, Princess of Sweden and Duchess of Holstein 22 Beata Wittenberg devoted to her 195 celebration of birthday 72 death of 140 interceding on behalf of Beata Sparre 125 marrying Duke of Holstein but soon returning to Sweden 111 relationship with Juliana Schierberg 138-140 Heinsius, Daniel 277 Henriette Christine, Princess of Wolfenbüttel but never Queen of Sweden 73-74 von Hessenstein, Fredrik Vilhelm 295 Hibbard, Caroline 40

Hirschbiegel, Jan 41 Hogenskild, Anna 22, 85-86, 192 Holgersdotter (Gera), Ebba 151 Holstein, Peter, Prince of 295 von Höpken, Nils 205 Höpken, Ulrika von see Ulrika von Fersen Horn, Adam 165 Horn, Arvid Bernhard 217 Horn, Beata Sophia 22, 156-168, 203-204, 287, 293, 309 Horn, Brita 157, 159 Horn, Catharina Ebba 22, 188, 221-224 Horn, Catharina Ebba 198 Horn, Erik 22, 97-98 Horn, Lovisa Ulrika 178 Horn, Maria 22, 140 Houben, Birgit 41 Howard, Henrietta 208 Hufton, Olwen 35 John III, king of Sweden 103-104, 247, 257-262 charity of 48-52 mistress of 215 Jöransdotter (Stiernsköld), Karin 27, 95 Jordan, Annemarie 40 Juliana, Princess of Hessen-Eschwege 22, 110 Kägler, Britta 41, 109, 184 Kalling, Pehr 99 Kaulbars, Fredrika Sophia 152 Keilhorn 131 Keller, Katrin 41, 88, 122 Kenig, Caspar 265 Kettering, Sharon 38, 122 Kissing denying kiss on the hand, 181, 188 on the cheek of the queen (Le Salut) 177 on the hand 177 the hem of the queen’s dress 177 Kleinman, Ruth 37, 87 Klinckowström, Countess see Hedvig Eleonora von Fersen von Knesebeck, Frederike Wilhelmine 22, 118-119 von Königsmarck, Aurora 22, 59-74, 209 Koskull, Constantia 179 Koskull, Mariana 179 Koskull, Ulrika 22, 89, 92 Kressen, Margrethe Luise 23, 131-132 Kruse, Maria Eleonora 200 Kurck, Christina 23, 159, 291, 309 Kurck, Kerstin 23, 84 Kursell, Christina 23, 97-98 Lambrecht, Arent 258 Langenberg, Elizabeth 43 Larsdotter, Sara 94 Laxman, Gertrud 23, 78, 151 Laurent, Charlotte 153-154


Lefebvre, Pierre 293 Leijonhufvud, Carl 171 Lembke, Johann Philip 282 Lewenhaupt, Christina Catharina 148 Levine, Carole 40 von Liewen, Beata 128 von Liewen, Charlotta 23, 128, 140 von Liewen, Hans Henrik 128 von Liewen, Henrika 23, 119, 128-129, 132 von Liewen, Ulrika Elisabeth 182, 303 Lillie, Margareta 77 Linderstedt, Sara Andreetta 182 Lindschöld, Erik 125 Loades, David 38 von Löserin, Anna Catharina 153 Love doubtful if lucky or unlucky 97-98, 151 eloping 98 lucky in 96, 99, 153 unlucky in 96, 99, 152, 153, 154-155 Lovisa Ulrika, Queen Consort of Sweden 23, 190 appreciates jolly and amusing Maids of Honor 127 dashing and unconventional riding a horse 156, 229 dismissive of her Maids of Honour 287 favouring Henrika von Liewen 128 favourites of 127-135 forcing caddish courtier to marry one of her women 153-154 frustrated by Swedish constitution longs for Prussian absolutism 127 ignores unmarried young women presented at court 178 inner circle of 195 key in political struggle 127-131 mocks the ageing king and his mistress 222-223 public performance splendid 229 seen as a ‘terrible woman’ 127 served unhappily by Beata Horn 161-168 shedding virtually all her German courtiers 118 tries to recruit a too young Maid of Honour 90-91 unkind to older Maids of Honour 149-150 upset when Knesebeck moves back to Berlin 119 Löwen, Eva Helena 155, 203 Löwenhielm, Countess see Christina Augusta von Fersen Magdalene Sibylla, Princess of HessenDarmstadt 23, 110, 197 magic 142, 145-146 Magnus, royal duke bastard of serving at court 87 mistress of 212-213

337 Malcolm, Alistair 123 Mancini, Olympe 107 Månsdotter, Karin 24, 216, 244 given an aristocratic Court Mistress 87-88 Manuel de Villena Suárez de Figueroa, Elvira 107 Margareta, Queen Consort of Sweden 24, 246 charity of 47-49, 53 women serving her not from the most aristocratic families 85 Maria, Royal Duchess 24, 82 court mistress of 86 noblewomen serving her 104, 114 Maria Eleonora, Queen Consort of Sweden 24 accompanying her husband on military campaigns 194 arriving in Sweden 253-254 battle with Council over control of the King’s corpse and funeral 268-280 charity 55 criticised for Germans at her court 115-117 fleeing to Denmark with Germans and dwarfs in tow 117 keen on dwarfs 147 meals at her court 93-95 niece comes to Sweden 110 recruiting Maids of Honour 77, 79 rewarding her women 119-120 Marriage 35, 41, 77, 79, 89, 96-100, 142, 174, 176, 190, 205, 299 lack of marriage a problem 149-168 queens upset at their women marrying 129, 133, 151 royal marriages 37, 135, 137-139, 209, 215, 243-251, 262, 265-266, 279, 282, 284-286, 290, 295 shame of marrying a commoner posing as a nobleman 113 Marschalk, Sophia Amalia 24, 119, 135, 141 Marschner, Joanna 40 Matthiae, Johannes 276-277 Mears, Natalie 39 Merton, Charlotte 39, 122 Meyerin, Ursula 122 Möller, Ingrid Maria 119 von Moltzer, Sebastian 296, 298-299 Montgomery, Malla 177-178 Mörner, Fredrika 24, 156, 158-159, 160-161, 183 von Mörsperg, Augustin 261 Mulack, Miss 24, 118, 131-132 Munk, Kirsten 214 Music absence of music during mourning 201 at coronation 31 by Lully performed 71 for dancing in secret 192 for dancing 194-195 to be liked if the prince likes it 64


Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

Nationalities Anne of Brittany keeping Breton courtiers in France 106-2107 Catherine de Medici served by Italian women 107 Catherine of Aragon served by Spanish women 107 Charlotte of Mecklenburg only keeping a few German body servants 108 concepts of existing but different 61, 103-104 expelling foreign courtiers 107-109 few foreigners serving seventeenth century queens 107-108 Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta presented as Swedish 231 Lovisa Ulrika cast as Swedish 231 Marie de Medici kept few Italian women 107 Mary Queen of Scots served by Scottish women I France 107 xenophobia against Catherine of Braganza 106 xenophobia against courtiers 114-120 xenophobia against queens 234-235 Networks, aristocratic and royal 35-36, 38, 59-74, 77-79, 86, 106, 112, 122, 128, 131, 143, 195, 244, 246-251 Nilsdotter, Karin 216 Noverre, Manette 24, 132-133 Opaski, Nikolaj 104 Örn, Nils 142-143 Örneklou, Peter 171 Örnskold see Ulrika Eleonora Berchner Orr, Clarissa Campbell 40 Österberg, Eva 40 Oxehufvud, Margareta 24, 77, 92 Oxenstierna, Axel 159 Oxenstierna, Axel 175, 270, 273, 276-280 Oxenstierna, Eleonora 144 Oxenstierna, Johan Gabriel 91, 199 Ozoria, Loyse 107 von der Pahlen, Hedvig Margareta 25, 126, 144 Pahr, Domenicus 258 Pahr, Johan Baptista 258 Paravicini, Werner 41 von Parr, Hedvig Margareta 25, 173, 179 Payne, Helen 39 Pbimiski, Pzesebastianus 103 Peck, Linda Levy 60 Pellisson, Claudine 81 Countess of Penalva 106 Pentz, Adam 276 Persdotter, Agda 25, 215-216 Persdotter (Silfversparre), Angoria 86 Persdotter, Anna 122 Persson (Silfversparre), Melchizedech 86 af Petersens, Johanna Maria 25, 184-185, 309

petitioning and supplicants 36-37, 48, 52, 55, 63-69, 71, 93, 96, 119, 125, 127, 132, 145-146, 230, 274, 288, 307 Pilo, Carl Gustaf 307 Piper, Lovisa 25, 180, 188 Piper, Countess see Hedvig Ekeblad Plomgren, either Ulrika or Carolina 159-160 Pollet, Marianne 25, 91, 152-153, 199 Pollet, Vilhelmina 153 Posse, Lovisa 293 Psilanderhielm, Brita Sofia 25, 220-221 Pufendorf, Samuel 283-284 Raeymaekers, Dries 41, 60 Rålamb, Erik 275 Rehn, Jean Eric 293 Reichart 133 Reuterholm, Gustaf Adolf 289, 298 Reventlow, Anna Sophie 214 Ribbing, Countess see Eva Helena Löwen Ribbing, Elisabeth 215 von Riperda, Occa Johanna 25, 125, 173, 197 Rodriguez-Salgado, Mia 289 Roland, goldsmith 53 Rosenhane, Bengt 99, 205 Rudenschöld, Countess see Christina Sofia Bielke Rudenschöld, Carolina 25, 154-155, 293, 296, 298, 301 Rudenschöld, Magdalena 25, 169-170, 201, 293 Ruthwen, Lady Jane 25, 34, 148 Ruuth, Christina Charlotta 179 Rylski, Laurens 104 Sánchez, Magdalena 40 von Scheiding, Margareta 25, 98 Schierberg, Juliana Sophia 25, 138-140 Schommer, Johann Baptista 142 sex and possibly love 96, 151-155, 192, 200-201, 205, 211-225 Sharpe, Kevin 42 Sigismund, king of Sweden 53, 250-251 Silfversparre, Isaac Lars 293, 304 Sinclair, Catharina Sophia 26, 291-292, 298-299 Sinclair, Christina Charlotta 291 Siöblad, Maria Catharina 26, 149-150, 198 Sjöblad, Anna Regina 221-222 Sko Abbey 48 Skogh, Lisa 40 Snakenborg, Helena 26, 113 Snakenborg, Karin (Ulfsdotter) 26, 96 Sociability 235-236 von Solms-Hohensolms, Anna Margareta 110 Soop, Anna Maria 26, 145 Sophia, Princess of Sweden 26, 110, 121 charity 49 court taken over by noble family clusters 86



Sophia Albertina, Princess and Abbess of Quedlinburg 26 ignores unmarried young women presented at court 178 makes her court into her family 287-306 unimpressed by lack of manners of Queen Frederica 189 upset at woman being jilted 154-155 Sophia Magdalena, Queen Consort of Sweden 26 cripplingly shortsighted 236-237 refusing to give up her last Danish servants 119 snubbing her low born Lady of the Palace 184-185 Sources and lack of them 42-43, 84, 307 some light begin to shine 85 Sparre, Beata 26, 124-125, 144 Sparre, Brita Stina 26, 162-163, 165, 196, Sparre, Charlotta Fredrika 155, 182, 187, 203 Sparre, Ebba 26, 98 Sparre, Ebba Maria 90, 124-125 Sparre, Margareta ‘Greta’ Carlsdotter 26, 92 Sparre, Sophie 27, 100, 298 Sperling, Fredrika Ulrika 159 Spetz, Christina Elisabeth 27, 129, 131-133 Stael, Gustaf Johan 293, 298-299 Starkey, David 36 Stauden, Brita Ebba Celestina 169 von Steckheim und Gesswein, Anna 82 Stenbock, Fredrika Eleonora 158-159, 201 Stenbock, Gustaf Harald 299-306 Stenbock, Hedvig Eleonora 27, 173, 176, 179 Stenbock, Magdalena 27, 126, 163-165, 196, 291, 295 persuading Princess Sophia Albertina to intercede for a poor nobleman 126 Stenbock, Magnus 306 Stenbock, Magnus 306 Stenbock, Margareta 27, 100 Stephenson, Barbara 40 Sternberg, Giora 174 Stockenström, Jeanna 27, 194, 204 Strokirch, Anna Magdalena 27, 199, 238 Strömfelt, Agneta 27, 99 Strozzi, Alphonsine 107 von Sultzbach, Augusta Sophia 110 Svartsjö (royal palace) 69, 294-295 Taube, Beata Charlotta 27, 156-157, 160, 163, 165-166, 183, 199 Taube, Edvard Didrik 217-219 Taube, Hedvig 27, 124, 216-219, 225 Tennis 51, 72 Tersmeden, Carl 220 Tessin, Carl Gustaf 27, 90, 128, 131, 133, 152, 190, 195, 202, 233 Tessin, Nicodemus 281 Thun, Christina Juliana 27, 134-135, 155

tickling, the Duchess Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta tickles the Queen and Maids of Honour 197 Törnflycht, Countess see Brita Stina Sparre Törnflycht, Christina Margareta Augusta 90-91 Torstenson, Margareta Magdalena (Greta) 28, 32-33, 126, 137, 150, 167, 198 persuading Princess Ulrika Eleonora to intercede for her brother 126 Ulfsparre, Gustaf 200 Ulrika Eleonora, Swedish Queen Consort 28, 135, charity 55-56 creation of household 63 Danish and German courtiers soon pushed out of her court 118 death and possible replacement of 73-74 fed up with visit of Princess of Bevern 111 giving birth 69 interceding on behalf of the Sparre sisters 124 sickly 67 Ulrika Eleonora, Swedish Queen Regnant 17181720 and Queen Consort 1720-1741 28, 123 coronation of 31-33 expresses bond with Anna ‘Ancus’ Fleming 196 interceding for the nephews of Anna Maria Clodt and Miss Pahlen 126 interceding on behalf of Beata Sparre 125 relationship with Emerentia von Duben 135-138 van Uther, Baptista 258 Utterhielm, Erik 283 Uttini, Franceso 293 Valborg 212-213 de la Vallée, Jean 262, 281 Voltemat, Catharina Maria 184, 201 Wachtmeister, Carl Adam 161 Wachtmeister, Eleonora 28, 126 Wallencreutz, Göran Otto 169-170 Wallenstedt, Catharina 134-135 von Wallmoden, Amalie Sophie Mariana 208 Watanabe-O’Kelly, Helen 231 Watz, Antonius 258 Weiser, Brian 60 Westeborch, Margrete 28, 82-83, 114 Winn, James Anderson 40 Wittenberg, Beata 28, 195 Woodacre, Elena 40 Wrangel, Anna 201 Wrangel, Anna Margareta 190 Wrangel, Christina 99 Wrangel, Hedvig Eleonora 198, 204-205

340  Wrangel, Herman 100 Wrangel, Maria Christina 28, 60, 62-73 Wrede, Fabian Casimir 99 Wrede-Sparre, Ulrika Sofia 90 Wright, Pam 38

Women at the Early Modern Swedish Court

von Zeidlitz, Carl Bogislaus 126 Zemon Davis, Natalie 37 Zöge von Manteuffel, Otto Johan 295