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A self-made investor of the 17th century – Gabriel Gyllenståhl (Chapter 3)

From beyond the seas – A history of the Alfort family.

Chapter 3

A self-made investor of the 17th century – Gabriel Gyllenståhl

Erik Alfort’s father-in-law Gabriel Gyllenståhl is one of the most interesting personalities of his time, and perhaps also a somewhat misunderstood person, as his childhood has recently been shown to have been very different from what had previously been supposed. Indeed, he seems to have been the son of entirely different parents. He married wealth, and had the skill that allowed him to invest cleverly and make more money at a time when money was scarce among the nobility. He eventually achieved nobility for himself, but he never had a surviving son, despite marrying twice, so the line went extinct with his decease. He witnessed some remarkable events, such as an illegal duel which ended in cold-blooded murder and the revenge burning of an entire village during wartime. According to a wide-spread legend he once captured the Danish war chest, which is supposed to have made him immensely rich at a stroke. But are the legends really to be believed?

Gabriel Gyllenståhl (1640-1705), father-in-law of Erik Alfort. Reproduction. Photo: Esben Alfort 2017.


Gabriel Gyllenståhl (25/10 1644 – 1705) and his noble wife Maria Margareta Fahnehielm may be considered the family’s second founding couple, due to the immense importance of their wealth and status for the future of the family. On 3rd April 1701 Erik Alfort married their daughter Maria Sophia Gyllenståhl. He was then 42 years old and still by all accounts a bachelor, having spent most of his life at sea. His noble bride, on the other hand, was a young girl of 19.

Despite having grown up with a father who owned more than 60 estates and was one of the richest men in Sweden, she was no pampered lady. Her father seems to have had very much the same sort of personality as Erik. Both were proud and ruthless men when opposed and tended to be a law unto themselves. They dictated their own rules and were not intimidated by neighbours or authorities.

For almost a century, Gabriel was believed to have been the son of soldier Per Ståhl and his Livonian wife Anna Sophia Anrep, a soldier who was executed for assaulting a Danish woman while drunk in wartime. Gabriel would still have been a child, and thus the event was thought to have strongly affected his future life. The idea was presented as a fact in a biography by lector O. Klockhoff in 1925 and then copied by others until recently, when new research has revealed that they were not his parents at all icon-external-link. An entirely new and less traumatic childhood is coming to light, if you can call joining the army as a teenager and being ordered to literally wipe out an entire parish less traumatic than losing your father.

Apart from the present chapter, the recent research has since been summarised in an article by Kjell Holmåker in Svensk Genealogisk Tidskrift 2017:2, where new details have been added which finally seem to render the evidence conclusive.

 icon-arrow-right The next section ”From tobacco smuggler to acclaimed officer” is about Gabriel’s early career.


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