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Gyllenståhl the legend (Ch. 3.6)

According to a wide-spread legend Gabriel 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?

From beyond the seas – A history of the Alfort family

 Chapter 3, section 6 

The Danes capture Kristianstad 1676. Painting by Claus Moinichen 1686.

Gyllenståhl the legend

Gabriel’s riches would naturally have engendered a certain amount of jealousy, and that is probably the origin of another story about Gabriel which has been widely spread, but which already Klockhoff showed to be most likely just an old man’s misremembered tales, and thus completely without foundation. According to this myth, Gabriel had during the war in Scania succeeded in laying ambush to a Danish convoy with horses and foodstuffs, as well as the entire Danish war chest, complete with 50,000 riksdaler in copper plate. When he addressed the king and handed over the treasures, the king was so pleased that he let Gabriel keep the war chest, making him one of the richest men in the kingdom. Klockhoff traces the story to some biographical notes by major Carl Ludvig Du Rietz in Stora Tidersrum, a grandson of Gabriel’s, who was 86 years old when he wrote the following account:

Under Konung Karl XI:s krig med Dannemark låg konungen med svenska armén i Skåne, där han av sina snapphanar – så kallades spioner i den tiden – erhållit underrättelse, att danska krigskassan var på väg till danska lägret. Konungen befallde då, att löjtnanten vid Uppvidinge Compagnie med 38 ryttare, däribland även ryttaren Maths Stål sig befant, skulle jämte en kvartersmästare försöka att borttaga nämnda kassa.

Denna kommendering avgick genast, och då svenska kommenderingen mötte den danska, började striden å båda sidor med lika häftighet i denna affär, varvid å svenska sidan löjtnanten och kvartersmästaren båda blevo skjutna. Då ville mine kammarater vända om till vårt läger, men jag hindrade det och sade: om vårt befäl är nedskjuten, så anförer jag själv, ty kassan skola vi hava, sade jag Maths Stål, och hämnas våra skjutna bröder. Under mitt anförande börjades striden på nytt med dubbel häftighet, och då befälhavaren för danska betäckningen blev skjuten, flydde de danskar, som voro övrige, och krigskassan var vår jämte 15 munderade danska hästar och allt övrigt, vi erövrat, vilket nu är i Eders Maj:ts läger.

Sådan var den munteliga raport, ryttaren Stål lämnade konungen i Hans Maj:ts tält. Konungen tackade Kornett Stål för det hjältemod, han visat under sitt anförande och skänkte honom danska krigskassan, men de brev och övriga handlingar, den innehöllt, lämnas konungen, vilken behöllt de 15 danska hästarne med det de i öfrigt erövrat för sig själv. Härefter anordnade konungen, det kornetten vid Uppvidinge kompani skulle bliva löjtnant vid samma kompani och Stål kornett efter honom med lön och boställe.

During king Karl XI’s war with Denmark, the king was in Scania with the army, where he had received information from his snapphanar – that was what spies were called at the time – that the Danish war chest was on its way to the Danish camp. The king then ordered that the lieutenant at Uppvidinge Company with 38 horsemen, among them also the horseman Maths Stål, should, along with a quartermaster, attempt to capture the mentioned chest.

This division left camp immediately, and when the Swedish division met the Danes, fighting broke out on both sides with equal ferocity, whereby on the Swedish side the lieutenant and the quartermaster were both shot. My comrades then made to retreat to our camp, but I stopped them and said: if our commander has been shot, I shall lead on personally, for the chest we shall have, I told [or: said I?] Maths Stål, and avenge our shot brothers. Under my command, fighting was resumed with double ferocity, and when the commander of the Danish troop was shot, the Danes who were in command(?), fled, and the war chest was ours along with 15 equipped Danish horses and everything else which we had captured, and which is now in Your Majesty’s camp.

Thus was the oral report that the horseman Stål gave the king in His Majesty’s tent. The king thanked Cornet Stål for the bravery he had shown under his command and presented him with the Danish war chest, but the letters and other documents that it contained, were left to the king, who kept the 15 Danish horses with what else they had captured for themselves. Then the king saw to it that the cornet in Uppvidinge Company was made a lieutenant at the same company, and Stål was made cornet after him with a salary and a cottage.

It is a very good story, but it is flawed in many ways, as observed by Klockhoff. First of all, nothing really connects this story to Gabriel Gyllenståhl. The hero in the story is called Maths, not Gabriel. Gabriel had a brother, Jonas Ståhl, who was a cornet with Hans Ramsvärd’s company of horsemen. He seems to have served there from July 1676 to October 1679, i.e. at the same time as his brother. Gabriel appears to have taken care of him in legal and financial matters. They may of course have had a third brother, Maths, but no such brother is known. Gabriel was not a common horseman either – he was squadron leader and captain. Klockhoff suggests that the old major Du Rietz was reporting a variation on an old camp story. As pointed out by Klockhoff, it is also highly unlikely that even the most heroic of soldiers would have been rewarded with a large amount of money at the time, since money was very scarce. The constant wars had drained the Swedish finances, so awards were given in the form of promotions and livings rather than money.

Interestingly, the story would in fact seem to bear some resemblance to an event known as Loshultskuppen which definitely took place in the area at the time, but with the exact opposite effect. On 24th July 1676 a Swedish war chest was captured by local farmers who had teamed up with Danish horsemen to fight the Swedes. The value is estimated to have been at least 28,600 daler in copper plate, a phenomenal sum, and this loss was one of many reasons why the Swedish finances were in a bad state. This event may well be the origin of the story assigned to Gabriel Gyllenståhl, a suspicion which would seem to be confirmed by the otherwise very strange use of the word snapphanar for Swedish spies. A snapphane was a Scanian rebel or guerrilla soldier who acted as a spy for the Danes and fought the Swedes. The Swedish king would simply not have had snapphanar. The fact that the writer adds a comment explaining the meaning of the word – ‘it simply meant spy at the time’ – suggests that either he himself felt that the use of the word was inappropriate in this case, or alternatively that he (and people around him) would no longer be certain about its meaning. I believe the story about Gabriel was an adaptation of this story which arose in the camps through a mixing up of names and facts in order to explain his sudden wealth.

 icon-arrow-right The next section ”Gyllenståhl the investor” is about Gabriel’s more than 60 estates and his prowess as an investor.


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