Gabriel 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. In the end he owned more than 60 estates in Östergötland.
Gyllenståhl the investor
So how did Gabriel Gyllenståhl acquire his great wealth? One document in particular would seem to answer this question. When his daughter Märta Christina was courted by two competing rivals, one of whom seemed to be in financial difficulties, her stepmother wrote to her:
emellertid så ber jag min k. dotter, att hon ser sig väl före och betänker, huru svårt hennes k. fader han har släpat sin egendom ihop till att conservera sina barn
however, I ask my dear daughter to take care and remember with what difficulty your dear father has gathered his property in order to conserve [i.e. ensure an inheritance for] his children
Clearly, then, he did not acquire his wealth overnight, but rather had to work hard for it.
The fact seems to be that he was simply a very skilful investor. Gabriel inherited several manors through his advantageous marriage, and he invested his money cleverly in other estates, which gave him a larger income. Eventually, he owned more than 60 manors and farms in Östergötland. In practice, these were run by tenants, but he derived a lot of money from them.
His not having been born a nobleman would in fact have been an advantage, because having no inheritance to speak of – no manors or lands bestowed by earlier kings – he had nothing to lose when the financially troubled Karl XI started to withdraw such earlier bestowals in order to strengthen the state finances. Large tracts of land were confiscated, reducing the income of the nobility to such an extent that many families found it very difficult to pay the upkeep of their manors. It is no wonder that Gabriel’s rise to wealth in such times generated a certain amount of jealousy.
Gabriel, who was not affected by these so-called reductions for the simple reason that he wasn’t made a nobleman until late in the period, managed to exploit the situation for his own gain by lending money to an array of noble families who found themselves in financial difficulties. He would for example offer to pay all their debts in exchange for an estate. This was the way in which he collected the many manors and farms over the years. It was also common at the time to simply exchange farms in order to acquire more farms in the same area, because it didn’t really matter what farm you owned as long as it gave a good income. It was simply a form of investment.
It is almost impossible to get an overview of the many estates Gabriel Gyllenståhl owned, but some of them will be enumerated here for reference.
As mentioned above, he inherited the estate of Södra Linnekulla in Torpa parish in Östergötland through his wife at their marriage in 1672. His additional acquisitions started out modest. In 1678, while he was still in service in Växjö, he bought Högerås in Svinhult parish in Småland, and in 1679 he added Råås, the neighbour of Linnekulla. He then quitted the army and soon after extended his properties by Lake Sommen considerably when he bought Sommenäs manor with its dependent farms in Malexander parish from Per Biälke and Märtha Sparre in Stockholm for a sum of 6325 riksdaler in silver. Gabriel soon added Väsby in a neighbouring parish to his possessions. It wasn’t long before the first ownership dispute arose between his Björndal under Sommenäs and the neighbouring cottage Kättestorp, as well as between Björndal and Pinnarp, where Gabriel at several occasions is reported to have overturned a stone fence. Not surprisingly, this incensed the neighbours quite a bit, but Gabriel could afford to be taken to court.
At this time, he also owned the manors Somvik and Stjärnesand farther to the north, as well as Brevik on the island of Torpön in the lake. It is unclear when he came to possess these. He was in a legal dispute with his neighbour Börshult on Torpön in the year 1700 because a farmer had felled some trees on the tiny islet of Klovön, which Gabriel claimed was the property of Brevik, but which the owner of Börshult was sure was his to fell. Gabriel won that first dispute, although nowadays the islet is in fact counted as part of Börshult.
In 1682, he acquired Aspenäs manor and a range of farms. During the next few years he bought several additional properties and exchanged some for others. In 1685, he signed a deed of purchase for Börsjö manor and ironworks in Finspång, now known under the name of Stjärnevik – but as was so often the case during this period, the intended sale led to a dispute with the owner’s relatives. According to the law at the time, property acquired through inheritance or as part of a morning gift could not be sold to a stranger if the owner had relatives with an inheritance claim to it who protested against the sale. Therefore, when a deed of sale had been signed, this fact must be announced publicly at three consecutive courts. If nobody protested, the sale could go ahead. Unfortunately, people often did protest, and the rule had many family disputes on its conscience. In this case, too, the owner’s resentful relatives stopped the sale of Börsjö manor and Gabriel was forced to return the deed. It wasn’t until 1688 that he was finally allowed to buy it.
By then his acquisitions had really started to accumulate. That same year, he bought Liljeholmen manor and the neighbouring farms Hårdaholmen and Fiskarp from Mrs Margaretha Drake, who had run into financial problems. He paid her debts and in return got the properties cheap. In 1689, he added Lycke and Häggarp. All of these properties, with the exception of Fiskarp, were to become very important to the Alfort family. He also acquired Kuseboholm manor in Vårdnäs parish whose owner was unable to pay his debts, and a year later he added the island Unön in the middle of Lake Stora Rängen, which he bought from the nearby Säby Palace. Its owner owed Gabriel money, probably because of a loan given to help him through the tough times, and in 1699 Gabriel would take over several farms in the area as payment. He had also recently received several manors confiscated from Captain Patkul in Kalmar County as payment for lost interest. Most likely this was Johann Patkul (1660 – 1707), who led the Livonian nobility’s resistance against the reduction. Patkul was later condemned to death for his actions.
Gabriel lived at Södra Linnekulla all his life, but only during winter. His summers he would spend at Börsjö. He explicitly stated that he considered both of these manors his home, and that he only left Börsjö during winter because he did not wish to “waste the forests at the expense of the ironworks” (utöda skogen bruken till skada) for his own household needs. However, this statement was probably just an attempt at persuading the local reverend Jonas Lithinius to perform the wedding ceremony between his daughter Hedevig and Gustaf Adolf Macklier, which he refused, among other things because he did not consider her to belong to his parish. But more of this later. They certainly seem to have spent most of their time in Torpa. His children had received their religious education from Torpa church, and there he would eventually be buried in a family grave outside the church. Börsjö was where he had his business.
icon-arrow-right The next section “The family ironworks” is about Gabriel’s industrial adventures as an owner of several ironworks.