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The unsuitable suitor – Märta Gyllenståhl (Ch. 4.4)

The third Gyllenståhl daughter had gone and betrothed herself in secrecy, so when a suitor came to ask for her hand, trouble was in the air…


From beyond the seas – A history of the Alfort family

 Chapter 4, section 4 


The unsuitable suitor – Märta Gyllenståhl

The third daughter had her own marriage adventure, very much like that of her oldest sister. She had given her heart to a young district judge by the name of Johan Svanhals when she was only 17 years old. Together, they had signed a document to the effect that they would “live and die together in a lovely marriage”. She didn’t tell her dying father about it – in fact, they kept it secret until a year later, when he had been laid to rest in the family grave. Even then, she only told her closest male relative, her mother’s brother Axel Fahnehielm, who was now responsible for her in regard to her marriage. She asked him to keep the secret to himself, something she would later regret.

In early 1707, they were visited by a Captain Jacob Kristian Kempfert of the Admiralty. He was completely unknown to her, and indeed nobody at Liljeholmen seems to have known him very well, given that it turned out he had a lot to conceal. They welcomed him as they would any other guest, however, possibly because he had with him a certain Carl Macklier, a brother of her by then deceased brother-in-law. Their hospitality was the second thing she would later regret, because it wasn’t long before she realized exactly what their errand was. Kempfert was there to win her heart, and Macklier was to be the witness. They seem to have stayed for at least a month, as was usual at the time, and in the beginning of March he was confident that he had won her over.

How he got wind of the engagement between his object of love and Johan Svanhals, we do not know, but he certainly did not like it. He immediately set himself the task of removing this obstacle, so on 6th March 1707 he wrote to the cathedral chapter to explain that he had proposed to Märta Gyllenståhl and had been accepted. He also told them that he had given her a ring, which she had received in the presence of good folk, and that she had promised to marry him. Afterwards, another man had stolen his bride’s heart, pretending to have proposed to her before his arrival. He therefore requested of the chapter that they prevent her marriage with this upstart and make her marry him instead, which would of course make her a lot happier, given that:

jag av Kongl. nåd bekläder en sådan tjänst med vilken jag henne hederligen kan och vill försörja

I by the grace of the King occupy such a position as to allow me to honourably provide for her

Her family all supported her personal choice, except for her stepmother, who had at first accepted him, but had later had her reservations. According to Märta herself, this change of heart probably had something to do with Svanhals’ having been in a legal dispute with her father’s estate after his death.

As for the ring, he had sworn loudly when he had seen the one she had received from her beloved Johan Svanhals, had forced it from her finger and cast it into the fire. He had also threatened to kill her if she were to marry anyone but himself.

This would hardly have kindled the kind of fire in her heart that he was hoping for, but even so one cannot blame her for being a little curious about this avid suitor’s character. She wanted to know who he was, where he came from, and who his family was. She therefore wrote to her stepmother, who had gone to Stockholm, and asked her to find out more about him. The lady obligingly sought out his quarters in the capital, and what she discovered was not pretty.

Jag har frågat efter hans person i hans kvarter; där har han ett slätt renommé om sig; han har varit gift förut och är nu änkling, men inga barn har han, och ingenting har han till bästa, utan här har han narrat en skräddaränka till att låna sig 10 caroliner, och rocken, han hade på sig, den har han intet betalt arbetslönen för, och i sitt kvarter har han en annan rock i pant satt, och den har han narrat av en annan, och så säga de, att han skall hava en farlig sjukdom till att dras med

I have asked after his person in his quarters; there he has a bad reputation; he has been married before and is now a widower, but he has no children, and nothing to live on; here he has cheated a tailor’s widow into lending him 10 carolins, and the frock that he was wearing he has not paid the salary for, and in his quarters he has pawned another frock, and that one he has cheated off another person, and furthermore he is said to be troubled by a dangerous disease

If her stepmother had not been convinced that Svanhals was the more suitable of the two young men by then, she definitely was now. It is in this letter that she goes on to remind her stepdaughter to take care and remember with what difficulty her father has earned the money she is going to inherit. In other words: don’t waste them on a scoundrel like Kempfert. She certainly had no intention to; soon after, she married her sweetheart.

Namnteckningar på Gabriel Gyllenståhls bouppteckning 1710.

Signatures on the inventory of Gabriel Gyllenståhl’s estate after his death 1710: Catharina Cronhielm – nu bedröfwat Enka (i.e. now distressed widow), Hedevig Gyllenståhl – högt bedröfwat Encka (i.e. deeply distressed widow), Erik Allfortt, Joh[an] Svanhals, Erik G. Ehrenkrona, Joh[an] Ekstedt, I[srael] Steenberg, And[ers] Wetterström.

It is possible that this experience sparked a general mistrust of the male sex and a budding feminism in the young woman. She would certainly betray some shockingly modern ideas about female rights later in her life. She may in fact have been what we would call a very early feminist, as revealed by a highly interesting testamentary document from 1736.

No reading between the lines is necessary in order to perceive that she did not approve of the legal custom which let sons inherit twice as much as their sisters.

(…) som mina Barn så wäl Söner som Döttrar äro mig lika Kiära, och den enas wählgång fröjdar mig icke mindre än den andras, altså i föllie häraf, Jag och så gierna skulle se at de til sin wälmogens befrämjande kunde af den lilla ägendom, som min Kiära man vice häradshöfdingen Johan Swanhals och jag nu för tiden äga, eller hädanefter äga kunna, få lika förmån, och blifwa altså lika dehltagande. Men som min Kiära mans intention är at wåra Söner / efter lag, skola af denna wår lilla ägendom taga dubbelt lott emot wåra döttrar, så kan jag wäl icke detta hans upsåt bestrida (…)

(…) as my children both sons and daughters are equally dear to me, and the prosperity of one pleases me no less than that of the other, therefore I consequently also would like to see that they might for the sake of their well-being have an equal share and thus participate equally in the small property that my dear husband vice district judge Johan Svanhals and I own at present or henceforth may come to own. But as my dear husband’s intention is for our sons to receive a double portion of our small property / in accordance with legal custom, as compared to our daughters, I presumably cannot contest this intent of his (…)

Her husband was against the idea from the start – he wanted his sons to have their proper double share of the inheritance, so she could not have her way with their estate, though not for want of trying! However, she did have something of her own which she had been given by her wealthy parents. For one thing, their very home Brostorp in Torpa parish had come to her as part of her dowry when she married Johan, and that, along with her other personal belongings, she could give to whom she liked. Consequently, she thought out a clever plan which would make her children receive approximately equal shares. The idea was to bequeath to her daughters everything that was hers, including Brostorp, and thus make sure that the sons would only inherit their father. There is no evidence that she wished to rob her sons of their proper inheritance; on the contrary, she wanted everyone to be equal.

Altså har jag wid mina ännu sunda dagar några åhr efter annan hos mig öfwerlagd och betrachtad, huruledes Jag bäst måtte kunna giöra en sådan författning och förordning, om min lilla så wähl fasta som lösa, ärfde som förwärfde ägendom, som kunde tiena mina Kiära Barn til gagn och nytta, at derigenom / dem emellan / bibehålla et sält förtroende och enighet, samt afböja och dämpa all disput, stridighet och illwillia, som tjden läteligen kunde af sig föda.

Thus I have whilst still in good health for some years now been considering and contemplating how best to make such a statute and regulation as regards my small property both immovable and movable, inherited and acquired, as might serve and benefit my dear children, in order to maintain / between them / a happy trust and amicability and prevent and lessen all disputes, conflicts and ill-will which might easily arise with time.

She made two respectable men sign the document in the official manner and lodged the deed of gift with the authorities. At the last moment she appended an additional clause to take care of another potential injustice which she had come to think of, either by herself or at her younger daughters’ instigation.

P.S. Och som Jag mina döttrar som gifta äro af mit förwärfda til hemgift gifwit Twåhundrade daler Silf:t, altså skola och de ännu oförsörgde på samma sät niuta hwardera Twåhundrade d. S:mt.

P.S. And as I have given those of my daughters who are married two hundred daler silver coins as dowry from my acquired property, thus in the same way those who are as yet unprovided for shall likewise have two hundred daler silver coins each.

She is clearly very careful not to favour anyone, and one senses that both she and her daughters may in general have cared very much about getting their fair share of everything. Disputes, conflicts and ill-will might therefore easily have arisen had she not taken care of it beforehand.

Fate would that the document was needed much sooner than expected, for on a winter’s day in 1741, on 9th December to be precise, she fell off her horse during a ride in the area and was found dead – despite being reportedly a very accomplished horsewoman. She was only 54 years old.

In the midst of their grief, the daughters then dug out the deed of gift. Normally, their husbands would have had to sign the document and send it to the authorities. However, this was in 1741 when the army had just been assembled in Finland in preparation for a new attack on Russia which was supposed to enable a recapture of lost land in Ingria. In a wonderful twist of ironic fate, their husbands where therefore all away, so the women had to sign the document themselves, attaching a humble letter of request and hoping that their wish would be granted. Somehow, one cannot help feeling that their mother would have been simply delighted by the fact that they got the opportunity to carry out the paperwork by themselves without the assistance of any husbands!


 icon-arrow-right The next chapter “Difficult times at Liljeholmen” tells about life at Liljeholmen for Erik and his children.


Selected sources for chapter 4

This text is a synthesis of several years of work and is derived from countless sources. Among them are the following.

  • ArkivDigital / Riksarkivet
    • Church registers
    • Klockhoff’s notes
  • Tranås Hembygdsgille (1958), Från Sommabygd till Vätterstrand VI
    • Karoliner och lantjunkare i norra Sommabygden på 1700-talet

icon-check   07-08-2018

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