Difficult times at Liljeholmen – Erik Alfort and his children
While as we have seen Erik Alfort may not have been a suitable husband for Maria Sophia, there is no doubt that he had a lot in common with his father-in-law Gabriel Gyllenståhl. He too had a habit of expecting to be obeyed. He had a hot temper and regularly filed lawsuits with his neighbours, his servants, and even his own daughter, whom he eventually disinherited.
Some of Erik’s edginess may have been due to growing financial concerns, as Sweden was thrown into ever more expensive wars by the belligerent king Karl XII, culminating in his murder in 1718 and the following peace treaty with Russia in 1721 which marked the definitive end of Sweden’s domination of the Baltic. The 1720s and 1730s were certainly not a good time for a family to depend on the military as a source of income. Sweden had collapsed as a superpower, and the riches which had so recently flowed in from every direction suddenly dried up. The peace treaty with Russia meant that the time had come for paying the bills and cleaning up after a very long and extravagant party.
From the available sources, it seems that Erik was particularly depressed during this time, and financial trouble may have been part of the explanation, though it is not spelled out as such. Gabriel Gyllenståhl’s heirs were almost without exception involved in military work, and the large number of estates that they had inherited were very expensive in upkeep. Consequently, this period would be remembered as a very tough one for everyone in their social circles.
The land around them was now their main source of income. Weary eyes were cast on the stony fields which people attempted to cultivate. Tons of stones were removed from the fields to expand the cultivated area, and new roads were built. More cows were let out onto the wooded meadows, and even into the forests, in order to ensure maximal exploitation of the meagre assets and secure a little extra income on the side. Cottages were built further from civilised society than ever before, in defiance of the wolves, wolverines and lynxes which roamed the forests.
Although Erik himself had withdrawn from the navy long before the final demise of Swedish hegemony, everybody around him whom he could call family was affected by the hard times. It would take someone special to restore the Alfort family fortune, but after Erik’s death his son Gabriel rose to the task. Innovative thinking, hard work and dedication would pay off in the end.
Erik’s three children were destined for very different fates. Maria Catharina married a simple farmhand against her parents’ wishes, was disinherited for it, but founded a family of farmers in northern Småland who did not inherit the family name, but flourished no less for that; Gabriel was united with his noble cousin Anna Brita Wetterström and inherited the Liljeholmen manor; and Carl Henric, who was ten years his junior, died during a military campaign in Finland, but left an illegitimate son about whose life very little is known.
This information-packed chapter deals with Erik’s countless lawsuits and disagreements, the whole scandal of his daughter’s marriage with his farmhand against her parents’ wishes, his son’s pioneering agricultural work in the face of economic hardship, and the death of their young brother in the course of his military duties in Finland. Gabriel left us a fascinating diary about his youth, and so the entire next chapter will be reserved for the exploration of his voyages on the seven seas and the romantic story of his betrothal and marriage. At present, we shall only be dealing with life at Liljeholmen.
icon-arrow-right The next section “Erik’s court squabbles” gives a taste of the many brushes that Erik had with the law – mainly as accuser, but occasionally as accused.