The price of wilfulness – Gabriel’s daughters

Svenska – English

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

Chapter 4

The price of wilfulness – Gabriel’s daughters

© Esben Alfort 2014-2023

Gabriel Gyllenståhl’s willpower and refusal to be gainsaid or overruled was a personality trait inherited by his eldest daughter Hedevig Margareta Gyllenståhl. The two wills of father and daughter were doomed to eventually clash, and perhaps surprisingly this conflict with his daughter hurt him deeply and weakened him both physically and mentally.

Being such a rich man, Gabriel was naturally aware of the very real risk that his daughters would be courted by a lot of unsuitable men who were only after their money. In fact, none of Gabriel and Maria’s three daughters had uneventful and uncomplicated marriages. Hedevig fought against her father’s wishes, as we shall see presently, and Maria’s marriage to captain Erik Alfort was thoroughly unhappy. Erik became violent and aggressive towards her over the years, and their son Gabriel was forced to act as a mediator between them when things got rough. All of this was an enormous strain on Gabriel’s nerves, and his strength weakened as he grew older. The third daughter, Märta, kept her engagement secret from her family, which was perhaps as well, given that Gabriel was dying at the time, and more worries of that kind might have finished him off on a bad note.

Very likely he was decidedly grumpy in his old age. He had become very stout, and this started to keep him from going to meetings and presiding at important decisions – something which would naturally have annoyed a domineering man like Gabriel Gyllenståhl and made his old age less agreeable.

The wedding without a priest – Hedevig Gyllenståhl

Hedevig Gyllenståhl's signature on the inventory of Gabriel's estate 1710.
Hedevig Gyllenståhl, högt bedröfwat Encka, i.e. deeply grieved widow, 1710.

Hedevig Gyllenståhl (10/1 1681 – 7/10 1737) is described as a proud and wilful, but at the same time warm-hearted and righteous woman who was always generous towards the needy. In many ways, the impression is of a modern woman; she definitely would not allow her father to be the judge of whom to marry, and she did not give in to rude threats from a male suitor either.

She had not turned 18 when two determined young suitors started to vie for her hand and inheritance. One was lieutenant colonel (överstelöjtnant) Gustaf Adolf Macklier (16/8 1675 – 15/3 1706), and the other was captain Bengt Rudebeck (30/12 1670 – 12/2 1724), whose grandfather was the famous bishop Johannes Rudbeckius. Macklier had the most impressive ancestry, but Rudebeck, who was four years his senior, had brilliant references from the army, something which would naturally have impressed the self-made war veteran Gabriel Gyllenståhl much more.

Liljeholmen in Torpa.

It all started at a Christmas ball in 1698, probably at Gyllenståhl’s manor Linnekulla. Both young men had come to win her hand, but they decided on opposite tactics. Macklier chose to approach Hedevig personally in an attempt to win her heart. He trusted that her parents would then be moved by their hopefully mutual love afterwards and consent to a marriage. Rudebeck, on the other hand, decided to waste no time and went directly to her father to ask for her hand. Thanks to surviving letters, we can reconstruct the sequence of events fairly accurately.

On a certain Friday while they were staying in the area, Macklier brought cornet Jean Bergman with him to Linnekulla as a witness at his planned proposal. Rudebeck was already there, and it was clear that he had come with the same objective. In fact, Macklier was very much in fear of being too late. The two rivals both stayed till Sunday, when they all went to church in the morning. After the service, everybody was invited to dine at the parsonage in Torpa. In the afternoon, there was dancing, but soon afterwards Macklier and his friend succeeded in catching Hedevig alone.

He started cautiously by asking her whether she was engaged to Rudebeck, and was much relieved to hear that she was not, “although father and mother want it, it can never happen, for I shall never have the heart to love him”. Encouraged by this answer, Macklier asked her what she thought of his own person. This step, too, got a favourable reception: “if it were up to me, I like the lieutenant better“. He then offered her a ring, and they made a mutual promise in the presence of their witness never to give each other up. In the morning, Macklier wanted to go to her parents to ask for their consent, but she dissuaded him from the scheme, being convinced that nothing good would come of it.

In the meantime, Rudebeck had spent the time making friends with her parents, and had actually succeeded in obtaining their consent. He therefore considered the engagement with Hedevig a fact and gave her a ring, which she of course returned. He did not give up that easily, however, but rather decided to cheat her into the engagement.

A few days later, the aforementioned Jean Bergman invited the party to his home Härsås. It was a dark December evening, and Hedevig had fallen asleep in a chair. The unscrupulous Rudebeck now saw his chance to slip the ring onto her finger in her sleep. Unfortunately for him, she immediately woke up and angrily flung the ring away. At several occasions afterwards, her father tried to convince her to accept the ring and the man, but she told him “with crying tears” (med gråtande tårar), that she would rather die than do so.

Shortly afterwards, father Gabriel had left for Stockholm, where he received a courteous letter in which Macklier informed him of the engagement existing between his daughter and himself and asked for her hand. Gabriel strongly resented the fact that his daughter had taken such a step without consulting him, and he decided then and there to enforce his will on her. On returning home, he angrily showed the letter to Rudebeck, who was so incensed by it that he threatened to kill his rival. This was probably more than Gabriel had bargained for, so he persuaded him to leave for Germany, where he had taken employment with the elector of Brandenburg. They agreed that she would probably give in after a while. Hedevig’s favourite Macklier also left Torpa for the admiralty at Karlskrona. It must have been an awful time for them all.

Before leaving, Rudebeck had completed his good work by thoroughly charming Gabriel’s wife, Hedevig’s stepmother, who does not seem to have had any particularly warm feelings for her stepdaughter (who was only 7 years younger than her!). The two carried on a lively correspondence by post after his departure, and she encouraged his suit by telling him, untruthfully, that Hedevig had started to waver, something which she would never do. Rudebeck even won over the stepmother’s companion, Cajsa Alf, by writing her flattering letters in French! From his point of view, the scene was now set for his final triumph.

Hedevig was of course never going to give in, but her stepmother finally convinced her that she ought at least to answer her suitor’s letters. She knew that a letter would count as a sign of attachment and would thus furnish Rudebeck with proof that an engagement existed. In this way, it might be possible to force her to accept the proposed marriage by legal means. Hedevig was not stupid, however, so on 21st January 1699 she sat down and thought out a way to avoid this scheme of her stepmother’s. She cleverly devised an extremely courteous missive which at the same time could not possibly be taken for a love letter:

Mon Confident.

I thank the Captain for his gallant letter, which he did me the honour of writing to me. I cannot but answer his letter and thank him for all the civility and courtesy which it has pleased him to show me; shall also with time turn out to be my confident’s friend and servant ever again; thereby I remain my confident’s most obliging servant and best friend.

Translated from Swedish

Her parents conscripted many relatives in their attempts to win her over. Being constantly plagued by them, it is no wonder that she grew increasingly moody and irritable. She had nobody to confide in, as all of her family’s friends were on her parents’ side. After a time, she became so depressed that she was believed to be in danger of hurting herself if not looked after continuously. From then on, she was kept more or less imprisoned in her home, on top of her other worries.

She was quite desperate by now, but she had one last hope: the pastor Eric Hahl, who was her spiritual advisor and bound by sacred duty to help her in her plight. The problem was reaching him without anyone noticing. She could not go to the parsonage, so she wrote him a letter in which she urged him to speak to her father on his next visit to Linnekulla:

Since my dear father has requested that the pastor come hither to interview my sisters, I also ask that the pastor be so virtuous as to convince my dear father that he not plague me any longer with that which must be known to the pastor, but (I mean) about Captain Rudebeck, as I have never come to want it and never have; I therefore beseech the pastor that to the extent that the pastor is my spiritual advisor, he must help me with my dear father and mother, that they have the compassion with me, that to the extent that I am their child, they not plague me with it any longer; I have never had a moment of joy since I first saw him, therefore I once more beg a thousand times that the pastor help me hence.

Translated from Swedish

Even in this most desperate of her letters, she manages to compose a text which refers to the relationship with Rudebeck as an abstract it, rather than anything approaching an engagement, thus presenting it as something external which has no part in her life but has been foisted on her by outsiders. A masterly piece of communication, in other words.

Pastor Erik Hahl's signature on the Torpa church accounts 1699. In former years, Gabriel used to sign them.
Pastor Eric Hahl’s signature on the Torpa church accounts 1699. In former years, Gabriel had signed them.

The pastor was deeply troubled by this supplication. On the one hand, he dearly wished to help the child, but at the same time, he feared the mighty major’s reaction if he were to meddle in his affairs. He might very easily lose his job, for one thing. Gabriel had after all been the one who had helped him to his living and installed him in the parish. What was he to do? He went to Linnekulla to interview her sisters on the appointed day, and he cautiously mentioned the letter that he had received. Most probably, he was taking stock of the situation by presenting the case in a neutral light before attempting to introduce his own opinion. When he returned home, however, he thought things over and decided that he must speak his mind for Hedevig’s sake, so he spent the evening composing a long letter to Gabriel in which he proved convincingly that forcing a daughter to marry against her will in this way was against both religious and secular law.

Forced love is no good – who seeks to rejoice in forced love rejoices in nothing. That same person does evil to himself as well as to the person on whom love has been forced. My unassailably given council is this: That each and every father and mother act well in such cases, lest a heavy conscience be the consequence.

Translated from Swedish

These weighty words, which concluded the pastor’s letter, made a deep impression on Gabriel, who was after all a righteous and religious man with strong moral principles. The pastor had consolidated his argument with examples from the Bible as well as from ecclesiastical law, and Gabriel could not argue with that. Thus convinced that he was in fact wronging his daughter, he finally gave in to her wishes and agreed to let her marry Macklier.

Gabriel’s wife was not happy about this; after all the flattering letters she had received from Rudebeck, she had a hard time accepting her husband’s sudden change of heart. She must eventually give in to his wishes, however, and nothing now remained but to communicate the altered situation to the unsuspecting suitor in Germany, whom she had convinced that Hedevig was becoming less set against him. It was a very uncomfortable situation she had brought upon herself.

Hedevig, her father and her stepmother each wrote Rudebeck a letter on the occasion. Both of her parents assured him that they had done their utmost to convince their daughter, but to no avail. They both urged him to forget his unrequited love. They both tried to buy his forbearance and resignation in their own way, unsuccessfully as it turned out. Gabriel attempted to console him by ensuring a promotion for him in a company in Sweden, while his wife endeavoured to flatter him by writing that she hoped he would:

banish it completely from his thoughts, for a cavalier, such as the Captain is, will most definitely get a wife and has no need to quarrel for a wife, which does not look very chivalrous.

Translated from Swedish

Flattery and insult in one sentence. In fact, Rudebeck never married. He went back to the continent and eventually settled in Vienna, where he was attached to the imperial court as a Swedish representative. He died in Sweden in 1724.

The reason for the attempt at flattery and consolation is clear. If the parents had promised him their daughter’s hand then he could claim a legal right to marry her, or claim a compensation. This was what they were hoping to avoid, but unfortunately that was exactly what Rudebeck did intend. From his point of view, the lady was his, and his rival had illegally tried to steal her from him. Being himself unable to quit his duties in Berlin at the time, he appointed his brother Paul Rudebeck as his representative in court. The first step in the plan was to effect a legal prohibition against the marriage until Rudebeck could return in person and claim his right.

Gabriel was highly troubled by the trial. He was always in legal dispute with someone, but for once it was not just about money but rather reflected on his person as a man and father. He now claimed that Rudebeck was simply after the family fortune. Regarding the letters sent to him in Germany, he said that they had merely been written in order to appease Rudebeck after he had threatened to stab and shoot his rival.

Gabriel never considered the possibility that Rudebeck might really achieve something in court, so he just went on planning his daughter’s grand wedding for 2nd August 1699. He spent the summer at Börsjö as usual, and he therefore asked the pastor at the local church in Risinge, Jonas Lithunius, to proclaim the banns. However, the Rudebecks claimed that, apart from the fact that the bride was, to their minds, engaged to another man, she did not belong in that parish at all, since her main place of residence was Linnekulla in Torpa parish. As the law demanded that the banns be proclaimed in her home parish, the wedding could not take place. Gabriel protested that both parishes were their homes, since they lived in Torpa during the winter and in Risinge during the summer. It is unclear why he did not simply let the pastor in Torpa perform the ritual, but perhaps Gabriel was still not able to look him in the eye after he had decided to meddle in his private affairs.

Pastor Lithunius did not know what to do, but he tended towards the Rudebeck brothers’ opinion that the marriage could not proceed, at least in his parish. He therefore sent his wife to Börsjö to say that he would not risk breaking ecclesiastical law. If he was counting on the effects of feminine diplomacy, however, he was sorely disappointed, because Gabriel succeeded in calming her by giving her his assurances that he would take full responsibility for any consequences. Satisfied that nothing bad could come of it, she then returned home, promising to come back with her husband the next day.

The big day arrived, and so did the groom and a multitude of noble guests. A big party was thrown by the bride’s father, complete with a sumptuous dinner. The time drew near when the wedding was to take place, but the pastor was only conspicuous by his absence. Hours went by, but he never came. The next day, the groom’s friend Jean Bergman was sent to the parsonage to enquire after the pastor, who answered that he did not dare perform the wedding ritual in light of Rudebeck’s prohibition. Bergman pointed out that this prohibition was not legally valid because Rudebeck had failed to provide bail for the forfeited wedding costs, which were substantial, but the pastor would rather keep out of it.

Hedevig was of course intensely miserable. She had fought hard for her right to marry the one she loved, and now that she had finally reached the day of her wedding, happiness was exchanged for shame. The wedding at Börsjö with no priest and no marriage became the talk of the town. There was nothing to do but await the court decision two weeks later.

Gabriel, too, was highly indignant. Early that morning he called on his secretary and dictated a letter to the authorities in which he accused the pastor of failing in his duty and complained about the indignity, harm and cost which his disobliging behaviour had occasioned. He even got his wedding guests to sign a statement to the effect that:

As those who have signed below have yesterday shown up by invitation at Börsjö in order to attend the copulation act [i.e. wedding ceremony] between the right hon. lieutenant Macklier and the right hon. maiden Hedvig Gyllenståhl; thus upon request we attest that major Gyllenståhl made such a wonderful and costly wedding for his son-in-law and daughter with all sorts of refreshments, as anyone could provide.

Translated from Swedish

He estimates the cost of the festivities to have exceeded several thousand dalers – a priestly sum of money several times larger than the one with which his former secretary had run away to the continent.

We do not know exactly how the story of Hedevig’s two rivals ended, except that Hedevig and Gustaf Adolf Macklier did marry before the end of the year, and it is possible that the ceremony itself took place in the capital. However that may be, on 10th November 1700, their daughter Maria Catharina was born, and it was at her christening that Erik Alfort was present as described in chapter 2.

Unhappily, it was not going to be a very long marriage – Gustaf Adolf died in 1706 after only six years. By then, her father had also departed this world. She then married his former secretary, royal court commissary Anders Wetterström (11/1 1669 – 11/12 1735), who had worked for him during the trial against Rudebeck, and consequently knew all her troubles.

Their daughter Anna Brita (1/1 1716 – 5/7 1770) was later to marry her cousin, Gabriel Ahlfort. It was common at the time to marry within the family, especially in the upper class, and consequently the early generations are a tangle of relations. Thus, Maria Margareta’s grandchild Catharina Lovisa von Gertten would also eventually marry Gabriel Ahlfort’s son Gustaf Adolf Alfort.

I de tidiga generationerna gifte man sig helst med någon inom kretsen av adliga och förmögna, och det blev därför ofta inom familjen. Genom åtskilliga generationer uppbyggdes det sålunda ett invecklat rotnät.
In the early generations, marriage partners were often sought within a narrow circle of relatives and upper-class friends. Consequently, an intricate network of tangled roots was built up over the generations.

Hedevig had two children by her first husband and another six by her second, two of whom died young.

  • 1.  Maria Catharina Macklier (10/11 1700 – 26/10 1778)
    •  Carl Gustaf Gripensköld  
  • 2.  Johan ”Jon” Gabriel Macklier (25/12 1701 – 28/12 1775)
    •  Hedvig Rosenqvist af Åkershult  
  • 3.  Claës Georg Wetterström (1710 – 12/3 1741)
    •  Elisabet Strand  
  • 4.  Gustaf Adolf Wetterström (1711 – 14/6 1786)
    • 1.   Ingeborg Ingellersdotter 
    • 2.   Elisabet Christina Stråle af Sjöared  
  • 5.   Carl Magnus (1713 – 1717) 
  • 4.  Anna Brita Wetterström (1/1 1716 – 5/7 1770)
  • 6.  Hedvig SofiaWetterström (1716 – 15/3 1782)
    •  Göran Rimmius
  • 7.   Claës Magnus (1717 – 1722)  

As adults, almost all of them either were or married officers.

Anders Wetterström died in 1735, and less than two years later his wife Hedevig followed him to the grave. It is possible that she did not die a natural death, since the beautiful and heart-warming note that the priest made in the church registry at her burial states that she was buried “in silence”, an expression which would usually signify that she had had a hand in her own death.

On 7th October was buried in silence the deceased Commissary Mr And. Wetterström’s surviving pious widow at Somvik; whose deadly decease not without salty and hot tears from many is much missed and lamented for her tender and warm heart and helpfulness until her death towards the needy. This dec. mistress’ name in this miserable vale of tears was Noble and Right Honourable Mrs Hedevig Margaretha Gyllenståhl.

Translated from Swedish
Hedevig's death 1737. Malexander parish.
Hedevig’s death 1737. Malexander parish.

An unhappy marriage – Maria Gyllenståhl

The second daughter Maria Gyllenståhl (1683 – 22/11 1753) had a very different personality. According to contemporary sources, she was rather “stupid but innocent and timid” (enfaldig men oskyldig och blödig) – the exact opposite of her older sister. Even so, her troubles would occasion her father even more worries.

Erik Allfort (1660-1730), son till den förste svenske medlemmen af Alfortsläkten.

Her marriage to captain Erik Alfort was anything but happy. We do not really know whether she chose her own husband or let her father decide for her, given her allegedly compliant character. It is after all worth remembering that she was 23 years his junior! She would have known, of course, that marrying a military man meant not seeing him for months at a time and never really knowing what he was up to. Erik would have returned to the navy in the spring after the wedding in 1701, and he probably spent most of his time in the Baltic Sea. In that environment, he acquired some particularly rough manners, and when he was back on land for a winter visit to Liljeholmen, he had difficulties behaving civilly. He drank too much, and he could be violent towards his wife, hitting her and pulling her hair. It would not have been a pretty sight. Maria, or Maja as she was called in informal settings, was really afraid of him and regularly had to flee to her sister’s place Somvik.

Somvik manor used to be a fortified stronghold belonging to people of power; the remains of a medieval tower can still be seen if you know where to look. Photo: Esben Alfort 2019.

Several attempts at a reconciliation between husband and wife were made by their family and friends, but to no avail. Finally, in 1705, they agreed to settle their differences and both promised to mend their ways. Their relationship did not improve, however, and in the end their disagreements found their way into the cathedral chapter instead. Family and friends were now entirely on the side of Maria, but on the other hand they were presumably all her family, and most of them her friends, given that he spent most of his time away from home. One of them was a certain Mrs Anna Printzensköld, who wrote to the bishop for help:

the grieved lady, who is very simple, that her relatives very much fear, as she is so ill treated by her husband, that she may completely lose her mind, as she is already very frightened and anxious, which I have seen with my eyes!!

Translated from Swedish

At the first interview in the cathedral chapter on 9th January 1707, only the husband was present, as Maria was busy dealing with the distribution of her deceased father’s estate among his heirs. He presented a picture of his wife as a hysterical woman who had run away from him seven times (in as many years) and had hit him and scratched his face. He also blamed her sisters for inciting this behaviour.

Two weeks later, they were both present. Maria demanded a temporary separation from her husband, as 1) she never felt safe from him, 2) he threatened to beat her when she had to leave her home, 3) the farmers were treated so ill that four farms were uninhabited, 4) he had accused her of being unfaithful, and 5) she was treated as a servant girl in her own home. She also had other accusations which were never made public, due to their being of such a nature as would inhibit a conciliation. One can only speculate what they would have been about, but they would probably not have made him look good.

Erik in his turn accused his wife of verbal assault, as well as repeating the other accusations. As no agreement could be achieved, it was decided that the case must go to the secular court. However, a few days later the captain handed in a conciliatory document which had been signed by both, and there are signs that matters would slowly improve over the following years. That same year, Erik left the navy and settled permanently on Liljeholmen, which must have demanded a considerable amount of his attention if he wanted to retain any of the farmers. It is possible that he became more adjusted to family life when he got used to not being at war and perhaps got to know his wife and children a little better. They only had two children, a daughter of five, Maria Catharina, and a son of four, Gabriel. Surprisingly, six years later they had another son, whom they called Carl Henric.

Being so much younger than her husband, Maria still had much of her life to live when Erik died – in fact, they both lived to the age of 70. In this state, she started to regret the loss of her daughter whom they had disinherited for marrying against their will (more of this in chapter 5), and the hard manner in which they had both treated their children. To make up for it, she made sure that her grandson Gustaf Ståhlgren was well provided for despite his being an illegitimate son.

When she died at Liljeholmen on 22nd November 1753, the priest made a note in the registry, which hints at a more Gyllenståhl-like approach to life in her later years:

very tough (and) meek, although suffering nonetheless content

Translated from Swedish
Maria Sophia’s death 1753. Torpa parish.

Maybe she wasn’t so frail after all – she just had a more introvert personality, but she could ride out the rough captain’s storm in the long run. There is also evidence that she had inherited other of her father’s characteristics. She was in legal dispute with her neighbours much of the time, right until her death, so that when her estate was distributed, her son Gabriel had to pay the expenses for a dispute with captain Atterbom, a relative of the poet Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom, who many years later would fall in love with his granddaughter Lovisa Alfort.

The estate that went to her heirs consisted of Liljeholmen Manor with Hårdaholmen, Häggarp, Järkarehultet, Tokudden, Berget, Sågstugan and Fiskarp, Kopparhult and Blåvik in Torpa parish (nowadays in Blåvik parish), Gunnarstorp in Säby parish and Börgöl ironworks in Finspånga as well as Lövingsborg outside Skänninge town.

Liljeholmen 1938. Foto: Bengt Cnattingius.
Liljeholmen in 1938. Photo: Bengt Cnattingius.

The unsuitable suitor – Märta Gyllenståhl

The third daughter Märta Gyllenståhl (13/1 1688 – 9/12 1741) had her own marriage adventure, very much like that of her oldest sister. She had given her heart to the young Johan Svanhals when she was only 17 years old. Together, they had signed a contract 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 existing 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 ”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, Kempfert 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.

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 plagued by a dangerous disease

Translated from Swedish

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] Steenbergh, 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.

(…) 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 (…)

Translated from Swedish

Her husband was against this feminist 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.

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.

Translated from Swedish

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. 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.

Translated from Swedish

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!

Märta Christina Gyllenståhl’s letter of gift for her daughters in 1736.

Chapter 5, 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
    • Court documents
    • Estate inventories
    • Klockhoff’s notes
  • Tranås Hembygdsgille (1958), Från Sommabygd till Vätterstrand VI: Karoliner och lantjunkare i norra Sommabygden på 1700-talet

icon-check   02-12-2023