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Gender played an important but changing role in the construction of the Swedish royal apartments. From at least the 1540s onwards, the apartments of the King and Queen mirrored each other. They were placed on the same floor, adjacent to each other. The 1580s marked the first real change with a further break came in 1626. In 1680 King Charles XI continued the model of separate royal apartments, this time even on different floors. This new division according to gender was more traditional than the old mirrored one. The new royal space was paradoxically more dependent on traditional gender roles than the discarded mirrored system.
Keywords: space, apartments, gender, family
In October 1620, Anna, Dowager Electress of Brandenburg, set sail for Sweden. She brought her daughter Maria Eleonora, the intended bride of King Gustaf II Adolf of Sweden, with her. At the court in Stockholm, there was frantic activity to get everything in order for the new Queen. Foreign policy in the form of negotiations with the Russian Tsar, as well as worries about outbreaks of plague, had to be pushed aside for now: everyone's energies had to be focused on the impending royal wedding. The King fired off a barrage of letters to governors, Councillors, and courtiers. His apothecary was instructed to prepare treats for the wedding party and buy silver dishes in Germany; tapestries were ordered from the Netherlands; a new crown, orb, and sceptre for the Queen had to be made by the Stockholm goldsmith Ruprecht Miller. The King's illegitimate brother, Carl Carlsson Gyllenhielm, was to take a Swedish flotilla to meet the Brandenburg ships off Kalmar. The Livonian nobility were told to send representatives to Stockholm to boost numbers at the wedding – ‘because We for that purpose need a large multitude of nobles with Us’. For the first reception at Kalmar Castle, Swedish aristocrats were also exhorted to attend, and the King wrote that the local nobility should be present to add to the magnificence of the reception of his princely visitors – ‘We would like to see them all received there with suitable Solemnity.’
Over the last decades women at court have been rediscovered, but focus has primarily been on royal women and their artistic patronage. The wider machinery of royal power of both royal women and women at court has been less explored. A challenge here is that women were often made invisible in early modern primary sources and listed without names.
One day in March 1719, Ulrika Eleonora, born a princess of Sweden and now Queen Regnant Elect after the death of her brother King Charles XII approached the gate to the churchyard of Uppsala Cathedral. She walked in stately fashion under a canopy carried by eight generals, her train borne by Gentlemen of the Chamber from her court. Inside the cathedral the Archbishop and the other bishops took their positions as directed by the Master of Ceremonies. The Court Marshal then marched in with members of the court and the Diet's Estate of the Nobles. As the Queen processed into the cathedral, the musicians accompanying her – two kettledrummers and twelve trumpeters – stopped at the cathedral gate, and her entrance was heralded by a prayer led by one of the bishops, while other bishops and Royal Councillors took their places around the altar. The Archbishop stood ready with the balm in the ampulla, or oil horn. Once the Queen had taken her seat on the throne in front of the Banner of the Realm, one of the Councillors took her coronation mantle, a purple velvet affair decorated with golden crowns and tongues of fire and lined with ermine, and placed it on the altar. Another prayer followed, after which the regalia were placed next to the coronation mantle by the Royal Councillors, who then withdrew. There was a full divine service with music. The Queen then stood up, her robe was removed by the Mistress of the Court, Countess Horn, assisted by two Ladies of Honour (kammarfröknar), Countess Torstensson and Baroness von Düben. The Archbishop then lifted the coronation mantle from the altar and placed it on the Queen's shoulders while the three women helped fasten it.
In the seventeenth century there were signs of a more gendered quality of compassion. Queens were expected to be more compassionate than kings. Compassion switched from being part of kingship to being part of queenship. Royal compassion in the early modern period took various forms. It shifted from the personal to the institutional. From men to women. But it remained a powerful idea, and a concept that no one could afford to ignore.
Keywords: compassion, virtue, alms, beggars
The poor were always with the court, hoping for charity. The gates of the palace were haunted by the destitute; those not quite so desperate lay in wait inside, in the corridors and staircases of the residence. Many would have begged for succour in vain, but the lucky ones who did receive help can be glimpsed in the royal accounts.
The steady flow of help from the royal family was something to be taken into account when planning the court's expenses. As a budget for the use of grain by the sixteenth-century court noted, after the regular expenses had been estimated, ‘as is known, much grain is usually given away. Also given to hospitals and other poor, and also in payment and many other expenses, which will amount to a large sum over the year’. In 1551, Queen Margareta gave four cows to a Mistress Agnes because of her poverty. The Queen's benevolence benefitted a wide range of people: in 1547 she had given away cushions, rugs, bed linen, flax, barrels of mead, cheeses, 62 salmon, and other items, reflecting the influx of taxes in kind to the royal palace. A slew of Russian items such as gloves and purses were also handed out by the Queen. The recipients ranged from the Queen's mother, who was given three barrels of apples, and clerics, who were given textiles, to servants like the washerwoman who was given an ‘old painted tapestry’, and simply ‘the poor’. Queen Margareta's old wet nurse was included, as were the nuns of Sko Abbey. The nuns had various gifts from the Queen over the years, such as mead. She not only gave to Catholics, though; the Swedish Protestant reformer Olaus Petri also received royal gifts.
Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn is that the most important royal mistresses were the ones who had an emotional significance for their princes. That required being something more than a pretty face or an exciting bedfellow. To be comforting, calming, amusing, and able to maintain the prince's interest for a long time is testimony to their extraordinary talents. The early modern royal mistress was ridiculed and feared by many, but may also have been a necessary part of life for princes who were insecure, bored, or simply lonely.
Keywords: mistress, love, intimacy, trust
In her last hours, Queen Caroline of Ansbach took leave of her family. To the King she said she had nothing much to say as she had always shared her thoughts with him, and he knew whom she wanted him to show kindness to and whom she disliked ‘as well as herself’. She gave advice and encouragement to her children – not the estranged Prince of Wales, though, who was banned from her presence – instructing them ‘according to their different ages, situations, and dispositions’. Then she urged the weeping George II to remarry after her death. Between sobs, the distraught monarch managed to choke out, ‘Non, j’aurai des maîtresses’ (‘No, I shall have mistresses’). The realistic response from the dying Queen was simply, ‘Ah, mon Dieu, cela n’empêche pas’ (‘Ah, my God, that is no obstacle’). ‘When she finished all she had to say on these subjects, she said she fancied she could sleep. The King said many kind things to her and kissed her face and her hands a hundred times.’
Queen Caroline's deathbed is instructive in its early modern mix of strong emotion and acceptance of worldly ways. George II was generally thought a cold fish, and yet he harboured strong feelings for his queen, while simultaneously having mistresses. For many years Caroline's Lady of the Bedchamber, Henrietta Howard, had been his mistress, and despite some friction the relationship between the two women was surprisingly good. Queen Caroline acknowledged the royal mistresses as a fact of life, though preferably facts of life who were discreet and well-mannered, as Henrietta Howard had been, staying carefully out of the factional wars at court and earning herself the nickname ‘the Swiss’ for her neutrality.
Christian II, Erik XIV, and John III certainly thought primarily to further their own interests when negotiating their marriages. In a telling reversal, it may be that the most influential network was that of Queen Constantia of Austria, married to King Sigismund, and only de jure Queen of Sweden. It appears she used her network to influence the King rather than the other way round.
Keywords: Denmark, Sweden, marriage market, portraits, negotiations
In January 1569 the young Frederick II of Denmark wrote to his aunt the Duchess of Mecklenburg that he intended to marry a Danish noblewoman. A copy of the letter was quickly dispatched to the King's sister, the Duchess of Saxony. Pressure was applied to dissuade King Frederick from his plan, which, it was said, would bring neither honour nor happiness to the Danish royal family. Both the King's aunt and sister tried to dissuade King Frederick and his intended, Anna Hardenberg, from going ahead with the marriage – the liaison had been going on for years despite the furious opposition of the King's mother, Queen Dowager Dorothea, whose Maid of Honour Anna Hardenberg had been for a decade.
By stalling, they succeeded in persuading the King to consider a Pomeranian Princess. The Pomeranian envoy wrote that he did not believe ‘all the noise about the nobleman's daughter’ would be an obstacle. A portrait was delivered to the King, and in 1571 he met the eighteen-year-old Princess to see if she was marriage material. She was accompanied by the King's aunt, the Duchess of Mecklenburg. King Frederick was not pleased with the Pomeranian girl in real life, but was attracted to his fourteen-year-old cousin, Sophia of Mecklenburg, who took part in the meeting. He duly married her instead the following year. Anna Hardenberg wrote in a letter, ‘God knows, I am so happy and calm in my heart as I have not been for many a year.’
In Sweden, meanwhile, King Eric XIV had celebrated his marriage with his teenage mistress Karin Mansdotter in 1568. This was no princess from foreign shores, not even a noblewoman, but a young girl from the lowest ranks of society. He had earlier forced the Swedish Diet to grant him permission to marry.
How could a queen succeed? To master the challenges facing a young, foreign-born queen she had to rely on her own personal skills, her education, the ability of the court to help her, and, ultimately, political realities. Some fundamentals could make or break the performance of a new queen. Was she deemed attractive? Was she robust enough to withstand exhausting ceremonies? And could she overcome any shyness? Most queens tried to adapt to some degree. Learning Swedish and claiming to be Swedish became increasingly important. Performing in public met with mixed success, with most queens scoring some victories, but some failing because they were shy or awkward.
When Queen Lovisa Ulrika in April 1761 decided to enter Stockholm on horseback the inhabitants were treated to a sight ‘they perhaps had never seen before, their Queen riding through town from Karlberg to the Palace’. A queen riding in the saddle rather than being drawn in a carriage was unconventional and a mark of the Queen's boldness. Lovisa Ulrika riding through the streets of Stockholm illustrated that what a queen could do was shaped by tradition and circumstance, but also partly a choice made by an individual.
The Grand Master of Ceremonies, Leonhard von Hauswolff, was impressed by Lovisa Ulrika's talent at being a queen in public view. Her son was selfassured in his public appearances ‘which surely was a legacy from His Mother, who though fairly short, performed in public splendidly.’ Lovisa Ulrika made her last public appearance in the summer heat of late July 1782. After her death she then lay in state for five days, her lit de parade on a podium in the palace for ‘public viewing’. Afterwards a large condolence reception (kondoleanscour) was held in the palace. Everyone who was anyone attended: Royal Councillors, government officials, the city dignitaries, foreign diplomats and all. They gathered in the Great Gallery, and then went through to the reception line in the State Bedchamber where they were received by the King and the rest of the royal family.
Early modern queens had to perform in public from the moment they became queen until after death. They attended christenings, they dined in public, they presided over presentations at court, they held receptions, and each performance had its own requirements.
It should be noted that Maria Eleonora's performance as her husband's devoted widow was neither acknowledged nor appreciated by the Swedish elite. In memorialising Gustaf II Adolf she primarily celebrated their marriage rather than the dynastic function of that marriage. A more successful strategy was deployed by Charles X's Queen Dowager, Hedvig Eleonora. For Hedvig Eleonora, her son Charles XI was present in her memorialisation of Charles X in a way in which Queen Christina was not in Maria Eleonora's portrayals of Gustaf II Adolf. Hedvig Eleonora preserved the memory of her husband but also the image of her son – the future of the dynasty.
When the body of King Gustaf II Adolf was dissected, the throng was so great that the apothecary Casper Kenig had to ask the Court Marshal Craylsheim to expel some of the spectators from the room. A king had to be prepared to be gawked at even after death, though in November 1632 the battle over the King's body had only just begun. Within months the jostling around his body would turn into a bitter struggle for control of the corpse. In the autumnal darkness in the little German town of Weissenfels, attention was thus far focused on trying to preserve the badly damaged royal remains. After Kenig had opened the body, the viscera and heart were removed. The body was stuffed with herbs and spices, while the viscera were buried beneath the floor of one of the churches in Weissenfels. The heart was weighed and placed in a box inside the church.
Early modern widows often remarried, but this did not apply to royal widows. They represented dynasties and power, and a second husband was often viewed as an unwelcome intruder, and could pose a very real political threat, as Margaret Tudor's remarriage in Scotland demonstrated: factions and political realignments could threaten a country's stability as new royal relatives coalesced around a queen dowager and her new spouse. An analysis of a number of royal widows in a German principality indicate that remarriage was rare. The last royal widow in Sweden to remarry was Dorothea, who married her husband's successor Christian I in 1449.
The Königsmarcks belonged to the highest echelons of the aristocracy, but they also possessed buckets of what Pierre Bourdieu has called ‘cultural capital’, essential to keeping one's place in any societal hierarchy. Bourdieu's experiment with the concepts of field and habitus, and how access to one or both can be gained, is revealing. Clearly Aurora von Königsmarck and her siblings had acquired a startling amount of cultural capital, which was invaluable in their social manoeuvrings. This cultural capital was then deployed in order to gain access to members of the royal family.
Keywords: cultural capital, network, noblewomen, manners
Many early modern aristocratic families were vast networks, covering political allies, friends, servants, and officials as well as immediate family and distant relations. While medieval magnates had been relatively independent, early modern aristocrats had to wield influence through the machinery of monarchy. This was presented by Norbert Elias as the absolute monarchies turning overmighty subjects into loyal courtiers, an interpretation applied to a number of early modern monarchies. As the overarching narrative of the increasing power of the early modern ruler and central government has not been questioned, significant adjustments have yet been made to this picture. The influence wielded by early modern monarchs could certainly be an opportunity for the aristocracy. If aristocrats managed to harness this vastly increased power they stood to benefit. Neil Cuddy has demonstrated how noblemen close to Charles I could reap huge rewards by leveraging royal favour – and Linda Levy Peck has shown how this was the subject of a lively discourse – while Dries Raeymaekers has illustrated how access to a ruler worked in the intricate context of the court of the Archdukes at Brussels.
Stability can be overemphasised, though. If stability was at the heart of early modern political discourse, reality still forced its way in. This was a time when aristocrats had to adapt to several revolutions in Britain, for example, and in other European countries the political elite was partly dispossessed by absolutist power and the rise of bourgeois bureaucrats. Aristocrats in countries such as Brandenburg had to adapt to a new political landscape. The polity of many early modern monarchies had to be adaptable, with the consequence that flexibility was a survival skill.
That women could have political power is especially interesting, as they were locked out from formal arenas of influence. By analysing women at court we thus gain a most valuable corrective not only to those scholars who tend to overlook informal power, but also to those who tend to denigrate the opportunities open to all early modern women.
In 1613, at the intercession of Queen Dowager Christina, Sophia von Deppen was given a grant of land by the King The manor Finsta had been granted by Duchess Sophia in 1577 to Deppen's father, presumably for life, given that it had lapsed by 1613. By 1616 the reason for the grant to Deppen had become clear, for she was a Maid of Honour to the Queen Dowager. She was in all likelihood named for Duchess Sophia, whom her father appears to have served, just as she served the Queen Dowager. In that way the manor of Finsta stayed in the family and continued to support them for decades at a time. It illustrates both the increasing dependence of the nobility on service to the Crown and women's part in the web of royal service.
Everyday power flowed constantly from the throne, so to be situated in close proximity was a great advantage. Even at a time when the Queen Dowager was politically marginalised she could bestow considerable favours. Thus, in 1638, a grant of six farms was made to Queen Dowager Maria Eleonora's former Maids of Honour, the Flentzen sisters. The following day the Queen requested that the newly-wed husband of one of the sisters should receive leave to spend time with his bride. A month later the Queen demanded that the Council give her former Chamberer Anna Persdotter an improved grant of four farms as inheritable property. A former washerwoman was given an annual gift of six barrels of grain at the same time.
A single grant or office could maintain the position of a noble family for a long time. To most people serving at court the potential to bend royal power to one's benefit was the pinnacle of their ambition, yet the vast network that managed the fount of royal favour was complex. On the face of it, Sophia von Deppen was a prime example of how women were placed at court by their families as an instrument of family ambition.
In the unfinished sketch by Carl Gustaf Pilo of the coronation in 1772, Queen Sophia Magdalena is seated on a throne not far from the King. Between the two young royals is a row of Royal Councillors in scarlet robes, but also, closest to the Queen, a group of women. They are a ghostly, translucent presence, barely visible. In both sources and scholarly research women at the early modern court often have a similarly ghostly presence. They are habitually hard to find in the empirical sources, and in scholarship they have rarely taken centre stage, but have at best been given supporting roles, mentioned in passing but with little context. Many sources focus on the formal areas of decision-making such as councils and parliaments. If we rely on these sources alone, women will be largely absent, appearing only intermittently as queens and only very rarely with agency. Even if we turn to the records that detail the everyday aspects of life at court, women remain at least partly invisible. Many are nameless, listed simply as ‘four Maids of Honour’ receiving cloth from the Wardrobe, or like ‘the English Lady’ reduced to their nationality or some other attribute – ‘the dwarf woman’. Yet if we succeed in bringing to life the spectral women in Pilo's painting and all those nameless women in the accounts, we will better understand early modern monarchy and nobility.
For women, living at court was above all a question of power. For some it involved traditional power-broking or playing the sought-after but risky role of favourite. Many could exert some traditional forms of influence – helping a petitioner, putting in a good word for a sibling, extracting a favour. Yet while they routinely helped siblings, nephews, parents, and others, that was only part of the story; women were not just instruments for their families. Some power could be used to help the friends they had made, or even to make their own lives better or richer. And there was the ever-present danger of riding for a fall, as there was competition and jealousy, and added hostility because they were not only powerful, but also women.
For most women, to be at court meant power in all its senses.