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Kaarina Maununtytär (1550 - 1612)

Queen of Sweden

Kaarina Maununtytär
Sarcophagus, Turku Cathedral, K. K. Meinander, Porträtt i Finland, 1931.

On both sides of the Gulf of Bothnia, this queen - known as Kaarina Maununtytär in Finnish and Karin Månsdotter in Swedish - is regarded as one of the most interesting personages in Swedish history. The rise of the low-born Kaarina Maununtytär to the position of queen was one of many reasons why Eric XIV and his heirs were forced to forfeit the throne. Having lost her crown, the young queen was sent to Finland, where she lived until the end of her life at Liuksiala Manor at Kangasala. She is buried in Turku Cathedral.

On both sides of the Gulf of Bothnia, Kaarina Maununtytär is regarded as one of the most interesting personages in Swedish history. She is the Cinderella of royal history, the only woman born of the local common people to wear a queen's crown on her head. But although she got her king - Eric XIV - and official status at her husband's side, the ruling couple did not live happily ever after. Kaarina Maununtytär was Queen of Sweden for only 87 days - a short period in the 62 years of her life.

The peasant queen has captivated Swedes and Finns in slightly different ways. What has interested Swedes most in Karin Månsdotter is her background, the fact that she became first a king's lover and then a crowned queen, and her significance in the life of Eric XIV. The most general view is that she had a calming influence on the king's unstable character. Finns have esteemed and loved Kaarina Maununtytär as their own queen, because she lived for decades at Liuksiala Manor at Kangasala and was buried in the Tott Chancel of Turku Cathedral. A biography of her was written in 1850; Topelius' book Vårt Land ('Our Country') brought her to the attention of the public; and in 1942 she was the subject of a very successful novel - written as entertainment but based on a thorough study of sources - by Mika Waltari.

Our knowledge of Kaarina Maununtytär's background is far from complete. According to Eric XIV, who was interested in astrology and did a horoscope for her, she was born in Stockholm on 6 November 1550. Her father, whose ancestry is unknown, was a common soldier called Måns. Her mother Ingrid, who had come to the capital from the province of Uppland, was from a family of the peasant class; this is known from Kaarina's wedding and coronation, at which her maternal uncles were present. Kaarina Maununtytär had lost her parents at an early age, and it is not known whether she had brothers and sisters.

King Eric XIV and Kaarina Maununtytär probably met in January 1565. According to the chronicle of Johannes Messenius, the young king noticed a girl selling nuts on a market square and made her a member of the entourage of his sister, Princess Elisabet. Later historical research suggests that she was a singer and servant employed by an innkeeper named Gert Cantor. Mika Waltari saw no contradiction between her selling nuts and living in the Cantor household. Possibly it was Kaarina Maununtytär's mother who sold nuts.

What aroused Eric's interest in Kaarina Maununtytär, who was seventeen years his junior? There is no final answer to this question. According to contemporary accounts, Kaarina Maununtytär was beautiful, determined and strong. The king liked beautiful women and had many lovers. He had inherited the crown as the eldest son of Gustavus Vasa. Through his mother, Catherine of Sachsen-Lauenburg, he was descended from Europe's most illustrious princely families. He had received an extremely careful upbringing and was a very gifted and broadly educated Renaissance prince who spoke four languages. He composed music, played the lute, drew and was interested in the sciences. He was actively involved in mathematics and astronomy and was a skilled military strategist. He extended Stockholm Castle, embellished it and had an aviary built there, with peacocks and other marvels.

There was also a dark side to Eric's character. He was kindly but unpredictable, playful but unstable. His childhood had been made unhappy by his stern stepmother, Margareta Leijonhufvud. He used various drugs - even opium - to ward off his bouts of melancholy. His numerous attempts to enter into marriage with some foreign princess were unsuccessful, and the go-betweens that he sent out were constantly returning rebuffed to Sweden. While his envoys were touring Europe, the king had mistresses and illegitimate children.

From the political viewpoint, Eric XIV had clear objectives. Although his father had left dukedoms to the younger sons and had thus distributed power, Eric wished to subjugate his brothers and the rest of the highest-ranking nobility. As his right-hand man he had Jöran Persson, whose non-aristocratic background and unscrupulous methods aroused hatred among the high-born of the kingdom. In the field of foreign politics, Eric began a campaign of conquests in the Baltic states and became involved in a war with Denmark in 1563. With its plundering raids, the seven-year war in the North was a heavy and destructive burden for the peasants; but it also strained relations between the king and the nobles when Eric demanded that they comply with their liability for military service.

In the spring of 1565 the young Kaarina Maununtytär moved swiftly from being a soldier's daughter to a lady-in-waiting at court, since she had the opportunity to learn to read and write - a rare thing for girls in the 16th century. As the king's mistress she was given valuable fabrics and two servants of her own. A jereboam of wine was brought to her daily; she received visitors, since it cannot be assumed that she drank four litres by herself. Her first child, a daughter christened Sigrid, was born in mid October 1566 at Svartsjö Castle. The king proudly recorded the event in his diary and held a splendid christening feast. A firm believer in astrology, he also had a horoscope produced for Kaarina Maununtytär; it predicted many enemies, hard fates for her children and care for her nearest and dearest. All these predictions came true.

The conflict between the king and the upper nobility came to a head in May 1567. The king imprisoned Svante Sture and Sten Eriksson Leijonhufvud in order - as he saw it - to put and end to the intrigues of the nobles. He summoned the Estates to Uppsala and went there with Kaarina Maununtytär. But fearful of their fate, most of the nobles stayed away. The nervous king lost the thread of his speech and broke off the session. The situation was not helped by the fact that his marriage envoy Nils Sture had again returned empty handed. Eric's horoscopes had informed him that a golden-haired man would torment him, and he decided to kill the Stures. Their family appealed to both the king and Kaarina Maununtytär, but in vain. On 24 May 1567 Eric and his accomplices killed the prisoners, who had been thrown into a dungeon. After the deed the king fled and was found only three days later mentally ill, taking himself for a peasant and assuming that Duke John had seized power. Kaarina Maununtytär alone was able to calm him down.

The murders caused anger in Sweden, although the king, whose condition had improved, apologised to the Sture family. Public attention was, however, soon focused on the war. But then a surprising piece of news spread: Archbishop Laurentius Petri had married the king to Kaarina Maununtytär. The couple left together for the front, and on 28 February a son was born to them. He was christened Gustav after his grandfather Gustavus Vasa. Because Eric XIV and Kaarina Maununtytär were married, the child was the legal heir to the Swedish crown. This fact became even more clearly evident on 4 July 1568, when the official wedding was celebrated in Stockholm's Great Church. The king carried his son in his arms, and Sigrid walked behind her parents. The king's brothers were not present, but Kaarina Maununtytär's three peasant maternal uncles were at the wedding, finely dressed at Eric's expense.

On the following day Kaarina Maununtytär was crowned Queen of Sweden in the Great Church. The ceremony was magnificent, since Eric allowed the use of his own insignia of power, and the canopy of the throne was emblazoned with parts of the arms of Denmark and Norway. When the King of Denmark heard of this insult, he resumed the war. Two triumphal arches were constructed in honour of the young (17-year-old) queen, and after the marriage a coat of arms was devised for her, as well as a seal bearing the name Månesköld. The name points either to the moon (Swedish 'mån') of the horoscope or to the first name of her father Måns. The queen herself hastened to give expensive presents to her poor relatives. At the same time the king's secretary Jöran Persson, who had returned to power, was raised to the nobility with the name of Tegel.

Because the king's brothers had not made an appearance at the wedding or the queen's coronation, Eric put them under house arrest at Eskilstuna. This was the last straw, and it set off a revolt by the nobles. The rebellion began in Vadstena, where the assembled nobility proclaimed John as regent. Their ranks swelling as they went, they headed for Stockholm, where they arrived in September 1568. Eric XIV was forced to capitulate and was imprisoned with his family in the Treasury rooms at Stockholm Castle. Although conditions were pleasant - with good food and other trimmings of royalty - the king, who was finally deprived of his power by the Estates on 24 January 1569, lost his mental equilibrium, even raging at Kaarina Maununtytär. The Queen Dowager Katarina Stenbock took the children into her care, giving them to their parents only for prescribed periods. Amidst these difficulties a third child - their son Henrik - was born to the couple in January 1570.

Eric's dreams of escape and the growth of his family frightened John III, who decided to send his prisoner to Finland. The group of some twenty people arrived in Turku on 15 July 1570 and was isolated from the rest of the castle; but the conditions under which it lived cannot be considered wretched. The family had their own cooks, barber and hunter, so that despite the monotony of their lives, Eric XIV and Kaarina Maununtytär spent the happiest period of their marriage at Turku Castle. In the final stage, however, conditions changed, because rumours reached Stockholm of plans by the Tsar of Russia to free the former king. According to a folk tale, Kaarina Maununtytär and the children lived at Tuupikkala Croft on the other side of the river while Eric was imprisoned in the keep.

In August 1571 the former royal family, with the exception of Henrik, was taken to Kastelholm. The young child died in September 1572 and was buried in the Cathedral to the accompaniment of a royal cannon salute. From Kastelholm the family was moved via Stockholm to Gripsholm, where they spent a year and a half. This castle was one of a number in the lands belonging to Duke Charles. Here Kaarina Maununtytär gave birth to her last child, a son named Arnold, who died in childhood. This prison was not permanent, however, since both the worsening relations between John III and Duke Charles and the fertility of Kaarina Maununtytär changed the family's circumstances. John did not feel safe as long as his elder brother's family was increasing, or even while Eric remained alive, and so in June 1573 Eric XIV and his consort were separated from one another. The former king was left to languish in prison at Västerås, while Kaarina Maununtytär and her surviving children were taken to Turku. Eric knew nothing about his family, but he missed his wife, drawing pictures of her and writing letters. In the drawings Kaarina Maununtytär becomes ever more erotic, but she always has a crown on her head. Eric XIV's sufferings ended in February 1577 at Örbyhus - as a result of arsenic poisoning, according to a 20th century autopsy.

Little is known of Kaarina Maununtytär's life in Turku between 1573 and 1577, as the Castle accounts make hardly any mention of her. Gustav was taken away from his mother in 1575 and sent to Poland, because John III, ever fearful of conspiracies, wished to get rid of his nephew once and for all. Mika Waltari had plenty of room for his imagination when he made the ex-queen disguise herself as a fisherman's wife and undertake many journeys to Stockholm to enquire about her husband's fate, finally seeing Eric's body displayed in public.

At the age of only 26, the former Queen of Sweden had lost her husband and three of her children but had been freed together with her daughter Sigrid. John III ensured her future when, on 20 March 1577, he enfeoffed the royal manor at Liuksiala in Ylä-Satakunta and its 26 tax-paying farms "to the dear Lady Karin Månsdotter, widow of our late brother King Eric". John knew part of the shoreline of Lake Roine well, since he had at least visited the nearby Vääksy Manor in 1556 while he was Duke of Finland and had later given it to his mistress Karin Hansdotter. The king also instructed the Governor of Finland, Klaus Tott, and the warden of Turku Castle to ensure that Kaarina Maununtytär received the manor and was well set up there. Ten days later John raised the children of his former mistress Karin Hansdotter to the nobility, with the name of Gyllenhielm.

On 1 June 1577 Kaarina Maununtytär and her daughter left Turku with an entourage of about twenty, as well as three priests, four scholars and four armed men. Compared with the morning gifts and pension feoffs granted to other ex-queens of Sweden, Liuksiala was a modest manor; but considering Kaarina's origins, the estate's 31 dairy cows, 31 oxen, 3 bulls, 90 sheep, 49 pigs, 12 calves and 60 hens represented a large rise in her standard of living. The manor house had 28 rooms. Four years later she was granted Liuksiala in perpetuity, not just temporarily.

Kaarina Maununtytär lived at Liuksiala for 33 years and managed the estate successfully, so that it became one of the most productive farms in Finland. She is known to have visited Sweden in 1582 with her daughter Sigrid. She first met John III, Katarina Jagellonica and Sigismund in Stockholm, and a few days later the two queens - Katarina Stenbock and Katarina Jagellonica - at Svartsjö. Thanks to the journey, Sigrid was allowed to go to Poland for two years in the entourage of John's daughter Anna, along with her cousin Sigismund. The king promised Sigrid a dowry of 6000 talers, and when Sigismund became King of Poland, John bestowed Liuksiala on Sigrid and her bodily heirs. And heirs there were, though they arrived somewhat later; Sigrid was married twice in her life.

A second journey known to have been made by Kaarina Maununtytär took place in 1596. She went to Tallinn (Reval), where she met her only surving son, Gustav. Sigrid had met her brother in Poland at Sigismund's coronation. Gustav - who had been educated by the Jesuits, had studied in Italy and was living in Prague - had forgotten his mother tongue but nevertheless wished to return to Sweden. His uncles, however, did not permit him to do so. Kaarina Maununtytär recognised the son whom she had lost 21 years earlier from birth marks and wished to get him to Liuksiala; but this, too, proved impossible. The mother and son never met again. Gustav received from his mother his father's prison diaries; they were later returned to Sweden.

Soon after her return from Tallinn, Kaarina Maununtytär found herself in the midst of the peasant revolt known as the 'Cudgel War'. In contrast to the case of many other nobles' manors, the Cudgel Men left Liuksiala alone. They destroyed only manors built by nobles, not old Crown property. They probably also respected the former queen, and they may also have been influenced by the fact that Kaarina Maununtytär was on their side; at least she may have harboured resentment against Klaus Fleming, who had taken away fishing waters from her in 1589.

Through Sigrid, Kaarina Maununtytär obtained satisfaction - both during her lifetime and as far as her posthumous reputation was concerned - for the humiliations which she felt that she had suffered. The daughter first married Henrik Klausson Tott in 1597, but was forced to flee to Riga after Duke Charles invaded Finland. She was already a widow in 1602 and returned to Finland with her children. In 1598 she had born a son who later became a renowned military commander, King Gustavus II Adolphus' 'Snow Plough' Åke Tott. Kaarina Maununtytär's reputation began to rise in Sweden in the 1630s, a fact probably influenced by the death in battle of both her grandson and Gustavus II Adolphus on her birthday, November 6th.

In 1609 Sigrid Månesköld married again, her new husband being a wealthy member of the upper aristocracy, Nils Nilsson Natt och Dag. The wedding was held at Stockholm Castle, but Kaarina Maununtytär was not present; she was perhaps too old by then to travel to Sweden. She died on 13 September 1612 at her home at Liuksiala and was buried on 21 March 1613 in Turku Cathedral. At the funeral an Epicedion (elegy) by a person named Johnnes Petri Parginsulanus was read out, as well as a Grafscrift, or funeral oration.

The graves of Eric XIV and Kaarina Maununtytär are in different countries, hundreds of kilometres from each other. Eric was buried modestly beneath the floor of Västerås Cathedral in the 16th century; but Gustavus III had a handsome sarcophagus made for him and transferred to it the regalia from the grave of John III. Work on refurbishing Kaarina Maununtytär's grave began in the 1860s. She, too, was lifted from beneath the floor in the Tott Chapel, her coffin being still recognisable. Helped by a newspaper article written by Zachris Topelius, a memorial committee collected over 10,000 marks and had a black marble sarcophagus made. Kaarina Maununtytär's mortal remains were removed from the coffin on 27 August 1867 and examined. It was established that she had been well-built and - at least as far as her legs were concerned - beautiful; but the body had been despoiled in the course of the centuries. She was placed in a chapel of her own - with the exception of one tooth, which had come loose. The tooth became a very popular museum attraction. In addition to the sarcophagus, designed by the architect Theodor Decker, a stained glass window by Wladimir Schwertschkoff was installed in the chapel in 1870. It shows the former queen coming to Finland with two pageboys. One of them takes the queen's crown, and the other guides her towards her new homeland. The smaller page is lugging a whole castle keep in his arms.

Not a single contemporary portrait of Kaarina Maununtytär survives, but in the 17th century a sandstone bust of her was made; it was evidently part of a larger monument that was later destroyed. There are, however, historical paintings of her. The best known in Finland is the painting by E. J. Löfgren (1864) of Eric XIV and Kaarina Maununtytär; it achieved great fame at the Paris Salon, and the artist sent photographs of it to his friends. Fredrika Runeberg did not consider the painting a masterpiece, though she wished the artist success. Perhaps she had her own mental picture of the queen; she had, after all, immersed herself in 16th century Finnish history and had described the imprisonment of Eric XIV in passing in her novel Sigrid Liljeholm.

Anneli Mäkelä-Alitalo

Translated by Roderick Fletcher


Kaarina Maununtytär (Karin Månsdotter), Queen of Sweden 1568 - 1569, born 6.11.1550 Stockholm, died 13.9.1612 Liuksiala Manor, Kangasala, Finland. Parents: Måns, soldier, and Ingrid. Husband: 1568 - 1577 Eric XIV, King of Sweden, born 1533, died 1577, husband's parents: Gustavus Vasa, King of Sweden and Catherine of Sachsen-Lauenburg. Children: Sigrid, born 1566, died 1633; Gustaf, born 1568, died 1607; Henrik, born 1570, died 1572; Arnold, born and died 1572.

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