Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'

It often seems that many prominent people of the past are wronged by often-repeated descriptions, which in time are taken as truth. The same is also true of events, which are frequently presented in a particular way when there might be many alternative viewpoints. This blog is intended to present a different perspective on those who have often been lost in the myths of history.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Karin Månsdotter: Romance and Reality

One of the most romantic and tragic Swedish queens was Karin Månsdotter (1550-1612). She was a woman of the people, born into a family of farmers. Her last names is simply a patronymic meaning "daughter of Måns." Legend has it that she was a totally pure, innocent girl. This, however, is probably not completely true- apparently she worked at a tavern before coming to court. Nonetheless, she was, by all accounts, beautiful, kindhearted and humble.

According to myth, King Erik XIV of Sweden met young Karin selling nuts in a square in Stockholm, and was so charmed by her beauty that he brought her home to his castle as his lover. In reality, however, Karin arrived at court as a maid to Princess Elisabeth, the King's sister. The brilliant but unstable Erik soon fell for the lovely, gentle Karin, and made her his mistress. Like other rulers of the period, Erik had had many ladies in his life, but his passion for Karin was unique. He dismissed all his other mistresses and treated her with a generosity and devotion that baffled the court. Karin was even accused of using witchcraft and love potions to inspire this single-minded attachment.

Although the extent of her political influence is unclear, legend presents Karin as a calming, moderating influence on the King, a counterweight to his ruthless, Machiavellian advisor and spymaster, Jöran Persson. In the painting above, by Georg von Rosen (1843-1923), we see a representation of the two opposing influences: the tormented King sitting on the floor, with innocent Karin on one side and sinister Persson on the other. As the King descended into madness, paranoia, and tyranny, nobles attempted to appeal for royal clemency through Karin's intercession.

Karin bore the King two surviving children: Sigrid (1566-1633) and Gustav (1568-1607). In 1567, Erik married Karin morganatically, and, the next year, made her his Queen. Her son became the heir to the throne. The commoner's elevation to the rank of royal consort scandalized the aristocracy, probably contributing to the atmosphere of discontent with Erik among the high nobility. In any case, shortly after Karin's coronation, Erik's brothers, John and Karl, rebelled and dethroned the unfortunate King. John seized the crown and Erik, Karin and their children were imprisoned. In 1573, to prevent the birth of any more legitimate offspring with a claim to the throne, Karin was forcibly separated from her husband. Together with her children, she was transported to Finland and held under house arrest in Turku, until Erik's death, probably from poisoning, in 1577.

As a widow, Karin was kindly treated by the royal family. She was granted an estate in Kangasala, Finland, and lived in comfort with her daughter Sigrid. (Her son was exiled to Poland and lived as a mercenary). Karin became popular in Finland. During the great peasant revolt, the Cudgel War (1596-1597), the rebels refrained from plundering her property. Today, Karin has a magnificent tomb in the Cathedral of Turku.

Here is a piece of music inspired by Karin's story:


Val said...

Thank you, Matterhorn! I've not heard of Karin's story before - what an amazing one it is. It's always interesting to read about the history of Sweden, Finland and how they intertwined on many occasions. Thank you also for the musical link!

Matterhorn said...

You are welcome, Val! It is indeed a very unusual story- Karin was only one of two or three Swedish queens who were born commoners.

Christina said...

What a lovely, interesting and unusual story!! I love discovering new stories and people like this - thank you so much Matterhorn for writing of Karin! Thank you, too, for the gentle music.

Matterhorn said...

I'm glad you liked it so much!