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: