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.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Sophie Piper

Perhaps not lost in myth, but overshadowed by her brother, the famous Swedish soldier, diplomat and Marshal of Realm, Count Axel von Fersen the Younger, is his beloved younger sister and confidante, Sophie Piper. The daughter of Count Axel von Fersen the Elder and his wife, Hedvig Catherina de la Gardie, little Eva Sophie von Fersen was born on March 30, 1757. In addition to her brother, Axel, she also had an older sister, Hedvig Eleonora, who became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Sophia Magdalena of Sweden, and gained the reputation of a gifted intellectual and keen wit. As for Sophie, she matured into a handsome, proud young woman, considered to be one of the reigning beauties of the court of King Gustav III. At 17, she was courted by Prince Frederik Adolf, the King's youngest brother, but her father, a prominent parliamentary leader often in conflict with the Crown, forbad the match. Anxious to preserve his political independence, he did not want to be allied so closely to the royal family. In addition, Sophie herself apparently had doubts about the prince's mental health. Three years later, in 1777, she married Count Adolf Ludwig Piper.

Sophie was destined to witness many grand and tragic events on the national and international stage. A lady-in-waiting, close friend and confidante of the King's sister-in-law, the future Queen Hedvig Elizabeth Charlotte, she was also the confidante of her brother throughout the triumphs and tragedies of his career. Unlike his father, a stubborn proponent of aristocratic resistance to the Swedish monarchy, known for treating Gustav III with outrageous insolence, Axel von Fersen the Younger was a devoted royalist. He loyally served his own sovereign, while championing the cause of the ancien régime throughout Europe in an age of revolution.

During his long sojourns in France, as Gustav's envoy to the court of Louis XVI, Fersen developed a deep personal attachment to the doomed monarch and his consort, Marie-Antoinette, a lady of legendary charm. (Many have claimed that Marie-Antoinette and Fersen became lovers at some point. Yet, although Fersen had many mistresses, there is no proof of a liaison with the Queen.) Gustav III, also an enthusiastic admirer of the royal couple, tried his best to assist them during the French Revolution. Fersen played a central role in these secret diplomatic intrigues, designed to enable Louis XVI to regain control of his realm. Unfortunately, it was all a tragic débacle. Within a brief space of time, Fersen lost the three monarchs he had most loved. Gustav III was shot at a masked ball on March 29, 1792. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette died on the guillotine, respectively, on January 21, 1793 and October 16, 1793. Fersen poured out his sorrow, mingled with a sense of humiliating failure, to his sister, in sad and desperate letters.

The spirit of revolution, moreover, also spread to Sweden, with terrible consequences for the Fersen family. In 1809, Gustav IV Adolf was deposed, and his ambitious, conniving uncle, Charles XIII installed in his place. Since Charles had no living, legitimate children, the Riksdag selected the Danish nobleman, Carl August of Augustenburg, as his heir. When Carl August died suddenly in May, 1810, the old Gustavian party, including Axel von Fersen and Sophie Piper, were falsely accused of poisoning him. During the funeral ceremonies, on June 20, 1810, Axel was savagely murdered by a mob. Sophie narrowly escaped a similar fate by fleeing Stockholm in disguise. Thankfully, however, an inquest subsequently revealed that the prince had succumbed to natural causes, and the Fersen family were rehabilitated. Axel received an honorable funeral, and Sophie spent her last years at the estate of Löfstad, where she passed away on February 2, 1816. Before her death, she had erected a touching memorial to her brother, bearing the inscription: "Åt en oförgätlig broder, mannamodet uti hans sista stunder den 20 juni 1810, vittna om hans dygder och sinnes lugn" ("To an unforgettable brother, whose courage in his last moments on the 20th of June 1810, bears testimony to his virtues and clean conscience").

7 comments:

Christina said...

Gosh!! I had no idea that Axel Fersen was murdered in this terrible way...and I had not heard of his sister at all! Thank you, Matterhorn, for another wonderful 'story'! I am so glad that Axel's name was cleared but what a dreadful things for Sophie to live through.

Matterhorn said...

It was indeed a very gruesome end and one that Fersen had feared would befall Marie-Antoinette. It is ironic that in the end it happened to Fersen himself.

Christina said...

It certainly is ironic! This dreadful murder reminded me of the horrible fate of the Princess de Lamballe...Such savagery is beyond comprehension! I am very glad that Sophie survived but what memories she must have been left with!

Matterhorn said...

Indeed. People can be incredibly hateful. I was reminded of this recently, reading some online comments about Princess Lilian of Belgium, full of angry, emotional denunciation of a woman (eg. 'glad she is dead!') whom the commentators had clearly never even met but only 'knew' through garbled media reports. And such ugly passions are often quite quick to burst into actions as soon as revolution, war or civil unrest cracks the thin veneer of 'civilization'.

Christina said...

I think it has so much to do with people who do not think for themselves or have the willingness and sort out their own issues but project all their unhappiness and envy onto someone else. In such circumstances it is easy to be led by the mob or to make statements like the one you mentioned. What else can account for such inhumanity and mindlessness? The world and what we see is in it is our mirror, after all :-)

Val said...

Matterhorn - thank you for this post! I have no idea of the history behind Fersen and his sister. What a horrible fate to suffer. As Christina, I was reminded of Princess de Lamballe's horrific death. I'm happy to know that Sophie survived....

Matterhorn said...

Thank you, Val!