Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Vasadöttrarna (The Vasa Daughters) by Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen

We have two dynasties that have been on the Swedish throne since the 16th century; The Vasas and the Bernadottes. The last one is the present family. The first king of the Vasa dynasty was Gustav Vasa who reigned between 1523 and 1560. He was married three times, and got one son in his first marriage, the future king Erik XIV and eight sons and daughters with his second wife, and none with his third wife. Maybe because he was rather old and she was rather young.

Three of his four sons succeeded him as king of Sweden; Erik XIV, Johan III and Karl IX. One son, Magnus, had an illness and died rather young. He had five daughters of which we don't know so much. Not surprisingly, considering that daughters in those days were much less important than sons. Their advantage was that they got a good marriage, mostly to improve the family and contacts with other European dynasties. This book is about his daughters.

Katarina, Cecilia, Anna, Sofia and Elisabet were all married, for better or for worse! The most famous daughter is Cecilia, maybe because she had a mind of her own. She was married to Kristoffer of Baden-Rodemachern, who was a sort of useless person, who fought with his brothers to get control of the family lands. He and Cecilia spent some years in London, at the court of Elizabeth I. It seems that most people were happy when they left, with debts over their heads. They had seven children, the last daughter was born far after Kristoffer died. She became a nun. Cecilia fought all her life against debts and the rights she thought she had. Both of them were a nuisance to the family and people around them.

Katarina married Edzard II of Ostfriesland, and was probably the most successful of the daughters. They had ten children. She was a stability for her other sisters and spent her life helping them in their marriages and fights for their own rights.

Sofia was married to Magnus II of Sachsen-Lauenburg and had a terrible marriage with an abusive husband. They got one surviving son and five that died in young age. Her brothers and sisters tried to keep him away from her, which seems to have been a good idea. It seems difficult to find anyone who liked him, even in his own family.


Anna married Georg Johan of Pfalz-Veldenz-Lützenstein and Elisabet, Kristoffer of Mecklenburg. Their daughter Margareta Elisabet married Johan Albrekt II of Mecklenburg. Vorpommern Mecklenburg were later, after the thirty year war, to be part of Sweden for a time.

One may think that women in those days did not have to much to say. However, it seems that Gustav Vasa, although a harsh and irrational person himself, managed to raise his family in rather a 'modern' way. They daughters were strong and fought for their marriages and families. Gustav Vasa, who at the time, was one of the richest monarchs of Europe, gave a sum of 100 000 daler as a dowry for each of his daughters. That in a time when 20 000 daler was a lot. The only problem was that it was mostly Katarina and her husband, who married while Gustav Vasa was still alive, that got the benefit of the dowry. Once Erik XIV became king, the fortune dwindled away at a high speed. The following brother kings had difficulties to keep up the promise given by their father. The dowries were paid in instalments, and part of them, not at all.

A very interesting book written from the daughter's point of view. One may think, that in those days, women did not have a lot of saying. But when you read closer, it seems that they did the best of what they had. I would even say, that Gustav Vasa's daughters were much stronger and able than his sons, who reigned in a somewhat irresponsible way.

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