Erik and Elizabeth…and Mary

Erik_XIV_(1533-1577)_Domenicus_VerwildtDoing homework with my son and prepping him for a test in Swedish history this week, and that prompted this post. So, you may ask (or not), what place does Swedish history in a blog claiming to be about English medieval and renaissance history?

Ah! None of us exist in a vacuum, and neither did for example the Tudor monarchs. The subject of my son´s test is the House of Vasa, and the subject of this post is one of the more determined of Elizabeth´s suitors, the oldest son of Gustav Vasa, Erik, upon his father´s death to be crowned Erik XIV.

He was born in December 1533, in other words just a few months after the Queen whose refusal he would have quite a hard time to accept. The first proposal would come while she was still “just” a princess, and his envoy caused somewhat of a stir by breaching court protocol as he approached Princess Elizabeth before Queen Mary. Apparently Mary thought that an alliance between England and Sweden was not an altogether bad idea and sent a messenger to her sister to find out what she herself thought about, becoming – as that was what wasErik_XIV_of_Sweden_by_Steven_van_der_Meulen_1561 (friarproträtt) on the table at the moment – the Queen of Sweden, but as we all know, Elizabeth´s response was that she had no wish to marry at all.

Erik was not one to be easily put off. His proposals was to become a recurring feature in Elizabeth´s life for a number of years. The second portrait of Erik in this post is most likely the one he sent to Elizabeth to persuade her to marry him, in any event it spent considerable time in England, and wasn´t returned to Sweden until the 20th century and can now be seen at Gripsholm Castle some miles outside Stockholm.

He was presumably assisted in his goal to marry Elizabeth by his own sister Cecilia Vasa, who early on started a correspondence with the English Queen, and seems to have formed a genuine friendship, to the extent where she expressed a desire to stay unmarried and join the Cecilia_of_Baden-Rodemachern_c_1610English court instead, as a Lady-in-waiting of Elizabeth. Cecilia did however get married, to Count Christopher II of Baden-Rodemarchen. On September 11, 1565 Cecilia and her entourage arrived in London where they primarily were received by the wife of William Cecil.

They stayed at Bedford House, where Elizabeth came to visit. She ended up paying an allowance to Christopher for letting his wife stay in England. The reasons for Cecilia´s visit was not simply social; her main goal was to persuade Elizabeth to accept her brother´s proposal, but also to recruit privateers to plunder hostile Danish, German and Polish ships off the Swedish coast.

The opinions on how she succeeded in her mission has been divided, but we can easily conclude that she did not succeed in her aim to secure the English Queen as a consort for her brother. According to the Spanish emissary da Silva, she approached the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, asking him to put a good word for her brother, and maybe that´s where her objective failed.

While Cecilia is said to have been impressed by the way Elizabeth handled the threat posed by Mary, Oueen of Scots, it seems her brother was more impressed by Mary Young-Mary-Queen-of-Scotsherself.

We will most likely know whether he genuinely gave up on Elizabeth, or if he just wanted to increase her potential interest, but after a number of rejections from the English monarch, Erik instead turned his interest to Mary, something that undoubtedly did get some reaction from Elizabeth. This did not get a successful conclusion either, and he went on to explore the prospects among other European princess´s, one of which sent his envoy packing in 1564 after a love letter to Elizabeth, by now the Queen of England, came into light.

karin månsdotterErik would in time marry one of his maids – Karin Månsdotter – who was already the mother of his child. He would also come to suffer a rapidly deteriorating mental health which among other ways manifested itself by him simply murdering one of his noblemen, Nils Svantesson Sture, stabbing him to death. His brother Johan took the throne and Erik spent the remainder of his life being transported between different castles, effectively in prison, but the kind of prison that suited a disposed king.

Erik Vasa died in 1577, an event that in the 16th and 17th century didn´s stir much speculation, but in time the legend was born that he had in fact been murdered, poisoned by way of the traditional Swedish pea soup.

Whether the soup actually was what contained the poison we will most likely never know, but in the 1950´s the remains of Erik XIV was excavated and examined, and we now know that Erik XIV died from a lethal dose of arsenic.


(It should aslo be said that Cecilia Vasa is an acquaintance well worth making for anyone interested in history, as she was very far from the meek woman someone of her standing and time would be expected to be.)


The History of Sweden; Gustav Vasa and his sons and daughters – Herman Lindquist

The Children of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

Vasadöttrarna (The Vasa daughters) – Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen

Arvet efter Gustav Vasa (The legacy of Gustav Vasa) – Lars-Olof Larsson.



Proposal painting – Steven van der Muelen

Painting thought to be Cecilia Vasa by unknown artist


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