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


The curse of a date

There are certain dates that seem cursed, somehow.
One date is September 11, not just in the US, as many who read this might think.
On this date the coup d’ etat in Chile took place in 1973, the Swedish Formula 1 driver Ronnie Peterson (one of the most famous sportsman of his generation) died after a crash at the Monza track in 1977. The attack on the US took place 2001 and the Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh died in 2003 after having been attacked by an assailant armed with a knife the previous day.
But this post obviously won´t be about September 11. It will be about May 19, a date which at least in a 16th century perspective may seem just as haunted.

We all know that on this day, in 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed on the Tower green after having been convicted of Anneboleyn2treason, incest and witchcraft. I have only recently written about the events leading up to her kneeling in a scaffold as a French executioner approached her from behind, so I won´t go in to that here. One can only wonder what she was thinking those last minutes in life? Did the she hear the slight whining sound as the blade cut through the air before cutting in to her neck, which was “but little”? Could she in her wildest nightmares have imagined that 18 years later, her only child, Elizabeth would find herself imprisoned in the Tower on the order of her own sister Mary? But Elizabeth survived.

Princess-Elizabeth-c-1546On the very same day her mother had died, Elizabeth was released from the Tower 18 years later, in 1554. I find it next to impossible to think that Elizabeth was not very conscious of the significance of the date. Even if her mother maybe no longer was talked about other than in a hushed voice, Elizabeth must have known on which day her mother died, and her thoughts most likely drifted to the memory, even if vague by now, of her mother who had entered this place and never left again. Did she think the same fate was awaiting her? Or would it have been incomprehensible to her to think that her own sister, who had loved her, and cared for her when she was a child without a mother, would really mean to cause her harm? But Elizabeth survived and she left the Tower.

But was she conscious of the date in 1568? Because on this very day Elizabeth, now a Queen Mary, queen of scotsherself, had another queen arrested; Mary, Queen of Scots. And Mary, as we know, would meet the same fate as Anne Boleyn. Was Elizabeth aware of the significance of the date? She was allegedly of the habit of delegating the blame when she had to make decisions she found uncomfortable, but on this particular date, it most likely wasn´t clear to her what decision she one day, due to Mary´s unceasing plotting would force her to make.

The passing of Elizabeth I

“I may not be a lion, but I am lion’s cub and I have lion’s heart”

On this day in 1603 Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, passed into infinity. She was 70 years old and had been the Queen ofElizabeth-I-in-old-age England for 45 years, almost 10 years longer than her father, and decades longer than her siblings, Edward and Mary.

One of the most widely spread quotes attributed to Elizabeth is that she was “but a feeble woman”. That, too, is a way of ruling a court, its courtiers and a country, and a way to get adversaries to let their guard down. But I don´t believe that Elizabeth herself even for a second considered herself feeble. She knew her strength.

I won´t use this text to run through some spectacular moments during her reign – as I actually first planned to do – not least because they each and every one deserve their own time and post.

Let´s just take the time to give a thought to a remarkable woman and monarch who beat the odds and to a very large extent shaped her own destiny.

Elizabeth died around 10 o´clock in the evening while the rain was pouring down outside. She is said to have turned her face to the wall and fallen into a deep sleep from which she would never again wake up*.

Elizabeth_I_Locket_Ring_2After her death, a ring made from ruby, diamonds, gold and mother of pearl, was removed from her finger. Inside it, there was a small compartment containing two miniatures of Elizabeth herself and her mother, Anne Boleyn.

The ring was publically revealed for the first time in 2002, almost 400 years after Elizabeth´s death.


It is said that it was Robert Carey who removed the ring from her finger and thereafter rode for three days to reach Scotland and let James IV of Scotland know that he was now James I of England.

The proclamation of Elizabeth´s death was read by Robert Cecil – the queen´s advisor and son to William Cecil who had stood by Elizabeth for close to 50 years – first at White Hall and then at St. Paul´s Cathedral. No doubt there were those among her subjects who found it incomprehensible that the Queen was dead. After the turbulence that followed the death of Henry VIII, the people of England had now been ruled by the same monarch for more than four decades and many would not personally have remembered a time when good queen Bess was not on the throne.

On the 28th of April, Elizabeth´s coffin was drawn by four horses draped in black livery and over the coffin was a covered by a large canopy carried be six Knights of the realm, and behind her coffin came procession consisting of from the beginning 1 000 mourners, a number which swelled as the procession made its way through London.

She rests in Westminster Abbey.





The Reign of Elizabeth: 1558 – 1603 – J.B. Black

Elizabeth – David Starkey

The life of Elizabeth I – Alison Weir



Elizabeth in the Tower

The reign of Mary I was ironically not a period of safety for her younger sister Elizabeth. Mary constantly feared that

Princess-Elizabeth-c-1546 Elizabeth would be the focus of a rebellion against her rule, and she was not all together wrong.

In the spring of 1554 what is known as Wyatts Rebellion broke out, named after one of the leaders, Thomas Wyatt, a landowner with large properties in Kent. Another one of the leaders was Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Jane Grey´s father, who had apparently learned nothing from the downfall of his daughter who at the beginning of the rebellion was still a prisoner in the Tower.

The motives behind the rebellion was dissatisfaction with Mary´s plans to marry a foreign prince, Philip of Spain, and while it was never an expressed goal, the implications was that the rebellion aimed to overthrow Mary and replace her with Elizabeth. At Wyatt´s trial, however, he was acquitted of any intentions to harm the Queen.

Although the rebellion was stomped out be this time in March, with both Wyatt and Grey executed, Mary had a hard time trusting her younger sister, especially since it came to light that Wyatt had written to Elizabeth. The same day as lady Jane Grey was executed, on February 12th, Elizabeth was summoned to London, it took her however over a week to get there due to illness during her journey. After lengthy interrogations, during which she assured her innocence, she was still transferred to the Tower, on this day, March 18th 1554.

Here she was confined to the Bell Tower. Considering her mother´s fate in the Tower, and the fact that her second cousin Jane had died there only the month before, one can imagine that Elizabeth feared for her life.

She was released two months later.

Source: Death and the Virgin – Chris Skidmore

Elizabeth – David Starkey





Jungfrudrottningen – man eller kvinna

Princess-Elizabeth-c-1546Det visas mycket skräp på tv, det vet vi redan. Men jag hade verkligen hoppats att när en seriös kanal som Kunskapskanalen för en gångs skull visar en dokumentär om drottning Elizabeth I, då hade jag hoppats att det var något mer än ren skräp.

Programmet tar sin avstamp i en gammal skröna om att Elizabeth skulle ha dött vid 10 års ålder och byts ut mot en pojke. Programmet går sedan vidare med att antyda att Elizabeth skulle ha varit hermafrodit.

Bakgrunden till detta är naturligtvis att Elizabeth aldrig gifte sig och skaffade barn. Endast bristfälligt berör man det faktum att ett giftermål för Elizabeth skulle ha varit det samma som att totalt avhända sig makten både över sitt liv och över sitt land.

Hon utsattes helt klart för ett enormt tryck för att gifta sig, och hon utsattes faktiskt för undersökningar som för att avslöja om hon hade mens och fungerade som en kvinna “ska”.

Den enda seriösa historiker som förekommer, och som inte ägnar sig åt att spekulera i skrönor är den brittiska historikern Susan Doran. Och här kommer vi inte på något betydelsefullt i denna produktion. Den är amerikansk. Det finns alltid något spekulativt och vulgärt i deras historieskildringar, som om det viktigaste är att det tilltalar en bred publik, inte att man lyfter viktiga historiska fakta. Ett misstag man gör, vilket ingalunda är ovanligt i analyser av historiska händelser och personer, är att man betraktar dem utifrån nutida värderingar. Det är dock omöjligt att applicera vårt sätt att se på till exempel könsroller på 1500-talet. Ja, det FANNS spekulationer kring huruvida Elizabeth kanske var åtminstone delvis man. Det hade dock mycket lite med hennes utseende eller fysiska funktioner att göra. Spekulationerna hade sin grund i att man inte ansåg att kvinnor var förmögna till logiskt tänkande eller att fatta beslut. Inte heller var de skickade att befalla över män. Vid sidan av “tvånget” att sätta en arvinge till världen så var detta den främsta anledningen till den press att gifta sig hon utsattes för; man ansåg att hon var oförmögen att regera på egen hand. Vid det här laget borde det dock vara helt fastslaget att hon motbevisade alla med kraft, och med åren vann hon samtliga sina medarbetares, inte minst William Cecils, fulla beundran och stöd.

Det är beklagligt att Kunskapskanalen, och SVT, lånar utrymme till något så bedrövligt som denna dokumentär.