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Like mother, like daughter – sinful ladies in the 17th century

So here I was, believing our historical Swedish princesses had, for the most part, acted with utmost propriety. In fact, other than the (in)famous Cecilia Vasa (and I must admit to being very fond of this hell-raising, opinionated 16th century woman, as demonstrated by this post) I lived with the impression that the rest were boring and conventional. Turns out I was wrong – Swedish sin has its roots in the distant past.


In a previous post, I presented Queen Christina of Sweden (more here), that enigmatic woman who became queen at six, abdicated her throne at twenty-eight and went on to strike terror in the heart of her Protestant countrymen by then converting to the Catholic faith. And no, dear people, you can relax. I am not about to give you a torrid love story starring Christina. (Although one wonders at times, about her infatuation with Cardinal Decio Azzolino – but that is an entirely different story)
As a child, Christina was fortunate enough to have her paternal aunt, Katarina of Sweden, looking out for her. Christina’s mother, Maria Eleonora, was not the most caring of parents (more here), and several were the occasions when Christina sported bruises from odd falls and “accidents”. When Christina was ten, the Swedish Privy Council decided Maria Eleonora’s influence was detrimental to Christina’s future role as ruling monarch, so the Queen Mother was forcibly separated from her daughter and sent off in exile. From that day on, Christina’s care passed to her aunt, and in one fell swoop Christina’s life became substantially happier.
Karl Gustav

Katarina of Sweden had her own brood of children – Christina’s cousins. First and foremost, the dashing Karl Gustav …erm…well, Christina definitely found him dashing, but also Eleonora and Maria Eufrosyne, both of them of an age with Kristina. From being an only child, Christina had suddenly acquired siblings, and the three girls grew close, despite their disparate temperaments.
In the 17th century, women were not exactly given all that many options when it came to their adult lives. For Protestant girls of noble birth, there was only one alternative: to marry, and marry well. Up to the time of their marriage, the well-bred Protestant girl was expected to remain chaste – and this very much applied to Swedish princesses as no one wanted a repeat of the major scandal caused several decades earlier by Princess Cecilia of Sweden and her romping about with a young lordling.
Christina was never the type to do much romping, and as many of you know, she never married (she was fortunate enough to be a ruling queen, ergo she could take her own decisions). But she filled her court with musicians and poets, with extravagant masques and people from all over Europe. Elegant Frenchmen, passionate Italians, a handful of Spaniards, Germans, Swedish noblemen – they all attended on the young queen and her cousins.

While Christina devoted her energies and considerable intellect to the secret study of Catholicism with her newfound Spanish friends, her cousin Eleonora was far more interested in the musicians – and in particular a talented French lute-player called Beschon. Hours were whiled away studying the gentleman’s various instruments, one thing led to the other, and our Eleonora was no longer chaste, instead she stole away to spend as much time as possible with her handsome lover.
Problem was, Eleonora was betrothed. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Already in 1643, Eleonora’s father had signed the contracts joining his seventeen-year-old daughter to Fredrik of Hessen-Eschwege, a.k.a. Fritz. Ironically enough, there had been concerns raised as to the prospective groom’s morals. The Privy Council concluded the man was flighty and possessed of a roving eye, but it was supposed he would settle down, and so the betrothal went through, albeit that the wedding was postponed until 1646.
In June of 1646, the marriage contracts were signed. Early in September, Eleonora was led to the altar by her father. Bye-bye romantic Beschon, hello and welcome Flighty Fritz. Whether the marriage started off badly is unknown, but in January of 1647 things definitely went down the drain. A weeping, penitent Eleonora kneeled before her husband and admitted she was pregnant – by another man. Oh dear, oh dear. That ancient hullabaloo concerning Princess Cecilia paled in comparison. Here we had a Swedish princess who had not only fooled about but also been stupid enough to become pregnant – with a lowly musician, no less!

Fritz forgave his errant wife – or so he said. But he told Karl Gustav the whole sorry tale and was ordered to shut up, because no one needed a major scandal, least of all Karl Gustav who was second in line to the Swedish throne should Christina die without issue. Whether Fritz did as he was told or not is unknown, but in a matter of weeks, “everyone” knew Eleonora had cuckolded her husband. The 17th century equivalent of Hello! and In Touch had a field day, and the Fritz-Eleonora marriage went on to become most unhappy, for all that she presented her husband with five legitimate children over as many years.
Beschon loved his Eleonora, and in February of 1647 he sent her a long letter and a composition dedicated to her. Why he did this is unclear. Was he hoping to convince her to leave her husband and steal away with him? Not about to happen – the scandal was bad enough as it was, and Eleonora had neither the means nor the opportunity to leave her humiliated husband. Beschon’s letter did not exactly make Fritz a happy man – which was why Eleonora promptly handed over the correspondence to her brother. As to the baby, it was born in late spring but died. In some ways a relief, I suspect, however grief-struck Eleonora was by the loss of her daughter.
Karl XI as a child

In 1655, Fritz died in battle. By then Eleonora was living in present-day Germany, and she was too ashamed of her past to return to Sweden. Instead, she sent one of her daughters, Juliana, to be raised at the Swedish court. The little girl was considered a prospective bride for her cousin, the future Karl XI. Maybe Eleonora hoped to make good by becoming the mother-in-law of the king, maybe that was why she made it her mission to lead a life of virtue, devoid of any entertainment in the form of men. Eleonora never remarried, despite being not quite thirty when Fritz died…
In Sweden, pretty Juliana was a success, and her royal little cousin was clearly very fond of her. Could one hear wedding bells tolling in the future? Maybe, although a king’s marriage was a political rather than a personal event, and Juliana came with little in the way of power and wealth. Obviously, Juliana got tired of waiting – or maybe she didn’t fancy her younger, serious cousin. Whatever the case, Juliana looked elsewhere for fun and games.
One day, while out riding in a carriage with the Queen Mother, she rather abruptly gave birth to a son, the result of a liaison with an older nobleman. Major, major scandal. A lot of vicious gossip, along the lines of like mother, like daughter. Juliana and the baby were sent packing, and for several years Juliana languished on a country estate. I’m thinking Eleonora was less than pleased. In her new-found piety, I don’t think she found it in her to be supportive of her daughter, no matter that she herself had been as foolish a quarter of a century earlier.
Some years later, Juliana gave birth to yet another son, this time the result of a love affair with her housekeeper’s son, a certain Jean Jacques Marchand. From bad to worse, one could say – a princess (well, almost) rolling about in the hay with the Dutch ambassador’s clerk? What to do with this wild and wayward woman, how to control her lusts? In a Protestant country the option of sending Juliana to a convent did not exist, and the king couldn’t exactly lock her up for fornication.
Juliana herself knew exactly what she wanted: she wanted her clerk and nothing else. So she wheedled and begged, she prostrated herself before her dour cousin, and finally Karl XI agreed to the marriage. He even gave Mr Marchand a courtesy title (but no lands to go with it. Karl XI was a stingy fellow) before rushing the newlyweds off to their new homeland, the Netherlands.
By all accounts, Juliana and her husband were well received by William, Prince of Orange. He even gave them a nice little estate on which to live and raise their children. A much happier ending, therefore, to Juliana’s transgressions than to Eleonora’s. Or was it? As I hear it, Juliana died in penury, and while I am romantic enough to believe being poor and in love is much better than being rich and unhappy, the realist in me laughs herself silly at this ridiculous statement. Love does not go far when it comes to feeding hungry children…
And so dear people, this little post comes to an end. Is there a moral somewhere? No, I don’t think so – well, beyond concluding that love can be a bummer, no matter in what time and age. On the other hand, who wants a world without love? It makes us soar, it makes us high, and sometimes it makes us crash and burn, but no matter what, it makes us feel, it makes us live. As Tennyson so eloquently put it, “it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” Smart guy, Mr Tennyson.

5 thoughts on “Like mother, like daughter – sinful ladies in the 17th century”

  1. Pingback: Sleeping with the enemy – a royal duty | ANNA BELFRAGE

  2. So interesting and readable, as always! Is there any chance Eleonora didn’t remarry because she was living with her musician? Permission for a marriage would have been difficult to obtain, but perhaps it paved the way for Juliana to receive permission…

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