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Not all treasure glimmers – of copper coins and rebel farmers

Hubby has a thing about The Curse of Oak Island. For those of you who don’t know what Oak Island is, it’s a TV series that has run for multiple seasons while two brothers dig their way across this little island in search of Templar treasure—treasure they believe the Templars carried off in secret after Philippe IV of France attacked their order on Friday 13th of October 1307 (and yes, this is why we consider Friday 13th to be a most inauspicious day. It sure was for the Templars, seeing as many of them ended up burned at the stake…). Anyway: our Oak Island sleuths firmly believe that some Templars made off with gold and other valuables and somehow made it all the way to Oak Island where they constructed complicated tunnels in which they buried their valuables.

Oak Island is off the Nova Scotia cost, which, IMO, makes it rather improbable the Templars would ever have been there. But hey: history is full of odd happenings, and while I scoff at the show, one part of me sort of hopes they do find that treasure. I mean, imagine if they did, what would that tell us about the 14th century world?

There is something about buried treasure that sort of calls to us. Recently here in Sweden, a man who was out doing his normal orienteering thing (this being when you run through rough terrain with a map and a compass) saw something gleaming in the dirt. He stopped, intrigued, and more or less fell over a fantastic Bronze Age treasure trove. Who buried it, why it was buried and when, we will never know. But the objects will shed light on a past that was maybe not quite as unsophisticated as we sometimes tend to think.

As he sits in his comfy chair watching all that digging on Oak Island, hubby now and then expresses a desire to do some treasure hunting of his own. God help us, I say—internally. But when he tells me just what treasure he would like to find, I must admit to being tempted to join him om his venture. You see, hubby wants to find the lost treasure of Loshult.

Yes, yes, I know: you’ve never heard of Loshult. Very few have—unless you’re into 17th century Swedish history.

An ancient border crossing: on the one side, Sweden on the other Denmark. Now, of course, it is Sweden on both sides

Loshult is a little blob on the map situated some miles south of Älmhult, capital of the IKEA empire. More specifically, it is in the south of Sweden, in an area that until 1658 belonged to Denmark. In the late seventeenth century, the residents of this recently annexed area spoke Danish, considered themselves Danish and had since generations back been more or less at constant war with the Swedes who, by the stroke of a quill, now were supposedly neighbours rather than enemies. Hmph! said these loyal Danes. Who in their right mind wanted to belong to Sweden instead of Denmark? Helloo!

The Danish king, Christian V, totally agreed: he just had to reclaim the territories his father had lost at the humiliating Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. So in 1676, the Danish king decided to invade his own former territories to regain through force (and with plenty of glory) the lands that justly belonged to him.

Christian V

Christian was banking on the inexperience of the Swedish king, Karl XI, who at the time was all of twenty, an unproven youth no more. Bad, bad mistake. Karl had inherited his father’s strategic skills and would eventually have Christian’s army eating dirt—well, snow. But that was much later.

During the summer of 1676, the Danes were making their presence felt throughout southern Sweden. Soon enough, most of what had once been Danish land was back under their control, bar a sizeable chunk to the east. Other than regular troops, the Danish generals appealed to the local farmers to join the cause, promising ample rewards to anyone who captured Swedish soldiers or in general hassled Swedes, preferably relieving said Swedes of anything of value while they were at it.

In late July of 1676, some of the Danish military came face to face with Swedes. “Oh, sh*t!” said both the Danes and the Swedes (in their respective language, obviously) “What are they doing here?”
These days, we don’t quite understand how confusing things were during a war back then. There was no speedy communication, no satellites to give you an overview. Instead, you had to piece together scraps of  information, and quite often the conclusions drawn were incorrect. This is what happened that July day in 1676, when Karl XI and his men spied Danish military moving into the areas still controlled by Sweden. They believed this was the vanguard of the whole Danish army. The Danes, on the other hand, became nervous at the sight of so many Swedes and reported back to their king that the whole Swedish army was moving due west. It wasn’t, mainly because at the time there wasn’t much of an army.

The Swedes decided to move further east. The Danes hurried back west.

Karl XI

King Karl XI had recently sent orders to Stockholm to send him more funds. He needed coin to pay his soldiers, pay for food and lodgings. Plus, he added to his instructions, could someone please ensure his private tent was sent down with the money.

The king had requested 28 600 silver daler (the standard currency unit of the time) A lot of money, corresponding to several millions in present day currency. By the time the Treasury had finished collecting all that money, about one hundred to a hundred and fifty carts were required to haul it down to the king. Yes, I can see you sitting back, looking a bit confused. That’s a lot of carts for several bags of coins, right?

Swedish copper “coins” – Svenska myntkabinettet

Thing is, Swedish 17th century coins were big. Like really, really big. Despite being called silver daler, the coins were made of copper, and the biggest coin, corresponding to ten silver daler, was about the size of a baking tray and weighed close to twenty kilos (forty-odd pounds). Not exactly something you carried around in your pocket… So when the king wanted 28 600 silver daler, the total weight was over forty tons. Most of the coins were packed in barrels which were then stacked in carts—along with the king’s precious tent.

Karl XI had requested that the coins be brought to him where he was when he sent off the request, i.e. close to Kristianstad. But then he ran into those pesky Danes and chose to ride east, and it struck him that the route for his money convoy would take it straight through areas controlled by the Danes. Not good. The king sent off a hasty warning, instructing Captain Gustaf Lillieström not to leave the relative safety of Växjö, but to sit tight and keep a close watch over all those copper coins.

To keep said close watch over well over one hundred carts of..err… metal trays, Lillieström had six (!!!) men at his disposal. Clearly, they weren’t expecting any trouble, despite all those barrels laden with impossibly heavy coin. Maybe that was why…

The king’s warning was dispatched too late. Gustaf Lillieström and his men had already left Växjö and arrived in Loshult, on July 21, more or less at the same time as the local länsman  (tax collector and sheriff combined) Olof Jönsson was demanding that the residents in the area pay up their taxes so as to help with the Swedish war effort. This did not go down well. Quite a few of the local farmers were more than eager to help the Danes oust the Swedes, and all this tax nonsense was a major pain in the butt. (Said farmers conveniently forgot that they’d been paying tax to the Danish king prior to paying tax to the Swedish king)

Still: the grumbling local farmers weren’t  perceived as much of a threat. Captain Lillieström does not seem to have been unduly concerned, this despite having only six men with him. What Lillieström didn’t know was that some of the disgruntled farmers had sped off to the closest Danish encampment and asked for help. Dangling the promise of seizing the king’s treasure (and tent), said farmers managed to convince the Danes to send some soldiers with them. A total of fifteen Danish military men accompanied the farmers back towards Loshult.

Meanwhile, Lillieström was making preparations to leave Loshult and continue towards the king. The carts that had carried all that treasure to Loshult had been commandeered from farmers a few miles to the north. They obviously wanted both carts and draughtanimals (more likely oxen) back, which is why Lillieström sent out a request to the local farmers for them to assemble and sort the next leg of the journey. No one volunteered.

This made länsman Jönsson nervous. And when a courier from Växjö came galloping into Loshult on July 24th carrying the king’s warning and ordering Lillieström’s immediate retreat north (with his cumbersome load), our captain started to sweat. There he was, in the middle of nowhere with six good men and the equivalent of one hundred cart loads to protect. Not good. In panic, he ordered a retreat. Frantic efforts ensured a number of carts were  sent north way immediately, but by now the local farmers were on the move, reinforced by Danish soldiers.

“No more taxes!” yelled the farmers, and armed with sticks and stones they beat back Lillieström and his few men and took possession of the barrels that remained in Loshult,  which was probably around half of the original amount. Lillieström had no choice but to retreat—to do otherwise would have been to risk immediate death. Off he went, leaving all that copper to the victorious farmers.

Some of those gigantic coins ended up at the headquarters of the Danish army—as did King Karl XI’s tent. But most of that stolen treasure disappeared, and as it was much too cumbersome to carry off, many speculate that the successful farmers hid the barrels—as a rainy day insurance.

Karl XI smarted at the loss of his money. But being young enough to still believe in his immortality (young people rarely expect to die) and a final victory, he somehow pulled together the Swedes and began a relentless campaign to push the Danes into the sea. In December of 1676, the Swedes and the Danes clashed at The Battle of Lund. By riding his men across frozen rivers, Karl XI managed to move his entire force into position during the night, thereby winning the race for the higher ground. On December 4th, 8 000 Swedes did battle against 13 000 Danes. When the day was over, the battle field was littered with over 14 000 dead and the Danish king and his army were beating a hasty retreat.

Once he had set his house in order, Karl XI decided it was time to find the people guilty of stealing his money at Loshult. Something of an inquisition followed. As these legal proceedings took place eight years after the event, with many of the original rabble-rousers dead, just as many participants having fled to Denmark, it was difficult to pin-point just who had done what. King Karl wanted his money back, which resulted in huge fines for anyone considered to have been somehow involved. To set an example, the king also decided that one in every ten of the accused was to die. At this point, many Swedes interceded, among them Captain Lillieström, who pointed out that it was wrong to punish collectively for the crimes of a few. I am happy to report Karl XI listened and decided to skip the executions—and some of the fines.

Yet another giant coin (British Museum, photo StAnselm)

There have been several reported finds of daler coins in the area around Loshult, but nowhere close to as many as actually were stolen. Yes, some of those cumbersome copper coins were likely used already back then, but when a victorious Karl XI demanded that his treasure be returned to him, locals who still had a little hoard tucked away probably decided it was wise to not use them. If so, maybe it is still there to be found, and as Loshult is very close to our country house, all hubby and I need are some metal detectors and we are in business!

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