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The abducted bride – the story of Ingrid Svantepolksdotter

Today, dear peeps, we’ll be lingering in 13th century Sweden. (Blame it on a recent road trip, which had me passing places that were once seats of power in the nascent kingdom of Sweden, now mostly are backwaters . . .)

Now, the reason why this story caught my eye was because of a name: Svantepolk Knutsson. Seriously, Svantepolk? That made me thing of candy, as we have very famous rock-candy in Sweden called polkagrisar. Alternatively, I could have started humming a rousing polka while dancing back and forth across my living room floor. This, dear peeps, I did regularly when my kids were young. I get the impression the experience of watching Mamma dance polka has scarred them forever….

Now, Svantepolk was not named for a candy or a dance. No, his name was one of those family names, passed on from one generation to the other in his mother’s family tree. Given the odd name, historians have concluded that Svantepolk’s mother was from Rear Pomerania (Hinterpommern), as there was a noble family there where every other male was named Svantepolk.

In Sweden of the 13th century, however, Svantepolk was unusual. Not necessarily a bad thing, to stick out among all the Karls and Magnuses and Birgers and Eriks. Plus, Svantepolk was loaded—seriously loaded—this due to his grandfather Valdemar Sejr (whom I mentioned in passing in my post about another Valdemar). Valdemar Sejr was king of Denmark. He was also half-Swedish, his mother being the daughter of one of the two families constantly fighting for the Swedish crown. Said family was rich, and seeing as most males were killed in one skirmish or another, Valdemar ended up inheriting substantial holdings in Sweden.

It would likely not have gone down well had a Danish king strolled into the Swedish court to swear fealty to the Swedish king (especially as Valdemar had supported the losing side in the battle for the throne) So instead, Valdemar passed his Swedish lands to his illegitimate son Knut of Reval who, in the fulness of time, passed them on to Svantepolk.

Phew: and Svantepolk isn’t even the protagonist of this post!

Now, Svantepolk was quite the marital catch, which is how he ended up married to Benedicta Sverkersdotter, daughter to the Sverker who tried to claim the throne. Actually, there was a bit of a shadow over Benedicta: as a very young woman, she’d been abducted from the nunnery where she was being educated and, apparently willingly, accompanied her abductor Lars to Norway where they lived happily for a few years until he died. Once she returned to Sweden, she wed Svantepolk and settled down to give him many children.

Benedicta’s older sister, Katarina, ended up married to the victorious Erik Eriksson and so became queen of Sweden. And Svantepolk, riding on the skirts of his wife’s kinship with the queen, soon became a trusted royal counsellor. One can say that Svantepolk, together with Birger Jarl, were the true powers behind the throne, both of them aligned when it came to ensuring a strong Sweden. But where Birger Jarl was naturally suspiscious of the Danes, Svantepolk was related to the Danish king, which means he was more pro-Danish in his views than dear old Birger.

Once Erik Eriksson died, Birger’s young son Valdemar became king with Birger Jarl as de facto ruler . As the dead king’s oldest nephew, he had a claim. Mind you, quite a few others also had a claim, and things became rather messy. Through all this Svantepolk stood firm with Birger.

Time passed. Birger Jarl died, Valdemar was pushed off the throne by his younger brother Magnus, and still Svantepolk stood by the king. The new king, Magnus, had plenty of problems within Sweden, which may be why he was interested in making some sort of permanent peace with Denmark. In this, Svantepolk was very useful and through him, the Danish kings could exert a lot of indirect influence in Sweden. This did not please everyone. Which brings us to today’s protagonist. Lovely readers, I give you Ingrid Svantepolksdotter.

We don’t know exactly when the fair Ingrid was born, but it was probably in the late 1250s – her mother is recorded as having died in 1261. Truth be told, we do not know if she was all that fair either. What we do know is that she, together with two of her sisters, were sent to the Vreta convent, like their mother before them. Seeing as that did not exactly end well, maybe their parents should have reconsidered, but there you are . . .

Ingrid’s two sisters were to become nuns. (But from what I can find, only one of her sisters actually became a nun, the other marrying twice) Not so Ingrid, who was expected to make a grand marriage and who was therefore sent to Vreta to be educated. I’ve always wondered how the relationship between sisters was affected by the “nope, you won’t be marrying, you’ll be a nun” decision passed down by dear dad. In England, this happened to Joan de Geneville’s sisters. Joan herself became a very, very rich heiress, was married to Roger Mortimer and went on to have a dozen babies, while her two younger sisters ended up as nuns. Was there jealousy? Anger? I imagine there must have been, so maybe Ingrid’s relationship with her two sisters ended up somewhat dented.

As part of his pro-Danish policies, King Magnus was happy to promote marriages between high-born Swedes and Danes. This was why Svantepolk offered Ingrid’s hand in marriage to David Torstensen, the Danish High Constable. But there were others in Sweden who disapproved of the pro-Danish policies and who disliked Svantepolk’s influence at court, what with him being a Dane. One such gentleman was Algot Brynolfsson who was the king’s “lawspeaker” in western Sweden. A lawspeaker was essentially the highest administrative official in a region, and was not only expected to administer but also to uphold the laws he was presumed to be very familiar with.  The office came with fringe benefits, principally that of influence and of being able to assist your sons to nice, cushy jobs.

In 1288, Algot was rich. He was respected. One of his sons, Brynolf, was the very capable bishop of Skara, this diocese being one of the oldest and largest in Sweden. Another of his sons, Peter, held a position close to the king. A third son, Rörik, had been given several manors. His other three sons were all up and coming, but clearly there was some dissatisfaction with how friendly King Magnus was with the Danes. How else to explain that Folke Algotsson decided to abduct Ingrid before her wedding.

Eugene Delacroix: the Abduction of Rebecca (Metropolitan Museum)

According to an old Swedish ballad, Folke was helped by his brother Karl, who pretended to be dead and was therefore allowed entry into the Vreta convent. As the nuns assembled round his bier to pray for him, Karl leapt up, grabbed hold of Ingrid and ran for the door. I must admit I find this version somewhat unbelievable . . .

However it was done, I think we can safely assume that Ingrid was not a willing participant.  At the time, she was supposedly close to thirty and would have been fully aware of her father’s plans for her. Whether she liked David Torstenssen yes or no was neither here nor there, but it is unlikely a young woman who’d been cloistered since well over two decades had ever met Folke Algotsson, so there would not have been any opportunity for romantic feelings to develop.

What? No, I don’t want to wed him, he abducted me!

Before we go any further, I am going to stop right here and state that I am doubtful as to the few dates we have regarding Ingrid. She lived to well after 1350, which would have made well over ninety when she died—very unusual back then. The dates do not quite match her sisters either: her oldest sister would also have lived to well over ninety. So maybe the dates are off with a decade, which would have made Ingrid around twenty (much more feasible as a bride-in-waiting. A thirty-year-old spinster among the highborn was an anomaly)

Back to our story, to that day in 1288 when Folke Algotsson flung Ingrid across his horse and galloped madly for Norway. He had to. Sweden had recently updated their laws, more specifically those laws that protected women. The pope had reached out some years ago, expressing surprise at the fact that abductions were still allowed (he referred to the abduction of Ingrid’s mother) and as Sweden was struggling to become a modern country, obviously this led to a major revision of our laws. Abduction was now a serious crime as was rape, and by carrying of Ingrid, Folke became an outlaw, a man you could kill on sight.

The king was enraged. Svantepolk, one assumes, was also enraged. Not that their anger helped poor Ingrid, now wed to her abductor and very far from home. I also suspect that once Folke realised just what his abduction would cost him and his family—one brother beheaded, his father lost all his offices as did his older brother, and his brother the bishop was obliged to a very humiliating ceremony in which he pledged his loyalty to the king—he found his bride very lacking. After all, what exactly did she bring him that compensated him for his lost manors, for his family’s lost wealth? Nada.

We know that Ingrid had children with Folke.  One of her sons, Knut Folkesson, was to become a regular presence at the royal court and was one of St Birgitta’s most vocal critics. We also know that she remained in Norway for at least two decades, years she may have spent longing for home while bemoaning her bitter fate—or by getting on with life. Folke died some years into the 14th century, and it was as a widow that Ingrid finally returned to Sweden around 1310, likely too late to be reunited with her father.

In 1321, Ingrid took her vows at Vreta. Some years later, she became the abbess and lived out the rest of her very long life there. One hopes she found some peace there—and that she reinforced security so that no future young charge would be abducted as she was!

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