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Evil deeds and their grisly consequences – of crime and punishment

During the past summer, I did something I’ve been planning to do for years: I visited Kalmar Castle, which is one of the older castles in Sweden. Initially built in the 13th century, it reached its full glory as a Renaissance Palace in the 16th century, but nothing really lasts for ever does it?

The rooms where once kings tread and danced, flirted and loved, became a prison. Okay, not all rooms, obviously. Some of the grander rooms quietly sank into disrepair and ruin until they were finally rediscovered and carefully restored to former glories.

The deed confirming the Kalmar Union

Kalmar Castle started out as a fortress, a defence against that constant thorn in the Swedish side: the Danes. But in the 14th century Queen Margareta of Denmark and Norway became queen of Sweden as well in the so-called Kalmar Union. Margareta was a petite lady gifted not only with an agile intellect but also with a very, very strong will. When her hubby died, she became their regent for their infant son, and when said son died several years later, she became queen in her own right in both Denmark and Norway. She was the political mastermind behind the Kalmar union–to some extent a reaction on the growing power of the Hanseatic League – and as her own son was dead, she adopted her sister’s grandson, Bogislav, renamed him Erik and presented him in Kalmar to the collected nobility of the three scandinavian countries. Erik would severl years later marry Philippa of England, a.k.a. the first bride ever to wear white.

Very little of the medieval fortress remains. In the 16th century, Kalmar Castle was remodelled into the palace we now can see.

A bedroom fit for a king! Erik XIV had a fondness for gold
The “secret” door leading to the king’s private ensuite and his secret escape route

I enjoyed seeing Erik XIV’s magnificent bedroom. It came complete with a hidden door leading to the king’s close stool, and seeing as Erik was somewhat paranoid, from this cramped little space he coild also escape upwards and flee any ill-intentioned peeps. Those who know your Swedish history (or who’ve read some of my previous blogs about Erik, like here and here) will know having a secret escape would not, ultimately, help Erik. Instead, he was forced to abdicate and kept a prisoner for a decade or so before being purportedly poisoned by his younger brother Johan III. Not so that Johan did the poisoning. He merely ordered it . . .

They had a thing for adorned ceilings, didn’t they?
The royal dining room

However, it isn’t the grandeur of the renaissance palace that stayed with me. No, it was the exhibition created by Ann-Sofi Sidén which detailed crime and punishment for women back in the days. The various cases have been taken from surviving records, and they make for somewhat gruesome reading.

Take, for example, the case of Ermegaard and Lizsle. Apparently, these two women were fond of each other. So fond, in fact, that one day they snuck into Ermegaard’s inner chamber, closed the door and gave in to their desires. I suspect their liaison had been going on for a while, as no sooner had the women disappeared—leaving Ermegaard’s children to “run wild without their mother’s tender care”  but Henrik Townofficer (yup, he’s recorded as that) and no less than six witnesses forced the door open. And what did they see? Ermegaard in only her shift while Lizsle was on her back, her hose below her knees and her skirts lifted high. It didn’t exactly take a genius to guess what they’d been doing, sinful women that they were.

Thing is, Ermegaard was married. Oh, dear, oh, dear! Adultery was a serious crime, much more serious than jumping into bed for some same-gender sex. Or so, at least, I conclude after reading the verdict that fines Lizsle 20 marks (a huge amount of money) while poor Ermegaard was stripped to her shift, forced to carry the stones of the town (a contraption of heavy stones dangling from a length of chain. It weighed approximately 20-25 kilos which is roughly 55 pounds and was used specifically to punish adulterous women) all round the town she lived in. Then she was led to the town gate and formally evicted. Should she return, she was to be buried alive  “without prayers”.

The stones of the town could have looked like this

One thing I wonder is what Ermegaard’s husband thought about all this. He wasn’t among the witnesses, and I am hoping he felt some sort of compassion for the woman who’d borne him “wild” children. I also wonder if exiling Ermegaard meant he was considered a widower, or was he still officially married? I’m guessing I’ll have to dig deeper into this.

Then there’s Gunnil. Now this lady was not exactly all warm and fuzzy. Nope, she’d been arrested for stealing a pot, but when questioned she admitted to arson and to wanting to burn the entire town down. Well, obviously such a dangerous person couldn’t be left alive and accordingly, Gunnil was buried alive. Women in Sweden were buried alive than hanged as it was considered indecent to hang a woman—everyone could look up her skirts. Personally, I’d prefer being hanged to being buried alive. In some cases, the men responsible for shovelling the earth on top of the poor woman would cover her head with a bucket to avoid her terrified eyes (I think they gagged them so as to avoid screaming) I fear that prolonged their suffering.  Men were only buried alive for crimes of perversion, such as bestiality.

Finally, I give you Inngiborg Nilzdotter. Now this lady confessed to a priest that she’d been sitting waiting to buy carrots when someone whispered to her “you should kill that man”. So, she stood, grabbed an axe and killed the poor carrot farmer before stealing a gold chain and some coins from him. This, of course, under the influence of the devil.

Once in court, Inngiborg denied having murdered anyone. The court didn’t believe her, because she’d been found in possession of the coins and the chain. Plus, of course, she’d already confessed to the priest, so her denying it now made her guilty of perjury. Interestingly enough, the court did not find her guilty of murder as murder required premeditation, and everyone seems to have agreed that Inngiborg acted on the spur of the moment. There she was, sitting and waiting. There was the axe. Makes me think of “Bang, bang Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon her head…

Inngiborg was not buried alive. Instead, she was to be “faggotted” by the entire congregation and then thrown out of the village. Being faggotted meant kneeling in the entry to the church while holding a faggot ( a bundle of sticks, usually used as kindling), and everyone who entered would then take it from her and hit her over her bare back. Repeatedly.

Both Ermegaard and Inngiborg emerged from their experiences alive—but exiled from their communities. In the late medieval period, this was a cruel punishment. People depended on their families to survive, and to be shoved out would likely condemn them to a life as beggars or prostitutes.

Today, Kalmar Castle stands as a proud reminder of a time when kings and queens regularly visited, to enjoy brisk sea air and host grand parties. But in some corners, the fear and grief of those long-gone prisoners linger, a faint presence that has a shiver whispering its way up my spine. I think it’s what a good guide would call “atmospheric”, isn’t it?

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