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The state conquers a feudal enclave

Àngsô 1690-1710

Joakim Scherp


The aim of this chapter is to explore how institutions and power relations were transformed into a local society when they were incorporated into an early modern state. Since the local society in question was remarkably ‘feudal’ in character, and the early modern state that conquered it can be described as a highly developed bureaucratic absolutist state, the conflicts thus generated should be, and in fact were, quite dramatic. I hypothesise that the clash of these two extremes can highlight phenomena that also were present in less dramatic inclusions of local societies into a centralised state. The main focus is on how different groups of actors acted and reacted during this process of state takeover. In addition to the actors, there were potentially other more impersonal forces in motion that affected the actors, I will also endeavour to discern what these forces were and what their respective impact was. The fact that the change was fairly abrupt will also be able to shed light on the features of both the feudal ‘before’ and the modern ‘after’ and compare their respective features.

Context: the State

In the early 1690s, the process of Swedish state formation had been advancing rapidly for well over 150 years. The central administration had tightened its grip over the different regions of Sweden, using its bailiffs (fogdar) and county governors (landsbovdingar) to ensure that ever increasing taxes were collected, that men were conscripted to the ever expanding armed forces, and that the Crown’s propaganda was disseminated among its subjects. The Reformation of the Church of Sweden had steadily increased the state’s influence over this important organisation and turned it into an important instrument of propaganda and control. With the introduction of courts of appeal (hovratter), the legal system was made more uniform. Furthermore, the introduction of absolutism around the year 1680 had made the king unquestioned master of the state apparatus.1

If the process of state formation had increased the power of the king and his administration, it was above all the independence of the regional nobility that suffered - it was dealt fatal blows already during the reign of King Gustavus I (1521-1560). In order to gain influence, the nobility had to forfeit its role as local and regional lords in exchange for service of the Crown.2 During the years of Swedish imperial expansion, this trade-off paid off handsomely, especially for the traditional aristocracy who benefit-ted from generous privileges, land grants in Sweden proper and the newly conquered provinces - and the spoils of war. The introduction of absolutism during Charles Xi’s reign brought this aristocratic golden age to an abrupt end: Crown lands in nobles’ hands were confiscated, and various noble privileges were abolished.

Context: The (e)state in the state

In the early 1690s when this pro-royal, anti-noble campaign had been going on for over 10 years, the monarch was made aware of the existence of a small feudal island in the heart of the Swedish Realm: The Angsb estate situated on islands in the lake Malaren. The lord of Angsb was at this time a baron belonging to the Sparre family, who like all earlier proprietors of the estate, was part of the old medieval aristocracy. ’> The estate consisted of around 2340 ha of land and had a population of about 320 (excluding small children).4 The landscape is rather varied and consists of both arable land and pasture. The most important product probably was oak wood, which was sold in large quantities to the naval dockyard in Stockholm.' The entire estate of Angsb belonged to a category of noble land that was exempt from taxation, and thus the Crown had no income from it.6 None of the land was considered to be separated from the manor house by any village boundaries, and thus all the farms and cottages were situated on the estate7 (rd- och rorshemman).

Furthermore, the inhabitants of Angsb seem to have been exempt from conscription to the rapidly increasing Swedish armed forces until 1638, when a royal decree established that this must change immediately.8 Again, this was due to the fact that the main island and the surrounding small isles were thought to constitute part of the manor. But since the nobility at the Swedish Diet (Riksdagen) had granted the Crown the right to conscript men even from their manors, the lords of Angsb also had to contribute. The protection from conscription obviously was an advantage for the peasants, who were spared the sight of their sons and farmhands disappearing to continental wars to the same extent as other Swedes. However, living in Angsb carried disadvantages: For instance, the lords possessed unlimited rights to demand labour service from peasants and cottagers. This was highly unusual in Sweden proper, where the number of days that the peasants had to perform labour service normally was regulated.9 However, during the 18th century, it was reported that the lords of Angsb granted the peasants freedom from such labour during January and February, which gave them time to earn money from transport - money that was partly used to pay rents to their master.10

The Baron Per Eriksson Sparre and his son Per Persson Sparre both held high offices in the Swedish state and, consequently, were rewarded with money, land, and titles.11 Besides Angsb, which came into the family’s ownership through Per Eriksson’s first wife, they became owners of landed estates in Uppland and Smaland. In addition, they built a stately palace on Riddarholmen in Stockholm. Per Persson died in 1669 at the age of 36 and left behind his widow Sigrid Horn and his sons Erik and Johan Sigismund. Neither of the brothers enjoyed the same professional success as their ancestors, and the family also lost much of its property due to Charles Xi’s reconfiscation of Crown land. It was Erik and Johan Sigismund who faced the attack on Angsb’s special privileges from 1691 onwards.

The barons Sparre enjoyed extensive rights over the peasants and cottagers who inhabited the island of Angsb and the surrounding islets. The lords enjoyed exceptional legal privileges: According to the ‘Neck and Hand Right’ of Angsb (Angsd Hals- och Handratt), they had the right to condemn criminals to death and mete out corporal punishments. The estate constituted a separate legal district, with the court’s presiding judge appointed by the lords and the jury (namnd) consisted of peasants living on the estate. It should be emphasised that the court like all district courts (haradsratter) followed the Swedish Land Law and that a professional judge led the proceedings.12 The lords of Angsb also seem to have discussed verdicts of capital punishment with the Court of Appeal in Stockholm (Svea Hovratt). Still, this form of noble jurisdiction was exceptional in Sweden proper, even though the lords of Bergkvara in Smaland and Torpa in Vastergbtland had similar legal privileges.13

Another exceptional right these lords enjoyed was the independence of the parish of Angsb from the diocese of Vasteras. The proprietors of Angsb manor appointed the vicars of Angsb Church without approval from the bishop, which normally was the case in parishes where noble patrons hired the priest. And while parishes and priests in other parts of the diocese were subject to control and visitations by the bishop, the parish of Angsb was beyond the bishop’s sphere of influence.14 The power of noble patrons over parishes (patronatsrdtt) was generally resented by prelates during the 17th century, and the extensive rights of the Angsb lords must have been particularly aggravating.15 When one of the abrasive bishops of Vasteras endeavoured to hold a visitation in Angsb, he was rebuffed by Per Persson Sparre who in a letter proudly declared himself the sovereign lord of both the church and the court on the estate. If the bishop dared to come to Angsb Church without permission, he would find the door locked and would be ejected from Sparre’s estate.16

The agents

I will enumerate four groups of agents in the events that will be discussed, and in the following will present them briefly. It is important to remember that personal traits among the agents can be very important for the outcome, since none of them necessarily is typical of their respective group. However, I think that in this case many of the actors actually were quite representative of the larger group to which they belonged.

  • 1. The Crown. This group consists of the king, Charles XI, and his officers belonging to different parts of the state apparatus. The king operated as he regularly did when he expanded his power - he detected an area in which he sensed that his rights were infringed upon, often by chance, and then imposed his will to the letter.17 He seems to have been made aware of the extensive privileges of the lords of Angsb and consequently abolished them. Charles XI was aided by his bureaucracy - jurists, administrators, and technicians - some of whom visited Angsb themselves and others who acted through correspondence from Stockholm.
  • 2. The Lords. Between 1690 and 1709, Angsb was the property of the barons Sparre, first of the older, Erik, and subsequently of his brother Johan Sigismund. Neither of the two brothers seems to have been particularly well educated. They were not able to reach state offices at the level their ancestors had obtained. In the early 1700s, they were without employment. They both led quite colourful lives characterised by drinking, gambling, and womanising.18 The Angsb manor was heavily mortgaged. The debts were eventually transferred to Countess Christina Piper, who in 1709 became the proprietor of the castle and estate as compensation for Johan Sigismund’s inability to pay what he owed. Christina Piper was born a commoner, as daughter to a wealthy burgher in Stockholm who had married an ennobled close adviser to Charles XII.19 She was a talented entrepreneur in her own right and succeeded in buying and developing many estates, particularly in Scania.20 It is significant that this merchant’s daughter and bureaucrat’s wife actually had a more elevated title, countess, than the blue-blooded baron she replaced at Angsb castle. During the absolutist reigns of Charles XI and Charles XII, counts and barons were created by the kings with regard to the high offices men held, and their number of prominent ancestors became less important.21 The lords were aided by their manor bailiffs, bookkeepers, inspectors, etc., who ran the estate and represented the lords at the manor court.
  • 3. The Clergy. The vicar Erik Wigelius was appointed by Baron Erik Sparre in accordance with his patronage rights, and he was later approved by the Chapter of the Vasteras diocese. Wigelius must have been a brave and/or stubborn man, since he became embroiled in major conflicts with both Johan Sigismund Sparre and Christina Piper. His determination was undoubtedly strengthened by the backing of the chapter.22

4. The Subjects. This category consists of numerous people of low rank: Peasants, servants, cottagers, and craftsmen. Of the 320 people of working age in 1690, around 85 were servants (the great majority employed by the peasants, a few by the lords), and about 100 were peasants (men and wives), the rest were sons and daughters of the peasants, cottagers and their families, craftsmen, inhabitants of the poor house, etc.23

In the following, I will briefly describe and analyse the conflicts that arose in different arenas during the years of transition ca. 1690-1710.

The arenas: Jurisdiction

In August 1691, Charles XI wrote a letter to the Chancery (Kanslikollegium) ordering them to investigate the ‘Neck and Hand Right’ of the lords of Angsd. By what right did they possess this privilege? The Chancery was also instructed to discuss the matter with the government agency in charge of recovering Crown land from noble owners (Reduktionskollegium), indicating that the case also was thought to have fiscal aspects.24

The Chancery wrote to Baron Erik Sparre and asked him to produce documents that supported the ‘Neck and Hand Right’ within 8 days.25 Sparre complained that he was ill, and could not possibly come up with the documents at such short notice. But he assured the Chancery that the rights were ancient and had been practised for a very long time. Sparre also promised to bring any documents he could find to Stockholm and show them to the Chancery.26 This of course was a weak defence, and even if he was ill - why could not one of his literate employees search the archives for relevant documents? Erik Sparre subsequently came to Stockholm, but the Chancery was unimpressed by the evidence he could produce: Once again there were claims of ancient traditions and some verdicts dating back to the late 1400s and a contract of sale dating from the early 1300s. The Chancery thus decided not to recognise the legal rights of the lords and emphasised that even if such extraordinary privileges could be granted to a certain individual, it was impossible that this could give the lords of an estate inheritable and transferable rights. The lords of Angsd ought to have obtained confirmation of this right from every new monarch when he or she was crowned.27 Sparre’s claims were not in accordance with the law, and even if he could produce more substantive documents, it would still be up to the king to decide if he should retain the privileges. Sparre showed up with more documents in January 1692, but these utterly failed to convince the Chancery.28

It should be noted that previous monarchs had in fact acknowledged Angsd’s traditional rights without the need to confirm it. Queen Christina is an example of this, and she even used Angsd’s rights to justify that Per Brahe and all his heirs had this right. Hence, she did not perceive the need for every new monarch to affirm the special privileges in neither Angsd nor Per Brahe’s Visingsd.29 The legal system had changed, and the lords of Angsd had failed to take notice.

Already in November 1691, a royal letter to the county governors treated the Angsd case as a done deal - the ‘Neck and Hand Right’ was abolished. The governors were instructed to detect other cases of such noble privileges and conduct inquiries into the legality of these privileges. The royal letter also took aim at another ‘feudal’ right on Angsd: The bishop of Vasteras was ordered to conduct disciplinary control over the parish, the Treasury (Kammarkollegium) was ordered to investigate by what rights the entire estate was free from taxes. The Court of Appeal in Stockholm was instructed to make sure that the jurisdiction of the lords immediately ceased and that the subjects henceforth should use the nearest district court, Yttertjurbo haradsting.30 What did the change of jurisdiction mean to the people of Angsd? I have read the surviving court records from the era of noble jurisdiction in its entirety (covering the years 1640-1691). It would be too space-consuming to discuss it in great detail here, so I will briefly present a few general points about similarities and differences between the court in Angsd and other district courts in Sweden.

First: To what extent did the lords use the court as an instrument of power? It is obvious that the privilege of jurisdiction was a source of immense pride for the lords. The court meetings were held in a special building, the ‘bor-grattsstugan,’ which was situated close to the mansion and was spacious enough to house a large portion of the manor’s entire population - perhaps even all of the inhabitants.31 But the barons and baronesses did not participate directly in the proceedings, they were instead represented by the inspector, the bookkeeper, or men with similar functions. In one case, we know that a death sentence was changed to a fine by the baroness Sigrid Horn (a farmhand had cut off organ pipes in the parish church, an act of sacrilege).32 In all probability, either all the verdicts or the most important ones were approved by the lords. Signs of direct interference are invisible in the court records.

There are good reasons to suspect that the lord’s control over the court did affect some aspects of the proceedings. For one thing, almost every session began with proclamations that served to protect the oak trees that were so important for the estate’s finances. Over and over again the prohibitions against cutting down oaks were repeated, as well as admonitions of the subjects’ duty to plant new oak trees.33 Prosecutions against subjects who allegedly had cut down any of the valuable trees were also quite common.34

On the other hand, messages from the Crown were virtually absent from the court records, which was in stark contrast to the regular district courts where the reading of new statutes was an important part of the proceedings - in this way, the monarchs could reach substantial parts of the population.35 Revealingly enough, a royal statute that had already been abolished was introduced on Angsd in the 1680s: A statute that defined the rights of the nobility to discipline their servants and other employees (gardsratten).36

This statute had been vehemently resisted by the three commoner Estates in the 1660s and 1670s and was expressly abolished in 1675.37 As an arena of communication, then, Angsd’s court clearly served the lords’ interest.

Regarding the question whether courts dominated by nobles were harsher in their verdicts has been the topic for some discussion among Swedish historians, none of whom has conducted strict comparisons between regular and noble courts.38 In a student essay, Linda Wikland has recently compared the surviving court records from Bergkvara borgratt, a noble court that bore close resemblance to Angsd’s court, with the neighbouring district court of Kinnevald. Interestingly, there are clear parallels between Bergkvara and Angso: In both places, the lords used the courts to protect valuable sources of wood, in particular oak wood; and the Crown’s statutes were virtually invisible in Bergkvara and Angso.39 When it comes to punishment Wikland can find no significant differences between the courts, both used the existing legislation and there is no sign of harsher interpretations on the part of the lords of Bergkvara.40 The situation was similar in Angso. Regarding death sentences they were not particularly frequent: Just a handful (ca. 10), according to the surviving court records over a period of 52 years.41 In most cases, it is obvious that a regular district court would have passed the same sentence: Delinquents were sentenced to death when found guilty of bestiality, infanticide, and adultery to cite a few cases. It is not certain whether all those sentenced were actually executed, Baroness Sigrid Horn, as we have seen, showed mercy to at least one delinquent. The investigations into these cases were very thorough, with lengthy interrogations of witnesses. There is no sign that the court treated these cases lightly.

Overall, the court followed Swedish legislation and its proceedings were similar to any Swedish court at the time. The legal culture of the surrounding society clearly affected Angso. The court was used by the subjects as well as by the lords, it was an arena concentrating on conflict-solving in the way Eva Osterberg and other historians have described them.42 But of course the court was not an ideal arena for the subjects to prosecute the lords and their henchmen. It is certainly possible that the lords could have tyrannised their subjects with impunity, without the latter having had recourse to redress in any legal arena. The question is whether this changed when Angso in 1691 was integrated into Yttertjurbo’s district court. This court was independent of the lords of Angso, and it could be a valuable ally to the islanders - they might now have access to the disinterested justice of the king. Did they use the opportunity the district court presented?

In short, the answer is a qualified no. The most important change was that very few cases from Angso were treated at Yttertjurbo district court. Instead of gaining the king’s justice on a more impartial arena, the subjects lost the important arena they had had. Moreover, a majority of the cases that reached the district court were raised by the lords (and their bailiffs and inspectors), or by the vicar of Angso parish. The local arena of everyday conflict resolution that the baron’s court had provided was lost.43

But there still are a few cases in which the subjects actually used the district court against the lords. In one case, they complain that they had to travel far when they performed transport services for the lord.44 In another, some farmhands accused a foreman of abuse, after he had taken them to court to accuse them of attacking him. One of the farmhands also had filed a complaint to the court about abuse on the part of the foreman.45 It is clear that physical punishments were used habitually against the subjects, but it is not clear how common or how harsh it was. Maybe the subjects accepted this as normal? At the same time, the case of the farmhands shows that there clearly were limits to what they deemed acceptable from the lords’ foremen, and physical confrontation as well as the court could be used to defend them from unacceptable behaviour.

Why did the subjects not use the district court? It is possible that the lords tried to prevent them from doing so (the Sparres maybe out of resentment of being deprived of the ‘Neck and Hand Right’). It is also possible that the distance to the new district court that was situated in Bjórksta (over 10 km away from any part of Ángsó) was crucial in explaining this. A third possible explanation is that it took time to get used to the new order of things. Careful research conducted by the historian Órjan Simonson concerning a district court (Torstuna) in the vicinity of Angsó and Yttertjurbo suggests that all these explanations may be valid. Distance had some, if limited, relevance to which part of the district participated in the court; a noble estate resembling Angsó was consistently under-represented in the court; and participation in the court to some degree depended on local tradition.46 Whatever the cause, it is a fact that the transition to Yttertjurbo district court meant that the subjects of Angsó had many fewer days in court, and that they thus lost an arena of conflict resolution. This was, at least for me, an unexpected result. The abolishing of the ‘Neck and Hand Right’ only changed power relations within the estate to a limited degree.

The arenas: Economic relations

The king also ordered an investigation to be conducted for the tax exemption of the entire estate. Were there really no village borders that separated the land belonging to the manor house and the surrounding villages? If there were, that meant that the villages in areas outside the manor border ought not to be free from taxation, but be included in the Crown’s cadastre (jordebok) and pay the taxes appropriate for this type of land.47

An investigation was conducted in the autumn of 1692 and found that there indeed was a border between the land of the manor house and the village Berg.48 Baron Erik Sparre had not participated in the investigation, once again claiming that he was ill. But orders were sent from the mansion to several villagers in Berg instructing them not to reveal any items (marker stones, etc.) that could be interpreted as border markers by the

The state conquers a feudal enclave 223 land-surveyor (lantmatare). When the Crown was made aware of these orders - probably by the men from Berg themselves - a commission was sent to Angsd in order to find out the truth. It was clear that an order had been issued, but there were some confusion whether the message that the peasant heard was the one the inspector intended. Baron Erik Sparre was present this time, and as in the case with the legal privileges he produced documents deemed irrelevant, and oral traditions that sounded more like fairy tales than substantial evidence. As in the previous dealings he was too late - the outcome was already fixed when he finally showed up with alleged proofs that his rights were well founded.

Remarkably, two of the peasants from Berg openly confessed that they would not obey the orders from the mansion, but told the investigators of all the border markers they knew of. They had talked to each other about this, so it was a collective decision. Why did they challenge their lord? It is probable that they sensed that the Crown was their ally, and that they did not want to lie. There could be benefits in being outside the border of the manor house - they might have hoped that they would be able to get rid of the unlimited days of labour that the lord had a right to. The advantage of escaping conscription no longer applied, since the army had mainly relied on volunteers since 1682.

Did the peasants of Berg manage to limit the labour service (if that was their purpose)? The village was indeed declared to be outside the areas belonging to the manor house. But it seems that there still were no limits to their labour service. An interesting document from 1716 reveals this.49 In this year, the peasants in Berg threatened to leave their farms, and the Countess Piper’s representative together with the vicar Wigelius summoned the men of the parish to discuss the matter. The men from Berg demanded a limitation to their labour service. This was impossible to accept, according to Christina Piper’s men - but they could have their land rent reduced by half a barrel of grain. The men from Berg accepted this, and even though the decrease in their payment was motivated by ‘these difficult times of war,’ the reduction was renewed 13 years later when there had been peace for 8 years - an instance of the ‘stickiness’ of this kind of negotiated agreement known from manors across Europe.50

Certainly, the shortage of eligible peasants to replace the men from Berg if they really had left made Christina Piper more conciliatory towards them. After 16 years of war, 5 years of plague, and a severe famine in 1708-1709, able farmers were in short supply: This gave the peasants some bargaining power. There may of course be specific reasons or plain coincidence that explains the fact that the village Berg on two occasions produced the peasants most eager to stand up to the lords. But it may also be due to the fact that Berg was the largest village on Angsd51 - if the peasants there decided to agree on something it carried some weight. Living close to each other they had plenty of occasions to agree on courses of action. Their action in 1716 had a close parallel in events in Bergkvara in the 17th century, as Wiklandhas shown. The peasants then similarly were threatened to leave their farms and move elsewhere.52 The potential for collective bargaining when the lords provided their subjects with arenas such as the district court (which the subjects of Bergkvara used for their protest and bargaining) or parish meetings has perhaps been underestimated, and probably was most effective when the estates were large and there was a shortage of willing farmers or labourers.

The arenas: The church

The parish meeting in 1716 has a parallel from the same period in which the vicar Wigelius and the parish people discussed their obligations towards the church of Àngsô.53 It may be that parish meetings provided an arena for collective bargaining in the past; after all, the subjects of Àngsô and the parish people were an identical set of individuals. But it may be that this form of bargaining required an independent priest who helped negotiate with the parish people: And until the 1690s, all the priests were dependent on the lords who hired and fired them without tolerating any interference from the Chapter of Vâsterâs.

Erik Wigelius was such an independent man of the cloth, and it is only from his time as a vicar that there any parish meetings of the kind we have discussed were recorded. He also fell out rather quickly with Johan Sigismund Sparre, whose lifestyle he seems to have criticised in his sermons to the subjects of Àngsô. Sparre committed adultery with Anna Risolia, a priest’s married daughter, gambled, and apparently had a very violent temper, so it was not hard for Wigelius to find themes for his critical sermons.54 The priest thus undermined the baron’s authority among his subjects, so Sparre insisted that the Chapter of Vâsterâs should fire Wigelius. But the Chapter backed the Àngsô priest. The baron then locked the church, took the key, and ordered the parishioners to visit other churches. Service was then conducted at Wigelius’ parsonage, which probably should be interpreted as an act of support for the clergyman on the parishioners’ part.55

The conflict escalated during the year 1707, and the authorities intervened on behalf of the clergy time after time. Sparre threatened not to return the keys to the church until a new priest was appointed. Preventing Christians from hearing the word of God was a serious offence in early modern Sweden, and even more serious was rhe fact that he repeatedly disobeyed orders given in the king’s name. In 1709 Sparre was sentenced to death for lèse majesté, but was granted mercy since he admitted and regretted his crimes and was deemed not to have been mentally healthy at the time. The baron still had to pay a heavy fine to Àngsô Church, and spent 14 days in prison. And worst of all, he had to suffer the humiliation of standing in shame in front of the church door of Àngsô Church (stâ kyrkop-likt) during one Sunday.56 It was not much of a consolation that the authorities deemed it unwise to have Wigelius presiding over this punishment.57

After suffering this excruciating punishment, the baron chose to move to Stockholm. Wigelius had triumphed, even though Sparre did not change his wicked ways. He continued to live with Anna Risolia58 and he had not yet made his final appearance in Angsd.

The change of status of the clergy made an enormous difference to the power relations in Angsd. Arguably the outcome would have been different if Johan Sigismund Sparre had not been such a lecherous and violent man, but as his brother before him he was unpleasantly surprised by other actors questioning rights that hitherto had been unquestioned. The clergy also was supported by the Crown, and this almost led to the death of the baron. Even Sparre’s subjects must have stood witness against him in court, confirming that he had indeed taken away the key to the church. The parishioners were probably not at all pleased that the baron prevented regular church services; after just a week, it was reported that an old man had died and could not be buried, and many who wanted to go to the Lord’s Supper were prevented from doing this.59 The ceremonies that were so important to early modern peasants were obstructed by their lord. After a few months, 33 members of the parish attested that Wigelius had performed his duties well during his 14 years as vicar in Angsd, and that he was both well learned and led a Christian life.60 None of these adjectives probably sprang to mind concerning their lord and master. The parishioners have also willingly participated in the visitations conducted by the Vasteras bishops from 1687 and onwards, despite the fact that Erik and Johan Sparre, like their father, had tried to stop this.

Curiously, a tale about conflict between Wigelius and Johan Sigismund Sparre circulated, likely among the peasant population. But the conflict is of an altogether different kind than the one described earlier. In it Wigelius is in love with the beautiful Agnes Kiellman, but the jealous Sparre abducted her and imprisoned her in a secret room in the castle. With the help of doves (!), Kiellman was able to send a message to the vicar who then fought his way into the castle and liberated her, even though Sparre nearly stabbed her to death with his dagger.61 Even though Wigelius was actually married to a woman of that name,62 everything else bears the sign of a fairy tale. But it is also significant that Wigelius played the part of the hero, while Sparre is portrayed in the darkest colours. The tale is in all likelihood a cultural reflection of how the conflict was perceived among the peasant population.

The arenas: Ownership and loyalty

Later in 1709, Sparre returned to Angsd castle, probably for the last time.63 The estate and the mansion were now in the hands of Christina Piper, who had managed to buy Angsd when Johan Sigismund was on trial for his life. The former army officer, Sparre, had decided to reconquer his inherited land. He arrived at Angsd Church during Sunday service and when the parish people came out he ordered them not to obey Christina Piper and the supervisors, but instead take orders from him. The bewildered churchgoers then heard one of the supervisors saying that they must not listen to their old master. The foremen all took Christina Piper’s side and were promptly chased from the mansion, even though one of them courageously stood up to his armed old master and pushed him aside in order to get away from him. The subjects were torn between the menacing presence of their old lord and the knowledge that the Countess also demanded their loyalty. They tried to escape from the violence and a few of them only reluctantly obeyed their old master, probably more out of fear than out of loyalty. Again they seem not to have shown any qualms about standing witness against Sparre in the court proceedings that inevitably were the result of the baron’s action. During the negotiations, he repeatedly shouted that Angso was his property. He was shown to be wrong.64

Johan Sigismund Sparre did not accept that inability to repay loans could lead to him losing his inherited property, over which he perceived that he had extensive rights. Like his brother he clearly had a poor understanding of the value of legal proceedings, relying on traditional social status. Confronted with the modern state’s legalistic reasoning, they were virtually defenceless. Their social status could not help the Sparre brothers when they had run out of money, and could or would not earn more. Johan Sigismund’s attempt at reconquest through an act of violence was clearly an instance of the masculine ideals of the noble warrior caste he belonged to. But against the slow but sure workings of the judicial apparatus he was predestined to lose. He was arrested by the county governor’s men the day after his arrival at Angso.

Clearly, Sparre counted on the loyalty of his former subjects to tip the balance in his favour when he went to Angso. But what little help he managed to obtain was the result of fear of his threats rather than a show of patriarchal deference. As is so often the case with superiors in patriarchal relations, he was fooled by his subjects’ grovelling when he was their master. This ‘king Lear’s fallacy’65 (as I would like to call it) thus often led to the downfall of patriarchs who relied too heavily on the instinctive loyalty of subjects whom they are no longer in a position to harm or to benefit.66


The forces that ‘conquered’ Angso had the backing of legal and technical expertise, as well as the uncompromising attitude of an absolute king. But the local support was nevertheless important: The vicar Wigelius and the peasants who were willing to testify against their lords in different cases were important. They clearly used the opportunity to alter the situation in Angso regarding the economic situation and the independence of the Church. The information conveyed in the testimonies from ordinary peasants was indispensable for the Crown’s functionaries, combined with the

The state conquers a feudal enclave 227 weak legal defence of the Spartes’ claims. The state and the peasantry thus were dependent on each other in securing a peaceful, legalistic de-feudal-ising of Àngsô.

At the same time, the Church also was indispensable in breaking the mould of feudalism: With the priest Eric Wigelius, Àngsô for the first time housed a person of rank who had a power basis independent of the lords. Wigelius’s power, apart from his authority as a man of the cloth, lay in the support from the state, and also in the support, he enjoyed from the peasantry.

The privileges of the lords were shattered, even though the subsequent proprietors continued to have a strong position vis-à-vis the subjects. The unlimited labour service remained intact, for instance.6’ The existence of some traces of independent collective action on the part of the subjects suggests that they potentially had negotiating power without help from the Crown. The abolishing of the ‘Neck and Hand Right’ seemed to have been a more mixed blessing than one would expect: It deprived the subjects of an arena rather than gave them access to ‘the king’s justice.’

The state’s conquest of Angsô was not part of a war. It was a mopping-up operation after the victory over the aristocracy which was won 10 years earlier. Charles XI would not suffer a small, independent feudal island in the heartlands of the realm. This shows that he, if given the choice, would destroy vestiges of local traditions and privileges that were such a prominent feature of the early modern conglomerate states. No patchwork of regional differences for him - he wanted uniformity. The territorial sovereignty that he craved, and to a large extent secured (in Sweden proper at least), was due to the formidable infrastructural power68 of the Swedish Crown. This capacity in turn depended on competent, loyal office-holders in well-organised government agencies. But it also depended largely on these office-holders’ ability to communicate directly with the locals in order to make society, using James C Scott’s term, more legible.69 Armed with these advantages - and of course also with actual arms - the conquest of Angsô and the abolishing of a prominent family’s ancient privileges were easy for the Swedish state.

Primary sources

Engsô gàrdsarkiv, RA Stockholm

Handlingar rôrande Skandinaviens historia 32, Stockholm 1851

Protokoll och brevkoncept AI:14, DI vol. 43 (1707), vol. 45 (1709-1710), Landskansliet i Vâstmanlands lân, Vàstmanlands lànsstyrelses arkiv, Landsarkivet i Uppsala

Grau, Olof (1904) [1754], Olof Graus beskrifning ôfver Wastmanland, utgifwen af Wastmanlands allehandas redaktion, Vàsterâs

Svea hovràtts dombok Blla vol. 80 (1709), Svea hovrâtts arkiv, RA Stockholm

Västeräs domkapitels protokoll Al vol. 26 (1704-1708), Västeräs stifts-arkiv, Landsarkivet Uppsala

Renoverade domböcker, Yttertjurbo häradsrätt, domböcker 1691-1740, Västmanlands län, vol. 36-131

Äldre kommittearkiv, vol. 149, RA Stockholm

Ängsö gärds dombok 1639-1691, Advokatfiskalen i Västmanlands län, Renoverade domböcker, Västmanlands län, vol. 4b

Ängsö Kyrkoarkiv, vol. C:l, Landsarkivet Uppsala

Ängsö sockens kyrkohandlingar ElVa vol 104, Västeräs stiftsarkiv, Landsarkivet Uppsala


  • 1 Villstrand 2005, passim.
  • 2 Reinholdsson 1998, pp. 272-274.
  • 3 Nisbeth 2011, p. 287.
  • 4 Samuelsson 2004, p. 24; Ängsö Church archive, vol C:l.
  • 5 Forthcoming doctoral thesis by Dan Johansson, working title Makt och mot-stand 1522-1639. En historia om örlogsflottans uppbyggnad och utrustning.
  • 6 Tollin 2013, p. 8, 12.
  • 7 Tollin 2013, p. 9.
  • 8 Letter by the Council of the Realm to the conscription commissioners of Westmannia 2.4 1638, printed in Klingspor 8c Schlegel 1877, pp. Ill—IV.
  • 9 Scherp 2013, pp. 155-159.
  • 10 Grau 1904 [1754], p. 514.
  • 11 Nisbeth 2011, pp. 27, 66-67, 73-81.
  • 12 Ängsö gärds dombok, förord; Klingspor 8c Schlegel 1877, p. III.
  • 13 Larsson 1975, pp. 49-50, 60-61, 63.
  • 14 Klingspor 8c Schlegel, p. 2.
  • 15 Scherp 2013, pp.32, 70, 124.
  • 16 Undated letter from Per Persson Sparre to bishop Olof Laurelius, Västeräs stiftsarkiv ElVa, vol 104.
  • 17 Scherp 2014, pp. 216-217.
  • 18 Nisbeth 2011, pp. 74-78; Piper 8c Piper 1989, pp. 22, 53.
  • 19 Northern 2010, pp. 13-21, 33-36, 159-160.
  • 20 Northern 2010, p. 188.
  • 21 Scherp 8c Forss 2019, pp. 57-60, 74-75, 133-134, 193-194.
  • 22 Västeräs stiffs herdaminne 1990, pp. 1015-1016.
  • 23 Ängsö Church Archive C:l, Landsarkivet Uppsala.
  • 24 Letter from Charles XI to the Chancery, 15.8 1691, printed in Klingspor 8c Schlegel 1877, pp. IV-V.
  • 25 Letter from the Chancery to Charles XI, 20.11 1691, printed in Klingspor 8c Schlegel 1877, p. V.
  • 26 Letter from Erik Sparre to the Chancery, 4.9 1691, printed in Klingspor 8c Schlegel 1877, p. V.
  • 27 Letter from the Chancery to Charles XI, 20.11 1691, printed in Klingspor 8c Schlegel 1877, pp. V-VI.
  • 28 Undated letter from Erik Sparre to Charles XI of January 1692; Letter from the Commission over Ängsö’s privileges to Charles XI, 14.1 1692; Letter from the Chancery to the Treasury 5.2 1692. Letters printed in Klingspor 8c Schlegel 1877, pp.'VI-VII.

Privileges for the county of Visingsö 4.3.1654. Printed in Handlingar rörande Skandinaviens historia, vol 32 (1851), pp. 95-96.

Royal decree, 21.11 1691. Printed in Klingspor & Schlegel 1877, pp. VII—VIII. Nisbeth 2011, p. 48; Tollin 2013, p. 11.

Written letter of pardon 4.6 1681, printed in Klingspor & Schlegel 1877, p. IV.

Angsö gärds dombok 1642 (second session), 1644, 1647, 1649, 1651, 1653, 1656, 1663 etc. etc.

Ängsö gärds dombok 1647 (two cases), 1651 (several cases), 1661.

Forssberg 2005, p. 160.

Ängsö gärds dombok 1686:1.

Scherp 2013, pp. 230-245.

Larsson 1975; Johansson 1990.

Wikland 2017, pp. 18-20.

Wikland 2017, pp. 10-13, 16.

Ängsö gärds dombok 1642, 1653, 1663, 1680, 1684:2.

Österberg & Sogner 2000.

Domböcker Yttertjurbo häradsrätt 1698 (vol 42), 1700 (vol 45), 1704 (vol 51), 1714 (vol 69).

Dombok Yttertjurbo häradsrätt, 1704 (vol 51).

Dombok Yttertjurbo häradsrätt, 1738 (vol 128).

Simonson 1999, pp.234-239.

Royal decree, 21.11 1691. Printed in Klingspor & Schlegel 1877, pp. VII—VIII.

Kommission för rannsakning angäende rä och rör ä Ängsö 1693. Äldre kom-mittearkiv vol 149, RA Stockholm.

Engsöarkivet, Gärdshandlingar, Bunt 3, RA Stockholm.

Bloch 1965 [1939], pp. 275-279; The concept ’stickiness’ refers to John Maynard Keynes’s theory of the stickiness of wages; the tendency of nominal wages to remain stable even in severe economic downturns, https://www.ecb.

Ängsö Kvrkoarkiv vol C:l.

Wikland 2017, pp. 20-21.

Ängsö Kyrkoarkiv vol C:l.

Västeräs herdaminne 1990, p. 1015-1016; Nisbeth 2011, p. 76-77.

Västeräs domkapitels protokoll 7.11 1706, 30.1 1707, 6.2 1707, 12.6 1707, 26.9 1707, 16.10 1707, 23.10 1707.

Svea hovrätts dombok 10.7 1709 (vol 80).

Ängsö sockens kyrkohandlingar, ElVa, vol 104, Landsarkivet Uppsala.

Nisbeth 2011, p. 77.

Västeräs domkapitels protokoll 6/2 1707.

Västeräs domkapitels protokoll 23/10 1707.

Piper & Piper 1989, p. 54.

Västeräs stiffs herdaminne 1990, p. 1016.

Urtima ting i Yttertjurbo härad, 3,4,5.1 1710, Svea hovrätt, renoverade domböcker, Advokatfiskalen i Västmanlands län Exle: 2320, RA Stockholm. Nisbeth 2011, p. 77; Norrhem 2010, pp. 159-160.

In William Shakespeare’s play King Lear, the king is shocked to find that his daughters’ pandering obedience only lasted as long as he had power over them.

Scherp 2013, Chapter 8 (passim), p. 345.

Samuelsson 2004, pp. 31-33.

Mann 1984, pp. 189, 192.

Scott 1998, pp. 2, 48-52.


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Österberg, E. and Sogner, S. (eds), (2000): People meet the law. Control and conflict-handling in the courts of the Nordic countries in the post-reformation and pre-industrial period, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

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Scherp, J., (2013): De ofrälse och makten. En institutionell Studie av riksdagen och de ofrälse stundens politik i maktdelningsfragor 1660-1682, Stockholm: Acta Universitaris Stockholmiensis.

Scherp, J., (2014): 'De ofrälse och enväldsmakten. Böndernas, borgarnas och präster-nas politik 1680’, in Karolinska Förbundets Ärsbok 2014.

Scherp, J. and Forss, C. (2019): Ulrika Eleonora. Makten och den nya adeln 1719-1720, Stockholm: Setterblads förlag.

Scott, J.C., (1998): Seeing Like a State. How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Simonson, Ö., (1999): Den lokala scenen. Torstuna härad som lokalsamhälle under 1600-talet, Uppsala: Acta Universitaris Upsaliensis.

Tollin, C., (2013): Ängsö gods och socken Del 1. Länsstyrelsens rapportserie. Rapport 2013: 4, Länsstyrelsen i Västmanland: Naturvàrdsenheten.

Villstrand, N. E., (2005): ‘Stormaktstidens Politiska kultur’ in Christensson, J. (ed), Signums Svenska Kulturhistoria. Stormaktstiden, Lund: Bokförlaget Signum.

Wikland, L., (2017): 'Bergkvara borgrätt. Feodalism i 1600-talets Sverige’, unprinted student essay, Stockholm University.

Part V

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