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Love unto death and beyond

Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark!
Here’s to my love!
O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die

And so Romeo brushed his lips against Juliet’s and died, preferring death to living without her. A very sad end, Mr Shakespeare, one that would not have gone down well with publishers of Romance, as such publishers (and such readers) much prefer a Happily Ever After, an alternative ending in which Romeo sits up and says “Nah, I was just kidding”, except, of course, that it wouldn’t have worked. Plus, the love story with the tragic ending is much more enduring than the one with the pink fluffy clouds.


Don Afonso

Such love stories have been around since man first began telling stories – and sometimes, the story wasn’t a story, but rather a real-life drama. Like the tale I’m going to tell you today. I might as well warn you right from the beginning that there is no HEA. Nope. Not my fault, mind you. Instead, you should blame King Afonso IV of Portugal, except that he would tell you he did as he had to do to safeguard his realm. Or so he thought.

But let us start at the beginning, and to do so I think we must start in 1320, when the not-as-yet-king Don Afonso and his wife, Beatriz, welcomed a third son into the world. In difference to his brothers, little Pedro thrived, and Don Afonso could relax. He had an heir—at last.

Don Afonso did not only have sons—he had daughters as well, and the eldest, Maria, was married to Alfonso XI of Castile. An unhappy marriage, especially once Alfonso had clapped eyes on Leonor de Guzmán, thereby more or less abandoning his wife and their little son to spend all his time with Leonor and their children. Obviously, Don Afonso was very upset by all this, and he must have had days when he deeply regretted having given his daughter in marriage to such a cad. (I’m not so sure Alfonso XI was a cad: I think he just fell in love. More about all this and Leonor’s inevitable fate can be found here)

Even worse from Don Afonos’s perspective, Maria’s bridegroom had been married elsewhere when Don Afonso convinced Alfonso XI to wed Maria instead. This was sorted by Alfonso dissolving his first marriage. The jilted (and very young) bride, Constanza Manuel, had a VERY aggravated father, and so for years Don Afonso had been embroiled in a feud with Juan Manuel, Constanza’s father. However, as the years passed, Don Afonso and Juan Manuel found a common enemy in Alfonso XI: Afonso because of how his Maria was being treated, Juan Manuel because of how his Constanza had been treated.

The two fathers struck an alliance, and what better way to celebrate such an event than have Don Afonso’s son, Pedro, wed Constanza? Everyone—including the prospective groom—felt this was a good thing. Well, until Constanza and her entourage arrived in Portugal, that is. Because you see, among Constanza’s ladies was a certain Inés de Castro, and Pedro took one look and was lost, falling irrevocably in love with this beautiful Galician lady.


Pedro and Inés

The marriage went ahead as planned. There must have been some affinity between the newly-weds, and soon enough Constanza was pregnant. But the woman Pedro spent his time with was Inés. It was with Inés he shared his dreams, it was in Inés’ ear he whispered sweet nothings, and poor Constanza was neglected and unhappy, albeit that she gave birth to three babies before she died in 1345, just six years after her marriage.

Don Afonso was anything but delighted with his son’s infatuation. First of all, he detested that his own son was treating his wife as shabbily as dear daughter Maria was being treated by her husband. Secondly, with Inés came her brothers, and Afonso didn’t like it, how Pedro fell under the influence of these Castilians. Thirdly, upon Constanza’s death, he worried that the little legitimate heir, Fernando, was puny and weak. What if Inés was to give Pedro a son, would Pedro prefer his lover’s son to his first-born?

The obvious solution to all this worrying would have been for Don Afonso to acquiesce when Pedro asked for his permission to marry Inés once Constanza was dead. But Don Afonso said no – he didn’t want to aggravate Constanza’s father, he felt Inés was well below Pedro, and he most definitely disliked the de Castro brothers. Instead, he proposed that his son find himself a new, royal bride. Not about to happen, Pedro told him. It was Inés or no one.

In response, Don Afonso supposedly had Inés sequestered in a convent. That didn’t stop Pedro, who spent his days roaming the lands abutting the convent and sending his beloved letters in bark boats that he floated across a river that separated convent land from the rest of the world. Inés managed to escape the convent (or more likely, the nuns just let her go, not quite relishing their role of jailors to the mistress of the future king) and Inés and Pedro set up house together. In secret, of course.



Inés was not welcome at court, and accordingly Pedro was not much at court either, the rift between him and his father widening into a chasm. Even worse from Don Afonso’s point of view, Inés presented Pedro with several healthy children, among which were two little sons. Something had to be done to safeguard Portugal from potential civil war (or so Afonso thought, assuming Pedro would prefer his sons by Inés to his son by Constanza. Turned out Pedro didn’t) Desperate measures were required to put a stop to Inés’ influence over Pedro.

There are two versions as to what to happened that January of 1355 – or rather where it happened. As per the romantic legend, the desperate king and his three accomplices waited until Pedro was out hunting before descending on Inés who sitting by the fountain in her patio. As per other versions, Inés was detained in a convent, and the king and his companions visited her there.

Whatever the case, these visitors did not come bearing gifts. No, they came with steel hidden under their mantels, and their intention was to kill the Castilian whore and thereby free Pedro from whatever emotional bonds he had forged with Inés.


Inés pleading for her life (Karl Bruillon)

Inés was with her children when the king burst upon them. She prostrated herself before Don Afonso and begged for her life, for the life of their children. Apparently, the king was sufficiently touched to depart, leaving his trusted men to do the dirty job themselves. There was no mercy for Inés. Instead, she was brutally killed in front of her children, the final blow decapitating her.

If Don Afonso had thought this foul act would have Pedro crawling back home, he had seriously misjudged his son (duh!) Pedro was enraged, his grief taking on teeth and claws that he turned upon his father. At the head of a growing band of armed men, he harried Portugal from one end to the other, and the civil war Don Afonso had so wanted to avoid became a reality as a consequence of his own machinations.

In 1357, father and son were reconciled – well, sort of. Pedro never forgave his father for his heinous deed, but a truce was reached. Some months later, Don Afonso died, making Pedro king of Portugal.

His first act was to arrest the men who had killed his beloved Inés (two of them, the third managed to escape) and had them put to death most horrendously. Legend has it that Pedro himself tore their beating hearts out of their chests, saying it was only fair that they should feel what it was like to lose their hearts, seeing as they’d robbed Pedro of his heart by killing Inés. Whether this is true or not is difficult to ascertain at a distance of seven centuries. What is undisputed is that Pedro had the two murderers executed.


A dead Inés on her throne.

Pedro also announced that he had married Inés in secret before she died – contrary to his father’s wishes. There is no surviving proof of such a wedding, not entirely unsurprising seeing as it was a secret wedding, and to this day we only have Pedro’s word for it ever taking place. Don Afonso wasn’t around to object, and so Pedro proclaimed his wife posthumous queen of Portugal. As per the more lurid version of the Inés-Pedro story, Pedro decided to subject his nobles to one final humiliation: he had his beloved Inés disinterred and sat her remains upon a throne after which his nobles had to do homage to the corpse and kiss its hand. Hmm.

Whether the above somewhat macabre anecdote is true or not, Pedro did disinter Inés and had her reburied in state in the Alcobaca monastery. Their tombs stand close together, their effigies facing each other. And as a final gesture to his beloved woman, Pedro had both tombs inscribed with the following: Até o fin do mundo –Until the end of the world.


Inés spectacular tomb

Let us start as we began, by quoting the words of the Bard, albeit somewhat paraphrased: For never was there a story of more woe, than this of Inés and her Pedro. And in difference to Romeo and Juliet, Inés and Pedro were real persons, people who lived and loved and hoped and dreamed – until that long gone day in January of 1355 when Inés was brutally hacked to death in front of her children. Sad, isn’t it? Which is why I hope that now and then when the church in which they lie is draped in darkness, they whisper to each other.
“Are you there?” he asks.
“Always,” she whispers back.
“Until the end of time,” they say simultaneously, and for an instant the air around their tombs shimmers with golden light.

Put not your trust in princes

Some time ago, I wrote a post about the unfortunate Danish princess Ingeborg who was sent off to France to marry Philippe Augustus and instead ended up as Philippe’s prisoner for a number of years, this after a wedding night that somehow must have been very momentous. After all, it was the morning after that Philippe emerged from the chamber and promised he would never, ever spend another night with the woman within. Quite the little mystery, that.


Peter of Bourbon

Today, I’m going to introduce you to yet another sad little princess. Once again, the bride is abandoned only days after the wedding, but this time we probably know why. Well, perhaps. Anyway, allow me to introduce Blanche. When we first meet her, she is twelve or so, one of Peter of Bourbon’s six daughters.

One could say that Blanche’s future fate was shaped by the Black Death. Had Princess Joan of England, Edward III’s daughter, not died of the plague while on her way to wed Pedro of Castile (sometimes known as Pedro the Cruel, sometimes as Pedro the Just – a matter of perspective and political spin, I suppose) then Pedro would not have needed a wife. Had not the pope and the French king John II jumped at the opportunity of throwing a major wrench in Edward III’s plans for a new alliance with Castile, likely she’d never have popped up on the list of potential brides. And had it not been because Pedro’s first choice among the French ladies, the purportedly drop-dead AND wise Dowager Queen Blanche of Navarra, had told him no, our little Blanche would never have travelled all the way to Castile, there to wed the Castilian king.


Beautiful Blanche of Navarra is the lady to the right

Before we go on, I just have to digress: Blanche of Navarra was known throughout Europe for her beautiful countenance, and originally came to France to marry the future John II. However, John’s father, Philippe VI, who was recently widowed was afflicted by a serious coup de foudre and decided to marry this angelic creature himself. Did not go down well with John. What Blanche thought of all this, I have no idea, but one year later, Philippe died, supposedly due to having exhausted himself in bed. Blanche was now a twenty-year-old widow, and would remain a widow for the rest of her life. Maybe John II wanted it so. Maybe Blanche wanted it so.

Anyway, back to today’s leading lady: Blanche of Bourbon came with an impeccable pedigree. Through her mother she was the great-granddaughter of Philippe III and the cousin of the French king John II. Her father was the great-grandson of Saint Louis of France, and as Saint Louis had a Castilian mother, Blanca, little Blanche was also a distant relation of her future groom. She was also a generously dowered bride, John of France promising Pedro 300 000 gold florins, money Pedro needed to finance the ongoing civil war between him and his half-brothers.

You see, the situation in Castile was a tad messy, seeing as Pedro’s father Alfonso XI had preferred his mistress, Leonor, to Pedro’s mother, Maria. As a consequence, when Alfonso died he had only one legitimate heir—Pedro—but half a dozen or so bastard sons with Leonor. And when Pedro’s mother decided to execute her husband’s mistress, things quickly went downhill. (More about all this can be found here)

The negotiations for the Blanche and Pedro marriage took some time. By the time Blanche set off for Castile, she was almost fourteen—a big, big girl in a big, big world. Well, not such a big girl, actually. Probably rather scared, and even more so when she arrived in Valladolid only to have her groom delay the marriage. Now what?


Maria saying hello to Pedro. (not likely!)

We are now in early 1353, and Pedro had recently met the love of his life, Maria de Padilla. No matter what the various chroniclers may think of Pedro, they do seem to agree on the fact that Maria was not only very pretty, she was also kind and a good influence on Pedro in his darker moments. But she wasn’t a princess, and the king had to contract a dynastic marriage.

Some say the reason for the delay between Blanche arriving in Spain and Pedro marrying her was due to his love for Maria—he just couldn’t countenance betraying her with another woman. The truth is probably more prosaic: Pedro had as yet not received the moneys promised him by John II of France (The huge dower was to be paid in instalments)

Anyway, in June of 1353, a reluctant Pedro finally married Blanche, more or less dragged to the altar by his mother. Three days later he abandoned her and would never again treat her as his wife, rather as his prisoner. There are various theories as to why he did this. Some say it was because he found out his bride was not a virgin (but would that have taken him three days?) and even worse, she’d welcomed one of Pedro’s half-brothers, Fadrique, to her bed. Hmm, is all I say.

Others say it was because of his love for Maria. Once wed, he realised just how unbearable life would be without the light of his life, and so decided to be forever faithful to Maria, while throwing Blanche in prison to stop her objecting. Yet again, hmm.

The third reason (and the one borne out—to some extent—by letters he sent to the pope) is that he found out he’d been duped: the French king had no intention of ever honouring his promise of 300 000 florins, and seeing as John was nowhere about for Pedro to vent his anger on, poor Blanche got it all.

Copyright Museums Sheffield / Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationWhatever the case, he must have been very, very angry, because instead of just sending Blanche home, he locked her up. A year later, he managed to convince some of his bishops to declare his marriage null and void and married Juana de Castro – but even then, he held on to poor Blanche who, as per her own letters to the pope, was kept in anything but a comfortable captivity.

Juana was also abandoned after some time—this time because the pope threatened Pedro with excommunication if he did not return to his first, true wife (Blanche)—but Pedro spent long enough with her to sire a son, even if he made it very clear that in his opinion his true wife was Maria, so his children by her had precedence. And as to Blanche, well Pedro had no intention of returning to her. Ever.

After all this marital effort, coupled with a lot of fighting and blood and gore in general—Pedro left a relatively high number of murdered people in his wake, not all of them necessarily by his hand or his orders, but still—Pedro made his home with Maria, who was to present him with four children, albeit that the only son died young. Those who’d been around for some time muttered that history was repeating itself: just like his father, Pedro was spending his time with his mistress rather than his wife. Of course, in this particular case, there were TWO wives. Very complicated, and the only one utterly delighted by this mess was Enrique of Trastámera, Pedro’s half-brother and contender for the Castilian crown.

The pope continued to thunder. Innocent IV sent letter after letter, demanding that Pedro recognise Blanche as his wife – or at least free her from her prison. In Castile, a number of romances saw the light of the day, sad little stories that all had a poor, imprisoned princess as the protagonist. Some of Pedro’s nobles began to make a lot of noise on behalf of Blanche. The French kept on insisting that she be returned to them—together with what dowry they had paid. The obvious solution would have been to send Blanche home. Instead, Pedro opted for a more creative approach.

In 1361, Blanche was being held in the royal palace at Jeréz de la Frontera, far away from anyone attempting to free her. Pedro approached the constable and told him to poison the prisoner. The constable refused and resigned his post. Pedro found a new constable who was more than happy to do as the king wished, and so poor Blanche expired. Whether she was forced to consume whatever contained the poison, I don’t know. But I hold it likely, as failure was not an option if you were serving dear Pedro. Mind you, there are some that say Blanche could have died of natural causes, but seeing as her death followed upon a sequence of assassinations, I must yet again offer up a hmm. Whatever the case, Blanche was now as dead as a rock, and Pedro could happily skip off to tell Maria the good news. She could now be queen in name as well as fact.

Unfortunately for Pedro, Maria died shortly after. So devastated was he, that for a year he wept in grief. Then he pulled himself together and went back to defending his realm, this time with the support of the Black Prince. Wily Pedro had secured an alliance with England by promising two of his daughters as brides to Edward III’s sons. Effectively, this could lead to Castile becoming a vassal state to England.


Pedro being murdered, with du Guesclin holding his arms

In the end, Pedro lost. In 1369 he was foully murdered by his half-brother, stabbed to death while held immobile by a rather famous French dude called Bertrand du Guesclin. Reputedly, du Guesclin had first accepted a bribe from Pedro to help him escape, then told Enrique (whom he was serving as a mercenary commander) about this. Enrique promised du Guesclin more money if he would only lead Pedro to Henry’s tent. Du Guesclin thought this was a great idea, and when Pedro and Enrique started to fight, he stood to the side. Well, until Pedro managed to land on top of Enrique. At this point, Bertrand stepped forward and grabbed hold of Pedro while saying “Ni quito ni pongo rey, pero ayudo a mi señor,” which meant “I am not really interfering here, I am simply helping my lord.” Since then, this has been used as a blanket excuse by all Spanish grandees doing as ordered, no matter if it is right or wrong.( Nah, just kidding)

blanche-john_william_waterhouse_-_fair_rosamundMaybe we can see Pedro’s bloody death as divine retribution for what he did to Blanche. A young girl had her life stolen from her, made to pay for the duplicity of others. And whether or not he had her poisoned, he had humiliated her and mistreated her, dragging her from one locked tower to the other. It is said Blanche herself never wanted to marry Pedro: she begged her father, her king, her mother and sister, to find another bride for the Castilian groom. At the time, her opinion was dismissed as unimportant – an alliance with Castile was far more important than a young girl’s misgivings. Turned out Blanche was right: the union with Pedro was all thorns no blooms, and as to that alliance, it evaporated the moment Pedro realised the French king never intended to pay the promised dowry. Poor, poor Blanche. Poor little French princess, so far from home, so very alone. Did she sit at her window and stare towards the horizon, hoping to see someone come riding to save her? If she did, she did so in vain.

Love conquers all – even the mother from hell

Valentine dicksee-romeo-and-juliet-on-the-balconyGiven today’s date, I thought it appropriate to bring you a story of how love can survive, no matter what obstacles. Mind you, it is my experience that love is at times fickle rather than constant – very few of us can go about more than a decade waiting and hoping that one day the love of our life will, in fact, land in our arms. When faced with such dire prospects, the heart – ever sanguine – has a tendency to look elsewhere. But not, I am happy to report, in this case, lifted from real life.

Once upon a time there was a young man named Erik Stenbock. Born in 1538, he belonged in the higher levels of Swedish nobility – his lineage stretched back into the mists of time, which in Sweden’s case was somewhere around the beginning of the 14th century, and he was the younger brother of the Gustav I’s third wife, Katarina Stenbock. This Katarina is quite the impressive lady: close to 40 years her husband’s junior – younger even than her eldest step-children – she managed to win not only her elderly husband’s affections but also those of his multiple children.

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Katarina, Erik’s sister & Queen of Sweden

To make matters somewhat complicated, Katarina was the niece of Gustav I’s second wife, yet another imposing lady named Margareta Leijonhufud. This lady was actually contracted to marry a certain Svante Sture, but when the king’s beady eyes fixed on her, she had no choice but to acquiesce. Svante, they say, was utterly distraught. So distraught, in fact, that he threw herself at the feet of his former betrothed and begged her not to do this, leave him agonising in the flames of love. As he was grovelling, the king entered, not at all pleased by the touching tableau played out in front of him.
“What is this?” he roared, and Margareta, a quick thinker, immediately responded that Svante had come to beg the hand of her sister, Märta.
“So be it,” said the king, and so Svante found himself married to that most impressive force of nature, Märta Leijonhufud, known to history as King Märta on account of the iron hand with which she ruled her household.

Back to Erik. The nephew of a defunct queen, the brother of another, he was also the nephew of Märta, and for various reasons he spent a lot of his childhood at his aunt’s. Märta and Svante had been richly blessed when it came to children. Ten little Sture babies made it through the dangerous years of early infancy, and one of these babies was a pretty little girl called Malin, a year or so younger than Erik.

Erik fell in love with his cousin. Malin reciprocated, quite swept off her feet by her handsome cousin. Prior to the Reformation, a dispensation would have been required for cousins to marry. Post Reformation, such alliances were frowned upon by the church but they definitely happened – powerful noble families had a tendency to make their own rules. For some reason Märta was not at all enthused by the idea of wedding her daughter to her nephew. Instead, she “took advice” from the archbishop and pronounced such a union to be displeasing to God. Malin was devastated. Erik was crushed – but determined not to give up.

The loving couple pledged their troth in secret. I’m thinking rosemary and locks of hair, perhaps the exchange of a simple ring. As far as Erik and Malin were concerned, they were bound to each other for eternity. As far as Märta was concerned, she’d squashed the ridiculous notion of marriage once and for all.

At the time, Erik was around twenty. A young man, making his way up in a world that was somewhat perilous and fraught after the demise of Gustav I in 1560. The king’s eldest son, Erik XIV was not an entirely well man – intelligent, well-educated, charming and quite handsome, he was given to bouts of despair and insanity. Not qualities one wants in a king, and the nobles of his court found it tricky to manoeuvre in these murky waters.

Erik XIV had a particular fixation on the Sture family. You see, Svante Sture was the son of a man named Sven Sture (and a most amazing woman named Kristina Gyllenstierna) who had as much of a claim on the Swedish throne as did Erik XIV’s father, the now very dead Gustav I. While Svante Sture never did anything to indicate he was at all interested in claiming the throne, Erik XIV had his suspicions.

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Svante Sture

In 1567, the king succumbed to yet another bout of insanity during which he had Svante and two of his sons arrested. They were then brutally murdered – one of them stabbed to death by the king himself. Märta was understandably distraught – and enraged. She was definitely not in the mood to listen to Erik Stenbock’s repeated requests that he be allowed to marry pretty Malin. The two (not so) young people were forbidden to see each other, and that, as per Märta, was that. She had other matters to attend to, first and foremost to avenge the murders of her beloved husband and sons.

I can’t say I fault Märta’s priorities. She had many children to watch out for, and the death of her husband and her two eldest sons must have been a major blow. The Swedish court was in a state of shock at what their king had done. Erik XIV himself scampered off to hide for some days and emerged in control of himself. Thing were tense, putting it mildly, and it took the payment of a huge amount of silver in compensation for the murdered men to restore some element of peace.

Valentine fouddcyt2zwj807mb8hmSvante Sture and his sons were buried in Uppsala – a most magnificent spectacle in which the bloodied clothes they’d died in were elaborately displayed. And for those of you who like stuff like that, the clothes are still around and can be viewed in Uppsala. (I just had to include a pic – isn’t it impressive they’ve survived since 1567?)

Throughout all this, Malin refused to marry whatever suitors Märta brought before her. Her heart was set on her Erik Stenbock, and it was either him or no one.
“Fine,” said Märta, “be an old maid then. I don’t care. I have plenty of other children to carry on the family name.” As Malin was fast approaching thirty, she already was an old maid as per the standards of the day.

Erik Stenbock, meanwhile, withstood the mounting pressure to marry. It was Malin or no one, and his parents, his siblings, they all went cap in hand to Märta to beg her to reconsider. Needless to say, she refused. It would be a sin to allow them to wed, she repeated over and over again. I dare say her recent bereavement had made her bitter – she had no tolerance for such fripperies as true love. Besides, Märta had her attention and considerable energy focussed elsewhere: she had decided it was time to change the regent.

Erik XIV had two younger half-brothers. One of them, Johan, was by all accounts a capable man – and definitely not insane. Fretting under the yoke of his older brother, Johan planned rebellion, and Märta was more than happy to assist, pledging all the blood money she got from Erik XIV to finance the revolt.

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Johan III

Erik XIV didn’t help his cause by marrying the illiterate daughter of a man-at arms – no matter how beautiful a love story it makes (see more here) In 1568 Erik XIV was deposed and spent the rest of his life incarcerated in one or other of the royal castles. Instead, his brother became Johan III, and Märta was in the agreeable position of having a king who was indebted to her – and was her nephew.

The new king was also Erik Stenbock’s cousin – as was the new king’s younger brother, Duke Karl. Our not so young hero remained determined to win his bride, and after more than a decade pleading and begging, he was fast approaching a point where he saw no choice but to act. During all this time, he had remained in secret correspondence with his beloved, and in 1573, the by now 35-year-old ardent lover set his plan in motion.

Duke Karl loaned him 200 men-at-arms, Erik Stenbock himself arranged for a sleigh and a strong, spirited horse. The soldiers were carefully placed round Hörningsholm Manor, where the fair Malin lived with the rest of her huge family. Quite brazenly, Erik then drove the sleigh right up to the front door and invited Malin to take a moonlit ride with him. She, of course, knew of the plan and so she graciously agreed. Her older sister, who was tasked with the job of ensuring Malin and Erik never met, felt sorry for the unhappy two and allowed Malin to accompany him for a short ride. After all, what would be the harm in that?

In only the clothes she was wearing and a thick cloak, Malin ascended the sleigh. The horse took off. Belatedly, big sister Sigrid realised the sleigh was not taking a little turn in the yard – it was making a beeline for the frozen lake. Enraged (and probably weak at the knees at the thought of her mother’s ire) she ordered the sleigh to be pursued – which was when all those soldiers materialised, creating a protective barrier that allowed Erik to make his getaway with his beloved Malin.

Märta did not take it well. I imagine a lot of things went crashing against the wall. This was unacceptable – her own daughter to so humiliate her and flagrantly disobey her. No: She was having none of it. Märta stormed off to the king, rather unsubtly reminded him of how much he owed her and demanded that Erik be imprisoned, all his lands and titles taken from him.

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Queen Catherine Jagellonica – Johan III’s wife

At first, Johan acquiesced, and poor Erik was thrown into a dungeon. But soon enough people were coming out of the woodwork demanding that Johan reinstate Erik and allow the man to wed the woman he’d remained constant to for over fifteen years. Johan’s wife, his sisters, his brother, his counsellors, every nobleman of any standing in the land – they all came to plead Erik’s cause.

The king relented. In 1574 Erik and Malin were finally wed, and one would have thought it was time for the happily ever after. But Malin wished desperately to be reconciled with her mother (one wonders why: maybe the softer sides of Märta have not made it down through history), and so she begged her siblings and all her close relatives to intercede on her behalf.

It took years before Märta ungraciously granted Malin and Erik an audience. They were invited to Hörningsholm Manor, but were lodged in the bathhouse, far from the manor itself. Had I been Erik I’d have said “sod it” and departed immediately, but he was concerned for his heavily pregnant wife. (Seriously, this Erik Stenbock comes across as quite the dream boat: constant, handsome, determined and conscientious)

At long last, they were ordered to present themselves. Dressed in black, the young couple crawled on their hands and knees all the way down the hall to where Märta was sitting. Only then, with both of them in abject prostration before her, could Märta find it in her to utter words of forgiveness. Somehow, I don’t think the future mother-daughter relationship was all that warm and cuddly…

Malin and Erik went on to have four children – and relatively long lives. It is doubtful, however, if these lives were entirely happy, as Erik was forced into exile in 1598. Me, being a romantic, hope that before that date there were plenty of moments of quiet joy. It seems to me they deserved it.

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