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The spurned princess

leonor medieval-betrothal

A medieval betrothal

In 1311, a very young Castilian princess was betrothed to Jaime, heir to the Aragonese throne. Jaime did not want a wife. His father, however, was adamant. Aragon would benefit from a Castilian marriage. I guess Jaime would have sneered at that, reminding his father of his Castilian bride, little Isabel, whom he returned to sender, very much untouched after four years of marriage.
“Bygones,” Jaime senior likely replied. (And yes, Jaime is a much recurring name among the Aragonese. This Jaime Sr was Jaime II.) “Besides, this time we really need an alliance with Castile. The Moors are regrouping and if we don’t unite we’re…” At which point Jaime Sr theatrically drew his index finger over his throat.

The princess in question was called Leonor. She was the niece of the Isabel so humiliated by Jaime Sr, and one could have thought Maria de Molina would have been a bit hesitant to yet again enter into an alliance with Aragon. (María was Leonor´s paternal grandmother, and while her son, Fernando IV, was the king, this wise lady did a lot of the work behind the scenes)

Leonor was four when she was betrothed to the fifteen-year-old Jaime. The intended groom was a confused soul, a devout young man who by various historians (and some contemporaries) has been labelled as either depraved, homosexual or mentally unstable. Or maybe all three. In brief, Jaime was a complicated young man, and I suspect his father was less than pleased that his heir should be such a difficult person.

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Jaime II, Leonor’s father-in-law

Due to Leonor’s age, the actual wedding was postponed for several years. In the meantime, Jaime was constantly afflicted by doubts—and a desire to take holy orders.
“What?” Jaime Sr exclaimed, holding up the monk’s habit he’d found hidden in his son’s room. “You can’t do that! You’re my heir—and contracted to marry a Castilian princess.”
Jaime Jr refused to back down, so his father roped in the pope who told the young man to forget about being a monk—he had obligations to fulfil, principally those of honouring the betrothal with Leonor.

More arguments followed. Jaime was convinced to go through with the wedding but refused to consummate the marriage—the act was repugnant to him. Jaime Sr scratched his head and groaned, but the wording of the contract did not specifically call for consummation, so maybe the Aragon-Castile relationship would not be too damaged by Jaime Jr remaining chaste.

In the event, things did not go quite as planned. As the wedding day approached, Jaime got more and more upset, increasingly uncomfortable with entering the married state. This was not what he wanted – he wanted to live a religious life. Jaime Sr turned a deaf ear to all this nonsense. The wedding went ahead in October of 1319. At the time, Leonor was twelve, her groom twenty-three. There was no exchange of kisses, no holding hands at the high table, because after a heated discussion with his father, Jaime abandoned his bride during the wedding festivities and rode off into the night, declaring he would happily renounce his rights to both throne and wife so as to be able to pursue his religious vocation.

Very embarrassing all this, both for the little bride and her father-in-law.  Some months later, Jaime formally renounced his rights to the throne and joined a convent. This left Leonor in something of a limbo. Was she married or wasn’t she? Contractually she was, but a marriage without consummation was usually not considered valid. After a bit of back and forth, during which Jaime II apologised profusely for his son’s behaviour, Leonor was returned to Castile—unmarried—where she took up residence in the Abbey of Santa María la Real de las Huelgas. In the abbey she was surrounded by the tombs of her ancestors, but while Leonor chose to retire from the world, she never took the veil. I guess she just needed some peace and quiet to get over the humiliating experience…

In 1325, Leonor was jolted out of her comfortable existence in the convent when Edward II of England sent envoys to Castile, hoping to contract his young son (the future Edward III) to Leonor. For a while there, hopes of an English marriage buzzed about, but by 1326 those plans fell through as Prince Edward was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault instead (this at the behest of his mother and contrary to his father’s wishes)

Leonor Alifonso_IV_d'Aragón

Alfonso IV

In late 1327 Jaime II of Aragon died and the throne passed to Alfonso IV, our Jaime’s younger brother. (Some years previously, our Jaime had second thoughts about renouncing his throne and all that, but by now his father and his brother had had enough of him so they nipped that particular plan in the bud) In difference to his big brother, Alfonso had married several years earlier and had a full nursery when he became king, despite being only twenty-eight. Unfortunately, he was also a widower, his wife having died shortly before Jaime II. Clearly, Alfonso was in need of a new wife to help him raise his children. Being of a pragmatic disposition—and also rather eager to keep Castile happy—Alfonso therefore suggested he marry Leonor, thereby making her his queen.

Leonor d765a016d04c7fe1ea3e5deccde3aaa2So in February of 1329, Leonor yet again travelled to Aragon as a bride-to-be. This time, the groom was anything but reluctant and little Fernando saw the light of the day in December of 1329. One would have thought Leonor would have cradled her newborn son and exclaimed “my cup runneth over” while gazing lovingly at her husband. Not so much. Instead, Leonor held her baby boy and resented the fact that her hubby had older sons. Where Alfonso’s eldest, Pedro, was destined to inherit the Aragonese crown, Leonor’s little son was entirely at the mercy of his father’s generosity. Leonor made it her mission in life to ensure her children (she would give Alfonso one more son) were adequately set up. She was ruthless and manipulative in her efforts and her eldest stepson was less than thrilled when King Alfonso signed over lands and castles that traditionally belonged to the Aragonese crown to Leonor’s sons. Soon enough, the nobles of Aragon were taking sides: those that held to their king and those who supported Pedro when he protested at having his patrimony frittered away.

In 1336 Alfonso IV of Aragon sickened. It soon became apparent that he would not recover, and Leonor decided to prepare the castles she controlled along the Castilian/Aragonese border so as to maintain an open route for her brother to come to her aid against her stepson. She was under no illusions when it came to Pedro’s feelings for her—to a large extent she had herself and her rapaciousness to blame.

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Pedro IV

Pedro might be young (he was still in his teens) but he was no fool, sending his own men racing towards the castles in question to take control of them. Pedro won that particular race. So when Alfonso died, Leonor found it wise to flee Aragon. With Leonor went not only her boys but also as much gold and silver she could lay hands on, which didn’t exactly endear her to Pedro. He retaliated by seizing land settled on Leonor and his half-brothers by his father. For a couple of years, things were a bit tense but in the long run Pedro had no choice but to confirm Leonor’s and her sons’ lands –he needed peace with Castile.

Leonor chose to remain in Castile with her sons. I guess she felt safer there. In 1350 her brother, Alfonso XI, died and the crown of Castile passed to his legitimate son, also (just to keep things nice and simple) called Pedro. Things were a bit messy: Pedro had a bevy of illegitimate half-brothers and not everyone in Castile felt Pedro was the best choice as king. Obviously, Pedro disagreed, but he had a tendency to act rashly and when he abandoned his young French wife, Blanche, three days after the wedding to hurry back to his beloved mistress, Maria de Padilla, this did not go down well with his nobles. Even less so when he incarcerated poor Blanche.

Pedro’s mother, María of Portugal was seriously displeased by her son’s treatment of his wife. So was Leonor, and these two formidable ladies took it upon themselves to lure Pedro to visit, after which they tried to browbeat the young and temperamental king into returning to his wife. At the bottom of all this was not only a concern for Blanche, but also for the increasing influence of María’s relatives. The hoity-toity of Castile weren’t about to let the Padilla family hog all the good offices and benefices plus Leonor had her sons to look out for.

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As per some, a pic of Maria, Pedro’s beloved woman

Pedro did not like being admonished. He was also madly in love with María and would rather amputate a leg than let her go. Besides, he had his suspicions regarding his dear Aunt Leonor’s motivations—her two sons could, through her, claim the Castilian throne. And as to all the other nobles who’d joined the chorus requesting Pedro return to his wife, they made Pedro see red. (He was a rather unstable character) In Pedro’s mind, the solution was easy: get rid of those who could potentially harm him and his woman.

Pedro was not without cunning. He bided his time, all the while using the various factions to destabilise each other. Leonor’s son, Juan, was one of the people he used, arranging a grand marriage for his cousin that put him in very close proximity to Tello of Castile, one of Pedro’s hated half-brothers. The idea was for Juan to instigate a revolt and kill Tello, but that didn’t work out too well. Tello escaped, Juan did not, which is why in 1358 Juan was beaten to death in the royal bedroom in Bilbao, his battered body thrown out of the window. (Pedro was a strong—and very tall—man)

By then, Leonor was already locked up as was Juan’s young wife and Juan’s sister-in-law (who was Tello’s wife). In Leonor’s case, Pedro was further provoked by the fact that her eldest son, Fernando, had suddenly changed his allegiances. From having made it his vocation to be a burr up his half-brother’s arse—he led several serious rebellions against Pedro IV of Aragon—Fernando suddenly saw the light and joined forced with his Aragonese half-brother against his cousin Pedro of Castile. Fernando probably did this in reaction to the surprising hike in assassinations, including that of his brother—and because he too disliked the influence of the Padilla family.

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Castle of Castrojeriz – (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

I imagine Leonor was devastated by Juan’s death. And furious. Didn’t help her much. As the months went by, Leonor likely came to understand that she’d never leave the castle of Castrojeriz alive. Her nephew was systematically murdering those he considered potential rivals and in 1359 the bell tolled for Leonor—as it did for her daughter-in-law.

To this day we don’t know where Leonor ended up buried. Some say her mortal remains lie with those of her husband and eldest son in Lérida. Others say she was buried among her ancestors in the convent of Las Huelgas. Others yet point at the grave discovered in 1970 in a church in Castrojeriz, a beautiful grave decorated with a female effigy.  I’m not entirely sure it matters where she lies—not for us, and definitely not for her.

With his mother dead, Fernando decided to go one step further and threw his lot in with Enrique of Trastámara, Pedro’s half-brother. So did many others of the Castilian nobles, and soon enough the kingdom succumbed to civil war, with Pedro being supported by the English while the French and Aragonese supported Enrique. In one of those many skirmishes, Fernando fell into the hands of his half-brother. Turns out Pedro IV of Aragon was not quite as forgiving as he’d made out to be, and soon enough Fernando too was dead. So ended Leonor’s dynastic hopes, both her sons dead before they had sired a male heir.

And as to our two Pedros, well Pedro of Aragon was a successful king who passed on an expanded kingdom to his son, while Pedro of Castile was murdered by his half-brother Enrique who then became king of Castile. Pedro had no sons, but in the fullness of time his granddaughter, Catalina of Lancaster, was to marry Enrique’s grandson. But that, dear peeps, is a story for another day.

The unfortunate Stephanie

In Spanish, today’s protagonist is Estefanía la Desdichada, Stephanie the Unfortunate. If we’re going to be quite correct her name is Estefanía Alfonso and she was the illegitimate daughter of Alfonso VII of Castilla and León and his paramour, Urraca. (And no, this Urraca was not his mother, whom I wrote about here, she was just another lady of good birth burdened with an odd name)

Little Estefanía is mainly remembered because of her death. Always somewhat sad, IMO. I am assuming she had an okay childhood – her royal father seems to have been fond of his mistress and readily recognised his daughter, which if nothing else guaranteed a life of some comfort. We know nothing about her early years, but reasonably she was raised to be a good, pious lady – her father was a very pious king, despite his extra-marital relationships.

Estefania Alfonso_VIIAt the time, Alfonso VII was the most powerful of the Christian kings in Spain. Since the death of his step-father, Alfonso I of Aragón, there was no one to threaten our Alfonso’s position. The kingdom of Castilla and León thrived, the relationship with the Moors was, as always, fraught but not unbearably so. Alfonso VII could concentrate on giving his court the trappings of grandeur his title, Emperor of Spain, required. His co-kings did homage to him, and all in all, Alfonso was quite content: after the tumultuous years during his mother’s reign, he was now recognised as the supreme Christian power on the Iberian Peninsula.

All of this was neither here nor there for little Estefanía. Instead, she learnt to embroider and spin, to converse and sing. In 1157, when Estefanía was about seventeen, her father died, and instead her half-brothers, Fernando and Sancho took over, one as king of León, the other as king of Castilla. At the time, Estefanía was as yet unmarried. Yes, she was the daughter of a king, but she was the illegitimate daughter, which made her hand less sought after, especially as she didn’t come laden with dowry – Alfonso had many children to look out for.

In 1158, Sancho III died young, leaving a three-year-old son, Alfonso, as the new king of Castilla. A year or so later, and the kingdom of Castilla was torn asunder by civil war, on the one side the House of Lara, on the other the House of Castro. What they were fighting for? Control over the young king, of course. The House of Castro had the silent support of Fernando of León, who no doubt saw an opportunity to annect the kingdom of Castilla. Anyway, at the battle of Lobgregal in 1160,  the House of Lara hit the dust. Riding with the count of Lara was a man named Osorio Martínez. In the fighting he was killed, by none other than his own son-in-law Fernando Rodriguez de Castro. In the aftermath of the battle, Fernando repudiated his wife (he couldn’t very well have the daughter of a rebel as his wife, could he? Or maybe she couldn’t stand the sight of him, what with him having killed her father). Instead, he was given the hand of Estefanía Alfonso in marriage.

What Estefanía thought of all this is unknown. But Fernando was not a bad catch, and although older than her, he was still in his prime. Plus, of course, they were related, so it wasn’t as if she was marrying a stranger.

Estefanía’s brother, Fernando of León, had probably hoped that Fernando Rodriguez would hand over his little nephew Alfonso VIII on a silver platter. And maybe he would have, but the young king was whisked away by the surviving members of the House of Lara. Some years later, the Lara family was cornered, with Fernando Rodriguez having conquered a number of castilian cities, and they decided to turn over the boy-king, now about eight, into the tender care of his uncle. Didn’t happen, as an unknown gent smuggled the boy out of the castle where he was held. Alfonso VIII would go on to claim his lands, marry Eleanor of England (daughter to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine), have many babies, and in general lead his own exciting life, among which sticks out the victory over the Moors at the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.

None of this had much effect on Estefanía. She presented her husband with at least one son and a daughter, and I’d assume her life would have included a lot of waiting about for her husband who was ususally off on some royal assignment or another.

Sex post illicit-sex-e1436561949425By 1180, Estefanía and Fernando had been married for twenty years. She was around forty, he in his mid-fifties. Were they content with each other? Maybe, maybe not. But when Fernando was informed that his wife had been seen sneaking off to secret assignations with a man, he had no problems believing what he was told, which indicates it wasn’t all sunsets and roses in the Fernando/Estefanía marriage. Or maybe he was feeling the weight of his years, worried that his wife was not getting what she needed at home.

Whatever the case, Fernando had her followed. On repeated occasions, she was seen hastening off, returning some hours later. At long last, Fernando couldn’t stand this any longer. His honour was being dragged through the gutters by his adulterous wife, and he was not having it! Nope. No more. So one night, when the veiled and cloaked lady of the house yet again disappeared down an alley, it was Fernando who followed, dagger in hand.

He waited in the shadows, gritting his teeth at the sounds of love-making that escaped the closed shutters. And once she was gone, as veiled and cloaked as when she’d arrived, Fernando entered the room and swiftly killed the lover – a man so young he qualified as a toy-boy, except that the term wasn’t invented yet.

Fernando rushed home, burst into the bedroom and found his wife in bed, sleeping. He attacked her, stabbing her repeatedly until she died in a spreading pool of her own blood. Which was when Fernando stopped to think. How could she be fast asleep in her bed when she had at most returned home some minutes before him? And where were the clothes she’d been wearing? He couldn’t find them anywhere. So he turned the room up and down, and this is when an icy weight started to collect in his guts, even more so when under the bed he found one of his wife’s maids, dressed in her mistress’ cloak and veil.

Turns out the maid had been using Estefanía’s clothes for months so as to hide her identity when she sneaked off to see her lover. After all, having sex outside of marriage was a sin, and the maid didn’t want to risk being fired for her low morals. Instead, her subterfuge had led to two people being murdered by a man who was by now a sickly white, staring down in shock at his bloodied hands. Fernando had killed his loyal wife, the sister of his king, and all because his pride had made it impossible for him to confront Estefanía and ask her if she was cheating on him…

Estefania PanteónSanIsidoroLeón

Estefanía’s final resting place: the royal pantheon, San Isidoro, León

Fernando draped a heavy noose round his neck and went directly to the king where he confessed his crime. The king chose to pardon him, moved no doubt by the genuine grief displayed by Fernando. Estefanía was buried side by side with her paternal grandmother, Queen Urraca, a simple inscription making no mention of how she died, only who she was, who was her father, who she was married to and who she gave birth to. And as to the maid, she was burned alive at Fernando’s orders.

Some centuries later, Lope de Vega (Spain’s equivalent to Shakespeare – well, together with Calderón de la Barca) would write a play based on Estefanía’s fate, La Desdichada Estefanía. Other than that, she remains a footnote in history, a woman who never quite steps out of the shadows – except for her gory death. And even that, dear people, we may have to take with a pinch of salt, as not all sources relate the same story. All we really know is that she died on July 1, 1180 and was survived by her husband and son.

Finally, in the below Fernando Rodriguez “borrows” the words of  Ramon de Campoamor, 19th century Spanish poet:

Mi esposa Estefanía, que está en gloria,
fue del Séptimo Alfonso hija querida;
desde hoy sabréis, al escuchar su historia,
que hay desgracias sin fin en nuestra vida.
Yo la maté celoso; y si, remiso,
no me maté también la noche aquella,
fue por matar después, si era preciso,
a todo el que, cual yo, dudase de ella.

My wife Estefanía, who is in glory,
was of Alfonso VII a dear daughter;
As of today you will know, upon listening to this story,
that there are sorrows without end in our life.
Jealous, I killed her; and if, remiss,
I did not kill myself also that night,
it was to kill later, if it was necessary,
all who, like me, doubted her

Eating his pie in the sky


Cold, but the chestnut is budding

Today was one of those nippy but sunny early spring days (at least here in Sweden) when the brightness of the day made it quite impossible not to be outside, no matter that you needed gloves and three sweaters and thick boots and a warm scarf not to freeze to death.
I did some mild gardening – which essentially means I eyed my roses but decided I dared not prune them yet and instead decimated all the ground elder I could find.

While I worked, I sang. As I was working, it sort of felt natural to sing working songs, which is why I did a rather loud, wordless rendition of the Russian National Anthem (seeing as it used to be the Soviet Union’s national anthem, and we all know just what a workers’ paradise that was, right? No. It wasn’t – see more here. But it is a beautiful, beautiful tune) before moving on to hum “You will eat, bye and bye, in that glorious land above the sky. Work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” As I only know the chorus, I suppose it became a bit repetitive, and at some point my daughter groaned and wondered what on Earth I was singing.

“That,” I told her while straightening up from my bent over position, “is from The Preacher and the Slave, by Joe Hill.”
I was a tad worried she’d look totally blank – how many have ever heard of Joe Hill? – but my daughter spends a lot of her free time listening to podcasts about diverse historical subjects (I wonder where she gets that from) and so she nodded. “He wrote that?”
“He did. Set it to the tune of a Salvation Army hymn,” I replied. “They didn’t like him much for that.”

Truth is, not all that many did like Joe. At least not among the establishment. The workers he worked so hard to unite probably did like him – or at least respect him. Joe Hill was a man with a fiery dream in his heart, and such men are not always easy to like as they tend to be uncompromising and somewhat patronising towards those that “do not see their own good”.

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Gävle, late 19th c (Gävle stadsarkiv)

But let’s start at the beginning, which means we must travel back to 1879 and the little Swedish town of Gävle (or Gefle, as it was spelled then) These days, Gävle is mostly famous for having one of the larger coffee roasteries in Sweden and for having a huge Christmas goat made of straw put up in the central square every year after which everyone makes bets as to if the goat will survive the Christmas season or be burnt to the ground before by pranksters. Quite often, it ends up burnt to the ground… And as to why Swedish people have a huge straw-made goat as a Christmas symbol, let’s just say it harkens back to our pagan roots and leave it at that for now.

In 1879, Gävle was one of the busier towns in Sweden – a place where the timber that was logged further upcountry ended up at any of the various sawmills. It was therefore a town with a large blue-collar population, and it was to one such hard-working family that the stork delivered Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in October of 1879.

The family Hägglund was devout. Both little Joel’s mother Margareta and his father Olof did their best to instil the word of God in their numerous children – all in all, there were nine siblings, of whom six survived childhood. The Hägglund home rang with music: Olof had built an organ, and all the children were taught to play and sing. Soon enough, our musically talented Joel had not only mastered the organ, but also the violin, the accordion, the guitar and the piano.

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Gävle workers (Gävle stadarkiv)

When Joel was nine, disaster struck. Olof died, and just like that, his children’s future was ripped from them. Joel had to quit school and start working, seeing first hand – I imagine – just how harsh the working reality was for the downtrodden and weak, such as him. Joel’s mother did her best to keep her family together, thereby working herself into an early grave. She died in 1902, and of her surviving children, two decided to leave Sweden behind and make for the United States. The dream of America as the promised land was still going strong at the time, and Joel and brother Paul were probably hoping to make it good in a matter of months, more or less shaking gold nuggets from the trees.

Once in America, Joel changed his first name to Joe. He also learnt English at record speed and was soon so proficient in his new language he could not only deliver speeches but also write lyrics in it. One gets the impression of a man who shed his Swedish identity and embraced that of his adopted country – albeit that Joe quickly realised this new land of his bore little resemblance to paradise. In fact, just like back in Sweden, workers had it tough. Long hours, low pay and – as depicted in that old song Sixteen Tons – an ever-growing debt to the employer for the necessities in life which effectively made the labourer something of an indentured servant: until the debt was repaid, he couldn’t leave, and his pay was too low to ever allow him to repay it…

Our Joe decided it was time someone did something about this. He wasn’t the only one to think so: all over the U.S., workers were uniting and demanding fairer conditions, something that was viewed with grave displeasure by their employers. Joe’s determined efforts to organise his fellow-workers had him fired and blacklisted which is why he took the name Joe Hill and moved to California where he became an active member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

This is when Joe turned his musical talents to supporting the cause. One song after the other was written – including The Preacher and the Slave – all of them with the intention of prodding the downtrodden and illiterate into some sort of action – preferably by becoming a union member. Joe believed in a society that allowed people to earn their living without depending on the charity offered by various organisations such as the Salvation Army. To Joe, it was simply a matter of ensuring fair pay – the wherewithal to build a decent life while alive rather than wait for potential rewards in Heaven. (Despite having grown up in a very religious home, our Joe tended towards a sceptical view of religion in general, seeing in it a tool for oppression)

Joe Hill The_Rebel_Girl_coverBy now, Joe Hill had made a name for himself – as had the IWW. Depending on what side of the fence you were on, you either applauded their efforts or derided them, arguing that IWW was working towards destabilising the “natural order of things”. More and more, though, the notion that people should be paid fairly was catching on, even among the middle classes.

In 1911, Joe Hill went to Mexico together with a rag-tag band of men who were determined to depose Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz and emancipate the working class. Despite close to six months in Baja California, this early attempt at a Worker’s revolution failed dismally, and instead in 1912, Joe Hill was back in the U.S., appearing in San Diego at a rally promoting worker’s right, popping up to British Columbia to support his fellow labourers while they went on strike, and then returning to California in 1913 to take part in the San Pedro dockworker’s strike. A hectic life, one could say, and wherever he went he left songs.

The 1913 strike in San Pedro had Joe ending up in jail – as per himself because the authorities didn’t like him. After a month or so he was set free, and towards the end of the year he decided to move back to Chicago – being a Swede, I imagine he had a lot of Swedish connections in this the biggest Swedish city outside of Stockholm.

The way to Chicago took him through Utah where Joe earned some money by working in the mines. He arrived at Salt Lake City and was invited to stay in the home of some friends, and there in January of 1914, he was arrested for the murder of two men.

What happens in Salt lake City, stays in Salt Lake City,” one could paraphrase, as it remains doubtful to this day what really happened in Utah on – I imagine – a very cold January day. The facts as we know them are as follows:
On the evening of January 10, 1914, grocer John Morrison and his son Arlington were shot dead. The son managed to discharge his weapon, injuring their assailant, this as per the testimony of a female witness who heard the fleeing man mumble he’d been shot.
That same evening, Joe Hill knocked on the door of a doctor and requested his help. He had a gunshot wound which he said he’d acquired while quarrelling with a man over a woman.
The doctor put two and two together, and so Joe was arrested, despite denying any charges. In fact, he argued he’d been shot while holding his hands over his head, and the hole to his coat actually supported that statement.


Joe Hill

Now this is where some say the entire Joe Hill trial was a major set-up, intended to rid the world of this loud advocate of worker’s rights. Hmm. The death of two people seems somewhat excessive to engineer if you’re going for a set-up, but maybe someone saw an opportunity and decided to frame Joe Hill. Except, of course, that he did have a gunshot wound, and throughout the trial he refused to produce witnesses to corroborate his alibi – an argument over a young woman. This, he said, he did to safeguard her reputation.

Joe Hill was found guilty on very weak evidence. No gun was found in his possession, the few witnesses could not identify him, nor were they certain his voice matched the one they heard. One of the witnesses initially even said “that’s not him!” but went before the jury to say he thought it was Joe he’d seen fleeing the scene…Besides, Joe had been shot – no matter that this had seemingly happened while he had his hands up – and how high was the probability that two men be shot on the same evening in Salt Lake City? (Seeing as four other men were treated for gunshot wounds that same night, quite high, it would seem…) Whatever the case, Joe Hill was found guilty and sentenced to death.

A furore broke out. Labour radicals, various sympathisers and academics, even the well-known daughter of a LDS president demanded that the verdict be overturned. Woodrow Wilson spoke up in behalf of Joe, as did the Swedish ambassador, and through it all, the Utah Governor refused to budge. The man had been tried, found guilty of murder and would die.

What Joe thought of all this is difficult to know. After all, he was still a relatively young man, only 36, and I seriously doubt he willingly designated himself as a sacrificial lamb, initially confident no one would find him guilty on such flimsy evidence. But they did, and somewhere during the long months between the verdict and the execution, he came to realise he wasn’t about to get out of this alive. And so, being Joe Hill, he chose to meet his death as a martyr for the cause of workers everywhere, being the one to yell “Fire!” at the execution squad.

Three bullets to his heart later, he was dead, and one of his colleagues at IWW, Bill Haywood, ensured Joe Hill’s final wish “Don’t waste any time mourning – organise!” was fulfilled. He also took care of Joe’s body, seeing as Joe had requested he be buried elsewhere, “I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

Since Joe’s death a century has passed, and as late as 2011 new evidence regarding his guilt or not turned up. It is a letter by a certain Helga Erickson who admits that Joe and another Swede were both vying for her attention, the conflict getting uglier and more violent by the day. Problem was Otto Appelquist – the other Swede – was Joe’s best friend. Anyway, in Helga’s letter she describes how she found Joe wounded and he told her he’d been shot by Otto – this prior to finding a doctor.


My apple pie – Joe would have loved it!

Personally, the fact that Joe never seems to have resorted to violence previously – nor is known to have carried a gun – has me leaning towards him not being guilty. Whatever the case, the IWW and the subsequent massive turnout at Joe’s funeral in Chicago ensured he became one of the first martyr’s for the Worker’s cause in the U.S. Somehow, I think that would make him smile while he sits in the sky and eats that pie he was denied down here!

Joe Hill’s fate went on to inspire numerous songs, one of the more famous being The Ballad of Joe Hill, once sung by Paul Robeson but performed below by Bruce Springsteen. Yet another thing that would have made Joel Emmanuel Häggström smile.

The wannabe queen and the traitor


Christina 1653. She could ride and fence as well as any man

She was twenty-eight when she abdicated the crown in 1654. By then, she’d been a queen for twenty-two years, and she was, frankly, sick and tired of it. Or so she thought. Christina of Sweden wanted more out of life than to be the reigning queen of a small Lutheran country stuck in the cold north of Europe. Or so she thought. Plus, of course, Christina had seen the light when it came to religion and had therefore decided she no longer wanted to be a Lutheran – she wanted to be a Catholic. Or so she thought.

The pope was ecstatic when he heard the young Swedish queen wanted to convert. Major, major feather in his cap, to have the queen of staunchly Protestant Sweden embrace the True Faith. Not that the pope himself could take any of the credit – that honour belonged to a certain French ambassador, Monsieur Pierre Chanut, and his Spanish counterpart, Señor Antonio Pimentel. Plus a couple of Jesuits travelling undercover in Sweden. (Most dangerous: had they been caught, they’d have died – painfully)

The pope would have preferred it if Christina had converted while still a queen, thereby returning the entire (at the time very large) Kingdom of Sweden to the folds of the Catholic Church. Had she done so, chances are she’d have died painfully as well – as a heretic witch. Her Swedish subjects were not entirely enamoured of their hyper-intelligent ruler. After all, she was a woman, an unwed woman who showed no signs of wanting to do her duty and give the country an heir. An unnatural woman, people muttered. No, they said, things would be much better with a man at the helm.

As it happens, Christina agreed: she considered it self-evident that women did not make good rulers – or so she said – which was one of the official reasons for her abdication. She couldn’t very well tell anyone she also wanted to convert.

Drottning_Kristina_av_SverigeChristina was often nicknamed Pallas Athena. The lady was impressively well-educated and also possessed a razor-sharp intellect and a gift for languages (she spoke, read & wrote seven). At the early age of twenty-two, she had actively participated in drawing up the Treaty of Westphalia which in 1648 ended the Thirty Years’ War. Visitors to her court were amazed by her erudition and her intellectual curiosity. Rene Descartes, the famous French philosopher (you know, the “cogito, ergo sum” guy), was more than happy to visit with her in Stockholm, but after weeks of rising before dawn to start his lessons with Her Majesty around daybreak and continue on for most of the day, his health suffered and he died of pneumonia in Stockholm. Christina was impressed by his intellect, not so much by his frailty.

Anyway: in 1654, Christina set off for Rome there to live happily ever after – or so she hoped. She converted, was hailed as some sort of saint by the Catholic world, was loudly repudiated by her Protestant countrymen, and arrived in Rome draped in a legend. Here came the virgin queen of Sweden, a lady so concerned with her spiritual well-being she had taken the major step of turning her back on her country, her family and her subjects – all for the sake of God. Hmm.

Kristina 50050_2_jpg_120051aChristina had grown up in a strict religious environment. Protestants at the time did not easily lend themselves to cheer when it came to religious matters. God was a constant, brooding presence and every single Protestant knew that either you lived a righteous life – no sinning, please – while developing your faith, or chances were you ended up in hell. The Protestant God was a finger-shaking God who did not encourage a zest for life. The Catholic God, on the other hand, was a somewhat more forgiving God – He’d been around for long enough to know people are weak, even the good ones will now and then sin. In the Catholic Church there was this wonderful concept of confession, penance and forgiveness – a chance to wipe the slate clean. In the Protestant church, sins were tallied up…

Christina arrived in Rome and was all fired up with her new religion – or rather the freedom offered by it. But at the time, the Catholic Church was in the grips of its own Puritan movement – very much due to Spanish influence – and while it was definitely very different from back in Sweden, it was not perhaps quite as free as Christina had hoped. She was reprimanded for chattering through Mass. She was frowned upon for making disparaging comments about the princes of the Church. She was scolded for appearing before certain cardinals with far too much décolletage. Christina sniffed. To her, faith was an intellectual pastime, not a book of etiquette.


Party, party. Kristina loved Rome! Here the celebrations inher honour at Palazzo Barberini

Despite enjoying the heady life in Rome, Christina had certain issues. One of them was the fact that Protestant Sweden refused to pay her the money that had been agreed upon when she abdicated. The Swedish government felt they’d been misled by their former queen (true) and found it distasteful to support her as she cavorted through the streets of Rome as a Catholic.

Also, Christina had throughout her life been treated with the respect and deference due to a ruler. She still insisted people approach her as they approached royalty in general, but the truth of the matter was that she was no longer a queen. At all. Had she been too hasty in giving up her throne? Christina pursed her lips and drummed her fingers on the armrest of her chair. Was there perhaps another crown around she could grab?

Christina’s eyes fell on Naples. Very, very much they fell on Naples, already a most infected issue between France and Spain. Since some centuries back, Naples was Spanish. Naples did not want to be Spanish – or rather the upper Neapolitans did not want to be Spanish – they wanted to rule themselves. The average Neapolitan couldn’t care less: life under one lord or the other was pretty much the same – oppressive and difficulty. Christina became very close with a certain Pompeo Colonna, Prince of Gallicano, and a loud advocate of an independent Naples, but who to place on the Neapolitan throne without tearing this budding nation apart due to war between the various noble families?
“Ahem,” Christina said, before pointing out that she had ample experience of being a queen. Plus she’d be neutral in any squabbles between the Naples aristocracy. And she did look quite imposing in ermine. (She did. Not exactly beautiful, but powerful)

Ana Mazarin-mignard


A plan was spun – a plan that required the approval of dear Cardinal Mazarin, with whom Christina regularly corresponded and to whom she signed off to as “your dear friend”. So in 1656 off she went to visit Paris where she was amused by Louis XIV and his open adoration of Maria Mancini, plus also met Mazarin to discuss her plans. The general idea was to have France back an uprising in Naples that would oust the Spanish – very much in line with France’s ambitions to curb Spanish influence.

Things were never to get much beyond the planning phase. You see, there was a young Neapolitan involved, a certain Gian Rinaldo Monaldesco, officially Christina’s Master of the Horse. This young gent did not approve of ousting the Spanish and replacing them with a Swedish ex-queen backed by the French.

In 1657, Christina was back in France and staying in Fontainebleau. What exactly transpired to have Christina discover Monaldesco’s treason is a bit uncertain. We know she found compromising letters, and that she also suspected him of reading her letters. To whom Monaldesco was sending these tidbits remains uncertain, although I’d bet it was someone in Madrid. Whatever the case, in November of 1657, Christina decided to act, and she started off by requesting the presence of Father le Bel, the prior of a nearby monastery.

The prior was entrusted with a sealed package and told to make himself available at short notice. When Christina so required, she expected this man of God to come hot-footing to attend her – with the sealed package she’d just handed him.

Some days later, Father le Bel was summoned. He was shown to the Galerie des Cerfs (the gallery of the deer). “In the middle of the room stood the queen, talking to a person she called the marquis. I was later told this was the marquis Monaldesco. I went forward to greet the queen. Other than the marquis, there were three more men in the gallery. Two were standing at a distance of four feet from the queen, one of them stood immediately behind her majesty.” The three men all carried swords.

Christina now requested that Prior le Bel return the package to her. Silence descended as she broke the seals, the heavy paper crackling when she slowly unfolded the package (she’d have taken her time: Christina loved the theatre and knew everything about dramatic gestures). She handed them to Monaldesco, and asked if she recognised them.
“No,” Monaldesco replied, but as per the good prior his voice shook. As the documents the queen presented him with were copies, I imagine Monaldesco thought he’d be able to bluff himself out of this rather nasty situation. Except that the queen then produced the originals. The marquis fell to his knees before her, blaming others and begging for mercy. At a signal, the three other men pulled their rapiers. As per the prior “they would not return them to their scabbards until they’d executed the marquis.” But this was not yet, seeing as Monaldesco still held out hope.

The marquis rose to his feet and begged to be allowed to speak in his defence. Christina listened patiently. For two hours Monaldesco protested his innocence, while the queen listened, asked questions, listened some more. At some point she turned to the prior and asked him that he remember she was giving Monaldesco ample opportunity to defend himself. Not that it helped.

Eventually, Monaldesco handed Christina some crumpled documents and a set of keys. This, apparently, confirmed his guilt and the queen asked the prior to help Monaldesco prepare himself for death. The prior was shocked. Together with Monaldesco he fell at the queen’s feet and begged for mercy. The queen was adamant. She could not forgive treason – especially not from a man with whom she had shared so many confidences.

The queen left. A panicked Monaldesco begged the prior to intercede, and our Father le Bel hastened after the queen, but she had made her mind up, calmly informing the prior that she’d condemned men to die horribly for far lesser crimes than those committed by Monaldesco.

The brave prior then raised the somewhat sensitive question as to whether Christina had the right to try – and condemn – a man in France. After all, she wasn’t the queen of France. I don’t think Christina took that all too well, reminding the prior that as far as she was concerned, she was a queen, Monaldesco was her subject and he’d betrayed her. Full stop. Father le Bel wisely chose not to remind her that she was no longer a queen…


Galerie des Cerfs, Fontainebleau. A stylish place to die in… (Creative Commons, photo Alain G)

Unmoved by the prior’s pleading, the queen insisted the execution (?) go ahead. The marquis was shoved against a wall, one of the men sank his sword into Monaldesco’s belly. Unarmed, Monaldesco tried to defend himself with his hands and lost three fingers. There were blows to his face, to his head – the marquis was wearing a breastplate under his clothes. Only when one of the men managed to sink his blade into Monaldesco’s neck, did the poor man die – but according to our prior, it took him fifteen minutes to do so. Christina, I believe, was pleased: the traitor was dead.

A man dying a bloody death in Fontainebleau did not go down well in France. Just as the prior had pointed out, Christina had no authority in la France. Truth be told, she no longer had any authority anyway – but she preferred to ignore this. Due to the somewhat clandestine nature of the Naples operation, neither Christina nor Mazarin could ever explain why Monaldesco had to die and this caused the wildest of rumours to spread, chief among them the one which had Christina murdering Monaldesco because he’d cheated on her – a classic crime passionnel.

Christina probably wrinkled her (large) nose at the thought: she involved in a love affair with her Master of the Horse? Not likely! No, so far into her life (and she was now an aged thirty-one) Christina had never experienced the throes of passion. That, however, was about to change. Soon enough, Christina was to meet the man who would take her heart and wring it – but that, dear peeps, is a story for another day.

Of love, low morals and murder

John Käll salpeter

drawing: J Käll

Back in the 18th century, there lived an upright young man called Ored Nilsson. According to the existing records, Ored was “of goodly strength” and worked as a farm hand. His father was a former saltpetre boiler, an attractive position with the government whereby the boiler would wander round the nearby farms, collect the soil from the stables and the manure pits and boil it in huge vats, thereby concentrating the nitre contained in the urine-drenched soil. Saltpetre was an important ingredient when making gunpowder, which was why the Swedish government had a large number of boilers spread throughout the country.

Carl Wilhelmson (1866-1928)-juniaftenVärmland1902Ored, however, does not seem to have aspired to his father’s ambulating life. He had a good position with a nearby farmer, and was considered levelheaded and hardworking. At 28, he now and then considered taking a wife, and his eyes fell on Hanna, the daughter of a tenant farmer. Love was in the air, one could say – as is often the case during the short summer nights in southern Sweden. Anyway, Ored and Hanna plighted their troth, and sometime in July of 1774, Ored began “enjoying the pleasures of the flesh” with his betrothed. At the time, he had every intention – according to his later statements – of marrying Hanna, and when she quickly became pregnant, this was not seen as either cause for shame or haste, after all, they were betrothed, and therefore certain benefits could be enjoyed.

However. Major however. Ored found out Hanna had a child, a little bastard. Now why he didn’t know this before, is a bit of a mystery, given just how quickly gossip flew from one farm to the other. Or maybe Hanna had  succeeded in keeping this her greatest shame hidden (but the child lived with her parents). Or maybe Ored had known about it all the time, but grown tired of Hanna and found this as a perfect excuse for no longer wanting her. Besides, not only was there a child, but Hanna had lied about the child’s father, naming an “unknown man” as the father, while “everyone” knew she’d been knocked up over at the nearby mill.

peasantsOred’s father pulled his bushy brows together, telling his son he didn’t want a slut for his daughter-in-law. Probably Ored’s mother said the same thing. As per Ored’s statement, it seems his entire family – and most of his neighbours – told him to break off the engagement. There was, however, a teensy, weensy problem. He had slept with her – an illegal act of intercourse unless marriage was in the wings – and she was pregnant. One could have hoped there had been another problem as well, namely that Ored had feelings for Hanna, but he himself describes how his ardour “grew cold when faced with the knowledge that she would bring a bastard to their hearth”. Nice guy, Ored.

Sweden was at the time a very religious society. Sin was a big thing. Carnal sin was an even bigger thing. A woman that slept around was a major liability, and here was Hanna, who had at least slept with two men, more or less a full-blown whore. Women whispered behind her back, they snickered and told Ored that how long did he expect her to remain faithful? Once a slut, always a slut. Despite this unforgiving attitude to sin, the legal system of the time recognised that man (and woman) was fallible. Ored could therefore break off the engagement with Hanna, leave her pregnant and alone, assuming he paid a fine. The fine would be set to give Hanna the wherewithal with which to raise the child. This, according to Ored, would end up an indecently high amount. So he decided to find another way out of his little predicament.

Late in August of 1774, Ored met Anders. Anders was a migrant worker, moving from farm to farm. As per statements, Anders was a god-fearing man, who would pray regularly. He also proposed to Ored that he could help Ored with his little problem. Anders would be willing to rid Ored of Hanna for the sum of six silver coins. At the time, a good horse cost you ten silver coins, so clearly both Ored and Anders considered a woman’s life to be relatively worthless. Ored thanked Anders for his offer, but asked for time to consider how best to do this.

Van_Gogh-00015-Harvest in Provence of Wheat Field with Sheaves, c,1888According to Ored, it was while he was cutting the rye that he came upon the ideal way of ridding himself of Hanna. There he was, bent double as he used his sickle to harvest the rye, and all the while his head rang with various murder scenarios. Well, I suppose we all have different daydreams. Did he stop to consider the unborn child – his child? Did he pause as he recalled an especially pleasurable moment between Hanna’s thighs? We don’t know.

Ored decided the best way to do this would be to have Hanna drown. People drowned all the time, and Hanna earned extra by rowing people across a small lake. A plan took shape. Ored was to ask Hanna to row him across the lake, and as he stepped out, off to do his thing. Anders was to appear and ask for a ride. Once the boat was in deeper waters, Anders was to push Hanna overboard. Ored promised to pay him the six silver coins after the foul deed was done.

Anders Zorn-299278In the event, things almost went as planned. Hanna rowed Ored across – and by now she’d caught on to the fact that he no longer wanted her, and tried to reason with him, telling him she was okay with him breaking off their betrothal, as long as he paid for the upkeep of the baby. Did Ored smile to himself? Or did his insides turn themselves upside down as he considered what he was planning for the woman presently straining at the oars?

druknadeOred got out. Anders got in. “Go!” yelled Ored, and Hanna gave him a hurt look, bent her back and set the heavy boat moving. Halfway across, Anders pushed Hanna into the water. Hanna grabbed hold of his hair, and pulled him with her. (This based on the fact that considerable amounts of his hair were found caught between her fingers) Both drowned, the boat floated off, and it took 3 weeks before their bodies were found.

Ored tried to flee, was apprehended and admitted to instigating the murder. As per one of the witnesses, Ored had been heard muttering that Hanna’s mother had spelled him to fall in love with her daughter, but this accusation of sorcery seems to have been ignored by the court.Other witnesses came forward to further denigrate Hanna’s character – it was a well-known fact that she had bedded with other men than Ored.

A major issue was how to bury the bodies of the deceased. Hanna’s father wanted her buried in consecrated ground, but the court ruled this was out of the question, as she had “murdered” Anders (!) Besides, the girl was of doubtful character, and so both Hanna and Anders were buried outside the graveyard “without the normal rites”. That must have been devastating for the grieving parents.

Ored never denied asking Anders for help in ridding him of Hanna. The local court sentenced him to be beheaded, his body to be gibbeted as a warning to his fellowmen. However, the regional court did not agree. Without going into specifics, the regional court stated that there were several mitigating circumstances. Reading between the lines, Hanna’s immoral behaviour was considered to be the understandable catalyst for Ored’s crime, and so the regional court sentenced Ored to 2 times 30 lashes and 6 years in prison. I guess Ored exhaled in relief.

And so ends this little drama, with one orphaned bastard child, two dead people and an incarcerated ex-lover. The local people considered Ored to have done the right thing – after all, what upright man would want to wed a slut?

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