Historical Tales: 9—Scandinavian - Charles Morris

The Love Affairs of King Erik

We have written much of war and bloodshed; a chapter devoted to the lighter themes of courtship and marriage may here be of interest, especially as it has to do with the love affairs of princes and princesses, kings and queens, personages whose every movement are deemed by many worthy the world's attention.

Prince Erik, the eldest son of King Gustavus, grew in due course of time to marriageable age and, as young men will, began to look about for a wife. His thoughts first turned towards the Princess Elizabeth, of England, then in the height of her youthful charms, of which exaggerated accounts were brought to the ardent young Swede.

When Erik sought his father's consent to the suit, saying that it might bring him not only a lovely bride but the throne of two kingdoms, the prudent old monarch threw cold water on the project, saying:

"Even if Erik should gain Elizabeth, which I do not think likely, in view of her many suitors, it would be more to the harm than the profit of both kingdoms."

But Erik, a high-tempered and passionate youth, with a tendency to something like madness, became so violent and determined that his father at length gave way and a lover's embassy was sent to England to ask for the fair lady's hand. But Princess Elizabeth was too much beset with lovers to accept any of them easily, and the embassy returned with the answer that the royal English maiden was in no haste to marry and considered an unmarried life the happier.

In 1558 Queen Mary died and Elizabeth mounted to the throne which she was long to adorn. This added to Erik's passionate desire to win her. One of his agents, Dionysius Beurreus, remained in London, where he lived in great display, keeping open table at Erik's expense, and sending in all haste to the ardent prince every kind word which the crafty Elizabeth let fall. Credulous in his ardent passion, Erik now felt sure of winning the queenly maiden's hand, and sent a second embassy to England, his brother John going with it.

Prince John was sumptuously equipped for the journey, the expenses of the courtship eating deeply into the king's revenues, and being added to by Erik's lavishness, for he was now so sure of the success of his suit that he ordered a hundred dresses of the most expensive and splendid kind to be made for him at Antwerp.

When John reached London he was courteously received by the queen, but he found it impossible to bring her to a definite answer. If she ever married, of course she would be happy to win so charming a spouse as Prince Erik, but it was hard to marry a man she had never seen, and the idea of marriage was not to her taste. In the end Elizabeth wrote to Gustavus begging him to seek another bride for his son, as she had decided to live unmarried.

This should have ended the matter, but it did not. One of the lover's agents had said that the queen of England would never consent unless Erik in person were able to win her heart, and Prince John reported her as saying that, "though she had no desire for marriage, she could not answer what she might do if she saw Erik himself."

Fired by the baits held out to his eager heart, Erik determined to go himself to England, but incognito, disguised as the servant of some foreign lord. Thus he would see and conquer the coy maiden queen. The warnings and expostulations of his friends failed to move him from this romantic project, but at length it reached the king's ears, and he strictly forbade the wild-goose project as hazardous and undignified. Erik, however, finally got his father's permission to visit England and make his suit to the queen in his own person. But there were many postponements of the journey, and when finally he left Stockholm to begin the voyage to England the shock of his departure threw the old king into a serious illness. That afternoon Gustavus went to bed, never to rise again, and before Erik had left the kingdom word was brought him that his father was dead. This definitely changed the situation and thus it came about that Erik never saw Elizabeth.

The fact of his being king, indeed, did not put an end to his desire to possess the English queen. In 1561 he determined to visit her as a king, and on the 1st of September set sail. But the elements were not propitious to this love errand, a violent storm arising which forced the captains to run back to harbor. Then he decided to go overland, through Denmark, Holland, and France, but while he was laying his plans for this journey, an effort was made by certain love emissaries to turn his thoughts towards Mary Stuart, the widow of a French king and heiress of the throne of Scotland. He listened to these representatives and was so pleased with their description of Mary's charms that his single-minded devotion to Elizabeth was shaken.

The loveliness of Mary Stuart was a strong inducement to the young king, but the high estate of Elizabeth was a greater one, and he did not cease his efforts to win her hand. Being told that the chief obstacle in his way was the handsome Earl of Leicester, he grew violently jealous of this favored courtier. He at first challenged him to mortal combat, but as this could not conveniently be carried out, he secretly bade his agent in London to hire an assassin to deal with the earl, promising protection and a rich reward to the murderer. This villainy the agent refused to perform, and Erik now, hoping to frighten Elizabeth to give him a favorable answer, spread a report in England that he was courting the Scottish queen. The effect was different from what he anticipated, for Elizabeth at once positively rejected his suit and all seemed at an end.

[Illustration] from Historical Tales - Scandinavian by Charles Morris


About this time a third lady fair came into the game. Erik was told of the charms and rare character of the Princess Renata of Lotringen, granddaughter of the late Christian of Denmark, and at once opened negotiations for the hand of this princess. At the same time the crafty Elizabeth pretended to relent and Erik was again on fire for her hand. Thus he had now three love projects under way, from two of which, those for Mary Stuart and Princess Renata, favorable answers were returned.

But the volatile lover, before receiving these answers, had added a fourth string to his bow of courtships, having decided to propose for the Princess Christina of Hesse. By this time he had spent on his threefold courtship vast sums of money and had gone far towards making himself the laughing-stock of Europe.

Erik's new course of love did not run smooth. The fates seemed against him in his marriage projects. His first proposal for Christina, indeed, received a favorable reply and it was decided that the selected bride should arrive at Stockholm in the following May, some eight months later. But other emissaries whom he sent in February were detained in Denmark, and on some weak pretence were seized and imprisoned, the whole being a ruse of King Frederick to prevent a marriage between Erik and the Princess of Hesse, of which for political reasons he did not approve. There was peace at that time with Denmark, but these events presaged war.

May at length arrived and Erik equipped a fleet to meet the promised bride. There were twelve men-of-war, which were got ready for fighting if necessary, James Bagge, a famous seaman of those days, being admiral of the Elephant, with command of the fleet. The assigned purpose of the expedition was to bring the bride over from Lübeck, but it is said that Admiral Bagge had secret orders to seek and attack the Danish fleet, and thus punish King Frederick for his treachery.

The two fleets met on May 30 off Bornholm, and the Danish ship Hercules immediately opened fire. This fire was at once returned and a fierce fight ensued that lasted five hours, and resulted in the capture of the Hercules and two other ships and the flight of the rest. The Swedes now sailed on to Lübeck, whence ambassadors were sent to Hesse to bring back the bride. They returned in two weeks without her, the excuse being that her trousseau was not ready. The truth was that the landgrave of Hesse was afraid to trust his daughter in the turbulent north, from which tidings of the naval battle had just come.

This delay was fatal to Erik's hopes, mainly through his own fault. The first succeeding step was a request from the landgrave for a safe conduct for his daughter through Denmark. Frederick, who dreaded ill results from the marriage, refused this, and also refused to let ambassadors to Hesse pass through his kingdom.

And now Erik spoiled all by his faithless versatility. On the 11th of October he sent an order to some agents of his in Germany to proceed to Hesse with a betrothal ring, worth six thousand thalers, for the princess. Four days later he wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth, saying that his addresses at the court of Hesse had never been serious, and that he still loved and hoped to win her.

Before this was sent actual war with Denmark had broken out, and to prevent the discovery of the letter, he concealed it in a stick and sent it by a secret messenger. This messenger was captured by a privateer and carried to Copenhagen; in some way his mission was suspected and the letter found; and the Danish king, in ecstasies at his discovery, despatched the incriminating love-missive immediately to the landgrave of Hesse.

All was going well there when the letter arrived. The landgrave had favorably received Erik's emissaries and the prospects of their returning with the bride seemed fair, when the unlucky letter was put into his hands. It fell like a thunderbolt. In a rage at seeing himself and his daughter thus made sport of, the landgrave ordered the Swedes to leave the town before sunset, under peril of his high displeasure. This ended the suit for the fair maiden's hand, later ambassadors sent by Erik were dismissed with contempt, and through having too many irons in the fire at once the love-sick lord of Sweden found himself without a bride.

His brother, Duke John, was more fortunate, though his courtship also led to war and his marriage brought him into dismal misfortune. Before completing the story of Erik's love affairs, the episode of John's matrimonial venture, with its dire results, may fitly be told.

A marriage had long been arranged between Duke John and Princess Catharine, sister of King Sigismund of Poland. But obstacles arose and once more the course of true love did not run smooth. Sigismund had an older sister Anna, whom he wished married first; but this impediment was removed by an agreement that John's brother Magnus should marry Anna.

Next the czar of Russia proposed for Catharine, but some dispute about the marriage contract brought about a refusal. The result was typical of the rudeness of the times. The Poles had always hated the Russians, and to show their contempt for them Sigismund had a white figure dressed in splendid garments and sent to the Russian court, in lieu of the looked-for bride. Mad with rage at this bitter insult, the czar invaded and cruelly ravaged Poland, the people, as is so often the case, being made to suffer for the quarrels and the folly of the kings. From that time forward the czar hated Sigismund and John, his fortunate rival.

John also had difficulty in getting his brother's consent to go to Sigismund's court, and after he had set out an envoy was sent after him ordering him to return. But in disregard of this he went on, and was favorably received at the Polish court, being a handsome, courteous and cultivated prince. Catharine was highly pleased with him, but King Sigismund now repeated his demand that he should marry the elder sister.

Finally, after many efforts to change the king's mind, he asked Catharine if she really desired to marry John. The princess blushed and was silent; but her sister spoke for her and implored their brother not to prevent her marriage with the man she loved.

At this appeal he gave way and the marriage was quickly solemnized, for there was imminent peril of war between Sweden and Poland unless the affair was consummated. A body of Polish troops escorted the newly wedded couple into Livonia, lest the angry czar should seek to carry them off, and John reached Sweden with his bride.

He was very ill received, by Erik's orders, and hastened to his own duchy, whence he sent an invitation to the king to attend his wedding banquet. The king came in another fashion.

Angry at John for disobeying his orders, and fearing him as a possible aspirant for the throne, Erik cherished evil intentions against his brother. Suspicious and superstitious by nature, he had read in the stars the prediction that a light-haired man would deprive him of the throne, and this man he believed to be his newly married brother. He also fancied that John had secretly allied himself with Denmark and Poland, and there was soon open enmity between the brothers.

The whole story of what followed is too long to be told here, but seeming evidence against John was obtained by the torture of some of his friends and he was attacked in his castle and taken prisoner after a two months' defence. Erik ordered his incarceration in a dungeon, but his wife was offered a residence with her ladies in one of the king's castles. If she wished to accompany him to prison she could take only two of her maids with her.

When Catharine heard this she fervently exclaimed:

"I would rather die than be separated from my husband," and fainted away.

When she recovered she was asked what she intended to do. Taking her betrothal ring from her finger and holding it up, she said:

"Read what stands there."

They saw engraved on it, "Nemo nisi mors" (none but death).

"I will stand by it," said Catharine. And she did.

The imprisoned dependents of John, all of whom had shared in his resistance to the king, were nearly all condemned to death and executed, more than a hundred bodies being exposed at once at the place of execution. That John would suffer the same fate was highly probable. His brothers, sisters, and other relatives implored Erik to let him live; his enemies advised his execution; the king hesitated, and postponed his decision, finally deciding that John might live, but in perpetual imprisonment. He was mildly and kindly treated, however, and four years later, during a spasm of fraternal feeling in Erik, was released.

We shall not tell the remaining story of King Erik, of his wars, his temporary madness, his violence and cruelty to some of the noblest of the sons of Denmark, his ruthless persecution and final murder of the Stures, descendants of one of the most famous families of Sweden and men who had played a great part in its history. It was the story of his love episodes with which we set out and these were not yet ended. Erik finally got a wife and a queen, though not a queen or a princess for a wife. Love instead of policy lay at the basis of his final courtship.

This is the story of the final and real love affair of this suitor of princesses and queens. A soldier named Magnus, of peasant birth, who rose to the rank of corporal in Erik's life-guard, had a daughter named Katrina or Catherine, shortened to Karin, who as a child sat selling nuts in the market-place at Stockholm. Here Erik one day saw her, then about thirteen, and was so struck by her great beauty that he had her placed among the maids-of-honor of his sister Elizabeth.

The pretty little Karin was quick to learn her duties, and in deportment was modest and very loveable. Her beauty also grew with her age, until she became looked upon as the fairest of the fair. Erik thought her such and grew greatly attached to her, showing her much attention and winning her regard by his handsome face and kindly manner. In fact she grew to love him dearly and gave herself up entirely to him, a warm affection existing between them.

Karin in time became everything to the king. He no longer sought for a bride in foreign courts, no other women had attraction for him, and at length, when the charming peasant girl had borne him a son, he determined to find a way to make her his queen. Those were days when it was not safe to meddle with the love affairs of a king. One unfortunate young man named Maximilian, who had loved Karin and sought her hand in marriage, one day intruded into the women's apartment of the palace, where he was seized. Erik, burning with jealousy, had him condemned on a false pretence, sewed up in a bag, and cast into the lake.

After that no one dared interfere with the love episode of Erik and Karin. Men said she had bewitched him by a love-philter. Some of the courtiers who feared her influence upon the king sought to disgrace her, with the result that her intercession alone saved their lives from the incensed monarch.

Erik's love for Karin never seemed to change. On beautiful summer afternoons, when he would sail with a merry party on Lake Malar, Karin was always of the party and the object of his tender attention. As they rowed home at night he would sit beside her, contemplating the beauty of the starry northern skies and listening to the songs from the shore or from distant boats. These were executed by his orders, the words and music often being his. One of these songs, in which he praises his "Shepherdess," promises to love her forever, and bids her a "thousand good-nights," is still extant.

The time at length came—this was after the period of his foreign wars and his insanity—that he asked permission of the legislative body to marry whom he pleased, at home or abroad. After this was given he privately married Karin, and subsequently determined upon a public celebration of his marriage and her coronation as queen. The chief families of the country were invited to the ceremony, but they neither came nor sent excuses. The coronation went on, notwithstanding, and the peasant's daughter Karin became queen of Sweden as Queen Catherine.

Not alone by this marriage, but in a dozen other ways King Erik had made enemies and he was now near the end of his career. A rebellion soon broke out against him, headed by Duke John, who had some time before been liberated, and by his younger brother Duke Charles. Though Erik fought with skill and courage, the insurrection was successful, he being taken prisoner and losing the throne. John was chosen to succeed him as king.

Erik spent the remainder of his life in prison, where he was far more harshly treated than John had been by him, his greatest consolation being when his wife and children were permitted to visit him. After eight years of this close confinement John, fearful of an attempt at the release of the captive, had him poisoned in his cell. Thus ended the career of the elder son of Gustavus Vasa. It was a fate which he had brought upon himself by the cruelties of his career.

A few well-deserved words may well be given to Queen Catherine. She had never interfered in Erik's government, except to restrain him from cruelty. Her mildness of disposition won her favor on all sides, which was increased by her loving devotion to him while in prison. After his death she was granted an estate in Finland, and there she lived, loved and esteemed by all who knew her and winning the warm devotion of her children and grandchildren. She survived to a good old age, withdrawn but happy, and the memory of her virtues and benevolence still lives among the peasantry of the neighborhood of her abode.