6/10/2008

Portrait of the week - Karin Månsdotter

Karin Månsdotter, second half of the 16th century by an unknown (probably Swedish) artist.

Karin Månsdotter was born in 1550 and died 1612 in Finland. She was the daughter of a soldier (Månsdotter means 'daughter of Måns', the usual way to name persons that was not nobles in Sweden at the time - and would continue to be so all the way up to 19th century) but got a place at court as lady in waiting to a princess.

There she caught the eye of the king, Erik XIV, who made her his mistress. She must have had some extraordinary charms since she first became his sole mistress, and in 1567 the secretly married. She was officially made his wife and queen of Sweden 1568, after the birth of their second child (who was a boy - in 1566 she had given birth to a girl).

But Erik XIV was forced to leave the throne by his brother Johan at the end of the same year, due to both power struggles withing the family and Erik's increasingly obvious madness.

At first Karin accompanied the king in his imprisonment, and they had two more children, two sons who both died young. In 1573 the couple was separated and Karin was kept at Åbo castle, Finland, where things were rather lenient for her. The hardest blow for her was that she was separated from her son. In 1577 Erik died and Karin was released with her daughter from the prison and instead given farms and land and could lead a quite good life. In 1582 she was given even more land and property that had once belonged to Erik. By now she was quite a wealthy lady and lived a good life in Finland, despite the hardship she had went through.

She is buried in Åbo, the only Swedish queen to be buried in Finland (which for several hundred years was a part of the Swedish realm).

This is the only formal portrait of the queen that is known, apart from that on her grave. The fashion she is wearing, including the collar and the head-wear and the slit open arms has by some been taken as an indication that it was painted as late as the 1580's . She was by then not a queen, but she was very wealthy and treated with respect by the current king so it would not have been impossible for her to be painted in this manner. The other possible date for this picture, but for different reasons less likely, is 1567-1568. The text on the painting says Catrina Månsdoter, and (translated to English from the original Swedish) wife of Erik XIV.

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