Dear Christina Piper,…

Thoughts on 18th century Feminism at Christinehof Castle

A Letter to the uncrowned Queen of Skania

Written by Annika Kiehn, November 2021

I have always had an innate interest in strong and influential women. Be it French Queen Marie Antoinette or Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the writers Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf or Margaret Atwood. Or those, who have paved their way in the business world, just like Madame C. J. Walker, who as a black woman became one of the first female self-made millionaires in the United States of America. Perhaps that’s why the English magazine „The Gentlewoman“ is one of my favorite magazines, as it brings me closer to so many inspiring female personas. It fuels me with positive energy to read about their passions and as I am writing this down, I start to think: Wouldn’t it be nice to read an article about a historic figure from time to time. Due to our Swedish partners from castle Christinehof in Skåne I am glad to get to know Christina Piper, who managed to become the most successful female entrepreneur of her time.

The headphotograph shows a painting of the contemporary Swedish artist Karin Paola.

Dear Christina Piper,

Just before the worldwide pandemic put all of us in a bubble of isolation and stillstand, I was able to visit your Christinehof slott myself. I guess you’d be very happy if you could see in what a remarkable good condition it still is – or again is. Considering it’s age of now almost 280 years, you could not be more delighted of what became of it since you were no longer able to take care for it yourself. Well, you can be sure it is in good hands.

These days, a bunch of friends, your wänners, as they like to call themselves, looks after your heritage, a cultural association of enthusiasts from the local area. 

I wonder what had made you decide to have it built?  You already owned far more estates of a grand size such as Krageholms slott or Sturefors Castle. These days they say, it was due to the expansion of your aluminium-business, which made you wanting a residence, where you could overlook it from a closer angle. Probably everyone, who was involved in the process of building Christinehof must have thought that your vision was a bit over the top, since you were already at the respectable age of 68 years when it was finished. I myself find it marvelous to dare such an adventure at such an advanced stage of your life! 

I know a very nice couple from Berlin, who had bought a manor house near my hometown Neubrandenburg. Castle Wrodow was a ruin in the early nineties, when they purchased it. Brigitte, who is one half of the couple, was almost 60 years old, when they started to renovate it in a DIY-mode and with the help of their friends. Their aim was to turn it into a living art project, celebrating theatre and operas there and the wonders of a free spirit in the legacy of Joseph Beuys. Boy, they managed to create a respectable achievement and a joyful place for the local people.

They are now in their mid-eighties, and they seem vivid and cheerful like I have never seen anyone likewise – not even in my generation, but that’s a different chapter. I truely admire everyone, who follows his or her ambitions until their very last breath. I guess, there are only two types of people: those who run like a clockwork and never stop and those, who are more of an hourglass. When the sand has fallen from one side the other, that’s it. You, Christina, certainly seemed to have endless energy according to your achievement as Skånes allover business queen.

Have you had ever imagined yourself to become such a powerful entrepreneur? Was it the marriage of your parents, both agil as businessman and businesswoman, who shaped your view of finding happiness in constant activities? As far as historic sources tell, your parents had lived an unusual partnership of equality for their time and it seems highly unusual that your father granted your mother to have something for herself outside of the family matters, which did not involve simple pleasure such as gardening and the bridge club with the girls.

But maybe the secret lies in your grandmother, Sara Nyman, who was born in Dalecarlia. It is known as the province of strong women, since tradition had it, that always the daughters inherited the farm from their parents. It seems strange these days, that there had existed such a matriarchal concept in Sweden at that time.

There is a hint that you might have inherited your grandmother’s strong spirit as she was also a daughter of merchants as well and there seems to a long tradition of merchants, both men and women, on either your mothers’ and your fathers’ side.

Your mother Margareta seems to have been a very strong woman, running her own business affairs.

Historic sources tell that in 1700 she independently bought the manor Nynäs gård, near Nynäshamn, when she already was the owner of two other manors, Djursnäs and Berga. From that point of view it could have meant a tremendous influence on your whole view of partnership between man and woman as a benevolent togetherness filled with inspiring interaction and confidence put into each other.

If I look at my own doing as a self-employed mother, I can relate to you in a way of being eager. I had to adopt the confidence, that as long as I have a sharp eye on what goes on in my life, things will keep evolving for good – although I sometimes struggle to decide, which turn I should take in order to get further. But how did you know when it was okay to be super risky? Did you have a secret adviser? How could you forsee that getting your foot into the Alum business – such an alien economic field? In the end, it would be the allover decision, which would turn you into an even richer woman than you already were.

So I guess it was in your genes and it was probably your parents, who had formed your conviction, that there is more to life than being a mother and a wife. As a woman you probably had to deal with a lot of prejudices and no matter what you did or do today – there are always people full of envy, who simple cannot accept someone else’s achievement, especially not that of a woman.

Despite your personal losses, which of no doubt were tragic – losing children, losing your husband at the age of 43 and with him a protector, you managed to emancipate yourself from the well protected woman you were to a strong matriarch. You were born into a very wealthy family of merchant and city official Olof Hansson Törne and his wife, your mother Margareta Andersen. When people like me nowadays read your biography, it seems odd that you were only 17 year old, when your father married you to his stepbrother, a man 26 years your senior. Some might even think in disdain, that such an arranged marriage was nothing but an act of cruelness. But your wänner, as the association likes to call itselve, though all kinds of material and found out, that your were indeed lucky to be connected with the sweet soul of Count Carl Piper – a respectable man and royal council lord of high standing. He was a true gentleman and your marriage was not just a duty you had to fulfill. It seems that you truly loved him and that you two were very happy that you had found counterparts in each other.

As much as you must loved him, but it was actually the absence of your beloved husband, which allowed you to develop your ambitions as a business-woman.

Some say, you can’t have it all. Maybe you had it all, but not at the same time. You had a dear husband and partner for 26 years, until your world turned upside down. I can only imagine how lonely and desperate you must have felt, when he left – and what you did not know then – for good. First as a war prisoner at the battle of Poltava in 1709, and carried off to Russia, where he died in 1716.

All of sudden you have had found yourself all alone and you had three young children and a baby to look after by yourself. And when he was publicly blamed for the long war, the hatred of Stockholms high society fell on you, too. Lucky you, that you had your estates in Skåne where you could flee to and start a new chapter in your life: That of economic ambitions and personal enrichment. So I guess, focussing on gaining wealth and status in the countryside turned out to be a good distraction from your mourn. Or did you even do it to honor him and prove to yourself, that your life could be worthwhile no matter how difficult the circumstances were. So at the age of 43 you had a dead husband and four children to look after, that’s when your courage began to evolve.

In the city of Stockholm you were a persona non grata. In Skåne you became the biggest producer and exporter of Alum.

When you acquired the estate in Andrarum in 1725 it seems you were just in the right place at the right time. Sources report that your workers, which counted 900 altogether, would have free meals all day, and during harvest season you would grant them even two more per day. Not to mention the schools and retirement homes and hospitals you let built for the people of your province.

In that sense, Christinehof was certainly an exception since you had it built exactly the way you imagined it and it became the center, from which you acted out. There are only few castles in the world, which carry the name of the builder, so this one couldn’t be more personal than it is. It truly resembles your success. I guess you’d be overwhelmed that you have so many friends, who maintain your heritage. Maintain might even be a bit underrated – these guys, your wänner, truly celebrate your persona and your achievement in such a joyous and zeitgeisty ways such as fancy cake parties and dancing concerts, all dressed up in marvelous dresses. Isn’t that what every person could only dream of – to have their own fanclub even 269 years after your death.

You had no idea what a burden your castle would be these days.

I bet when you left this world for good on 25th of March 1752, it was impossible for you to imagine that one day it would not be relevant as a representative house any more and that the whole system of aristocracy and upper class would vanish forever. It is what it is. So what a blessing it is to have your legacy under the wings of a like-minded community like your friends at Christinehof. Your ancestors already had always made quite an effort to take care of your houses in a respectable and innovative way, though. With Mia Gröndahl, a journalist and author, fresh air blew into the old walls of Christinehof. I December 2016 she could round up a group of enthusiasts, who decided, that your story should not come to an end yet.

So they made an agreement with the owner to take care of Christinehof and a wonderful new female spirit moved in with them. I am truly fascinated by their energy. Mia Gröndahl, head of the association Christinas Wänner, told me, that there was hardly any furniture in the castle, when they began. And so were hardly any facts known about your life. They started digging in your rich life, just to find out about your rebellious spirit and that of your female offsprings. They dubbed you „The uncrowned queen of Skåne“ and I am truly taken by their energy to share your heritage with the rest of the world. They say, there is so much more to discover. Your grandchildren, the rebel girls, which they have dedicated an extra exhibition, for instance. Isn’t it nice to live on by the fire of so many women – be your ancestors or random fans and her colleagues. As Mia told me recently: „We still don’t know, who Christina really was – but we are keen to find out!“ Come and get inspired of the long line of female power, which lasts until today!

Christina Piper Christinehof Slott

The Christinehof castle is open to the public from May to October.
Opening hours: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.Guided tours at 12, 13, 14, 15.
Each guided tour takes about 30 minutes.
They also arrange concerts and Events.
Christinehof Castle takes part in the annual Baltic Manor Festival.
For more information please visit their website:
https://www.christinehofslott.se

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2021-11-22T16:56:31+01:00
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