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, or writers Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, or Margaret Atwood. Or those who have paved their way in the business world, such as Madame C. J. Walker, a black woman who 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 historical figure from time to time.” Thanks to our Swedish partners from Castle Christinehof in Skania, I am glad to get to know Christina Piper, who became the most successful female entrepreneur of her time.
Dear, Christina Piper...
Just before the worldwide pandemic enveloped 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 what excellent condition it is still—or again is. Considering its age of nearly 280 years, you could not be more delighted with what became of it since you could no longer take care of 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, look after your heritage, a cultural association of enthusiasts from the local area.
I am curious as to why you chose to have it built. You already own far more estates of grand size, such as Krageholms slott or Sturefors Castle. These days, they say it was due to the expansion of your aluminum business, which made you want 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 when it was finished. Personally, I find it astounding that you would attempt such an adventure at such an advanced stage of your life!
I know a very nice couple from Berlin who have bought a manor house near my hometown, Neubrandenburg. When they purchased it, Castle Wrodow was a ruin in the early nineties. Brigitte, who is one half of the couple, was almost 60 years old when they began renovating it in a do-it-yourself fashion and with the assistance of their friends. They aimed to transform it into a living art project, celebrating theatre and opera there and the wonders of the free spirit in the legacy of Joseph Beuys. They achieved a commendable feat and created a joyful environment for the locals.
They are now in their mid-eighties, and they appear vibrant and cheerful in a way that I have never witnessed before—not even in my generation, but that’s a different chapter. I truly admire everyone who follows their ambitions until their very last breath. I guess there are only two types of people: those who run like clockwork and never stop and those who are more like an hourglass. When the sand has fallen from one side to the other, that’s it. Christina, you surely appeared to have boundless energy, judging by your success as Skanias’s all-around business queen.
Have you ever envisioned yourself as such an influential entrepreneur? Was it your parents’ marriage, both of whom were successful businesspeople, that shaped your view of finding happiness in constant activity? According to historical sources, your parents had an unusual partnership of equality for their time. Besides, it seems highly unusual that your father allowed your mother to have something for herself outside of family matters that did not involve simple pleasures like gardening and bridge club with the girls.
Your mother, Margareta, seems to have been a very strong woman
But maybe the secret lies with your grandmother, Sara Nyman, who was born in Dalecarlia. It is known as the province of strong women since, according to tradition, daughters always inherit the farm from their parents. It seems strange these days that such a matriarchal concept existed 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, and there seems to be a long tradition of merchants, both men and women, on either your mother’s or your father’s side.
Your mother, Margareta, seems to have been a very strong woman, running her own business affairs.
Historical sources tell that in 1700, she independently bought the manor Nynäs gård, near Nynäshamn, after already owning two other manors, Djursnäs and Berga. From that point of view, it could have greatly influenced your whole view of partnership between man and woman as a benevolent togetherness filled with inspiring interaction and confidence put into each other.
When I consider my own actions as a self-employed mother, I can relate to you in terms of being eager. I had to adopt the confidence that as long as I have a sharp eye on what is going 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 foresee getting your foot into the alum business—such an alien economic field? In the end, it would be an all-over decision that would turn you into an even richer woman than you already were.
So, I guess it was in your genes and most likely your parents who had formed your conviction that there was 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 will always be people who are envious of others’ accomplishments, particularly those of a woman.
Despite your personal tragedies—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 become 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 years old when your father married you to his stepbrother, a man 26 years your senior. Some might even think, with disdain, that such an arranged marriage was nothing but an act of cruelness. But your wänner, as the association likes to call itself, combed through a plethora of material and discovered that you 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. On the other hand, 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 love him, it was actually the absence of your beloved husband that allowed you to develop your ambitions as a businesswoman.
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 then carried off to Russia, where he died in 1716.
All of a sudden, you 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 Stockholm’s high society also fell on you. 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 focusing on gaining wealth and status in the countryside turned out to be a good distraction from your grief. 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.
You had no idea what a burden your castle would be these days.
In the city of Stockholm you were a persona non grata. In Skåne you became the biggest producer and exporter of Alum.
You appear to have been in the right place at the right time when you acquired the estate in Andrarum in 1725. According to sources, your workers, who numbered 900 in total, would have free meals all day. During harvest season, you would grant them even two more per day—not to mention the schools, retirement homes, and hospitals you allowed to be built for the people of your province.
Christinehof was certainly an exception in that sense since you had it built exactly the way you imagined it, and it became the center from which you acted out. There are only a few castles in the world that bear the builder’s name, 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 achievements in such joyous and zeitgeisty ways 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 their death?
You had no idea what a burden your castle would be these days.
I bet when you left this world for good on the 25th of March 1752, it was impossible for you to imagine that one day it would not be relevant as a representative house anymore 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 had already 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. In December 2016, she was able to 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 into your rich life just to find out about your rebellious spirit and that of your female offspring. They dubbed you “The uncrowned queen of Skania” and I am truly taken by their energy to share your heritage with the rest of the world. According to them, there is still much more to discover. Your granddaughters, the rebel girls, to whom they have devoted an additional exhibition, for instance. Isn’t it nice to live on by the fire of so many women— whether they are your ancestors or random fans and 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 by the long line of female power that stretches all the way to the present day!
Christians Vänner - Visit the Castle
The Christinehof Castle is open to the public from May to October.
Opening hours: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. There are interesting guided tours around the day in different languages. Annual exhibitions reflect on various aspects of the Castles past. They also arrange concerts and Events.
Christinehof Castle takes part in the annual Baltic Manor Festival. For more information please visit their website.
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