Helga de la Brache

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Helga de la Brache
Born Aurora Florentina Magnusson
(1817-09-06)September 6, 1817
Stockholm
Died January 11, 1885(1885-01-11) (aged 67)
Stockholm
Nationality Sweden
Other names Anna Florentina de la Brache
Occupation con artist
Known for supposed secret royalty

Helga de la Brache, née Aurora Florentina Magnusson, (1817-09-06, Stockholm – 1885-01-11, Stockholm), was a Swedish con artist. She attained a royal pension by convincing the authorities that she was the secret daughter of King Gustav IV of Sweden and Queen Frederica of Baden.

The fraud[edit]

The exiled Gustav IV and Frederica of Baden had divorced in 1812, but Helga de la Brache claimed that they had married again, secretly, "in a convent in Germany", which resulted in her birth in Lausanne in 1820. She was later sent to be raised by her alleged father's aunt, Princess Sophia Albertine of Sweden. When the Princess died in 1829, she was taken to the Vadstena asylum, so that the secret of her birth would be concealed as she would be thought to be insane. She was saved in 1834 and taken to her family in Baden, where she was placed under house arrest. In 1837, upon seeing the news of her father's death in the paper, she forgot to hide her grief. She returned to Sweden, where she was again put in an asylum to prevent the secret of her birth to be revealed. She managed to escape from the asylum, and was taken under the care of charitable people, who supported her despite persecution, and soon, she was given a pension of 6,000 § from her mother's family in Germany. In 1850, the pension had ceased coming, and she was unable to continue the standard of life to which she of birth had been accustomed - and she was also forced to support her many faithful friends, who stood by her during her years of persecution: No smaller pension than 5,000 or 6,000 would be sufficient.[1]

Her story was believed by many private people in Sweden and Finland. She received great financial support from private benefactors. Followed by her faithful companion, who was an educated and cultivated woman who supported her story, de la Brache performed with a simplicity and naivete which made people unable to suspect she was cunning enough to have made it all up, and sensible enough for people to think that she did not believe it because she was mad. Eventually, even the skeptics had to admit that the story was at least theoretically possible. One of the reasons to why such a story could be believed, was that all contact with the deposed former dynasty was forbidden in 19th-century Sweden, which made it hard to verify and examine what would be likely regarding their family relations.

She convinced the salon hostess Frances Lewin-von Koch (1804–1888), the British born spouse of the minister of justice, Nils von Koch, who housed her and provided her with a lawyer, and through her also her husband; the parliamentary Anders Uhr and the royal court chaplain Carl Norrby, but was seen as a fraud by Prime minister Louis De Geer and foreign minister Ludvig Manderström. The queen mother Josefina took an interest in her, and provided her with an allowance. The king did not take much interest but wanted to get the whole affair over and done with. She was granted a meeting with Charles XV who, afterward, remarked to the parliamentarians: "Why, she is just as sane as you or me".

In March 1861, the king allowed her an annual pension from the foreign department of 2,400 Swedish riksdaler a year, (the amount, from the beginning 1.200, was made larger in December 1869). He also promised to get her the furniture of a princess. She managed to continue this for years.

In 1870, however, an article in a newspaper by C. Norrby, one of her benefactors, appeared, resulting in an investigation.

The real story[edit]

In 1876–77, it was proved that she was born in Stockholm as Aurora Florentina Magnusson to the custom caretaker Anders Magnusson (died 1826). Her mother was left a poor widow with five children, and Magnusson only received one year of school education. At the confirmation of Aurora Magnusson, her mother was overheard saying, that Aurora was not her biological daughter, but a foster child. She named her biological parents and both belonging to the upper classes: her father as Count De Geer, and her mother as a "Förnäm fröken" (Unmarried noblewoman). This may have been either true or false, as no information has been confirmed one way or the other. True or false, it is nevertheless believed to have affected Aurora Magnusson greatly.

In 1835, she was a maid to a book-keeper named Hedman, where the family said that she always had the mind to "rise above her status". In 1838, she was employed by the wealthy merchant Henrik Aspegren on Västerlånggatan 78, whose daughter, Henrika, became deeply devoted to her, dressed her in elegant clothes and left her family for her. She was originally hired as a sewing help for the daughter's of the Aspegren family to prepare for a ball. When the Aspegren's was about to leave for the ball, Magnusson burst into tears and told them that she was homeless and had nowhere to sleep for the night, and she was thereby invited to stay. It was Henrika Aspegren who later became her companion and accomplice in the fraud.

When the two women moved to Finland in 1844, Aurora Florentina had the name de la Brache on her passport, and when she returned to Sweden in 1845, she changed her name to Anna Florentina de la Brache. She was named : "De la Brache, Anna Florentina, Miss, formerly known by the name Aurora Magnusson". She managed to have her name changed from her birth certificate to Helga. Aurora Magnusson was reported drowned. The two women can be traced to have moved around from one city to another in both Sweden and Finland - Helga was often supported by her friend, who worked as a teacher. In 1846 they were in Turku, where they managed a girl's school advertised by the noble name of de la Brache, and where Helga, as it was said, mastered the art of fainting upon uncomfortable questions from parents. In 1848, they lived in Örebro, in 1857–59 in Sala, where they tried to start a fashion shop, before they arrived in Stockholm in the 1860s to commence their fraud.

Aftermath[edit]

The trial in 1876–77 draw much attention both from the public and the royal family and was much reported in the papers. It led to the loss of the pension of Helga/Florentina. The 2 March 1877, Helga de la Brache was judged guilty of having registered herself under a false name, year of birth and for not tax-registered herself for the year of 1877, and sentenced to fines [2]

"Princess Helga de la Brache" spent her last years in an apartment in Klara norra with her companion, seemingly paid for by a supporter. The two women lived a quiet life, walked in the park and ordered home food and rarely talked to other people, although Helga was described as a nice old woman. In 1884, however, the two women were observed in the gardens of Drottningholm Palace by King Oscar II, who ordered them to be escorted from the park. Soon after, they moved from their apartment to another one in Djurgården, because they were afraid that they were going to be arrested.

During her last years, she was described as dignified and sad. According to the artist Georg von Rosen, who was present at her death bed, she was genuinely convinced about her royal birth. She died in Djurgården 1885.

In 1909, the politician Per August Johansson tried to clear her name, but the process led to nothing. The later process of the 1910s was centered around the fact, that Frederica of Baden had named the Russian czar as the guardian of her children after her divorce, and because of this, Helga de la Brache was to have been entitled to economic compensation from the Russian czar. This process ended with the Russian revolution of 1917.

Several books have been written about her.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Den förmenta prinsessan", Helsingfors Dagblad (in (Swedish)) (National Library of Finland) (40), 18 February 1870: 3, retrieved 03 July 2014 
  2. ^ Lindorm, Erik : Oscar II och hans tid (The epoch of Oscar II) (1979)
  • "47-48 (Nordisk familjebok / Uggleupplagan. 6. Degeberg - Egyptolog)". Nordisk familjebok - Uggleupplagan (in Swedish) 6. 1907. p. 40. 
  • Lars Elgklou (1995). Familjen Bernadotte, en kunglig släktkrönika (in Swedish). Skogs boktryckeri Trelleborg. ISBN 91-7054-755-6. 
  • [1] [MARC] Author: Emil Norlander : Rännstensungar och storborgare /149 (1924) (Children of the gutter and grand bourgoises) (In Swedish)
  • Lisbet Scheutz (2001 (2003) nuytgåva). Berömda och glömda stockholmskvinnor: sju stadsvandringar: 155 kvinnoporträtt. (Famous and forgotten women of Stockholm: seven tours: 155 female profiles) Stockholm: MBM. ISBN 91-973725-3-6 Libris 8392583