Catherine Stenbock

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Catherine Stenbock
Catherine Stenbock as queen dowager
Queen consort of Sweden
Tenure 22 August 1552 – 29 September 1560
Coronation 23 August 1552
Spouse Gustav I of Sweden
House Stenbock
Father Gustaf Olofsson Stenbock
Mother Brita Eriksdotter Leijonhufvud
Born 22 July 1535
Torpa, Västergötland
Died 13 December 1621
Strömsholm, Västmanland
Burial Uppsala Cathedral

Catherine Stenbock (Swedish: Katarina Gustavsdotter Stenbock ; born at Torpa, Tranemo Municipality, Västergötland on 22 July 1535 – died at Strömsholm, Västmanland on 13 December 1621) was Queen of Sweden between 1552 and 1560 as the third and last wife of King Gustav I. She was the daughter of Gustaf Olofsson Stenbock and Brita Eriksdotter Leijonhufvud, who was the sister of the King's previous consort, Margareta Leijonhufvud. She was the sister of Ebba Stenbock.


Early life[edit]

Like the previous queen, Catherine was engaged when the king decided to marry her, but the engagement was broken so the king could have his way. It is said that she ran away and hid behind a bush in the garden when the king arrived at her parents mansion, and according to old stories, she often talked about her earlier fiancé in her sleep. The marriage was contested by the church and clergy, because of her relation (niece) to the king's former queen. The king, however, responded that the laws of the old testament were only appliable to Jews, and therefore, the wedding could take place.


The marriage was celebrated in the city of Vadstena 22 August 1552 at great expense, at the same time as the plague swept through the country and the city of Turku burned down, and people claimed to see bad omens and evil signs in the sky. The day after, Catherine was crowned Queen. The celebrations lasted for three days. When the court departed, the city of Vadstena burned down in a great fire, which was seen as another bad omen. The marriage was not a happy one, which was admitted by the king himself; he was even said to contemplate writing a law which would prevent any future marriage between: "Two people, of which one was young and one was old". It is said that the king heard her talking of her former fiance, Gustav Tre Rosor ("Three Roses"), in her sleep, during which she said : "King Gustav is very dear to me, but I will never forget the Rose". The king's health declined during the next years, and she was more a nurse than his wife for the eight years she was queen. In 1554 and in 1556, there were signs that she was pregnant, but no pregnancy was ever officially announced and none was ever confirmed.[1] She visited Finland in 1555, where she stayed until 1556.[1]

Queen dowager[edit]

After the death of the king in 1560, Catherine lived as a widow for 61 years. She was the first Swedish dowager queen given the title "Riksänkedrottning", which means "The Queen Dowager of the Realm". Her estates made her very wealthy and independent as a widow. She lent money to several of the kings following her spouse. She also acted as a mediator in conflicts. As Eric was unmarried, Queen Dowager Catherine ceremoniously functioned as the first lady of the royal court during his reign, though she continued to dress in morning. In 1562, for example, she opened a ball given for the Polish embassy, which had came to discuss the wedding between Duke John and Catherine Jagellon of Poland, with Eric. In 1568, she was made god mother of king Eric's son with Karin Månsdotter. Karin Hansdotter, Anna Phersönernas moder and Ebba Brahe were all at different times employed at her court. There were reports, that Eric had plans to have his brothers as well as other enemies killed before his wedding to Karin Månsdotter, but that the plans failed because Månsdotter warned the intended victims through Catherine Stenbock[2]

Catherine carried the son of Eric and Karin Månsdotter to his baptism on 9 June 1568[2] During the double wedding between Eric XIV and Karin Månsdotter and Princess Sophia of Sweden and Duke Magnus II of Saxe-Lauenburg in June 1568, Catherine walked first in the procession at the side of Karin Månsdotter, followed by the princesses Sophia and Elizabeth. At the dethronement of King Eric XIV in 1568, it is described how Duke Magnus II of Saxe-Lauenburg, husband of her stepdaughter Princess Sophia, took her, his spouse and Princess Elizabeth by boat from the royal palace of Stockholm, to abandon Eric by joining the rebels, headed by Prince John in Uppsala.[2] John stated in the official propaganda, that Eric had planned to present Catherine, Sophia and Elizabeth as hostages to Russia after he had failed to do so with John's consort. John also claimed that Eric had accused Catherine of conspiring with Denmark during the ongoing Nordic Seven Years' War. During the imprisonment of Eric and Karin, their children were in the custody of Catherine Stenbock and their French governess Johanna (Jeanne) de Herboville from 1568 until 1570[2]

During the reign of John, she no longer had such an important part in court life as John's wife acted as queen. In 1570, Catherine had a wish to marry Duke Francis II of Saxe-Lauenburg, the brother of her stepdaughter's husband, Duke Magnus II. These plans was however prevented by Magnus. In 1574, she participated in convincing King John to release her nephew Erik Stenbock, who had been imprisoned and deposed from his position by the King on recommendation of Martha Leijonhudvud after his legendary elopement with Martha's daughter. Her estates were within the duchy of her stepson Duke Charles, and she had many conflicts with him. In 1581, Duke Charles again contested her right to her estates, but her property was protected by King John III of Sweden. She had a good relationship with John and often lent him money. In 1582, she participated in the meeting between Karin Månsdotter and queen Catherine Jagellon at Svartsjö Castle[2] During the conflict between Sigismund and Charles in the 1590s, she was by Charles suspected of siding with the former, and she maintained a correspondence with her sister Ebba Stenbock, who was married to a fierce loyalist of Sigismund.

As a widow, she participated much in charity. Upon her death in 1621 at 86 years of age, it was said that: "The poor have lost a friend, the orphans their mother". She was buried in Uppsala Cathedral, but without a monument of her own.


  1. ^ a b Suomen kansallisbiografia 5, sivu 58
  2. ^ a b c d e Sture Arnell (in Swedish): Karin Månsdotter, Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm 1951. ISBN.


  • Svenskt biografiskt handlexikon (1906), Katarina Stenbock. [1]
  • Herman Lindqvist, "Historien om Sverige".
  • Herman Lindqvist (2006). Historien om alla Sveriges drottningar (Swedish). Norstedts Förlag. ISBN 91-1-301524-9.
  • Lars Ericson: Johan III (John III) (Swedish)
  • Lars-Olof Larsson: Gustav Vasa - Landsfader eller tyrann? (Gustav Vasa - Father of a country or a tyrant?) (Prisma) (Swedish)
  • Herman Lindvist: Historien om alla Sveriges drottningar (History of all the queens of Sweden) (Swedish) (2006)
  • Wilhelmina Stålberg, P. G. Berg : Anteckningar om svenska qvinnor (Notes of Swedish women) (in Swedish)
  • Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen (2010). Vasadöttrarna (utgåva 2). Falun: Historiska Media. ISBN 978-91-85873-87-6
  • Malin Grundberg: Ceremoniernas makt: maktöverföring och genus i vasatidens kungliga ceremonier
Catherine Stenbock
Born: 22 July 1535 Died: 13 December 1621
Swedish royalty
Title last held by
Margaret Leijonhufvud
Queen consort of Sweden
Title next held by
Karin Månsdotter