Pontus De la Gardie
He was born Ponce d'Escouperie in Caunes-Minervois (Aude), Languedoc, a son of Jacques Escoperier and X Armengaud. As a youngster, he wanted to become a priest and was educated in a monastery. He changed his mind however, and left Languedoc to become a mercenary in the service of Denmark. De la Gardie was promoted to officer and was in charge of a regiment of mercenaries. In 1565, during the Northern Seven Years' War, he was captured by Swedish troops at Varberg, and changed allegiance to Sweden. De la Gardie quickly became a favourite of John III of Sweden and in 1569, after only four years in the Swedish service, he received noble status. In 1571, he was created a baron and was given Ekholmen Castle.
He was suspected to have taken part in a plot to assassinate John III. The plot was led by Charles de Mornay, who was in contact with Christina of Denmark and the French ambassador in Copenhagen Charles Dancay. John III was to be killed during a swords dance performed by Scottish mercenaries at the party which was to be given in October that year before the Scottish mercenaries departure to the Baltic. After the assassination, the king's brother Duke Charles was to be placed upon the throne. The plot did not materialize as de Mornay lost his nerve and never gave the sign to the mercenaries to take action. In September 1574, the plot was revealed and Charles de Mornay was arrested, interrogated and executed. It was never made clear who participated in the plot. However, it is noted, that the suspected conspirators Hogenskild Bielke, Gustaf Banér and Pontus De la Gardie, often gathered at meetings in the apartment of Princess Elizabeth of Sweden, meetings where Princess Cecilia of Sweden had also frequently been seen, and the two sisters and their brother Charles were somewhat compromised though they were never accused. Pontus De la Gardie was himself never put on trial for his suspected involvement in the affair.
After Clas Åkesson Tott's resignation as the supreme commander of the Swedish forces in Finland and Estonia as a consequence of the Siege of Wesenberg (1574) during the Livonian War, de la Gardie took over Tott's office. De la Gardie's skills combined with the fact that Sweden's enemy Russia had to transfer troops to defend against Polish attacks further south led to considerable military success for Sweden during the following years. In the fall of 1580, Karelia was conquered. De la Gardie led his troops over the frozen Gulf of Finland to capture the fortresses of Wesenberg (now Rakvere) and Tolsburg (now Toolse). In September 1581, Narva was taken after a storming that had been preceded by a massive bombardment. 4,000 soldiers and civilians were killed, pointing out the fact that De la Gardie was not only a skillful warrior, but a cruel and hard commander as well. De la Gardie and his Swedish troops went on to capture the fortress of Ivangorod and several other fortresses that autumn. In 1582, the war with Russia was ended and Sweden got to keep the conquests made in Karelia and Ingria, but had to withdraw from Livonia.
De la Gardie was the most renowned military commander in Sweden during the 16th century and has been credited with much of the country's military success in the 1580s. An example of his ingenuity was the strategy of using zigzag shaped saps during the siege of Narva, a new technique at the time.
On 4 February 1580 De la Gardie married Sofia Johansdotter Gyllenhielm (ca.1556-1583), the illegitimate daughter of John III of Sweden and a Finnish lady, Karin Hansdotter. During the wedding, a gallery in the church collapsed and one person was killed. Some sceptics claimed it was a bad omen or a divine act with which God condemned the marriage.
Pontus De la Gardie and Sofia Gyllenhielm had three children:
- Brita Pontusdotter De la Gardie (1581–1645)
- Baron Johan De la Gardie (1582–1642), statesman of the Swedish Empire
- Count and Field Marshal Jacob De la Gardie (1583–1652)
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- Eriksson, Bo. "En katt bland hermelinerna" (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
- Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen (2010). Vasadöttrarna ['The Vasa Daughters']. Falun: Historiska Media. ISBN 978-91-85873-87-6 (In Swedish)
- Peterson, Gary Dean (2007). Warrior kings of Sweden. The rise of an empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. McFarland. p. 93. ISBN 0-7864-2873-2.
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- The stonemasons