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Scots in Sweden
Scots in Sweden, by Jonas Berg and Bo Lagercrantz
Sixteenth Century

The first occasion on which we learn of Scottish troops in Sweden is in 1502, but they were in Danish service. A large contingent arrived that year in Copenhagen and were later employed in the fighting against Sweden. In 1520 a number of Scots took part in Christian II’s expedition against Sweden and in the capture of Stockholm.

Detail of Hogenberg's engraving of Stockholm around 1580.  Seen from north.

In the following year Gustaf Vasa, assisted by Lubeck, liberated Sweden from the Danish King, known in Sweden as Christian the Tyrant. King Gustaf generally turned to Germany whenever he needed to enlist troops, but occasional Scottish units may have been included. In 1556 there were negotiations between Gustavus Vasa and one Johannes Edmonstone on the raizing of troops in Scotland, but they do not seem to have come to anything.

Under Gustaf Vasa’s three sons the situation changed. The father had with great vigour tried to transform mediaeval Sweden into a modern state, but to keep it rather isolated from the rest of Europe. The sons, each of whom ruled Sweden in turn, devoted great attention to foreign policy. In the spirit of the time, political marriages were sought as one of the most important means of furthering that policy.

For almost five years from 1557 the eldest son Eric courted Elizabeth. Three times he sent ambassadors to her court, on one occasion his brother, Duke John. He was about to set sail for England in person in 1560 when Gustaf Vasa died. From 1561 King Eric XIV courted also Mary Queen of Scots, whose suitors later included his brother Magnus. Although none of these attempts led to any result, nevertheless they had their importance, in that the envoys sent out also tried to enlist troops and to promote trade.

The castle of Wesenberg in Livonia
The castle of Wesenberg in Livonia

In 1563 Eric XIV wrote to an agent in Scotland and requested the enlistment of 2000 men. In this year the Scandinavian Seven Years’ War broke out between Sweden and Denmark. No mention is found of any Scottish infantry on Sweden’s side during this war, and it is uncertain whether the King’s letter had any result. On the other hand, a troop of Scottish cavalry appears as early as in 1565, and five years later there were at least three troops, under Willem Cahun, Robert Crichton and Andrew Keith. In 1568 Eric XIV was deposed and imprisoned, and the throne occupied by his brother John III. After bringing the war to an end in 1570, John was concerned to discharge his foreign cavalry, which by then numbered seven troops (3 Scottish, 1 English and 3 German) but in the case of the Scottish troops at least this seems to have been a long drawn-out procedure.

Meanwhile, relations with Russia became strained, and in 1573 foot soldiers were enlisted in Scotland on a large scale. In June of that year there arrived a large contingent, perhaps as many as 4000 men. This troop, which was under the command of Colonel Archibald Ruthven, marched through Sweden to be shipped out to the fighting in Esthonia and Livonia. The Scottish cavalry from the Seven Years’ War seem then still to have been in Swedish service.

In 1579 we learn of Jakob Neaf as a Captain of Horse, but it is not known if his men were from Scotland. In the same year the name of Henrik Leyell also begins to appear as Captain of Horse, and ten years later, at all events, his troop consisted of Scots.

In 1591, when the situation at the Russian border hardened, there were two troops of Scottish cavalry in the Swedish army, Henrik Leyell’s and a new troop under the command of Willem Ruthven. The latter’s patent for the enlistment of horsemen is still preserved, and it is clear from this that he had the right to enlist Scottish horsemen wherever he could find them, although it is hardly probable that he did in fact enlist his men in Scotland. In 1593 a further troop of cavalry was enlisted by Abraham Young. Henrik Leyell’s troop was still in service in 1597.

John III died in 1592 and was succeeded by his son Sigismund, but as the latter was King of Poland and a Catholic, Sweden came to be ruled by John III’s brother Duke Charles, who became king at the turn of the century as Charles IX. Professional soldiers were needed for the War of Succession that then broke out between Sweden and Poland. Charles IX wrote numerous letters to different people in Scotland in an attempt to get men enlisted, but apparently without result until 1607.

Archibald Ruthven

Archibald Ruthven was son of Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven, and Janet Douglas, daughter of the Earl of Angus. His father had instigated the murder of Cardinal Riccio in 1566 and died in exile in the same year. Archibald was the fourth son, the eldest died and another was murdered in 1571. His brother William Ruthven, 4th Lord Ruthven, had also taken part in the murder of Riccio, but returned to Scotland. He was Lord Treasurer from 1571. In 1581 he was created Earl of Gowrie. The statement, sometimes to be found, that he visited Sweden is probably false.

Archibald signed himself "of Forteviot and Master of Ruthven". In 1572 he was recommended to John III by the Regent, Mar. In the autumn of 1572 he stayed at John’s court in Vadstena for five weeks with an escort of eleven men and three extra horses. He was commissioned on this occasion to go over to Scotland to enlist 2000 men. He travelled via Denmark where he met Dancay in March. The latter wrote (2nd June) to Catherine of Medici: "In Denmark all is calm, not so in Sweden. Those who come from that country have strange tales to tell. About four months ago there came a Scottish nobleman, Master Rewen, brother to My Lord Rewen, passing through Denmark on his journey from Sweden to Scotland to enlist soldiers for the King of Sweden. I have now heard from those coming from Scotland that he has enlisted a number of men which he hopes soon to take over to Sweden." At the written request of, among others, the King’s Court Commissioner, Anders Keith, enlistment was made on a larger scale than had originally been planned, and the total number enlisted was in the end probably around 4000 men.

The troops enlisted were of the Reformed Church and many of them had just taken part in the siege of Edinburgh Castle. Archibald Ruthven himself took part in this siege which led to the capture of the castle on 28th May. According to a letter from the Earl of Morton to John III, dated June 19th, he was then still in Scotland but arrived in Elfsborg in Sweden already on the 18th and was immediately ordered to proceed to the King.

Later on in the summer Archibald Ruthven arrived in Stockholm with his force, and a number of complications immediately arose. The direct cause of the trouble appears to have been that the pay of the Scottish troop was missing. The Scottish officers were accused of having embezzled the same, and in a tight corner they made the accusation a question of honour. They held a countryman, Hugh Cahun, who had been five years in the service of John III, responsible for the accusation, and refused to sail to the fighting in Livonia until he had been executed. The King gave way, and Hugh Cahun’s head fell in the Great Square in Stockholm. The Scots then set sail. This situation reflects the terror felt by the Swedish authorities for the numerous foreign soldiery. John III’s bad conscience was eased by a generous pension to Cahun’s widow.

In the late winter of 1574 the main Swedish force was camped outside the Russian fortress of Wesenberg in Livonia. Pontus de la Gardie was in command and tried three times to storm the town, suffering great losses. The besieging force included Swedish and Scottish foot soldiers and Swedish and German cavalry. There was much ill-feeling between the Scottish infantry and the German cavalry and on the 15th March fighting broke out between them. German cavalry attacked Scottish soldiers and Colonel Ruthven, who tried with De la Gardie and other officers to intervene, was badly wounded. One of the troops of Scottish cavalry (Wilhelm Moncrieff’s) joined in on the side of their countrymen and several hundreds (some sources give 1500) were killed. A number of Scots fled to the besieged Russians in Wesenberg. At the trial that was held in Stockholm the Scots — probably unjustly — were given the chief blame for what had happened. The Scottish force had been broken. Ruthven, who had been wounded, and Gilbert Balfour were sent in irons to Stockholm. There, cut off from the remainder of their forces, they were accused of having played a leading role in Charles de Mornay’s conspiracy to replace Eric XIV on the throne. For six years Eric XIV had been kept imprisoned by his brother and successor, and the risk of his being liberated by his followers had been a continual and predominant problem for John III. Twice during the previous autumn, apparently, Archibald Ruthven and Gilbert Balfour — experienced in such matters since the murder of Lord Darnley — had plotted the murder of the King, under the supervision of Charles de Mornay. On the first occasion certain Scottish captains were to rush to the King’s bedchamber and the minutes of the trial inform us that he was saved only by chance. On the second occasion it was planned that the murder should take place in grand style at the farewell banquet that was held at Stockholm Castle, after payment had finally been made and the departure of the Scottish force to Livonia agreed. A Scottish sword dance was a natural feature of the festivities and gave the conspirators their chance to bare weapons. The murder was to be the climax of the dance — but de Mornay’s nerve failed him at the decisive moment and he never gave the agreed sign.

Sword dance
Sword dance. "Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus" by Olaus Magnus 1555.

It is impossible to distinguish facts from false accusation in this story. What is certain is that Charles de Mornay was led to the block in Stockholm in September 1574. "Today" he is reputed to have said, "dies Carolus, by whose good service King John is alive." It is also a fact that Archibald Ruthven died imprisoned in Vasteras Castle, in February 1578, after a number of petitions from prominent countrymen in Scotland had been ignored. Gilbert Balfour was condemned to death in the autumn of 1574 but long succeeded in avoiding execution by claiming knowledge of the legendary treasure of Eric XIV. After belief in this story had waned, following repeated interrogations, Balfour gained a further respite by an offer of 800 golden nobles. The King raised the demand to around 1000, and when the prisoner was unable to raise this amount, the axe fell in August 1576.

Jacob Neaf

Jacob Neaf’s origins are obscure, but he was a Scot and appears in Sweden for the first time in 1571, when he was page to John III. Two years later he was a private soldier (possibly Ensign) in Andrew Keith’s troop. Sometime before 1575 he married the daughter of a well-to-do Stockholm merchant. In 1579 he was Captain of Horse, and from 1583 Governor of Västmanland and Dalecarlia. In the middle of the 1580’s he received as a gift Marby, on Oknön in Lake Mälar, and this he made his family seat. He was a Roman Catholic, and a warm adherent of King Sigismund, which made him highly impopular with the Dalecarlians. In 1596 an attempt was made on his life in Dalecarlia, and in 1598 when he attempted to proclaim the banishment of Duke Charles, he was imprisoned, manhandled and killed.

He had a son, Johan Neaf, who was murdered in Stockholm, 1607, on his return from Poland and King Sigismund. One of Jacob Neaf’s daughters married Johan Skytte, Gustavus Adolphus’ tutor, who in 1634 placed a stone on his father-in-law’s tomb in Stora Tuna Church.

The stone was adorned with eight somewhat imaginative coats-of-arms, and an inscription that roughly translated would run: "Jacob Neaf, a noble Scot/ Of Noble line and birth/ In Dalecarlia lived, where ‘twas his lot/ To govern, while on earth./ On Oknö lay his temp’ral home/ A gift from the King of Sweden./ Hereunder rests he now his bones/ And waits a Heavenly Eden." The shields are thought to be those of: Neff, Baron of Methie/ Lord de Gray/ Leslie, Earl of Tothes/ Lindsay, Earl of Crawford/ Wishart, Baron of Pitarro/ D. Lindsay/ Lord Ogilvie/ Ramsay, Lord of Auchterhouse.

Andreas Keith, Lord Dingwall, Baron of Forsholm and Finsta

It is not known when or where Andrew Keith was born. He was the illegitimate son of a man of the church, Robert Keith. The mother’s name is unknown but his father, who was Commendator of the Abbey of Deer, died in Paris in 1551, and lies buried in front of St. Ninian’s altar in the Carmelite Church in the Place Maubert. Andrew Keith was of high birth, his uncle being William Keith, 4th Earl Marshal. Andrew Keith entered Swedish service in 1568 and from 1568-73 was captain of a troop of Scottish horse. In 1574 he became Commandant of Vadstena Castle and was created Baron. In 1576 he became Court Commissioner.

In the early 1570’s, probably in 1573, he married a Swedish lady of high birth, Elisabeth Birgersdotter Grip. She was related to John III (her grandmother was Gustav Vasa’s sister) and the King seems to have paid for the wedding. In 1578 Keith bought a house in Stockholm, and in 1580 we learn on two occasions of a builder in his employ, so that we can assume that it was on this occasion that he built the house that still exists in Baggensgatan. It has a stone plaque with the arms of Keith and his wife, their names and AUXILIUM NOSTRUM A DOMINO.

In 1583 Keith was Swedish legate to Queen Elizabeth of England. A letter from James VI of Scotland to John III is still preserved, in which Keith seems to have been released from his service to Sweden. He was created Lord Dingwall in 1584, and was appointed as one of the ambassadors who were to arrange the marriage that took place in 1590 between James VI and Princess Anne of Denmark. For this purpose Andrew Keith journeyed six times between Scotland and Denmark and for his services he received a life annuity of £1000 from 1588/89 and, in 1591, a confirmation of his title of Lord, and soon afterwards he seems to have left Scotland for good. In 1589 he was a member of the court that tried the Earl of Bothwell for treason, but by as early as 1592/93 Sir William Keith of Delny held the deeds of all the possessions he had in Britain. The title, however, did not follow with the estate, and Sir William never signed himself Lord Dingwall.

Keith had the whole time maintained his links with Sweden and the House of Vasa. In 1587 he had been appointed Court Counsellor by Sigismund, John III’s son, who was elected King of Poland that same year, and in the following year he had paid a short visit to Sweden. During the 1590’s Andrew Keith seems to have been a warm supporter of King Sigismund, and he was exiled from Sweden by Duke Charles, who was then in power. The last we hear of Andrew Keith is that in 1597 he wrote his wife a letter from Elsinor. In all probability he died before 1600 as his wife then signed herself "of Finsta", the Swedish estate he had used in his signature during the 1590’s. He had no children, but in 1609 a claim was put forward in Stockholm to his estate by a Scottish envoy who also bore the name Andrew Keith.

Hans Stuart

The first Stuarts in Sweden were two sons to Johannes Stuart of Ochiltree, who accompanied Mary Queen of Scots to France in 1558, and who served as Colonel under Francis II of France until the latter’s death in 1560, when he returned to Scotland. His wife’s maiden name was Forbus. His son, Hans Stuart, was in 1565 captured by the Danes on a voyage from Edinburgh to Danzig and taken to Varberg where he was held prisoner, it being suspected that he intended to enter Swedish service. But when the Swedes stormed Varberg in August of the same year he was robbed of all his possessions and taken in chains to Upsala. Only at the request of the Scottish officers he was finally set free. He was raised to the Swedish nobility in 1579, after showing evidence of his birth. From 1582 he held the estate of Hedenlunda, which remained the main seat of the family for two hundred years. In 1585 he received letters from James VI granting him the right to bear "the arms of his blue field." In 1604 he was Gentleman of the Bedchamber at the court of Charles IX, and later Colonel of a regiment that he had enlisted in Scotland. In 1609 he was Inspector-general of all foreign troops, and in 1611 he was sent as Swedish envoy to Russia. He was married to Brita Soop. He died in 1618 and his wife in 1622. The two lie buried under a lovely stone in Vadsbro Church. He had a brother, Anders Stuart, who was an officer. The family still survives in Sweden.

Hans Stuart’s grandson, Carl Magnus Stuart, was the country’s foremost fortifications officer at the turn of the 17th-18th centuries, and was military tutor and adviser to the young Charles XII.

The Colquhoun Family

The Scottish family of Colquhoun have been in Sweden for 400 years. In the middle of the 1560’s two brothers, William and Hugh Colquhoun, came to Sweden as officers with a Scottish troop of horse that had been enlisted for the bloody war between Sweden and Denmark, which then surged back and forth in south Sweden. Their father was apparently Sir Alexander Colquhoun of Luss and Colquhoun and the mother a Buchanan. From the time they arrived in Sweden they were called Cahun.

Willem used a signet with the same Cross of St. Andrew as the Scottish family bore in its arms. He commanded a troop of Scottish horse at the battle of Axtorna in 1565. We learn nothing of his fate after 1574. He possibly accompanied the large Scottish force that was sent out to the fighting in Russia. The archives provide more details on his brother Hugh, who was one of the first foreign officers to defect from Eric XIV in 1567 and to join Eric’s brother Duke John, later John III. When the Scottish infantry under Archibald Ruthven arrived in Stockholm in 1574, he was accused of slandering its officers and, on the demand of his countrymen, was executed. John III made generous provision, however, for his family. The present Swedish family of Gahn stems from his son Peter Cahun, who became part-owner of the Falun copper mine.

One of his descendants was raised to the nobility in 1689 under the name of Canonhielm. Later on, General Pontus Gahn, when he became aware of his noble Scottish origin, took the name of Gahn of Colquhoun when he was raised to the nobility in 1809.

A roll of men in Willem Cahun’s troop is extant from 1569. It was 100 men strong, and the other officers were Hugh Cahun, David Cor, Thomas Bachnari, Willem Moncrieff and Robert Crichton. The other ranks include such names as Arbaterr, Campbell, Douglas, Hamilton, Maxwell, Muir, Ogilvie, Ramsay, Ross and Stewardt. Henrik Leyell and Willem Wallace were later to command their own troops.

Scottish Merchants

During the 16th century, and later, the Swedish Crown opposed all commerce other than by the burghers of the cities. In 1572 a general mandate was published from John III’s chancellery concerning "foreign cavalrymen, Germans, Scots and others", which had begun to travel around the country, selling merchandise. They were now offered special benefits if they would settle in the cities and become real burghers. The names of many of these "country merchants" are Scottish, particularly in Smâland and Vastergotland. Many of them concealed their identity under such names as Jacob skotte (James the Scot), but others are easier to identify. One Hans Moncur, for example had served in 1569 in Willem Cahun’s troop of horse and appears in 1587 as a country merchant in Västmanland. Another man, who paid tax 1587-90 as a country merchant in the parish of Luleâ, by the nothern tip of the Baltic, may also have belonged to this troop. The merchant we know most about is one Hans Waterstone. Waterstone was prosecuted in Vadstena in 1579 for illegal commerce, and claimed on that occasion to be a burgher of Linkoping. The following year saw him before a court in Soderkoping. In 1582 he was a merchant (possibly also a burgher) in Stockholm, and in 1587 he was charged once more with illegal commerce in Vadstena, and he seems on this occasion to have been in partnership with Hans Moncur. In the 1590’s he was an officer, serving in Livonia. In 1608 we hear of an estate forfeited by him in Vadstena.

It is also clear that many of the Scots who had come to Sweden to serve with the cavalry later settled down as burghers in the small towns. We meet, for example, such names as Willem Hamilton (Karlstad 1598), Willem Munkrij or Magkryff (Marstrand 1588 and 1599) — probably the Captain of Horse at Wesenberg in 1573 who was charged for going to the assistance of the Scottish foot soldiers — and Thomas Ugleby Ogilvie — (Nykoping 1600). From the middle of the 16th century merchants of Scottish origin also began to infiltrate the larger cities, particularly Stockholm, Kalmar and Ny-Lodose (the predecessor of Gothenburg). They came to begin with from Danzig and Elbing, the bases for trade already established south of the Baltic, but later years saw also a direct immigration from Scottish ports. These Scots were relatively few in number, but through their resources of capital they played an important role in the Swedish export and import trade towards the end of the century. The burghers of Ny-Lodose included in the 1590’s such men as magistrate Jacob Gatt, Jacob Leslie, Jacob Reidh and Petter Forbos. Living in Stockholm in the 1580’s were merchants Anders Lamiton, Erland Mackner and Lucas Lami, and craftsman Gilbert Silber. The most prominent Scot living in the city at that time was Blasius Dundee.

Blasius Dundee

Blasius Dundee is the most outstanding of the Scottish burghers in Stockholm. He was of bourgeois origin, and was born before 1550.

The use of Swedish wooden mazers
The use of Swedish wooden mazers - "kasor", "Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus"
by Olaus Magnus 1555.

We first learn of him in Sweden in 1576. In the following year he delivered supplies and acted as a banker for the campaigns of John III. He was paid in kind, with products that he exported on his own ships. A burgher of Stockholm from 1583, he was always one of those who paid the highest taxes. He owned several houses in Stockholm. 1586-96 he was one of the City Elders. In 1595 he extended large cash loans to the Swedish Crown, which were not finally repaid until 1616. In 1594 he was one of the burghers who represented the city at the burial of John III and the coronation of Sigismund in Upsala. In 1599 he was accused of having conspired with Sigismund, but refuted the charge.

Blasius Dundee was married three times. His first wife was one Katarina Andersdotter. The fragment of tombstone that is preserved with the date 1586 is considered to be hers.

His second wife, Malin Willemsdotter, was probably of Scottish birth. In 1599 he accused her of adultery with several men, including a Scottish clerk of Muster Roll named Willem Brun. The trial, which ended in a settlement, gives us a glimpse of the life of the Scots in Stockholm. We learn that Malin had embroidered a handkerchief for a Polish officer, and that she had accepted his portrait. Willem Brun and another Scot, Thomas Clement, had given Blasius a glass window with their names on it. When Malin saw this, she removed the pane with Thomas’ name and put in one with her own. Finally, we learn that in her sewing basket there lay copies of a couple of ballades.

His third wife, Anne Werner, bore him three children. When he died in 1621, he must have attained a considerable age.

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