Fairytale Facts About Karin Mansdotter, Sweden’s Peasant Queen

June 11, 2024 | Byron Fast

Fairytale Facts About Karin Mansdotter, Sweden’s Peasant Queen

Karin Mansdotter's life seemed like a fairytale. The King of Sweden plucked her out of obscurity for a life of luxury—but this fairytale has a dark twist that she never saw coming.


1. It Was Like A Fairy Tale 

Before there was ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” Sweden had a “Survivor Queen”. Karin Mansdotter’s fairytale life started when the King of Sweden plucked her out of poverty and straight into life as a royal. Sadly, after “happily ever after,” her life took a turn for the much, much worse. 

A dangerously mentally ill husband, a conniving brother-in-law, and some really, really bad luck turned Karin’s storybook life into a nightmare. 

Karin MansdotterErik Johan Löfgren, Wikimedia Commons

2. She Suffered An Early Tragedy

Karin Mansdotter was born in Stockholm, Sweden on November 6, 1550—but she was no royalty. Her parents were barely able to provide for her as is—and then things just got worse. Before her tenth birthday, both parents had tragically passed. Young Karin was soon on the streets selling nuts just to feed herself. 

It looked like a life destined for ruin, until a miracle happened. 

StockholmMats Halldin, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Was A Stunning Beauty 

Sweden’s King—Eric XIV—was walking through the town square one day and saw young Karin. It just took one brief look at her beauty, and Eric was head over heels in love. If this sounds too much like a fairytale to be true, you’re on to something. You see, this was the official version of how they met. 

The truth is something totally different. 

Erik XIV king of SwedenNationalmuseum, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Was A Server

Karin really was an orphan, but instead of selling nuts on the street she had a job serving at an inn. The owner of the establishment was Gert Cantor, was a musician for Sweden’s royal court. The King and other nobility were regulars at the inn, and Karin caught the king’s eye. 

He desperately wanted her—but there was one very big problem. 

Erik Xiv, 1533-1577, King Of SwedenSteven van der Meulen, Wikimedia Commons

5. She Was Common 

Sure Eric liked the way Karin looked, but he couldn’t seriously consider marrying someone from such a common background. Because this wasn’t possible, he moved Karin into a castle and put her to work for his sister, Princess Elizabeth. Of course this was all just a ruse. The king just wanted easy access to the beautiful Karin. 

If Karin felt any heat for Eric, her first job at the castle threw cold water on it. 

Portrait of Princess Elizabeth of SwedenUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

6. The Reality Set In

Once Karin had settled herself in at the castle, it became very clear that this was no fairytale romance. You see, King Eric already had a slew of mistresses. To make matters worse, one of Karin's jobs was taking care of an out-of-wedlock child Eric had fathered with one of those other women. 

Karin had to wonder if this job was any better than serving back at the inn. But there was another reason why this romance seemed destined for failure. 

Erik Xiv, King Of Sweden, 1560S,Osama Shukir Muhammed, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

7. He Was Creepy 

It’s unlikely that anyone in this medieval court was doing the math, but to me it seems more than a little creepy that the 32-year-old Eric was pursuing the 15-year-old Karin. Well, I guess times were different back then, because by 1565, the two were quite obviously lovers. 

People at court were turning a blind eye to the age gap—but for a darker reason than you'd think. 

Karin MansdotterErik Utterhielm, Wikimedia Commons

8. She Was Valuable 

As it turned out, Eric was far from the charming prince you might see in a fairytale. He suffered from severe mental illness and had frequent fits of extreme agitation. When the court saw how Karin pacified their unstable king, they suddenly saw great value in this poor little common girl.

Still, what everyone wanted to know was how the heck that poor little common girl had managed to so bewitch their king. 

Karin Mansdotter, Eric XIVGeorg von Rosen, Wikimedia Commons

9. She Was Humble 

It may have simply been Karin’s appearance that calmed the king. Reports say that she had innocent eyes and a beautiful face. Or maybe it was her personality, which was humble and natural. What we do know is that Eric had finally found someone that brought balance to his troubled mind. 

Eric was clearly over the moon, and he did something drastic to let everyone know. 

Karin MansdotterFinnish Heritage Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

10. She Was The One

King Eric was so in love with Karin that he dropped all his other mistresses like hot potatoes. Karin was going to be his one and only. Next, Eric gave her an apartment, servants, and wildly extravagant clothes. He wasn't trying to hide it anymore. At court, it was very clear to everyone that Karin was Eric’s significant other. 

This lavish treatment created some severe jealousy, so it's no surprise that spiteful rumors surfaced. 

Karin MansdotterSkara Portrait Collection, Wikimedia Commons

11. They Were Suspicious 

Some people thought that Eric’s love for Karin was a little too over-the-top to be believable. These people’s suspicions then went to a crazy place. They actually believed that Karin had used witchcraft to make a potion that magically made Eric fall in love with her. 

Obviously that wasn't the case—but Karin was indeed hiding a scandalous secret. 

Eric XIV of SwedenNationalmuseum, Wikimedia Commons

12. She Had A Past

Even though Karin was only 15 when she met Eric, she already had a fiance. Before she met Eric, she’d made a promise to marry an officer named Maximilian. While this was firmly in the past, it was about to catch up with her. You see, Maximilian was on his way to break into the castle to take his woman back. 

Instead of a romantic rescue from the royal castle, things took a disturbing turn. 

Karin MånsdotterWladimir Swertschkoff, Wikimedia Commons

13. He Wanted Her All To Himself 

Before Maxmillian could find Karin, a servant discovered him and took him to the king. The Mad King showed no mercy. In a shocking fit of jealousy, Eric immediately had the boy executed. Clearly, the king wanted to exterminate anything from his innocent Karin’s past. But there was a very big problem with this love match.

 Eventually the king would need a wife—and there was no way it could be his beloved Karin. 

Eric XIV of SwedenNationalmuseum, Wikimedia Commons

14. She Would Always Be Second 

Of course, Eric couldn’t marry Karin because she was from a common background, but there was another important wrinkle: Eric had not had any luck finding a wife. He’d already asked five aristocratic women and received exactly five rejections. Eventually someone would say yes, and Karin would be stuck playing second fiddle to whoever that was. 

It looked like Karin’s fairytale present would have a dismal future. 

Eric XIV of SwedenSkokloster Castle, Wikimedia Commons

15. They Carried On

Well, Eric didn’t find a wife, so he and Karin started carrying on as if they were a married couple. In 1566 Karin gave birth to a daughter and, two years later, a son. Even though Karin and Eric were not husband and wife, the court saw their daughter, Sigrid, as Princess of Sweden. 

Karin’s life was coming up roses, but there was a darkness in Eric that couldn't be controlled. 

Sigrid Eriksdotter VasaUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

22. He Wanted A Wife

By 1566, Eric decided it was time to defy the court and marry Karin. No one was about to back Eric up on marrying a commoner, but he felt that he needed a supporter. Eric looked high and low and, when he was looking really low, he found Joran Persson. 

If Persson got on board, Karin would be walking down the aisle with a madman. 

Jöran PerssonGeorg von Rosen, Wikimedia Commons

23. She Had No Choice

Joran Persson was the king’s chief advisor, and a man who usually had his own best interests in mind. He backed up Eric’s request to marry Karin for one reason only. Having a common—and likely ignorant—woman as queen meant that the king would always need an advisor. Persson would have job security for life. 

With Persson behind it, the wedding was on. Whether Karin wanted it or not. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

24. He Went From Bad To Worse 

Well, there was one upside to marrying the Mad King. Karin got two weddings. The first was a secret ceremony, but after the wedding, Eric’s mental state unravelled once again. It got so bad that the court decided he was unfit to rule, installing a regency to rule in his stead.

With Eric sidelined, the court didn't need the beautiful commoner who could control him. The dark rumors about her didn't help matters. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

25. They Turned On Her 

The court now started to see Karin not as the answer to Eric’s problems, but as the source. Once again, rumors arose that she had used black magic for her meteoric rise from peasant to queen. And now her husband’s condition was getting worse—perhaps this had been a part of her plan all along. 

As she headed to her official marriage to Eric, Karin couldn't have felt more hated by the people of Sweden. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

26. She Wasn’t Wanted

Before anyone had a chance to cancel the official wedding, a miracle happened. Eric was suddenly back on his feet again. Of course, there were still members of the court who didn’t want Karin as their queen. Well, the newly sane Eric had a plan for anyone who was not on “team Karin”. It was completely deranged.

So much for the "sane" part. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

27. She Found Out 

Eric was not about to have a collection of haters watch as his lovely bride walked down the aisle. Instead of just “uninviting” them, Eric returned to his old and evil ways. According to legend, he organized a mass execution of anyone who didn’t stand behind his bride. 

When Karin got wind of Eric’s horrifying plan, she had a choice to make. She could get rid of all her naysayers in one swoop, or prevent a bloody catastrophe. 

Eric XIV of SwedenUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

28. She Saved Lives

Karin certainly didn’t want a bloodbath to ruin her special day. So, even though these detractors were her enemies, she warned them about her husband’s plan. With Karin’s warning, they managed to avoid the king’s wrath and live. Needless to say, they were no shows at the wedding. 

Karin and Eric’s extravagant wedding went off without a hitch—but there was trouble lurking just around the corner. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

29. There Was An Omen

The fun didn’t stop after the official wedding. The very next day there was a ceremony to proclaim Karin the Queen of Sweden, but the coronation went awry. While carrying Karin’s crown, the Lord Chancellor fainted and dropped the crown on the floor. 

Besides being a full-on embarrassment, many considered it an omen of future bad luck for the queen. And wouldn't you know it, the bad luck started immediately. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

30. She Couldn’t Trust Him

Eric had long-since put his half-brother John in prison. After his marriage to Karin, Eric suddenly felt like patching things up. He simply wanted John to acknowledge Karin as his wife. John agreed and this got him out of prison, but not everything was as it seemed. Eric's love had made him blind, and it would cost him everything.

John had a wicked plan. One that would be the end of Karin and Eric’s reign. 

John III of SwedenJohan Baptista van Uther, Wikimedia Commons

31. They Wanted Him Gone

No one was very happy with Eric’s behavior, and now it seemed that Karin could no longer control him. John came forward with a group of supporters, and they had an announcement. John would now be king and his wife would replace Karin. 

Eric was so hated at this point, this one proclamation was all it took to put an end his reign. But his brother was just getting started. 

Catherine JagiellonLucas Cranach the Younger, Wikimedia Commons

32. She Was Innocent 

Karin and Eric were no longer the ruling monarchs, so maybe it was time for them to enjoy a peaceful retirement? Not a chance. Because of Eric’s past behavior, King John locked him up and left him to rot. And then there was Karin. She’d done nothing wrong to the court, but they had to do something with her. 

Sadly, showing mercy was not one of John’s strong points. 

Erik XIV, Karin Månsdotter and their sonJohan Blackstadius, Wikimedia Commons

33. She Was Alone With Him 

Without giving it much thought, King John heartlessly sent the innocent Karin to rot with her husband. While the kids were in the care of a relative, Karin and Eric stayed in four different castles—two in Sweden and two in Finland—where they lived under house arrest. 

Karin was about to get some serious alone time with her husband—but this most certainly was not a chance to rekindle their romance

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

34. She Told Him What She Thought 

While Karin was serving time with her husband, she took the opportunity to tell him how she really felt. Apparently she spent the time reminding Eric of his past misdeeds, and how they caused them so much misery. While this sounds like the opposite of a romantic time together, there’s some evidence that they were actually getting on like a house on fire. 

Eric XIV In CaptivityHulton Archive, Getty Images

35. They Got Down To It 

Sure Karin and Eric were at each other’s throats, but she somehow managed to get pregnant while imprisoned—twice. Even though neither child lived past infancy, the new king thought this was not appropriate behavior for an incarcerated couple. To put a stop to the bedroom antics, he took a very drastic measure. 

Karin Månsdotter's visit to Erik XIVGeorg von Rosen, Wikimedia Commons

36. She Got A Break

To stop the shenanigans between Karin and Eric, the king put the two in separate castles, in two different countries. Eric stayed in Sweden, and Karin ended up in Finland. But there was some good news—at least for Karin. King John felt some compassion and let Karin’s two children join her. 

Sadly, this moment of happiness would not last. 

Erik XIV and Karin Månsdotter in PrisonEdvard Perséus, Wikimedia Commons

37. They Wanted Her Back 

As it turned out, there were some Swedes out there who missed having Karin and Eric as their monarchs. A small group—headed by members of Karin’s personal staff—hatched a scheme to get the two back on their thrones. The plan was to launch a fake attack and hope that Eric could escape in the mayhem. 

Once Eric was in power he would bring Karin back. It was a high risk operation that, to me anyway, seemed fated to fail. And that's what happened.

Eric XIV of SwedenCock, Wikimedia Commons

38. They Were Guilty

Not only did this plan fail to get Eric free from prison, it also ended in tragedy. The government accused two of Karin’s staff—her chief court mistress and personal secretary—of conspiring to overthrow the monarch. They found them guilty and then doled out the severe punishment: execution. 

This tragic failed attempt also led to even more misery for poor Karin. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

39. He Got Nervous 

After this, and a few other attempts to free Karin and Eric, King John was getting nervous. He was not only scared that Eric would somehow get back on the throne, he also worried about Karin and Eric’s son Gustav. Maybe his enemies would skip over Eric and try to get the seven-year-old prince on the throne. 

The king was getting paranoid, and he had a cold-hearted solution. 

Karin MansdotterFinnish National Gallery, Picryl

40. She Lost Him 

Even though Gustav was only seven years old, he apparently posed a threat to the king. Even though Karin and her children already lived in Finland, it wasn't far enough away from Sweden for the king’s comfort. He ripped Gustav out of his mother’s loving arms and sent him to Poland to live with Jesuits. 

Sadly, there was more heartache waiting for Karin. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

41. She Got Bad News

Karin was now imprisoned with just her daughter Sigrid, and in 1577, she got some disturbing news. King John's paranoia had got the better of him, and he’d had the guards poison her husband. With her son out of the country, and her husband deceased, Karen now had no direct ties to the royal family. 

She had no idea what the people of Sweden would do with her. 

Sigrid of SwedenJ. S. Salmson, Wikimedia Commons

42. She Got A Big Surprise 

To Karin’s surprise, the Swedish people showed her nothing but kindness. Not only did they release her from house arrest, they even gave her a royal estate in Finland. When she appealed for financial support, they gladly gave it to her. They even made Karin’s daughter a lady-in-waiting to the king’s daughter. 

Karin was finally getting a break, but there was still one loose end. Something that was preventing her complete happiness. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

43. She Never Forgot Him

Of course, Karin had not forgotten about her son Gustav. The last she knew of him, the government had sent him to Poland when he was just seven years old. In 1595, Karin had an opportunity to visit Poland and to see her son again. She had no idea what Gustav’s life was like, or how he would react to seeing his mother for the first time in two decades. 

Karin Månsdotter's stone reliefUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

44. They Couldn’t Speak

Karin’s meeting with her son was a complete disaster. First off, Gustav didn’t remember his mother at all. Worse still, she had to look for birthmarks to make sure she was meeting with the right person. Finally it was time for the two to talk. Sadly this was not possible. Gustav had forgotten how to speak Swedish. 

If this wasn’t bad enough, Gustav’s situation shocked Karin to her core. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

45. It Was Hopeless 

Gustav had long since left the Jesuits and was now working as a soldier for hire. There was little money in this, and so Gustav was living a life of poverty. As a boy he’d been a Prince of Sweden and now he was barely able to feed himself. Karin tried to help him—even bring him back to Sweden—but it was no use. 

Karin returned to Finland alone, but she refused to forget her son. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

46. She Was Under Attack

Back in Finland, Karin focused on her estate, which she had cleverly turned into the second most profitable in Finland. But fate seemed destined to make her life miserable. In 1596, Finnish peasants, armed with basic, brutal weapons, rebelled began attacking Swedish estate owners.

It was only a matter of time before they showed up at Karin's door. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

47. She Was Kind 

In her dealings with Finnish peasants, Karin had always prided herself on being fair. Well, this was about to pay off in a huge way. The mob of angry peasants, remembering Karin’s kindness, decided to leave her and her estate unharmed. Karin’s good-nature had helped her avoid disaster—but her next crises would require a lot more than just kindness. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

48. She Had To Save Him

As Karin got back to work on her estate, she received some stunning news. Her son had gotten himself thrown in a Russian dungeon. This was her last chance to get her Gustav back, and she’d do anything to make it happen. She found out that there was a way to buy his freedom—but even her rich estate didn’t have that kind of money. 

Karin turned to the King of Sweden for help. He was her only hope. 

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

49. She Was Reunited 

The King of Sweden couldn't care less about his mad brother's widow or his long-lost nephew. He flatly refused to help, and Gustav didn't survive his stay in Russia. He was just 40 years old when he died. On a positive note, Karin did manage to see her daughter one more time. Sigrid, who’d been exiled by the Swedish government, found a brief sanctuary with her mother in Finland. 

Karin, now close to 60, took stock of her life, which hadn't been much of a fairytale at all. All she could hope for was a peaceful remaining years. 

Karin Månsdottir's GraveMarkus Koljonen, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

50. She Was Immortalized In Film 

As it turned out Karin did get those remaining tranquil years, and in 1612 she passed peacefully. In 1899, August Strindberg told her story in a play and more than 50 years later, this play became a movie. The director of the film, however, felt compelled to make a correction. 

He recognized who the main character of this story was and changed the title from Erik XIV to Karin Mansdotter

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

16. She Lost Her Touch

During Eric's reign, Karin was the only one who could soothe her deranged king, but sometimes his moods were too much even for her. As things at court were getting tense, everyone looked to poor, innocent Karin for a solution. But one wasn't coming. Then, in 1567, Eric totally lost it. 

Jarl Kulle King Erik of SwedenSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

17. She Thought It Would Be Okay

On one of his manic tirades, Eric threw five important nobles into his dungeon with no good reason. Marta Sture, the wife and mother of three of the imprisoned nobles, knew how to solve this problem. She went directly to Karin and begged for help. Karin knew her husband and assured Marta that no one would hurt her family members. 

She couldn't have been more wrong.

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

18. She Couldn’t Control Him

On the same day that Karin assured Marta that her husband and sons were safe, Eric did something shocking. He ordered the execution of all five of the nobles he’d put in prison. Worse still, it was Eric himself who personally finished off one of Marta’s sons for the thrill of it. Clearly Karin was losing control of her husband. 

But this horrible day wasn’t over. There was more bloodshed to come. 

Jarl Kulle King Erik of SwedenSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

19. She Had To Find Him 

After the execution of the nobles, Eric’s childhood tutor found him stumbling around in a daze. Dionysius Beurreus tried to calm him down. He shouldn't have tested the Mad King. Eric immediately ordered his guards to kill his old tutor. Then, suddenly horrified by what he’d done, Eric disappeared into the forest. 

The king had clearly lost it—and everyone knew there was only one person who could control him. 

Jarl Kulle King Erik of SwedenSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

20. She Searched For Him

Karin didn’t have any easy answers, so she just joined the others in the search for the king. When they finally found him, he was a disturbing sight. Clearly disoriented, Eric had seemingly disguised himself as a peasant. They returned Eric to the castle, but it was now time for him to pay for his offenses.  

Jarl Kulle King Erik of SwedenSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

21. She Didn’t Know Him

Eric had ordered the arbitrary execution of five nobles and his tutor. To make matters worse, he’d carried out one of the executions by his own hand. For these horrendous deeds the court punished him with…well…absolutely nothing. Suddenly, Karin was back with her man, but this wasn’t the Eric she knew. 

Her king had gone through a disturbing transformation. Perhaps that was the moment she realized: Her days as queen were numbered.

Ulla Jacobsson as Karin MansdotterSandrews, Karin Månsdotter (1954)

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