Ulrika Eleonora’s court circle was in contact with key figures in the Pietistic reform movement, and was thus a parallel to the spiritual movements on the continent, which were attempting to put the demand of freedom and human worth for the woman into practice.Many poems in Der Nordische Weihrauch manifest distaste for the pomp and splendour of court life and reveal a focus on the inner person.
The number and quality of treatises discussing women’s talents or lack there of was high sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. The works were divided up by genre and were available in both printed and handwritten form. It is an established fact that readers in the Nordic countries were familiar with European concepts such as “Feminae illustres” (illustrious women), “Feminae doctae” (learned women), “Musa decimal” (the tenth muse), and so forth. Awareness of “feminae illustres” or “feminae doctae” seems to have been linked to the Renaissance period. There were, of course, earlier examples of learned women, but the desire to count them and classify them, and even promote them, would seem to have been a Renaissance inclination that surfaced among the progressive male learned circles.
Märta Berendes’ story of her life and Christina Regina vom Birchenbaums song “Een Annor Ny wijsa” reflect the language models and interpretive patterns of the times. The texts are examples of the many independent and resilient seventeenth-century women, brought up in an era of numerous wars and obliged to take care of family and property.
Agneta Horns autobiography, which she called “Description of my wretched and much-troubled wanderings” is a ‘memory of lament’ recounting the story of a criticised, neglected, and little-loved girl who nonetheless manages to assert her will and give her opponents as good as she gets.Agneta Horns lefverne is fundamentally an account of Agneta Horn’s relationship with her father and with paternal power, of the identity as dutiful daughter that she and the times considered to be the ideal. Between the lines we can read disgreement between Agneta Horn and her stepmother, Sigrid Bielke. Objectively, the conflict revolved on the inheritance from Agneta’s father; ideologically, it revolved on Agneta Horn’s obedience to her father’s resolve.
Around the year 1800, Danish-German aristocratic circles in Denmark and in the state of Schleswig-Holstein enjoyed a flourishing ‘salon culture’. Seen in a Scandinavian context, the most interesting salon was that of Charlotte Schimmelmann, which was much-visited and known throughout Europe. As wife of Ernst Schimmelmann, Denmark’s Minister of Finance, and for a period also Privy Councillor, Charlotte Schimmelmann presided over many official social functions. She always made sure there were scholars and artists in attendance.By gathering the royal court, nobility, diplomatic corps, and the higher official class in her salon, Charlotte Schimmelmann positioned herself at the heart of political events. She won her reputation as salon hostess, however, by being considered a ‘bel-esprit’, widely-read and well-informed about the latest European currents in scholarship, philosophy, and literature, and as the driving force behind her husband’s activities as patron of the arts. As salon hostess, she built bridges between central Europe and provincial Denmark, between high politics and intellectual life. But in the final decade of its existence, the Schimmelmann salon was but a faint reflection of its former self.
Eighteenth-century diaries, like the letters, were written with one or more readers in mind – be they children, family, or future generations. These readers were sometimes addressed directly in the text. The eighteenth-century diary does not have the private or outright secret quality that it acquires in the course of the nineteenth century, when it is often written as a journal intime as the writers become more analytical and self-scrutinising.Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta’s diary is the only extant nineteenth-century diary to offer more incisive analyses of personal feelings. She was well-read and cultured, with a good understanding of the French art of letter-writing, and she had most likely learnt to analyse emotions from the examples of both Richardson and Rousseau. Her diary thus forges a natural transition to Romanticism’s journal intime and the emerging new view of human nature.
In the eighteenth century the Swedish Countess Maria Gustava Gyllenstierna was characterised as “a woman of great talent and noble heritage, who has honoured her Country and her Sex in these our times.” She is considered to be one of the skilled literary women of the time; she is listed in contemporary catalogues of Lärda Swenska Fruentimmer (Learned Swedish Women) and she is described as such in the directory of Swedish nobility.She was the second wife of Privy Councillor Carl Bonde and bore him five children, all the while accompanying him on trips to, among other places, Finland and England. He died in 1699. Maria Gustava Gyllenstierna was a widow for nearly forty years, during which time she devoted herself to her writing at Tyresö Castle just outside Stockholm. Translations from German and French made up a large part of her literary output.
Faithfulness was an important spiritual and moral yardstick to king’s daughter Leonora Christina: a principle on which she had to take a stand and by which posterity would judge her – for better or for worse. By means of her writing she wanted to demonstrate that she possessed the virtue of fidelity, a moral raison d´être for the seventeenth-century woman. Leonora Christina succeeded in turning faithfulness to her husband Corfitz Ulfeldt into faithfulness to herself in the roles of king’s daughter and noblewoman, exiled lady of high rank and “Cristi Korsdragerske” (a bearer of the cross of Christ). She was imprisoned for twenty-two years in the Blue Tower of Copenhagen Castle, accused of high treason.
Our archives contain surviving sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish friendship albums. It is as a source of information about acquaintances and friends, the circles in which the owner of the book at any given dated entry moved, that the friendship albums are of greatest interest. The poetry quotations and the maxims also reflect the cultural history and ideals of the times.The friendship albums and family history books might also manifest a pattern clearly indicating some gender differences. The seventeenth-century friendship albums primarily reflect the men’s travels, their journeys out into a Europe of scholarship and warfare. The women focus on genealogy, parents, husband, siblings, and children. They reflect life and death in their own family, the network that ties them to the past and to the future, and in which they themselves, through their children, or their childlessness, constitute an important unifying junction.
There is a great variety in the quantity of creative or academic material passed down to us from each of the approximately one-hundred-and-fifty illustrious writing women living in the Nordic region between 1500 and 1800. If we pick out the Nordic women’s literary oeuvres and gather them together, big and small, we see the Nordic region in fine bloom, with committed, moving, keen, sincere, quality writing often arranged in bouquets around a scholarly family, a manor or a convent. A female consciousness and a literary aesthetic equal to those found elsewhere in Europe is clearly present in the work of the Nordic “feminae illustres”.