Ebba Månsdotter (Lilliehöök) was a countess who by birth and marriage belonged to the highest level of the Swedish nobility of the 1500s. She participated in the political conflicts around the turn of the century 1600.
Ebba Månsdotter was born in 1529 as the daughter of Måns Bryntesson (Lilliehöök) and Brita Jönsdotter (Roos af Hjelmsäter). Måns Bryntesson was knighted in 1528 and admitted to the Privy Council. He had thereby attained an eminent political position in the leadership of the country. Dissatisfaction among the nobility in the province of Västergötland about the king’s politics was however great, and eventually resulted in an insurrection (Västgötaherrarnas uppror). It did not receive any support from the common people, however. When the insurrection failed, Måns Bryntesson quickly gave up and explained that he was not guilty. He was contradicted and his guilt was proved. He was sentenced to death and executed in July 1529 in the Great Square (Stortorget) in Stockholm. His daughter Ebba Månsdotter was then only a few months old.
Brita Jönsdotter, Ebba Månsdotters mother, was now a widow for the second time. Brita was the daughter of the knight Jöns Ulfsson (Roos af Hjelmsäter) in the northern Swedish province of Västmanland, who owned land in many parts of Sweden. His land would eventually partly end up in Ebba Månsdotter’s hands. Brita Jönsdotter’s first marriage had been to the knight and captain Erik Nilsson (Gyllenstierna), brother-in-law of Sten Sture junior, who was executed during the Stockholm bloodbath of 1520. In this marriage there were no children.
Brita Jönsdotter was married a third time, this time to Kristoffer Andersson (often called “Red”, who belonged to the Ekeblad av Hedåker family). He had a master’s degree from Wittenberg, and was a privy councillor and Chancellor to the King. Kristoffer Andersson was a trusted servant of the King, but ended up in conflict with him and fled the country in 1543. With him he took his wife Brita Jönsdotter and her daughter Ebba Månsdotter. He died in exile in Lübeck in 1548. In this marriage, a daughter was born, Ebba Månsdotter’s half-sister, who later came to marry a privy councillor, Gustav Johansson (Tre rosor).
After Kristoffer Andersson’s death, Ebba Månsdotter returned to Sweden with her mother. Gustav Vasa played a great part in this and had for a long time planned her homecoming. He probably judged that it was far too dangerous for the wealthy heiress not to be under his eye. She was made one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. Ebba Månsdotter was of marriageable age and it was a matter of finding a suitable husband for her. Appropriately enough, the choice fell on Sten Eriksson (Leijonhufvud), who had already received several estates belonging to her inheritance as a donation from the King. The wedding took place at Stockholm Castle in October 1548.
The Leijonhufvud family, which was one of Sweden’s oldest noble families, had married into the royal family. Ebba Månsdotter’s sister-in-law Margareta Leijonhufvud was married to Gustav Vasa, and together with several more members of the high nobility, they were included in the ranks of the so-called royal kindred. Also included in this group were Svante Sture and Gustav Olofsson (Stenbock), who were married to two more of Sten Eriksson’s sisters. The latter’s daughter Katarina later became the third wife of Gustav Vasa. Ebba Månsdotter had thus landed in the midst of the Swedish high nobility’s economic, social and political élite.
Ebba Månsdotter and Sten Eriksson lived mostly at Loholmen and Gräfsnäs, both in Västergötland province in Western Sweden. The high nobility of that time often moved around between their estates and also attended the court in Stockholm. In their marriage, eleven children were born, of whom five daughters and two sons reached adulthood. During this period, the nobility began to abandon the use of patronymics and use family names instead. The name Lewenhaupt became the usual name for the count’s branch of the Leijonhufvud family. Wives kept the name they had as unmarried, at that time. Ebba Månsdotter seems thus to have retained her patronymic.
At the coronation of Erik XIV in 1561, Sten Eriksson was made a baron. He later lay behind the uprising of the dukes against the king. He was however seriously wounded and died on 5 October 1568. On his deathbed, he is said to have received an oral promise of being made a count. A short time after his death, Ebba Månsdotter as his widow was raised to the rank of countess. Some months later, she was given the county belonging to Raseborg Castle in Finland, with Kari parish and Nådendal monastery estate. In 1570 it included the equivalent of about 270 large farms apart from the castle with its farmlands. The letter was provisional, but in 1571 a complete county letter was sent out, in which the donation was also increased by the equivalent of a further hundred or so large farms. All in all, Ebba Månsdotter had almost 35,000 Finnish marks in income from her land tenure, including the county, in 1571, and was thus the biggest fief owner or baron in the whole country. Only in 1585 did she finally relinquish her land tenure to her eldest son Axel, who was then over 30 years of age. He had however to wait a further two years until he himself received the title of count with the right to call himself the heir of Raseborg. Ebba Månsdotter’s countess status is an example of how economic power resources were created for a woman who later retained the power for herself for a long time after a competent man could have taken over.
At the same time as Ebba Månsdotter relinquished her county land tenure, there was also a division of the inheritance after her father. She retained however her own paternal and maternal inheritances, which her children considered were too much. This led to conflicts within the family. Ebba Månsdotter’s understanding was that her husband Sten Eriksson had only left a small inheritance behind him; she had created the fortune herself, and had therefore the right to dispose of it. According to land documents from the 1560s, Sten Eriksson owned more than 200 farms, but he managed many of these for his wife. The historian Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen calls her the Swedish heiress with most wealth in estates. Even if this does not entirely ring true, she had still inherited substantial assets. From her parents, she had received among other things the manor estates of Upplo and Ervalla, and her husband had given her Loholmen as her marriage gift. It is possible that it was she who had Gräfsnäs Castle built. Even in her old age, she belonged to the wealthiest class of the Swedish nobility. With her declared income from revenues of 484 daler, she held the fourteenth place among all the landowners in Sweden in 1607, a few years before her death.
Ebba Månsdotter was a combative and decided woman who often came into conflict with people around her, whether family or farmers, not to mention king or dukes. With her son Moritz in particular there were frictions, while her relation to the older Axel seems to have been better. There was a conflict between her children concerning the younger children’s right to recompense from the county that Axel had been given. During the dethronement war against Sigismund, the conflicts increased. Moritz supported the regent, Duke Karl, while Ebba Månsdotter and Axel supported Sigismund. Through her birth and marriage, Ebba Månsdotter stood much closer to the group of high nobility that was trying to assert its own power position by supporting the legitimate king. Duke Karl took away the county from Axel and handed it over to Moritz. That the suspicious Duke Karl distrusted Ebba Månsdotter was no surprise, and even after the end of the war, his antipathy clearly still existed. In 1607 the Duke forbade her to be present at his coronation.
At the same time, Ebba Månsdotter was sometimes called “Count Ebba”. That she used this title herself cannot however be proven by the sources. There are several examples of how she was in conflict with her farmers. In the 1590s, she feared an uprising by the farmers and describes herself in a letter to her son Moritz as being in great danger. Her contemporaries and posterity have described her as a person who was feared for her “proud disposition with a thirst for power” and her “litigiousness”. Much of her correspondence and other preserved documentation shows that there is a great deal of truth in that. At the same time, the role that she was compelled to adopt as a widow must not be forgotten. A nobleman had to be strict and hard towards his inferiors, while his wife was supposed to be tender-hearted and considerate and to care for the inferiors’ welfare and wellbeing. As a nobleman’s widow, Ebba Månsdotter was compelled to take upon herself the male landowner’s role as well. Several of her own characteristics were common in contemporary men, without them arousing any particular attention from the people around her or from posterity.
As a widow, Ebba Månsdotter resided most often at Gräfsnäs in Västergötland. She spent her last years however at her manor farm Lärjeholm in the same province, where she died in 1609, almost 81 years of age. Her funeral took place the year after in Uppsala Cathedral.