Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar spent part of her life living as a man. She worked for the army and was married to a woman.
Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar was born sometime towards the end of the 1680s at a small farm in Småland. Her father, Johan Stålhammar, was a soldier and belonged to the lower nobility. Her mother, Anna Britta Lood, also came from a military background albeit not from the same social class as her husband. Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar was one of eight children. The death of Johan Stålhammar ruined the family and his children were forced to find their own way to survive. Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar obtained a pass from the Svenarum parish parson which allowed her to travel to Stockholm in search of a job. En route she adopted male attire and began to refer to herself as Wilhelm Edstedt. She attempted to join the army using this name but was unsuccessful. Instead, she began to work as a handyman and servant boy in various households.
After spending a few years in Stockholm, and a brief stint in Umeå, Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar headed south again. Through recommendations provided by former employers as well as personal connections she was able to gain a position as an unskilled worker within the artillery based at Kalmar. She met Maria Löhnman, a servant, in Kalmar. They courted and in 1716 they were married. They lived together until 1726 when, for reasons unknown, Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar was fired from her job with the artillery. The two women then headed to Salshult farm, which belonged to Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar’s paternal aunt, Sofia Drake. It was hoped that Sofia Drake would assist Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammer to give up her existence as Wilhelm Edstedt allowing her to return to living as the woman she was. Maria Löhnman remained at Sofia Drake’s home whilst Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar stood before the magistrates’ court in Kalmar and recounted her life story.
Given that living in disguise and assuming a false sexual identity were crimes an investigation was launched in Kalmar. Further, Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar had committed a crime against the laws of marriage by marrying someone of the same sex. The surviving magistrates’ court records – which include statements by Maria Löhnman – reveal that the court was surprised that Maria Löhnman had not noticed anything odd from the outset. She was also questioned as to why she did not report Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar when her partner revealed the truth to her a year into their marriage. Maria Löhnman claimed that she was not keen on intimacy and that by the time she found out the truth she was quite settled in her marriage. By this time the two women had become deeply attached to each other. They claimed before the court that they had not engaged in sexual activity but that they had great love for each other.
The court’s judgement was that Maria Löhnman should be sentenced to eight days’ imprisonment, whilst Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar was condemned to a month in jail. Following her release from prison Maria Löhnman carried on working as housekeeper for Sofia Drake until her death in 1761.
The contents of the court records, along with the motivations behind the relatively lenient sentences, are the cause of much debate within both legal and historical circles. The significant interest in the case can be explained by the rarity of accounts of women who disguised themselves as men, including personal statements as to the reasons for their lifestyle choice. Meanwhile attention to this case is also caused by increasing interest amongst historians in matters of gender identity and its relevance within an era in which body, gender identity, and desire were conceived of very differently from how they are considered today. Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar’s accounts therefore serve to further research into Swedish cultural history.
Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar died in 1773, aged just 50. She spent the last years of her life living with her relative Elisabet Ramsvärd at Björnskog farm in Hultsjö parish.