Castle Owners

My excavations this summer will target the ruins of two Medieval castles near Norrköping. Christian Lovén and I have selected these two because unusually, both have curtain walls (Sw. ringmur) but do not seem to have belonged to the Crown. The High Middle Ages in Sweden are poorly documented in surviving written sources, but in one of these cases we actually have a pretty good idea who built the castle and when.

Landsjö in Kimstad parish enters the record in about 1280 when an old woman writes her will. She’s Kristina, daughter of a certain Faste who had borne a plant device on his coat of arms and is otherwise forgotten, and she signs Landsjö as her sätesgård manorial seat. Lady Kristina’s late husband, dead since about 1255, had been a well-known and powerful man: Lord Holmger, son of Folke jarl and male originator of the Ama family.

The late 13th century saw the first major wave of masonry castle construction in Sweden, and so Landsjö castle is unlikely to pre-date 1250. On the other hand, after the Black Death in 1350 Landsjö was farmed by tenants and thus no longer a manor of the nobility. Lady Kristina’s will marks a likely point in time when the castle would originally have been completed. In 1630 Landsjö again became a manor, a new säteri building was constructed elsewhere and the old castle was heavily quarried for building materials. Since then little seems to have happened on the castle islet.

Things are less clear at Stensö in Östra Husby. This castle starts as a single round kastal-type tower with no entrance from ground level, most likely about 1200. But the first written mention of the farmstead occurs only in 1359, when it is the manor of Holmger Torkelsson of the Boat family. The castle has a curtain wall with some brick in it which is likely to have been added at some time during the preceding century. No later than 1480 this property too loses its manorial status and is farmed by tenants.

This 14th century Lord Holmger belonged to the high nobility. Both his father and his maternal grandfather were members of the Royal Council. The grandfather was Ulf Holmgersson of the Ama family, and wouldn’t you know it, the son of Lady Kristina of Landsjö! Christian points out that the sources tell us Lord Ulf owned property near Stensö among other places, but we do not know where his seat was. A possible scenario is that the Ama family handed down both ambitious castle-building traditions and the name Holmger from Lady Kristina’s time on. Today Stensö castle boasts one of Sweden’s best-preserved kastal towers, and it is particularly accessible since the 19th century when a landowner had most of the rubble cover carted away as lime-rich soil improvement.

Neither of these sites have seen any documented excavations. I believe my team will be able to contribute a lot of interesting data in our four weeks of fieldwork.

Most of the information given above is taken from Christian Lovén’s magisterial 1996 book, Borgar och befästningar i det medeltida Sverige. Its rich illustrations and 23-page English summary make it eminently approachable even to people who don’t read Scandy.


  1. #1 Kevin
    May 24, 2014

    What fun! This is a fantasy straight from childhood. Please tell me there will be a tv crew. Or at least someone with a videophone. And daily blog updates full of vapid speculation. How will I get any work done, I will be checking every hour.

  2. #2 Martin R
    May 24, 2014

    There will certainly be blog entries!

  3. #3 Lucella Thetis
    Leominster, MA USA
    May 25, 2014

    Can I come stay in the castle for a week or two. That would be like my pathetic little dream come true. How awesome would that be! I’m cool, I’m to old to party like I used to, I am a professional whom lives a boring life, I’ve never been out of America, nor have I seen most of it. To go stay far away in a castle I can only sigh , smile and dream.

  4. #4 Martin R
    May 25, 2014

    Well, Stensö Castle doesn’t have any roof. And Landsjö barely even has walls. So you’d need to bring a tent!

  5. #5 Birger Johansson
    May 26, 2014

    It would be fun to make a full-scale reconstruction, like that iron-age fort on Öland. Never mind if some details may be guesswork. Sponsoring from local companies?
    I just realised, instead of throwing money into inefficient forms of work reschooling (Swedish readers know about the scandals I mean) we could have people rebuilding sites like this. Everybody gets a window into the past, and the tourist industry gets a boost. Most important, the otherwise unemployed get do do meaningful work instead of the make-work stuff that is outright insulting.

  6. #6 Jonathan Roberts
    May 28, 2014

    Wish I could delete the question. The article about the pregnant virgin should have been my first clue.

  7. #7 Martin R
    May 28, 2014

    I believe claims made on World Net Daily can as a rule be safely ignored.

  8. #8 Birger Johansson
    May 28, 2014

    The site World Net Daily is commonly referreed to as “World Nut Daily”. It is a mouthpiece for creationists, uber-right-wing evangelicals and conspiracy theorists.

    The skeptic blog “Dispatches from the Culture Wars” get some of its funniest entries from WND.

  9. #9 Birger Johansson
    May 28, 2014
  10. #10 Thomas Ivarsson
    May 28, 2014

    Margaret I of Denmark, Queen of Denmark, Sweden and Norway stated a law against building defensive castles for private owners during her reign in 1387-1389.AD.

  11. #11 John Massey
    May 29, 2014

    Well, here’s mine. Personally I think the whole thing’s rather tasteless and vulgar.

  12. #12 John Massey
    May 29, 2014

    Oh, here you go. Birger.

    You’ve got a swan, by the look of it.

  13. #13 Birger Johansson
    May 29, 2014

    (OT) Never mind burial cairns. This is how I want to have my body disposed of, * after I die:

    *Make sure it is AFTER.

  14. #14 Birger Johansson
    May 29, 2014

    Hahaha! More WND craziness: Everything is caused by demons!
    (John Cleese):”She turned me into a newt!”

  15. #15 Birger Johansson
    May 30, 2014

    J R R Tolkien’s translation of “Beowulf” with comments.

  16. #16 Birger Johansson
    May 30, 2014

    More heraldic symbols: Wales’s national flag is “demonic”
    Didn’t they say the same of Lordi? I should dig up a shoggoth and show them something really demonic…

  17. #17 John Massey
    May 30, 2014

    In the greatest days of the British Empire, a new commanding officer was sent to a jungle outpost to relieve the retiring colonel. After welcoming his replacement and showing the usual courtesies (gin and tonic, cucumber sandwiches) that protocol decrees, the retiring colonel said, “You must meet Captain Smithers, Royal Artillery, my right-hand man. God, he’s really the strength of this office. His talent is simply boundless.”

    Smithers was summoned and introduced to the new CO, who was surprised to meet a toothless, hairless, scabbed and pockmarked specimen of humanity, a particularly unattractive man less than three feet tall.

    “Smithers, old man, tell your new CO about yourself.””Well, sir, I graduated with honours from Sandhurst, joined the regiment and won the Military Cross and Bar after three expeditions behind enemy lines. I’ve represented GreatBritain in equestrian events and won a boxing Silver Medal in the middleweight division of the Olympics. I have researched the history of…”

    Here the colonel interrupted, “Yes, yes, never mind that Smithers, the CO can find all that in your file. Tell him about the day you told the witch doctor to get f****d”.

  18. #18 John Massey
    May 30, 2014

    Are you sure the Welsh aren’t just irritated because St George killed it?

  19. #19 John Massey
    May 30, 2014

    One of the cultural shifts you have to make when you come to China is that dragons are Good Things, not Bad Things. Bats are also lucky.

    When I play tennis at night, the moths all buzz around the lights, and bats keep zooming in to catch the moths. You can hear them, and if you are quick you can see them. Lots of bats. I never mention them because people start getting nervous if they know there are lots of bats zooming around over their heads. I figure they’re better than the bamboo snakes (Trimeresurus stejnegeri) slithering across the court while we’re trying to play.

    Life in the tropics – it’s hell, I tell you.

  20. #20 Birger Johansson
    May 30, 2014

    Anything that eats insects= good.
    Bats, dragons (for those really big insects).
    Weren’t there discoveries of dinosaur fossils in the iron age (classical Greek time) that started the dragon myth in both East and West?
    — — —
    The Latest Word On M*bus

    Also, if the Welsh thought George was a Siche (Englishman) it would make sense to have a dragon as a symbol…

  21. #21 John Massey
    May 30, 2014

    I don’t know if that is apocryphal, but I fancy that dinosaur fossils might have started dragon myths in both East and West, but in the West they were big bad nasty dangerous things, whereas in the independently derived Eastern myth for some reason they came out as huge and powerful but good.

  22. #22 John Massey
    May 30, 2014

    Yeah, a lava lake, that’s the way to go.

    I told my wife to feed me through the sewage treatment plant, but a lava lake is definitely more spectacular. And tasteful.

  23. #23 John Massey
    May 30, 2014

    After I’m dead, I mean.

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