Jürgen Polman’s Plea for Truth and Justice

In the early 17th century, an agitated Jürgen Polman penned a desperate letter to Axel Oxenstierna, the Lord High Chancellor of Sweden, appealing to him and the King for help in a matter regarding his land in Finland.


He claims that, despite years of loyal and faithful service, the calvary captain Peder Hannson was given 12 of the best farms from his fief. Hansson also accused Jürgen of not providing a horse for the army, which was a requirement of the time for maintaining a fief. Jürgen denied this accusation fervently and asked the Chancellor to intervene with the King on his behalf to uphold truth and justice.

Jürgen wasn’t pleased. In short, the letter conveyed the message of “I want compensation or my land back, you (expletive!)” but was written with more diplomacy due to societal norms at the time. It’s clear that Jürgen was upset by the removal of his land and accusations of disloyalty. Read Jürgen’s plea in detail as we analyse his fiery words against a historical backdrop.*

*A full English translation follows

The Fief of Sääksmäki

Wellborn, noble, gracious Lord, Imperial
Chancellor1Count Axel Oxenstierna served as Lord High Chancellor of Sweden from 1612 to 1654, mighty patron, I cannot abstain from
letting you know that not only His late Majesty on 2 June 1604,
in Nyeköping, mercyfully enfeoffed me with Liettula and Rithualla2Quarters of Sääksmäki parish in Finland,
with all pertaining belongings, for as long as I would be in His Majesty’s service, but also my most gracious King and Lord confirmed this feoff on 21 April 1614 and listed all the villages by name that are included in this donation.

Jürgen entered the service of Duke Karl of Södermanland in 1600, and became his hauptman or captain at Anzen, Estonia in 1601.3“Påhlman, släkt”, Riksarkivet, https://sok.riksarkivet.se/sbl/Presentation.aspx?id=7430, accessed: 21 March 2022 Duke Karl wrote to him expressing his delight that Jürgen had succeeded in enlisting more than a hundred farmers during the Polish-Swedish War4Jakob Koit, “Estnische Bauern als Krieger während der Kämpfe in Livland 1558-1611”, Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat = Annales Societatis Litterarum Estonicae in Svecia, no. 4 (January 1966): 39-40, https://dea.digar.ee/article/JVeestirootsiselts/1966/01/0/6 (Swedish: Karl IX:s polska krig 1600-1611). Three years later, in 1604, Duke Karl was declared Karl IX, King of Sweden, and rewarded Jürgen with estates in Sääksmäki parish5Specifically the quarters of Liettula and Ridvala. in Finland for his loyal service, which he held for fifteen years. Since wars were frequent and money tight, these fiefdoms and land grants were awarded instead, many of them in Finland and Livonia. 

When Karl IX died at Nyköping in 1611, he was succeeded by his seventeen-year-old son Gustavus Adolphus. Jürgen remained loyal to the Crown and received more promotions and grants. In 1613, Jürgen was granted the power of attorney to be the steward and commander of Padise6Jonas Hallenberg, Svea Rikes Historia Under Konung Gustaf Adolf Den Stores Regering[The History of the Kingdom of Sweden Under the Reign of King Gustaf Adolf the Great] (Stockholm: Carlbohm, 1793) 67, and in 1614, Gustavus Adolphus confirmed Jürgen’s ownership of the entire Sääksmäki parish, including the villages Liettula, Ridvala, Salo, and Konho as mentioned in Jürgen’s letter.

The Poor Exiles of Dorpat

Wellborn, gracious Lord, while I have served subserviently ever since,
as the attached testimonials of my commanders and officers show,
I must remind you that His Majesty on 12 June 1602 in Stockholm assured
the poor region of Dorpat – whose inhabitant with others I am – that, should the town Dorpat fall under Polish control, in this unexpected case
His Majesty would take care of us poor exiles either in the empire,
or in Finland, and that for 150 Talers income, the vassals shall provide a horse for the army, as was ruled on 30 June 1604 in Nieköping.

Jürgen mentions that he has served dutifully, and attached testimonials of his commanders as further proof. One such commander, Axel Kurck, was a Swedish nobleman and military officer who was appointed as the war colonel in charge of all the troops in Finland. He wrote a letter of recommendation to the King on behalf of Jürgen, who had served on military marches and journeys in Livland with Kurck. His recommendation was sincere: “…But I want to give credible and sincere testimony about him, that he has behaved as a noble and honest soldier does and should, and has been diligent on guard and as a scout, as well as all other duties and matters that were asked of him at his Royal Majesty’s behalf to perform and to comply.”7National Archives of Estonia. Rootsi kuninga Karl IX väepealiku Axel Korck’i soovituskiri Jören Poolman’ile (transkriptsiooniga). Arhivaal, AM.301.1.1, 16.02.1608. 

Jürgen reminded the Chancellor that His Majesty had promised to take care of the inhabitants of Dorpat8Dorpat is now named Tartu. From the 13th century until the end of the 19th century, Tartu was known by its historical name Dorpat. if the town fell under Polish control. Around this time, a group of Livonian noblemen visited Karl IX and asked that they would be granted farms in Finland to support their wives and children while they fought for the kingdom. The King agreed to their request and ordered Councilor Arvi Henrikinpoika Horn to distribute funds to the noblemen so they each received 150 thalers a year, on the condition that they also provide horse service.9Werner Tawaststjerna, Kaarle IX:n Ja Sigismundin Taistelu Viron ja Liivinmaan Omistamisesta [Charles IX and Sigismund’s Battle for the Ownership of Estonia and Livonia] (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Kirjapainon Oy., 1935), 248

Dorpat was eventually captured during the Polish-Swedish War. By late 1600, Karl IX’s forces besieged the city, which was defended by three banners of reiters and the city’s burghers. Despite several attempts, the Swedes were unable to breach the city’s defenses. The turning point finally came in 1601 when Captain Hermann Wrangel switched sides, assaulted the castellan and opened the gates for the Swedish forces to enter. However, the town was recaptured by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on April 13, 1603, after a brief siege led by hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz.10Wikipedia contributors, “Tartu,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tartu&oldid=1203132066 (accessed March 14, 2024). Nearly 1000 Swedish soldiers surrendered and were taken to Tallinn, possibly including Jürgen Polman, who was stationed there.

We know that, in exchange for a sum of money that Jürgen had formerly advanced to Karl IX, Jürgen was given the manor Piigandi.11Hagemeister Heinrich von. 1837. Materialien Zu Einer Geschichte Der Landgüter Livlands 2 [Der Dörptsche Kreis]. Riga: Frantz. This was a “knight manor” located in the Kannapäh parish of Estonia near Dorpat, which was owned by Polish families. Jürgen was driven out of the property when the Poles returned, probably as result of the Polish-Swedish War.

17th century map of Dorpat
City plan map of Dorpat in 1697, National Archives of Estonia

Accusations and Lost Land

Yet, against all my confidence, longstanding service and fairness,
under our Majesty my gracious King on 18 July 1615 the captain of cavalry Peder Hansen acquired 12 of the best farms of my feoff, claiming that I
had not provided the horse, as I should have, for a long time,
an accusation which is not true as I can prove. 

In 1614, Jürgen was assured the entire parish of Sääksmäki – only to be asked to give up half of it a year later to Peder Hansson, unless Jürgen was willing to pay off Hansson’s debt. Half the estate including Liettula and Ridvala went to Hansson, while Jürgen kept Salo and Konho until 1619 when they were recalled.12Riksarkivet (Contributor), Meddelanden från Svenska riksarkivet: Ny följd II [Announcements from the Swedish National Archives: New consequence II], Volume 6, Issue 3 (Täby: Riksarkivet, 1922), 479 and Gotthard von Hansen, Die Sammlungen inländischer Alterthümer und anderer auf die baltischen Provinzen bezüglichen Gegenstände des Estländischen Provinzial-Museums [Collections of domestic antiquities and other objects related to the Baltic provinces of the Estonian Provincial Museum] (Reval: Lindfors, 1875), 77 Hansson also alleged that Jürgen had not provided the horse “for a long time,” an accusation that Jürgen denied. One of the requirements to retain the fiefs was to do horse (cavalry) service, and this was strictly upheld. This is illustrated in the case of a Livonian named Philipp Urader, one of Jürgen’s peers, who was unwell and unable to fulfil the conditions, and lost his land as a result.13Friedrich Bienemann Jr., ed. Baltic Monthly, LV (1903): 72

In the case of Jürgen, we know that the recommendation from Kurck indicates that “he has been diligent on guard and as a scout, as well as all other duties and matters that were asked of him.” However, in 1601, Jürgen was listed among Livonian noblemen who did not personally participate in their horse service but sent a servant instead. A group of noblemen reported those who either did not fulfil their horse service obligations or sent a servant instead, suggesting that their peers should be punished by losing their land.14Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Alterthumskunde der russischen Ostsee-Provinzen. 1900. Mittheilungen aus dem Gebiete der Geschichte Liv-, Ehst- und Kurland’s [Communications from the area of ​​the history of Liv, Ehst and Kurland]. Bd.17, H.1-3. Riga; Leipzig : Ed. Frantzen’s Buchh, 573-74. It’s unknown how often Jürgen sent a servant in his place. The requirement for horse service was to provide a horse for the army, so it’s possible some noblemen interpreted this more freely. In any case, Jürgen responds to that accusation directly in the letter, claiming that he can prove that he provided the horse. Peder Hansson, meanwhile, died by 1616 and so could not be further questioned.

On Behalf of Truth and Justice

Therefore I appeal to you, wellborn, gracious Lord, to intercede with His Majesty on my behalf,
and on behalf of truth and justice, to sustain me, an old man, after 12
years of hard work on the feoff, after hardship in prison and long years
of service, so that in my old age, me and my wife and children have a modest livelihood; especially since the captain of cavalry is deceased.

Jürgen mentions a hardship in prison and long years of service. It’s possible that he was among the 1,000 Swedish soldiers who surrendered and were escorted to Tallinn by a brief siege of Dorpat during the Polish-Swedish War. It’s unclear what hardship Jürgen experienced and when this occurred, and further research is ongoing.

A page of Jürgen Polman's letter to Axel Oxensteirna
A page of Jürgen Polman’s letter to Axel Oxensteirna, National Archives of Sweden

Requests for Compensation

I appeal to you wellborn and noble Lord to grant me the share of the
captain of cavalry Peder Johannsen [to compensate for the Polish
ransom? unclear] which is estimated 600 German Taler, for 4 or 5
years without the duty to provide a horse. After these years, I declare,
that I will step down and renounce the feoff altogether.
I hope to repay you, my wellborn, gracious Lord, for this mercy with
my service and remain and commend myself dutifully,
Your Wellborn Grace
subservient
Georg Polman

By the end of his letter, Jürgen appeals to the Chancellor to intervene with the King on his behalf to uphold truth and justice. He requests compensation for himself as an “old man” to support his wife and children, asking for 600 German Taler for 4 or 5 years without needing to provide a horse. After this time, he promises to step down and renounce his fief completely. Jürgen pledges to repay the Chancellor with his service and promises to commend himself dutifully.

Although the outcome of the letter is unknown, in 1615, Jürgen was briefly granted the Estonian knight manor Tuttomäggi (Tuudi) in the parish of Karusen. In 1631, he was gifted the estate and manor of Öötla (Oethel) in Estonia’s St. Petri parish by King Gustavus Adolphus, which he had previously received as a grant in 1624.15Gustaf Elgenstierna, ed., Den Introducerade Svenska Adelns Attartavlor med Tillagg och Rattelser [The Genealogies of the Introduced Swedish Nobility] (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1925-36)

Letters like this one provide an intimate glimpse into the past, revealing ancestors’ stories of triumph and tragedy. By reading these letters, we not only learn about their personalities and character, but also gain an understanding of the historical context of the time and place in which they lived. Through Jürgen’s words, we learn what was most precious to him — the value of hard work and loyalty — and the importance of diligence and perseverance in the face of power. 


Letter to Axel Oxenstierna [no date, after 18 July 1615]16The letter is undated but written circa 1616

[START OF LETTER]

Wellborn, noble, gracious Lord, Imperial
Chancellor, mighty patron, I cannot abstain from
letting you know that not only His late Majesty on 2 June 1604,
in Nyeköping, mercyfully enfeoffed me with Liettula and Rithualla,
with all pertaining belongings, for as long as I would be in His Majesty’s service, but also my most gracious King and Lord confirmed this feoff on 21 April 1614 and listed all the villages by name that are included in this donation.
Wellborn, gracious Lord, while I have served subserviently ever since,
as the attached testimonials of my commanders and officers show,
I must remind you that His Majesty on 12 June 1602 in Stockholm assured
the poor region of Dorpat – whose inhabitant with others I am – that, should the town Dorpat fall under Polish control, in this unexpected case
His Majesty would take care of us poor exiles either in the empire,
or in Finland, and that for 150 Talers income, the vassals shall provide a horse for the army, as was ruled on 30 June 1604 in Nieköping.
Yet, against all my confidence, longstanding service and fairness,
under our Majesty my gracious King on 18 July 1615 the captain of cavalry Peder Hansen acquired 12 of the best farms of my feoff, claiming that I
had not provided the horse, as I should have, for a long time,
an accusation which is not true as I can prove. Therefore I appeal to you, wellborn, gracious Lord, to intercede with His Majesty on my behalf,
and on behalf of truth and justice, to sustain me, an old man, after 12
years of hard work on the feoff, after hardship in prison and long years
of service, so that in my old age, me and my wife and children have a modest livelihood; especially since the captain of cavalry is deceased.
I appeal to you wellborn and noble Lord to grant me the share of the
captain of cavalry Peder Johannsen [to compensate for the Polish
ransom? unclear] which is estimated 600 German Taler, for 4 or 5
years without the duty to provide a horse. After these years, I declare,
that I will step down and renounce the feoff altogether.
I hope to repay you, my wellborn, gracious Lord, for this mercy with
my service and remain and commend myself dutifully,
Your Wellborn Grace
subservient
Georg Polman

[END OF LETTER]

Translation of a very difficult to read letter provided by the good folks at Beyond History.


Footnotes
  • 1
    Count Axel Oxenstierna served as Lord High Chancellor of Sweden from 1612 to 1654
  • 2
    Quarters of Sääksmäki parish in Finland
  • 3
    “Påhlman, släkt”, Riksarkivet, https://sok.riksarkivet.se/sbl/Presentation.aspx?id=7430, accessed: 21 March 2022
  • 4
    Jakob Koit, “Estnische Bauern als Krieger während der Kämpfe in Livland 1558-1611”, Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat = Annales Societatis Litterarum Estonicae in Svecia, no. 4 (January 1966): 39-40, https://dea.digar.ee/article/JVeestirootsiselts/1966/01/0/6
  • 5
    Specifically the quarters of Liettula and Ridvala.
  • 6
    Jonas Hallenberg, Svea Rikes Historia Under Konung Gustaf Adolf Den Stores Regering[The History of the Kingdom of Sweden Under the Reign of King Gustaf Adolf the Great] (Stockholm: Carlbohm, 1793) 67
  • 7
    National Archives of Estonia. Rootsi kuninga Karl IX väepealiku Axel Korck’i soovituskiri Jören Poolman’ile (transkriptsiooniga). Arhivaal, AM.301.1.1, 16.02.1608. 
  • 8
    Dorpat is now named Tartu. From the 13th century until the end of the 19th century, Tartu was known by its historical name Dorpat.
  • 9
    Werner Tawaststjerna, Kaarle IX:n Ja Sigismundin Taistelu Viron ja Liivinmaan Omistamisesta [Charles IX and Sigismund’s Battle for the Ownership of Estonia and Livonia] (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Kirjapainon Oy., 1935), 248
  • 10
    Wikipedia contributors, “Tartu,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tartu&oldid=1203132066 (accessed March 14, 2024).
  • 11
    Hagemeister Heinrich von. 1837. Materialien Zu Einer Geschichte Der Landgüter Livlands 2 [Der Dörptsche Kreis]. Riga: Frantz.
  • 12
    Riksarkivet (Contributor), Meddelanden från Svenska riksarkivet: Ny följd II [Announcements from the Swedish National Archives: New consequence II], Volume 6, Issue 3 (Täby: Riksarkivet, 1922), 479 and Gotthard von Hansen, Die Sammlungen inländischer Alterthümer und anderer auf die baltischen Provinzen bezüglichen Gegenstände des Estländischen Provinzial-Museums [Collections of domestic antiquities and other objects related to the Baltic provinces of the Estonian Provincial Museum] (Reval: Lindfors, 1875), 77
  • 13
    Friedrich Bienemann Jr., ed. Baltic Monthly, LV (1903): 72
  • 14
    Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Alterthumskunde der russischen Ostsee-Provinzen. 1900. Mittheilungen aus dem Gebiete der Geschichte Liv-, Ehst- und Kurland’s [Communications from the area of ​​the history of Liv, Ehst and Kurland]. Bd.17, H.1-3. Riga; Leipzig : Ed. Frantzen’s Buchh, 573-74.
  • 15
    Gustaf Elgenstierna, ed., Den Introducerade Svenska Adelns Attartavlor med Tillagg och Rattelser [The Genealogies of the Introduced Swedish Nobility] (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1925-36)
  • 16
    The letter is undated but written circa 1616
Jake Peterson
Jake Peterson

Jake’s greatest dream is to reveal stories that have been buried in history. He does this through rigorous research and combing through archives to preserve precious stories for future generations. Jake has qualifications in narrative therapy and family studies, and is an author, family historian, and researcher. In 2022, he published his first book “Arcadia.” Follow Jake on Instagram @polmanarkivet.

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