Polman, Påhlman, von Pohlmann family
In 1623, the field marshal Herman Wrangel commissioned life-sized portraits of his officers, which adorn the walls of the magnificent baroque castle Skokloster. They are the gallant Swedish soldiers of the Thirty Years’ War who, in 1621, seized and captured the fortress of Riga, ensuring Sweden’s control over the coasts of the Baltic Sea.
Skokloster Castle has been described as one of the world’s foremost and best preserved Baroque castles.1Bergström, Carin M. “Skokloster Castle – One of the World’s Foremost Baroque Museums.” Museum International, 2001, 53, no. 2 (April 2001): 36–40. It is the largest private palace ever built in Sweden, and was acquired in 1967 by the state. Today, it is a state-owned building managed by the National Property Agency, and a museum that houses over 50,000 objects, including an extensive weapon collection and over 600 paintings.2“Skokloster Castle, Skokloster, Sweden.” HiSoUR. Accessed October 14, 2023. https://www.hisour.com/skokloster-castle-skokloster-sweden-43491/ Skokloster also provides a remarkable portal into the Sweden of 400 years ago, a time during the Swedish Empire, “the Era of Great Power.”
The castle was built by Count Carl Gustaf Wrangel (1613 – 1676), a Swedish field marshal3Field marshal is the highest attainable rank in the army. who became one of the most powerful and influential individuals in Sweden during the mid-seventeenth century. The construction of Skokloster Castle began in January 1654, chosen by Wrangel for its personal significance, as he was born in the old medieval stone house located at Skokloster.4Bergström, Carin M. “Skokloster Castle – One of the World’s Foremost Baroque Museums.” Museum International, 2001, 53, no. 2 (April 2001): 36–40. The estate had been in his family’s possession since the beginning of the century, inherited from his father, Herman Wrangel.
Skokloster meant much more to Count Wrangel than simply a home; it was intended to be a testament to his own greatness.5Ibid. To achieve this, he amassed a collection of artwork that included some of the finest artists of the era, including Lucas Cranach, Jan Steen, David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo. These painters were individuals whom Carl Gustaf had encountered and admired during his campaigns across Europe.6Rey, Daniel. “Model Officers.” FMR International December/January 2002, no. 113, 2002.
Nonetheless, the initial inspiration for this collection came from Wrangel’s father, Herman Wrangel, who ardently pursued works of art and even commissioned a series of twenty portraits of his comrades-in-arms to adorn the walls of his residence at Skokloster. Despite his impressive collection, Herman Wrangel was particularly attached to the paintings of these officers.7Ibid.
Herman Wrangel, a member of the powerful House of Wrangel,8The Wrangel family was a Baltic-German noble family, whose members have also been included in Swedish, Russian, Spanish and Prussian nobility. was born in Estonia in the mid-1580s.9“The Patriarch Herman Wrangel – Skoklosters Slott,” accessed October 14, 2023, https://skoklostersslott.se/en/the-history-of-skokloster-castle/the-people-at-skokloster/herman-wrangel/ In 1608, Wrangel was appointed as major in the Swedish Östgöta cavalry regiment, and between 1611 and 1632, he had a successful military career in Sweden under Karl IX and Gustavus Adolphus.10Bredberg, Eva. “Dräkt Och Pose i Porträtt – En Analys Av Posens Fiktion Och Dräktens Avbildning i Tre Porträtt Föreställande Herman Wrangel (1584–1643).” Dissertation, Södertörns högskola, 2017. In recognition of his service, Karl IX bequeathed Skokloster to him, and Wrangel in turn gave it as a morning gift11A morning gift was a gift made by a husband to his wife on the morning after the consummation of marriage. to his wife Margareta Grip. He took part in wars against Denmark and Russia and was appointed commander of Kalmar Castle. In 1621, he became field marshal, and led his officers in the successful siege of Riga.12“The Patriarch Herman Wrangel – Skoklosters Slott,” accessed October 14, 2023, https://skoklostersslott.se/en/the-history-of-skokloster-castle/the-people-at-skokloster/herman-wrangel/
The Wrangel family executed a shrewd marriage strategy,13Ibid. marrying into powerful noble families that solidified their standing among the elite of Swedish society. Despite his success in battle, Herman Wrangel’s marriages were not as fortunate. He married three times. In 1612, he married Margareta Grip (1586-1624), who died in 1624. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Grip family were among Sweden’s most powerful and prosperous families. They owned a vast manor complex and many city properties.14“The First Wife Margareta Grip – Skoklosters Slott,” accessed October 14, 2023, https://skoklostersslott.se/en/the-history-of-skokloster-castle/the-people-at-skokloster/the-first-wife-margareta-grip/ This marriage was very successful for Herman Wrangel — he became his wife’s guardian, which meant that he managed her assets and property. A year after Margareta died, Wrangel remarried to Catharina Gyllenstierna (1610-1635), who was barely 16 years old and a relative of his first wife. Sadly, Catharina Gyllenstierna’s life was also short-lived as she died of the plague in Marienburg, Malbork in present day Poland, at the age of 19.
Wrangel’s final marriage was to Amalia Magdalena Nassau-Siegen (1613-1669) in 1636. The marriage caused a stir among noble circles, as it was believed that Amalia was initially engaged to Wrangel’s own son, Carl Gustaf Wrangel.15Bredberg, Eva. “Dräkt Och Pose i Porträtt – En Analys Av Posens Fiktion Och Dräktens Avbildning i Tre Porträtt Föreställande Herman Wrangel (1584–1643).” Dissertation, Södertörns högskola, 2017. Yet, through this marriage, Wrangel became the first of the Swedish commanders to marry into the princely house of Germany.16“The Patriarch Herman Wrangel – Skoklosters Slott,” accessed October 14, 2023, https://skoklostersslott.se/en/the-history-of-skokloster-castle/the-people-at-skokloster/herman-wrangel/
After serving as Governor General of Livonia, Herman Wrangel died in Riga in December 1643, the same place where he had once led the siege two decades earlier.
As Sweden was asserting itself as a great power, the demand for skilled soldiers grew significantly. Karl IX’s policy favoured German-Baltic noblemen, resulting in around fifty of them becoming affiliated with Sweden through generous gifts.17Ibid. Herman Wrangel himself belonged to an old German-Baltic noble family and the same applied to many of his company commanders, including Jöran Polman (Pålman),18You can read a full biography of Jöran Polman on Polmanarkivet. Johan Nieroth, Johan Patkul, and Johan Klingspor. The presence of foreigners was notable within the Småland regiments during the 1620s, with commanders from the Baltic provinces and officers from Scotland, England, and France assuming leadership roles.19Larsson, Lars Olof. 1982. Småländsk historia: stormaktstiden [Småland history: the great power era]. Stockholm: Norstedt, 28. Lieutenant Colonels Patrik Ruthven and Thomas Muschamp, as well as Captains Charles Campbell and William Man, were distinguished soldiers from Western islands, while Captain Claude de Laval, who became a resident of Grimsgöl in Längasjö parish, was French.20Ibid. The soldiers came from all over Europe to pursue a career in the renowned army of King Gustavus Adolphus.
Georg Günther Kräill von Bemeberg, born in 1584, was arguably the second most renowned soldier after Wrangel. Originally from Germany, he joined the Swedish service as an engineer around 1620. He studied the art of fortification in Utrecht and even designed the plans for the siege of Riga in 1621.21Rey, Daniel. “Model Officers.” FMR International December/January 2002, no. 113, 2002. Often present on the battlefield in person, he was required to sketch out plans of attack and battle tactics. Recognising his skills, Sweden employed him as an engineer responsible for fortifications, and he rose through the ranks to become a captain, field quartermaster, and, finally, a commander.22Georg Günther Kräill von Bemebergh, https://sok.riksarkivet.se/sbl/artikel/15839, Svenskt biografiskt lexikon (art av L. W:son Munthe.), hämtad 2023-10-14. In 1634, he obtained Swedish nobility status and became the owner of Ökna estate and Mora farm in Södermanland. He was also a talented painter, who painted 20 portraits of his comrades-in-arms in 1623. He was described as the military engineer who could “wield the paintbrush as readily as the sword.”23Rey, Daniel. “Model Officers.” FMR International December/January 2002, no. 113, 2002.
Wrangel’s officers also included the Colonels Patrick Ruthven (b. 1586) and Nils Assarson (b. 1586); Lieutenant Colonels David Drummund (b. 1593), Thomas Muschamp (b. 1580), Lars Kagg (b. 1597), and Otto von Schneiding (b. 1580); Major Johan Hieroth (b. 1587); and the Captains Jörgen Pålman (b. 1597), Påwel von Essen (b. 1575), Herman von Cappel (b. 1595), Erik Ulfsparre af Broxvik (b. 1600), Jacob King (b. 1598), Wilhelm Mann (b. 1590), Johan Patkull (b. 1596), Herman Buttenskog (b. 1593), Carl Kammel (b. 1595), Claude Gebhardt de Laval (b. 1589), and Johan Klingspor (b. 1578).24Rothlieb Carl F and Müller Carl. 1819. Beskrifning Öfver Skokloster. Stockholm: C. Deleen. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/84215359.html, 54-55.
The Scots Patrick Ruthven and David Drummond were famous for their drinking and smoking habits, respectively. Ruthven — who chancellor Axel Oxenstierna hailed as the most reliable of all the foreign officers in Swedish service — could drink even King Gustavus under the table.25What Makes an Old Soldier Famous?, Couples of the Castle (Skoklosters slott, 2021), https://skoklostersslott.se/en/visit-us/visit-remotely/couples-of-the-castle/. He made history as the man who could drink the most of all the men in the entire Swedish army, a feat that earned him tremendous respect amongst his peers. Drummond, meanwhile, was remembered as the first known tobacco smoker in Sweden.26In 17th-century Sweden, when someone smoked it was called “to drink tobacco” because the Swedish language didn’t contain any expression for the voluntary inhalation of smoke. The older generation of Swedes frowned upon this new practice of smoking and worried that the sparks from the smokers’ pipes would lead to continuous fires. Queen Christina herself seriously considered banning tobacco altogether as a “useless commodity” in 1643.27What Makes an Old Soldier Famous?, Couples of the Castle (Skoklosters slott, 2021), https://skoklostersslott.se/en/visit-us/visit-remotely/couples-of-the-castle/.
The rise of Sweden to the role of a great power — an unlikely one for such a cold, remote and underpopulated country — had begun in 1621 with the siege of Riga, in which all the gentlemen illustrated here took part. The Swedes were already masters of Estonia, with its harbours of Narva and Reval, but the occupation of Polish Livonia and the conquest of the important fortress of Riga, after a long siege, were startling proof of the efficiency of the new army put in place by Gustav Adolf, and ensured him control of an Imperium Maris Baltici which was later to be completed with Stralsund and Wismar […] It was they who ushered in the age of Swedish domination which was to continue for several years even after the death of their king, who fell at the battle of Lützen in 1632.Gianni Guadalupi, FMR International
By the early 17th century, Sweden controlled not only Estonia but the whole Baltic Sea.28Neil Taylor, Estonia: A Modern History (London: Hurst and Company, 2018) It is easy to forget that Sweden was once a large empire, controlling much of Northern Europe. Under the reign of Gustavus Adolphus, the objective of Sweden’s foreign policy was dominion over the coasts of the Baltic Sea, dominium maris baltici.29Lappalainen, Jussi T. “Gustav II Adolf .”Biografiskt lexikon för Finland 1. Svenska tiden (2008), https://www.blf.fi/artikel.php?id=311. After the Swedes gained control of Pärnu in northern Livonia, Gustavus turned his attention to Riga. It was here that Wrangel’s officers would wield their might. The king’s troops arrived in the summer of 1621 and, after a siege of just over a month, Riga finally surrendered.30Ibid.
In 1623, Herman Wrangel received orders to protect Kalmar from a potential Polish invasion. He was joined by Kräill, who was tasked with strengthening the city’s fortifications. Soon after, the most courageous soldiers arrived as reinforcements to defend Kalmar, together with their elite supervisors, the famous “model officers” from the siege of Riga.31Rey, Daniel. “Model Officers.” FMR International December/January 2002, no. 113, 2002. But the enemy never showed up:
… The days dragged monotonously by. For everyone, that is, except Kräill, who, upon the commission of Wrangel, made the most of this free time to devote himself to his great passion, painting. Five officers willingly agreed to pose before his easel: Otto von Scheiding, Jörgen Pålman, Johan Patkull, Carl Kimmel and Claude Gebhardt de Laval, whose life-size portraits persuaded the other fourteen comrades from Riga to present themselves at Kräill’s makeshift studio in the casemates of the castle of Kalmar.Daniel Rey, FMR International
In the end, Kräill painted 20 portraits of his comrades-in-arms and friends between summer and fall 1623 at Kalmar Castle.32Bredberg, Eva. “Dräkt Och Pose i Porträtt – En Analys Av Posens Fiktion Och Dräktens Avbildning i Tre Porträtt Föreställande Herman Wrangel (1584–1643).” Dissertation, Södertörns högskola, 2017. The wielding of his paintbrush immortalised the officer’s achievements at the siege of Riga during the Thirty Years’ War.
The first floor of Skokloster served as the country residence with guest rooms for royal visits, where you can find the Wrangel and Brahe room suites and the King’s Hall. Yet it is the corridors on the first floor that have captured the imagination of many.33Carl Johan Billmark, the Swedish landscape painter, was so enamoured that he created several lithographs of Skokloster, including the officers of the first floor corridor. They are illuminated by the tall windows facing the courtyard. The corridors were adorned during the 18th and 19th centuries with wall and ceiling paintings. On the walls are paintings showing members of Herman Wrangel’s officers’ corps, and as you walk upstairs to the first floor of Skokloster, these officer portraits are the first thing to greet you.34Stenqvist, Clara. “Porträttmåleri, Performativitet Och Hovkultur i Skoklosters Slott, 1610–1670.” Dissertation, Stockholms universitet, 2022.
All the portraits, except for the ones of Herman Wrangel himself and the self-portrait of Kräill, were painted in 1623. These two portraits are believed to have been painted between 1624-25.35Rothlind, Ann-Cathrin. “Assessing Breakpoint Values in Conservation Decision-Making – for Stewardship Ethics Managing Change.” Dissertation, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, 2021. These portraits originally hung in the governor’s apartment at Kalmar Castle, where Herman Wrangel served as governor from 1616-1625. In 1623, they were moved to the so-called “stone house” (Swedish: stenhuset) at Skokloster, which was the Wrangel family’s residence prior to Skokloster Castle. Herman’s son, Carl Gustaf Wrangel, relocated the paintings to his new castle in 1664, where they have remained.36Bredberg, Eva. “Dräkt Och Pose i Porträtt – En Analys Av Posens Fiktion Och Dräktens Avbildning i Tre Porträtt Föreställande Herman Wrangel (1584–1643).” Dissertation, Södertörns högskola, 2017.
The 20 portraits, including Herman Wrangel’s, are displayed together, creating a striking effect.37One portrait in the series was lost and replaced by a copy painted in the early 20th century, probably due to degradation of the original painting. It is possible that Wrangel wanted to present the image of a commanding military force.38Ibid. However, paintings were also a way to achieve immortality, and Wrangel did not have enough portraits from his own ancestors to decorate the old Skokloster home.39Rey, Daniel. “Model Officers.” FMR International December/January 2002, no. 113, 2002. It is more likely that he commissioned these paintings to have a complete gallery to display in his residence:
He had them painted to decorate the walls of his residence at Skokloster […] maybe to follow the fashion set by Gustav I in the previous century, or under the influence of the commemorative fervour which had led all Swedes frenetically to immortalize the features of their ancestors. But Herman did not have enough illustrious ancestors to make up a whole gallery. At most, the field marshall owned a few nearest relatives of his three successive wives, aristocrats, it is true, but from the lesser nobility: his family tree suffered cruelly from an absence of forebears. That’s why he set about lining its walls with the painted canvases of himself, but also of important figures in the history of Skokloster, both his servants and the men of letters and scholars with whom he liked to surround himself, not to mention his loyal comrades-in-arms.Daniel Rey, FMR International
Regardless of his reason, the portraits he commissioned of his 20 officers are unparalleled and painted in full- and life-size. Herman Wrangel’s own portrait is located in the middle of the corridor, with the officers displayed to his left and right.40Rothlieb Carl F and Müller Carl. 1819. Beskrifning Öfver Skokloster. Stockholm: C. Deleen. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/84215359.html, 54-55.
Notably, there are inscriptions beneath the portraits and under the windows in between. These inscriptions include proverbs in multiple languages, such as Swedish, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, English, and German.41“Skokloster Castle, Skokloster, Sweden.” HiSoUR. Accessed October 14, 2023. https://www.hisour.com/skokloster-castle-skokloster-sweden-43491/ For example, the inscription beneath Jörgen Pålman’s portrait reads: “Facetiarum apud prapotentes in longum memoria, dum acerba sunt” (You don’t soon forget a bitter joke by the powerful). A second inscription in Latin warns of the dangers of speaking: “Nulli tacuisse nocet, nocet esse locutum” (No harm comes from remaining silent, harm comes from speaking). Another, in French, says: “Les amis sont comme le melons, Il faut es sayer plusieurs pour Renconttrer un bon” (Friends are like melons. You have to try several to meet a good one).
It can be tempting to underestimate the soldiers’ achievements when adorned in such opulence, but their impact cannot be denied. These men ushered in an era of Swedish dominion, firmly establishing the country as a great power and force to be reckoned with. Gustavus Adolphus the Great, hailed as “The Lion from the North”, created the most formidable army the world had ever seen, as attested by the courage displayed by these valiant soldiers during the siege.42When Gustavus Adolphus’s army landed in Germany in 1630, they were so successful on the battlefield that Catholics feared this “Lion from the North” might cross the Alps with his army southward as far as Rome to obliterate the holy city from the face of the earth. Therefore, maybe it would be prudent to heed the Latin inscription beneath Herman Wrangel’s own portrait:43Rothlieb Carl F and Müller Carl. 1819. Beskrifning Öfver Skokloster. Stockholm: C. Deleen. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/84215359.html, 54-55.
Si qua tibi viator memoria nostri in hoc icone fuerit grata, eodem affectu, queso, reliquos commilitones contemplare:
Caveas vero, ne ita de illorum forma et ha-bitu sollicitus sis, ut obliviscaris scire qui-nam fuere milites. Omnes erant sub auspiciis Gustavi Magni armorum gloria clari, me duce et teste, de Rege et Patria bene meriti.A Latin inscription under Herman Wrangel’s portrait at Skokloster
If, as a traveller, the memory of us in this icon has been pleasing to you, I beseech you to contemplate the rest of our comrades with the same feeling:
Be careful, however, that you do not become so concerned about their form and habit that you forget to know who the soldiers were. All were under the auspices of Gustavus the Great, the glorious glory of arms, with me as leader and witness, well deserved of King and Country. ❦
The Officers of Skokloster Castle
Painted by Georg Günther Kräill von Bemeberg
All of the potraits are in the public domain and can be accessed from Statens historiska museer (SHM):