Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter was a Stockholm merchant’s wife who, through marriage, inheritance, and enterprise, became significantly wealthy in the early 1500s.
Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter was probably born in 1468, at the earliest, as the only child of Ingvald Torstensson and Anna Jakobsdotter. Her father, Ingvald Torstensson, was an Arboga merchant who had a wide contact network in Bergslagen. He became part of the Stockholm merchant circle upon marrying Anna Jakobsdotter, a local magistrate’s daughter. Anna Jakobsdotter’s brother, who had joined the Dominican order, opted to give Anna half of his inheritance on the occasion of her wedding.
Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter married the Stockholm merchant Anders Svensson Hellsing by 1490, at the latest. Shortly thereafter, at the age of 22, she lost her mother. Given that she was the sole heir she inherited great wealth comprising a stone-built building, a separate stone-built unit, a brewhouse with kettle and brewing implements, as well as 600 marks in cash, along with silver and other gifts. As was the norm her father took it upon himself to manage her mother’s debts and receipts. Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter’s father-in-law, Sven Hellsing, fell ill after her mother’s death and moved into her home. She looked after him for two years, until he died. Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter and her husband then inherited his belongings, which consisted of a stone-built building and its associated cellar as well as a wooden-built farmyard, a separate stable, and all of Sven’s wealth.
Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter had been married to Anders Svensson Hellsing for at least five years at the time of her father-in-law’s death. She had no children. Her husband was frequently away, travelling to other market-towns in the Baltic and was not often at home. He fell ill in the first years of the 1500s, as is revealed by the fact that Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter paid the entirety of the couple’s tax in 1502 and 1503. Upon Anders Svensson Hellsing’s death Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter inherited not just half of their joint properties but also a third of her husband’s share. This extra inheritance is explained in a document which the couple had signed in 1495 and in which they mutually donated parts of their jointly held property to each other; this was possible as they had no immediate heirs.
Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter had now become a much sought-after potential partner within both the Swedish- and German-speaking populations. This was not just due to her considerable wealth but in large part due to her solid connections with iron- and copper-producers in Bergslagen.
In 1504 Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter married the German merchant Gert Brüning, who was himself a very wealthy man. From 1505 onwards he was the highest tax-payer in Stockholm town. Marrying a Swedish woman enabled him to settle in and become a burgess of the town. Gert Brüning exported large amounts of copper from Stockholm to Lübeck and imported cloth, hops and saltpetre into Stockholm. Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter managed the business network and supported her husband whilst he travelled in Bergslagen.
During this period Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter and her father donated the income from letting out a stone-built building to the Franciscan order in Stockholm. This money was intended to maintain the priest who was to hold a requiem mass for family members every Sunday in the Riddarholms church. In 1505 Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter’s father died. She had to fight his widow for her rightful inheritance from her father. She did this successfully thereby increasing her already sizable wealth further. She also took over his important contact network.
At an early stage in their marriage Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter and Gert Brüning wrote a joint will favouring the surviving partner financially over the deceased’s relatives. Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter once again became entirely responsible for her and her husband’s taxes from 1507 onwards. Gert Brüning died in early 1518. Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter continued to run the business by herself. Although she paid a little less in taxes than they had paid as a couple, she was still viewed as Stockholm’s highest tax-payer in the period of 1518–1522.
Following the death of Gert Brüning Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter wanted to honour her two late husbands and her father whilst also making a contribution to the town’s poor-relief. Various methods existed for doing this but as she owned several stone-built buildings she could let them out and then donate the rental returns to charitable needs. Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter favoured the St Nicolai guild, which was probably Stockholm’s pre-eminent guild. Their altar was in Storkyrkan, and the income from stone-built buildings, units, and warehouses generated enough funds to maintain a second priest. Every week Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter’s priest was able to collect funds for the poor during the Wednesday mass.
In 1522 Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter decided to help yet another German merchant, Hans Nagel, to become a burgess of Stockholm by marrying him. He only paid a third the amount of tax which Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter paid. From an economic perspective she was marrying beneath herself, but she continued to manage her own wealth successfully. From 1523 onwards she was no longer registered as a sole tax-payer. At this point she was more than 50 years old. Her husband, Hans Nagel, never did pay as much tax as she had done but was still able to double his basic income after just a few years of marriage – thanks to her business associates.
Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter appears in the records for the final time in August 1527. She and her husband requested the return of the buildings which provided the income that she and her father had allowed the St Nicolai guild and the Franciscan order to benefit from for many years. According to a decision made at the Västerås parliament in June 1527 these types of gifts to religious foundations (prebendestiftelser) became proscribed. Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter sought to have her property returned to her instead of losing it to King Gustav Vasa when he forcibly appropriated church holdings to the Crown. In this, too, Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter was successful.
It is not known when Birgitta Ingvaldsdotter died.