Catharina Wallenstedt was a noblewoman and a frequent letter-writer. There are several hundred surviving letters written in her hand.
Catharina Wallenstedt was the youngest of four children born to the Catharina Tidemansdotter, herself the daughter of a clergyman, and Laurentius Olai Wallius, professor of theology, dean, principal of Uppsala university and later bishop of Strängnäs diocese. Before she married Catharina Wallenstedt’s surname was Wallia, namely the feminine version of her father’s latinised name Wallius. Following her mother’s death in childbirth the year after Catharina was born her father married a barely 16-year old girl called Christina Luth. Catharina’s father, who stemmed from a well-to-do farming family in Närke, was an example of the way that education could enable an upwardly mobile class journey and lead to increased social status. Perhaps that was why he ensured that his own children – both daughters and sons – gained a thorough education, including in Latin. In 1650 all his children were ennobled under the name of Wallenstedt.
No traces of Catharina Wallenstedt’s early life have survived in archival material. However, from 1649 onwards she was employed in the service of Queen Kristina and from 1650 onward she held the title of lady-in-waiting. It is unclear how she met the man she would marry, Edvard Philipsson Ehrenstéen, but presumably being at court facilitated the formation of personal connections. Edvard Philipsson Ehrenstéen had previously been her father’s student but had opted to enter the diplomatic service instead of the church. When Queen Kristina abdicated her crown in favour of her cousin, Karl X Gustav, Edvard Philipsson Ehrenstéen was appointed secretary of the royal field chancellery. His duties entailed a lot of travel and thus he and Catharina Wallenstedt did not marry until 1655.
Due to her husband’s work Catharina Wallenstedt and their family moved around a lot and sometimes she was on her own for lengthy periods. Catharina Wallensted gave birth to their first child in Poland in 1656, and then spent the ensuing winter with her father-in-law in Elsinore.
After the 1660 parliament had been held in Gothenburg Catharina Wallenstedt and her husband settled permanently in Stockholm. A few years later her husband was awarded Forsby manor and farm (now in Österåker municipality). Thus the newly-ennobled Catharina Wallenstedt and her family were able to lead a traditional aristocratic lifestyle with two homes, one in the centre of political power – Stockholm – and the other in the countryside.
Catharina Wallenstedt was a frequent letter-writer and by chance several hundred of her letters have survived. The majority of these letters are addressed to her husband Edvard and to her eldest daughter Margareta, whom she addresses as Greta. The intellectual historian Christian Wijkmark has released a printed volume of 350 of these letters. They reveal that Catharina Wallenstedt sought not only to safeguard her children’s futures, but that she was also afraid that her frequently travelling husband who was exposed to all sorts of dangers would not be able to ensure their children’s future financial security. Catharina Wallenstedt was well aware of how bad things could get given the experience of her elder sister, whose husband had died before he could ensure his surviving family’s financial security. Her sister lived in poverty and required support to live. Catharina Wallenstedt’s letters make it clear how vital social status was to a person’s career and finances, as well as how rapidly a person’s luck could change if careful measures were not taken to protect oneself. Relatives and family were expected to provide help in such circumstances. Her half-brother Lars Wallius, however, did not live up to this expectation and Catharina Wallenstedt realised that he was far too self-centred. In the end Catharina Wallenstedt was worrying needlessly, however. Her daughters married politically influential men – Nils Gyldenstolpe and Arvid Horn – whilst her sons also led successful lives.
Catharina Wallenstedt’s letters have proven useful to a range of scholars. These letters not only show how a married woman lacking formal training had to master everything from how to run an estate and book-keeping to childcare and suitable strategies to ensure their children’s later success in life. The letters also reveal views and judgements on the social issues of the day. Catharina Wallenstedt’s letters thus offer a keyhole view into the human aspect of research into seventeenth-century society.
Catharina Wallenstedt outlived several of her children. She died in the autumn of 1719, aged 92, in Stockholm. To attain such an age was a remarkable feat at that time.