Cecilia Jonsdotter (Roos) was a woman of royal descent who had her own court and controlled important power resources within the feudal society of her era. Towards the end of her life she belonged to those who contributed to abbey life in Sweden through her deed of gift. This consisted of an agreement that if she was allowed to be buried in Vadstena abbey she would donate Forsvik mill in Västergötland to the abbey.
Cecilia Jonsdotter’s precise date of birth remains unknown but she was certainly born in the mid-1300s. Her family owned the estate of Elingaard on Onsöj, not far from Akershus, the royal fortress of the Norwegian king’s representatives. Jon Hafthoresson Roos, Cecilia’s father, had played a prominent role there for several decades as a royal councillor, and as a cousin of King Magnus Eriksson and grandchild of the former king Håkon of Norway. Cecilia Jonsdotter was probably a frequent guest at the royal court – and may even have lived at Akershus for a time – during her youth. Akershus served as a centre for the ruling classes and was the place where, during various annual festivities, alliances were forged between the strongest families. Children born to this powerful elite were educated by members of their own social class.
Given her distinguished background Cecilia Jonsdotter was a desirable marriage prospect. She married the Swedish knight Jon Holmgersson who appears to have settled in Norway at an early point in his life, having lived in that kingdom since his childhood. Despite his seemingly modest Swedish background he had succeeded in becoming part of the Norwegian king’s most intimate circle and became tied to Akershus for many years. By 1369 he was one of the king’s closest friends and he was promoted to privy councillor in 1379. Although the date of Cecilia Jonsdotter’s and Jon Holmgersson’s wedding is unknown sources reveal that it happened before 1386. Unfortunately the sources are sparse and contradictory as regards the couple’s children and it remains difficult to determine the facts.
By the time of her marriage Cecilia Jonsdotter had spent her entire life in Norway as a well-respected wealthy woman of royal ancestry. Although both her wealthy mother, Birgitta Knutsdotter (who descended from the sons of Algot) and her husband, Jon Holmgersson, were Swedish the living conditions in Norway must have been preferable, leading them both to settle there. Cecilia Jonsdotter’s husband died in 1396. She ensured that, through a monastic order, he was given a burial spot appropriate to his social sanding in Idd church a few miles southwest of Akershus in Norway.
When Cecila Jonsdotter’s mother died in 1395 she inherited land in Sweden, including the estate of Forsvik in Västergötland. During her twilight years she used her Forsvik inheritance in order to purchase a burial spot for herself. She chose a place far away from those who had been her closest dependents and far away from the place where she had grown up and spent her adult life. She wanted a spot in the church at Vadstena abbey, as was befitting her high social standing.
The document specifying her burial place, which Cecilia Jonsdotter signed in 1410, lies in the Vadstena abbey archive and is usually termed a deed of gift now, but should rather be viewed as an agreement or a contract. There are two parts to it. There are named givers and receivers but it is also specified that the receiver is to pay compensation for the gift. Cecilia Jonsdotter donated the old Forsvik mill to Vadstena abbey as payment for her burial spot in the abbey church, adding that Vadstena abbey should supply her and her court with flour. The agreement also notes that Cecilia Jonsdotter desired that the gift should contribute to “benefit her own soul, her mother’s and her father’s souls, and other’s souls”.
The deed of gift reveals traces of a society in which bartering still played a prominent part in the local economy. The document portrays a strong and ambitious woman who knew that she had enough authority to run her own life and who was convinced that her power extended beyond her death; she not only could make decisions with regard to her own soul but also for those who survived after her.
Mills, one of which Cecilia Jonsdotter was using in her bartering, played a central role in exercising authority in feudal society throughout Europe – it was where people ground their grain and its owner stipulated the rules for this activity. This gave them power and a source of income. In medieval Europe mills were owned by the church or the nobility. Thus we can conclude that the deed of gift to Vadstena abbey was significant and that Cecilia Jonsdotter was well aware of this.
When Cecilia Jonsdotter composed the deed of gift in 1410 she was already quite aged. She was thus preparing as well as she could for life after death, not just for herself but also for her family and probably for future generations too. Just one year after signing the document Cecilia Jonsdotter Roos died, and as agreed she was buried in Vadstena abbey church.