Christina Piper was an early-modern Swedish woman who played a role within that kingdom’s political, economic, and cultural spheres. Her activities involved owning land and industrial enterprises and she was also said to have held political influence through her husband, Carl Piper.
Christina Piper was born in 1673. She was the oldest of the six children in her family. Her parents were Margareta Andersén and Olof Hansson Törne. Her mother was the daughter of a burgess and her father came from a wealthy burgess family in Stockholm. Olof Törne was a merchant who also served as an alderman, town mayor, and a member of parliament. He was subsequently ennobled and adopted the name Törnflycht. Christina Piper was thus embedded within the Stockholm bourgeoisie through her parents and from birth onwards belonged to the economic and political elite of the capital city.
When she was 16 years old Christina Piper married Carl Piper, who was 26 years her senior. This appears to have been an arranged marriage. Carl Piper had grown up within the same family as Christina Piper – when his widowed mother got remarried it was to Hans Olofsson Törne, who was Christina Piper’s paternal grandfather. Thus Carl Piper was actually Christina Piper’s father’s step-brother. Their marriage was mutually beneficial in several ways: Carl Piper gained access to his wife’s parents’ financial resources whilst Christina Piper became the wife of a nobleman who was making a name for himself within the sphere of government service. During the period of 1691–1695 Christina Piper gave birth to five daughters, of which only one survived past childhood. She went on to have another three daughters and a son, all of whom survived into adulthood.
Given that Carl Piper was one of King Karl XII’s leading advisors, he left Sweden at the outbreak of the great Nordic War in 1700. This left Christina in charge of maintaining the household and her family’s financial dealings.
The family had already begun investing in land in the early 1700s and plans were underway for the construction of a large castle in Sturefors, Östergötland, which was intended to become their main domicile. During Carl Piper’s absence Christina Piper not only supervised this construction but also became responsible for the connected agricultural activities. She also engaged in further land acquisitions in Scania and Västmanland. Her driving role in these transactions is particularly notable in the purchase of Ängso in Västmanland during which the seller had cause to summon her to the court with regard to a legal dispute which lasted for several years.
Christina Piper also became more visible in the sphere of politics whilst her husband was away. It is generally believed that given her husband’s extremely close relationship to the king she was able to influence important decisions, particularly those which involved appointments to public offices and higher posts at officer level. Those who sought promotion in these spheres would often approach her in the hopes of gaining her husband’s ear through her intercession, and that her husband could in turn influence the king. It is difficult to actually determine just what influence Christina Piper may have had in this way. It is absolutely apparent that many people thought it worthwhile to offer her gifts, both monetary and material, in order to gain access. She also appears to have accepted these offers. It was to her advantage that her husband remained the king’s right-hand man and thus maintained his influential position, even though he made it clear that by preference he would have returned home to Sweden.
Following the Swedish defeat at Poltava in 1709 Carl Piper was taken prisoner and he eventually died in Russian captivity in 1719. Thus Christina Piper lost the unofficial position she was believed to hold within the political sphere. However, she also thereby became solely responsible for the family properties and enterprises. For the rest of her life Christina Piper remained one of the most prominent financial figures in Sweden, making investments in property, industry, and trading companies. Her major investment was in the Andrarum aluminium works in Scania, in which she systematically acquired shares until, by 1725, she was its sole owner. During this period the aluminium works exported aluminium across Europe and became a major source of income. Christina Piper was one of the early investors in what became Ostindiska kompaniet (Swedish East India Company), established in the early 1730s. This too became a fruitful enterprise that supported her for the rest of her life. She had less success with investments in the so-called Levantiska kompaniet (Swedish Levant Company) and Västerbottniska Bergslagssocieteten (Västerbotten Bergslags society) which both went bust.
Christina Piper continued to acquire property and at the time of her death, in addition to a town palace in Stockholm, Sturefors, Ängsö, Hässelbyholm, Krageholm, Högestad, and Björnstorp, she also owned a number of other farms throughout the country. She had had a castle constructed at Andrarum which was simply known as ‘Nya huset’ (the new house), albeit her son later renamed it Christinehof in honour of his mother.
As with many property-owners at that time – not least female property-owners – Christina Piper ensured that she made donations to the local congregational churches in the areas where she owned land. For many years she patronised the prominent wood-carver Johan Jerling whose work included embellishing the churches in Vist near Sturefors, Ängsö, Högestad, Krageholm, Sövestad, Andrarum, and Baldringe. She also donated silverware to churches. In addition to making church donations she also made financial contributions towards the construction or maintenance of hospitals in Linköping, Helsingborg, and Andrarum. She also funded the Riddarholmen poorhouse in Stockholm, as well as that in Torup and in Andrarum, both in Scania.
Christina Piper was a very wealthy woman when she died. She had certainly been born into a well-off family but she had also exceedingly skilfully managed and increased what she had inherited. The documents which have survived her reveal that she systematically developed her business dealings and by the time of her death she had decided that much of what she would leave to posterity would be locked into an entailed estate so that her inheritors could not break up the properties. Today (2017) bits of the landed properties she built up still remain in her descendants’ ownership, such as the Högestad, Christinehof and Sturefors estates.
Christina Piper was a controversial individual during her lifetime. She was disliked by many who believed that despite having the power to help them she nevertheless did not give them the help they thought they deserved. She was involved in several lengthy legal disputes with individuals that she had entered into business with and who believed that they had been cheated by her. She also argued with her siblings over their inheritance from their mother. Some of these criticisms may rest in the fact that she was a so-called upstart: although she had been born into the bourgeoisie it was due to her husband’s elevation to count that she became socially upwardly mobile. Further, the criticism may be based on the fact that she was a woman, and a woman who engaged in business dealings. It is clear that Christina Piper was a fearless, tenacious business woman who was also very successful and skilled.
Christina Piper died at Krageholm castle in 1752. She is buried in the Piper family grave in Ängsö church.