Hedvig Catharina Lillie was a countess who ran an influential opinion-forming salon during the 1730s.
Hedvig Catharina Lillie was born in 1695. She was the only surviving child of Agneta Wrede and Axel Johan Lillie. Her father died shortly after she was born, leaving her mother solely responsible for Hedvig Catharina Lillie’s upbringing and education. Given that her mother was one of the wealthiest women of her time, she must have served as a good role model providing a proper insight into property and farm management. At quite a young age Hedvig Catharina Lillie married Count Magnus Julius De la Gardie, and they had six children together. She was outlived by all of her three daughters and three sons.
Hedvig Catharina Lillie became very affluent through her inheritance. She owned 18 estates at different locations throughout Sweden and this capital probably served her favourably in terms of her political career. Further to her property management and business enterprises, she was also – like her mother – politically active within the turbulent politics of Sweden’s so-called ‘age of liberty’. She was politically influential through hosting political salons attended by supporters of the so-called ‘hattparti’ (hat party), French diplomats, and those who sympathised with France and French politics. Hedvig Catharina Lillie, who was viewed by her contemporaries as the unofficial leading force behind the hat party, was an ardent champion of Carl Gyllenborg, who was officially the most prominent representative of the same party. Women who were politically active were often subject to criticism and defamation. Olof Dalin’s derogatory portrayal of Hedvig Catharina Lillie in Then swänska Argus in 1733 is a prime example of this. She was called “Fru Kättia Sällskapslik” (approximately meaning a socially promiscuous woman) in the journal and used as a moral warning about precisely how women should not behave. The rumour-mill which surrounded Hedvig Catharina Lillie largely focused on her sexual behaviour.
Following the death of her husband in 1741 Hedvig Catharina Lillie settled in Paris. According to Wilhelmina Stålberg’s book Anteckningar om svenska kvinnor, published 1864–1866, the life of luxury Hedvig Catharina Lillie enjoyed in Paris used up a lot of her wealth. She converted to the Catholic faith in Paris, as did her eldest daughter Brita Sophia who had accompanied her to the French capital. Hedvig Catharina Lillie died in 1745, after which her daughter Brita Sophia entered a convent, where she remained until her death at age 84.