Ingierd Gunnarsdotter was a farmer’s wife and a ballad singer with an extensive repertoire. She helped to preserve a great number of beautiful and moving ballads.
Ingierd Gunnarsdotter’s year of birth remains a mystery as does her parents’ identity. The literary historian Bengt R. Jonsson, who painstakingly researched information on Ingierd Gunnarsdotter in the surviving sources, has concluded that she was born in either 1601 or 1602. Her place of birth has not been determined, however. It is known that Ingierd Gunnarsdotter married Sven, a ‘frälsebonde’ (a farmer who worked land belonging to an individual exempted from taxation) in Höglunda, which is where the couple settled. They had at least four children: Marit, Thorona, Sigrid and Jonas. There is no information on their daughters’ lives, but their son Jonas Swensson has left traces of himself in the archives. It was due to his ability to read and write that Ingierd Gunnarsdotter is remembered. Jonas was a regimental scribe during the 1660s and in the subsequent decade he was promoted as the Crown’s commanding officer and legal officer in his home county.
Jonas Swensson and his mother are treaty as a single entity in previous research into the origins of Swedish traditional ballads. The background to all this lies in the antiquarian mapping work undertaken by Antikvitetskollegiet (now Riksantikvarieämbetet – the Swedish National Heritage board) in the second half of the seventeenth century in order to document the distinguished history of Sweden which was considered a major power at that time. This included collecting references to old songs which were normally only passed on orally. Johan Hadorph, the secretary of the aforementioned college, had come to learn by hearsay that a ballad singer with a remarkably broad repertoire lived in Lyrestad – this was none other than Ingierd Gunnarsdoter. Hadorph got in touch with Jonas Swensson, who in turn provided him with a written compilation of his mother’s treasury of songs.
Initially the song collection exercise proceeded slowly. Hadorph was impatient and Ingierd Gunnarsdotter was not keen. At the end of the 1670s Chancellor of the realm Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, who was lord of Läckö castle, was tasked with speeding up the process. He in turn further delegated this job to his secretary Erik Sparrman, who then visited the elderly Ingierd Gunnarsdotter several times in attempts to get her to sing. She remained reticent. It was only after promises of financial reimbursement and with the help of Jonas Swensson’s persuasion that she sang more of her songs.
Sparrman noted in his correspondence to his boss that Ingierd Gunnarsdotter knew more than 300 old songs. Although many of them never made it back to Antikvitetskollegiet, at least 50 of the ballads – including a version of the Lena song – can be traced to Ingierd Gunnarsdotter. The majority were written down by her son Jonas Swensson. Ingierd Gunnarsdotter is thus one of those who significantly contributed to our cultural heritage, which is where our modern day ballads originate.
Ingierd Gunnarsdotter died in Höglunda in 1686. She was presumably already widowed at that point. Three years later her son also died.