Julie Ekerman was a notorious mistress of Carl Sparre, King Gustaf III’s right-hand man. She was suspected of spying on Russian envoys.
Julie Ekerman was born in Stockholm in 1765. Her family was of a solidly bourgeois background and belonged to the power-elite of Östergötland. She descended, on both on her mother’s and father’s sides, from influential individuals who were members of the so-called magistrate corps, comprising town mayors and other royally-appointed state officials. Her father, Bengt Edvard Ekerman, chose a different path, however, and made his career in the army. Her mother, Catharina Ahlgren, eventually became a translator and editor for the Brefwäxling journal, in which she would express ideas on women’s rights within a marriage, amongst other things.
Julia Ekerman was three years old when her parents divorced. Her father promised, as part of the divorce proceedings, to provide for the children who had been born within the marriage but appears to have reneged on this promise. Further, he refused to acknowledge paternity of the youngest child. This goes some way towards explaining why the family’s social standing suffered, hitting his ex-wife and the children the hardest. An official record from 1770 noted that Julie Ekerman and her three siblings resided with their mother in Södermalm and that the family was poor.
Both parents eventually remarried and set up new households, but there is no indication that this led to improved conditions for Julie Ekerman and her siblings. Their mother was, however, an educated and enterprising woman who ensured that her children were educated, presumably through home-tutoring. Julie Ekerman’s later correspondence reveals that she was an accomplished letter-writer with a good command of both the Swedish and French languages.
Julie Ekerman left home when she was 15 and moved in with her sister Beata, an actress and an opera singer who lived in the Klara area of Stockholm. The nearby royal court served as focal point of Sweden’s cultural and ceremonial life, which attracted many people who sought pleasure, upward mobility and/or patrons. For a young, unmarried woman who lacked the safety net of a socially-respectable family entering into an affair with a rich man could save her from the misery of a life as a mere prostitute. Beata Ekerman was only a teenager when she became an actress at the Kungliga Dramatiska (royal dramatic) theatre and a mistress of Duke Carl, King Gustaf III’s brother. Julie Ekerman found her own supporter in Count Carl Sparre. He was a privy councillor and governor general who was notorious for his many affairs. Carl Sparre also played a role as ‘benefactor’ to both Julie Ekerman’s mother and her sister.
Julie Ekerman was 18 years old when she became Count Carl Sparre’s mistress – he was 42 years her senior. She was formally registered as a housemaid in his sizable household. It has been claimed that during this time she was also used as a spy. She allegedly had an intimate relationship with the Russian delegation secretary named Müller, who apparently supplied her with information from the Russian embassy. If this was the case then it happened on Sparre’s orders. However, it is difficult to ascertain the veracity of this claim; it may simply be loosely based on contemporary rumours and gossip.
The relationship between Carl Sparre and Julie Ekerman was clearly well-known and highly disapproved of in Stockholm even as it was ongoing, and this scandal was put to political use. King Gustaf III eventually demanded that the relationship come to an end after a number of years. Beata Ekerman had already been kicked out of the court and been threatened with being sent to the spinning-house (a house of correction for prostitutes) and being sent to Paris. Carl Sparre apparently was unwilling to leave Julie Ekerman adrift and instead arranged the provision of a suitable bourgeois husband for her. In February 1789 Julie Ekerman married Nils Björckegren in Stockholm.Her new husband had, through Carl Sparre’s help, just newly been appointed town mayor of Linköping whence the newlyweds duly moved.
Julie Ekerman wrote regularly to Carl Sparre during her first few years in Linköping, namely from 1789 to 1791. The surviving letters, held at Riksarkivet (Swedish national archives), reveal her attempts to fit in with small-town society and to create a role for herself as the town-mayor’s wife and a housewife. Initially the letters indicate that she is happy with her husband and with the new framework of her life. However, the letters also reveal that rumours of her former life as the Count’s mistress come to light, leading her gradually to live a more restricted life. She recounts how she is expected to sit at her spinning-wheel and display her skills in typical women’s activities, although she would rather socialise with people, and that she misses her friends and her life in Stockholm. She also made requests for financial and material support of various kinds from Sparre and expresses her gratitude to him, whom she refers to as ‘daddy’ and ‘benefactor’.
It appears that Julie Ekerman and her husband lived happily in Linköping for a few years and that Sparre continued to contribute to their wellbeing while he was alive. Following his death, however, the Linköping couple’s situation suffered both financial and social decline and in 1798 they divorced. Julie Ekerman fell into poor health and died two years later from ‘a fever of the chest’, namely tuberculosis. Her assets, which included a building, some jewels, high quality furniture, and more, were sold at auction and the profits were given to her mother and her brother Christopher. The inventory of her estate testifies to the breadth of her interests. She owned a large library comprising books of various sorts, including many in French.