Karin Olsdotter, also known as Katarina Olofsdotter, was the last abbess at Vadstena Convent before its dissolution in 1596.
After the death of the previous abbess Karin Bengtsdotter at the beginning of June 1593, the sisters gathered under the leadership of the convent’s confessor Magnus Laurentii to elect a new abbess. The election took place in the presence of the confessors at the convent and also the Polish vice chancellor Jan Tarnowski and some other Polish gentlemen. According to Laurentii, all the sisters except one had voted for the prioress. The one that had not voted for her was according to the same source known as a troublemaker. Karin Olsdotter is said to have taken her vows according to the Regula Salvatoris after a few days, after which all the sisters vowed their obedience to her. The rite was concluded by the older sisters who led her to the abbess’s chair. The election was later confirmed by King Sigismund on 12 July 1594.
Our knowledge about Karin Olsdotter before her election as abbess of Vadstena Convent during the summer of 1593 is extremely limited and consists for the most part of the information in some letters written by Magnus Laurentii. He stated in 1595 that Karin Olsdotter at the time of her election as abbess had been the prioress at the convent. The deceased abbess Karin Bengtsdotter had according to this letter pointed her out as her successor a long time before the election. The visiting confessor and Jesuit Antonio Possevino is also said to have considered Karin Olsdotter as a future abbess.
Hans Cnattingius has argued that Karin Olsdotter must be identical with the convent sister with the same name who was noted as prioress in a list of the convent’s nuns in 1580. At that time she was forty years old and had been in the convent for twenty-two years. She in her turn is probably identical with the Karin Olsdotter who paid a kind of entrance fee to the convent in 1560. Her brother, Per Olsson, is said to have donated money to the convent in 1564. According to Johannes Messenius, her father came originally from Freberga village near Motala, which may explain her title “Vastenensis”.
When Karin Olsdotter was elected as abbess at Vadstena Convent in the summer of 1593, she was in other words in her fifties and had belonged to the convent for over 35 years, if Cnattingius’ argumentation holds. The number of nuns in the convent at the time is said to have been ten, which was much fewer than the sixty recommended in Regula Salvatoris. Vadstena was then the only active convent in the kingdom.
After the election, Karin Olsdotter had several problems to grapple with, both within and outside the convent community. In a report to the Jesuit missionary Antonio Possevino, Magnus Laurentii stated that Karin Olsdotter had been doubtful about assuming the role of abbess on account of some oppositional sisters of whom one especially was understood to be a troublemaker. This sister’s ill-disposed behaviour had induced certain women to refrain from joining the convent community and influenced some nuns to want to leave it. Another problem for the abbess was the bailiffs’ lack of interest in delivering the provisions with which they were obliged to assist the convent, according to royal command. In 1594 and 1595, Karin Olsdotter had written several times directly to Duke Karl to beg for help, and he also sent aid. The increasing demands that the convent should be closed also contributed to its vulnerability. Karin Olsdotter had probably to take on even greater responsibility for the enterprise after their confessor Magnus Laurentii had died in June 1595.
In October 1595, the parliament in Söderköping decided that Vadstena Convent should be closed. According to Johannes Messenius, when that decision was implemented, the nuns had the valuables in the convent packed into large chests that were then sent to the Catholic sympathiser Count Erik Brahe at Visingsborg. Messenius also declared that Birgitta’s, Katarina’s and Ingrid’s relics were taken out of their saints’ caskets on the same occasion and hidden in the convent. According to an oft-quoted account by Messenius, the convent was visited on 22 November 1595 by Duke Karl in the company of the Archbishop Abraham Angermannus and some state officials, who exhorted the nuns to forswear their Catholic faith and accept the Evangelical doctrine in order to be able to remain in the convent. According to Messenius, they replied unanimously that they would rather suffer in the worst possible way than exchange their Catholic faith for a Lutheran doctrine. The visiting potentates induced the abbess Karin Olsdotter under the threat of violence, according to Messenius, to reveal where they had hidden the relics and valuables. Knut Persson’s chronicle gives a more jocular view of the dissolution in which he claims that the nuns on their bended knees had tearfully begged the duke to be allowed to remain in the convent during the winter.
In all probabilty, the abbess and her sisters were allowed to remain in the convent during the winter months. They were not allowed to wear their traditional habits, it is true, but they remained in the convent at least during the summer of 1596 when Abraham Angermannus states that he met both the abbess and four of the nuns there. During the early autumn of 1596, the nuns at Vadstena were still being provided with cereals by the royal bailiffs, but during the same autumn, they left Sweden under the continued leadership of their abbess Karin Olsdotter, and settled down in the Birgittiner convent in Danzig in Poland.
According to a necrologium, Karin Olsdotter died at the Birgittiner convent in Danzig: “Katharina Olawin, Karin Olsdotter, 18 July 1625”. She would then have been about 85 years of age.