Margareta Elisabeth Roos was a woman who donned men’s clothing and fought in the Great Northern War (1700–1721).
Margareta Elisabeth Roos was born in Ingermanland (modern-day Estonia), which at that time was a Swedish province. Her father was an officer in the Swedish army and it was perhaps living in an actively military environment which led Margareta Elisabeth Roos to don men’s clothing and seek to become a recruit. Literary accounts of her life record that she was sometimes known as Anna Stina Roos and other times as Margareta Elisabeth Roos. These accounts also offer differing reasons for her decision to become a soldier. One version is that the violence and unhappiness of her parental home caused her to run away. Another claims that it was her love for another officer that pushed her into joining the army. Regardless of what her actual motivation was Margareta Elisabeth Roos was an exemplary soldier who advanced to the rank of non-commissioned officer. Following the end of the war in 1721 she was employed as head butler by Countess Hedvig Wilhelmina Oxenstierna. Thereafter her life story follows similar patterns to those of other women who, like Margareta Elisabeth Roos, at one point disguised themselves as men in order to serve as soldiers in King Karl XII’s army. These women tend to have their true identities revealed in connection with undressing for bed, and the revelation often led to court cases for some of them. Margareta Elisabeth Roos did not, however, have to face legal proceedings.
Margareta Elisabeth Roos’s true identity was discovered as a result of illness which left her bedbound. Her mistress, Hedvig Wilhelmina Oxenstierna, took the decision not to publicly reveal what had been discovered about her servant. Instead, she appears to have arranged a marriage between Margareta Elisabeth Roos and a Scottish officer named John Irwing. The Countess then retained Margareta Elisabeth Roos in her service as a lady-in-waiting. It appears that Margareta Elisabeth Roos went on to have children with John Irwing, although the exact number of offspring varies depending on the source. The couple lived together until John Irwing’s death in 1744. Their eldest daughter Margaretha Charlotta married the court chaplain Nils Larsson Sundell in Upplands Bro. Margareta Elisabeth Roos moved in with them after the wedding and she later died at Upplands Bro, aged nearly 80, in 1772.