Sigrid Brahe was a Swedish countess who became renowned for her participation in the so-called “onsdagsbröllopet” (the Wednesday wedding). This was an event during which she opposed the will of her family and married Johan Gyllenstierna of Lundholm for love.
Sigrid Brahe was born in 1568 at Rydboholm castle north of Stockholm. She was one of 13 children. Her mother was Countess Beata Stenbock, whose sister Katarina was the queen of Sweden. Sigrid Brahe’s father was Count Per Brahe the Elder, a privy councillor and justiciar, who was the nephew of King Gustav I Vasa. Thus on both her maternal and paternal side Sigrid Brahe was closely related to the royal house of Sweden, and through both parental families she was connected to the most powerful families in the Swedish social elite. It is hardly surprising, then, that King Johan III contemplated marrying Sigrid after the loss of his first wife Katarina Jagellonica. However, this never came to pass as the king’s siblings were unhappy at the thought of a marriage between a royal and non-royal noble person.
After the return of Princess Anna Vasa, the sister of King Sigismund of Sweden and Poland, to Sweden from a lengthy visit to Poland in 1593, Sigrid Brahe became her lady-in-waiting.
Marriage was seen by the nobility as an important method of creating, maintaining or renewing alliances which formed the basis of the nobility’s political, economic and social power. Women played a major role in the strategic considerations behind a marriage between two separate families. Women were after all the purveyors of dynastic capital. When Sigrid Brahe, apparently unwillingly, became engaged to Erik Bielke of Åkerö in 1595 it was not a decision based on their blossoming love. It was an arrangement which had been deemed suitable from a family-centred point of view. In order to avoid marrying a man she did not love Sigrid Brahe accused him of suffering from syphilis – it is unclear whether this was actually the case or not. Then, to be able to marry the man she did love, Johan Gyllenstierna of Lundholm, she and her lover sought protection from Princess Anna Vasa at Stegeborg castle. The events of Wednesday 19 March 1595 at Stegeborg came to be known as “the Wednesday wedding”. Weddings were never normally celebrated on a Wednesday and the couple involved was marrying against the wishes of their families, which was a scandal.
Although this wedding was unconventional and was viewed as humiliating for the powerful Bielke family, a reconciliation was achieved that very same year. Sigrid Brahe and her husband were ordered to remain under a form of house arrest at their farm for an entire year and to pay Erik Bielke of Åkerö a fine of 1000 riksdaler. They were also ordered to pay a further sum of 1000 riksdaler to the poor.
In the power struggle which developed in Sweden in the late 1590s several of Sigrid Brahe’s siblings took the side of King Sigismund. Her husband Johan Gyllenstierna of Lundholm was appointed admiral of the royal fleet. After Sigismund was defeated by his uncle Duke Karl (IX) Sigrid Brahe and Johan Gyllenstierna of Lundholm fled from Sweden, along with several of their relatives, and settled in Poland. There they were under the protection of Princess Anna Vasa, who later also provided assistance to their children.
Sigrid Brahe died in Krakow in 1608. Her grave is in the Karl XII church in Cieszyn in Poland.