Princess Maria Elizabeth of Sweden

Princess Maria Elizabeth
Duchess of Ostergothia

Princess Maria Elizabeth of Sweden
Born 10 March 1596
Örebro Castle, Örebro, Närke, Sweden
Died 7 August 1618(1618-08-07) (aged 22)
Bråborg Castle, Bråviken, Norrköping, Östergötland, Sweden
Burial Linköping Cathedral
Spouse John, Duke of Östergötland
House Vasa
Father Charles IX of Sweden
Mother Christina of Holstein-Gottorp

Princess Maria Elizabeth of Sweden (10 March 1596, Örebro Castle – 7 August 1618, Bråborg Castle) was a Swedish princess, daughter of King Charles IX of Sweden and Christina of Holstein-Gottorp, and by marriage Duchess of Ostergothia.


Maria Elizabeth was brought up with her brother, Gustavus Adolphus, and her cousin, John, Duke of Finland. She suffered from some sort of mental problems and was reported as having some sort of attacks or 'convulsions'. She is said to have been very pampered and spoilt by her doting parents, who did everything they could to hide her mental problems. She was also very well educated, interested in literature, and corresponded in Latin with her teachers at the age of ten.

In 1610, Maria Elizabeth was engaged to marry her cousin, Prince John of Sweden, Duke of Ostrogothia. The reason for the marriage was political. John was the son of former King John III of Sweden and had rights to the throne which exceeded those of Maria Elizabeth's father. Although he had given up these rights and was not an ambitious person, the royal family was worried that he would become a threat if he married an ambitious foreign princess.

On 29 November 1612, at the age of sixteen, Princess Maria Elizabeth celebrated her wedding to the Duke of Ostrogothia in the royal palace Tre Kronor in Stockholm. The couple resided at the Duchy of Ostrogothia. The duke and duchess held a luxurious court in their residences at Vadstena Castle and Bråborg Castle. The marriage is described as unhappy, and Maria blamed her mother for having arranged it. In the summer of 1614, her mental state deteriorated and after this, she is reported to have had periods of insanity, during which she sometimes lost her ability to speak. Her brother the king often sent his own personal doctor to her.

Witch hunt

The royal couple ruled quite independently in the Duchy; John had the right to issue new laws, and Maria Elizabeth evidently had influence on his rule. During the six years they lived together in Ostrogothia, a witch hunt was conducted in the duchy, for which they, and Maria Elizabeth in particular, are considered to be responsible.

A woman was executed in Söderköping, after being accused of having cast a spell on the royal couple. The personal priest of Maria Elizabeth, Claudius Prytz, was very active in this matter. The duke issued a new law which made it easier to judge and execute witches, which led to the Finspång witch trial;

"Two evil and reputed sorceresses, which Their Graces Duke Johan and his noble consort Maria Elizabeth upon the word of God destroyed, were burned at a place called Skogby vad".[1]

Seven women were executed in Finspång in 1617. After this, there were few witch trials in Sweden. When the great witch frenzy of 1668-1676 broke out, the witch hunt of the 1610s in Ostrogothia was remembered and pointed out as a warning example by those sceptical towards the belief in witches. Lord High Steward Per Brahe warned:

"To be strict with those affected, as they believe in too much which is not real, and executions, will only increase this, as happened in the time of Duke John", and: "The Prime Minister was reminded of the Princess of duke John. She started to burn some, and in the end, there was not a wife who was not accused".[2]

Ten such executions are confirmed. After the death of Maria Elizabeth, the witch hunt was put to an end.


On 5 March 1618, she was widowed when Duke John died at Bråborg. Princess Maria Elizabeth was 22 years old and retired to Stegeborg Castle. She died childless 'of her lifelong disease' just five months after her husband. They were both buried at Linköping Cathedral.

Titles and styles


Maria Elizabeth's ancestors in three generations

Erik Johansson (Vasa)
Gustav I of Sweden (Vasa)
Cecilia Månsdotter (Eka)
Charles IX of Sweden (Vasa)
Erik Abrahamsson (Leijonhufvud)
Margaret Leijonhufvud
Ebba Eriksdotter (Vasa)
Maria Elizabeth of Sweden
Frederick I of Denmark
Adolf, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp
Sophie of Pomerania
Christina of Holstein-Gottorp
Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse
Christine of Hesse
Christine of Saxony


  1. Ankarloo, Bengt, Satans raseri: en sannfärdig berättelse om det stora häxoväsendet i Sverige och omgivande länder, Ordfront, Stockholm, 2007
  2. Ankarloo, Bengt, Satans raseri: en sannfärdig berättelse om det stora häxoväsendet i Sverige och omgivande länder, Ordfront, Stockholm, 2007


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