The Abbey garden in Varnhem acquired by the Crown after 1527: The history of chopped down fruit trees 100 years later, a death sentence and the colony of New Sweden in colonial America - A very unlikely story


Translator to English for this page is Douglas Byrne, Skarke-Varnhem historical society

This one of a kind story that we are about to tell actually starts in Hanaskede, Wing (Axvall), with the birth of Hans Månsson in 1612.

Mary Ann Royal, USA, searched for relativs in this part of the world due to DNA-research. And in the digital age, she was able to trace her family tree back 8 generations to discover Hans Månsson, her direct ancestor. The Skarke-Varnhem historical society decided, with Mary Anne’s help, to tell this unique historical story and this page is the result of our efforts.

Mary Anne got in touch with the Skarke-Varnhem historical society after recommendation from a facebook group member. Mary Anne and the society have been able to gather a lot of material surrounding this astonishing story of Hans Månsson, the Crowns abbey garden in Varnhem and the death sentence in the Valle judicial district that was changed to exile to the colony of New Sweden in North America on 7 November 1641.

The historical background of the abbey and abbey grounds

Monastry of Varnhem 1300 Monastry of Varnhem 1300

The following is a summary of a academic dissertation from 1854: "Walle härad i Westergötland"
(“Walle judicial district in Västergötaland”)
Authors: August Florén and Erik Svedelius with our own comments to simplify the reading.

There was a lot of back and forth in 1148 when Mrs. Sigrid donated lands and farms to the monks from France who started to build an abbey, forced to leave and then returned.

1234: Fire ravaged the abbey and left it in ruins a catastrophe that turned in to rebirth due to the initiative taken by Birger Jarl and other financiers of the middle ages to rebuild the abbey again but this time more beautiful and splendid than before.

A beautiful garden was built and was strictly protected even in later years. The abbey was big and the monks had several buildings around the abbey even to the southwest of the church.

1394: The abbey and church was once again burned. This time as a result of a feud between partisans of Margareta and Albrecht. The Church and abbey were soon repaired.

The parliament of 1527, aka the Västerås Parliamment, convened in Västerås 16-18 June 1527 and became also known as the “Reformation Parliament” or in other words, the parliament approved Gustav Vasa`s wishes to divest the church of its power and cut ties with Rome.

This parliament can be seen as the start of the reformation in Sweden and the start of Lutherism. What the the theology of the Swedish Church would be was hotly debated long after the decision of the parliament up until the Uppsala meeting in 1593. The result of the Västerås parliament was the “Great Reduction” which took away the economic and judically power of the church and increased the resources and power of the crown instead.

As a result, the crown gained control over all the assets of the abbey including all farms, lands and mills. “The abbey in Valle district owned between 70 and 80 farms”. These too were taken over by the crown.

As a result of the Västerås parliament, the abbey in Varnhem met the same fate as other abbeys around the country. All of their assets were seized by the crown. However, the monks were able to remain as long as they paid a tax to the crown.

Later the monastry was given to certain members of the nobility on the condition that they maintained it and paid tax. Due to that burden, the abbey and church fell in to disrepair and in the end, was burned once again, but this time by the Danes during the Nordic Seven Years war.

The abbey and church was left abandoned and nearly in ruin until Duke Carl (1550-1611), later Charles IX, was given Valle district and he noticed the importance of the forgotten abbey. Here is a letter Duke Carl wrote to King Johan about the state of the abbey and church and what should be done about it.

“Our brotherly loving greetings with much love as we are able to give, to your Royal Majesty with god the almighty always near, all powerful high born King beloved dear brother; We can not hold back your majesty, with love and fraternity, we visited Varnhems Abbey and church which is a holy temple, while we are here in Västergötland.

As your majesty already knows, the church is standing only with the help of one roof. The walls and vaults have fallen in to disrepair of which the damage is large scale and dramatic. It would be therefore useful that the same wonderful temple in time to support the roof given the great costs that have been previously used by kings and the kingdoms nobility who have passed and are buried.

And it will be difficult for our subjects that live in in Valle district to bear the burden alone to cover  the church. Your majesty for this sake should allow other districts in Västergötland that are close by help. From our side we also want to help with the burden of restoring the church by providing planks, nails and other material that is needed and when possible.

This is what we want to our fraternal and loving Royal Majesty as well as his Majesty´s loving wife and dear children commanded in god the Almighty´s merciful protection and care to a long and great reign - always fraternal and loving.”

To know the letter had the intended impact, one only has to read King Johan´s letter to Lasse Matsson, Baliff, in Skånings and Gudhems districts; “To let the peasants in his charge to chop wood and take it to Varnhem´s abbey.”

However, the complete renovation of the church would not be complete until many years later when count Magnus De la Gardie took charge. 

Count Magnus De la Gardie visited the site and decided that it would be the perfect place for the family burial plot. After that he fulfilled the mission to fully restore the church.

1647 Queen Kristina gifted Höjentorp castle along with Varnhem church and abbey as wedding present to Count Magnus De la Gardie and his wife Maria Eufrosyne. Count Magnus De la Gardie visited the site and decided that it would be the perfect place for the family burial plot. After that he fulfilled the mission to fully restore the church.

De la Gardie also added a school and a hospital in conjunction with the restoration of the church. See more about that here: Skara Hospitals tilldelade trädgård i Varnhem (Skara Hospitals assigned garden in Varnhem)

From 1668-1671 according to the inscription on the now fully restored church, expensive burial chambers were built with inscriptions for the princes buried there. A mausoleum for De la Gardie himself and his family occupied the entire southern sacrum. Probably due to the “Great Ruduction”, there was no provision in the contract to pay for the maintenance of the church and burial chambers, but his relative, Elisabeth Oxenstjerna later made a financial arrangement and in so doing, established the De la Gardie grave fund.

1682 The count fell in to disgrace and was forced to return all of his properties to the crown. He died a pauper in 1684.

The hospital was allowed to take control of its own assets and that of the abbey garden the a royal letter on 25 January 1689 and later the hospital was give Bille mill and dividends from a part of Björsgården. See the page about: Björsgården under Skara Hospital

Carl XI made the abbey church the mother church of the parish through a letter dated 23 February, 1695. one reason given is “Since the church is the biggest and most beautiful in the area and is in close proximity to the royal estate of Höjentorp, the abbey church should be given that distinction.”

Skara Hospital used the garden until 1832 when the hospital ceased to exist. In Överbo village, Varnhem, there lived gardeners whose job it was to grow vegetables and fruit for the hospital. 

In 1880 the garden was bought by Varnhem parish for use as a church park.

The Hospital Garden´s new church park after purchase in 1890

The view of the church park in 1904. The picture showing the southeastern view was taken from the steeple. You get a good idea of how beautiful the park was in its “infancy”. To the far right, the parks hill, flagpole and bench can be seen. By the path to the left, you can see the newly planted oak trees and in the foreground a young birch grove. To the left a glimpse of Sörgården and the house in front of the mountain is Bille mill and Vassbacken.

The horseman, Hans Månsson from Hanaskede cuts down fruit trees from the royal garden in 1640 in Varnhem to make mane combs for the farms horses - sentenced to death - presented with an alternative to be exiled to New Sweden to help Sweden form a colony in America.

We start with the story of the horseman from Hanaskede born 1612; Hans Månsson and his family at Hanaskede.

Map from 1960 with Hanaskede and Vings churches in the lower right corner Map from 1960 with Hanaskede and Vings churches in the lower right corner

Hans Månsson, born 1612, was the son of the horseman of Hanaskede, Lieutenant Måns Persson, born in Lanna 1595- died 1637, 42 years old.

His parents were Per and Ingeborg Östensson, born 1570 and 1572. Per was from Nordmaling in Västerbotten and Ingeborg was from Kisa, Östergötland.

When Måns became a corporal in the Väsgöta cavalry regiment, his assigned living quarters was in Hanaskede in Norra Wings parish.

Hans´mother was Måns first wife, Brita Lillebielke* who most likely died in 1612, when Hans was born. She was only 16 when she and Måns married in 1611.

Kerstin Haaskede** became Måns second wife and she was born in 1590 in Hanaskede, they had a child. Kerstin died in 1648, 58 years old.

Kerstin was the woman Hans considered to be his mother when growing up. Kerstins widowed mother, Gunilla also lived in Hanaskede and played an active role in Hans´ upbringing. It was clear that Hans would follow in his fathers footsteps becoming a horseman and taking over Hanaskede from his father.

After his fathers death, Hans was drafted by the governor at Vings Kyrkebacke and later drafted in the spring by the Västgöta regiment under Hans Stake from Kinnekulle. Hans would be part of the German campaign 1638-1640.

       From information gathered through family accounts and the book “Hanaskede Ryttare” by Marc Cantoni, 1997.

*The Lilliebielke family is an ancient (a family freed from having to pay tax) “Free family”. A branch of the the family was ennobled in 1648.
**Haaskede is probably the result of Hanaskede misspelled. It’s more than likely the children took the name of the farm as their last name.

Hanaskede - A single military farm on Crown property with the residents belonging to Wing parish, but the farm was not part of Wing village (later Norra Wing)

A map from 1795 shows how Wing village looked before the official change. Located near the church are most of the villages buildings. Hanaskede is located northwest of the village and not visible on this map.

Herr Peder Vingensis was the priest during Hans´childhood

Map of Hanaskede and Abbey village on a map from 1655

Hanaskede marked on a map from 1655 as a military farm/royal home north of Wing church and Kullen (Hill farm).

A map of Hanaskede from 1815 - two families own and share the farm

Hanaskedes land in Wing parish (present day center of Axvall village).

Hans Månsson returns from the war in Germany and meets Heideridaren Lars Jönsson in Skarke and chops down a fruit tree for the hard wood for farming tools and mane combs for horses

The story below is based on the book “Ryttaren från Hanaskede” (The Rider from Hanaskede) and confirmed sources. The book is a novel that includes facts and sources from that time period

Ryttargården 1805 was placed at the same location as in 1640- littera B - marked with red lines - the churh is to the right (east) on the map and behind the Garden Ryttargården 1805 was placed at the same location as in 1640- littera B - marked with red lines - the churh is to the right (east) on the map and behind the Garden

Before the riders reached home when they returned from the war, they met Heideridaren* Lars Jönsson from Skarke parish at Slafsens outlet at Horborgasjön.

He demanded a wolf hunt but they wanted to go home first. Then the governor Carl Siggesson Rosendufva, was to join the group at Varnhem Abbey that evening was it necessary that a few of the men followed Lars there so they could directly could ask the governor permission to change the time of the hunt. Hans was one the men to follow Lars there. After meeting Hans, Lars Jönsson knew who he was and made it a point to remember him. Lars became angry that that the riders wanted to meet the governor first to ask for a new time for wolfhunting, instead of following his orders to hunt - he was indeed also a man of the Crown!

Lars Jönsson offered the party provisions from his Ryttaregården which was a bit from the church with a clear view of the area around the abbey. At first they followed down to the abbey area and the governor stopped when he suddenly realized the situation for the riders who just returned home from the war. They were given apples and found out that the crown allowed the Heideridaren to pick apples from the garden that previously belonged to the monks as part of his salary.  This is when Hans found out that there were old apple trees behind the church to the east.

The Riders from the surrounding farms patrolled the farms in the area from time to time and they ended up setting up camp for the night in Varnhem by the abbey walls. They noticed the garden looked thinned out and depleted**. They thought as though the garden was desolate.

It was then that Hans started to wonder if the the hard wood from the fruit trees would be good enough to make some farming tools for Hanaskede. He thought that it would be ok if he later turned to get some of the trees. On the way home he made up an excuse to return to Varnhem. After sneaking back to the garden he began to choose which apple trees he wanted to chop down. But first to be chopped down were some large crooked berry trees.

**Comment: We really don’t know what the condition of the garden was at this time. We do know from reading what the monks wrote that the garden with an apple orchard and vegetable patch for the entire monastery was beautiful and lush.
The decisions made by the parliament of 1527 regarding the reduction and reformation led the Varnhem monastery in to a new age. The Crown owned the monastery but members of the nobility held responsibility for it and for a short time the monks were able to continue to live there. The last monk left Varnhem in 1540 leaving the Crown to manage the garden.
We do knw that after a while, the monastery was almost in ruins but we don’t know if the gardens met the same fate. The Danes destroyed the church and monastery in 1566. However, we do know that the garden was in good enough condition for the crown to donate it to to the Skara Hospice in 1689 as a vegetable garden and fruit orchard. More than likely the garden was dilapidated to some extent and not as beautiful as when the monks had it. We draw the conclusion that the garden was recognizable as such in 1640, about 100 years after the reduction to the Crown and it was most certainly not abandoned. Indeed, everybody knew that the garden(land belonged to the Crown and its access was restricted for people to use.

The loud sound of chopping could be heard as far as the village and the potential of a poacher was brought to the attention of the Heideridaren Lars Jönsson who in turn gathered a posse, caught Hans in the act and arrested him on the spot. By the time of his arrest, Hans had already chopped down six apple trees and two cherry trees. Lars Jönsson was more than satisfied to get his revenge on the brazen riders refusing to go on the wolf hunt when ordered to.

Called to the scene was the governor, Carl Siggesson. He could not show any leniency in front of the people he governed. He became distressed that the punishment for the crime would be either execution or a very long prison sentence. Therefore, an investigation was opened which Hans signed and agreed to according to protocol. Hans was placed in custody of the district court and was placed under house arrest until he could be interrogated.

In April, jurors in Valle and the governor held a pre-trial conference before the court and the governor had no other choice but request a judgement in the report he would write giving the county’s account of the incident.

The case moved quickly through the chambers of government and was taken up by the advisory council. Higher powers intervened to show Hans mercy by giving him a choice of deportation to New Sweden in America or execution,

*Heideridare = (an obsolete term) was basically a royal forest warden/ranger who watched over and tended to the crowns forests covering a large area usually within a district. In this case, Valle district.

The trial of Hans Månsson in Bolum and the verdict

Bolums by 1713 Bolums by 1713

In Mars of 1641 the newly established Göta court of appeals (literally a Crowns or Royal court) convened a special meeting of the District court in Bolum, where Hans Månsson was taken after six months of house arrest at Hanaskede. 

The trial was set for 31 May 1641. A paddy wagon was already waiting outside of the court house.

The District court agreed to use the courts cottage next to the church in Bolum as a special courtroom at Walle District court.

Accordingly the assistant judge (assessor), Lars Jansson from Skövde was presented: “ To institute the district court in Valle district, a right of the people, present was the governor of Skaraborg county, the noble and high born Carl Siggesson Rosendufva owner of Skålltorp and Ribbingsberg farms, district clerk the honorable, Anders Ambiörnsson ...... Hans Månsson, registered in Hanaskede, who last autumn was caught trespassing on the grounds of the royal garden of Varhem abbey where he cut down 6 of the finest of apple trees and 2 of the finest cherry trees ....

Hans pleads guilty, whereby the Royal forest warden, Lars Jönsson gave testimony that he caught the perpetrator red handed and Hans left the courtroom while the court deliberated.

The following is from the original record from the Valle district court (AI a:2, page 42v-43):
"On the 31 May, 1641 a trial was by Valle district court by me, Jars Jönsson … ..... On the same day a young rider, Hans Månsson, registered in Hanaskede, who last autumn was caught trespassing on the grounds of the royal garden of Varhem abbey where he cut down 6 of the finest of apple trees and 2 of the finest cherry trees that were present in the garden there. He cut down the trees with the intent to make mane combs for horses…”

When the court finished deliberating, Hans was brought back to the courtroom where he was sentenced to the gallows. The crime was serious one since it occurred on royal property by a royal rider. The assistant judge proclaimed that the punishment for this act was death. “You shall therefore be taken to the nearest gallows and be hanged by order of the court!”

The governor intervened and presented a letter he kept from Queen Christina after he wrote to the queen and her high council (Axel Oxenstierna) about this case. The following document was read:

“Inasmuch as we find this to be a much bigger and heinous crime than if he had broken into some man’s coffers and other property and there stolen some goods, for that reason Our Royal Pleasure and Command is that you shall bring him without delay to court to be condemned according to his crime, afterwards leaving to his discretion whether he should sail with wife and children on our ship from Gothenburg to New Sweden, or hang; if he chooses the voyage to the said New Sweden, then you could tell him that when he has been there for six years he will be pardoned.  But if he does not, you may execute the sentence and let him hang according to his deserts; yet you must keep all this secret and not let him know those conditions before the sentence is passed.”                                                                                                      

Sanford L. Steelman, Jr. August, 2018

The trial ended with Hans Månsson announcing his choice to go to “New Sweden”.

Comments: There is no other documentation other than the letter from the queen that mentions Hans was married with children before his deportation to New Sweden in 1641. Neither is there any documentation from manifests that a wife and children accompanied him. There is also no record found of a family in New Sweden either despite rigorous research. Presumably the queen mentioned a family in the event he did have one in which case they could go with him.