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The thesis

In my PhD thesis I analyse gender and power hierarchies within the Swedish early modern context. The sources studied are primarily letters of request directed to high noble ladies, which has attracted surprisingly little attention in national as well as international research. In these letters the suitors presented their desperate situation, requested the lady’s benevolence and more or less explicitly stated why they thought themselves entitled to her assistance. Individuals seeking help in this manner could be found in all of society’s strata in Sweden during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they were of both sexes as well as of different age and civil status. Thus, the sources offer a broad understanding of how the expectations of the ladies’ benevolence differed with a number of aspects, of which I have come to focus upon gender, social standing, age and the relation to the high noble lady and her family.

In contrast to previous international research, the results indicate that the people who perceived and presented themselves as in distress had an understanding of their entitled right to receive help and knew how to argue for it. This entitlement essentially rested upon the contemporary hierarchal society and its reciprocal nature, but nuances are to be found depending on gender, social standing, age and the suitor’s relation to the high noble lady and her family. The focus of the thesis is which these nuances were, how they were put forward in the letters of request and how they depended upon and reproduced existing gender and power hierarchies as well as if they were challenged.

Within the Swedish context, the research topic has been largely overlooked in previously studies, as focus has rested upon the legislation and formalized relief systems on a national scale as well as in the parishes from the second half of the seventeenth century and onwards. Due to this perspective, neither the contemporary understanding of the benevolent noble ladies’ position within the reciprocal hierarchal society of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nor the expectations and notions of entitled rights of help held by the people in need has been studied before. As a result, the thesis will broaden the understanding of the informal welfare system in function before the regulation of the second half of the seventeenth century in Sweden. It will also give an understanding of the high noble ladies’ expected position within it, as well as how the system were used to manifest social status and social order and how people in need could yield it for their own benefit.

Research interest

My research interests focus on the early modern era and the fields of gender, social order, power manifestation, norms and ideals as well as rhetoric and the historic use of language in order to understand the self and contemporary society. Before setting out on my PhD-journey, I taught history and Swedish in adult education and hold a teachers exam in these subjects since 2005.

Scientific membership

Member of Sveriges Kvinno- och Genushistoriker (SKOGH) since 2006
The purpose of SKOGH (Swedens Women and Gender historians) is to encourage, support and coordinate scientific research in women and gender history in all time periods.

Member of the Ume Group of Pre-modern Studies (UGPS) since 2010
The purpose of UGPS is to conduct internationally successful research in a broad multidisciplinary perspective on periods before 1800 in collaboration with international research groups and networks.

Founding member of the Nordic network for PreModern Doctoral Students (PREMODS) since 2011
The purpose of PREMODS, which currently gather about a hundred PhD students from several disciplines, is to facilitate further interdisciplinary collaborations and research exchange now and in the future.

Member of the Nordic Network for Renaissance Studies (NNRS) since 2013
The purpose of the NNRS is to bring together Renaissance scholars from all Nordic countries with a view to strengthening research and cooperation.

Sidansvarig: Sandra Olsson