May 16, 2012

5- Polish Nobility from Swedish origin

The issue of this note is mostly about Swedish-Finnish nobles that became Polish-Lithuanian nobles in times of the House of Vasa reign’s over both kingdoms in 17th century.

Herb Guldenstern; Gulderstern (Gyllenstierna)The cases of Swedish nobles “re-entitled” (indygenatus) as Polish nobles in late 18th century, like Baron Albedyll and Count Engestrem are rare. In the other hand, some Polish nobles got Swedish titles, like King Stanislaw II August Poniatowski's father. Stanislaw Poniatowski (senior), Castle-Commander of Cracow, Polish and Swedish general was entitled Count by King Charles XII of Sweden (Remarques d’un Seigneur polonais sur l’Histoire de Charles XII, par Voltaire -1741). Also, after the partitions more Polish nobles were re-entitled in Sweden too (for instance, Czartoryski, Mikulowski, Rzewuski, etc.). But all of this is another story.


King Eric XIV’s legislation of 1561 was the beginning of a reform regarding Swedish Nobility (Adel) fully implemented in several steps which main point (but not the last) was the Instrument of Government of 1634 crated by High-Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, Count of Södermöre (who ruled in fact during King Gustav Adolf and Queen Christina reigns’).

Swedish Nobility was known with the old terms "frälse" (usually) or "stormän" (when huge landowners). The modern term "adel" (meaning also, nobility) that replaced the old terms, wasn’t used until the middle of the 16th century.

Herb Ogończyk; SzwederowskiSwedish Nobility was organized into three classes according to a scheme introduced in the House of Knights (Riddarhuset) in 1626:

1- The Class of Lords (Herreklassen), comprising the nobles entitled Count (greve) and Baron (friherre).

2- The Class of Knights (Riddarklassen), comprising not-titled noble’s descendants of Privy Councilors.

3- The Class of Esquires (Svenneklassen), comprising the large number of the usually not-titled nobles.

As in Poland, Swedish nobility is largely not-titled (“nobleman” or “gentleman” was/is the social/legal condition itself; in Swedish, adelsman; in Polish, szlachcic).

When the privileges of nobility were first handed out, the noble families were using patronymic-names as all Swedes did. When they were given their patent of nobility and privileges they also were given a coat-of-arms on which was emblazoned a heraldic symbol. From these symbols the noble family names slowly evolved.
Anyway, between 1561 and 1611 (the last is the date of Charles IX death) only 21 titles of Count and Baron were created, meaning (roughly) that only 21 families got surnames in the entire Realm of Sweden-Finland at this time (when these countries were inhabited by one million people!).


The legend about a 1600s Swedish officer, becoming a Polish nobleman, is strong in several Swedish-Polish families. According to this story they were Swedes settled in Poland in times of King Sigmund III Vasa and they did something remarkable in order to be rewarded with ennoblement (like choosing the Polish-Vasas side during the Polish-Swedish dynastic wars). Let’s remember: nobody rewards an enemy.

The first Swedes that arrived there (as a group) in 1587, were men of King Sigismund’s retinue as Crown Prince of Sweden. After 1599, when the usurper Duke Charles (later Charles IX) and his hard-wing Protestants took him out of his throne, some Loyalist Swedes (Catholics and Lutherans together) must go away with their Rightful King and settled in Poland. For example, after the battle of Czarne in 1627, some Swedish officers (with their battalions), prisoners of High-Commander (hetman) Koniecpolski, changed to the Polish side and fought against Duke Charles’ troops. Actually, they were (in secret) Loyalists and/or Catholics who took profit of the opportunity to change sides. This incident is specifically mentioned after this battle.

In Swedish army, farmers (small-landowners) and peasants (land-workers) used to be soldiers. Opposite of Poland peasantry, Swedish peasants were free (they never were serfs) so they could be drafted when necessary. Swedish generals used to be “stormän” and Swedish officers, “frälse". Then, we can imagine easily a “svensk frälse” (Swedish gentleman) becoming a “polski szlachcic” (Polish nobleman) as a reward for his loyalty and services "Pro Fide et Rege". Let’s remember that at this time Polish (Roman-Catholic) Church and Swedish (Lutheran) Church were not properly two different churches (not yet), rather two different approaching to the Christian Faith.

Herb Gubena; Szwencki, SzwęckiThose Swedish-Finnish nobles acted as Poland-Lithuanian nobles, sometimes without (or before) formal ennoblement in Poland-Lithuania.  For instance:

1- Princess Anna of Sweden or Anna Johansdotter Vasa (Eskilstuna, Sweden, 1568 - Brodnica, Poland, 1625), known in Polish history books as Polish-Swedish Princess: Anna Wazówna (polsko-szwedzka królewna). She was the Protestant younger sister of King Sigismund. She became the King's advisor and District-Governor (starosta) of Brodnica and Golub. Anna acted as protectress for the exiled Swedish Loyalists.

The princess became much respected in Poland because of her great learning. She was interested in literature, music, gardening and medicine. Anna was a specialist in medicinal herbs and kept her own apothecary. In Swedish history books is considered a Swedish princess and Polish-Swedish politician (var en svensk prinsessa och polsk-svensk politiker).

Princess Anna was buried at the Church of St. Mary in Toruń, Poland, several years after her death, as the Pope had first forbidden the burial of a Protestant in a blessed graveyard in Catholic Poland. Only her nephew, King Władysław IV Vasa, got that decree reversed.

Herb Półkozic, Swenderski, Swęderski, Śwenderski2- Swedish admiral Johan Nilsson Gyllenstierna (Sweden, 1569 - Poland, 1617), in Polish history books his name is Jan Guldenstern (his surname, “Golden-star” was translated to German, “Gulden-stern”). He became the first Admiral of Poland (yet, he was Protestant) and commanded King Sigismund’s war fleet, with which he sought to surprise Älvsborg. Money shortages and loss of an uprising of the Rightful King’s supporters in West Sweden meant that the undertaken came to nothing.

3- Also under Sigismund III, Walter the Swede, royal-court judge (pokojowy królewski - king's peace), as a result of the scourge of innocently received by the courtier Pretwicz, was rewarded as District-Governor (starosta) of Upita for life.

Let’s remark that judging a Polish nobleman and being District-Governor were things allowed only to Nobility in Poland-Lithuania.

I quote:

Upita, ancient District-Governorate near Poniewież, in Lithuania - Upita, dawne Gmina rejonowa Poniewież na Litwie:

Za Zygmunta III Walter Szwed, pokojowy królewski, za niewinnie odebrane plagi w skutek podejścia dworzanina Pretwicza, miał sobie udzielone to starostwo w dożywocie. (ob. Tyszkiewicza: Birże, str.141). Słowniku geograficznym Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich Tom XII str. 814. The Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries

Herb Kotwicz; Swęderski4- Admiral Gyllenstierna’s son Sigismund Johansson Gyllenstierna, in Polish history books, Zygmunt Guldenstern (Kalmar, 1598 – Gdańsk, 1666), became Castle-Commander of Gdańsk (kasztelanem gdańskim), Treasurer of Malbork (zarządcą ekonomii malborskiej) Polish Senator and District-Governor of Sztum (starostą sztumskim) like his father, he was Protestant.

He mastered several languages. In his twenties he became a courtier of Sigismund III, and later was appointed Royal Court Chamberlain (łożniczy królewski).

In the coronation Parliament of 1633, King Ladislaus IV re-ennobled him as Polish-Lithuanian nobleman (w 1633 na sejmie koronacyjnym Władysława IV otrzymał indygenat). In 1635 the King entrusted him with directing renewal of the Royal War Fleet Commission.

He married Anne Czemówna, daughter and sole heiress of the Castel-Commander (kasztellan) of Chełmno, Fabian Czemy. With this, he got the Czemów huge estate in Royal Prussia and became District-Governor of Sztum.

During the Swedish invasion of Poland (potop szwedzki) rejected the proposal to move to the party of Charles X Gustav. At the end of February and March 1656 led an unsuccessful defense of the Castle of Malbork against the Swedish troops.

Herb Mora; Swęderski, Swedorski, Swendorski, SwędorskiIn October 18, 1656, Zygmunt Guldenstern was rewarded by King John Casimir with the Castel-Commandership of Gdansk. He became thus the last Protestant senator of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

During the negotiations preceding the conclusion of the Peace of Oliwa in 1660, he unsuccessfully sought after the return of his ancestral property in Sweden. After his death, he was buried in St. Mary's Church in Gdansk, where about 1651 he arranged an ancestral chapel, where also buried his father and others from the circle of Swedish loyalist immigrants.

Let’s remark the Gyllenstierna/Guldenstern family already used surname because Johan’s father, Nils Göransson (1526-1601), was the first in his family to call himself with the noble-name Gyllenstierna (Golden-star) after the symbol in his family coat-of-arms, when he got the title of Baron of Lundholm (Friherre Gyllenstierna af Lundholm) under King Johan III. He was governor of Stockholm and later of Småland. Nils Göransson Gyllenstierna was one of the few Swedes that got surnames at his time (“few” means less than 30 in this case between 1 million Swedish-Finnish inhabitants!).

After the Peace of Oliwa (1660) which ended the dynastic matter for good and the Polish-Swedish wars, the exiled Swedish Loyalist and the former Swedish prisoners who decided to stay in Poland, (now as skill Polish military), were helpful and welcome. They fought in the different wars in which Poland-Lithuania involved and their descendants settled all around the country. Already in 1659, King John II Casimir entitled as Polish Nobles the exiled Swedish Nobles who had lost all at Sweden-Finland standing by the Polish Vasas.

I quote: “In May 20, 1659 King John Casimir conferred (Polish) nobility to Swedish (officers/gentry). - W 1659 roku (20.05) król Jan Kazimierz nadał szlachectwo szwedzkie…”

Herb Albedyl; Albedyl or AlbedillSome data from the history of nobility and coats of arms - Niektóre dane z historii szlachty i herbu, by Leszek Jan Jastrzębiec-Czajkowski


As they didn’t had family name in Sweden, they (usually) took Polish surnames after the nicknames Szwed, Szwec, and Szwen (this list is far to be closed).

- Guldenstern (also Gyllenstierna or Guildenstern, baron) 

This family was one of the few that already had surname in 17th cent. Sweden. They Polonized Gyllenstierna to Guldenstern. In England they are known as Guildenstern.

- Szwederowski h. Ogończyk

- Szwedrowski h. Ogończyk - Without verification in Polish (on-line)

Armorials (…not yet).

- Szwedowicz h. Korwin

- Szwedowski h. Korwin

- Szwedkowski (Lithuanized: Švedkauskas or Švetkauskas) h. Korwin

- Without verification in Polish (on-line) Armorials (…not yet).
Herb Engestrem; Engestrem (von Engeström or d’Engestrom)

- Szwencki h. Gubena

- Szwęcki h. Gubena

- Swenderski h. Półkozic

- Swęderski h. Kotwicz, Mora, Półkozic

- Śwenderski h. Półkozic

- Swedorski h. Mora

- Swendorski h. Mora

- Swędorski h. Mora

- Mikke (Korwin-Mikke) h. Korwin - Without verification in

Polish (on-line) Armorials (…not yet).


- Albedyl (also Albedyll, baron)

- Engestrem (also von Engeström or d’Engestrom, count)

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- To remark: Regarding nobility (and snobbery) I quote Kaj Malachowski’s wise words: “One's title of nobility is not recognized because his surname is in Niesiecki but because one proves to get a title by demonstrating person by person how one inherited it from a male-line ancestor who had it even if unknown to Niesiecki.” It’s quite obvious when Malachowski refers to “Niesiecki” (or Niesiecki’s armorial, properly) he refers to any Polish Armorials (because sometimes people find their surname in on-line armorials and for this reason, begin to self-styling Polish noble). Wise advice to be follow!

To be honest I must add, even if I agree with Malachowski’s words, I believe that in nowadays Poland (and abroad) people rarely have such kind of documents. Usually people have only family tradition and this doesn’t means they are false-claimants at all. Malachowski encourage people to embark on research oneself (something very difficult, even in Poland) or to order the research work to specialists (and this work is not free of charge). His encouragement is proper, wise and honest but (perhaps) not many people can follow his advice. Anyway, if somebody is not sure about his family claim or feels that he must prove it before somebody else…this is the proper task to do.

Anyway, according Dziadulewicz, in old Poland-Lithuania (I quote) “Few families had appropriate papers and documents, whereas a number of families ennobled during the reign of Stanislaw August (Poniatowski), as well as a minority consisting of Magnate families possessed a superabundance of archival documents with which to instantly present proofs. So THE ENTIRE MASS OF THE NOBILITY was left with the impossible task of providing credentials (behind the Russian, etc.).” …”Up to that time, a true noble could thoroughly establish his noble descent upon the testimony of his neighbors and friends.” I copied the text from “How Nobility was legitimized before the Bureau of Heraldry of the (Russian) Kingdom of Poland” long time ago from the site of the Confederation of the Polish Nobility).

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* All drawings at right by Tadeusz Gajl:

Herbarz Polski – Od Średniowiecza do XX wieku (Gdańsk 2007)

ISBN 978-83-60597-10-1

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* Creative Commons licenses

* Wikipedia: Text of the GNU Free Documentation License

* Creative Commons

* Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)


  1. Gustavo, where did You find information about some Swedish officers changing sides after battle of Czarne (Hammerstein) in 1627? I do not recollect anything like that from sources that I have.

  2. Excellent question dear Kadrinazi! As you know I was born and live very far from Poland. I don’t have (unfortunately) a Polish library, so I must research all on Internet. Wikipedia is one of my “easy- getting-sources”. The English Wikipedia says “some Swedish soldiers and mercenaries changed sides at that time”, as you can see (and other Wikipedias repeat this version)
    Astonishing, the Polish Wikipedia doesn’t say anything about. Yet I choose English Wikipedia version because many years ago (in 1976 or 77, more or less) when I was living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, one of my friends (with skills in Polish history and Polish nobility) told me the same thing.

  3. I remember that another friend who was in the meeting said that was usual to mercenaries changing sides if they were taken prisoners. But the thing that some Swedes did the same was astonishing. The first friend answer to him that those Swedes were probably still Catholics (in secret) or Lutheran Loyalists (also in secret) that took the opportunity to change sides. This friend in question had access to an excellent library in Brazil. I suppose he took this after some of the Polish history books he has read. The same friend told me again the phrase (that it was already well known in my family) that says “All people from Szwedowski family are usually fine built of body, gentle trait of face. All their offspring were usually blond-haired, with light eyes. Their personality and built of body shows they come from nobility.” The funny thing is that I never could read this in Polish. I don’t know even who wrote this phrase.

  4. Yesterday night I read the forum you (Kadrinazi) recommended to me. I would like to research something more about Gabriel Posse. Swedish Wikipedia speaks about Jöran (Göran) Knutsson Posse (1556- died refugee loyalist in Gdańsk, 1616), but as you can see there is nothing about his son Gabriel. There is something about the other son, Knut Jöransson Posse. I will try to translate this.
    Pozdrawiam Tavo

  5. I'm afraid I need to correct whole Czarne/Hammerstein case then. There is no proof that there were any native Swedes present in this battle at all, as whole force were merceneries ('varvade' troops) recruited by colones Streiff and Teuffel in Mecklemburg. Majority of soldiers (both foot and cavalry) indeed change sides and were enlisted in to Polish ranks:
    but that wasn't the case with officers who were taken prisoners and later exchange with Swedes for Poles in Swedish captivity. I dare to say that I study 1625-1629 war with great care and I have access to many Polish and Swedish sources, none of which mentioned Swedish (native) officers changing sides.


  6. Actually, it’s me who must correct the whole Czarne/Hammerstein case then… (not you Kadrinazi, at all). As I said I remember what this old friend told me long time ago (I repeat, he had access to an excellent library in Brazil and I suppose he took this after some of the Polish history books he has read). Unfortunately I miss all contact with him in 1980, more or less. Time later (many years later, indeed) I knew he visited the Confederation of the Polish Nobility to do a speech in Poland during a travel trough Central/Eastern Europe (he was history teacher).
    Anyway, to be honest, I never knew from what source he got that. Also, may be this incident happened after other battle during Polish-Swedish wars (not necessary Czarne/Hammerstein). When I saw this issue in English Wikipedia I believed honestly that it was the proper case. As you may understand I remember this conversation by heart so I may be mistaken about the proper battle. What can I say?
    Czarne or not Czarne the main issue remains that some Swedish military (secret Loyalists or Catholics) profited the opportunity to change sides (perhaps in different occasions and in several times).
    I read one of your post about a Swedish officer that gave so much information about the Swedish Army that (in fact) he gave away (almost) the very Swedish usurper-king (his army, in any case) to Polish Hetman-Wielki. Can you send me the link? (I suppose I copied it but I cannot find it right now!). Pozdrawiam, Tavo

  7. I just posted “Some controversies about this last source” taken notice of (and answering to) Kadrinazi’s corrections. Please see “Historic events related with the origin of the surnames Szwed, Szwec, Szwen” at bottom of the page.