First name

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Margareta Forrat (f.1624-1653) was the daughter of John Forrat [SSNE 1615] and the sister of Captain Alexander Forrat [SSNE 640]. She was the second wife of Sir James Spens of Wormiston [SSNE 1642] whom she married in 1624. Together they had the children Axel [SSNE 1643] and Jacob Spens [SSNE 3549]. James Spens made a will in 1630 which afforded some protection to Margaret upon the event of his death. 15 farms and the country manor house at Ala (in Uppland) were to be set aside for Margaret’s maintenance. Spens insisted that these were to remain in the possession of his wife so long as she remained unmarried. Ten of the farms had to be given up upon any remarriage, after which they would pass to her son Axel, though she was to maintain the estate at Ala until her death. However, this notable woman did not simply rely on her husband to ensure her lively hood upon his death. Margaret also used her own agency with the Swedish Crown to gain advantage for her family. Soon after her husband passed away, Queen Christina of Sweden was persuaded to pay 600 Rixdaler (£60) per year for the education of Margaret’s children despite her late husband’s will stipulating that the profit from her farms should have covered their educational expenses. She also used her social status and relationship with several officers of the Swedish state to further press her family’s status in Sweden.

Aggrieved that her late husband was not getting the respect in death he had been accorded in life, Margaret penned a number of letters to the Chancellor of Sweden, Axel Oxenstierna – a man who also happened to be legal guardian of her children. One of the earliest of these to survive is a carefully crafted missive in Latin, the tone of which is strikingly firm and reprimanding in nature. According to Margaret, her husband’s body remained unburied and her family was being mocked for it, whilst creditors were hounding her for bills she claimed she simply could not meet. She maintained that even if she sold everything she owned she could not keep up interest payments on debts accrued while her husband had been deployed on Sweden’s state business as  ambassador. Bearing Spens’ will in mind, and Oxenstierna’s signature upon it, Margaret reminded Oxenstierna of his obligations to her and her family. She cleverly concluded the letter to this devoutly religious statesman noting ‘that providing for widows and orphans is pleasing [to] Almighty God.’ The message was heard. Have already been named as co-guardian of her children, within months of Forrat’s letter, Oxenstierna facilitated her sons and their half-brother Colonel William Spens’s – elevation to the House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) through a special dispensation from the crown which even allowed for their continued adherence to Calvinism.

In the following years Margaret played on the relationship between Oxenstierna and her sons, asking for help to protect their estates even after she married her second husband, Colonel Hugo Hamilton [SSNE 2582] in 1637. In order to protect their inheritance Oxenstierna asked Queen Christina to reissue and confirm land donations given to General James Spens by Gustav II Adolf in 1631. The original document stated that ‘We forbid all of those that owe us obedience to put any obstacle or hindrance in the way of the aforesaid Jacob Spentz (sic) or his heirs in any shape or form now or in the future.’This supported the will of James Spens and Axel Oxenstierna proved true to the obligations he undertook on behalf of his old friend.

Once Oxenstierna’s intervention had resolved her sons’ situations, it was not long before Margaret Forrat’s case for her pension was brought before the Riksråd (The Swedish State Council). Despite the generous provisions laid out in James Spens’ will, his creditors were moving in on Forrat’s assets. In September 1634 she was paid what she was due for Spens’ expenses during his Swedish service in Germany. However, the year of grace she had requested in regard to Spens’ finances was not allowed as the cost of 10,000 Riksdaler was prohibitive for the state. Instead Margaret was granted a sum of 1000 Riksdaler to be paid in two instalments over the next two years. In addition to this she received the right to the church tithe in Härkirberga for three years to supplement her income. Although this seemed helpful, a Riksråd minute the following year made it clear that not all of her issues were resolved. It reveals that Margaret had requested that no other person would be invested in her estates, obviously with an eye to those debtors. To resolve the wider Spens family debt it is clear that William Spens worked closely with his father’s widow. The Marquis of Hamilton even interceded on their behalf asking that William should be allowed to sell the Orreholm estate. The Riksråd responded that they were sympathetic to both William and Margaret, but Queen Christina, to whom the petition was directed, forbade the sale stating that William would have sufficient opportunity to raise money on the estate. Such a sale would, anyway, have been in breach of the original grant.

Thereafter, Margaret’s financial problems may have eased as she did not raise them again in her other surviving correspondence. She maintained her written exchanges with Axel Oxenstierna. For example, in January 1638 regarding diplomatic meetings at the Stuart court passed on by her husband, Hugo. Her agency here is clear in that it was she and not Colonel Hamilton who had the ear of Axel Oxenstierna in passing on such intelligence. In 1643 she wrote a letter of intercession on Hamilton’s behalf, including seeking permission for him to remain in Stockholm beyond his allotted period of leave. The continued correspondence reveals a woman comfortable with her status. Margaret shows us that she commanded respect from senior officials in the Swedish government, could successfully activate kith, kin and friendship networks to gain advantage for her children, and intercede on behalf of her second husband who, though a full colonel in the Swedish army, was clearly not so well connected as she. This daughter of a ‘middling sort’ family from Fife died in 1653 and was given a full state funeral at Riddarholm church – final resting place of many Swedish kings – in Stockholm. In addition to her children with James Spens, Axel and Jacob, Margaret had at least two daughters with Colonel Hamilton. Christina, died as a child, but Brita Margareta [SSNE 6386] married Gustav Adolf Skytte [SSNE 4921] in 1659, the grandson of the Scottish lady, Maria Neave [SSNE 6272]. 

In 1645 Margaret Forrat  witnessed Cecilia Spens 's [SSNE 6129] will. This was her adult step-daughter. She also co-signed numerous letters with her adult step-son, Colonel William Spens [SSNE 3553].


Sources - Riksarkivets ämnessamlingar. Personhistoria - with William Spens:

As the subject of a letter by her son Axel:

Swedish Riksarkiv, Axel Oxenstiernas Brefvexling, E619; H. Marryat, One Year in Sweden including a visit to the Isle of Gotland (London, 1862), pp.465-466; T. Fischer, The Scots in Sweden (Edinburgh, 1907), Supplement, pp.215-267; J. Berg and B. Lagercrantz, Scots in Sweden, (Stockholm, 1962); G. Elgenstierna, Svenska Adelns Ättartavlor, vol. 3, p.453 and vol. 7, p.429; S. Curman and J. Roosval, eds. Riddarholmskyrkan: Sveriges Kyrkor, Stockholms Kyrkor, vol.2 (Stockholm, 1937), p.724.


This article was co-authored by Kathrin Zickermann and Steve Murdoch




Service record

Departed 1653-12-31