Decline of Status: Merging into the Rank and File

The Oxenstiernas, LeijonhufVuds, Stenbocks, Bielkes and Posses we met in the previous section were Swedish councillor dynasties who, as we saw, stuck to a very limited social circle when choosing their spouses and occupations, even in the eighteenth century, when their grandest heyday was drawing to a close. At the same time, some other noble families faced the very different fate of social decline, severely shaking the status equivalence that the nobility had grown used to. In his research on the Swedish nobility, von Willebrand (1932, 147-57) describes patterns of social decline by occupations, though without specifying what it is that makes certain occupations indicative of social decline. Perhaps he was just following intuition as we do when arranging occupations in a hierarchical order (cf. Coxon and Jones 1979, 5, 92). His list of occupations includes non-commissioned officers, tenants, crofters, craftsmen, workers, sailors and chauffeurs. Almost three-quarters of noblemen in families that von Willebrand categorizes as having experienced social decline earned their living in these occupations, but one-quarter were employed in occupations that were to become more common in the nineteenth-century lower nobility. These were lower civil servants, tradesmen and peasants. Yet a handful of family members could remain in occupations typical of the nobility before the nineteenth century. In mid-eighteenth-century Spain, local nobilities were engaged in a similar variety of occupations: a social divide spanned from a grandee of Spain to a lace-maker, a tailor, a carpenter, a spinner, a bricklayer, a chocolate-maker, merchants, tanners, farmers and so on (Thompson 1995, 176). These figures imply that the process of social decline was porous and overlapped with the broader transformations taking place since the nineteenth century, which saw an ever greater portion of the nobility incorporated into the commonalty. In this chapter I clarify how social decline proceeded in the nobility at a time when they continued to hold on to their legal privileges to the highest offices and ranks of the army. The following shows that it was difficult for some noble families to take advantage of these privileges.

According to von Willebrand’s study, there were 23 noble families in Sweden that had been downgraded as a whole, and 72 noble families where some branches had met the same fate. Together, the members of these families accounted for 9 per cent of all Swedish nobles in 1930, implying that the vast majority of noble families could in fact maintain the occupational positions that the nobility was used to. Von Willebrand fails to identify any specific factor that was responsible for social decline. Rather, it was a gradual process that began to unfold with some early signs of decline and then proceeded more widely and deeply from generation to generation, like an infectious disease. He does point out, though, that marriage into the rank and file could sometimes occasion social fall. On the other hand, in some other monarchies, and in fact in Sweden too, primogeniture also tended to cause social decline. When the eldest son alone inherited the title and estate, in Sweden from the eighteenth century onwards through fideicommissum (af Kleen 2010, 14-15;

Norrby 2014, 18-19), younger sons had to carve out their own careers, which often ended in social fall (Bush 1988, 120-30; Stone and Fawtier Stone 2001, 290; Sackville-West 2010, 108-9, 260).

To gain a more accurate picture of the dynamics of social fall in the nobility, I again rely on a case study, this time focusing on the Finnish Jarnefelt family (Wasastjerna 1879, 647-60; Carpelan 1958, 566-89; Aminoff-Winberg 2006). It stood out in my sample of noble families as a highly exceptional case. The proportion of marriages to nobles in this family was just 29 per cent, well below the average for the lower nobility between 1600 and 1800 (75 per cent for men; 55 per cent for women). The founder of this dynasty was of German origin and ennobled in Sweden by virtue of his military deserts in 1651. The start in Sweden was promising: the number of marriages to nobles in the second generation was around the average for the lower nobility at the time. But marriages to nobles came to an abrupt end in the third generation in the early eighteenth century. In fact the whole family was at risk of dying out, because only one son in this generation married and bore surviving offspring. All of his sons moved to Finland and were recruited to the provincial Royal Savolax Infantry Regiment. We follow the second youngest son, Olof Anders, and his descendants’ lives, because it was in his branch that the process of social decline began. Olof Anders (1729-88) was a waggon-master lieutenant in the Savolax Regiment. He married a non-noble corporal’s daughter. This was a mismatch because his wife was a commoner, but on the other hand her father and Olof Anders were more or less equals in terms of their occupations. In that respect the marriage was not a misalliance. It is obvious that the combination of Olof Anders’s low rank in the army coupled with marriage to a commoner who furthermore was a non-commissioned officer’s daughter set in motion the process of social decline. But social decline also required succession: it was the couple’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who would eventually decide how far they would drift on the path of social decline.

Olof Anders and his wife Helena had seven sons and two daughters in the 1760s and 1770s. Following in their father’s footsteps, all sons were employed in the Savolax Regiment. The couple’s two daughters could have been able to prevent further social decline, since they married quite well. One daughter married a nobleman, Captain Abraham von Becker, who was employed in the same regiment as the Jarnefelt brothers. The other daughter married twice non-noble chaplains from the neighbouring parishes. But the sons did not do quite as well. The eldest son was a captain, the next eldest a lieutenant and the third son a second lieutenant. In other words they were commissioned officers, albeit of the lowest ranks. In this respect the situation was not socially alarming, nor was the eldest son’s marriage, because he married a noblewoman, but they did not have children. However, the captain had an out-of-wedlock child borne by a commoner three years before his marriage.

The second son, Lieutenant Anders Jarnefelt, married a non-noble sheriff’s daughter in 1801, but before that, in 1783, he had an out- of-wedlock son borne by a noblewoman, Ulrika von Becker, the said Abraham von Becker’s sister. This was an exceptional case in this family as all the brothers’ other illegitimate children were borne by women of humble origin. On the other hand, Ulrika von Becker was not the only noblewoman who in this social enclave produced out-of-wedlock children. In another Jarnefelt family, three daughters, who were cousins to Anders, bore out-of-wedlock children between 1828 and 1834; in fact one daughter had three of them. Ulrika von Becker’s story also shows how these kinds of incidents sometimes draw together people who share the same destiny. In this particular case, Ulrika von Becker’s brother, Captain Abraham von Becker, married Anders Jarnefelt’s sister in 1783, the same year that Anders and Ulrika von Becker’s illegitimate son was born. The birth of this child is mentioned in the Jarnefelts’, but not in the von Beckers’ genealogical tables (Wasastjerna 1879, 75; Carpelan 1954, 77). Besides, this genealogy gives only scant information about Ulrika: she is said to have died unmarried in the nineteenth century, and that is really all about her in the pedigree. So, Ulrika lived unmarried with her son, who later on tried to gain entry into the nobility, but this was denied due to his illegitimacy. Thus, in a similar way as kings’ illegitimate children were denied full royal status, illegitimate children by nobles were kept out of the nobility. Kings’ illegitimate children were often incorporated into the nobility, whereas noblemen’s as well as noblewomen’s illegitimate children were incorporated into the rank and file. Together with his wife, a non-noble sheriff’s daughter, Anders had three surviving children who remained unmarried, but one daughter followed in her father’s footsteps by bearing an out-of-wedlock child.

For the time being I shall leave aside the third of these seven brothers, Second Lieutenant Johan Adolf Jarnefelt (1763-1818), because I return to him and his descendants later on, in Chap. 6 where we turn our focus to artists. The sixth brother, a sergeant who married a commoner, is also excluded from closer scrutiny, because all of his children died in early infancy. The seventh or the youngest brother married a noblewoman, his cousin, and he too had an out-of-wedlock child, but no legitimate children by his wife. He was also sentenced to prison for rage violence, but he died before the sentence was put into execution. So, four brothers in all had no legitimate children to continue or reverse the process of social fall. Two brothers remain, Ake and Augustin, the fourth and fifth sons, who would eventually contribute to the continued social decline of their noble dynasty. These two brothers were non-commissioned officers, a sergeant and a corporal. They had out-of-wedlock children like their eldest, next eldest and youngest brothers, Ake actually three of them. Afterwards Ake and Augustin married and both of them took commoners as their wives.

Ake (1768-1842), the sergeant, had two sons from his marriage, but the elder son remained unmarried. The younger son Johan Adolf (1813-67) followed in his father’s footsteps by creating a career in the army, but he only advanced to the rank of sergeant major. His first wife was a peasant’s daughter, while the second one was a crofter’s daughter, whom he had employed as his housekeeper. This woman was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for infanticide, which happened ten years after Johan Adolf’s death. Johan Adolf and his second wife produced three children, two daughters who remained unmarried and a son, Adolf Napoleon (1864-1925). Because he was born before his parents got married, he was not admitted to the nobility. He married a farmhand’s daughter. They had two surviving sons, one became an electrician, the other moved to Canada and worked there as a miner. The elder of the two surviving daughters married a postman, whereas the younger daughter married a businessman first and, after divorce, a captain. They formed the fifth generation from Olof Anders and were born at the turn of the twentieth century. The other brother, Augustin (1770-1833), was a corporal. He produced one out-of-wedlock child, but this son is not mentioned in the Almanac of the Nobility. However, we find him in a book written by Arjava (2012, 18), who makes it known that this boy, Anders by name, was Augustin Jarnefelt’s illegitimate son. So, in contrast to the other illegitimate children by Jarnefelts, we know more about this child. His unmarried mother was a servant and Anders himself spent an itinerant life, committing crime now and then for which he was sentenced to imprisonment. Anders was married but he had no children. Augustin, his noble father, began to produce children by his future wife before their marriage; hence, these children were not admitted to the nobility. The only son, Efraim (1802-52), chose a military career after the family’s tradition, but he climbed no higher than to the rank of corporal. In the third generation in the 1840s, again only one son survived: he became a crofter and later on a worker, a stonemason. He fared better in the marriage market than his relations in these two branches, marrying a rusthall peasant’s daughter. His son in the fourth generation from Augustin was also a stonemason, but he too married a rusthall peasant’s daughter. They lived around the turn of the twentieth century, like their third cousins presented above.

In the same way as in the noble dynasties, in which councillors clustered around a few branches, only a handful of lines in the Jarnefelt family fell into social decline. I have examined two of them here to better understand the dynamics of social decline—in this particular case, radical social decline. The downward movement, when measured by occupations, was initially quite slow: they downgraded from the lowest ranks of commissioned officers to non-commissioned officers. This step down was taken by Ake and Augustin, that is, in the second generation after Olof Anders. Between 1806 and 1809, when Ake and Augustin were employed in their regiment, no more than six to seven of a total of 30 non-commissioned officers in the regiment were noblemen. In other words, wholly one-third of the noble non-commissioned officers in this regiment were Jarnefelts. Their place should have been in the corps of officers, 65 per cent of whom were noblemen at the time (Huuskonen 1927, 120, 161). Their sons occupied the same low rank in the army, which was thus passed down to the third generation. It was only in the fourth generation that the family finally exited the military service, one of the bastions of the nobility. This was a radical step indeed: it is here in the fourth generation that we find this noble dynasty’s first crofters and workers. Ake and Augustin’s great-grandsons could no more rely on the Savolax Regiment, which had been discontinued by Emperor Alexander I in 1810 (Huuskonen 1927, 102). In fact the whole Finnish army was discontinued by the emperor, but it would, nonetheless, have been possible for the Jarnefelts to establish a career in garrisons set up later in Finland or indeed in the Russian army, but none of the family members in these two branches seized these opportunities. Perhaps they were so deeply assimilated into the social enclave of the Savolax Regiment that moving anywhere else would simply have been impossible. During these four generations, this assimilation was further strengthened by marriages to local commoners. But it is also possible to reverse the angle and suggest that the Jarnefelts remained in their locality because they had neither the energy nor the interest or capability to move out in search of better job opportunities. Unlike their ancestors, they were not ambitious achievers. Besides, in four declining generations, half of the children died in infancy; about 20 per cent remained unmarried and only 30 per cent married. No further cousin marriages were contracted in the late nineteenth century in these branches.

It is immediately clear from a comparison of these two noble enclaves, a sample of councillor dynasties and the two Jarnefelt branches, that occupation had a crucial impact on the image they projected of their status. If performances of status are also moulded by occupations, the image of their social fall is reinforced. Councillor families lived in palatial mansions, a very different milieu from the Jarnefelts’ in the neighbourhood of their provincial regiment. They lived in farmhouses assigned to them—non-commissioned infantry officers were entitled to such official residences (Upton 1995, 25). The homes thus reflected their highly different statuses. The same was true of marriages. A noble who married another noble gave the impression of being nobler than one who married a commoner. If their children remained in lower occupations, the image of social fall was completed, and the real nature of status equivalence unfolded. Marriage to a noble was a great asset in preventing social decline. Many captains and lieutenants and even noblemen without any office could maintain their prestigious status if they married noblewomen, as my sample of councillor dynasties has shown. Marriages to nobles had the capability to excuse noblemen from improper expansion of status equivalence, provided that they found an occupation in one of the three citadels of the nobility, that is, state governance, the army or court. Alternatively, they could retreat to their country houses without any occupational duties. These domains formed the basis for the perception that noblemen had complied with the rules of status equivalence, but if they joined some other trade, they ran the risk of being identified as social decliners. This perception was due to the nobility’s understanding that they had a special assignment to work in the service of the monarch, making their duties in state governance, the army and court superior to any other employment. Thus, as long as the Jarnefelts stayed in their regiment, even as non-commissioned officers, they could retain an aura of nobility about them. However, if cast outside the military domain, there was the risk that their nobility might be called into question, as obviously happened to those Jarnefelts who began to earn a living as crofters and workers. A noble sergeant’s marriage to a commoner was a similar risk, because endogamy was still in force, framing the minimum scope of status equivalence.

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