Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lucky Sparrfeldt

In Stockholm and Kalmar are museum exhibitions on two of the great 17th century warships that were named after the regalia, that is, the royal insignia. They're known as regalskepp, "regalia ships", and the ones treated in the exhibitions are Vasen ("The Corn Sheaf", named after the royal dynasty's heraldic symbol) and Stora Kronan ("The Great Crown"). Others were named The Sword, The Sceptre and The Orb. The ships were insanely overdecorated with painted wooden sculpture in a rustic baroque style.

Both The Corn Sheaf and The Great Crown came to ignominious ends. The Sheaf was badly designed because of the king's desire for an extra deck of cannon. She was extremely poorly balanced and sunk in Stockholm on her maiden voyage in 1628. The wreck was salvaged in 1961 -- it's almost entirely intact and is without any serious competition the coolest and most unique thing you can see in Stockholm.

The Crown sailed as a warship for four years until the summer of 1676, when she keeled over during a naval battle against a Dutch fleet due to a clumsy manoeuvre. Her gunpowder stores were accidentally ignited, The Crown blew up and her remains sank. The wreck was located in 1980 and has been excavated for many years, yielding fascinating workaday finds of a kind that the poor Sheaf never had the time to accumulate. See them in Kalmar.

Hundreds of men died when The Crown blew up. But one of the survivors made it in a way that really seems too good to be true. Nevertheless, the historical sources for the event are perfectly good.

Major Anders Sparrfeldt, a 31-year-old army officer, was thrown off The Crown by the blast. He flew over two enemy ships and landed in one of the sails on the Swedish man-o-war The Dragon. Sparrfeldt later went on to pursue an illustrious military career, even becoming a colonel in the Dutch army for a time (alliances changed), and ended up a major general and a county governor before passing away peacefully in 1734 at the ripe old age of 89.

History is always best when there's a story in it.

[Here's a good recent paper by Jan Glete about Swedish naval ship-building in the 17th century. More blog entries about , , , ; , , , .]


Blogger Johan A said...

OK, long URLs do not work...

I took some pictures of the Corn Sheaf when I was there a few weeks ago:


Paste together to make one URL.

09 August, 2006 16:06  
Blogger Martin said...

Nice pix! Your friend Jeff is built like Gustavus Adolphus. Imagine all that oak wood being all fresh and new, some of it tarred, some of it garishly painted...

09 August, 2006 19:58  

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