Ulla Möllersvärd

Ulla Möllersvärd

Emil Fredrik Nervander (1840-1914) describes in his book "The Journeys of the Emperor Alexander I in Finland" (Keisari Aleksanteri I:sen matkat Suomessa) how the emperor met the 18 years old daughter Ulrika Ottilia (Ulla) of Carl Adolf Möllersvärd during the assembly celebrations of the first Finnish Diet in 1809 in the city of Porvoo. The emperor was then 32 years of age.

Mika Waltari, who also authored the well-known The Egyptian (1945, translated into English 1949, a Hollywood spectacle based on the book was made in 1954), wrote during the war in 1943 a movie manuscript "Emperor falls in love" but the film was not made then. The manuscript was next year converted to a book, which was later translated into Swedish, Danish, German and Estonian. The film (in Finnish) was made in 1950.

Nervander relates:

The Diet Ball of the 28th of March 1809

Aleksander I
It was probably at this ball when Alexander paid attention to the family of the old governor, C. A. Möllersvärd, by visiting their humble home, Mäntsälänkartano Manor, on his way back from Turku on the 3rd to 4th of April, a week after the ball, and giving reason for the beautiful and gorgeous daughter Ulla, a couple of years later, to become dame d'honneur (lady-in-honor) in the court of Her Majesty Elisabeth.

"The Imperial Ball" at Möllerhof Manor.

From Turku Emperor Alexander continued his journey to Hämeenlinna on the 3rd of April at 4 o'clock a.m. The visit was a short one and the account on that even shorter because of lack of sources.

From Hämeenlinna he took his journey through Janakkala and Hausjärvi to the estate of Möllerhof, presently called Mäntsälänkartano.

At that time it still was owned by Family Möllersvärd headed by 68 years old Karl Adolf Möllersvärd, a Major, with a title of Governor, who was married to Charlotta L'Estrade, aged 53, from Stockholm, a pleasant and intelligent lady and a devoted patroness of the poet Bengt Lidner. Lidner had visited the manor and dedicated to her his beautiful poem "Oblivion", (in Swedish) one of his best songs.

Two of the older brothers were still in the war along with our troops, and only the younger daughters Marie-Louise and Ulla, the former 21 years of age and the latter 18 years of age, were presumably at home as its delight and joy.

Ulla Möllersvärd was at the best spring splendour of her young flourishment. With a beautiful figure, with pure and energetic looks, and with big eyes full of life she shined like a just opened rose drawing attention wherever she went, she, more than anybody else, had all the qualifications to become a world star.

We had already momentarily seen her during the imperial days in Porvoo, and it was presumed that at the diet ball the chivalrous, high admirer of feminine beauty, Emperor Alexander was fascinated by her precocious beauty. Undoubtedly this was the reason what made the Emperor to inform to this quite humbly and simply living Family Möllersvärd about his intentions to visit the Möllerhofs when returning from Turku.

The expectation to receive the charming sovereign as a guest filled Family Möllersvärd with the most vivid joy but simultaneously with anxiety and worry, how the duties of host can performed with sufficient dignity.

Although the present material which is kindly left at my disposal* for use in the following description (abridged, however, here by the translator) is tiringly long, it, on the other hand, gives an insight to a cultural tradition soon covered by a hundred year's oblivion. That is why I hope that the reader skims with great interest through this quite detailed description of an ordinary Finnish manor about 1809, and sees how the mighty sovereign of Russia, being now the newly-proclaimed grand duke of Finland, was received.

When Alexander visited Mäntsälänkartano, the still remaining interior of this now slightly renovated main building most probably was as follows: The main staircase led to a big hallway which not only reached he opposite wall but even made a protrusion on the other side of the buildning. To the left from this corridor there was a door to two inner chambers, and a door further ahead led to a bigger corner room - the one occupied by the emperor during his visit.

His entourage seems to have been a small one. How the family, rejoiced by the high rank visit, received him is not related in the story. At the festive dinner the governor was granted permission to propose a toast to the emperor which then was jubilantly drank. Even now there are in Mäntsälänkartano high-stemmed glasses which are told to be the ones used in this occasion.

The previous mild weather had ended and turned to a small vernal winter, when the sovereign, accompanied by his rejoicing subjects, made a promenade in the surrounding park, and he is told to have watched with great interest the oddly formed walk of spruces resembling umbrellas, which soon afterwards was given the name "Emperor's Walk".

A casual country ball seems to have ended this day with full of memories at Möllerhof. A vivid memory of the ball has been preserved among the country folk of the tract, especially by an old spinster Ulrika Ottiliana who died a few years ago and who was given her names to honour Miss Ulla. Her father was at that time a stableman in the manor, and because he was able to play a simple violin, he was invited to the ball room to assist in playing dance music. It was probably out of his mouth what Ulrika Ottiliana had heard: how the joy rose up to the ceiling in the colonnaded hall of Möllerhof which stood out so big and stately because of the presence of Emperor Alexander. According to the story, the sovereign, charming both upper and lower class people, had "a multitude of times" taken Ulla Möllersvärd to dance, Ulla, who was sparkling from youth, beauty and happiness and whose gallant enchanted heart maybe dreamed about a reviving spring.

On the next morning when bidding farewell to Family Möllersvärd Alexander had quickly taken the young daughter of the house behind a door and kissed the blushing maid.

In the next moment the magnificent sovereign was already returning to his splendid capital and the memory left by Alexander I gently started to hover over the landscape, where he had spent a carefree moment and deeply looked at a sparkling pair of eyes.

It was most pleasant for Alexander as soon as possible to indicate his satisfaction from the reception he met among Family Möllersvärd by presenting each one of them a remembrance gift for their excellent hospitability and as a token of his extraordinary favour. This was informed by Count Speransky to Governor Möllersvärd in a letter of the 14th of April 1809, in which he ordered Governor-General Baron Sprengtporten to send a courier to bring the imperial gifts and a letter to Möllerhof. Sprengtporten soon informed Speransky about the execution of the order and added: "These good people who already feel unspeakably happy at the grace of being able, for a passing moment, to give the Sovereign lodgings, feel doubly the same when they received these chosen favours which make this highly esteemed event an everlasting memory in their small family".

This letter was answered by a letter of gratitude from Mrs. Möllersvärd. The imperial gifts, abundantly adorned with jewels, were: a ring to governor, a brooch (fermoir) to Mrs. Möllersvärd, a comb to the older daughter and a brooch to the younger daughter. A new favour to the family was granted by the emperor two years later, when he, on the 17th of April 1811, informed the governor about appointing "his daughter" as maid-of-honour (demoiselle d'honneur) at the imperial court. Möllersvärd was aware of the fact that this gesture of grace was intended for the younger daughter but usually similar appointments were made according to seniority. In a quandary about this he wrote to Speransky that he has two daughters but maybe the younger one is to be given preference because of her looks, figure and intellectual qualities (par sa figure, sa taille et ses qualités d'esprit). He thus requested Speransky to submit a petition to the emperor that he would be permitted to inform his younger daughter that the emperor had graciously appointed her as a lady-in-waiting - the assent was promptly given to this request.

Family Möllersvärd for their part tried to express their gratitude to Alexander I by erecting in the vicinity of the "Emperor's Walk" in the Mäntsälänkartano park a simple wooden memorial decorated on the top by an initial, with the emperor's crown, made of shining metal and embellished with an inscription: "A private person's gratitude to the well-known benefactor September 1819", the worn-out numbers may also be interpreted as 1809. Up till the 1870's the memorial still existed but finally it rotted away. The metallic initial with the crown was, of course, saved and is now kept in the "emperor's room" of this old manor.

*It has been left at my disposal by the heiress of Mäntsälänkartano Manor Mrs. Sylvia Herlevi, née Vinqvist, married to agronomist Leander Herlevi from the nothern part of the province Ostrobothnia.

Emperor Alexander returned to Porvoo on Tuesday 4th of April 1809 at 3 o'clock p.m. He there signed a Proclamation "to all the citizens of Finland", concerning the recognition of the Estates and confirmation of the religion, constitution and the privileges and rights particularly enjoyed by each of the Estates, and by all the inhabitants of Finland in general, to this day.

Ulla Möllersvärd was on Christmas Eve 1813 married to Major-General O. R. von Essen, sung by Runeberg, a somewhat impetuos man of 58 years of age and earlier twice married. The bride with 22 years of age had a disgust for this marriage and she left her husband on the wedding night. The following year they got a legal divorce and von Essen entered on Christmas Eve 1814 his fourth matrimony.  -  Her grace, Mrs. Ulla Möllersvärd later settled down in Porvoo and dedicated her time from 1840 to take care of nursing and rearing of her small motherless niece. In the home of her niece she afterwards advanced in age and became a small wrinkled old woman bent by the weight of years, who with her memories was one summer day in 1878 lowered to the silence of grave at the age of 87.

I have searched for some original portrait of hers with no success. Her picture by R. W. Ekman in his painting "The Porvoo Diet" should be considered to be more fantasy than a portrait. As middle-aged she was twice painted by J. E. Lindh. In one of the paintings in which she has a lap dog under her arm she wears an elegant black dress decorated by two of the imperial gifts. Her carriage is firm and determined, facial features somewhat hard, eyes still brilliant. The general looks are aristocratic. In a daguerrotype she is depicted as old, her constant companion a knitting needle, in her assidious hands.
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Translated (©) by Pauli Kruhse.