The history of the Fersen Palace (Fersenska Palatset) dates back to the 17th century. Its story and especially the stories of its owners and residents are fascinating as many of them had important roles in domestic and foreign politics and were integral parts of Stockholm’s upper-class society. The existence of the palace was threatened when the era of the von Fersen dynasty, after which the palace is named, ended. Fortunately, it still stands in its place on Blasieholmen (see four other palaces worth visiting on Blasieholmen) today and even as a part of Stockholm’s historical heritage continues to serve a purpose in the modern city.
What we know today as the Fersen Palace started its life as Admiralty House (Amiralitetshuset) designed as the first major work of the architect Hans Ferster in 1634. During this time the Swedish Navy stationed on Blasieholmen then called Skeppsholmen, which was also why the Admiralty House was built there. However, the Navy abandoned the then islet and moved to today’s Skeppsholmen where you can also find the Admiralty House these days.
This story can seem a bit confusing so here comes a short recap. Originally, Blasieholmen was named Skeppsholmen and it was an islet detached from Norrmalm. Later, Blasieholmen got its current name, presumably after Blasius Olsson Rask who had a yard on the islet in the 16th century, and the nearby islet was renamed Skeppsholmen, instead. There was also an Admiralty House on today’s Blasieholmen built in 1634 but today you can find the Admiralty House on Skeppsholmen which was completed in 1650. During the 17th century, Blasieholmen became a peninsula after being attached to Norrmalm.
Wachtmeisters Era – How the Palace Became a Palace
After the navy has moved to Skeppsholmen, Queen Christina, with a great passion for city planning, decided that Blasieholmen would be used for residential purposes. Because of its central location directly across the bay from the Royal Palace, her goal was to get representative buildings built there. To achieve her goals she donated the land on Blasieholmen to the highest state executives in the army, navy and government.
The Admiralty House together with some extra land was given to Hans Wachtmeister af Björkö in 1651 who was the first to turn the house into a palace also known as Wachtmeister Palace (Wachtmeisterska Palatset). After the death of Hans Wachtmeister, his son Adam Claes and later Axel inherited the property. Axel Wachtmeister, who obtained the house in 1675, was a well-rounded person with a plenty of international experience. He had various important roles in the Swedish Army including the position of the Cavalry Captain and later Major General. In 1693 he became a royal advisor and later a president of Krigskollegium – an office close to the king responsible for the top management of the army.
Interestingly, in 1655 the Parliament decided that because of the peculiar financial situation of the country, the Crown could confiscate a quarter of all previously donated properties. Apparently, this was not enough and in 1683 the Parliament issued a new rule that gave the king the right to seize any and all of the properties that at some point belonged to the Crown.
Axel used his influence to stand up to the king who wanted to seize the palace and argued that his family had to spend significant resources to turn the palace into what it was and that the original land donated to them was of much less value. Finally, the Reduction Commission, responsible for the process, delivered their decision in 1698 which stated that Wachtmeisters got to keep the property.
Von Fersen Period – The Most Noble of Times
After Axel Wachtmeister’s death, the palace belonged to his widow and later to their daughter Eleonora Margareta who married the president of Svea Court of Appeal (Svea Hovrätt), Hans von Fersen. That was when the era of the von Fersen dynasty, whose name the palace carries, began. Von Fersens had important roles in Sweden’s political and cultural life since the mid-17th century.
The palace soon became the residence of Hans’ youngest son Fredrik Axel – one of the most successful men of the time. Fredrik Axel von Fersen born in 1719 held a high position in the military, was the leader of the Hattpartiet – a political party which during the Age of Liberty (Frihetstiden) held the power over Sweden and a member of The Swedish Academy.
Fredrik Axel was the person responsible for the big reconstruction of the palace which defined its appearance for over a hundred years. In order to finance the modernisation whose goals was to build a representative, modern Stockholm home he took a loan of 60 000 daler copper coins at a 6% interest rate and later had to borrow another 48 000.
Daler was a currency used in the Nordics during the 17th and 18th century. Silver and copper coins were used, both of which had a different value that changed over time. Generally speaking, we can say that one silver coin was worth around three copper coins. Later, rigsdaler was introduced which had a value equal to six daler silver coins.
The oldest son of Fredrik Axel, Hans Axel, was an especially interesting character. He spent a significant part of his life abroad. The consequences of his foreign life might have played a crucial role in some of the events in French history. Hans Axel was romantically involved with the Queen of France Marie Antoinette. After the French revolution, she and her husband, former King of France Louis XVI, planned to escape the country. Hans Axel von Fersen was the one who organised and financially supported the escape.
However, things did not go well and the former royal pair never managed to escape France, ending up executed in Paris on 16 October 1793. Hans Axel then returned to Sweden but has not stayed long because he “could not stand the small-town conditions.” After working as Gustav IV Adolf’s ambassador in Frankfurt for a couple of years, he finally returned to Stockholm for good because he considered the palace on Blasieholmen his only true home.
Both Hans Axel and his sister Eva Sophie von Fersen (married Piper) living in the palace were very influential figures in Stockholm. The von Fersens stayed loyal to Gustav IV Adolf even after he had been ousted from the throne. That likely cost Hans Axel his life only a year after King Charles XIII acquired power as he was killed under somewhat unclear circumstances in front of the Bonde Palace (Bondeska Palatset) in the Old Town (Gamla Stan).
Eva Sophie abandoned Stockholm immediately after her brother’s death and took a portion of the palace’s furnishing with her to Lövstad Castle (Löfstad slott). After that, their brother Fabian Reinhold took over the palace but he and both his sons died relatively young and therefore Fabian’s daughter Louise became the owner. She and her husband were inclined to spend their fortune on pleasures and hazard, though, and in 1865 went bankrupt which essentially brought an end to the von Fersen dynasty.
How the Palace Got Its Current Appearance
Johan Andersson bought the property the same year for 470 000 riksdaler. Andersson was an experienced merchant and his intentions with the palace were also purely commercial. In 1872 he sold a part of the palace to the Norwegian-born businessman, Niels Georg Sörensen who later bought the representative terrace as well.
During Sörensen’s period, the palace went through another complex reconstruction led by the architect Adolf Emil Melander. After the reconstruction has been completed in 1883, there were multiple apartments available for rent at this prominent location at prices ranging from 1300 – 1500kr per year.
The year 1966 brings us to the Fersen Palace’s present. It was then that Handelsbanken bought the property for use as their headquarters. A few years later, they decided to build a new building in place of some historically less valuable houses which required changes in the city plan. Upon their request, a new city plan was established in 1973 which declared the Fersen Terrace and Näckebro area historical heritages. This meant that the façades and some specific parts of the interiors of the building could not be changed.
Thanks to Handelsbanken’s CEO Jan Wallander the historical heritage of the buildings has been protected to an even larger extent than required by the law. The original character of the palace and of the 19th century Sörensen House was preserved and even some of the historical rooms are still used for by the bank relatively untouched. The costs of the restoration were approximated to be around 15% higher than the costs of building a new headquarters in the place of the historical palace would have been. Fortunately, the authorities decided that this was a reasonable price to pay for preserving such a piece of historical heritage as the Fersen Palace.
The almost four-centuries-old palace received its current looks in 1976. Thankfully, even after several major restorations during the centuries, it still stays true to its origins. The cloakroom from the times of the Admiralty House at the bottom floor, the presentation room in rococo and empire styles from the von Fersens period and the terrace whose foundation was laid during the Wachtmeisters era which serves as a symbol emphasising the meaning of this prominent building. All of these preserve the long and rich history of this magnificent place in Stockholm’s city centre.
Next time, I am going to take you back to Stockholm’s Södermalm to explore one of its curiosities. The next post is coming on Saturday and in the meantime I encourage you to check out Trevl on Instagram where we share photos of beautiful places daily. Also, sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on all things Trevl.
Von Ajkay, Anna, 1977. Fersenska palatset tradition och förnyelse på Blasieholmen.