- Wrangel Palace was built in the 1630s
- It was reconstructed for its new owner after the Thirty Years’ War
- The palace was used as a temporary residence of the Royal Family
- It has been the home of the Svea Court of Appeal for over 250 years
The Era of the Swedish Empire was a perfect time to be a Swedish nobleman. It is not that being a member of the House of Nobility during other historical periods was no good but there is a reason why so many noble palaces in Stockholm come from the 1600s. While things were going great for many, only a few could be compared to the accomplished general from the Thirty Years’ War Carl Gustaf Wrangel.
Even before Wrangel made his fortune and became one of the queen’s favourites, things were starting to take off on the Riddarholmen Island where, at the time, you would not find much more than the Riddarholm Church (Riddarholmskyrkan) and a couple of defence structures from the era of Gustav Vasa.
The parcel donated by the Crown to a member of the Privy Council Lars Sparre in 1629 was one of the first that were given to the nobility to allow them to build their private residences on the island. Sparre’s parcel contained one of the two towers built by Gustav Vasa in the 1530s standing on the western edge of Riddarholmen and he decided to incorporate it into his new two-floor stone house.
This is why even today you can observe the similarities between the Wrangel Palace’s western tower and the Birger Jarl’s Tower (Birger Jarls torn) sitting in the north-western corner of the island.
Sparre died in 1644 and with the end of the Thirty Years’ War approaching, Carl Gustaf Wrangel considered purchasing the property using his fortune acquired during the successful campaigns on the continent.
You did not need to go into the war to profit from it, though. If you were the queen that is. However, Queen Christina wanted to show her appreciation for the work of her brave officials who fought for her country and rewarded several of them richly.
She outpaced the general and, in 1648, while he was still in Prague, bought the palace left empty after Lars Sparre. Not only did she buy Wrangel a palace, the queen also named him the Governor General of Pomerania which is a historical region in the northern parts of today’s Poland and Germany, south of Sweden’s coast.
Now, in addition to his opulent Skokloster Castle (Skokloster slott), Wrangel owned a prominent property directly in Stockholm. As usual, he faced a challenge, though. He needed someone to design and oversee the reconstruction of his residence and at the time, there was essentially only one person for the job in Stockholm, Jean de la Vallée.
However, as things were going great for the state, as well as many individuals, de la Vallée’s hands were full and even when he finally found some time to work on the project, he was shortly after named into the Royal Majesty (Kunglig Majestät). Queen Christina, therefore, turned to Nicodemus Tessin the Older to take over the project instead.
As it turned out, Tessin was in a situation similar to de la Vallée’s and Wrangel started building without any proper drawings being completed. His vision for the palace was fairly clear. In his own words, he did not want a palace with many rooms. Instead, he preferred them to be large and well-proportioned. Wrangel also required his residence to be designed in Italian style and that it be oriented toward the lake. Supposedly so that he could enjoy the beautiful sunsets you can admire there during summer months.
It is said that Jean de la Vallée did not like Wrangel’s ideas which might have affected his prioritisation of work. Nevertheless, he got involved in the project for a while again in the 1650s, but it turned out to be Tessin who eventually completed the official drawings of the soon-to-become Wrangel Palace (Wrangelska Palatset).
After that, the works really took off. The existing house was enlarged, the tower on the southern side was complemented by an identical one on the north and large wings, each concluded with a tower of its own, were built oriented toward Birger Jarl’s Square (Birger Jarls Torg).
All four towers were crowned with a lantern and the opulent baroque façade was mesmerizing. Especially on the lakeside, the monumental entrance enchanted with a system of terraces and staircases created an impression that could not be matched by perhaps any other noble residence in the country.
While the facades depicted in the historical paintings you can see above are said to have been captured accurately, it is uncertain whether the docks in front of the main entrance were ever completed.
The interior of the palace was, of course, also lavish and featured furniture and art created by Sweden’s leading craftsmen and artists. However, all this luxury not only cost a lot of money but also time and therefore, at the time of Wrangel’s death, in 1676, some of the rooms were still unfurnished.
Then, a disaster stroke on the western end of Riddarholmen in the early 1690s. Wrangel Palace was heavily damaged by fire. The entire roof disappeared, and the top floor was essentially destroyed.
This tragic event, together with an even bigger fire on the other side of Stockholm’s Old Town a few years later is what cost the palace its opulent façade we now only know from historical paintings. When the Tre Kronor Palace burned down in 1697, it was quickly decided that Wrangel Palace was going to be reconstructed as the temporary residence of the Royal Family for the duration of the reconstruction of the Royal Palace.
Works on Riddarholmen progressed swiftly and already in December after the fire, Karl XII’s inauguration was held in Wrangel Palace, now known as the ‘King’s House’ (Kungshuset). At this point, the new king broke traditions that had lasted for around 500 years by being coronated in Stockholm instead of Uppsala where the coronations traditionally took place.
The King’s House was also the birthplace of King Gustav III which, as will shortly become clear, later turned out to be quite paradoxical. Gustav III, who ended the Age of Liberty by seizing power in 1772, was a controversial figure already at his time. After having achieved a tough victory over the Russians in the Russo-Swedish War, the king was assassinated in the Opera House he himself built.
Now, that is not all. After the Royal Family moved in to the newly completed Royal Palace in the 1750s, one of the new tenants at Wrangel Palace became the Svea Court of Appeal (Svea Hovrätt) which is where the king’s assassin was prosecuted. He was, therefore, held in a cell and sentenced to death in the very house where his victim was born.
Since then, Svea Hovrätt has taken over the entire building and has been residing there for over 250 years. The palace itself went through a few changes in the 19th century but while some modifications to its exterior had been made, many of them were later restored so the palace now looks close to its 18th-century appearance from after the reconstruction for the Royals.
Wrangel Palace clearly has an intriguing story to tell with several distinguished individuals having resided there over the centuries. The best thing you can do though is to go and explore every piece of it on your own and try to imagine what the place must have been like back in the 1600s.
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Arvidsson, Catrine, 2004. Wrangelska palatset eller Kungshuset. [sfv.se].
SFV, 2018. Wrangelska palatset. [sfv.se].