A Woman to Know: Catherine Charlotte De La Gardie

But shall I censure this poor flower / Accuse a being frail as she / Whose lot's to alter by the hour / She has to be what she must be. — Hedvig Charlotte Nordenflycht

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


Catherine Charlotte is actually related to a previous woman to know, Eva Ekeblad, the woman who brought potato vodka to life. Catherine Charlotte married Eva's brother, the Count Pontus Fredrik De La Gardie. Catherine Charlotte had her own claims to fame, beyond that of her famous sister-in-law, however.

Historians credit the countess with popularizing the smallpox vaccination in her district, right around the same time as she was de-popularizing the witch hunt craze. She and her family toured with the locals to show them how the vaccine didn't hurt; on that same tour, she and her husband saw a group of "witches" preparing to be burnt at the stake by village authorities, so they called for national help and shut the whole thing down.

Another interesting connection: her friendship with the noted Swedish poet Hedvig Charlotte Nordenflycht. The two eventually fell into a love triangle with a visiting building inspector, and much of Hedvig's later work explores the agony of this strained relationship with her friend and her lover.

But so little we know of Catherine Charlotte is buried in her husband's biography, or that of her famous sister-in-law. When the witch hunt story began making its way into history books, Catherine Charlotte's name is usually only mentioned as part of her noble title.

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