“[T]he odor of money surrounds the clergy” — Clergy, Finance, and Influence in 18th-century Sweden
This paper will address the expansion of 18th-century Swedish clergy within the financial sphere and their efforts and ambitions to more closely identify themselves with the bourgeoisie, an aspect of early modern clerical activity that has too often been overlooked.
Eighteenth-century Swedish probate inventories reveal a clergy who were highly involved in economic life far beyond the confines of their local parishes. The inventories show that these clergy often made loans from their personal incomes, both small sums to parishioners from more modest economic circumstances than their own, as well as more substantial amounts to a variety of social elites. It was not uncommon that a significant portion of the assets listed in the final reckoning of an estate was made up of outstanding debts owed to the clergyman by a wide range of borrowers. The loans given to those of higher social standing, in particular, were an important part of the clergy’s working within and maintaining networks of influence that frequently went outside the boundaries of their parishes.
A good example of a clergyman acting in this manner is Olof (or Olaus) Bergman, who was ordained in 1729 to be a private chaplain to Elsa Sparre, the widow of nobleman Gabriel Oxenstierna av Croneborg. The bulk of his career was spent as rector at Bollnäs, a regally-appointed position in a wealthy and influential parish. Bergman held this position from 1741 until his death in 1761, and the probate inventory drawn up for his estate in 1762 shows a substantial final value of 369.308 d.kmt. Of this sum, approximately half was outstanding debts owed to him by diverse individuals.
Bergman used his service as a private chaplain as a stepping-stone to a lucrative career within the church. Preliminary research indicates that the rectory was quite large and impressive, with Bergman also being actively engaged in improving the church and church property, even donating substantial sums from his private money to make improvements. This is convincing evidence of attempts of clergy to imitate their social betters.
The primary source material for this research is probate inventories of eighteenth-century Swedish clergymen, but I also make significant use of herdaminnen, or detailed collections of biographical information for Swedish clergy from medieval times to the present. Further, church records such as inspection protocols and church council reports will be used to add detail and nuance to my analysis.