The plague in the Gullspång river

The plague in the Gullspång river

A legend about a strict bailiff in Västergötland who in the 1430s tormented the local commoners in the cruellest way

On a small islet in the mouth of the Gullspångsälven in Amnehärad parish, Vadsbo district, Västergötland, was once the bailiff's castle Amneholm. The castle was built in the 1360s and was owned for a long time by many bailiffs, until it was burnt down in 1433 by Värmland peasants during the Engelbrecht Rebellion.

Legend has it that at that time there lived a Danish bailiff by the name of Otto Thorbjörnsson Stuth, who was particularly harsh and cruel to the surrounding peasantry, and he had a special way of punishing the peasants who were trespassing. Alfred Kämpe in the history The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens (1918) tells us:

This watercourse flows, as you know, from Skagern into Vänern, and forms the border between Västergötland and Närke. Outside its outlet into the aforementioned lake rose, at least in the past, two large stones above the surface of the water, which by popular tradition have been given the curious name: the plague. They are also called the prison or hunger stones. During the reign of Erik of Pomerania, Agneholm Castle was located nearby, and its then bailiff Otto Thorbjörnsson Stuth used the stones to plague farmers when someone refused to pay a debt or threatened to complain to the king. They were taken naked and bound to the stones, where they were left to languish in hunger and cold until death freed them.

Gullspång River
Spring tide in the Gullspång river 1900-1906, before the construction of the power plant. Photo: Lundbäck, Axel / Västergötland museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

Another source, Historical-geographical and statistical dictionary of Sweden (1859), says that the two stones "have since been named The Flame and The Prison Stone", and states that "This Stuth was nevertheless the last, who ruled at Agneholm; the castle and the fortresses were then destroyed and never rebuilt."

Georg Starbäck's 1893 historical novel Engelbrekt tells the story of a farmer and his son who were put out on the rocks until they died, as punishment for going to the king and complaining about the bailiff's cruel treatment of the commoners. A fitting line from that book may conclude this tale:

Of Edsholm and Agneholm there is no stone upon stone left, only the hunger stones in Gullspångsälfven will keep the memory of the bailiff's cruelty until late times.

Print sources

Historical-geographical and statistical dictionary of Sweden, First Volume (1859)

Kämpe, Alfred, The struggle for freedom of the Swedish Ommogens, first volume (1918), s 45.

Starbäck, Carl Georg, Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson. Historical novel. (1893)

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