The Royal Armoury in Stockholm, situated in a wing of the Royal Palace, is a unique museum.
And from the 14th of March until the 4th of January 2015 it shows a unique exhibition they call “Power Games” (“Maktspel” in Swedish). I went there for both the press presentation and later the official opening event, the evening of the 13th. It was a very popular and crowded gathering, and the reason is certainly the popularity of the TV series “Game of Thrones”(from G. R. R. Martin’s books) which is a part of the exhibition, and presently on Swedish TV and networks all over the world.
The Royal Palace, Stockholm (The Royal Armoury is housed in the spectacular and beautiful cellar vaults of the Palace).
During the opening we heard speeches giving the background of the exhibition. Many turned up in historical dresses (16 to 18th Century) from history societies, and they played music on old instrument and had dance shows. You could win things in a quiz, combining royal history and “Game of Thrones”.
Ahrvid the First on a fantasy Throne
At the museum entrance there’s a copy of the Iron Throne. I got myself a really nice picture sitting in it! (Pun intended.) And there was plenty of bubbly wine. Much of the evening took place in a beautiful big red-bricked hall belonging to the oldest part of the Royal Palace. An underground vault which, if I understand it correctly, was unaffected by the fire that otherwise destroyed the old Three Crowns medieval castle in 1697. The new palace was then built on the site incorporating the few parts from that was left after the fire.
In “Power games” the Armoury combines real history with fiction. We get the story of real-world power games from two existing monarchs, and can compare it to the struggles in the TV series. The monarchs from history are Elizabeth I (1533-1603) of England and Erik XIV (1533-1577) of Sweden, born the same year in the 16th Century, a period that resembles “Game of Thrones” on TV. For Queen Elisabeth the museum has borrowed the real dresses worn in the 1998 film “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth – The Golden Age” from 2007. For King Erik, they have his real clothes, garments he actually wore, for instance his purple velvet coronation cloak. King Erik’s full ceremonial body armour is rather impressive, including a highly decorated shield. For “Game of Thrones” the museum displays a number of the costumes from the TV series, with armour and arms. During the press presentation we were told that full dresses from the 16th Century are quite rare. No more than about ten exist in the world and the Royal Armoury has some of them. (There are many single trousers, shirts etc from the period, but few *complete* outfits.)
I won’t talk too much about the TV stuff, which I believe its fans already are well-acquainted with. Besides, personally I think its plot of “Game of Thrones” is rather complicated – I have problems following all twists and turns. But let me say a few words about the real monarchs. Elizabeth I, from the house of Tudor, is considered to be one of the most successful rulers in English history. Erik XIV, from the house of Vasa, is seen as a rather failed king in Swedish history. “Insane and surrounded by bad advisers, I can only pity king Erik”, as a school pupil once explained.
Elisabeth defeated the great Spanish Armada and beheaded Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. She was good at power games! Erik was less successful. While he probably was very intelligent, he was also feeble minded, raving mad at times. He personally killed the Stures, nobility who were possible competitors in the power games, and it is said he afterwards ran to the woods, being gone for several days.
He also courted Elizabeth, sending a delegation with a portrait of himself to the English court proposing marriage. When Betty said thanks, but no thanks (and she never married; it could have been interesting with a union between England and Sweden !), Erik married his mistress Karin Månsdotter instead, a commoner. This was unheard of ! In those days, royals married each other, or at least someone from higher nobility. Marriage was a part of the power game, a method to forge alliances. When King Erik took a commoner as queen everyone turned against him, including his brothers who ousted him in a coup and imprisoned him in some of the royal castles, where he later died. According to legend he was murdered by being served poisoned pea soup, but this has never been proven.
If you go to Wikipedia or other sources, there’s a lot to learn about the power struggles during the turbulent times of Elizabeth and Erik. Or you can pay a visit to the Royal Armoury, if you happen to come to Stockholm. What we learn is that events similar to the fiction of “Game of Thrones” have also taken place in real history: battles, coups, power marriages, executions, assassinations, conspiracies, ruthlessness, love and hate.
And the Royal Armoury is worth a visit also for other reasons. They have the Swedish crown jewels and the actual clothes three Swedish kings were killed in!
We can see the outfit worn by king Gustavus Adolphous as he fell in the battle of Lutzen in 1632, during the Thirty Years War in Germany. And the uniform worn by king Charles XII as he was hit by a bullet in the head, during the siege of the Fredrikshald fortress in Norway in 1718. And finally the dress worn by king Gustav III as he was assassinated during a masquerade at the Royal Opera in 1792. I wouldn’t be surprised if of the suit and coat worn by prime minister Palme, as he was murdered in 1986, later turns up on display. (It is still kept as material evidence in the totally failed police investigation.) Sweden has a long and surprising history of national leaders being killed.
If you don’t think blood-stained royal dresses are worth a look, you can also study king Gustavus Adolphous’ horse named “Streiff”, which survived the battle. It stands there. Stuffed.
The Royal Armoury’s English pages:
The press picture collection for “Power Games”:
About the stuffed Streiff:
Pics©courtesy of Ahrvid Engholm, Royal Armoury, HBO
Ahrvid Engholm is a swedish author, editor, journalist and SF fan.