Taken primarily from articles and documents translated by Thorbjörn Nilsson
Compiled by Ron Fortuna
In my research of family from the past, I have been able to trace relatives from as far back as the late 1600’s. But often these ancestors are nothing more than names. To find someone with a rich, detailed history – someone who reveals their history through real documentation and vibrant stories of the past; we must come to this man…Sven Stenander. His name and story has managed to live far beyond his years. It amazes me that we can see photos of this man born in the late 1700’s. It is nearly impossible to believe that you can see his actual handwriting and signature on documentation. One can see the very place where he spent his last moments. Furthermore, he lived a life of great drama and pathos. A poor farmer’s son, a clergyman, a soldier, a knight, a daring customs official, and a proud, cranky, old man – Sven Stenander is all of those things. His story was still being told in newspaper articles in the late 1980’s. A true legend, this is his story; and the record of some of his offspring.
Photo of Sven, probably in the late 1870’s .He is wearing a Swedish Medal for bravery, and the Russian St.George’s Cross – making him a knight of the order of St. George.
Sven was born on the 19th of December, 1791; in the small, agricultural hamlet of Stenum – near Skara. His birth name was Sven Wilhelmsson – the son of Wilhelm Persson and Brita Svensdotter, who were both farmers or farm labourers. He was, therefore, from a very poor, humble background. Yet his parents had high hopes for this boy. He showed considerable talent, initiative and a desire for learning. His father wanted him to become a clergyman. About 10km away was the cathedral town of Skara; which had a school with a good reputation for young scholars. He was accepted to study there.
Today, in the very small village of Stenum – one can see the church. This is not the church from Sven’s childhood – perhaps he visited it after it’s completion in the mid-1800’s. But inside is the remains of the old church doors from the 1600’s. This must certainly be the church doors that Sven opened as a young boy. Did the world of the church inspire the young Sven to take up his studies in theology? Opposite the church is a small humble building; the likes of which I have not seen elsewhere in Sweden. It is a small thatched roof farmer’s cottage that must date from the 1700’s. Why is it still there? Could it perhaps be the childhood home of Sven? Seeing the church every day could have inspired him to embark on a religious career. If it isn’t the actual house, then he must have certainly lived in a very similar, humble building. It is amazing that it survives today, occupied and with a living, green roof made of sod.
A unique wood and sod cottage, obviously very old. Could this be Sven’s birthplace?
Sven had to make the journey to Skara and back on foot. It was a struggle to find money for the fees, but the family thought this was a good investment. During his time at school, he took on the name Stenander (meaning someone from Stenum?). He made a lot of progress in his studies, and by the time he was in seventh class, he was permitted to preach in churches in the parish of Husaby (a nearby cathedral town – and one of the most important religious centres in Sweden). He also started to receive financial aid for his studies.
During his time at school, in the last year, he came to be the leader of the scholars who studied at Skara. He got involved in a quarrel between the scholars and the journeymen (tradesmen), and also students from the priest school. At the nearby Brogårds Pond, he nearly drowned one of the journeymen to within an inch of his life, and was thereby expelled from school for one year.
Stenum’s ‘new’ church; built in the mid 1800’s.
Inside, one can see the doors of the original church, dated 1650. It is very likely that Sven used this actual door.
View of Skara in the 1930’s.Cathedral in the background – nearby it is the famous school
This may be a view of Brogårds Pond. It is a pencil drawing from 1850. Notice that the towers of Skara Cathedral have yet to be constructed. In the search for the pond nowadays, the closest we came was a café! It could be that the pond was drained, as the area now has many buildings and a highway.
But Stenander never came back to the priesthood, for the sword of the warrior was more attractive than the sword of the spirit. As a dragoon with the Royal Västgöta regiment, he married a year thereafter the beautiful Christina Malmstedt from Kjärrtorp in the parish of Norra Lundby. He met her one midsummer eve as they danced around the Maypole in Axvall. Christina Malmstedt was the daughter of policeman Carl M. who lived at Espås. She was widowed, having been married to the reverend of Segerstad, Johan Frederick Lokrantz. Lokranz died on the 8th of May 1811; the same year as the marriage.
There was a problem with this matrimonial luck, as the order that the regiment was to go out to the war in Germany. Now Stenander had found his rightful place. He was soon promoted to under officer ,and was noticed by the highest in command of the Northern army…and that was the Crown Prince Carl Johan. The General Lieutenant Skjöldebrand got the command over the calvary. Under his leadership, Stenander took part in the skirmishes at Jüterbock, Groosbeeren, Roslau and Dessau ; and later the Battle at Leipzig (all in Germany). Later he took part in the affair of Maestricht and other skirmishes.
In these events it was obvious that he was talented. The division or company he belonged to got into a trap. The man in command became totally lost. There was another man who kept his command and understood what had to be done …that was Stenander. He took command and with a great voice he said “We have to go back! Give the order on the drum!” In that way he got the company out of the difficult situation, but unfortunately…he didn’t get the credit for it. Instead, he was sentenced to be shot for not obeying orders. The Crown Prince , on the other hand didn’t agree to this and saved his life with the command stating they would take him to Norway. He got a medal for bravery in the field, and from the Tsar Alexander of Russia (he was an ally of the Crown Prince), Stenander was awarded the knighthood of the St George’s Order, 5th Class.
Actual signature of Sergeant Stenander – 1820
The letter written by Sven detailing his war service in order to obtain his pension. As an old man, Sven had to walk all the way to Stockholm to try and secure his pension payments. Sven had beautiful handwriting, and it has been noted by his great-grandchildren that he had worked as a scribe for judges and law courts.
This is probably an early photo of Sven Stenander, perhaps from the1860’s (note distinctive sideburns and medal – but St. George’s Cross is missing).
But even working for the customs authority as a beach-rider, he was still hot-tempered. Once he followed a smuggler, and his horse stumbled – whereby Stenander injured his knee. They couldn’t chase after him anymore. But with a steady hand, he shot a bullet from his carbine rifle, which killed the smuggler. The trial about this was a very long trial, and it ended with the proclamation that Stenander, as ever, had done his duty.
After having stopped working for the customs authority service, he moved on to Västgötland again. He was a widower in 1857. In order to get his pension fund, he had to walk on foot several times to Stockholm to inform the government of his right to this benefit. It was at one such moment that he got the attention of the king at the castle. That was King Gustaf (he was very young then, and presented himself as the hope of Sweden). When Sven got to be older, he moved to his daughter’s son’s home – the farmer Frans Stenander in Ingelstorp. His children still remember the fear they had to read the Sunday reading when he was too old to do it himself. If they read well, they would get a little cash as repayment. The old man, at 90 years old was shackled to his bed. The pride of his life - his medals, were always on the table by his bed. One day the old man seemed to be more feeble than usual, and it seemed he was about to leave this life. Therefore a neighbor, the painter Tiselius, was asked to look after grandfather. Tiselius was a little too outspoken, and ridiculed the medals. He said that maybe someone else deserved them. As a result of that, he got slapped in the face. The drunken Tiselius fell to the floor and the old man fell back into bed. This powerful action seemed to revive him for a while, but some months after that he expired. And Sven died on the 2nd of January 1880. The hot blood got a bit colder, because on the day he was buried at Vättlösa cemetery the temperature was 33 degrees below zero Centigrade. Perhaps his medals were buried with him.
Sven Stenander from the Swedish War Archives
Information with regard to his medal.
Sven Stenander was a sergeant in the Västgöta infantry regiment. He took part in campaigns against Napolean in 1813 and on to Norway in the Summer of 1814. It was for the Norwegian campaign that he was awarded a silver medal for bravery. For what reason is not possible to determine. The reasons for people having these medals is hard to understand. There are no written statutes. It was the actions of the regiments that were rewarded firstly, secondly individuals were. With regards to the latter , the wounded were first and foremost the ones who received medals. Although there is no evidence, it is possible that Sven was wounded. From his CV he is noted as taking part in the battles of Tistedalen, Trönberg and Tröckstad. The Västgöta regiment took part in fierce battles, such as Tistedalen, where the Norwegians were repelled. Also at Glommen and Svannesund, the regiment pushed the Norwegians to Tunö church – and from there pushed forward against Isebro. That was the last battle the regiment participated in.
Notice that Sven is wearing the St. George’s medal in the same position as a Fourth Class recipient. This was the highest honour the Russian Tsar could bestow upon a foreigner.
1st Class worn on sash across chest, with star
2nd Class worn at neck, with star
3rd Class worn at neck, w/o star
4th Class worn as badge on chest.
From the Records of Students from the School in Skara
Sven Stenander was born in Stenum in Skaraborgs län 19th of December 1791;introduced to Skara Primary School in 1800, Gymnasium 1809 (like secondary school),volunteered at the Västgöta regiment the 15th of October 1811; he was made an officer at the same regiment – and he had a cash salary from the 29th of November , 1811. He was promoted to sergeant with administrative duties with the Livkomp company from the 20th of October 1813. By application, he had a cash salary from the major’s division at the same division from 29th July 1817. He experienced the campaign at Nygårdsängen in 1812. He experienced the march to Germany in 1813, and in 6 months (1814) he experienced the events at Grossbeeren and Tältor, at Jüerboch or Dennewitz, in Dessau and Leipzig; and skirmishes in Maastricht , Hamburg , Lübeck and the march to Norway in 1814. The quote “ Where I have made service as adjuctant with the third brigade’s hunter’s battalion and experienced the fights at Tistedahlen, Trönberg and Tröckstad ; and the skirmishes at Hafslund; the 1st of August 1814 – a silver medal for bravery in the field, the Russian Tsar’s St George’s Cross of the fifth class 19th of June 1816. Quit the army the 17th of December 1818 on his own volition, according to constitorial on the 13th of May 1819, experienced a campaign at Skåne as a regiment commissar , the Skarab regiment, accepted as armed officer with cash paid –at the first major’s division 1st of July 1819. With keeping of ‘tur’ as sergeant at the Västgötland regiment from 20th October, 1820. (Many of the military words in this were difficult to translate into English).
. The Order of St. George's distinctive ribbon -- three black stripes on an orange background -- was so familiar and carried such prestige, that Stalin borrowed it for a military decoration during World War II, despite the fact that these were the traditional colors of the Romanov family. The order came in four classes, awarded sequentially for individual acts of gallantry. The highest classes were rarely awarded.
The Order of St. George had a motto: "For Service and Valor." and was awarded for fortitude, bravery, and zealous service, as well as for the glory of Russian arms. Saint George was the patron saint and defender of Russia. The order was divided into four classes and consisted of a enameled gold cross. a four-pointed star, and a black and orange ribbon. This order could be given to officers and generals for deeds of arms, of special gallantry, such as: Personally leading troops, scoring a full victory by routing a superior enemy force. Personally leading troops, capturing a fortress. Capturing an enemy chief commander or other outstanding battle achievements
Ingelstorp farm. Behind the table is the room where Sven actually hit the mocking neighbour. He died soon afterwards.
Sven’s view in his last summer would have been like this.
Vättlösa church and cemetery. Sven Stenander was buried in the cemetery, but there is no stone that we could find.
. The red building is the priest’s house from the 1700’s, which now houses the local history society museum and collection. I found the school records of Thekla Fries and Benny Fries here, as well as a photo of the man who sailed across the Atlantic to America with Benny Fries. Sven Stenander was buried in the cemetery, but there is no stone that we could find…although we found stones for later family members including Ingelstorp farm owner Frans Stenander.
The interior of the church is below
Some Stenander family graves. There is conjecture that Sven was buried with his medals that he was so proud of.