Gripsholm Castle



By Hayat Elsamoudi

The Castle’s Site

The coming of the Renaissance and the acceptance of the protestant religion in Sweden in the 16th century brought architectural changes imported from Italy via Belgium and Holland.

Surrounded by the shores of Lake Mälaren, Gripsholm Castle towers above the town of Mariefred in Södermanland.

Gripsholm is known as the castle of the famous king, Gustav Vasa. However, there was already a stronghold here in the 14th century, built by seneschal (noble steward) of the realm, Bo Jonsson Grip. During the late middle ages, the castle was donated to a Carthusian monastery founded in Mariefred. At the time of the reformation, the monastery became state property, and in 1537, construction began on the current castle, under the direction of a builder known as Henrik Von Köllen. It is then that the castle became not only a national defense structure but also an official residence of King Gustav Vasa.

This analysis discusses the importance of Gripsholm Castle. It depicts how the Renaissance reached Sweden and played a role in shaping its cultural history, and, finally, it analyzes Gripsholm Castle’s significance through the construction timeline.

Mariefred, a town with a royal history, was founded in the 14th century, the name Mariefred means “Maria’s Peace” or Pax Mariae like the monastery that gave the town its name. Throughout history, kings and noblemen built their castles in areas such as Mariefred due to the region’s fertility.

Mariefred is located by Mälaren,the third largest lake in Sweden, which flows all the way to Stockholm and is connected with the Baltic Sea through canals and channels. It has more than 1,200 islets, with a total area of 189 square miles. The waters protect the castle from attacks. It act as a defense mechanism. 

The lake also helps irrigate the landscape as well as embellish it. Since Sweden has many islands surrounding its mainland, kings and noblemen utilize them to display their wealth, power, and significance through the designing and building of grandiose castles and gardens. 

Key Players

Four major individuals shaped Sweden throughout the Renaissance period due to their position and power.

Bo Jonsson Grip (1330-1386)

Bo Jonsson (1330-1386) was head of the royal council and marshal under the regency of Magnus IV of Sweden. He dominated the political life of Sweden and Finland. He controlled many fortresses, Kalmar Castle and Nyköping Castle, as well as Gripsholm, which was built under his direction.

Gustav Vasa (1523-1560)

Gustav Vasa (1523-1560) seized the land and built a fortification with circular corner towers and a defensive wall. Gripsholm was built primarily for military purposes, but after its completion it became one of the official royal residences of the Swedish Monarchy.

Erik XIV (1560–1568)

Erik XIV (1560–1568) held his brother Johan prisoner in Gripsholm. A few years later, Erik himself was held prisoner here together with his wife Karin Månsdotter. Eric XIV was deposed by Johan, so that Gripsholm Castle came to serve as prison for both Erik and Johan.

Hedwig Eleonora (1636-1715)

Hedwig Eleonora (1636-1715) was given Gripsholm as a dower by Queens Maria Eleonora (widow of Gustav II) and Hedvig Eleonora (widow of Karl X). Hedvig Eleonora made considerable interior changes and additions based on Renaissance tastes, including the queen’s wing.


Gripsholm Castle still stands as a fortress, a means of protection, for it was first built as a medieval fort. Yet, through time, it has been modified to fit many styles and employing different construction materials, methods, and techniques.

The Castle’s Exterior

Gripsholm Castle was built during the medieval period but later reconstructed to become a Renaissance-style building. The main material used for the castle is brick, popular in Northern Europe after its use during the Romanesque and Gothic periods. 

The Renaissance reached Sweden with a delay, leading  to the adoption of Renaissance elements into brick. Then the domes and roof were covered with metal, mainly copper, for it was  durable, corrosion-resistant, and able to form complex shapes. Copper roofs can last up to 100 years, which makes it far more durable than most other roofing choices. In fact, Stockholm is a city close to lake and sea, where many copper roofs can be seen, especially in the Old Town. Most of these roofs have a green tint due to oxidization. The tradition of using copper tiles for roofs is at least 400 years-old and is related to the copper production in Sweden at Stora Kopparberget. When Stockholm grew and became a more continental city during the 17th century, the great power-age of Sweden, a lot of new palaces and other stone houses were built and fitted with copper roofs as well. 

The Castle’s Interior

The Duke Charles’ Chamber is the most famous 16th century room in the castle, and one of Sweden’s best preserved interiors from the period. During the time of Duke Charles, later King Charles IX, the castle was extensively renovated and extended and that included the construction of a new royal floor with a royal salon, Charles IX’s Royal Wing, and Duke Charles’ Chamber, which has been preserved in its original form and is still untouched to this day with its elaborate ornamented details.

In the time when the widow queen, Hedvig Eleonora, had Gripsholm castle as a fief (land grants), new construction works were carried out, including what is known as the queen’s wing in the 1690s. The interior is quite big, with many rooms and corridors, furnished in the 16th to the 19th century styles. Gripsholm castle is also home to the national portrait gallery, one of the oldest and largest portrait collections in the world. The gallery held about 4000 works. the current collection has over 4500 portraits of not only kings and queens, but also of prominent Swedish personalities.

Structural Analysis

Gripsholm castle regardless of its massing remains a balanced building with a repeated rhythm in structure through its columns and domes.


The plan of the castle shows the irregularities in construction, which belongs to the middle ages. However there is a sense of balance regarding the three cylindrical towers. The towers stand as a symbol to command and defend strategic points with reduced forces and to emphasize a noble residence as well. The towers are composed of a dome- vaulted arch- structure resting upon a rotunda that is then supported by columns that transition to the dome as both structural or decorative elements set against the wall in the form of pilasters to define spaces.

The structure creates a sense of order to the castle from the exterior as well as the interior. It gives a hierarchical significance to the spaces created within the towers which then anchors the castle to its site. the structure of the castle creates the balance needed for Gripsholm to break from the irregularity of its overall form.  

Equal rhythm exist within the round section of the castle
The hierarchical space is defined with symmetry
The interior rhythm is then reflected on the exterior
The rhythm then creates a sense of balance and symmetry

So What?

Gripsholm stands as a significant building in the history of Sweden. It was the first step towards capturing the essence of the renaissance style and remains the first step to Sweden’s journey through rebirth and renewal.

Gripsholm Castle is a significant building in Sweden. It is considered as the most renaissance looking building in the country. Even though it doesn’t portray the exact image of what a renaissance building looked like during 14th century through the 17th century, it stands as one in Northern Europe. This depicts the influence of so many factors like religion, politics, exploration, and war. Gripsholm Castle is important because it shows the transition of architectural style that traveled across Europe and more. It depicts the renaissance style as a style that molds according to culture and site, it depicts the fluidity ideas changing and evolving to match local cultural thinking and conditions, although always remaining true to its ideals.  

Given the fact Gripsholm was first a medieval castle, a sense of rigidness and security exists when in Italy renaissance was seen as a classical antiquity of symmetry, proportion, geometry, and harmony. Gripsholm depicts this balance in its four round towers placed symmetrical around a hexagonal volume. these round towers are the most significant feature in Gripsolm Castle showcasing genera, taxis, and symmetry. These features are reflected within the castle through columns, materials, ornamentation, and art. 


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