Isabella Spens was the daughter of Sir James Spens and Agnes Durie, one of three sisters from that marriage. Born in St Andrews, she later travelled to Sweden and Germany. She married Sir James Ramsay, the Swedish officer known as ‘Black Ramsay’ in 1627, a man who would go on to become a major-general in Swedish service. In April 1632 Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna requested that the Swedish commissioner-general, Sigismund Heusner von Wandersleben, should supply Ramsay with travel funds to allow Isabella to go to Mecklenburg. Her travel pass stated that she was actually going from Wurtzburg to Stettin with her servants. Ramsay opted to defend a position in Germany deep inside enemy territory (Hanau), and it was perhaps due to this that he send Isobel first to the Baltic port, and ultimately home to St Andrews in Scotland.
Perhaps given his fraught situation, Ramsay used his will to positively urge Isobel to remarry another husband from an established family for the sake of their child. For whatever reason, after his death in Imperial captivity in 1638, she chose not to take another husband. What she did do was petition the Swedish Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, for reimbursement for James Ramsay’s long and loyal service (and ultimate death as Governor of Hanau). She was initially more-or-less dismissed. Her husband was dead and she was far from the Swedish realm. Moreover, it was claimed that any lands he held were now overrun. Isobel knew that Ramsay had anticipated this and provision had been included for land of like value elsewhere in Swedish territory. What she did next was therefore quite audacious. In order to enforce her claim to Ramsay’s lands Isobel relocated from her residence in St Andrews to Sweden sometime in the mid-1640s. With her being physically present in the real, her claim was harder to ignore, particularly given her influential extended family still residing there, including her brother Colonel Willian Spens of Orreholm, and her formidable step-mother, Margaret Forrat. Her move quickly yielded results. In 1647 her son David Ramsay was given various farms in Sweden under the condition that Isobel should hold the estates in her possession until her death. (Interesting reference given that some sources hold she dies in 1646. Clearly alive in 1647). She lived out her life on the estates she had gained through her audacious journey in widowhood, never remarrying and in so doing gaining estates for both herself and her son David who was thereafter elevated to a colonelcy in the Swedish army.
Correspondence regarding her husband (she writing as a widow, and before her husband’s death) can be found in Riksarkivets ämnessamlingar. Personhistoria https://sok.riksarkivet.se/bildvisning/A0070071_00189#?c=&m=&s=&cv=188&xywh=2245%2C2701%2C3444%2C1986
A document discussing her creditors, including Elisabeth Clerk [SSNE 2836], was composed by Clerk’s son Johan Drummond [SSNE 2410]. It mentions the roles of Hugo Hamilton [SSNE 2582] and Robert Douglas [SSNE 2378] in being her executors: Riksarkivets ämnessamlingar. Personhistoria https://sok.riksarkivet.se/bildvisning/A0069580_00168#?c=&m=&s=&cv=167&xywh=83%2C-2214%2C9154%2C5279
National Archives of Scotland, CC8/8/68. Will of Dame Issobell Spence ‘relict of Sir James Ramsay, general major under the Crown of Sweden’, 15 April 1656; Riksarkivet, Stockholm. Oxenstiernassamlingen E692. Several letters from Isabella Spens: Rikskansleren Axel Oxenstiernas skrifter och brefvexling, VII, pp.252, 801; Sir James Balfour Paul and R. Douglas, The Scots Peerage, (9 vols., 1904-1914), vol. iii, iv, and ix; Svenska Adelns Ättartavlor, vol. 7, p.429; F. Rudelius, Kalmar Regementes Personhistoria 1623-1927 (2 vols., Norköping, 1952) I, p.42; T. Riis, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot (Odense, 1988), II, p.72; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), p.287.
This article was co-authored by Kathrin Zickermann and Steve Murdoch
- SWEDEN, STETTIN (Szczecin)
- Arrived 1633-01-01
- Departed 1636-12-31
- Purpose MISC.
- SWEDEN, ÄLGHULT
- Arrived 1644-01-01
- Departed 1656-04-15
- Purpose LANDOWNER, ESTATE MANAGER, FARMER