For some time now I have searched and collected information about the Swedish fencing Master Didrik von Porat. This is what I have found out.
According to his Letter of Nobility, which he got when he was knighted, Didrik von Porat was tutored during his youth. In 1662 he travelled with a Swedish embassy to Russia. It’s unclear what kind of role he had during this trip. But after the return to Sweden he went to Germany to study the art of fencing. And he continued to France to keep studying “…for the most excellent fencing masters until he won complete perfection in this art.” During this time Didrik got several proposals from German lords to come and serve as fencing master, but since his youth, Didrik had chosen to seek his fortune in Sweden and therefore declined every offer he got.
We don’t know how long Didrik stayed in Germany and France but he must have been back around 1674 since his first son was born this year in Stockholm.
In 1677 Didrik was appointed Royal Court Fencing Master and taught the Swedish king Karl XI and later on his son prince Karl, born in 1682 and soon to be one of Swedens most famous warrior kings, in the noble art of fencing. As a tradition, Didrik von Porat was the first to place a rapier in the hand of the young prince.
To elaborate a little bit on the young prince Karl, he was brought up fast and by the age of six he was moved from his mothers care to his own quarters. There he was surrounded by his own court staff and tutors, people that prepared him for his task as future king. Among them were Didrik von Porat, teaching the prince in the use of the rapier. It seems that Karl got a very athletic upbringing, from early age he used to follow his father the King on hunting and long riding trips. He was a clever student and was taught many things; politics, theology, mathematics, as well as several languages, latin, french and german. Apparently one of his favorite subject was siege engineering.
In 1693 Didrik von Porat released his book “Palaestra Svecana, or the Noble Art of Fencing” and dedicated it to the young prince Karl. The letter of nobility tells us that Didrik von Porat “…to our gracious pleasure put up and handed over several useful projects about fencing on horse and foot.” The Palaestra Svecana however, is strictly about rapier fencing on foot. So if Didrik produced more works, perhaps fencing on horseback, it is yet to be discovered.
For his services as fencing master Didrik von Porat was knighted on April 24, 1699 and his family was introduced at the House of Nobility in 1701 as number 1381. His family weapon hangs on the right side in the great hall, in a window alcove. It is painted in blue and yellow and shows a griffon holding a sword.
By the time Didrik was introduced at the House of Nobility, Sweden had gone to war (The Great Northern War, 1700-1721). The former prince, now King Karl XII, had moved the Swedish army overseas and was fighting Sachsen-Poland and Russia. He was not to return to Sweden for many years.
For the main part of his life, Didrik von Porat and his wife Anna Kelvitius lived in“the city between the bridges”, which is Gamla Stan, the old town in Stockholm and there are several notes on him and his family in the church books here. In 1699 there is a note that Didrik put his house out for sale. The address was Skiählstugatan. That is Själagårdsgatan 5, Gamla Stan, Stockholm.
So where did he move? Well, one of his daughters was married in 1702 at Kista Gård outside Stockholm and another daughter died 1715 in the very same place. This might indicate that Didrik and his family moved to Kista Gård during his last years. Didrik von Porat died on February 15, 1703. He was buried on March 3, at Spånga cemetery, which is not very far from Kista Gård. His wife was buried beside him.
I have visited the cemetery in hope to find the grave but unfortunately it seems to be gone. The Spånga church however is quiet interesting, the oldest parts of the building are late 12th century and the ceiling and wall paintings are original from 14th and 15th century. Several old runestones from 11th century stand outside the church.
Of Didriks five sons, who all served as officers in the army, only one survived the Great Northern War. The Swedish king Karl XII who Didrik used to train, was killed on November 30, 1718, during a campaign in Fredrikshald, Norway.
Following in the footsteps of Didrik von Porat has been a real pleasure and I think the information about him going to Germany and France is very exciting. It would be interesting to see if we can find the names of these masters that taught him. And if Didrik wrote more books or at least more writings on fencing other than Palaestra Svecana we just have to try and find them as well.
Of course I can’t take credit for everything in this article. Therefore I would like to thank; The von Porat family for their immense help in gathering this information. Elisabeth Westin-Bergh, the wonderful librarian at the Royal Armories, for letting us HEMAists drag out every dusty writing we can find in the library. Fredrik Styrfält at the House of Nobility for helping me locate Didrik von Porats weapon shield among 2330 others.
I hope you found this an interesting read. Take care,
Gamla Stans Fäktskola
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