Jacob Anckarstrom and the dungeon cafe

I told the restrauntier I’d be back.

It took 16 months.

Better late than never though.

Located in the old town of Gamla Stan, Cafe Sten Sture’s selling point is not the quality or cost of food but its location and history. Unlike its more touristy neighbours sitting at the Stortorget, this cafe is located in a dungeon, hidden from plain sight except for a sign.

This wasn’t a themed cafe, built to look like a dungeon. This was a real dungeon turned into a cafe and some of the most notorious of Swedish criminals were housed in this place, the best known would perhaps be Jacob Johan Anckarström. There was nothing to suggest that Anckarström would end up becoming one of the most notorious criminals in Swedish history. He was or noble birth, in a family whose ambitions were to serve and climb within the royal structure as servants of the king. The king whose court he served under, Gustav III, was one of the most powerful one in recent history having dis-powered the nobility and returned Sweden to an autocracy under himself.

Jacob joined the royal court in the tradition of his family, and began as a page followed by a promotion to the role of captain, things were going swimmingly. His career was progressing well.

Then everything changed.

While on travels to Gotland, he was accused of slandering the king and tried on the island, receiving cruel treatment and a public flogging.

The public humiliation left a scar deeper than the physical one left by the whip. Anckarström never forgot the slight and his dislike for the monarch grew. More fuel was added with the revolutionary movement throughout all of Europe and Gustav III’s move to further remove the power of the nobles in Sweden. He wanted full control – a highly praised Freedom of the Press act was effectively destroyed by several amendments.

This may have seemed like a unilaterally bad outcome, but it wasn’t. To many Swedes what Gustav III did was right. Sweden had only just emerged from the losing Northern War and Gustav III came to power at a time of Swedish weakness. The fractious nobles had left the country in a horrible state and autocracy was rather welcomed. While he regined in the freedom of the press, Gustav III also legalised the presence of Jews and Catholics in the country and also wide ranging economic liberalism and social reform.

The more Gustav emasculated the nobles the more their resentment of him grew. Things came to a head in 1789 when the French Revolution broke out and Gustav aligned himself with the despised Louise XVIII to try and restore the latter to the French throne.

It was then that the aggressive, angry Jacob resolved to kill the king.

After a few attempts one succeeded, by with assasinations, you really only need one attempt to succeed.

1792, March 16th was the day it would succeed. Gustav III was off to spend an enjoyable day at the Haga Palace (where the Hagaparken now is). There was a fancy masquerade ba going to happen there, he cut his steak excitedly while thinking of the fun to come.

A page ran into the room, “Your Majesty, a letter for you.”

(reading the letter aloud) “your life will be in danger…. Hah! Another fool and another foolish threat. Throw it away Sven and don’t waste my time with these letters again… Come shall we go to the masquerade.”

They picked up and left the dinning room towards the masquerade dance hall.

There was a crowd already at the party, he was late.

He had varely made his way towards the party when a cold voice whispered at him, “Bonjour, beau masqueand then agily moved behind him.


The res was a blur. Gustav heard a bang and recalled screaming out loud before being rushed back to his room.

He had been wounded, but not killed instantly, a pain worse than death. Was this what the assailant had intended? He now lay in bed groaning in pain.

“What happened Carl?”

“My king, an assasin had infiltrated the masquerade ball and shot you in the back. We found the weapon and have managed to trace from the gunsmiths nearby whose it was.”


“Jacob Anckarström.”

“The fool! I was nice enough to let him go after his slandering and he repays my kindness with murder what…” Gustav could not finish his sentence as he choked out blood.

“My lord please calm down. We have him in the dungeon already. We will give him what he deserves. You must rest though”

Appeased Gustav fell back on his bed, the air outside his room was punctured with nightly groans. Soldiers spoke of seeing the white lady walking around the grounds. Maybe his majesty did not have long left.

Gustav died from his wounds on 29th March, 2 weeks after the assassination attempt.

Anckarström sat in his dungeon waiting his fate. Today was different though, there was a lot more movement in the dungeon. Something had changed, Gustav must be dead.

His joy was unconstrained. The tyrant had died, he had saved the people. He was a martyr but he was martyred for a just cause against an unjust king. A despot who would flog his loyal servant over rumours… These sort of dogs deserved no place as kings.
Anckarström was scheduled to die on 27th April. He had previously endured three days of public flogging. His hand would be severed, his head removed and his body quarter. He would die with no body.

The public flogging of Jacob Johan Anckarström (Source)

The attempt at humiliation however failed. He greeted the pillory like an old friend. Unlike his first public flogging this time around the public flogging was a celebration of his accomplishments.

There we sat in the very cell Anckarström was housed in. In place of dark walls were tables and comfortable corners, cute looking lights at the ceiling. The grills were removed and the cell felt move like an alcove than a gaol.

I wonder what he would have thought of his dungeon cell if he say it today.



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