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Helga de la Brache

Helga de la Brache
Born Aurora Florentina Magnusson
September 6, 1817(1817-09-06)
Died January 11, 1885(1885-01-11) (aged 67)
Nationality Sweden
Occupation con artist
Known for supposed secret royalty

Helga de la Brache, née Aurora Florentina Magnusson, (1817-09-06, Stockholm – 1885-01-11, Stockholm), was a Swedish con artist. She attained a royal pension by convincing the authorities that she was the secret daughter of King Gustav IV of Sweden and Queen Frederica of Baden.

The Fraud

The exiled Gustav IV and Frederica of Baden had divorced in 1812, but Helga de la Brache claimed that they had married again, secretly, "in a convent in Germany", which resulted in her birth in Lausanne in 1820. She was later sent to be raised by her alleged father's aunt, Princess Sophia Albertine of Sweden. When the Princess died in 1829, she was taken to the Vadstena asylum, so that the secret of her birth would be concealed as she would be thought to be insane. She was saved in 1834 and taken to her family in Baden, where she was placed under house arrest. In 1837, upon seeing the news of her father's death in the paper, she forgot to hide her grief. She returned to Sweden, were she was again put in an asylum to prevent the secret of her birth to be revealed. She managed to escape from the asylum, and was taken under the care of charitable people, who supported her despite persecution, and soon, she was given a pension of 6,000 § from her mother's family in Germany. In 1850, the pension had ceased coming, and she was unable to continue the standard of life to which she of birth had been accustomed - and she was also forced to support her many faithful friends, who stood by her during her years of persecution: No smaller pension than 5,000 or 6,000 would be sufficient.

Her story was believed by many private people in Sweden and Finland; followed by her faithful companion, who was an educated and cultivated woman who supported her story, de la Brache performed with a simplicity and naivete which made people unable to think she was cunning enough to have made it all up, and sensible enough for people to think that she did not believe it because she was mad. Eventually, even the skeptics had to admit that the story was at least theoretically possible. She received great financial support from private benefactors. She convinced the minister of justice, Nils von Koch, the parliamentary Anders Uhr and the royal court chaplain Carl Norrby, but was seen as a fraud by Prime minister Louis De Geer and foreign minister Ludvig Manderström. The queen mother Josefina took an interest in her. The king did not take much interest but wanted to get the whole affair over and done with.

In March 1861, the king allowed her an annual pension from the foreign department of 2,400 Swedish riksdaler a year, (the amount, from the beginning 1.200, was made larger in December 1869). He also promised to get her the furniture of a princess. She managed to continue this for years.

In 1870, however, an article in a newspaper by C. Norrby, one of her benefactors, appeared, resulting in an investigation.

The Real Story

In 1876–77, it was proved that she was born in Stockholm as Aurora Florentina Magnusson to the custom caretaker Anders Magnusson (died 1826). In 1835, she was a maid to a book-keeper named Hedman, where the family said that she always had the mind to "rise above her status". In 1838, she was employed by a wealthy family, whose daughter became deeply devoted to her, dressed her in elegant clothes and left her family for her; it was she who later became her companion and accomplice in the fraud.

When the two women moved to Finland in 1844, Aurora Florentina had the name de la Brache on her passport, and when she came back to Sweden in 1845, she changed her name to Anna Florentina de la Brache. She managed to have her name changed from her birth certificate to Helga. The two women can be traced to have moved around from one city to another in both Sweden and Finland - Helga was often supported by her friend, who worked as a teacher; in 1846 they were in Turku, in 1848 in Örebro, in 1857–59 in Sala, where they tried to start a fashion shop, before they arrived in Stockholm in the 1860s to commence their fraud.

The trial in 1876–77 draw much attention both from the public and the royal family and was much reported in the papers. It led to the loss of the pension of Helga/Florentina. "Princess Helga de la Brache" spent her last years in an apartment in Klara norra with her companion, seemingly paid for by a supporter. The two women lived a quiet life, walked in the park and ordered home food and rarely talked to other people, although Helga was described as a nice old woman. In 1884, however, the two women were observed in the gardens of Drottningholm Palace by King Oscar II, who ordered them to be escorted from the park. Soon after, they moved from their apartment to another one in Djurgården, because they were afraid that they were going to be arrested. She died in Djurgården 1885.

In 1909, the politician Per August Johansson tried to clear her name, but the process led to nothing.

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