The son of a charcoal burner, Alfred Pierssen was born in 1263 in the village of Söderholm, located in central Sweden (Jämtland1) on lake Storsjön west of the present-day city of Östersund. In 1289 Alfred left the village and journeyed west; in 1291 he built his inn and changed his own name to FFred. As years passed he became acquainted with merchants from several countries.
FFred's true passion is brewing beer, and he has become known for the quality and variety of his recipes. He also hopes someday to learn to distill brännvin (a.k.a. akvavit).
Barely able to read or write, FFred has nonetheless met with occasional learned travellers and dreams of journeying to one of the great universities of the South. While itinerant musicians are generally treated with disdain at this time and place2, FFred welcomes them with open arms. Indeed, he himself has some aspirations to perform, though he tends to keep such thoughts in the closet.
FFred, who also answers to the mundane name of Mark Cederholm, is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Nonetheless, Sweden was one of the few countries in Europe to resist feudalism. Partly this was due to the sparse population, but there was also a strong tradition of individual freedom. Kings were elected by an assembly (Thing), and change was determined not so much by kings as by lawmen and magnates. Indeed, respect for the law so superceded respect for King's oath that the assembly could (and did) actually depose kings for overstepping their acceptable bounds.
Another factor was geography. Transportation over long distances was relatively simple, with routes along waterways in summer and frozen lakes and fields in winter. As a result, there were few bottlenecks for the establishment of tollhouses. Many of the coastal ports, most notably Stockholm, were entered through a maze of passages among the skerries that discouraged feudal barons.
By road, travel was often difficult, and in the sparsely settled country towns were far apart and inns were rare. Therefore ancient regulations required peasants along the routes of travel to provide hospitality and aid to travellers. Thus all forms of transportation avoided local control. Such geographic conditions led to a wide scattering (hence lack of centralization) of landholdings.
During the 13th - 15th centuries, Sweden's trade economy was utterly dominated by the Hanseatic League. German immigrant merchants often had more than fifty percent of the vote in Stockholm, and Germans paid over 50 percent of the taxes. For export of iron and copper, not to mention import of salt, Swedes relied largely upon hiring foreign vessels.
Yet among most people, barter was the predominant exchange. Taxes were paid largely in kind.
Homes in the north country were usually straight long buildings, with separate buildings for animals and for storage. Bowls and spoons and mugs were largely made of wood; there were few pieces of pottery, and metal was used only when it was essential, for such items as cooking pots and knives.
Houses of merchants and squires were larger, but still tended to be simple. Some houses were of stone, but in towns tended to be of timber and stucco. The better ceramic and metal wares were imported from Germany.
The food was not very good. Breadstuffs were common, but fish, meat, and cheese were heavily salted. The result was both unpalatability and thirst, a thirst that could be satisfied only with quantities of beer. The ordinary Swedish beer was weak and easily soured, and only the wealthy could afford the German import.
The growth of trade coupled with the scarcity of inns meant little competition as an innkeeper. The lack of good domestic beer meant little competition as a brewer. The increasing numbers of foreign (especially German) merchants meant an exchange of goods and ideas. Finally, FFred's own love of experimentation and innovation in brewing meant the production of beers that were not only superior to domestic (albeit not German) counterparts, but entirely original.
FFred was in his element.
2An actual law from the Äldre Västgötalagen (The Elder Law of the West Goths) by Eskil Magnusson, circa 1200, reads as follows:
"When a player is wounded, then shall they take a wild heifer and bring it up on top of a hill. Then some one shall shave all the hair off the tail and grease it. Then some one shall bring the player a pair of greased shoes. Then he shall take the heifer by the tail and some one shall strike hard with a sharp lash. If he is able to hold, then he shall have that good beast and enjoy it as a dog enjoys grass (that is, not have any good out of it, but do as a dog when he has eaten grass, vomit it up)." (Translation by Alfred Bergin.)
Rowling, Marjorie, Life in Medieval Times, Perigree Books, New York, New York, 1968.
Scott, Franklin D., Sweden: The Nation's History, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois, 1988.