History Stories

The 17th-century orb and two crowns were once the property of Karl IX of Sweden.

It’s a scene worthy of any Nordic Noir: On a quiet Tuesday morning this week, thieves made off with a selection of Swedish crown jewels, housed in an ancient cathedral—then made their getaway on bicycles and a speedboat.

Strängnäs is a small town west of the country’s capital. It’s home to around 13,00 people, a colorful history dating back to Viking times, and a 14th-century stone cathedral. It was here, by the banks of Lake Mälaren, that a selection of Sweden’s priceless crown jewels had been put on public display in a glass box.

Around midday, thieves took an orb and two priceless crowns from the display, while a lunch fair was going on nearby. Alarms sounded as they smashed the glass, but before they could be apprehended, they made off with their treasures on stolen women’s bikes, police said in a statement, before continuing their escape by water. “So if you find a wrecked watercraft along the Mälaren’s coast somewhere,” police spokesperson Stefan Dangart said, in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, “we’d love to hear about it.”

It’s not clear what the thieves hope to do with the goods. An international inquiry is underway, via Interpol, and it would be virtually impossible to sell them off in any legitimate market, police said. The 17th-century crowns are very distinctive, with intricate jeweling and heavy velvet drapery. They were once the property of Karl IX of Sweden, and his wife, Queen Christina, who died in 1611 and 1625. Though they were insured, they are irreplaceable for their cultural value, church dean Christofer Lundgren said. “These are items that are completely unique, well-known … in Sweden and probably even internationally.”

Karl IX and Kristina of Sweden. (Credit: The National Museum of Fine Arts, Stockholm)

Karl IX and Kristina of Sweden. (Credit: The National Museum of Fine Arts, Stockholm)

Speaking to Aftonbladet, police wondered whether the heist had been carefully organized. “It’s just speculation, but it seems more like a planned deed than spur-of-the-moment,” said police spokesperson Maria Ellior. She said that she preferred not to speculate as to whether they might destroy the crowns and sell the gold—”but everything is possible.”

The thieves face up to six years jail time for the thefts, but there are currently no suspects. “It’s 1-0 to them right now,” police spokesperson Thomas Agnevik told Swedish media. “It is not possible to put an economic value on this, it is invaluable items of national interest.”

It’s not the first time Sweden’s crown jewels have caught the eye of thieves. As recently as 2012, a friend of the royal family was convicted of squirreling away more than $120,000 worth of royal jewels, which he had taken from the private apartment of Princess Christina. He sold most of his takings for less than $1,500 to two marijuana dealers and, panicked, threw a priceless tiara off a Stockholm bridge into the water below.

More recent jewel heists internationally have set their targets still higher. A few months ago, French authorities recovered around $5 million worth of stolen jewels, taken in broad daylight from a luxury hotel. Even more spectacularly, in 2013, $50 million worth of diamonds were stolen at Brussels Airport. Though suspects have been arrested, the jewels are yet to materialize.

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