Gripsholm Castle is situated in the small town of Mariefred in Södermanland, on the shores of Lake Mälaren. The place gets its name from one of the personalities of medieval Sweden, Bo Jonsson Grip, by whom the first Castle was built in the second half of the 14th century. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the Castle was donated to a Cartesian Monastery founded in Pacis Mariae - the Latin name for Mariefred.
The monastery was sequestrated by the State at the Reformation, and the Castle began to be built in 1537 under the direction of the master-builder Henrik von Köllen. This was Gustav Vasa's project, as part of a new system of national defences. The Castle was also intended as a fitting residence for a Renaissance ruler - Gustav Vasa. The large Hall of State with its painted roof and its full-length portraits of Gustav Vasa and contemporary crowned heads of Europe conveys, although many times restored, a good picture of the original Gripsholm scene. The most famous of the 16th century apartments is Duke Karl's Chamber, which is one of the best-preserved interiors of the period anywhere in Sweden.
During the 17th century (known in Sweden as the "Great Power Period"), Gripsholm was used as a dower (widow's property for life) by Queens Maria Eleonora (widow of Gustav II Adolf) and Hedvig Eleonora (widow of Karl X). Hedvig Eleonora made considerable changes and additions, among them the Queen's Wing.
The reign of Gustav III in the late 18th century marked a new period of brilliance in the Castle's history. It was at this time that the exquisite theatre was fitted out in one of the round Renaissance towers of the Castle. This is one of the best-preserved 18th century theatres in Europe. The same period also produced Gustav III's Round Drawing Room, a counterpart to Gustav Vasa's Hall of State. In the Round Drawing Room the visitor can see portraits of Gustav III and his royal contemporaries. During the 19th century, Gripsholm evoked strong national sentiments and the Castle came to be regarded as a national monument. Furniture and art objects of great historic importance were transferred from the various royal residences to Gripsholm to reinforce its national character. A much-debated restoration of the Castle took place at the end of the 19th century. Critics described it as an attempt to make the Castle even older than it was.
Gripsholm today is a sampler of Swedish interior design from the 16th to the late 19th century, a unique collection of furniture and decorative arts from 400 years. The Castle is internationally known for its outstanding collection of portraits - the Swedish national collection - featuring prominent Swedes from the days of Gustav Vasa down to the present. Each year, the Gripsholm Association commissions "portraits of honour" of eminent Swedes for the Gripsholm collection.