La Petite Struensee: The Story of a Bastard Princess

Louise Augusta. 1784. Jens Juel.

Louise Augusta. 1784. Jens Juel.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll remember this face. This is Louise Augusta, daughter of queen Caroline Mathilde but not of king Christian VII. No, Louise Augusta (named for her maternal grandmother, Augusta, Princess of Wales but also for the king’s mother, queen Louise of England. Note that she was from England, but not of England. It gets confusing, I know.)

Since posting about her mother all that while ago, I keep getting people who find my blog after googling who this Louise Augusta was and I’ve mentioned her in passing before, in my post about Jens Juel and also in my post about the Danish crown jewels in which I mentioned her daughter, queen Caroline Amalie of Denmark.

But enough about posts of years past. I felt that it was time for Louise Augusta to be featured in a post of her own, and very overdue it is.

Louise Augusta, or la Petite Struensee as she was cruelly dubbed by the Danish court, because of her mother’s indiscreet affair with the royal physician, Johann Friederich Struensee, was born on the 7th of July, 1771. She was only roundabout a year old when her mother was forced to leave Denmark, and to give up her crown and children. Louise Augusta had been officially recognised by Christian as his daughter, but although no DNA test has been performed posthumously there is little doubt that Louise Augusta was not his biological child.

Louise Augusta, 1771 by H.P. Sturz. Part of the collections at Rosenborg Castle.

Louise Augusta, 1771 by H.P. Sturz. Part of the collections at Rosenborg Castle.

Louise Augusta, by W. Heuer, 1827. The Royal Library of Denmark.

Louise Augusta, by W. Heuer, 1827. The Royal Library of Denmark.

Louise Augusta and her brother, Frederik (later the VI of Denmark) were raised by the dowager queen Juliane Marie, in as formal and stilted a manner as one could expect from a royal court in the 18th century. The way they were raised was sure to have been a far cry from the free and untroubled childhood their mother famously wanted for them, and sought to implement as best she was able. Nonetheless, if any child suffered from it, it is more likely to be Frederik than Louise Augusta who grew up to never fall ill in body, but who’d inherited a smattering of the mental illnesses that had also plagued his father.

Frederik VI, probably Jens Juel.

Frederik VI, probably by Jens Juel.

Louise Augusta by all accounts grew up in much the same expectations as any other European princess of the time. Although, the source of her birth was well-known in the Danish court, and one assumes also abroad due to the nature of her mother’s disgraceful departure from the court, she was not discriminated against in her upbringining and all formal courtesy was extended to her by the court. I personally wonder whether Juliane Marie was all that fond of her, as she held an obvious hatred for Caroline Mathilde and Louise Augusta was a bastard child.

Louise Augusta and Frederik grew up close, probably by virtue of both feeling like outsiders in a court ruled by Juliane Marie and her conservative noblemen, and by virtue of their strange family history. They remained close throughout their childhood, adolence and adulthood. At one point, it is reported that Juliane Marie tried to seperate the two, by way of sending off Louise Augusta to be educated elsewhere, but Frederik, who had a famous temper, interfered and seems, trumped the dowager queen’s influence.

Both Louise Augusta and her brother grew up to feel a good deal of resentment at Juliane Marie, and this was only exacerbated as they grew old enough to learn, through court gossip, the true nature of their mother’s departure and in the case of Louise Augusta, the death of her true father. As Christian VII was, due to the nature of his mental illness, unable to parent the two, they both must have grown up feeling very much like orphans with only each other to cling to.

Princess Louise Augusta. 1780. Jens Juel.

Louise Augusta. 1780. Jens Juel.

As Louise Augusta, who was much less shy than her older brother and sweeter in temper too, grew older, she became the natural centre of the young people at court,  and the above portrait is an example of the ways she stirred up the older establishment at court. Out of France and due to the influence of Marie Antoinette the chemise a la reine had come. This style of dress was much softer and less formal than other dresses worn at court, and it was also worn without panniers (the wide hoops that hold out the dress at the hips) thought by some to be incredibly indecent. But Louise Augusta would be painted in this new style and upon the first unveiling of the portrait above, the older ladies of court, Juliane Marie amongst them nearly fainted. The shape of the princess’s legs could be spotted through the fabric of the gown! Either Juel would paint over a respectable amount of fabric to obscure this shape, or the portrait was scrapped. Louise Augusta bowed to their will and the portrait became as we know it now. I love it, personally, not least of all because of her victorious expression and proud posture.

When Louise Augusta turned 15 she had reached the marriagable age of the day for royal women, and by the urging of her brother she became engaged to the 23-year old duke Frederik Christian of Augustenborg. The two were married in 1786. Augustenborg today is about as far south you can get in Denmark before you’re in Germany, but back then the border was further south and the Northern German duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were also in Danish possession. All the same, Louise Augusta must have felt herself exiled, so far from Copenhagen, the court, where she had grown into a favourable position, and her brother, married to a man for whom she felt little.

The marriage was strategically and dynastically important, as it would merge the old line of the Oldenburgs (currently on the throne in Christian VII) and the new Augustenborg royal family. If Louise Augusta married Frederik Christian, it would solve any future issues over the throne and possibly even prevent civil war, should it have come to that.

Duke Frederik Christian, 1790s. Anton Graff. From the collections at Frederiksborg Castle.

Duke Frederik Christian, 1790s. Anton Graff. From the collections at Frederiksborg Castle.

The marriage between Louise Augusta and Frederik Christian was unevenly matched from the beginning. Louise Augusta had grown into her role as the female centre of the Copenhagen court and enjoyed such trivial pursuits as dancing and merrymaking with her friends, apparently possessing no deep interest for anything serious. Rather, she was full of joy at life and a natural extrovert, blessed with the ability to make those around her love her.

Frederik Christian by contrast was a small man and deeply interested in philosophy and pedagogy, shutting himself away to study for hours at a time, leaving his wife to amuse herself. He had ambitions to become involved in the politics of the new governmental coalition forming around his brother-in-law Frederik. Louise Augusta cared for few things less than she did for politics, although she must be said to have lived politics her whole life.

Perhaps coming to a marital compromise, the couple would summer at the duke’s castle in Augustenborg, where they invited the artists of the day, and winter in Copenhagen, where they would spend their time with the aristocratic centre of power.

by Jens Juel, 1790s. Private collection.

by Jens Juel, 1790s. Private collection.

by Jens Juel, ca. 1800. In a private collection.

When the French Revolution broke loose in 1789, Louise Augusta initally bid it welcome and as one of few aristocrats in Europe remained in sympathetic faith with the French until long into the Terror, which put her at a decidedly un-English perspective. If you’ve ever read “Desirée” by Anne-Marie Selinko you might recall a scene in which Desirée and Jean-Baptiste are travelling to Sweden to take up the Swedish throne. They are invited to dine at the king of Denmark’s palace (by then Frederik, Louise’s brother had become king) and they end up discussing the war in Europe. At the end of the discussion (which I can’t quote here because my books are all packed away) Desirée concludes that Frederik’s pre-French sentiments have less to do with politics and more to do with his anger at his English mother.

I’m not certain I agree with the viewpoint, but I find it very interesting, that Louise Augusta and Frederik should feel so betrayed by their mother’s passing they would carry it with them all their lives, basing political opinion on it.

Louise Augusta and Frederik Christian remained childless for ten years, but finally in 1796 Louise Augusta gave birth to her daughter Caroline Amalie, defiantly named for her disgraced mother. Two and four years later, Louise Augusta had sons, Christian August and Frederik Emil August. The gossips of the day attributed the fatherhood of the children to doctor Carl Ferdinand Saudacini, in a cruel play on Louise Augusta’s own paternity, but it is not known whether it is true. He had been asked to cure Louise Augusta’s infertility and though I shudder at the thought of the fertility treatmeants of the late 18th century, he certainly suceeded whether by personal involvement or through more natural causes.

Louise Augusta and duke Frederik were more attentive parents than Juliane Marie ever was to Louise and her brother. Especially Frederik offered up much of his time to their care and took personal care that their education was up to par.

Unknown artist, after the style of Jens Juel. ca 1790.

Unknown artist, after the style of Jens Juel. ca 1790.

As the years progressed, and Louise Augusta’s brother became king, the distance between the two brothers-in-law increased as they grew to disagree about many political issues, especially the question concerning the German duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Frederik Christian forced Louise Augusta to give up her winter home in Copenhagen as Louise Augusta consequently took her brother’s side in their quarrels, even acting as his spy against her husband. In 1810 Louise Augusta began working to stop her husband in his bid to become king of Sweden (as I let slip above it later went to French general Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte) again at the urging of her brother. This was too much to take for Frederik Christian who in return sought ought to change his testament so that Louise Augusta would find her powers of the futures of their children mightily increased. Caroline Amalie remained on the side of her mother, eventually going on to become queen of Denmark (though not through a marriage with any child of her uncle, but her uncle’s cousin, later Christian VIII). Louise Augusta’s sons, however, grew apart from her. The elder, Christian August, became the key player in the Question of Schleswig-Holstein. In the words of Lord Palmerston, a contemporary English diplomat:

Only three people…have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.

I don’t care either, nor do I understand it so I won’t be summarising it here.

Louise Augusta in Turkish dress, by Jens Juel. 1780s.

Louise Augusta in Turkish dress, by Jens Juel. 1780s.

However, Frederik Christian’s triumph over Louise Augusta was short-lived, as he went on to die in 1814 whereafter Louise Augusta took over the running of Augustenborg as well as the education of their children. In 1820, as he reached his maturity, Christian August inherited the title of Duke and the estate at Augustenborg and ran it for his mother. Louise Augusta, who knew that her younger son would be left basically destitute due to the inheritance laws of the day, had managed to scrape enough money together to, in 1832, buy the estate of Nør for her younger son. Her daughter, as I have mentioned, was taken care of by marrying the next king of Denmark.

In her old age, Louise Augusta took up residence in the dowager estate at Augustenborg, where she kept a loud and eccentric mini-court, where both the artists of her youth and younger ones welcome.

Louise Augusta died today, the 13st of January, in 1843 and is buried at Augustenborg, far from her beloved brother and farther still from Copenhagen.

Her life story is featured in the novel Kærlighedsbarn (Love Child) by Maria Helleberg, a very good novel, indeed. It’s not published in English as far as I am able to tell, so I hope this blog post has served well instead!

by Anton Graff, 1791. Rosenborg Castle.

by Anton Graff, 1791. Rosenborg Castle.

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A (short) resource on Caroline Mathilde; or Danish history, English books.

A while ago reader Allison posted a comment asking me if I could dig up some English books relating to Caroline Mathilde, as she’d recently seen the movie A Royal Affair. The director of the movie mentions that 19 or so books relate to the subject, and that’s certainly true… if you speak Danish. I know this also, because I’ve read the vast majority. My favourite book about Caroline Mathilde will always be “Princess of the Blood” by Bodil Steensen-Leth. It serves as a vague sort of inspiration for the film and I wish it had been translated into English because every historically inclined reader deserves to read this book

Sadly, the supply of English-language books about Caroline Mathilde (who was an English princess but seems mostly an aside in English history), Christian VII or Johann Friederich Struensee is very lacking.

In my searches I’ve only been able to find two, and poor Allison was already aware the one existed and probably would have little trouble finding the other. So much for asking your friendly neighbourhood history blogger for help! If only you’d asked me for books in Danish, because there’d be LOADS to highlight.

Here are a few English titles about poor Caroline Mathilde and I hope Allison finds that this post has helped her in some way.

THE VISIT OF THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN

The Visit of the Royal Physician by Per Olov Enquist.

The Visit of the Royal Physician by Per Olov Enquist.

This one was translated from Danish to English in 2003. I read it back when I was 15 and devouring everything related to Caroline Mathilde. Amazon gives it 4,4 stars and most of the reviews are glowing.

from Amazon

“It is the 1760s, the height of the Enlightenment. The young King of Denmark, Christian VII, is a half-wit. His queen, the English princess Caroline Mathilde, has fallen in love with his most trusted advisor, the court physician Struensee. Guldberg, a cold-blooded religious fanatic, is determined to annihilate the Enlightenment ideas Struensee is introducing to Denmark – whoever prevails in their bitter ideological battle will control not only the king but the nation state.

 Adultery, insanity, back-stabbing and blue blood… Enquist brilliantly recasts a dramatic era of Danish history, weaving a wide range of historical characters – Voltaire and Diderot, Catherine the Great and George III – into a tale of ruthless political ambition and personal betrayal.”

A ROYAL AFFAIR: George III and His Troublesome Siblings

A Royal Affair: George III and his troublesome siblings by Stella Tillyard

A Royal Affair: George III and his troublesome siblings by Stella Tillyard

I’ve not personally read this but I think it looks VERY exciting. It’s about all of George III’s siblings, but is centered around Caroline Mathilde, and as I know very little about the rest of her English family, my interest is definitely piqued.

from Amazon

The young George III was a poignant figure, humdrum on the surface yet turbulent beneath: hiding his own passions, he tried hard to be a father to his siblings and his nation. This intimate, fast-moving book tells their intertwined stories. His sisters were doomed to marry foreign princes and leave home forever; his brothers had no role and too much time on their hands – a recipe for disaster.

 At the heart of Tillyard’s story is Caroline Mathilde, who married the mad Christian of Denmark in her teens, but fell in love with the royal doctor Struensee: a terrible fate awaited them, despite George’s agonized negotiations. At the same time he faced his tumultuous American colonies. And at every step a feverish press pounced on the gossip, fostering a new national passion – a heated mix of celebrity and sex.

THE LOST QUEEN

The Lost Queen by Nora Lofts

The Lost Queen by Nora Lofts

You have to forgive me for including this ridiculously inaccurate cover because a) how could I not? and b) I literally can’t stop laughing at how trashy it is.

I have no idea what the book is like but based on this cover, I feel like I MUST READ IT.

from Amazon

‘Princesses are born to be exiled. What is the alternative? Spinsterhood? ‘Thus the future of Caroline Matilda, youngest sister of George III, was settled – exile to a foreign country, and marriage to a nearly insane Crown Prince of Denmark. Entreatingly prompted by a sense of foreboding, she begged that one of her sisters be sent in her place. But Caroline was the healthiest, the strongest of the English princesses, and as well as being exiled, princesses were meant to brood mares…Here is the life of Caroline Matilda set against the stark contrasts of 18th century Denmark; the cruelty, poverty and oppression of life under an absolute monarch sinking into madness; and the hatreds and court intrigues that swirled around the young English girl who was Queen of Denmark.

But let’s be real, we all decided to read it the moment we laid eyes on THAT COVER.

I’m afraid that’s all I could find for Allison. I do hope you got something out of it, and if anybody is interested in hearing about the multitude of Danish fiction about Caroline Mathilde, don’t hesitate to ask!

Jens Juel

Self Portrait at the Easel, 1766

I’ve featured a few of Jens Juel’s (pronounced with soft js, “Yens Yuel” for reference) paintings on this here blog before. Juel is generally thought of as one of the most famous artists from Denmark of all time. His specialty was portraits.

Juel received his education from the Royal Danish Academy of Art at 20 years old. When he had finished his education he, like many other, if not all, Danish artists at the time went to Rome for eight years to study the art in the Eternal City. A veritable community of Danish artists was formed here. Returning to Denmark these artists brought with them new styles and methods to the delight of polite society.

He also stayed in Paris and Genève before returning home to Denmark in 1780 and gradually became the go-to painter for high society. Royalty and nobility, and everybody else who could call themselves members of high society sat for him. He was also chosen for several prestigious positions at the Academy of Art.

The Artist and his Wife, Rosine (née Dørschell). 1791.

Rosine and Jens had several children. Two of their daughters went on to marry artist C.W. Eckersberg, presumably not at the same time.

Princess Louise Augusta. 1780. This is one of the first portraits of the period that feature a woman in style of the French revolutionaries. When the portrait was first presented to the court, the outline of Louise Augusta's legs could be seen and Juel was promptly told to paint them over.

Frederick, who later became Frederick VI of Denmark, brother of Louise Augusta.

Louise Augusta. 1784.

I think these two portraits must have been ordered together. They were sent to the English court (their mother, Caroline Mathilde, being an English princess) and when I last visited Holyrood Castle they were hanging there. I asked a curator about it and since some other paintings had been taken down and sent to London for an exhibition these two were sent to Edinburgh to be hung.

Sophie Marie of Hessel-Kassel, Queen of Denmark. She was married to Frederick VI. 1790. Apparently her title before she was married was "Her Serene Highness" which is pretty cool.

Madame de Pragins-. 1779

Noblewoman With her Son. 1799-1800.

Caroline Mathilde, mother of Frederick and Louise Augusta.

Niels Ryberg with his son Johan Christian and daugjhter-in-law Engelke, née Falbe. 1796-97.

Christian VII of Denmark. Father of Frederick VI and Louise Augusta. 1789.

Augusta Louise of Stolberg-Stolberg, friend of Goethe and wife of a Danish minister.. 1780.

Bolette Marie Lindencrone. 1786.

Chamberlain Johan Frederik Lindencrone, husband of Bolette Marie. 1787.

Eleonora Hennings, 1780s, wife of a Danish minister.

I love Juel’s style.

I love the fashion from the period during which he was active, and I love studying the features of family members he painted.

 

Child’s Pose

Duchess Sophia Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin

There’s something about this girl’s gown that seems off to me. Perhaps it’s the enormous bustle in an 18th century gown? I suppose it could be attributed to the angle, and perhaps it’s as wide as it is big but it looks odd. Maybe it’s just very, very fashion forward of Duchess Sophie’s mother to order a dress like this for her child.

This is, by the way, yet another Sophie/Sophia from Mecklenburg-Schwerin to marry a Danish prince or king. Mecklenburg, in northern Germany, is quite close to Scheswig-Holstein. These two duchies used to belong to Denmark until the war in 1864 and still has a sizeable Danish-speaking minority. My point is that Mecklenburg is so sufficiently close that the procuring of brides was no big matter. For some eery reason, nearly every Mecklenburg bride was called Sophie or Sophia.

Duchess Sophia with her brother Duke Friederich

This portrait of the princely children is quite sweet, though. I’m no art historian (English literature is where it’s at for me) but there’s a playfulness about it which is usually exempt from portraits of children (or for that matter adults) in the time. The siblings look very alike, especially their smiles and chins.

Sophia

The Crown Jewels: The Brilliants

I’m not really sure what a brilliant is. A jewel even sparklier than a diamond? Even more precious? The name suggests it, anyway.

A kind reader left a comment to this post informing me that a brilliant is a different cut or shape of a diamond to optimise the sparkling. Thanks, Ida!

This is the third piece in my series on the Danish crown jewels. This piece was altered by queens Sophie Magdalene, Juliane Marie and Caroline Amalie.

The full set

Juliane Marie gained a reputation of being properly horrible, which is probably a bit unfair. Juliane Marie was brought to Denmark from Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel after the death of Louise of Great Britain, the first wife of Frederick V. Still quite young she had four young children thrust into her care, Frederick, Sophie Magdalene (not the queen, but named after her), Vilhelmine Caroline and Louise. Frederick, who became king at the age of 17, suffered from scizophrenia and paranoia which was strongly exacerbated by his marriage to Caroline Mathilde, his cousin, and Juliane Marie constantly pushed at his abdication so her own son, also named Frederick, could take the throne.

When Caroline Mathilde’s affair with Struensee, her husband’s doctor, meant that Struensee was the de facto ruler of Denmark, Juliane Marie and her allies had Caroline Mathilde forcibly evicted from the country and Struensee beheaded. Her son never became the king, but until Frederick VI came of age, she and her son reigned the country.

Juliane Marie. She may not have the greatest reputation, but she makes up for that in gowns.

Vogue at Versailles

Errr…. That is Vogue at Le Grand Trianon, the home of Louis XIV’s mistress, Francoise-Athénäis, the marquise of Montespan. It’s an impressive building with rooms kept completely in reds or yellows or reds which is enough to awe any visitor. But until October visitors are treated to another form of grandeur. At the Grand Trianon there is an exhibition called The 18th Century Back in Fashion which features pieces from the haute couture, but also ready-to-wear, collections of several modern/contemporary designers.

I thought I’d show off a couple of the gowns exhibited among the 56 pieces at the exhibition. The pieces can usually be found at the Museum Galliera. Apart from the modern gowns, authentic 18th century pieces can be seen, for comparison.

Seeing these amazing dresses etc. in the flesh, so to speak, in such an impressive place was definitely the highlight of our visit to Versailles.

The photos are taken by Julie Ansiau. I make no money from this, all rights reserved to Vogue and Julie Ansiau.

Christian Dior.

Pink taffeta by Doutzen Kroues, inspired by Fragonard. 2007.

Pale green tulle. 2011.

Christian Dior. Better view of the one above.

Christian Dior. Better view of the one above

Bit big for a bedroom, mind.

Robe á la Francaise, 1755-1760

Rochas, 2006.

This gown was created in relation to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket inspired by the wide paniers of the 18th century.

Christian Dior, 2004-05.

Amazingly over the top.

Underwear, 1765, showing exactly what went on under those beautiful gowns.

Vivienne Westwood, 1991.

Christian Lacroix, 1995-96.

I mean, w-o-w.

Christian Lacroix, 1998-99

Vivienne Westwood

I had to include this because of the gorgeous fabric used.

Givenchy by Alexander McQueen.

He was just a genius, wasn’t he?

Vivienne Westwood from the collection Vive la Cocotte, 1995-96

Nicolas Ghesquiére for Balenciaga, 2006

Pierre Balmain, 1954

Isn’t it amazing how the 18th century fashions were relevant in the 50s and continue to influence fashion until today?

Christian Dior, 1954

Thierry Mugler, 1992-93

Sometimes I think I missed my calling as a Goth. I could totally wear this.

Thierry Mugler, 1997-98

I just love this one.

The entire slideshow can be seen here.

And just to finish, here’s a portrait of Madame de Montespan herself: