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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!