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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“Had I but two heads, I would gladly put one at his disposal.”

Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan

The story goes that when Henry VIII of England went a-searching for a new wife, he was told of a beautiful widow, the daughter of a Danish king and a relation of the Holy Roman Emperors. He asked for her hand. Christina, who had been widowed while virtually still a child in 1534, was at sixteen years old in no rush to be re-married and told the English ambassador that if only she had two heads at her disposal, Henry could have the other.

As history attests they were not married. The portrait above, painted by Hans Holbein. had been sent to the English court and to this day hangs in National Portrait Gallery in London, as yet another reminder of the links between the Danish and the English thrones.

Christina, or Christine as we Danes know her, is a fascinating example of the Renaissance princess.

Christina was born in 1521 to Elizabeth of Austria (sometimes called Isabella in English sources) and Christian II of Denmark and Norway. Elizabeth, Christina’s mother,  was born an Archduchess of Austria and an Infanta of Castile and Aragonia, the daughter of Philip I and Joanna of Castile. When she was fourteen Elizabeth travelled to the still Medieval North, to marry Christian, 20 years her elder, and the lover of a common girl, Dyveke Sigbritsdaughter. With Christian Elizabeth had 3 children, Hans, Dorothea and Christina.

Christian II of Denmark

 

In the 1510s and 20s Denmark was very much still a Medieval realm with a strong nobility and a culture of chivalry. Christian II was disliked by his noblemen and the nobility actively fought against his reforms. When Dyveke, Christian’s mistress suddenly died of what some suspected was poison either supplied by Elizabeth’s Dutch family or the Danish nobility trying to break the king. After Dyveke’s death, Elizabeth had three children in about as many years.

Meanwhile, Christian lost power and favour both with his noblemen and with his wife’s powerful family. Among other things he was responsible for the Bloodbath in Stockholm, where he executed noblemen and clergy after having promised them general amnesty.

Finally, on the 13th of April 1523  the king, the queen and their children fled to the Netherlands.  Elizabeth was promised that she could peacefully return, without the king, mind, by the new king, Christian’s German uncle Frederick I.  Elizabeth beautifully declared that “ubi rex meus, ibi regna mea” or “where my king is, there is my kingdom.” In 1524 Elizabeth died, 24 years old. Her 3 children was sent to their aunt, Queen Mary of Hungary, Governess of the Netherlands to be raised. Christian II failed in every attempt to regain his throne and lived out his life under house arrest in Sønderborg Castle.

Elizabeth of Austria

On the 4th of May, Christina was married to the much older Italian duke Frans 2. Sforza of Milan. Christina was only 14 years old when she was widowed in 1435.  With no children to keep her in Milan, and probably without much support from Sforza’s relatives to govern Milan, Christina returned to live with her aunt. By all accounts Christina was quite the favourite of her aunt.

In 1532, Christina’s older brother died leaving Dorothea, Christina’s older sister, the heir to the Danish throne. The Habsburgian family married Dorothea to Frederick II, Elector of Palatine, in the belief that he would suceed in claiming the throne. He tried, but did not suceed and he and Dorothea died without heirs.

Dorothea, Electress of Palatine by Michael Coxcie

 

Dorothea’s marriage left Christina alone in the Netherlands. While widows generally held more freedom than the average married woman in Renaissance times, Christina had been so young at the time of her husband’s death and having returned to her powerful relatives meant that she could not remain unmarried forever. Finally, in 1541, she married Francis I of Lorraine. In a twist of fate, Francis had previously been engaged to Anne of Cleves who married Henry VIII when Christina declined to.

The couple had 3 children, Charles, Renata and Dorothea who, when Christina’s sister Dorothea had no children, became the next claimants to the Danish throne. Francis valued Christina’s political advice greatly. It is probably no coincidence that a girl growing up at a female regent’s court should learn a thing or two about politics.

Sadly, Francis died only 4 years after Christina married him with Dorothea, their youngest child, still an infant. This time Christina stayed in Lorraine as regent until her son Charles would be old enough to reign on his own.

When France invaded Lorraine in 1552, Christina either didn’t have an army or the time to assemble one, and she was forced to pack up her things and her children and flee back to Mary’s court. Here she stayed through to her aunt’s death in 1558, and having worked to be appointed the next regent and governor, she was so angry with the appointment of Margaret of Parma, that mobilised an army and returned to take back Lorraine.

Mary, Queen of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands

Margaret, Duchess consort of Florence, Duchess consort of Parma, Governor of Habsburg Netherlands

 

Until her son, Charles came of age, Christina served as his regent, and when he did come of age, she continued as his advisor and acted as regent when he was absent. It was also at this time she began styling herself the rightful Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In the 1550s and 60s she began working towards actually gaining the throne, nevermind that her sister was not yet dead, she would have it for her son.

At this time, her father’s uncle Frederick I had been replaced by first his son, and then his grandson, Frederick II of Denmark and Norway. These three kings were the first Oldenburg kings of Denmark, the dynasty that would continue to reign Denmark until the late 19th century. In theory, Christina did have a claim to the Danish throne, especially as Frederick II resisted marriage for much, much longer than normal at the time. Should he die without heirs, her son would be a contestor for the throne, even if her branch of the family had been beaten back by the new rulers time and time again. And if that wouldn’t work, she had a daughter perfectly suitable for the post of Queen.

Both Christina’s plans to put her son on the throne, and do away with Frederick II, and her plans to marry Renata to him came to nothing. Frederick II would have nothing to do with marriage, and did in fact manage to put it off until he was 38 in 1574, when he married Sophie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, but what changed his mind and how that came about will be the subject of another post.

The news of Frederick’s marriage to a, in all likelihood, fertile and strong young queen who would hardly fail to provide him with an heir, was said to send Christina into a day-long rage. In 1578 she left her son to his duchy, and went to Tortona in Italy, which had been given to her by her first husband. Here she styled herself Madame of Tortona and lived out the rest of her days.

Christina of Denmark, Milan and Lorraine died in 1580, at the age of 59. In a peculiar twist of fate the current Danish, Swedish and Norwegian royalty are descended from her daughter, Renata and her husband William V of Bavaria, so in  a way Christina’s wish to see her family back on the Scandinavian thrones has been fulfilled.

 

Christina of Denmark, 1533.

Renata of Lorraine with her husband William of Bavaria

Charles III the Great of Lorraine

 

 

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: