Leonora Christina as imagined by an unknown 19th century artist.
Leonora Christina was born on the 8th of July 1621, the daughter of King Christian IV and his noble wife, Kirstine Munk. Kirstine was not the King’s queen, and many doubted that she even was married to him. Kirstine was called The Left Hand’s Wife, the implication being that a queen was married to the right hand. It did not matter that Christian’s wife, Queen Anna Catherine of Brandenburg had died: a prince could not crown a noblewoman queen and Kirstine was the daughter of a countess and a deceased wife. Christian IV is known in Denmark as an entrepeneurial king, and most people realise that it was not only because he built buildings all over Copenhagen, but also because he was quick to make any woman he wanted his. His illegitimate sons born during his marriage were given the surname Goldenlion.
But when Anna Catherine died, leaving him two sons, it did not take long for Christian to notice the beautiful Kirstine, and whether his courtiers believed the validity thereof, he orchestrated a marriage – of sorts. Together they had twelve children, two of which were stillborn. Eight were girls, and two boys. Leonora Christine Christiansdaughter was the third of their children, and together with her siblings she was sent to her grandmother, Kirstine’s mother Ellen Marsvin (literally meaning guinea pig), to be raised until her 6th year. After that she and her sisters were sent to Karen Sehested, one of Kirsten Munk’s ladies, and were raised at Frederiksborg.
I became interested in her story around the age of 12, and at that time read a delightful book by Maria Helleberg, a renowned writer of historical fiction here in Denmark. It detailed Leonora Christine’s story from her childhood years until her marriage. The expression the book would always leave me with was that of a girl growing up amongst a plentitude of sisters, fighting for the attention of her elders and the respect of her sisters. It also detailed the sisters’ reactions to their engagements. The three eldest, Anna Catherine, Sophie Elisabeth and Leonora Christine were all engaged at more or less the same time, Leonora Christine being 9 years at the time.
In the immediate years before her wedding, Leonora Christina was moved to the Danish court and proceeded to win the affections for her father. If there is one thing that most people agree on about Christian IV it is that he was a man who loved his children, of whom he had 23, unconditionally, but Leonora Christinia was to win a special place in her father’s heart. Leonora even managed to maneouvre herself into the position of the hostess at the court, since there was trouble between her mother and father, largely due to entirely true accusations of unfaithfulness on Kirsten’s part.
Perhaps Leonora needed the victory of becoming her father’s hostess, for even though her father was fond of her husband-to-be, Corfitz Ulfeldt, her sisters were wont to make fun of him because of a stiff leg. Even though Corfitz was only in his twenties, during their engagement, he already had to use a cane, which Leonora’s sisters would point out to her time and again. After his death Corfitz’ was to become known as Denmark’s biggest traitor.
The painting says "hoffmeister" which means something like Lord Chancellor
Leonora Christina and Corfitz Ulfeldt were married on the 9th of October 1636, Leonora being 15 years old, Corfitz 30. Although the marriage saw its share of adultery, on the part of both spouses, it was reported as a happy one with both partners seeking to overcome their differences and work together.
Leonora gave birth to their first child on the 5th of December the next year, a boy they named Christian who would later become a Catholic priest in Rome, although he was born to Protestant parents. Corfitz had been appointed Lord Chancellor (which is really the best translation I can come up with) that same year and he had managed to obtain such power that he could manage to reign for several months after King Christian’s death in 1648.
Christian IV by Pieter Isaacsz ca. 1611-1616
Of course, history is full of examples of why one should seek to not cross kings, perhaps especially one like Frederik III, Leonora’s half-brother, who would later go on to sever the ties that had traditionally held the Danish king accountable to his noblemen and declare himself sovereign king like in the French fashion.
Corfitz’, who had grown accustomed to heavy responsibilities, like diplomatic duties that had taken him to Russia, England and so on, was not pleased by his brother-in-law taking into hand the power that was divinely appointed him (as one believed then), and sought to tighten Frederick’s ties during the Royal Election. A Royal Election was the process in which the Danish noblemen worked out a contract which a Danish “Chosen King” (meaning he had been elected by these same noblemen in his childhood to suceed his father) had to sign in order for his noblemen to swear him their allegiance. Frederick reciprocrated by instigating an investigation into Ulfeldt’s financial affairs, and in 1651 the king presented Ulfeldt and his wife with a document accusing Ulfeldt, in his position as Lord Chancellor of having embezzelled the Øresund’s tax, the most profitable of all the king’s incomes. Faced with possibly a death sentence Corfitz Ulfeldt thought it best to take his wife, children and belongings and flee the country.
Meanwhile, Leonora Christina had found herself on worse and worse terms with Frederick III’s queen, Sophie Amalie of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, who had found herself quite perplexed, upon her arrival at the Danish court, to find the dead king’s illegitimate daughter inhabitating the position of hostess and head of the court. Leonora Christina, used to being flattered by the Danish court, was not pleased to give up her position and very reluctantly did so.
Sophie Amalie of Braunschweig-Lüneburg
When things turned for the worse for both spouses, Corfitz Ulfeldt and Leonora Christina fled to Sweden, where Ulfeldt promptly entered the service of the Swedish king Karl X Gustav. As a sidenote I might add that Denmark and Sweden have been mortal enemies, but also brother-countries (it’s a strange sort of relationship), since, oh, always. Ulfeldt spent years and years trying to excite anger in the Swedish consciousness. Finally, in 1657, his labours bore fruit and Karl X Gustav marched towards Denmark with Ulfeldt personally joining the army, and happily lent the Swedish army huge sums, that is believed to have stolen from the Danish coffers. Karl X Gustav managed to conquer back the at the time northern Danish, and now southern Swedish Skåne (about which there are still ownership issues to this day), a huge loss to the Danish king and Karl X Gustav made Ulfeldt governor of the area. Soon enough, however, Ulfeldt and Karl X Gustav began bickering and later fighting, resulting in Ulfeldt being taken prisoner, by the Swedish, and placed in house arrest. He managed to escape, with his wife, to Denmark, where they were promptly seized and moved to Bornholm, the easternmost part of Denmark, a tiny, and at the time, isolated place.
Hammershus, were the couple were imprisoned
The castle in which they were moved was a medieval castle. Above is the picture of the ruins I have visited twice now. Leonora Christina and her husband were placed in different rooms, and were forbidden to speak with one another but since they both knew Latin, French and Italian, which their guards did not, they would communicate by shouting out of windows facing one another over a courtyard, one speaking e.g. Italian and the other Latin, and the guards would be none the wiser of whether they were planning an escape or merely exchanging pleasantries.
Amanzingly, they were later released from their prison, on the condition that they signed a contract with the king stating that they transferred all their posessions to the king. Leonora Christina stayed at home in Denmark, with the children they had not seen for many years, but Ulfeldt decided to travel abroad, more precisely to the home of Frederik Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg. Here Ulfeldt revealed, to the horrified elector that he had plans to assasinate the Danish king and that he offered Frederik Wilhelm the Danish crown should he suceed.
He did not, of course, and was in fact revealed in his plans by Frederik Wilhelm. This time there was no pardon from the Danish king and Ulfeldt was sentenced to death, in absentia. Ulfeldt fled further away, having been declared the greatest traitor of the country hence. His wife was seized, and their home in inner Copenhagen torn to the ground. In its place the king erected a pillar to the shame of Corfitz Ulfeldt – to the eternal shame and taunting, as it says on the pillar which still stands today.
It has been moved to the National Museum, however.
A memorial plaque on Gråbrødre Torv today
So, what happened to Leonora Christina that I would entitle this post The Lady in the Tower?
She was, as I mentioned, seized and although she begged for her freedom, being an older lady at this point, she was sentenced to prison and imprisoned she was. In Blåtårn (Blue Tower, a tower adjacent to the Castle of Copenhagen, where her half-brother and his wife lived. She was to stay there for 22 years, surviving Sophie Amalie, who many now believe to have been the one keeping her imprisoned despite Leonora Christina repeatedly refusing that she knew nothing of her husband’s traitorous plans.
A later imagining of the interior in Leonora's cell
During her imprisonment Leonora spun and wove cloth, to make clothes from, and she wrote her autobiography, entitled Jammers Minde (Wretchedness’ Memory) which was to be discovered in 1867 causing a veritable scandal.
It was one of her daughter’s who went to the king after the death of Sophie Amalie in 1685, and pleaded for her mother to be released. At this time Leonora had been held in Blue Tower for 22 years. Her freedom was granted her and she was moved to live at a monastery for the remaining, and old, nuns of the St. Birgitte-order. She died and was buried at the monastery now known as Maribo Church, but some time later her body was removed, presumably by sons, and re-buried at the undisclosed location where her husband was already buried.
From the day Leonora Christina was married she refused to adopt the name Ulfeldt, and insisted upon being called Mistress Leonora Christina, daughter of the King of Denmark.
At a meeting with, I assume, Queen Sophie Amalie