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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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.

The Scandal of the Century

On the 8th of December 1766, the brother of George III, Caroline Mathilde, daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, married her Danish cousin in The Church of Our Lady (Vor Frue Kirke). She was fiften, her husband sixteen and a king of all of six months. Caroline Mathilde had grown up apart from her brother’s court, due to her mother’s widowhood and was by all accounts a sheltered, young woman who had been transplanted in a strange evironment under the expectation that she would easily understand how to maneouvre herself. Christian VII, her husband, had grown up in the midst of a court in turmoil, with his father’s wife more or less openly disliking him. He was subject to physical punishment throughout all of his childhood – which promptly ended when he was 16 and his father died. The young man suffered from nervous breakdowns, bouts of scizophrenia and mania. He was diagnosed with dementia praecox and was fully expected to recover from it as he grew older.

Of course, this is no fairy-tale story.

Christian VII by Jens Juel, 1789

After the wedding Caroline found herself alone at a strange court, amongst courtiers who divided themselves into cliques. The young and eager men encouraged the king in his bouts of mania, and they would often wreak havoc upon the castles themselves and seek out prostitutes in the lower city, often those of sadomasochistic inclination. It is well-known that Christian VII sought the company of a prostitute aptly named Boots-Catherine in 1767 and he also famously declared that he could not love Caroline because “it was not fashionable to love one’s wife.” As Caroline became pregnant with their first child he sunk even deeper into debauchery, paranoia and hallucinations the result of which being that he would often harm himself, or seek our Boots-Catherine to physically demean him.

Meanwhile, Caroline had only the head of her household, Countess Louise von Plessen, to turn to as her husband’s stepmother the Dowager Queen Juliane Marie, discouraged the other ladies of the court to be openly friendly with the lonely girl. I’m not trying to make Juliane Marie sound like a monster, since she surely had many trials in her own life what with giving birth to a physically and mentally disabled son and trying to overcome the Danish people and her husband’s love for his firste wife Louise of England.

Louise von Plessen

Juliane Marie holding up a portrait of her son whom she hoped might become king as her stepson's mental health became worse and worse.

It is clear that with the mental disabilities apparent in both sides of the Danish-English family that yet another marriage between cousins was not a good idea, but that was of course never the concern for any royal family at the time.

In 1768, on the 28th of January, the now Queen gave birth to her first child, a son whom they named Frederik. It wasn’t long thereafter that Christian VII decided to go on a tour of Europe, leaving his wife at home alone with her infant child. He didn’t leave until after banishing Countess von Plessen from his court, and no amount of beggin on Caroline’s part could persuade him to take her back. I believe he may have accused her of having a negative influence on his wife. Christian left a court inhabitated by women and perhaps gave his wife a welcome break from his loud and boisterous friends who enjoyed rubbing Caroline’s nose in her husband’s affair with a prostitute. She and the Dowager Queen(s), as Christian’s grandmother, Sophie Magdalene, was still alive. They retired to Frederiksborg Castle for the summer, and came back to Copenhagen in the autumn where Caroline Mathilde attracted a scandal by taking walks in Copenhagen, where noblewomen would only ride carriages.

Queen Sophie Magdalene, 1700-1770

Christian came back from his travels on the 12th of January 1769, bringing with him a new doctor, Johann Friederich Struensee, whom he had found in Altona and decided to employ as his physician. At the time the smallpox was the single greatest threat towards children, high as well as low, and Caroline Mathilde, who were are afraid the disease would reach the castle asked the newly arrived doctor if he would inoculate her son. She did so knowing that the risks of doing so might be as great as her son contracting the disease itself. Thankfully, Frederik survived and Caroline developed a confidence with the doctor, with whom she began exchanging ideas for the raising of her son. The king also came to greatly confide in his doctor, as he by Struensee’s methods for the first time in years was able to calm his mind and lessen the need for self-mutilation.

Caroline Mathilde’s confidence in Struensee grew even deeper when he came to realise how despicably her husband treated her, and when he positively affected Christian to treat his wife with more respect. The result was a more amicable relationship between the young couple and a strenghtening of Caroline’s position at the court. As a show of gratitude Caroline appointed Struensee her secretary and Christian him his official reader.

Johann Friederich Struensee by Jens Juel

The relationship between Struensee and Caroline quickly turned romantic as one might imagine when a neglected young girl, who’s never known romantic love, meets a “tall, dark stranger”. Well, you get what I mean. Struensee became her closest friend, a man with whom she could discuss her child intellectually, a man who understood how to handle a girl like her. They engaged in a sexual relationship that quickly became an official secret in the court. Even the king knew and condoned the relationship. This time is known as the Time of Struensee, his 16-month reign, where he also managed to exile the king’s hitherto closest friend and confidante, and take up that position himself. He became a minister in no time, and even quicker did he manage to send away the former Prime Minister, and dissolve the former Council. He formed a new one with himself as the King’s only minister. Even more shocking to the general public of Copenhagen was that he encouraged the Queen to ride out – dressed in a man’s clothing

In June 1771 the Queen moved to Hørsholm castle, north of Copenhagen, and there Caroline spent an idyllic summer with her lover and her court. It is a large possibility that she also moved away from the King and the rest of the court because the 7th of July Caroline Mathilde gave birth to a girl. Her daughter was christened Louise Augusta, after Caroline and Christian’s respective mothers, and although the King acknowledged the child as his Louise Augusta was often called “la Petite Struensee” around the court. Most modern historians seem to agree that Louise Augusta was, in fact, Struensee’s child.

Louise Augusta

And although we might agree that Struensee was little short of a usurper and a dictator, he introduced freedom of speech and disbanded an old law forcing commoners to stay where they were born lest they left and took with them their labour force. He also made sure the Crown Prince was given a modern upbringing after the principles of Rousseau. I’ve not studied said principles in length but I am left with the impression that his upbringing was a little too heavy-handed, or to put it another way it nearly killed the small boy and his early childhood was also seen to be the reason for his somewhat peculiar adult behaviour.

Frederik VI by Jens Juel

Struensee’s reign could never last, of course. In the heat of the moment both he and Caroline must have forgotten that there was a formidable force in their opposition. Juliane Marie, who most certainly believed in the divine right of kings, was hardly pleased at seeing a commoner take her husband’s throne, and Caroline Mathilde must have been perceived as nothing short of a common whore debasing herself in such a way as to have an extramarital affair. (Please note that I personally do not advocate slut-shaming). Christian couldn’t have cared very much, so long as he was distracted from the governmental work that he had never cared much for.

Juliane Marie, along with ministers Struensee had unseated, struck after a masked ball in the night between the 17th and 18th of January 1772, and they arrested Struensee and his main accomplice Enevold Brandt who were then presented with a warrant on them, signed by the King. The men of Juliane’s party also had orders to apprehend the Queen. Of course, a Queen of the realm could never be arrested but she was taken into a carriage in the dead of night, with her infant daughter but without her son, whom she hadn’t been allowed to see. They drove her, for how many hours I daren’t imagine, to Helsingør (or Elsinore, as Shakespeare called it) and put her into custody at Kronborg, an old, drafty, renaissance castle. There she was kept for a matter of weeks, while it her “sentence” was discussed by the Danish and English courts.

Meanwhile in Copenhagen the trial for Struensee and Enevoldt had begun, and it came to light that paid by Juliane Marie, Caroline’s ladies had left flour on her doorstep to see whether a man would visit her at night. They had also found garters amongst Struensee’s possessions that the maids swore had originated in Caroline’s boxes. He admitted to having an affair with the Queen in a pleading tone, and his confession made Caroline confess also. A confession she later drew back, perhaps because she realised that she would never be allowed to return either to Copenhagen or England if she confessed.

Struensee’s pleading did not help him and he was sentenced to death. His sentence was carried out the morning of the 28th of April. Although the King had signed the death sentence he was said to be unaware of what was happening to his former friend. Juliane Marie, however, witnessed it from her windows. The crowd also witnessing the execution were said to be quiet after the executioner held up Struensee’s severed head.

The next day the ladies who were with the Queen, would discuss it in every gory detail in front of an obviously distraught Queen. In May her own fate was finally decided. Her brother would not take her back, as she was obviously not going to be able to marry anyone, and neither would the Danish court so she was instead deported to Celle, in northern Germany which was under British rule. There she was finally re-united with Louise von Plessen and a small, but loyal, court. In 1774 she began plotting to be re-instated as her son’s guardian and she would write her brother, King George III of Great Britain, and ask him of her support.

She never was to be re-united with either of her children. Caroline Mathilde, a Princess of the blood of England, and former Queen of Denmark, died suddenly on May 10th 1775. She had contracted scarlet fever. She was buried in the church of St. Marie in Celle, and hasn’t been moved to Roskilde Church, the final place of rest for all Danish Kings and Queens.

Although she was no longer Queen at her death, she would still call herself Caroline Mathilde of Denmark until the end.

Juliane Marie’s influence, and he governed Denmark informally until his father’s death in 1808.

Louise Augusta was married to Duke Frederik Christian of Augustenborg in Sønderbog, southern Denmark. Her sons went on to try and dethrone Christian the 8th, who would go on to marry their sister, Caroline Amalie. You know, just any normal big, happy family.

Caroline Mathilde