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Louisa, the British-born Queen of Denmark


By Unidentified painter - Rosenborgmuseet, Public Domain

Louisa, fifth and youngest daughter of George II and Queen Caroline, was Queen of Denmark and Norway from 1746 until her premature death five years later, in Copenhagen in 1751. Today in Great Britain, Louisa is a virtually forgotten figure – overshadowed by her mother, the brilliant Queen Caroline, a woman of high culture, sophistication and outstanding intellect, rightly recognised now as one of the most remarkable of all British queen consorts. Louisa was different. Her presence in England survives mainly in the form of several delightful miniatures in The Royal Collection, but these are not on public display and show her in her youth only. To properly see her face, one has to do as she did and travel to Denmark where she went in 1743 to marry the future King Frederik V, although even here, she is not especially visible – it is necessary to seek her out, in the Danish royal collections.

Denmark had two other queens named Louise – Princess Louise of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, first queen consort of Frederik IV (1667-1721) and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel, queen consort of Christian IX (1817-1898) and also another Queen named Lovisa – Princess Lovisa of Sweden-Norway, queen consort of Frederick VIII (1851-1926). King Frederik VII’s third marriage was a morganatic one, to Countess Danner, formerly Louisa Rasmussen.

Louisa also suffers from the chronological misfortune of having been a Danish queen whose predecessor and successor as consort are much better known. Her mother-in-law was the magnificent Queen Sophie Magdalene and her successor, the formidable Queen Juliana Marie, who Frederick V married as his second wife the year after Louisa’s death in 1751. With Louisa, however, Frederik V had several children, among which was the future King Christian VII who in turn, also married a British princess, the legendary Caroline Mathilde – a sister of King George III – a queen whose smouldering life rages from the pages of history, not least because of her widely famous affair with the Christian VII’s ‘doctor’, Struensee. Caroline Mathilde would have been Louisa’s English daughter-in-law, but Louisa died prematurely. Today Caroline Mathilde is remembered as having been a British-born queen – but not Louisa. Much later, the British Princess Maud of Wales, daughter of King Edward VII, became Queen of Norway in 1905. Overshadowed, it is almost as if Louisa disappeared before we got to know her. With all this in mind, it is perhaps time to take a brief, closer look at her at last.

Princess Louisa was born on 18 December 1724 at Leicester House, the London mansion home of the Princes of Wales from 1717-1760. Louisa was born when her mother Princess Caroline was forty-one. At the time of her birth her father, the future George II was still Prince of Wales; he became King three years later in 1727. Her birthplace of Leicester House was itself, in fact, the urban birthplace of Leicester Square. The house was built between 1632 and 1636 by Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester on what was formerly ‘Lammas-land’ granted to his ancestor Lord Lisle, by Henry VIII. Strype described it in 1720, four years before Louisa’s birth as: “The seat of the Earl of Leicester, being a large building with a fair court before it for the reception of coaches, and a fine garden behind it” (Survey of London, Vol 3, pp. 160-173).

Leicester House formed the nucleus of the Prince of Wales’s rival court, which ran in parallel opposition with that of George I’s official court at St James’s. This rivalry was fed by the mutual mistrust and in some cases even hatred, which existed between the Georgian kings and their heirs, something that led to the Prince of Wales’s court being christened ‘The Leicester House faction’ in its day. Other buildings germinated around Leicester House, ‘furnishing’ the Square, thus telescoping one illustration of the city’s ever more rapid rate of expansion, as Rocque’s 1737 map of London demonstrates.

Louisa’s elder brother, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and future hero of Culloden, was also born at Leicester House in 1721, as was Princess Mary, future Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel in 1723. Leicester House later housed Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum of Natural History. Today there are no traces of Louisa’s birthplace. Leicester House was demolished in 1806, and the area where it once stood was according to the great Survey of London, “bounded on the west by Leicester Place, a wide thoroughfare leading to Lisle Street.”

Louisa’s four surviving elder siblings Frederick, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess of Orange; Princess Amelia; and Princess Caroline were all born in Hanover. The exception to Leicester House and Hanover as birthplaces of the royal children was St James’s Palace – where Caroline as Princess of Wales gave birth to Prince George William in 1717, that baby prince whose baptism gave occasion to the famous ‘christening quarrel’ and who died at just over three months of age. The poet John Gay declined the post of Gentleman Usher to Louisa – the governess who was appointed to her was instead Mary Howard, Dowager Countess of Deloraine. In 1727, Louisa was inoculated against smallpox. Louisa had the privilege of remaining with her mother at Leicester House, with her siblings Prince William Augustus and Princess Mary, as the ‘younger set’, in contrast to the ‘elder set’ who were cruelly separated from their parents by King George I and whose relationships with them never really recovered.

By Christian Friedrich Zincke – Royal Collection RCIN 421826, Public Domain

Princess Louisa was an attractive child. Physically, from the portraits of her which do exist, it is possible to say that she resembled both of her parents. Paintings of George II, such as that by Thomas Hudson or Charles Jervas, make the facial resemblance with her father particularly striking, especially with the large and bulging eyes, a Hanoverian feature which may also be seen in the young future Queen Victoria. Undoubtedly the most authentic images that we have which show Princess Louisa as a girl are the miniatures from 1730 and 1735 by Christian Friedrich Zincke, and these especially could be said to resemble the famous portrait of her mother, Queen Caroline by Joseph Highmore. Her elder sister, Princess Mary painted Louisa as an allegory of Spring – a miniature which was charmingly set into one of Queen Caroline’s snuffboxes. Queen Caroline died in 1737 when Louisa was thirteen, as a result of which Louisa was more or less brought up by her elder sister, Princess Caroline Elizabeth.

When Louisa was nineteen, a marriage treaty was signed between Great Britain and Denmark, permitting the union of Princess Louisa with Crown Prince Frederik, the heir of Christian VI, King of Denmark and Norway, and his consort, Queen Sophie Magdalene. This was concluded on 14 September 1743. It has been suggested that the marriage was desired from the Danish point of view, in the hope of British support with Denmark’s claim to the Swedish throne. On 19 October, Louisa left London, although not initially for Denmark, but for Germany, where her marriage by proxy to Crown Prince Frederik took place in Hanover on 10 November, with her brother, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, standing in for her bridegroom.

She married Crown Prince Frederik in a second wedding ceremony performed at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, a month later on 11 December 1743. Christiansborg Palace was at that point in history, the first of its kind – built at the order of her father-in-law, King Christian VI, the central parts of the palace were already complete by the late 1730s and the complex itself practically finished by 1745. The palace of Louisa’s marriage, however, does not survive today. The splendid baroque edifice was destroyed in the fire of 1794, the second incarnation burned down in 1884, making the present Christiansborg the third of its type.

Louisa was popular in Denmark, making the effort to learn the language of her adopted country under the instruction of the court priest Erik Pontoppidan and ensuring that her children should be taught Danish. Crown Prince Frederik also enjoyed popularity, something which increased when he became King, reviving the more colourful aspects of royal life in contrast to the conservative court of his father, Christian VI.

Frederik was a passionate hunter and drank heavily. The marriage appears to have been relatively successful when judged by the standards of contemporary political marriages, which were human embodiments of the signed pacts between their respective royal houses. Frederik had a string of alleged affairs and this, of course, was entirely accepted from the masculine perspective, but condemned within its feminine equivalent, as Queen Caroline Mathilde, the British bride and queen consort of Louisa’s son, the future Christian VII, would learn at her cost. This bias of the sexes can be readily explained through an understanding of dynasticism, however unjust it is rightly seen to be. A queen’s sexual life was firmly bound up with the matter of the royal succession, and hence, her children would have to be (or in some cases, acknowledged to be) of the King, preserving the bloodline from bastardy.

Louisa radiated cheerfulness, emphasised all the more because of the contrast it represented with the court of the previous reign. The Dansk biografisk Lexikon described her thus in the words of a Swedish diplomat: “She has good sense and is easy with words, friendly in tone, knows how to converse on many subjects and can speak several languages; while giving court, she seldom leaves anyone without saying something nice; she very much enjoys dance and dances well, she has a good temper and is known for her piety and excellent qualities. She finds pleasure in reading and music, she plays the clavichord well and teaches her daughters to sing.” 

Louisa clearly inherited the vibrancy of her mother, Queen Caroline’s glittering personality and was interested in music, theatre and the arts; as a child, Louisa had taken part in family theatricals.

Louisa’s first child, Christian – in keeping with the Danish tradition of christening heirs Christian or Frederik, depending on the name of the father – was born at Christiansborg on 7 July 1745, but this eldest son died at Frederiksborg Palace, Hillerød, Denmark, not two-years-old. A daughter, Princess Sophia Magdalena, was born 3 July 1746 at Christiansborg and later became the queen consort of Gustav III of Sweden. Another daughter, Princess Wilhelmina Caroline, future Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, was born at the palace on 10 July 1747, a month after the painful death of little Prince Christian on 3 June. Louisa gave birth to the future King Christian VII on 29 January 1749 in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Christiansborg Palace. Her last child, Princess Louise, another future Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, was also born at Christiansborg on 30 January 1750, showing that Louisa had a quick succession of recurring pregnancies.

By Carl Gustaf Pilo – http://inlinethumb04.webshots.com/16451/2520019470094285158S600x600Q85.jpg, Public Domain

Louisa became Queen of Denmark and Norway on the death of Christian VI in 1746. Arguably the best-known portraits of her and undoubtedly the most magnificent are those painted by Carl Gustaf Pilo, showing her in her coronation robes. One of these is kept at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, in the room known as Frederik V’s Cabinet – probably the place which best conjures up something of the essence of Louisa in Denmark. Pilo painted Louisa again in 1747, with her crown. Louisa’s crown was the Queen’s Crown, created for her predecessor Queen Sophie Magdalene, which may be seen in the Treasury at Rosenborg Castle. The coronation chair of the Queens of Denmark is in the Knight’s Hall at Rosenborg; it was made for Queen Sophie Magdalene and would, therefore, have then been used by Queen Louisa, also. Pilo painted her yet again in 1751 – the year of her death.

In a twist of tragedy, Queen Louisa would only enjoy five years as Queen of Denmark and Norway. She died at Christiansborg Palace on 19 December 1751, the place where she had married her husband in a second wedding ceremony and where she had given birth to all of her children. It was a day after her twenty-seventh birthday.

Louisa died as the result of a “rupture” which she had kept hidden since the birth of her first child – and her death was dreadful (Lucy Worsley, Courtiers, 312). Sadly, it was the birth of Louisa, which had resulted in her mother Queen Caroline, developing an umbilical hernia of her own, which she had also fatally concealed – the consequences of which by 1737, were too late to remedy. In Caroline’s case, part of her intestine got trapped and poked out through the hernia, which was cut off and not stuck back in, devastating Caroline’s entire digestive system and causing ghastly physical sufferings. Strangely, it was to Louisa that Queen Caroline said as she died, “Remember I die… having kept my disorder a secret…” (cit., Ibid, 246). When Louisa suffered a similar experience, she did not share it.

Louisa’s castrum doloris was painted in 1752, with the three silver lions clearly visible. These lions were an essential part of Danish royal ceremonial, traditionally reserved for solemn occasions of the Royal Danish House most chiefly, on a monarch’s demise. Louisa was interred at Roskilde Cathedral, the traditional burial church of the Danish monarchy, now in what is Frederik V’s Chapel.

Just over six months later, Frederik V remarried, taking as his second queen consort, Princess Juliana Marie of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern. This does not imply that Frederik was over-hasty in re-marrying. Brutally but practically, the matter of the royal succession was something not based on personal feeling. On the death of a queen, her royal widower could simply become eligible again in political marriage terms, whatever he felt privately. Their son, Frederik was born at Christiansborg Palace on 11 October 1753 – ten years after Frederik’s marriage to Louisa. Prince Frederik’s son, Christian, eventually became King Christian VIII on the death of Frederik VI in 1839.

Louisa’s sarcophagus is flanked by two classical figures and topped with a marble crown – the inscription on her tomb proclaims that she was a Queen of Denmark and Norway and a Princess of Great Britain, with the year of her birth. The Frederik V Chapel at Roskilde is – as its name implies – dominated by the vast memorial to King Frederik V, but space is light and bright, almost blindingly so, due to the whiteness of the marble. Louisa shares the chapel not only with Frederik’s second consort, Queen Juliana Marie but with five other Danish kings and three queens.

Louisa’s tomb, however, is important – for it is the only memorial which exists to her.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019



About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, an historical consultant and independent scholar. An expert on past British and European royalty, she speaks on matters royal historical for both TV and radio, also speaking on historic royal weddings at Windsor for BBC Radio Berkshire prior to the first Royal Wedding in 2018. She regularly writes for journals, specialist magazines, newsletters and the web. She is a long-standing contributor to the academic genealogical journal Royalty Digest Quarterly, currently also writing for the Tudor Society's own magazine, Tudor Life. She specialises in Queen Victoria's family and Russian royalty and she is particularly interested in historic royal weddings. She is an authority on Russia's last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918) and has written numerous articles on the Tsarina's life and correspondence. She has made a significant contribution to the field of royal studies and conducts original research on the subject, making a number of important finds including 'lost' royal letters and rediscovering Queen Victoria's perfume. Her popular blog for Royal Central, the web's leading news site on royalty, was written as guest history writer (2015-2019). As an historical consultant, she responds to a wide range of enquiries from media to private individuals, as well as for numerous books, talks and research projects. She was elected a member of the Royal Historical Society in 2017. A passionate supporter of culture heritage, she worked in the heritage sector for ten years and has been an active supporter of numerous societies and charities/organizations including The Georgian Group, Historic Royal Palaces, Berliner Dombau-Verein e.V, Förderverein Berliner Schloss e.V, Verein Potsdamer Stadtschloss e. V, Historic Royal Palaces and Freunde der Preußischen Schlösser und Gärten e.V. She also researches and publishes on the life of W. A. Mozart, writing a mini-series on Mozart and Prague for the culture column of the English-speaking Czech newspaper, the Prague Post (2017-2019) as well as for the newsletter of the New York society, Friends of Mozart (2016). Also a poet, her work has been published in various literary journal and poetry magazines, including The Oxonian Review, North of Oxford, Coldnoon, Nine Muses Poetry and Allegro Poetry, with forthcoming poetry in the quarterly literary journal Trafika Europe. Her first short collection, a collection of poems on Prague, is scheduled for publication as a chapbook in 2020 by Marble Poetry.