I was originally going to cover the English Reformation in the mid-1530s today, but I we’ve done a lot on the Tudors recently and I thought it might be a bit of a palate cleanser to turn instead to the 18th century and cover a lesser-known princess, a daughter of George II who married into the Danish Royal Family.
We’ve covered enough of George II and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, that I won’t waste time with too extensive of a back story. The couple married in 1705 when George was still the eldest son of the Elector of Hanover, though his potential to ascend the British throne was certainly part of his allure. The couple lived together in Hanover for nine years after their marriage and produced four children before Queen Anne died, ending the House of Stuart, and forcing the succession to turn to a distant German branch of the family.
Thus it was that George’s father ascended the British throne as George I, and George and Caroline soon followed him as the Prince and Princess of Wales. Unfortunately, once in England, relations between father and son splintered and for a period of time the King took custody of the younger couple’s three daughters (their eldest son was left behind in Hanover). Though tensions eventually thawed, George and Caroline resided primarily outside of London at Leicester House and it was here where they raised their three younger children, William, Mary and Louisa.
This set up resulted in a strangely fractured family with essentially two sets of siblings – or three, if you include Prince Frederick residing by himself in Germany. Louisa, the youngest of the lot, was born in December 1724. Her birth was a difficult one for Caroline and she suffered an umbilical rupture, the effects of which would plague her for the rest of her life.
The first two-and-a-half years of Louisa’s life were her quietest and most domestic, though she wouldn’t have remembered them. Leicester House was happy, her parents were active hosts and her mother enjoyed caring for her children, gardening and reading. In the summer of 1727 life changed abruptly when George I passed away and the throne passed to the new George II, with Caroline taking on the role of queen consort. The couple swiftly moved to London and were reunited with their three eldest daughters – Anne, Amelia and Caroline.
The next decade saw considerable domestic strife within the family, particularly once Frederick, now Prince of Wales, arrived in England about 18 months after his parents’ accession. He and Anne, now Princess Royal, were constantly at one another’s throats, and though Frederick showed a propensity for kindness and doted on his youngest sisters, tensions with his eldest sisters and parents eventually meant that he was a remote figure to Mary and Louisa.
In 1734, when Louisa was nine, the first of the siblings flew the coop when Anne married Prince William IV of Orange and left for The Hague. Two years later, Frederick married and brought the adolescent Augusta of Saxe-Gotha into the fold, however the naive and impressionable girl was mostly used as a pawn by her husband to exact revenge and score petty victories against his parents. This was most clearly showcased in the summer of 1737 when Augusta delivered a daughter and Frederick forced her, in the middle of labor, to leave his parents’ house so as to purposefully exclude them from the birth of the crown’s next heir.
All of this was fodder for London gossip, casued any number of public scenes and had political implications as courtiers and politicians attempted to use the discord as leverage when helpful. As for Louisa, she would have been well-aware of what was going on and may have been raised to choose her parents over her brother, but the implications of it had little effect on her day-to-day life since she was still in the schoolroom. All of that changed in November 1737 when Queen Caroline passed away.
Louisa and her siblings, minus Frederick and Anne, all held vigil around their mother’s deathbed, and all were given special instruction. William, age 16, was told to support his father and try to make up for his brother’s failings, while Caroline, age 24, was told to look after her younger sisters. Louisa, then only 13, was instructed to remember her mother died having been “giddy and obstinate, in having kept my disorder a secret.” Indeed, the extent of the Queen’s illness was made possible by neglect and a failure to take care of herself – or seek proper help. It was an odd final wisdom to bestow, but it was in fact rather prophetic.
In the Queen’s more detailed instructions of Princess Caroline, it is made clear that the Queen cared deeply for her youngest daughters and worried for them. Their elder sister is told to nurture Mary’s propensity towards meekness and docility, and keep a stern eye on Louisa’s “vivacity,” lest it draw her into unfortunate situations.
Though the Queen had given George her blessing to remarry so that he would have some companionship in his old age, he refused. Instead, he spent the remainder of his life as a widower and so it was a more solemn environment in which Louisa’s adolescence unfolded. Neither Princess Caroline nor Princess Amelia ever married, deciding instead to remain in Britain alongside their father – as such, they were Louisa’s steadiest sources of society. This became all the more true after 1740, when 17-year-old Mary married Frederick, the future Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel and left for Germany.
Three years later, when she was 19, Louisa married Prince Frederick of Denmark and Norway. It was far and away the loftiest marriage any of her siblings made, but then again Louisa was the acknowledged beauty of the family, while her youth and charm had long made her something of a family pet. The marriage was actively pursued by the British government who wished to make an alliance with Denmark and it was generally accepted that marital ties would increase the likelihood of forging a long-term relationship. As for Denmark, they wanted Britian’s support in claiming Sweden.
As for what Louisa thought, less is known, but based on her words and later actions, it’s a good bet that she was initially for the match. She was 19, she likely didn’t want to end up a spinster like her elder sisters and her father’s court was turning into a dreary place thanks to his increasing displeasure with England and homesickness for all things German. Notably, in light of her mother’s final words to her, Louisa declared shortly before leaving home that if she grew unhappy in her marriage, her family would never know it.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Frederick was only nine months older than his bride, but their personalities were diametrically opposed. His parents, Christian VI and Queen Sophia Magdalene, were fervently religious and offered their two children a severe and unbending upbringing. In Frederick, it forced him too far to the other side and he embraced pleasure with both hands once he gained his independence, mostly in the forms of alcohol and women. His behavior was extreme, self-destructive and not private enough for his parents’ liking, thus prompting their own desire for a daughter-in-law. Their hope was that marriage and children would calm the young man, however it was a joyless and extreme job to place on the shoulders of one teenage girl.
Louisa and Frederick were married by proxy in November 1743 in Hanover, with William standing in as a groom. From there, the bride moved on to Copenhagen and it was there, in December, that the couple married again for the benefit of the Danish public. The two got along well thanks to Louisa’s unyielding resolve to be successful. She forged a friendly relationship with Frederick, King Christian found her amiable and the Danish thought her delightful.
It soon became clear, however, that there was little chance of Frederick remaining faithful, but if Louisa was personally bothered by this, she never once let on. Indeed, she stoically looked the other way both in public and (as far as we know) in private, and pretended nothing was amiss in the royal marriage despite the presence of her husband’s leading mistress at court or the fact that the other woman was as frequently pregnant as she was.
Louisa first conceived about a year after her wedding and gave birth to a son, Christian, in the summer of 1745. The young Prince only lived about a month before passing away in Frederiksborg. The following year, in the summer of 1746, she gave birth to a daughter who she named after her mother-in-law, Sophia Magdalene. And the summer after that, she gave birth to another daughter, Wilhelmina Caroline.
The long-awaited son and heir made his appearance at Christiansborg Palace on January 29, 1749. He was duly christened Christian after his grandfather, while his godparents were solely drawn from the paternal side of his family. He was followed, one year later, by another sister, Louise, who marked the couple’s last surviving child.
In the midst of this child-bearing, Frederick ascended the throne. A few weeks after the birth of Princess Sophia Magdalene, King Christian passed away and the new king took his place as Frederick V of Denmark and Norway. He and Louisa were jointly crowned in Frederiksborg Palace’s Chapel on September 4, 1747.
The couple proved popular, thanks in part to their youth and to Louisa’s own influence. Taking after her own mother, the new Queen was a great patron of art, music and literature, and under her influence the atmosphere at court became more informal, fun and fashionable. Notably, the royal court had historically spoken German, but Louisa insisted on learning the language and, more importantly, ensuring her children were brought up speaking it. During this time, one Swedish diplomat described her with:
“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 conceived a sixth time in 1751, but unfortunately this pregnancy had an unhappy ending. Since the third trimester of her first pregnancy with the short-lived Prince Christian, Louisa had suffered from a strangulated hernia, but despite the consistent pain, she – like her mother before her – refused to make a fuss or seek the necessary medical attention. The condition created complications in her final pregnancy and on December 19, 1751, Louisa passed away at Christiansborg Palace at the age of just 27.
Her death followed that of her eldest brother, Prince Frederick of Wales, back in London, and prompted George II to remark before the close of the year that it had been a “fatal” one for his family. Of his children, he said, “I hated to have them running into my room; but now I love them as well as most fathers.” That was pretty much as good as it got for the House of Hanover.
Shortly after Louisa’s death, her sister, Mary, moved to Copenhagen with her own children and helped Frederick raise the four remaining prince and princesses. Over the next several years, she split her time between Denmark and Germany to ensure her sister’s children were cared for.
Less than seven months after Louisa’s death, Frederick remarried to Duchess Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. The Danish people thought it too soon after the death of their beloved queen and they never warmed to the King’s second wife, despite her good intentions. The couple had only one child, Frederick, in 1753.
King Frederick passed away at the age of 42 in 1766 and the throne passed to his son with Louisa, who ascended as Christian VII. Though charming and intelligent, Christian unfortunately suffered from mental illness and he only governed directly intermittently. Horrifyingly – and a more dire mirror of his own parents – his government decided the best course of action was to find him a wife and secure the succession as swiftly as possible. Ironically, the bride chosen was none other than the youngest daughter of Louisa’s brother, Frederick – Princess Caroline Matilda.
Their marriage was an unmitigated disaster, of which you can read more here. Suffice to say, there would be no more English-Danish marriages for generations to come.
As for Louisa’s other children, they fared slightly better. In 1766, Sophia Magdalene married the future Gustav III of Sweden and eventually became queen consort. The marriage was not without its issues, but it did manage to produce a son to secure the succession and Sophia Magdalene lived to be 67, passing away in 1813.
Wilhelmina Caroline married William of Hesse in 1764, one of the wealthiest European princes and who would eventually become the Elector of Hesse. The couple was happy, produced four children, and Wilhelmina Caroline lived until 1820.
The youngest, Louise, married her first cousin, Charles of Hesse-Kassel, the son of her Aunt Mary (Louisa’s sister). The cousins spent considerable time together during their childhoods in Denmark and the two were wed in 1766 when the bride was just 16. The two spent time in Copenhagen at the court of King Christian, but eventually spent the majority of their time away from court when Charles served as Governor of Schleswig-Holstein. Their daughter, Marie, would later marry Frederick VI of Denmark and Norway, son of Christian VII and Caroline Matilda.