La Petite Struensee

In an earlier post, we told the story of the tragic Caroline Matilda of Great Britain.  She had an affair with her deranged husband’s doctor and had a child by him.  (For more on that story, please see this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/princess-caroline-matilda-unhappily-ever/ )  She was sent in to exile and never saw her children again.  What happened to the little girl they called La Petite Struensee in reference to her bastard parentage?

Louise Auguste was born July 7, 1771 at Hirschholm Palace in Denmark.  She was heralded as the child of King Christian VII of Denmark and his wife Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, but it was an open secret that she was the biological daughter of the king’s doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee.  The court called the little girl La Petite Struensee behind her back.  When she was six months old, Struensee and her mother were arrested, which led to his execution and her mother’s banishment.  She never saw her mother again and was left in the care of her step-grandmother, Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.  Dowager Queen Juliana had been the prime mover in the plot to unseat Struensee and Caroline Matilda.  It seems an odd choice to leave their young daughter in her care.

Louise and her half-brother, Crown Prince Frederik, were raised in the Danish court in Copenhagen and grew very close.  This did not please Juliana as she hated Louise’s mother and resented the fact that she and her lover tried to usurp her stepson’s throne. The two children were raised in a very stilted and formal setting, and were each other’s best friend and ally in the cold atmosphere of court.  Christian VII was mentally ill, and did not take much notice of the two children, so it must have seemed as if they were orphans.  At one point Louise was sent by Juliana away to be educated and Frederik lost his temper and insisted she return at once.  She was back at court with in the week.  Both of them developed a healthy resentment of Juliana, especially after they pieced together the story of their mother from court gossip.  The two children stuck together through adolescence and into young adulthood.

Louise was more outgoing than her brother, and became a favorite of the other young people at court.  She often shocked the more conservative older members of court with her fashionable dress, especially having her portrait painted in a softer style of dress popular at the French court.  At the unveiling, Dowager Queen Juliana nearl
y fainted as the shape of the princess’ legs could be seen through the sheer gown.  Scandal!  The artist was forced to paint over the offending legs with additional fabric.  Despite this, Louise was not interested in marriage.  Chief Minister Andreas Peter Bernstorff had the brilliant idea of marrying the 14 year old princess back into the royal house of Denmark.  At that time, there were two branches- the House of Oldenborg, of which she was supposedly a member; and the House of Augustenborg.  By marrying Louise to Duke Frederick Christian II, the two halves of the Danish royal family would be united and it would keep Louise from marrying into the rival Swedish royal family.  Louise was not excited about this plan, but went through with it at the urging of her brother.  Louise and Frederick Christian were married at Christiansborg Palace May 27, 1786.

The couple lived at court in Copenhagen for many years and Louise was proclaimed the “Venus of Denmark”.  They returned to Frederick Christian’s duchy of Augustenborg after his father’s death.  However, Louise was lonely and bored in far off Augustenborg.  Her husband was no company for her as he was very scholarly and would lock himself into his study to read for hours at a time.  In a compromise, they lived in Augustenborg during the summer, and the Duke allowed Louise to invite artists for company, and then returned to Copenhagen in the winter.  In an ironic twist of fate, the couple was childless for ten years of their marriage until Louise received fertility treatments from Dr. Carl Ferdinand Suadiacini.  Court gossip attributed the paternity of her three children to Dr. Suadacini in a cruel mirror of her own parentage.

When the French revolution started, Louise and her brother were one of the few royals that were in sympathy with the French.  Some, such as Anne-Marie Selinko in her novel Desirée, speculate this was due to their anger at the English mother.  However, this is pure speculation.  Her husband and her brother did feud over control the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein and Sonderburg, and began scheming to be chosen as the heir to the throne of Sweden.  However, Louise’s loyalties remained with her brother and the Danish throne, and worked with Frederik to keep her husband from becoming the king of Sweden.  Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Marshal of France and Prince of Ponte Corvo, was elected instead.  This caused a split between Louise and her husband, and their children took sides, with her daughter Caroline Amalie siding with her mother and their two sons siding with their father.  Caroline Amalie went on to become the Queen of Denmark after marrying a cousin of King Frederik.

Louise outlived her husband by thirty-three years, and after her eldest son took over the running of the duchies, she kept a court of artists and thinkers.  She died January 13, 1843 and is buried in Augustenborg.


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