Saturday, July 16, 2016

Louise of Hesse-Kassel, Queen of Denmark

Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel, whose full name was “Luise Wilhelmine Friederike Caroline Auguste Julie”, was the third child and second eldest daughter of Prince William of Hesse and Princess Charlotte of Denmark. Louise was born on September 7, 1817 in Kassel (located in present-day Germany) where her father was stationed at the time with the Danish army. Louise’s father, William, was the first son of Prince Frederick of Hesse-Kassel and Princess Caroline of Nassau-Usingen. Prince Frederick was the founder of a cadet branch of the House of Hesse called Hesse-Kassel-Rumpenheim. Frederick’s mother was Princess Mary of Great Britain (daughter of George II), making him the first cousin of George III. William’s siblings included: Princess Marie of Hesse-Kassel, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel, Duchess of Cambridge (the wife of the tenth child of George III, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge).

Louise of Hesse-Kassel
While her father came from prominent German and British ancestry, Louise’s mother was the daughter of Frederick, Hereditary Prince of Denmark and Duchess Sophie Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Prince Frederick was the only surviving child of King Frederick V of Denmark by his second marriage to Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Frederick’s elder half-brother, King Christian VII, suffered from a severe mental illness (probably schizophrenia) so Frederick was named the regent of Denmark in 1772 when he was just eighteen. However, he was regent in name only as his domineering mother was the real figure of power in the government. Frederick was regent until 1784 when his sixteen year old half-nephew, the future King Frederick VI, staged a coup and took the regency for himself. Prince Frederick, who lost all influence and power, remained at court until 1794 after which he moved to Amalienborg Palace with his family. His daughter, Princess Charlotte, married Prince William of Hesse-Kassel in 1810.

William and Charlotte, who was described as astute, pragmatic, and frugal, lived in Kassel until 1820, when they moved to Charlotte’s native Denmark when Louise was just three years old. The family first lived in the Prince Wilhelm Mansion in Copenhagen but later moved to Brockdorff’s Palace, which is part of the Amalienborg. Louise, who had five other siblings (just four survived infancy), including Prince Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel, was brought up just like any royal princess in the nineteenth century. She was extremely talented in the areas of painting and piano and even received lessons from well-known Danish artists and musicians. Louise’s status, and that of her family’s, rose when her maternal uncle, Prince Christian Frederick, was crowned King Christian VIII of Denmark in 1839. Louise and her siblings quickly became important members of the succession when it became apparent that Christian VIII’s only child (and Louise’s first cousin), the future King Frederick VII, would have no children. Since Princess Charlotte was the only sibling of Christian VIII to have children, Louise and her siblings became almost guaranteed successors to the throne.

Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and his wife, Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel
On May 26, 1842, the twenty-four year old Louise married her paternal second cousin, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, in Copenhagen. The cousins had first met at Rumpenheim Castle in Hesse (the family seat of Louise’s paternal family) during a family reunion. Here, Christian became so attracted to Louise that he soon proposed. Prince Christian, who was one year his wife’s junior, was the sixth child of Friedrich Wilhelm, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and Princess Louise Caroline of Hesse-Kassel. Christian’s mother was a granddaughter of King Frederick V of Denmark and Princess Louise of Great Britain (the youngest daughter of George II). He was also a descendant of Danish royalty through his father, whose family was a junior branch of the House of Oldenburg, the Danish royal family since 1448. Christian was actually a great-grandson of King Frederick V and the first cousin once removed of King Frederick VI. After Louise and Christian’s wedding, the couple moved to the Yellow Palace, an eighteenth century town house located next to the Amalienborg Palace complex in Copenhagen. They had a stable, loving relationship and Louise supported her husband immensely. Here, Louise gave birth to all but one of her six children, none of whom died in infancy. Two of their sons became monarchs in their own right and two of their daughters became consorts of European monarchs:

  • Frederick VIII of Denmark (1843-1912) married: Princess Louise of Sweden – had issue
  • Alexandra of Denmark, Queen ofthe U.K. (1844-1925) married: King Edward VII of the U.K. – had issue
  • George I of Greece (1845-1913) married: Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia – had issue
  • Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna) (1847-1928) married: Emperor Alexander III of Russia – had issue
  • Thyra of Denmark, Crown Princessof Hanover (1853-1933) married: Ernest Augustus, Crown Prince of Hanover – had issue
  • Prince Valdemar of Denmark (1858-1939) married: Princess Marie of Orléans – had issue

The Family of Christian IX and Louise of Hesse-Kassel (left to right): Dagmar, Frederick, Valdemar, King Christian IX, Queen Louise, Thyra, George, and Alexandra
Christian’s marriage to Louise greatly heightened his claim to the Danish throne, as both were descendants of the royal family, which made themselves and their children strong contenders for the Crown. But despite Christian and Louise’s noble backgrounds, they lived a very modest and quiet life for members of royalty. They didn’t have a great amount of wealth because their only income was Christian’s salary from an army commission and their children grew up doing “normal” chores that royal princes and princesses usually never performed, such as setting the table and making their own clothes. When Louise’s uncle, King Christian VIII died in 1848 and her cousin, the childless Frederick VII succeeded to the throne, Louise, her mother, and her siblings all banded together to renounce their claims to the Danish throne in favor of Christian. This occurred in 1851, so, a political conference was held between Europe’s Great Powers the following year to decide on Frederick VII’s successor. With the weight of his wife’s rights behind him, Christian was ultimately selected as the new heir to the throne and was granted the official title of “Prince of Denmark” in 1853.

Louise of Hesse-Kassel, Queen of Denmark
Louise and her husband had achieved their ambition of becoming the Crown Princess and Prince of Denmark. The family, whose statuses had now risen exponentially, moved into a much grander residence, Bernstorff Palace. But their income did not increase despite their great change in status and due to tense relations between Frederick VII and Louise over the matter of the succession and Frederick’s morganatic marriage to his mistress, Louise Rasmussen, Louise and Christian did not take part in court life. The couple’s marriage did grow stronger during the whole succession crisis, as Louise devoted herself wholeheartedly to her husband’s fight for the throne. Christian became dependent on his loyal wife’s wisdom, judgment, and determination, for she was said to have a stronger will and mind than himself. Their battle for the throne, which they ultimately won, resulted in the couple becoming deeply attached to each other. Their victory became tangible on November 15, 1863 when Frederick VII died and Christian succeeded to the throne as King Christian IX with Louise, who was forty-six at the time, becoming his Queen Consort.

Louise of Hesse-Kassel, Queen of Denmark
During her tenure as Queen, Louise remained out of the public eye and devoted all of her time to her children, grandchildren, and her work with charities. She sponsored twenty-six different charity organizations and her philanthropic work reflected her deeply conservative beliefs, as she fought against the rise of socialism and the emerging workers movement. Louise also loved indulging in her role as the matriarch of her large European family and was constantly arranging annual family reunions. She did not care about her relationship or popularity with the Danish people and was more fixated on arranging powerful dynastic marriages for her children instead of state affairs. She wanted her children to marry into powerful European royal families to cement the family’s newly recognized status, although she refused to have any of her children marry into Germany, as she was vehemently anti-German due to Denmark’s tense past with the rival kingdom.

Louisa’s eldest daughter, the beautiful Alexandra, was the first of her children to marry. In 1863, Alix (as her family knew her) married Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the eldest son and heir of Queen Victoria of the U.K. Albert Edward would eventually succeed to the throne in 1901 as Edward VII with Alix as his Queen Consort. The couple had six children in total, including the future King George V and Maud, Queen Consort of Norway. Louise’s second daughter, Dagmar, married next in 1866 to Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich, the future Emperor Alexander III of Russia. Dagmar, who changed her name to Maria Feodorovna upon her marriage, became Empress when her husband ascended to the throne in 1881. She had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Her eldest son was Emperor Nicholas II (who married Princess Alix of Hesse), the last sovereign of Russia.

Queen Louise with her daughter, Alexandra (left),
and her granddaughter, Princess Louise (right)
Prince William, who became King George I of Greece in 1863 after he was elected to the position, married in 1867 to Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna of Russia, the first cousin of Emperor Alexander III, who was six years his junior. They had eight children together with just one daughter dying in infancy. A few of their children were - King Constantine I of Greece (who married Princess Sophia of Prussia, the daughter of Victoria, Princess Royal) and Prince Andrew (who married Princess Alice of Battenberg, the daughter of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine and the granddaughter of Princess Alice of the U.K.), who was the father of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In 1869, Louise’s eldest child and the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Frederick, married Princess Louise of Sweden, the only surviving child of Charles XV of Sweden, in a match designed to improve relations between Denmark and Louise’s native country. The couple had eight children together, including: Christian X of Denmark and Haakon VII of Norway (who married his maternal first cousin, Princess Maud of Wales).

The Daughters of Christian IX and Queen Louise
(left to right): Dagmar, Alexandra, and Thyra
In 1871, Louise’s youngest daughter, Thyra, fell into some trouble when she entered a scandalous affair with a Lieutenant in the Cavalry of the Danish army named Vilhelm Frimann Marcher. Thyra’s family discovered the secret relationship when she became pregnant. The eighteen year-old princess had to give birth to her illegitimate child in secret at Glücksburg Castle (the family seat of her father’s German relatives) on November 8, 1871. Her relatives, who told the media that she was sick with jaundice, covered up Thyra’s absence from court. A Danish couple adopted Thyra’s baby, a little girl named Maria, soon after her birth. She was renamed Kate and went on to marry and have a family of her own before she died in 1964. Just short of two months after his daughter’s birth, Marcher committed suicide after a heated row with Thyra’s father. In December of 1878, Thyra married Crown Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover, 3rd Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, the only son of George V of Hanover and Princess Marie of Saxe-Altenburg (Ernest Augustus was also eight years Thyra’s senior). They had six children, including Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick, who married Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia, the only daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Louise’s last child to marry was her youngest – Prince Valdemar. In late 1885, the twenty-seven year old Danish prince married Princess Marie of Orléans (who was seven years his junior), the eldest child of Prince Robert, Duke of Chartres, a grandson of King Louis Philippe I of France and Princess Françoise of Orléans, who was also a grandchild of Louis Philippe I. The couple had five children together and through their youngest daughter, they are the grandparents of the titular Queen Anne of Romania.

The Family of Christian IX and Queen Louise
(Laurits Tuxen, 1883-6)
Through the impressive dynastic marriages of her children, Louise is an ancestress of many modern-day European monarchies, such as: Denmark, the U.K., Belgium, Norway, Spain, and Luxembourg. Her descendants also sat on the thrones of Greece and Romania, whose monarchies no longer exist. In her later years as Queen Consort, Louise’s health began to fail. She suffered from hereditary otosclerosis (which her daughter, Alexandra, also inherited), an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear that causes hearing loss. Louise’s deafness and infirmities worsened to such a point that in her final years she was cared for by two deaconesses from the Deaconess Foundation, which she was the founder of. On September 29, 1898 at Bernstorff Palace, the eighty-one year old Queen Louise died with many members of her widespread family by her bedside. At the time of her death, Louise had been queen for thirty-five years, the longest period of time any Danish consort had served up until that point. Louise was buried in Roskilde Cathedral on the island of Zealand, the main burial site for Danish monarchs since the 1400’s. Louise’s husband, Christian IX, survived her by seven years until his own death on January 29, 1906 at the age of eighty-seven. He was buried beside his wife in Roskilde Cathedral. 

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