05 December 2018

From Reigning Queen to Consort

By Johan Starbus via Wikimedia Commons
The message arrived unexpectedly. The great warrior King of Sweden Charles XII was dead. Shot through the head by an unknown assailant in Norway. He'd spent most of the last two decades, his entire adult life, outside of Sweden, fighting the Norwegians, the Germans and the Russians, and stirring up trouble in the Ottoman Empire. But, in all of his defense of his kingdom, Charles had neglected to do one very important kingly duty: marry and father an heir.

His baby sister Ulrika Eleonora, age 30, received the tragic news with mixed emotions. She'd barely seen him, after all, and his death opened an exciting new door for her. By the standards of primogeniture, the throne should have gone to her nephew, the teenage son of her deceased older sister. But, strict primogeniture didn't necessarily apply in Sweden at that time and Charles Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp was far, far away on that winter's day. Declaring herself the person most closely related to the King, Ulrika Eleonora boldly announced that she was now Queen.

Riksdag, Sweden's parliament agreed, on one condition: the new queen had to renounce the absolutism that her father King Charles XI had put in place. She disagreed with giving so much power to an elected government, but she wanted the throne more, so she conceded. In return, the Riksdag elected her as the Queen Regnant.

That summer, the Russians attacked Stockholm, but Ulrika Eleonora showed no fear and was hailed for her bravery. That helped add to her supporters. She also built up support by creating more and more nobles. During her reign she created more nobles than any other Swedish monarch. Nevertheless, her two greatest supporters were her childhood nurse, Emerentia von Duben, and her husband, Frederick if Hesse-Vessel. Unlike many favorites throughout history and around the world, von Duben actually was a very good friend to the queen and did not abuse her influence in order to enrich herself.

And, Frederick was the love of Ulrika Eleonora's life. In fact, when she claimed the crown, she longed for him to be named co-monarch with him as had happened with William and Mary in Britain a generation earlier. The Riksdag would not allow it. Nevertheless, she continued to rely upon him and his advice. At the same time, Ulrika Eleonora often tried to act against the new constitution that had given her the throne. She never wanted to give up the absolute monarchy, and thought that she would eventually be able to set aside.

The Riksdag was fed up. If Ulrika Eleonora insisted on opposing the government and sharing state information with Frederick, maybe they should make him king, after all. However, they still insisted that there would be no co-monarchs. If Ulrika Eleonora wanted Frederick to be king, she would have to abdicate. She agreed, under the condition that she would be his heir as well as his consort. She agreed. Her reign had lasted 15 months.

With Frederick's accession, Ulrika Eleonora became a loyal consort although she faced great personal challenges. She suffered a couple of miscarriages before her reign and never became pregnant again. Then, after sacrificing her crown for Frederick, he committed a personal betrayal by taking on a mistress, Hedvig Taube. To rub salt into these wounds, Hedvig delivered four children for Frederick. Ulrika Eleonora nursed her hurt in private, always maintaining her composure in public.

The Riksdag was not so easily placated, especially after Hedvig was made the first "official mistress" in Swedish history. On two different occasions, they raised the issue of the King's adultery as running counter to his accession oaths to treat the Queen respectfully. She was very popular as a consort, and no one wished to see her treated poorly. Nothing came of the first attempt, but the King received an official reprimand the second time.

It made little difference because soon thereafter Ulrika Eleonora died of smallpox. She was 53. With her death, Sweden was left without an heir. Frederick survived another decade. The Riksdag had to do some deep geneology work to select a new king, settling on Adolf Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, a great-grandson of the sister of King Charles X of Sweden.

Ulrika Eleonora was the last Queen Regnant of Sweden, but today the next monarch will be another woman, the current Crown Princess Victoria, who is expected to be followed by her daughter Princess Estelle.

For More About Ulrika Eleonora
Queens Regnant: From Regnant to Consort on History of Royal Women
Ulrika Eleonora 273 dödsdag on The Swedish History Blog

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