Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark

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Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark
Queen consort of Sweden
Tenure 6 May 1680 – 26 July 1693
Spouse Charles XI, King of Sweden
Among others...
Hedvig Sophia, Duchess of Holstein-Gottorp
Charles XII, King of Sweden
Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden
House House of Oldenburg(by birth)
House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken(by marriage)
Father Frederick III, King of Denmark
Mother Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Born (1656-09-11)11 September 1656
Died 26 July 1693(1693-07-26) (aged 36)
Karlberg Palace

Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark (11 September 1656 – 26 July 1693) was the Queen consort of Sweden as the spouse of King Charles XI of Sweden.

The name Ulrike is a Danish version of the name; in Swedish she is called Ulrika Eleonora den äldre (English: Ulrica Eleanor the Elder), to distinguish her from her daughter, the future queen regnant.


Early life and marriage[edit]

Ulrika as princess of Denmark portrayed by Pierre Signac

Ulrika was the daughter of King Frederick III of Denmark and his spouse Queen Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In 1675 she was betrothed to King Charles XI of Sweden. During the Scanian War between Denmark and Sweden in 1675–1679 she was encouraged to break the engagement: her brother the King broke it for her in 1676, but she herself continued to regard herself engaged. She was considered as a possible bride by the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, but she refused a different match. During the war, she gained a reputation for loyalty to her future home country by exhibiting kindness to Swedish prisoners: she pawned her jewelry, even her engagement ring, to care for the Swedish prisoners of war. During the peace negotiations between Sweden and Denmark in 1679, the marriage between her and Charles XI was on the agenda, and ratified in 26 September 1679. The marriage contract was signed 6 February 1680, and when the Swedish representative Johan Göransson Gyllenstierna returned to Sweden, he brought her with him.

Ulrika Eleonora was popular in Denmark because of her charity, and when she left for Sweden, she thanked them with the words: "Thank you! By my heart I thank you! May I ever be remembered in Denmark with the same tenderness, and may God give me the grace to live such, that I by the last separation [death] can be followed by the same love from my subjects!"[1]

Life as queen[edit]

Ulrike Eleonora by David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl 1686

Ulrika Eleonora arrived to Helsingborg in Sweden 4 May 1680, and two days later, she married Charles in Skottorp Manor on 6 May 1680. The wedding was quite humble and hasty took place among but a small circle of courtiers, as the monarch was afraid of the great costs and wanted to avoid the presence of the French ambassador. The 25 November 1680, she was crowned Queen at Storkyrkan in Stockholm.

Initially, Charles XI was disappointed in her appearance, and asked Johan Gyllenstierna if he could not have been chosen a more beautiful consort, upon which he was given the reply: "Your Majesty will see, that within her there is an angel".[2] Ulrika Eleonora was described as religious, patient, mild and charitable, moderately beautiful and with a simple dignity. She was received with enthusiasm among the public, because she was seen as a hope of lasting peace, and her popularity soon became personal because of her own qualities. She also impressed with her courage, when the boat upon which she was taken to Stockholm after her arrival to Sweden hit a rock and almost sunk. On this occasion, she calmed the panic by saying: "Be still, do not cry out so! If we shall die, it will be the will of God, and Gods will be done!" [3]

At the royal court, Ulrika Eleonora was placed in the shadow of her mother-in-law. While lingering distrust between Denmark and Sweden caused by the Scanian War remained, Hedvig Eleonora and the government of Sweden were never receptive to the son's idea to marry a Danish princess. Though her marriage are described as happy, Charles XI continued to always place his mother before his wife. Above all, he was forever under the strong influence of his mother, Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, who never surrendered the position of queen to her daughter-in-law. It is noted that he always paid his respect to his mother first and to his wife secondly. The King always referred to Ulrika Eleonora as "My Wife" and to his mother as "The Queen". Mindful of this, the foreign ambassadors, always visited Hedwig Eleonora first, and then Ulrika Eleonora, when paying their respects to the royal family. This created some tension between her and her mother-in-law, but there was never an open conflict.

Her frail health and her many pregnancies often prevented her from participating in festivities and ceremonies, and she spent most of her time attending to her children and to charitable activities. Her private family life with her spouse and children were on the other hand said to be happy. Her consort was never unfaithful to her. After her death, he told his mother that he had not been happy since his wife died. She also enjoined the visits of her brother-in-law and sister the duke and duchess of Holstein-Gottorp. At the summer residence Karlberg Palace, she enjoyed a happy family life away from the court and developed an interest in painting. She was also interested in theater and dance and acted as patron of the amateur theatre at court. In the winter of 1683-84, a group of female courtiers performed the Swedish premier of Iphigénie by Racine at court upon her request. In the play, Johanna Eleonora De la Gardie acted in the part of Iphigenie, Amalia Königsmarck as Achilles, Aurora Königsmarck as Clitemnestre, Augusta Wrangel as Agamemnon, and Ebba Maria De la Gardie as Eriphile. [4] This is regarded as a significant event as the first play performed by an all female cast in Sweden, as an introduction of French Classicism in Sweden.[5] Apparently, Ulrika Eleonora herself had wished to participate, but her pregnancy at the time had made it impossible. Among her noted ladies-in-waitings were the sister-couple De la Gardie: the singer Ebba Maria and the poet Johanna Eleonora, as well as Anna Maria Clodt.

Ulrika Eleonora had no political influence over her spouse, who preferred to discuss the affairs of state with his mother rather than her. She once tried to exercise some political influence over Charles XI. During "The Great Reversion" to the crown of counties, baronies and large lordships from the nobility (most of them richly given away by Queen Christina), she tried to speak on the behalf of the people whose property was confiscated by the crown. But the king simply told her that the reason he had married her was not because he wanted her political advice. Instead, she helped people whose property had been confiscated by secretly compensating them economically from her own budget. Charles XI:s confidence for her grew over time: in 1690, he named her future Regent, should his son succeed him being still a minor.

Ulrika Eleonora is most known for her great activity within charity. She founded a large number of charitable institutions. Her charitable work were administered by her Danish lady-in-waiting Anna Marschalk, and she is known to occasionally have pawned her own possessions to finance her charity projects. Her best known projects were the tapestry school at Karlberg Palace in 1680, were poor girls were educated to tapestry manufacturing by three unmarried Finnish noblewomen; an orphanage at Karlberg; the Drottninghuset (The Queen's House), a home for poor widows in Stockholm founded in 1686, and a poor house at Kungsholmen. She supported a large number of people by regular allowances from her personal budget, such as invalid soldiers and their spouses and converts to Protestantism from Judaism, Islam and Catholicism, especially female converts: in 1693, 17.000 people were supported by her.


Ulrica Eleanor's coffin in Riddarholm Church

In 1690, weakened by childbirths, Ulrika Eleonora was affected by a non-diagnosed illness, which was deemed to be mortal and often confined her to weeks in bed from this point on. The doctors recommended her to travel to the hot baths in Germany, and monies were set aside for her, but she stated that she was as much in God's hand in Germany as in Sweden, and used the money for her charity instead. She died 26 July 1693, after having spent the winter of 1692-93 in bed. Upon her death bed, she asked her children not to be haughty but to consider their high position as a way of helping others; to avoid flattery and pride, never to listen to gossip and, should they hear it, call upon the slandered party, listen to their explanation and regard it to be the truth. She asked her spouse to show mercy to the victims of the reduction, to give her a simple funeral and to give the money set aside for it to the poor. At her death, Countess De la Gardie remarked: "I do not believe any royal to have been so mourned as Her Majesty. Here there are unanimous crying and wimping, and everyone dresses in mourning, so that in the entire city, there are no more black cloth to be bought".[6] Ulrika Eleonora has in history been given a saintly reputation, exemplified by the words of Frans Ferdiand Carlson: "Seldom has a more lovable creature been placed upon a throne. She thought of everyone but herself".[7]

There is a well known old legend associated with her death. The legend states that while the queen lay dying at Karlberg Palace, her favorite lady-in-waiting and Mistress of the Robes, Countess Maria Elisabeth Stenbock, lay sick in Stockholm. On the night the queen had died, Countess Stenbock visited Karlberg and was admitted alone to the room containing the remains of the queen. The officer in charge looked into the key hole and saw the countess and the queen speaking at the window of the room. He was so shocked by the sight that he started coughing blood. The countess, as well as the carriage she had arrived with, was gone the next moment. When the matter was investigated, it was made clear that the countess had been in bed, gravely ill that day and not left town. The officer died of the shock he received from the sight, and the countess died weeks later. The king gave the order that the affair was not to be mentioned further.[8]




  1. ^ Nanna Lundh-Eriksson (1947). Hedvig Eleonora. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN (Swedish)
  2. ^ Nanna Lundh-Eriksson (1947). Hedvig Eleonora. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN (Swedish)
  3. ^ Nanna Lundh-Eriksson (1947). Hedvig Eleonora. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN (Swedish)
  4. ^ Samlaren / 21:a årgången. 1900. Runeberg
  5. ^ Lars Löfgren (2003). Svensk teater. (Swedish theater) Stockholm: Natur och Kultur. Sid. 46. ISBN 91-27-09672-6
  6. ^ Nanna Lundh-Eriksson (1947). Hedvig Eleonora. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN (Swedish)
  7. ^ Nanna Lundh-Eriksson (1947). Hedvig Eleonora. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand. ISBN (Swedish)
  8. ^ Afzelius, Arvid August. Swenska folkets sago-häfder. Pages 226-227
  • Herman Lindqvist (2006). Historien om alla Sveriges drottningar (in Swedish). Norstedts Förlag. ISBN 91-1-301524-9. (In Swedish)
  • Lindqvist, Herman. Storhet och fall. Sweden: Bokförlaget Pan, 2000 (1997). Vol 4 of Historien om Sverige. 10 vols. 1992–2002. ISBN 91-7263-092-2. (In Swedish)
  • "Ulrika Eleonora". vol 13 of Bra böckers lexikon. (ed. Jan-Öjvind Swahn). 25 vols.Bokförlaget Bra Böcker AB, 1986. (In Swedish)
  • http://runeberg.org/sqvinnor/0427.html (In Swedish)
  • Carl Grimberg: Svenska Folkets underbara öden IV. 1660-1707 (The wonderful destinys of the Swedish people) (In Swedish)
Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark
Born: 11 September 1656 Died: 26 July 1693
Royal titles
Preceded by
Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp
Queen consort of Sweden
Succeeded by
Frederick of Hesse-Kassel
as prince consort