Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden

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Ulrika Eleonora
Ulrika Eleonora.jpg
Queen Ulrika Eleonora
Queen of Sweden
Reign 5 December 1718 – 29 February 1720
Coronation 17 March 1719
Predecessor Charles XII
Successor Frederick I
Landgravine consort of Hesse-Kassel
Reign 23 March 1730 – 24 November 1741
Predecessor Maria Amalia of Courland
Successor Mary of Great Britain
Queen consort of Sweden
Reign 29 February 1720 - 24 November 1741
Predecessor Frederick, Hereditary Prince of Hesse-Kassel
Successor Louisa Ulrika of Prussia
Spouse Frederick I of Sweden
House House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken(by birth)
House of Hesse-Kassel(by marriage)
Father Charles XI of Sweden
Mother Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark
Born 23 January 1688
Stockholm Palace, Sweden
Died 24 November 1741(1741-11-24) (aged 53)
Stockholm, Sweden
Burial Riddarholmen Church, Stockholm
Religion Lutheran

Ulrika Eleonora or Ulrica Eleanor (23 January 1688 – 24 November 1741), also known as Ulrika Eleonora the Younger, was Queen regnant of Sweden from 5 December 1718 to 29 February 1720, and then Queen consort until her death.

She was the youngest child of King Charles XI and Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark and named after her mother. After the death of her brother King Charles XII in 1718, she claimed the throne. Her deceased older sister, Hedvig Sophia, had left a son, Charles Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp, who had the better claim by primogeniture. Ulrika Eleonora asserted that she was the closest surviving relative of the late king (the idea of proximity of blood) and cited the precedent of Queen Christina. She was recognized as successor by the Riksdag after she had agreed to renounce the powers of absolute monarchy established by her father. She abdicated in 1720 in favor of her husband, Landgrave Frederick I of Hesse-Kassel.

Princess and regent[edit]

Ulrika Eleonora

After their mother's death in 1693, Ulrika Eleonora and her siblings were placed in the care of their grandmother, Hedwig Eleonora. However, her grandmother was known to favor her elder sister. During her childhood, Eleonora was somewhat overlooked in favor of this elder, more extroverted and talented sister, princess Hedvig Sophia. Her elder siblings enjoyed riding and dancing and reportedly somewhat looked down upon her as she did not have the courage to participate in their games and was easily brought to tears. She was described as friendly, modest and dignified, with good posture and beautiful hands, but she was not regarded to be either intelligent or attractive. Her grandmother, Hedwig Eleonora, described her as stubborn, and she was known to demonstrate her dislike of others or of events by simulating illness. She was a talented musician, and when performing with her sister at court concerts, she would play the clavier while her sister sang. Ulrika Eleonora lived most of her life in the shadow of others, outshone by her brother the king, and by her attractive sister.

From 1700, she took care of her dominating grandmother, Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, during her brother's absence in the Great Northern War. Her older sister, Hedvig Sophia, was then the heir presumptive to the throne.

As her brother Charles XII was unmarried and childless, she was regarded as a likely future heir to the throne, and was thereby attractive on the marriage market. In 1698, a marriage alliance was suggested by marrying her to Prince Charles of Denmark and her brother to Princess Sophia Hedwig of Denmark, but in 1700 this plan was discarded. In 1700, there were negotiations of a marriage to Frederick William I of Prussia, but nothing came of them.[1] These plans were about to be put into effect when they were disrupted, without motivation, by her brother. She was later made the god-mother of Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, who was named Ulrika after her.[1]

In 1702, a marriage to the future King George II of Great Britain was suggested, but was postponed, and in the end nothing came of it. Duke John William of Saxe-Gotha was given permission by her brother to court her, but the marriage plans were interrupted after he engaged in a duel with Anders Lagercrona in the presence of the monarch. In 1710, she received a proposal from Prince Frederick of Hesse. The negotiations where handled by her favorite and confidante Emerentia von Düben. The marriage was supported by her grandmother Hedwig Eleonora, as the Queen Dowager thought this would force Ulrika Eleonora to leave Sweden for Hesse, increasing the chances for the son of Ulrika Eleonora's elder sister, Charles of Holstein-Gottorp, to become heir to the throne. The engagement was announced on 23 January 1714, and the wedding took place 24 March 1715. During the wedding, her brother Charles XII remarked: "Tonight my sister is dancing away the crown".[2]

After her grandmother's death in 1715, she became the center of the court, and this was one of the happiest periods of her life. In 1715, she married Landgrave Frederick I of Hesse-Kassel. The marriage, which on her side was a love-match, became another attempt to use her as a political puppet. Frederick had married her with the intent of reaching the throne, and immediately began plotting to have her named heir in place of her nephew. The "Hesse Party" and the "Gottorp Party" stood against each other in the struggle for the throne.

Ulrika Eleonora's situation began to change after the death of her older sister, Hedvig Sophia, in 1708. Ulrika Eleonora became the only adult member of the royal house present in Sweden, aside from her grandmother, Queen Dowager Hedwig Eleonora. Already in late 1712, Charles XII had thoughts of making her regent during his absence. The royal council convinced her to be present at their meetings and give them her support. On 2 November 1713, she appeared at her first session, and a decision was made to assemble the Riksdag to declare her regent in her capacity as the closest heir to the throne. In 1713, the government and her grandmother named her regent during the king's absence and thus she became a pawn of the many powers struggling for influence in a country without a real heir presumptive or heir apparent. The choice now stood between Ulrika Eleonora and her nephew. Her accession as regent and president of the parliament was treated with great enthusiasm. The Riksdag had opposed her brother as they wanted to abolish the absolute monarchy and reinstate their own power. As regent, she kept herself informed of state affairs and urged her brother to return, warning him of the effects if he did not. With his permission she signed all documents of state affairs except those written to him personally. However, she regarded herself only as her brother's representative, and therefore made no suggestions of her own. As his sister, many times during the war she had asked her brother if she could visit him, but was never permitted to. She met her brother for the first time after sixteen years in Vadstena in 1716, and after that one last time in Kristinehamn in 1718.

Queen regnant[edit]

Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden

On 5 December 1718, Ulrika Eleonora received the news of the death of her brother, Charles XII. She immediately declared herself monarch in Uddevalla by stating that she had inherited the throne. The council was taken by surprise and did not contest this. She took control over the affairs of state and had Georg Heinrich von Görtz and his followers removed from power. The "Hesse Party" secured Ulrika Eleonora's succession to the throne. They gained the support of the Riksdag opposition, who wanted to end the absolute monarchy established in 1680 and reinstate parliamentary rule. On 15 December 1718, she declared that though she had inherited the throne, she did not intend to keep the Carolinian absolutism but agreed to reinstate the older system. The war council was determined to abolish absolutism and the right to inherit the throne, but was willing to acknowledge her as an elected monarch. Their opinion was supported by the majority of the Assembly of the Estates. Ulrika Eleonora was forced into agreeing to abolish absolute monarchy and the right to inherit the throne, both for her and for her contestant, her nephew Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp. After having agreed to sign the new constitution as monarch, she was elected Queen 23 January 1719. On 19 February she signed the Instrument of Government (1719), thereby securing the support of the Estates not to give the throne to her nephew and competitor. She was crowned Queen regnant in Uppsala Cathedral 17 March 1719 and made her formal entrance into Stockholm as monarch 11 April that same year. During the ceremonies in Stockholm, she received the Estates, who passed the throne in procession. On this occasion, she demonstrated that she knew who her followers were. When she received the nobility, she only allowed their representatives to kiss her hand with her glove on, while the other representatives were allowed to kiss her hand without the glove. Ulrika Eleonora never made the traditional journey through the country, the "Eriksgata". Instead, she made it as Queen Consort with Frederick in 1722, after his coronation.

Her reign occurred just before the end of the Great Northern War. During the Russian attacks on Sweden in August of the summer of 1719, the Russian Fleet attacked the capital of Stockholm. Despite the ongoing attack, Ulrika Eleonora forced her courtiers to attend a previously accepted reception at the British ambassador's, "being so untouched as if there had been no enemies present for hundreds of miles",[3] which was considered to be an impressive act of courage. Her favorite courtier was Emerentia von Düben (1669–1743), her old nurse, who had been ennobled and made lady-in-waiting in 1707 and with whom she had a close relationship all her life. Düben acted as her advisor, her comfort and her support, and was said to not have abused her influence - they were described as sisters. During her short reign, to secure support for her rule, she ennobled many families. In a period of fifteen months, she ennobled 181 people, more than any other monarch in Swedish history; one count, two barons and eight lesser noblemen every month. She had seven field marshals where her brother only ever had between three and five. Ulrika Eleonora was in fact in favour of an absolute monarchy. She had agreed to the new constitution only to secure the throne from her nephew, and her relations with the council was not good. She came into conflict with the president of the Privy Council Arvid Horn, who resigned in protest, as well as with his successor Gustaf Cronhielm. Horn criticized her for discussing state affairs with her consort, pressed her as to whether she would respect the constitution and insulted her by making the remark that nothing better was to be expected "under the regiment of a female". These conflicts had a deleterious effect on the war and state affairs.

Ulrika Eleonora supported the political ambitions of her consort, and from the beginning, she wished for him to become her co-monarch, in the fashion of Mary II of England and William III. However, this was not permitted by the Riksdag. One reason being that co-reigning had been forbidden in Sweden since the 15th century. There was also opposition in the Riksdag to the influence of Emerentia von Düben and her siblings over the affairs of state.[4] Her difficulty in respecting the constitution and trouble in getting along with the Riksdag, as well as her way of continuously discussing state affairs with her consort, did however make the Riksdag willing to replace her with Frederick as sole monarch if she abdicated, an idea that had the support of Frederick. On 29 February 1720, after having again been denied a co-monarchy, Ulrika Eleonora abdicated in favour of her consort on the condition that she should succeed him if he should die before her.

This succession was confirmed by the Riksdag. She often spoke of the abdication as the greatest sacrifice of her life. Frederick succeeded her as Frederick I on 24 March 1720.

Queen consort[edit]

Ulrica Eleanor's sarcophagus in Riddarholm Church.

The reign of her consort began the period traditionally known as the Age of Liberty, when the monarchy lost most of its power to the nobility. As Queen consort, she withdrew to private life. Ulrika Eleonora had married for love and was known to be fiercely loyal to Frederick. Initially, the relationship between Ulrika Eleonora was described as a happy one, and before Frederick became monarch, he restricted himself to the role of her consort. As late as the year 1724, the Queen expressed the hope that she would give birth to an heir, but the marriage was childless.[5]

The relationship between Ulrika Eleonora and Frederick changed after he became King, and it was said, that when she gave him the crown, she gave him his freedom.[6] King Frederick had mistresses, and his extramarital affairs increased after he lost much of his royal authority in 1723. In 1730, Frederick became the first king in Swedish history to have an official mistress, the young noblewoman Hedvig Taube, who was given the title Countess of Hessenstein. The Queen's reaction to this was never publicly known and she never commented on it, but she withdrew from court and devoted herself to religion and charity.[5] Privately, however, Ulrika Eleonora expressed her disapproval to her close confidant Emerentia von Düben,[4] who convinced her never to display any public reaction to the affair, as it would be beneath the Queen's dignity as her position was untouchable: "As the Moon travels along its course over the sky without bothering over the barks of dogs, so should Her Majesty despise the gossip, which has been unleashed by this much unfortunate and blinded commitment".[3] By convincing Ulrika Eleonora not to publicly display her displeasure of his adultery, Emerentia von Düben also became favored by King Frederik.[4] Ulrika Eleonora sternly followed the policy of not displaying her feelings about the adultery. At the beginning of the affair, on one occasion she even walked publicly with Hedvig Taube in her effort to defend the reputation of her consort.[5] The policy of Ulrika Eleonora not to express her dislike of the adultery of her consort was weakened during her last years, possibly due to the unique position of Taube as the official mistress, because of the long term nature of the affair and because it had resulted in issue. Upon the initiative of Ulrika Eleonora, Taube was lectured by a delegation from the clergy. On this occasion, Hedvig Taube defended her by saying that she had never been aware of any negative reaction whatsoever from the Queen.

Ulrika Eleonora was made regent twice; the first time during Frederick's absence in 1731, and the second time during his illness in 1738-1739. She was declared regent in May 1731 when Frederick departed to visit Hesse, and ruled until his return in the autumn. In 1738, she was asked by the Estates to accept the regency at an occasion when Frederick was so ill that he was in danger of dying and was incapable of ruling. She duly accepted this task and handled the state affairs until after New Year's Eve 1738-39. During her second regency, she banned the newly founded Swedish theatre by refusing to extend their access to Bollhuset[7] Her reason for this was opposition toward the theatre among the clergy.[7] The theatre, however, was restored the following year.

Ulrika Eleonora was interested in jewelry and music. She enjoyed to participate in the dance at court balls, and though religious scruples made her conflicted in the issue, she also engaged German and French theater companies to perform at Bollhuset. Intensely religious, she was capable of interrupting a parliamentary session to pray. Similarly, at court presentations, she could interrogate the female debutantes about the Bible, rewarding them for correct answers. Sternly maintaining her royal pride, she was known to simulate illness and decline to leave her quarters when she felt herself insulted. She had several personal friends aside from her confidant Emerentia von Düben, especially females, among them being Hedvig Mörner, and her childhood friend Anna Fleming, who were her lady-in-waiting for thirty years.[8]

Queen Ulrika Eleonora died of smallpox in 1741.



  1. ^ a b Olof Jägerskiöld: Lovisa Ulrika, drottning av Sverige (1945)
  2. ^ Scheutz, Lisbet (2001). Berömda och glömda Stockholmskvinnor: sju stadsvandringar : 155 kvinnoporträtt. Stockholm: MBM förl.. Libris 8392583. ISBN 91-973725-3-6
  3. ^ a b Lundh-Eriksson, Nanna (Swedish): Den glömda drottningen. Karl XII:s syster. Ulrika Eleonora D.Y. och hennes tid (The Forgotten Queen. The Sister of Charles XII. The Age of Ulrika Eleonora the Younger) Affärstryckeriet, Norrtälje. (1976)
  4. ^ a b c Emerentia von Düben i Svenskt biografiskt lexikon (art av Gr. Jacobson)
  5. ^ a b c Holst, Walfrid. Ulrika Eleonora d. y. Karl XII's syster Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm 1956
  6. ^ Lyttkens, Alice (1973). Kvinnan börjar vakna: den svenska kvinnans historia från 1700 till 1840-talet. (The awakening of Woman: The history of the Swedish woman from 1700 until the 1840s). Stockholm: Bonnier. Libris 7144053. ISBN 91-0-038549-2 (Swedish)
  7. ^ a b Tryggve Byström (1981). Svenska komedien 1737-1754. (Swedish Comedy 1737-1754) Borås: Centraltryckeriet AB. ISBN 91-1-813241-3 (Swedish)
  8. ^ Eva Österberg, red (1997). Jämmerdal & Fröjdesal. Kvinnor i stormaktstidens Sverige. Stockholm: Atlantis AB. ISBN 91-7486-355-x p. 318
  • Lindqvist, Herman (2006). Historien om alla Sveriges drottningar (History of the Queens of Sweden). Norstedts Förlag. ISBN 91-1-301524-9.
  • Hofberg, Herman et al. (1906). Svenskt Biografiskt Handlexikon. Entry for Düben, Emerentia von. (in Swedish)
  • Nordisk familjebok. B. 30. Stockholm (1920) (in Swedish)
  • Tryggve Byström (1981). Svenska komedien 1737-1754. (Swedish Comedy 1737-1754) Borås: Centraltryckeriet AB. ISBN 91-1-813241-3 (Swedish)

External links[edit]

Ulrika Eleonora
Cadet branch of the House of Wittelsbach
Born: 23 January 1688 Died: 24 November 1741
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Charles XII
Queen of Sweden
Succeeded by
Frederick I
Duchess of Bremen and Verden
Succeeded by
George I
Royal titles
Preceded by
Frederick, Hereditary Prince of Hesse-Kassel
as prince consort
Queen consort of Sweden
Title next held by
Louisa Ulrika of Prussia
Title last held by
Maria Amalia of Courland
Landgravine consort of Hesse-Kassel
Title next held by
Mary of Great Britain