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Luise Ulrike

Luise Ulrike

Luise Ulrike of Prussia (24 July 1720 – 16 July 1782) was born in Berlin in 1720, the daughter of the king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm I, and his wife, Sophie Dorothea von Hannover. She was one of the siblings of Friedrich the Great. In 1744, she married Adolf Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp, recently elected crown prince of Sweden. In 1751, following the king’s death, her husband acceded to the throne and she became queen of Sweden. Her marriage was a very happy union, resulting in the birth of four children; the eldest, Gustav, succeeded his father in 1772 as Gustav III, king of Sweden.

Luise Ulrike was particularly known as a dynamic patron of science and art. She founded the Witterhetsakademin in Stockholm in 1753; she supported various artists, including several women, by awarding pensions; she encouraged the development of theatre with the reconstruction of a theatre at Drottningholm Palace (although plays were in French); and she was also an avid collector of art.

Her palace of Drottningholm (the main residence of the royal family today), which she received as a gift upon her wedding, contained massive collections of objects she gathered over the years both for her own interest and pleasure, and also for display, as a tool of visual political communication highlighting the grandeur of the royal family. She had several cabinets containing various items such as porcelain, paintings, antiquities, minerals, objects of natural history, etc. She was especially fond of her collection of coins and medals, which she described as one of the largest in Europe. Her collection of books and manuscripts was equally impressive. Her library can still be seen today at Drottningholm palace.

But Luise Ulrike is also remembered as a political figure. A proud and fierce descendant of kings and queens, she regarded the power of the Riksdag (the Swedish Parliament) as a monstrous usurpation of royal rights and privileges. Indeed, following the death of Charles XII in 1718, the Swedish constitution was modified and deprived the kings of most of their political power. Upon her arrival in Stockholm, and having the example of absolutist monarchies such as France and her native Prussia in mind, Luise Ulrike was determined to abolish this aberration. In 1756, her plot and attempts to overthrow the Riksdag failed. As the aborted coup was discovered, the queen appeared as the key instigator, the brain among the plotters, and nearly lost her crown and her head. The Riksdag, nevertheless, issued only a warning. She was forced to express her regret and apologize in a letter, and was scolded by the archbishop. This incident, however, did not prevent her from pursuing her goal: the reestablishment of royal privileges and power in Sweden. Her son, Gustav III, with whom she had a stormy relationship, would succeed where his mother had failed, to her greatest joy, when he ascended the throne. But their relationship took a dramatic turn when the dowager queen supported rumors that Gustav’s son, and heir to the throne, was not his biological child. Mother and son entered into a violent conflict and exile to Pomerania was even considered for the queen dowager. Luise Ulrike and her son would not reconcile until her she was on her deathbed.

Areas of Research:

  • Cultural area:
    • As a foreign princess, which artistic influences did she bring to Sweden and which crystallized there?
    • What were the artistic currents she supported and encouraged and why?
    • What impact did she have on Swedish culture? How did her role as a consort affect the cultural world of the court and, to a greater extent, that of the capital?
  • Political area:
    • Luise Ulrike had a precise conception of the art of governing. In order to reach her ideal of royal power, she employed several strategies. This project will uncover her political actions by asking, among other questions, the following:
      • Her political network. How did she establish a network of political influence at court? What were the tools she used and why? What were her circles of influence and did they work?
      • Her diplomatic role. As the sister of the king of Prussia, a major player in international relations in the eighteenth century, she was certainly influential in alliance making and foreign affairs. How did she reconcile the love and attachment of her native country with the necessity and duties pertaining to her position as queen of Sweden?
      • What was the dimension of gender in her political agenda and actions?
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