- Aug 10, 2001
Portrait: Margrethe of Great Britain
Margrethe of Great Britain
Margrethe of Great Britain
That Margrethe of Great Britain is one of the first names that come up when people are asked to name a prominent person of the Imperial Era is not surprising. It was during her reign that the tradition of provincial festivals was started, the splendour and lavishness of which are a staple in any depiction of the period. It was she who made a friend out of Great Britain, with all the benefits and sorrows that would follow from that alliance. It was she who took the council of men of the enlightenment, accepting as one of the first European nations the idea of physiocracy, the basis of Smithian Economics, and sponsoring the diverse sciences which would establish the empire as a standard bearer of reason and of the scientific revolution. It was she who finally brought the last of the Christian Russians under Danish rule, when her armies conquered the beautiful Novgorod, which would take such a prominent position in the mythos of Scandinavia. Meanwhile, her apparently close relations with Franz Scholten, the draconian spymaster of Frederik IV, has been a source of speculation and rumours for more than three centuries.
But the real Margrethe has faded somewhat from memory, even to the point where many of the people who mention her probably have her confused with her daughter Margrethe Gyldenstierne.
It might therefore be advisable to give a short recount of her life and unusual ascend to power.
Margrethe was born Henrietta Margaret as the youngest child and only daughter of Henry VIII of Great Britain and Anne of Brunswick in 1669. She spent most of her childhood outside of London, at Windsor Castle, where the royal children were allowed a great deal of freedom compared to those in other countries. Henrietta Margaret had her own plot of land with tame rabbits and vegetable gardens, which she apparently tended to herself. Being the younger sister of three princes, she became the favourite of the entire household, and her parents gave her anything she desired. It was therefore that she first came to Copenhagen in 1687 for the 25th anniversary of Frederik IV. She had insisted on following her brother George (IV), who was attending the celebrations as the first step on his grand tour of Europe, and her parents had given in, sending their 18 year old daughter out to test her wings on the great scene, which they probably suspected that she would one day be part of as queen consort in one of the European courts. What her own motives were are not clear, but the young woman with her great appetite for life probably just wanted to get away from her parents and their bland court at Windsor, to see the splendour and pomp which the new Emperor was known for throughout Europe.
Frederik IV had been a widower for three years, since the death of his first wife Louisa of Baden. He had not remarried, even though he still lived in a morganatic marriage with Helene Vieregg, the daughter of the Brunswickian ambassador. When the king met the young British woman, he showed such an interest in her, that Helene Vieregg is said to have exclaimed “that one will be my successor!” Henrietta Margaret on her side, was so flattered by the king’s interest that her brother had her placed under guard in their rented mansion in order to avoid scandal.
There followed a heavy three-way traffic of letters between Frederiksborg, Windsor and the Ulfeldt mansion on Gråbrødetorv, which the princess and her brother rented from the king while they were in Copenhagen. Frederik had his diplomats put all their attention to securing the approval of a marriage from Henry VIII, who on his side was busy sending strict instructions to his son not to leave Copenhagen under any circumstances until Henrietta Margaret was safely out of the country, and to his daughter to coerce her to come home immediately. Meanwhile, the king and the princess managed to carry out a correspondence through more or less hidden means. Even though Prince George had every reason to be suspicious of the 50 year old man courting his sister, he could not prevent the sovereign king and emperor of Northern Europe from accessing his own house in his own capital.
However, after two months of courting, Prince George finally managed to get his sister out of the country and back to London, and the king went on his big tour of the realm and of Europe (see Chapter XLI: The Billy Goat). The correspondence between him and Henrietta Margaret continued throughout the journey, and on the way back from Italy, the king made a stop in London, where he personally approached the king and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Faced with such a prominent guest basically humiliating himself at his feet, and the insistence of his daughter, king Henry finally gave in on the condition that Helene Vieregg was to be sent away to a monastery, and that Henrietta Margaret would be allowed not to renounce the pope, as otherwise required for anyone living within the Empire.
So when Frederik IV returned to his capital, he brought more than just new plans and enthusiasm, he also brought a new queen and empress, who was already pregnant with her first child. As queen, Henrietta Margaret went by the Danish version of her second name, Margrethe, and when her daughter was born, she was given the same name as her mother.
The happiness of the newlyweds only lasted for 20 months before Frederik IV died from the complications of a fall (see Chapter XLII: Up In Smoke), and the kingdom was put on the verge of chaos as the legitimate heir, Vilhelm (II) Gyldenstierne could not be found. It was then that the still very young queen came to the rescue of all those who had relied on her husband for their power and influence. At the death of her husband, she was five months pregnant. The child, if it was a boy, would technically be before Vilhelm in the line of succession, even if it had not been born at the time of Frederik IV’s death. Had Vilhelm been present, his being alive and grown up would probably have overruled this technicality, but in the absence of any male heir, the lawyers of the Statskancelli proclaimed, that the question of succession would have to wait until the child was born. Until then, Margrethe was literally seen as carrying the king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden etc., Emperor of the New Rome, and as such she was installed as a figurehead for a regency council consisting of Harald Danneskiold, Franz Scholten and Ditlev Reventlow.
When her son Frederik (V) was born in June 1690, Margrethe was proclaimed “All-powerful Lady and Regent”, the same title as Margrethe Valdemarsdatter had held in the 14th century (see Chapter I: The Adolescence of Erik VII, Chapter II: An Untimely Event), and as such, she is also known by the name Margrethe II, even though she never was monarch in name.