Lovisa Ulrika – an enlightened queen
Lovisa Ulrika had high ambitions. She had "more knowledge and insight into the sciences than a lady needs", and wanted to be an enlightened ruler. Her ambitions for power were unsuccessful, but she still left an important heritage.
In August 1744, Princess Lovisa Ulrika came to Sweden to marry Prince Adolf Fredrik. A few days later, she was given Drottningholm Palace as a wedding present. Lovisa Ulrika was delighted, but she was hardly overwhelmed. After all, she was a member of the high-status Prussian royal family, and her brother was King Frederick the Great.
In a letter to her famous brother, she wrote:
"The King has just given me Drottningholm. It is a magnificent gift – the place is charming."
She immediately undertook the task of modernising the palace's dark, heavy Baroque interiors. Above all, she wanted a proper library. In a letter to her sister Anna Amalia, she described how important this room was to her:
"Here at Drottningholm, I live like a philosopher. If you could see me right now, you would find me in a cabinet that I have had arranged, and where my books are... A comfortable armchair completes my description. I have withdrawn here. No one may enter without my permission, and I am entirely my own mistress."
Her first reading room soon grew too small, and in 1760 Jean Eric Rehn created today's magnificent library. Many libraries have been created in stately settings, sometimes more for display purposes than anything else, but there is no doubt that Lovisa Ulrika actually read. She had a good command of German, French, Latin, Italian and English, and even learnt Swedish. She was interested in architecture, history, art, drama, geography, maths, philosophy and biology.
In 1772, Marshal of the Court Hans Gustaf wrote that she had:
"… more knowledge and insight into the sciences than a lady needs."
However, her ambitions extended far beyond simply being a lady. She wanted to be as educated a ruler as her widely admired brother. The fantastic library at Drottningholm became a meeting place for the great minds of the time, and she corresponded with intellectuals including Voltaire. But most of all, the queen had an appreciation for Carl Linnaeus, who awakened her interest in the natural sciences.
Lovisa Ulrika founded the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities to promote the arts and the sciences. She also built Drottningholm Theatre, was a patron of artists, and provided financial support to Sweden's first feminist poet, the writer Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht. Queen Lovisa Ulrika may have failed in her ambitions for political power, but she left the nation something that lasted much longer: a time of enlightenment, curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.
Image: Cropped portrait of an older Lovisa Ulrika. Oil on canvas, 1768, by Lorentz Pasch the Younger (1733-1805). Photo: Royalpalaces.se