Sophia Magdalena of Denmark

Sophia Magdalena of Denmark
Sophia Magdalena of Denmark
Queen consort of Sweden
Tenure 12 February 1771 – 29 March 1792
Spouse Gustav III of Sweden
Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden
Father Frederick V of Denmark
Mother Louise of Great Britain
Born 3 July 1746(1746-07-03)
Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark
Died 21 August 1813(1813-08-21) (aged 67)
Ulriksdal Palace, Sweden
Burial Riddarholmen Church

Sofia Magdalena of Denmark and Norway (Christiansborg Palace, Denmark, 3 July 1746 – Ulriksdal Palace, Sweden, 21 August 1813) was a Queen consort of Sweden as the spouse of Gustav III of Sweden.

She was the eldest surviving child of King Frederick V of Denmark and Norway and Louise of Great Britain.

Early life

At the age of five (1751), she was betrothed to the Heir to the throne of Sweden, Gustav, and she was brought up to be the Queen of Sweden. The marriage was arranged by the Parliament, not by the Swedish Royal House, and was disliked by the Queen, Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, who was since long in conflict with the Parliament and who favoured a match with her niece, Philippine of Brandenburg-Schwedt, instead. On 1 October 1766 she was married to Gustav by proxy at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. The two married in person in Stockholm on 4 November.

At the Swedish Court, she was received with kindness from the King but her mother-in-law, Louisa Ulrika, the dominating presence in the Court, hated her and her spouse completely ignored her. Louisa Ulrika encouraged the distance between her son and daughter-in-law. Sophia Magdalena was described as beautiful; she brought the largest dowry a Swedish royal bride had brought since 1680 and was carefully educated to be a perfect Queen. She received a great deal of praise but never became popular as her strict upbringing made it difficult for her to adjust to the Swedish Court. Being of a reserved nature, she was considered cold and arrogant. After King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died in 1771, Gustav III became King of Sweden. The following year, Sophia Magdalena was crowned Queen.

Life as queen

Sophia Magdalena

Queen Sophia Magdalena was a serious and shy person and was never a member of the King's inner circle. She and Gustav had very different personalities which put even more distance between them. She did her ceremonial duties, but disliked the vivid lifestyle of the Court around her outgoing spouse. When she performed her duties as Queen, her sister-in-law, Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp, described her as "Forced to meet people". She preferred to stay at her private residence, Ulriksdal Palace, whenever she could.

In the famous diary of Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp, she is described as beautiful, cold, silent and haughty, very polite and formal, reserved and unsociable. On formal occasions, she was at her best: she performed beautifully according to Court etiquette, and was seen as dignified and impressive. She had two very intimate friends, Maria Aurora Uggla Ehrengranat and Baroness Virginia Charlotta Duwall Manderström. She loved solitude, spending her days in her apartments and dining alone. She held a grand formal salon every two weeks and loved the theatre, which she often attended. During the King's Italian journey in 1783–84, she held a grand formal public dinner for the city every two weeks. Several of her ladies-in-waiting were well known Swedish women of the era; among them were The Three Graces, as Augusta von Fersen, Ulla von Höpken and Lovisa Meijerfelt were called, and the artists Marianne Ehrenström and Charlotta Cedercreutz.

She did not have anything to do with politics, except on one occasion; during the War in 1788, she was given the task of initiating peace negotiations with Denmark, and called upon the Danish Ambassador, spoke to him and handed him a letter for the Danish King. During the Russo-Swedish War (1788–1790), there is a note that she met two Russian prisoners of war in the park of the Haga Palace, and gave them 100 kronor each. It is said that she preferred English fashion because French fashion was too revealing.

The question of the succession

Sophia Magdalena is mostly known in Swedish history for the scandal created around the consummation of her marriage and the questioned legitimacy of her son. Her marriage was a then normal arranged royal match for political convenience, in which Sophia Magdalena at first was described by her husband as "cold as ice". Their marriage was not consummated until 1775, nine years after the wedding. This was a topic of gossip and ridicule among some European Courts ; there were rumors that the King was a homosexual or sexually underdeveloped. His sexuality, which had much affect on Sophia Magdalena's life, as a royal marriage was designed to produce offspring, has been much debated. Various documents written during his lifetime alleged that he was bisexual. His sexual inexperience has been blamed on immaturity or his also being asexual. As a teenager, he had a crush on Axel von Fersen's mother, Hedvig Catharina De la Gardie, and in 1768, had a deep emotional attachment to the noble Charlotte Du Rietz, although it is not known if their affair was ever consummated. Reliable sources explain that both the Queen and the King had serious anatomical problems resulting in erotic complications. Erik Lönnroth has concluded that there is no factual proof for the rumours that Gustav III was inclined toward homosexuality or bisexuality, nor that Gustav Adolf was illegitimate.

The status quo between Gustav III and his wife was nurtured by the Queen Dowager, who did not want competition in her influence over her son. Sophia Magdalena's religious upbringing and introverted character made her avoid the lively and spontaneous Gustavian court life, which made her even less attractive in the eyes of her outgoing husband.

In 1774, the King arranged the marriage between his brother, the future Charles XIII of Sweden and Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp to solve, for the time being, the immediate question of an heir to the throne. The Duchess had false pregnancies and miscarriages only, which may have hastened the King to expediate the consummation of his own marriage and produce a son of his own.

In 1778, Sofia Magdalena gave birth to Gustav Adolf, successor to the throne, and in 1782, she gave birth to a second son, Charles Gustav, who only lived for one year. It was suggested in some circles that King Gustav's first son was sired by someone else. When the heir was born, the father was believed, by the Queen Dowager among others, to be Count Adolf Fredrik Munck af Fulkila, then Riksstallmästare. This rumor was believed by elements of the public and the royal court, and her acquiescence to it led to a year-long break between the Queen Dowager and her son.

The succession scandal

Munck actually acted as sexual instructor. The King, claiming to be sexually inexperienced called upon Munck to help him with a reconciliation with his spouse, instruct the couple in the ways of sexual intercourse and to physically show them how to consummate their marriage. Munck, a Finnish nobleman and at the time a stable master was at that point the lover of Anna Sofia Ramström the Queen's chamber maid. Munck and Ramström were to be present in a room close to the bedchamber, ready to be of assistance when needed, and he was at some points called in to the bedchamber. Munck himself writes in his written account, which is preserved at the National Archives of Sweden, that in order to succeed, he was obliged to touch them both physically.

When it became known that Munck participated in the reconciliation between the royal couple, there were rumours that he was the father of Sophia Magdalena's firstborn.

These became the subject of accusations from the political opposition, as late as in 1786 and 1789, where it was claimed that the whole nation was aware of the rumour that the King had asked Munck to make the Queen pregnant. Pamphlets to that end were posted on street corners all over Stockholm.

Caricature of Sophia Magdalena, Gustav III and Adolf Fredrik Munck

This was also caricatured by Carl August Ehrensvärd in a private letter discovered later (his drawing was published in 1987), where he passed on a number of rumors and jokes about Gustav III, Sophia Magdalena and Munck without inferring that he believed they were true. There was also a rumour that the King and Queen had divorced in secret and that the Queen had married Munck.

There is no proof that Munck was the father of the crown prince. Neither the King nor the Queen were ever described as having a large interest in sex. Professor Lönnroth (see above) suggested that their anatomical problems, known only to a few initiated persons, were a primary factor in their delay in producing an heir. At the time, the rumours became more persistent, however, when the royal couple presented Munck with gifts: the King promoted him, and the Queen gave Munck a watch with her image, a pension and a diamond ring.

A few socialites took the Queen Mother's side in supporting and spreading the rumors, such as Anna Charlotta Schröderheim and Eva Helena Löwen.

The circle around the King's brother, Duke Charles, the future Charles XIII of Sweden, who had a desire for the throne, also encouraged these rumours. Their mother was quoted as saying, during the pregnancy of Sophia Magdalena, that there were rumours among the public that the future child was illegitimate, and that she herself believed that the King had hired Munck to impregnate the Queen, and that she would never accept that the throne would come into the hands of "a common nobleman's illegitimate offspring".

The Queen Mother ordered Duke Charles to interrogate Munck, and word spread to the King, who was shocked. Sophia Magdalena was equally shocked by the accusations; she swore she would never speak to the Queen Dowager again, and indeed she did not do so.

The King arranged for his mother to make a public apology for her accusation in the presence of the rest of the Royal Family (12 May 1778). The scene gained a lot of attention and broke the bonds between the Gustav III and his mother. The scandal disturbed celebrations, as did an accident with the public banquet. The public was invited to a great feast to celebrate the birth of the heir, but too many people were let in, and the crowd panicked. Between sixty and one hundred people were trampled to death in the crowd.

Still, the years between 1775 and 1783 were probably Sophia Magdalena's happiest. Her relationship with the King was happier and she was treated with respect after having done her duty to the dynasty. After her younger son's death (1783), however, the marriage deteriorated. A brief reconciliation (1787) was commented on by Duchess Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte in her diaries as temporary, with no hope of being complete and lasting, as the King was not "receptive to female charm"; another insinuation that he was homosexual.

In 1787, Sophia Magdalena deposited a sum of 50.000 riksdaler in an account for Munck, which was generally rumoured to be a "farewell gift". At this point, Munck had started an affair with the ballerina Giovanna Bassi, to whom Sophia Magdalena showed great dislike. The King was terrified when he heard that the queen had made that deposit, and he tried to prevent the transaction from becoming public knowledge, which, however, did not succeed.

A child of Giovanna Bassi's, rumoured to be the child of Munck, bore a strong likeness to the Crown Prince.

Later life

The queen around the time when she was widowed.

In 1792 Gustav III was murdered. The conspirators had the intent to make her the regent of her son during his minority She was deeply horrified by the murder of her spouse but she also made a scandal as it was noted that she did not dress in mourning in private but only during formal visits. It was a great relief for her to retire from public life. Her brother-in-law, Duke Charles, became regent, and she eschewed a political role. As a widow, Sophia Magdalena lived a withdrawn life and spent much effort on charity.

In 1797 she insisted on skipping the protocol to receive her daughter-in-law, Frederica of Baden upon her arrival, as she remembered how lonely she herself had felt when she arrived as a bride. During the reign of her son she seldom showed herself at court except on Sundays and at court presentations, and preferred to stay at her estate.

In 1809 she witnessed the abdication of her son, King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, after Sweden lost Finland to Russia. She was deeply affected by his deposition. He was sent into exile and replaced by his paternal uncle Charles XIII but she remained in Sweden until her death. In 1810–1811 she was one of few in the Swedish Court who were nice to Désirée Clary. Jean Baptiste Bernadotte regarded her with suspicion, despite her assurance that she did not blame neither him nor his son for taking the place of her son and grandson, and would be happy to receive them.

It has been said of her: She remained one of the most tragic and isolated people in the history of the Swedish court.

Sophia Magdalena in culture

The affair of the consummation of her marriage and the succession scandal was portrayed in SVT's period drama production of "Gustav III:s äktenskap" (The Marriage of Gustav III) in 2001, where Sophia Magdalena was portrayed by Danish actress Iben Hjejle.

It was also used to inspire the novel Drottningens juvelsmycke, famous in Sweden, where the character of Tintomara is portrayed as a half sibling of Gustav IV Adolf through Count Munck.



Sophia Magdalena of Denmark
Born: 3 July 1746 Died: 21 August 1813
Swedish royalty
Preceded by
Louisa Ulrika of Prussia
Queen consort of Sweden
Succeeded by
Frederica of Baden

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