In this book, I propose shedding light on gender and politics in early modern Europe. By definition, a female consort –excluding here female regents – was not supposed to have any political power or prerogatives. Her prime duty lay in the conception of an heir, preferably male, to the throne. The res publicae did not concern her at all. Some queens consort had a strong conception of power that went beyond their own gender – which supposedly prevented them from formally taking on power – and some of them operated as councilors to their husbands, always, however, acting in the shadows. While much attention has been given to reigning queens and female regents, there is still a gap to be filled when it comes to queens consort. Their evident political function lies beneath the dynastic alliances contracted through their marriage, but some of these women did exert a real influence, beyond the primary duties expected from a consort, and Luise Ulrike was one of them.
Perhaps less known than other queens consort, such as the infamous Marie Antoinette for instance, Luise Ulrike’s case offers a good example of a queen consort’s role, prerogatives, status, duties, expectations and achievements. Louisa Ulrika was known particularly as a dynamic patron of both science and art. She founded the Vitterhetsakademien (Academy of Letters) in Stockholm in 1753, she supported various artists, including women, through pensions, she encouraged the development of theatre, and she was also an avid collector of books and art. Luise Ulrike became particularly active in the political life of her country of adoption, tirelessly working towards the reestablishment of a traditional monarchy. As such, she is a good example of a consort who was a politically active agent, an instrument at court, used by political factions and for diplomatic purposes, and finally a cultural and political catalyst, concepts scholars have not considered to date.
This book is therefore an exercise in prosopography, shedding light on the paradigm of the female consort, with special reference to the consort’s political role and influence through the example of Louisa Ulrika.
Louisa Ulrika left behind an abundant and vivid correspondence to and from her family and her friends, unfinished memoirs and several official documents. Diplomatic correspondence also offers a rich source of information regarding her actions. Extensive research for this project has been carried out across Europe. I have spent significant periods of time in Berlin at the Prussian Privy State Archives (Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz), in Paris, at the Foreign Department Archives (Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères), in Stockholm, at the State Archives (Riksarkivet), at the royal palace archives and at the Kungliga Bibliotheket (royal library); but also in Lund (Universitetsbibliothek), in Copenhagen (royal archives) and in Wolfenbüttel (August Herzog library and Niedersächsische Landesarchiv).
This proposed biography comes out of ‘Marrying Cultures: Queens Consort and European Identities 1500-1800’, a three-year research project funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) focusing on early modern foreign consorts as vehicles, agents, or catalysts of cultural transfer and politics.
Watch the SCAS lecture I gave on this topic