Gender and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Sweden. Louise Ulrika (1720-1782).

Gender and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Sweden. Louise Ulrika (1720-1782).

Routledge, 2017

This book retraces the life and experience of Princess Louisea Ulrika of Prussia, (1720-1782) who became queen of Sweden, with a particular emphasis on her political role and activities. Louisa Ulrika was born in Berlin in 1720, the daughter of the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm I, and Sophie Dorothea von Hannover, and was sister to Friedrich the Great. In 1744, she married Adolf Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp, recently elected crown prince of Sweden. In 1751, following the king of Sweden’s death, her husband became king and she became queen consort of Sweden.

 

As crown princess (1744-1751), queen (1751-1771) and then queen dowager (1771-1782) of Sweden, Louisa Ulrika took an active role in political matters in a period that was difficult for the monarchy. The Swedish monarchy had been confronted by a complex and difficult situation following Sweden’s defeat in the Great Northern War (1700-1721) and found itself deprived of many of its traditional royal prerogatives. The defeat had precipitated an end to the absolutism of Charles XII, which was replaced by a parliamentarian monarchy, a regime without an equivalent elsewhere in eighteenth-century Europe. In effect, political power rested in the hands of the reunion of the four estates of the kingdom (Riksdag) and especially in the hands of the nobility. The position of the crown prince, then King Adolf Friedrich and his queen, Louisa Ulrika, was an uncomfortable one; the monarch’s hands were tied by the constitution that had been drafted after the defeat, restricting his prerogatives to almost nothing. The four estates decided on most of the kingdom’s affairs, and ultimately saw the emergence of a dual political party system. The two political parties, the Hats (hattar) and the Caps (mössor), rotten with rampant corruption and showered in foreign gold, fought one another violently, throughout the period, to control Swedish institutions. In this so-called Age of Liberty, the monarchy, exposed both to foreign intrusion in its affairs and to a restrictive constitution, had very little power or room for manoeuvre.

 

Born in Prussia, where the reigning Hohenzollern crowned themselves kings at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and where Louisa Ulrika’s father exercised supreme control over the kingdom, the princess could not fail to find Swedish governance and institutions abnormal and unnatural. To her, a monarchal regime was the only authentic and possible natural order for any given society; it was also the best option available to stabilize and unite the country, reconcile its members with each other, and prevent foreign intrusion. From the moment she arrived in Sweden, and throughout her life, Louisa Ulrika worked tirelessly towards increasing the power of the monarchy. Described variously as fierce, proud, haughty, intelligent, self-conscious of her due roy­al prerogatives, filled with political ambitions, and accused by many of her contemporaries of wanting to restore absolutism, she never diverted from her objective, despite obstacles and adversities. As such, she embodied the perfect example of a female consort who was in turn a political agent, instrument and catalyst.