Queen Louise of Denmark – the philanthropic Queen




Louise of Hesse-Kassel became queen consort of Denmark in 1863, and as such, she was the first constitutional queen of Denmark. How did she influence the social development of her time, and in which ways did she exercise power?[1]

Queen Louise is known in Danish history as a philanthropic queen and as the ‘mother-in-law of Europe’ due to her clever social and familial strategies acting as a vital part of the Danish constitutional monarchy.

Louise (centre) with her daughter Alexandra, Princess of Wales (right), and granddaughter Louise (left) in 1893
By Peter symonds via Wikimedia Commons

Several Danish historians have examined the role of Queen Louise in the philanthropic environment in Denmark in the late 19th century. Danish historian Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen puts forth the following argument about Queen Louise’s societal influence:

”… because she, by her status, her example and her means, acted as a catalyst for the development of the times, which, without her help, hardly would not have hit as early and as quickly as it did.”[2]

Danish historian Anne Løkke agrees with the conclusion, and she argues that Queen Louise’s philanthropic work was a political commitment in social areas.[3] However, it was according to Løkke not always easy for her to enact her power personally in the philanthropic associations. In some cases, she had to act through indirect channels in order to avoid breaking the social and sexual norms of the time.[4]

Historians have examined the roles of Queen Louise as an agent in the philanthropic endeavours of the 19th century. However, they have not examined how the public received this and how she managed to shape the roles of queens consort for the following generations to live up to or try to change. By studying the public opinion in the newspapers and the opinions of the philanthropic associations themselves, I argue that Queen Louise not only contributed to the social development of the 19th century, but also to the way we look at the constitutional monarchy today, and the roles of the queens consort in securing the institution as an integral part of modern society.

Queen Louise’s most famous philanthropic engagement was with the Deaconess Institution in Copenhagen founded in 1863. She was the initiator and founder of the association, and she secured the association’s well being throughout her entire reign as queen consort:

”The Board of the Institution, chosen by Her Majesty Queen Louise, remain in its current Functions. In the event of a Departure among its Members, the remainder of the Members will choose a new Member and seek further confirmation of this choice by the High Protectress.”[5]

Consequently, Queen Louise had an influence on the institution’s daily functions, even though she was not able to take part in its running personally. It would not be appropriate for her to sit on the board herself, but as “the High Protectress” of the institution she was able to make sure that people she trusted and people who supported her understanding of the philanthropic endeavour made all the important decisions.

The Danish newspaper Berlingske politiske og Avertissementstidende wrote and article about Queen Louise’s roles in the philanthropic endeavours – especially in those, which dealt with children in need:

”… the Queen, who took her part of the Crown’s burden by wanting to be a Mother for the Suffering, who made Skills and Influence available for her large-scale and thorough Charity Work.”[6]

It was Queen Louise’s mission to ”be a Mother for the Suffering”, and this was accepted by the wider public as an argument supporting her roles in the philanthropic endeavours and thus in the social development of the time. Queen Louise made sure that she was able to influence society through her position as queen consort and she was able to use her position as mother and wife in the royal family as the foundation for her involvement in society.

Queen Louise shaped the roles of queens consort in Denmark, and she shaped the social developments, especially in welfare areas. She used her position as a mother and a wife to imprint her beliefs on social welfare in particular without breaking boundaries of a woman’s place in the public sphere.[7]

[1] This article is based on my other article ”De filantropiske dronninger. En undersøgelse af gemalindedronningers roller og deres samfundsmæssige indflydelse gennem filantropiske engagementer” in Culture and History, vol. 2, 2017 (Publication pending).

[2] Olden-Jørgensen 2003: 91.

[3] Løkke 1998: 55.

[4] Ibid. 49f.

[5] Grundbestemmelser for Diakonissestiftelsen paa Frederiksberg 1898: §14.

[6] Berlingske politiske og Avertissementstidende 1/10 1898: 1. “Dronningens Velgjørenhedsværk”.

[7] For further reading on this subject see: Kristensen, Michelle J.: Skørtepolitik. Gemalindedronningers roller i Danmark i perioden 1863 til 1947. Master thesis, The University of Copenhagen, 2017; Kristensen, Michelle J.: Diakonissestiftelsen i 1800-tallet. Et filantropisk foretagendes offentlige rolle med særligt henblik på køn, klasse og relationen til den øvrige sociale forsorg. Unpublished paper, The University of Copenhagen, 2015; Olden-Jørgensen, Sebastian: Prinsessen og det hele kongerige, Christian IX og det glücksborgske kongehus. 1st edition. Gad, 2003; Løkke, Anne: Døden i barndommen, spædbørnsdødelighed og moderniseringsprocesser i Danmark 1800 til 1920. Gyldendal, 1998.






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