Ulrica Eleanora (1688–1741)
Ulrica Eleanora (1688–1741)
Queen of Sweden. Name variations: Ulrika Eleanor; Ulrika Eleanora; Ulrica Eleanora von Simmern; Ulrike Eleonore. Born on January 23, 1688, at Stockholm palace; died on November 24, 1741, in Stockholm; daughter of Carl XI or Charles XI (1655–1697), king of Sweden (r. 1660–1697), and Queen Ulrica Eleanora of Denmark (1656–1593); sister of Charles XII (1682–1718), king of Sweden (r. 1697–1718); married Frederick (1676–1751), landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, later Frederick I, king of Sweden (r. 1720–1751), on March 24, 1715; no children. Frederick's first wife was Louise Dorothea of Brandenburg (1680–1705).
Ulrica Eleanora was one of three reigning queens in Swedish history, and was the last monarch of the Pfalz dynasty. A princess of the Swedish royal house of Pfalz, she was the daughter of King Charles XI and Ulrica Eleanora of Denmark . Her brother became Charles XII on their father's death in 1697; by 1700, Sweden was embroiled in wars with Russia, Denmark, Poland, and Prussia. The burdens of the wars on the Swedish economy and people, coupled with the king's absence from the country since 1700, almost led to a coup d'etat in 1714. In that year, many members of the Estates voted to make Ulrica regent of the realm, as she indicated that she would bring immediate peace. However, royalist supporters of Charles XII won out in the political crisis which followed.
In 1715, Ulrica became the second wife of the German prince Frederick, landgrave of Hesse-Cassel (later Frederick I, king of Sweden). Together they formed the Hessian party at court, which pressed King Charles XII to name Ulrica heir to the throne since he was unmarried and had no legitimate children. The king refused to name any successor; when he was killed in battle in November 1718, Ulrica proclaimed herself queen. The Swedish senate would not recognize her claim to inherit because she was married, and her nephew the duke of Holstein-Gottorp also contested her right to reign. However, after negotiations between the senate and Ulrica's supporters, she was elected queen on January 23, 1719, her 31st birthday. In return, Ulrica had to agree to relinquish much of the absolutist royal authority previously held by Swedish monarchs, and accept a new constitution establishing parliamentary government with authority over royal policy decisions. The period of her reign is known as the founding of the "Age of Liberty" because of the new limitations on royal power. She was crowned on March 17, 1719.
Queen Ulrica faced a very difficult political and social situation. Sweden was losing the war Charles XII had been fighting constantly for almost two decades, the treasury was depleted, the economy ruined, and the Swedish people wanted peace. Sweden's role as the great power of northern Europe ended when the senate and Queen Ulrica chose to bring peace at any cost and conceded defeat to Prussia, Denmark, and Russia, losing much of Sweden's continental territories to the victors.
Despite the limitations placed on her, the senate found Ulrica insufficiently submissive to their political authority, and in February 1720 it offered the crown to her husband and consort, Prince Frederick. Ulrica was forced to abdicate after only one year, the shortest reign in Swedish history. On her abdication, the senate passed a new constitution further restricting royal power. Her husband eagerly accepted the crown as King Frederick I, and Ulrica became queen-consort.
Ulrica was active as a patron of the arts, sciences, and literature during her 20 years as queen-consort. She died in Stockholm in 1741 at age 53; King Frederick died in 1751. Because Ulrica had had no children, Frederick was succeeded by her nephew and former political rival, Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp (Adolphus Frederick).
Bain, R. Nisbet. Charles XII. NY: Putnam, 1895. Jackson-Laufer, Guida M. Women Who Ruled. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1990.
Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California