Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/A Danish visit to England a hundred years ago
A DANISH VISIT TO ENGLAND A HUNDRED YEARS AGO.
To those who have so recently witnessed, or, as our allies say, “assisted at,” the reception of the beautiful Danish Bride, it may not be uninteresting to hear something of a former visit from a Royal Dane (just a hundred years ago) to our English shores.
As everybody has been so frequently reminded of late, the royal families of Denmark and England have been several times united by matrimonial alliances. Still remembered with love by the Danes is one beautiful Queen who came from England—Louisa, the daughter of George II. and Caroline of Anspach. She was married in 1743 to Frederick V., and died at the early age of twenty-eight, 1751, leaving a son and three daughters. The son, Christian VII., was married, from motives of state policy, to the Princess Caroline-Matilda of England, his cousin. The story of this much-injured pair is as strange and sad as any fairy tale of stepdame’s malice, but it is not now necessary to recall it. It is sufficient to say that some little time after his marriage King Christian resolved to visit his young wife’s Fatherland.
There were some traits of his mother’s Stuart ancestors in the young monarch. He was witty, playful, and generous; but his stepmother is said to have purposely brought him up without restraint, and his early youth resembled that of our own mad-cap Prince of Wales which Shakspeare’s genius has retrieved from disgrace, and of which his own noble manhood wiped away the evil from Harry V. He tricked waiters in Copenhagen, broke the heads of Danish Dogberrys, and was even taken into custody for breaking the King’s peace! On his way to England such an adventure as might have befallen our own merry monarch, Charles II., occurred to him at Amsterdam. Accompanied by Count Holckte, he visited the Pyl, a noted sailors’ tavern, disguised as a seaman, and played his part to admiration; till a brawny fishwife, struck by the delicacy of his complexion and features, declared that “a lady” had come amongst them, knocked off his hat, and seized him by the waistcoat, the buttons of which gave way, and revealed a richly embroidered vest—the fashion of that day of splendid dress—and a magnificent star of brilliants. At the same moment his flaxen locks fell upon his shoulders. The dancing-room was crowded with foreigners, and in an instant the young sailor was recognised as the Count de Travendael, the travelling title of the King of Denmark. The rude dancers at once removed their hats, and the fishwife drew back dismayed; but the young monarch laughed, threw a handful of ducats to his betrayer, and, bowing gracefully, hastened from the room.
One of the royal yachts was dispatched by order of George III. to Calais, to convey the young King to Dover, where a numerous train of royal carriages were sent to bring the royal guest to London. But the erratic stranger, who was come to “fright the staid isle from its propriety,” declined his brother-in-law’s coaches and servants, and travelled post. Canterbury had prepared him a formal reception, which he found it impossible to escape; but he contrived to intimate through his chaplain to the astonished church dignitaries that he had “an unconquerable aversion to long sermons and long speeches.”
The apartment in the Stable-yard at St. James’s (where in 1814 the King of Prussia was lodged) was in 1768 assigned as the metropolitan abode of the King of Denmark. His Chamberlain, Count Holckte, preceded his giddy master to inspect the accommodations allotted him, and, struck by the mean exterior of the English palace compared with that of Denmark, he was guilty of a pun, exclaiming: “This will never do! It is not fit to lodge a Christian in.” But the sight of the interior reconciled him to it.
Alas! The society of England, like her ugly palace, was of the dullest for such a madcap guest. The grave formality of Queen Charlotte’s court was to him unbearable. After the twelve or fourteen hours of solemn visiting daily inflicted on him, he was wont to cast off his royalty, and visit in disguise every part of London: now revelling with the wild Irish in St. Giles’s, now joining the coarse carousing of the sailors at Wapping. On the same night that he opened the magnificent ball given in his honour at Sion House, with the Queen of England for his partner, he cast off his gorgeous attire, and in a blue jacket, trousers, and round hat, joined in an Irish jig in St. Giles’s! These adventures exposed him to no slight peril at times. Once he received a blow, which he instantly returned; possessing to a very high degree the reckless courage and love of fighting belonging to his Sea-king ancestors.
He was also generous and full of sensibility. In one of his City rambles he saw a poor tradesman being carried off to prison, followed by his weeping family. Touched by this scene of domestic misery, he ordered Count Holckte to follow them, pay the debt and costs, and give the poor debtor five hundred dollars to begin business again.
Whenever he appeared as the King of Denmark, he was followed by immense crowds, for his character was one which, with all its faults, could not fail to be popular, and his good nature delighted in giving the simple folks pleasure. He would order his coachman to drive slowly and cautiously, and he would lean forward, and smilingly acknowledge the greetings of the populace. The schoolmaster had not been abroad in those days, and “the mob” were but a rude, untaught set. An old lady who remembers (very long afterwards) the visit of the Allied Sovereigns to England, and the Prince Regent reviewing the volunteers of those days in Hants, informs us that the people pinched his Royal Highness to “see if he were made of like flesh and blood with them,” and paid Blucher the same singular compliment. The King of Denmark too was exposed occasionally to similar remarks: such as:—
“What a spinny thing it is!” “What a Jack-a-dandy!” “Can that be a king?” “Why, our George would make two or three such.” And the good-natured King would laugh heartily.
But far more generally his beauty, his grace, and the fascination of his inexhaustible good nature, produced the wildest admiration, and a furore which we can fully understand just at present! One day, as the King’s coach drove up to St. James’s, a handsome girl burst through the line of attendants, caught the Danish sovereign in her arms, as he alighted from his carriage, and kissed him heartily, exclaiming, as she released the astonished stranger: “Now kill me, if you please! I have kissed the prettiest fellow in the world, and I shall die contented.” The King laughed heartily, assured the girl he quite forgave her, shook her hand, into which he slipped a golden keepsake, and sprang up-stairs, intensely amused by the adventure.
Christian, for his private use, had caused a very extensive credit to be opened in his favour with a City tradesman, under the name of “Fredericksen.” His drafts were so frequent, and for sums so large, that the citizen at length suspected Mr. Fredericksen must be one of the Danish courtiers, in attendance on the royal guest, and that the money was for the King’s use. One day, when Mr. Fredericksen called for money, he asked him if such were the case. The Dane assented to the truth of his suspicion. The citizen inquired if Christian VII. were not one of the most extravagant and thoughtless young fellows living.
The King allowed that he feared such was the case. The tradesman then artfully proposed a scheme, by which the supposed Mr. Fredericksen and himself might purchase the royal gifts (for which he learned the money was required), and make a large per-centage on the transaction. Just at this moment, a page from the Princess Dowager of Wales entered the shop, and, recognising King Christian, greeted him with the reverence due to his rank. The citizen, utterly dismayed, stood as if petrified, looking at the King; but Count Holckte (whom the wife had also been questioning) smiled, and assured him that Christian VII. would not remember a confidential proposal made to Mr. Fredericksen.
It was the custom of this spoilt child of fortune to carry in his pockets diamond rings, and other costly ornaments, to give away whenever the whim of the moment directed; and Count Holckte carried for him a quantity of loose coin, which he gave or scattered as caprice suggested. Thus, notwithstanding the regal hospitality of England, which supplied lodgings and table for all his suite, as well as himself, Christian VII. drew on his Court banker at Hamburg for 100,000 dollars—that is, 25,000l. of our money—a month! This drain of specie was sufficiently large to be felt in Copenhagen, where a stagnation of trade was also caused by the absence of the King and Court; and long afterwards, no pleasant memories were suggested to Danish minds by the mention of the King’s visit to England.
We will not follow him on his return to his northern home, to grieve over the extinction of his brilliant youth, and the deplorable end of his reign; but leave in our readers’ fancy the bright image of the gallant, light-hearted, kindly boy, who visited our English shores—a royal and beloved Dane—one hundred years ago.