Why today: Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte was born on this day in 1759.
Name: Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp
Also known as: Duchess of Södermanland, “Little Duchess”, “Duchess Lotta”, Queen Charlotte
Special powers: Malicious gossip (+5 reputation damage on all rolls)
Known affiliates: Sophie Piper von Fersen, Fabian von Fersen, King Charles XIII
Quote: “You have to admit, my dear friend, that woman is truly an unhappy creature: while men have their complete freedom, she is always burdened by prejudice and circumstance”.
Short bio: Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte was the daughter of Duke Frederick August I of Holstein-Gottorp and Princess Ulrike Friederike Wilhelmine of Hesse-Kassel. In 1774, she married her Charles, Duke of Södermanland, brother to the Swedish king Gustav III. Charles’s father King Adolf Frederick of Sweden was the brother of her father Duke Frederick August, making them first cousins.
It wasn’t a conventionally happy marriage. Both parties had extensive extra-marital affairs and they never had any children. On top of this, Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte was a keen intrigue-maker and occasionally did not align her own political sympathies with those of her husband’s (she was even suspected of plotting against him and planning a coup in 1810). But she seems to have derived a great deal of pleasure from life. She enjoyed jokes, dancing and theatre, and had lots of lovers, including a brief fling with Axel von Fersen and a longer affair with his brother Fabian von Fersen (note that she was also BFF with their sister Sophie). She was a spirited and intelligent woman, and her diaries are a fabulous and very entertaining source on late 18th century court life in Sweden.
After Gustav III was murdered in 1792, her husband became regent while Gustav’s son Gustav (those royals and their limited imagination when it comes to names!). When the adult Gustav turned out not to be a very successful monarch, he was displaced by a coup in 1809, and the Duke was put on the throne in his stead.
As King Charles and Queen Charlotte didn’t have any children, the issue of succession was a tricky one and after a few setbacks, it was decided that one of Napoleon’s generals, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, would inherit the throne. Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte managed to stay on good terms with him, despite her ongoing sympathies for the Gustavian party (supporting a return of the deposed king’s heirs to the throne). She only survived her husband by a few months and died in June, 1818.