The sad story of Hirschholm Palace and its royal affair

Have you ever heard of Hirschholm Palace? This sumptuous Danish royal palace, built north of Copenhagen, that has long been dubbed the “Versailles of the North”? If it does not ring a bell, it’s normal. Because the Hirschholm Palace no longer exists.

Hirschholm Palace was built in the 18th century in Hørsholm, a small town north of Copenhagen. The vast estate in Hørsholm belonged to royalty since 1381 and was home to a royal hunting lodge. In the 1740s, King Christian VI and his wife, Queen Sophie Magdalene, ordered the construction of a vast baroque palace to serve as their summer residence. Hirschholm Palace, designed by the Danish architect Lauritz de Thurah (who also designed the Dyrehaven Hermitage and the famous bell tower of the Vor Frelsers Church), was then one of the most impressive buildings in the country.

Hirschholm Palace
A small-scale replica of Hirschholm Palace

The palace became the main residence of Sophie Magdalene after the death of the king. Then, after the death of the queen dowager, King Christian VII and his wife, Queen Caroline Mathilda, took possession of it.

This is where the history of Hirschholm Palace becomes a little more tragic. Because the palace was one of the places where the queen lived her love affair with the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee, who had been hired to treat King Christian VII, struggling with problems of mental illness. In 1771 at Hirschholm Palace, Caroline Mathilda gave birth to a daughter, Princess Louise Augusta, and rumors spread quickly that the princess was not the daughter of the king, but the daughter of Struensee.


A few months later, Struensee and the queen were arrested. Struensee was executed, and Caroline Mathilda was first imprisoned, then exiled, and she eventually died of smallpox soon after, at the age of twenty-three.

Caroline Mathilda
Caroline Mathilda, the queen with a sad faith

After the arrest and then the death of Struensee and of Caroline Mathilda, Hirschholm Palace was abandoned and left in a state of neglect. In 1810, King Frederik VI ordered its destruction and the materials were used for the reconstruction of Christianborg Palace in Copenhagen.

Of Hirschholm Palace, nothing remains today, only the vast gardens that today serve as a park, in which a church was built in the 19th century. Whenever I go to Hørsholm, a stroll on the old palace site is a must for me. It is hard to imagine what this Versailles of the North looked like.

Hirschholm Palace
Nothing is left today of Hirschholm Palace

During my recent visit, I visited the Hørsholm History Museum for the first time. It has a permanent exhibition on the history of the palace and its influence on the city, with some artifacts of the time as well as a small-scale replica of the palace. The explanations are unfortunately only available in Danish, but as admission to the museum is free, the visit is worthwhile if you are curious about this particular history.

Horsholm History Museum
Hørsholm History Museum, in one of the old buildings of the town

And if the love story between Struensee and Caroline Mathilda seems vaguely familiar to you, it may be because a very good movie has been made on it a few years ago, A Royal Affair (In kongelig affære).

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