Updated: Mar 23
Hans Christian Andersen 1805-1875
Elise fell pregnant - just 15 years old - in the summer of 1804. The setting for this blissful event was Tranekær Castle on Langeland Island, and it turns out the noble young countess Elise was rather picky. The father was none other than Prince Christian Frederik.
Ten years earlier, the prince first played with matches (Christiansborg Castle Fire 1794) now that he was 17 years of age, that autumn he would turn 18, once again he played with fire. Elise married Christian Frederik. Foreign encyclopaedias record - no Danish tomes? - that Elise was married to the prince morganatically, or in the de-facto manner.
(In Denmark one is married with the rings placed on the right hand. But it was also possible to have a de-facto spouse, with the ring on the left hand - ed.)
Christian Frederik was briefly King of Norway, and 25 years later, he became the Danish king under the title of Christian VIII. Officially, he is recorded as having sired 10
Nine months later - in the deepest secrecy - the baby was born and immediately whisked away into hiding with a wet-nurse in Odense. This glossing over of the incident was very important; in such situations it was usual for those of the finer circles to purchase their way out of shame. Officially, it was declared that the nurse had given birth to the baby on the 2nd April 1805 - four years after the battle of Copenhagen.
Hans Christian was the baby’s name, and a quarter of a century later he became the world famous fairy tale writer and poet, Hans Christian Andersen. When he was 10 years old, his biological father, after a short sojourn as king of Norway, married again, this time in a right handed matrimony. But he was banished from the court in Copenhagen and fled to Odense to become governor of the Funen and Langeland Islands, and was domiciled at Odense Castle. Thereupon, his biological son Hans Christian also came to live at the castle - officially because the wet-nurse had been employed there as a laundry maid.
Frederik VII - the bestower of the Danish constitution - was then only a small prince, three and a half years younger than Hans Christian, and was also domiciled at Odense Castle. Regardless of these proceedings, Christian Frederik did not officially recognize Hans Christian as his biological son.
“To travel is to live”, said Hans Christian.
His father and his father’s new wife were rarely at home in the old castle at Odense, but traveled constantly around Europe. The Little Prince’s great uncle was at that time the Absolute Monarch, and he appointed a team of 7 of the kingdom's foremost professors to teach the children Danish, Latin, French, German, religion, history, geography, geometry, arithmetic, gymnastics, music and dance. The little prince did not take much pleasure in his lessons, but the great Hans Christian revelled in learning.
At 23 years of age, Hans Christian was given the surname Andersen (1828). Throughout
his boyhood he had been called simply ‘Hans Christian’. In general, the common people
hated the new laws, but Hans Christian Andersen loved the arrival of the kingdom's first
law regarding surnames. The reason for the change was that his little playmate through
the years at Odense Castle, had married the Absolute Monarchy King's daughter and
traditionally, therefore, a boon was thrown to the folk to celebrate the occasion.
Until 1828, neither Hans Christian nor the majority of the population had surnames.
Nicknames were common, but ever since the Reformation (1536) the priest had always
inscribed in the parish records, the child’s father's name followed by the holy decree, SEN
(son of) (because of any ensuing inheritance)
The inspiration for the kingdom's first law for surnames (1828), was precisely because of
the old custom of the priests, and because the new name law was to be administered by
the priests, it was up to the local clergy whether one could get his fine nickname
transferred to an official surname. Some could, others could not, but no one had ever
officially had a ‘sen’ surname before - not even as a nickname.
The official portraits of countess Elise Ahlefeldt-Laurvig and her maternal grandfather, Count Frederik Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, are very telling, because Hans Christian Andersen is quite plainly a chip off the old block. So maybe Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are due to be interpreted once again. Especially as the author's inspiration has such an intriguing provenance.
- Jens Emborg May 2021,
translated by ePublishify hybrid publishing services
In order of appearance: Hans Christian Andersen, , Elise Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, Prince Christian Frederik, Count Ahlefeldt-Laurvig