The top rank of society and Dorothea Krag

Baron Jens Juel was among the founders of the West India and Guinea Company. He invested heavily and was the Company’s first Vice-President. Jens Juel (1631 – 1700) was a statesman, an adviser to Christian V and holder of the Barony of Juellinge near Faxe, which he had received from Christian V.

He had been married to two influential noble ladies. In 1694, as a 63-year-old, he was married for the third time, this time to the only 19-year-old Dorothea Krag. Her father was an officer and landowner from Jutland, and she had got herself noticed at Court.

By marrying Jens Juel, Dorothea married a wealthy older man and was in fact widowed after just six years. As Jens Juel’s children from previous marriages had already been given financial settlements, Dorothea Krag became an attractive and affluent person with large stakes in the West India and Guinea Company.

After Jens Juel’s death, Dorothea Krag married Christian Gyldenløve, who had been widowed in 1699. He was the bastard son of King Christian V and Sophie Amalie Moth. The marriage took Dorothea Krag close to the centre of power. She had two sons by Christian Gyldenløve and lived in a mansion on Kongens Nytorv diagonally opposite Christian Gyldenløve’s uncle, Ulrik Christian Gyldenløve, who resided in Charlottenborg.

At the Anointing of Frederik IV in 1700, Dorothea Krag was probably present and so was her husband coming, Christian Gyldenløve. She also travelled with him to Italy on a campaign, where she gave birth to one of their two sons, Christian, who was named after his father. The elder Christian Gyldenløve died of smallpox in Italy in 1703, barely 30 years old. Dorothea had the son Frederik after the death of her husband.

Dorothea Kragh founded Gisselfeld Convent as a home for spinsters of the aristocracy, but the monastic rule was not to be enforced until after her death. She died in 1754 leaving the estate in debt, partly as a result of her third marriage to the extravagant Hans Adolph von Ahlefeldt of Bukhaven. He was four years younger than she was, and she boldly justified her choice of husband number three with the statement: ‘Better to have a healthy dog than a dead lion’ – the ‘dead lion’ was a reference to Gyldenløve (‘golden lion’), and the ‘watchdog’ is part of the Ahlefeldt coat of arms.

Gyldenløve was buried at Vor Frue Kirke in Odense and his coffin was later transferred to the St. Petri Church, from which the coffins, arms and two figures of slaves with their hands tied behind their backs have since been transferred to Gisselfeld Castle.

It would seem that the commitment to the West Indian Colony was kept up for several generations by many influential families. Shares in the Company would have been good securities to own – especially after 1700, when dividends began to be paid to shareholders.

Dorothea Krag was in every way part of the top rank of society, and she understood how to project this image. She sat for a portrait by the French painter Benoit le Coffre. The painting shows her seated under a canopy over a throne, but not on the throne itself, which stands empty. The interpretation of the picture is that her husband Christian Gyldenløve, who was of royal blood and allowed to have a canopy over his throne, is dead. She wears no jewellery other than the cross, signalling her piety. She is not dressed in black, so she is no longer in mourning, so has come out of her widow’s weeds. She exudes a masculine independence. By her side is a page boy in livery who looks up at her with a big smile. She probably got the little boy from the Company plantation on St. Thomas. Since she had many shares in the Company. The boy’s name is not known – yet.

Dorothea Krag owned the mansion on Kongens Nytorv which is today the French Embassy. It was built by Niels Juel in 1671 and was first taken over by Sophie Amalie Moth in 1698, and later by her son, Christian Gyldenløve in 1699, when he married for the first time. His first wife died after only a few years. Dorothea Krag took over the mansion in 1703 and kept it until her son Christian reached his majority in 1720. It was in this lavish home that the little African boy waited on his mistress.

Sources:

  • RA, 446, The West India Company, Direktionen
  • Our Old Tropical Colonies, Johannes Brøndsted et al. Fremad Publishing 1966
  • Danish Castles and Manors, Aage Roussell, Hassinger et al.1963-68
  • The Danish Slaves,  Calundan Larsen et al. Pantheon 2003
  • Dansk Søfarts Historie, vol. 3. Ole Feldbæk et al. Gyldendal 1997
  • København Før og Nu og Aldrig, Bo Bramsen et al. Fogtdahl 1987
  • Historiske Huse i det gamle København, Nationalmuseum 1972
  • Historiske Huse på Christianshavn, Foreningen til gamle bygningers bevaring 1993
  • Købmand, sømand og supercargo, Handels og Søfartsmuseet, 1998
  • Gud – Konge – By, Frederikstadens 250 års Jubilæum, Det Danske Kunstindustrimuseum 1999
  • Die Flensburg Rum & Zucker Meile, Flensburger Schiffahrtsmuseum 2009
  • www.slavehandlenskbh.dk