Coat for a Wounded Prince
Royal Danish Collections
Many Danish kings’ garments are preserved in the Royal Danish Collections at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen. They are mainly from special, ceremonial occasions. But there is also an unusual little coat which was worn by the young Prince Frederik (1808-1863), who became King Frederik 7th in 1840.
- description of coat
- Prince Frederik’s childhood
- the accident
- altering the coat
- how the coat was saved
- historic precedence
Prince Frederik’s coat
The coat is made of dark blue wool cloth, double breasted with two rows of plain brass buttons. It could be buttoned to either side, to extend its wear. The long sleeves have buttoned cuffs, two seams and are gathered at the shoulder seams. The high collar and short tails were stylish for the time. It is heavily lined, padded and quilted over the back, shoulders and breast. The left sleeve has been cut open along the front seam, and is held together with seven sets of blue ribbon ties. There are hidden pockets inside and outside on the coattails. One of the brass buttons and some wood shavings were found in one of the pockets.
Stitched thread loops on the left breast and lapel show that the coat didn’t belong to just anyone. At age of nine Fritz had already been made Knight of the Elephant, the highest Danish heraldic order, as well as receiving the Dannebrog Order of Merit. The breast star was fastened on the left side of his coat. It was embroidered with silver sequins and silver thread, surrounding a central cross on red velvet. The Order of Merit was a crowned silver cross with the monogram of the reigning king, Frederik 6th, suspended from a white ribbon with red edges. As the young prince’s orders, which no longer exist, were worn on formal occasions, we can deduce that this jacket was not just an everyday jacket.
Prince Frederik’s childhood
Prince Frederik was the first child of Prince Christian Frederik (later King Christian 8th) and Princess Charlotte Frederikke of Mecklenburg, who were married in 1806. In 1807 they lost their first child, a son, shortly after his birth, but the following year Prince Frederik, called Fritz, was born. His parents divorced just a year later, and his mother was sent to live far away, in Jutland. Every year she was sent a portrait of her son, of which many still exist. Fritz got a new stepmother when his father married Princess Caroline Amalie of Augustenborg in 1815. She and his father travelled extensively during his childhood, visiting a series of health spas hoping to be able to start a family. Prince Frederik was left behind and brought up by French and Danish nannies, a valet, and a young theologian as tutor.
Young Fritz lived at the palace in Copenhagen most of the year, but his summers were spent in the country village of Sorgenfri, where he enjoyed playing outdoors. His father had written massive, very detailed orders for his son’s daily schedule, including lessons and discipline, revealing a worrying picture of an extremely controlled childhood.
In July 1821, while his parents were travelling around Europe on a trip that lasted more than two years, 12-year old Fritz was at Sorgenfrie Castle, in the country north of Copenhagen. He went hunting near a lake with the forest warden. Fritz used a rifle which his father had sent him from Italy, but when he fired the last shot, the rifle exploded. The tip of his left thumb was blown off, and several other fingers badly wounded. The king’s surgeon was called in haste, and he bound the boy’s wounds. It was noted that Fritz was particularly brave and composed, and his biggest concern was that his father would be worried. The King (Frederik 6th) visited the boy the following day, and received daily bulletins of the child’s condition when he got a fever. The surgeon pronounced that “the prince accepted with admirable patience his fate”. He received many visitors from friends and from the court, as his parents were still traveling. One of his friends brought him a monkey for amusement – it was leashed to a pole outside his window, as it wasn’t housebroken, and Fritz fed it gooseberries and nuts from his windowsill.
The rifle was carefully examined after the accident – had the prince held it where it was broken by the explosion he would have lost his whole hand or more. There didn’t seem to be construction problems, and it hadn’t been loaded too full: the cause of the explosion remained a mystery.
Altering the coat
While Fritz was recovering, he used a sling of silk made for his left arm. After three weeks he began his regular schooling again but he wasn’t completely well until three months later. The grateful young prince gave the king’s doctor, Dr. Fenger, a gold snuffbox when he was completely recovered. The same doctor had incidentally also received a snuff box when he assisted at the prince’s birth in 1808.
When Prince Frederik was well enough to leave his bed, his hand was still heavily bandaged, and couldn’t be stuck through a narrow sleeve. To help him, the sleeve was opened along the top seam from shoulder to cuff, edged with a narrow blue silk ribbon, and seven sets of ribbons for tying were sewn on. When the sleeve was opened, the boy could lay his arm into it, after which the bows were tied and the sleeve brought into its proper place. (Today there are hospital garments which can be opened in the same way, for the use of patients who, for example, have an intravenous needle in their arm.)
The prince’s coat was undoubtedly not used after his bandages were removed, or the ribbon ties would have been taken off and the sleeve stitched back together. The coat had probably been in use for some time when the accident happened, as it is rather worn – the lining in the right armpit is worn through – and it could hardly have seen heavy use after the accident. Repeated sets of sweat stains in the armscyes must date from before the accident.
How the coat was saved
The blue coat was given to the Royal Collections in 1878 by Postmaster Castberg, whose father had been the young Prince Frederik’s valet and doctor in the years when the accident occurred. The doctor may himself have ordered the coat’s alteration in order to spare the injured hand, and then saved it himself when it was no longer needed. The doctor’s son realized its importance when a great wave of national romanticism- and renewed cultivation of the monarchy - spread over Denmark after the loss of Southern Jutland in 1864. In recent years, the small coat has only been exhibited twice, for short periods, and has thus probably not inspired other young princes’ fantasies of bravery – but it is still a touching relic of solicitude for an injured, lonely young prince.
It was a serious accident, and the risk of dying from infection was considerable. Everyone was relieved that the Crown Prince’s son survived, which in itself could justify saving the coat. But something else may also have been important – the boy’s military training, which was a major element of the education of all boys in the royal family. Fritz’ father had proposed the navy: perhaps the boy had the germ of a new Christian 4th in him. Christian IV(1577-1640) was the legendary Danish king who ruled the twin kingdom of Denmark-Norway and its powerful navy when Denmark was a major European power.
The blue coat from 1820 can be seen as a remarkable parallel to clothing worn by King Christian 4th in 1644, when he was badly injured in battle at sea against archenemy Sweden. The blood-stained clothes that he wore were preserved (and are still displayed at the Rosenborg Castle), and became national icons. Christian 4th was Fritz’ great inspiration, perceived as a colorful, strong conqueror. Christian 4th’s clothing had been taken to the Rosenborg Castle just a few years after the battle had taken place, and was often shown to important visitors in the years that followed. They may well have made a permanent impression on young Prince Frederik.
Fritz’ famous tendency to exaggerate, even as a child, later included a fantasy story as to how he’d injured his left hand during hand-to-hand combat during the bloody battle of Isted in 1850. However, while that battle was being fought, he was actually safely ensconced at his favorite castle, Frederiksborg, quietly enjoying his favorite hobbies of fishing and archeological excavations.
Prince Frederik ascended the throne as Frederik 7th in 1840. His shortened left thumb is just visible in this photograph.
Further information (in Danish)
Aage Heinberg, Frederik Folkekær. København 1963
Jan Møller, Frederik 7. – en kongeskæbne. Viborg 1994
Signe Prytz, "Frederik VII som prins på Sorgenfri” in Lyngbybogen 1967-1969, 7. Bd., Hefte 2, s. 95-142 Lyngby 1969
Signe Prytz, Frederik VII’s barndom og hans nærmeste omgangskreds. Sorgenfri 1974