Clearly there was public interest in confirming the queen was really dead (photo: Daderot)
King Frederik III’s queen, Sofie Amalie, was not among Denmark’s most popular. In fact she is remembered more for her bizarre mood swings and frequent execution decrees against those she considered her enemies, than for her virtues as queen of Denmark and Norway.
The unpopular queen is reported to have installed fear into the heart of many a courtier, and woe was he or she who dared to ignite Sofie Amalie’s wrath. In fact some stories tell of a vindictive queen who was just a little too fond of proclaiming “Off with his head!”
Sofie Amalie’s notorious hatred for those who displeased her is probably best seen in the bizarre tale of the executed doll. The story, which is still recounted today in both royal and public circles, has not lost any of its strangeness in the 338 years since the events occurred.
Lykke liked the ladies
Our story begins in 1661 during the reign of King Frederik III and Queen Sofie Amalie and revolves around Kaj Lykke, a nobleman and landowner known in court circles, who was one of the wealthier members of the landed gentry.
Lykke was reportedly more interested in matters of the heart than matters of the state. Tongues wagged all over court and over tea in the parlours of Denmark’s aristocrats recounting the romantic escapades of the amorous Lykke. Many were baffled by Lykke’s obvious success with the ladies. After all he was not an attractive man – in fact it was said that he bore a remarkable resemblance to a portly sheared sheep! Nevertheless this Danish Casanova had the ability to make ladies of all ages and classes go weak at the knees with his romantic overtures.
Away with the parlour maid
Sofie Abelsdatter, a humble and lovely servant girl, was no exception. Sofie was one of a host of young girls who fell prey to Lykke’s charms. Employed as a parlour maid on one of Lykke’s estates, their affair began in the spring of 1656 – an affair that would inadvertently lead to the end of Lykke’s charmed existence, as he knew it.
Word of Lykke’s scandalous liaison with a servant girl spread quickly. Sofie was greatly distressed and saddened that her love for Lykke had resulted in her becoming fodder for vicious tongues. And how those tongues wagged.
“To think that a man of his noble standing would allow himself to be associated with such a lowly creature,” whispered the courtiers. Even the farm labourers, and townsfolk once so amiable, began to shun Sofie. “We don’t want the likes of you around these parts,” they hissed.
In an effort to comfort the melancholy Sofie, Lykke wrote many a love letter urging his lover to disregard such scorn saying: “My dear, pay no heed, you should hear what they are saying here at court about our very own Queen Sofie Amalie. They say that she lives with her lackeys.”
The scandal, however, was too much for the young and inexperienced Sophie. Knowing that she could never hope to marry her lord and master, poor Sophie broke off the liaison and reverted to her life as a mere servant girl. And happiness did eventually come to Sophie, who married Lykke’s groom Peder Børting a little over a year later.
A queen’s vengeance
Time passed. Sofie and Peder were content and Lykke continued to melt the hearts of serfs and gentry alike. However, in 1660 a conflict over money arose between Lykke and the Børtings. Filled with anger Sofie seized the opportunity to use the long forgotten love letters as a dangerous weapon against her former sweetheart. Within days the letter with the treacherous remark about Queen Sofie Amalie lay in the hands of the royal prosecutor.
Once the wrathful queen learned of the letter, there was little if no hope at all for the Danish gigolo. Outraged by the apparent insult, the queen decreed that Lykke’s right hand be hacked off in front of her palace in Copenhagen. Thereafter he was to be beheaded with his disembodied head placed on a stake outside the palace as a warning to anyone who would dare dishonour the queen.
Executing an effigy
Aware that the letter could very well be interpreted as treason and fearing for his life, Lykke had quickly gathered his assets and escaped to foreign shores. Any search for the convicted nobleman would indeed be fruitless. Terrified that failure to produce Lykke might end in their own deaths, the queen’s prosecutor, guards and executioner decide to mock up an execution using an effigy of Lykke. After all, the queen would be viewing the proceedings from a safe distance at one of the palace windows. She would never know, they reasoned.
Thereafter followed what must be one of the most bizarre executions in history. A doll made to resemble Kaj Lykke was brought before the guillotine. In a very public display the executioner hacked off the limp hand of ‘Lykke’ while the soldiers on guard moved the doll around in an effort to simulate Lykke writhing in agony. The doll was then dragged ‘kicking and struggling’ to the block where, without delay, his head was chopped off.
Bizarre though it may sound, the plan worked. For weeks afterwards, the wooden head of the doll was posted high on a stake overlooking the hustle and bustle of 17th century Copenhagen life.
And the story goes that Queen Sofie Amalie went to her grave in 1685 believing that Kaj Lykke had met a just end. For his part Lykke returned to Denmark after the queen’s death and word has it that he used the story of his own ‘execution’ to charm women until his death some 14 years later.