Tuesday, 17 November 2009
What to see: Bernstorff Palace, Gentofte
Bernstorff Palace, situated in Gentofte 8 kilometres north of Copenhagen, is perhaps best known as the preferred summer residence of “Europe’s parents-in-law”, King Christian IX and Queen Louise. But Bernstorff has older roots than so.
The estate was presented to Foreign Minister Count Johan Hartvig Ernst Bernstorff by King Frederik V in 1752 and the palace was built between 1759 and 1765. The architect was Nicolas Henri Jardin, who Frederik V had invited to come to Denmark from France to complete Frederiksstaden in Copenhagen after its architect Nicolai Eigtved had died in 1754. Bernstorff Palace counts at the first neoclassical building in Denmark, followed by the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen (also by Jardin, 1764).
Count Bernstorff was toppled by Struensee in 1770 and died in exile in Paris two years later. Struensee was executed that same year and Bernstorff’s nephew Andreas Peter Bernstorff was called back to Denmark, where he soon became Foreign Minister and the power behind the throne. He inherited his uncle’s palace and stayed there every summer until his death in 1797. The coming of the Napoleonic Wars spelt the end of the Bernstorffs’ era of influence and in 1812 the palace passed out of their hands. It subsequently belonged to many successive owners who allowed it to fall into disrepair. Around 1840 there were plans to demolish it, but the palace was saved by King Christian VIII, who bought it in 1842.
When Prince Christian of Glücksburg, the husband of Christian VIII’s niece, was chosen as heir to the throne in 1853, he was given Bernstorff Palace as a summer house and it remained his favourite home after his accession to the throne ten years later. In the summers King Christian IX and Queen Louise would gather their growing family from Denmark, Russia, Britain, Greece and other countries at Bernstorff.
Bernstorff is surprisingly small and it must have been rather crowded when a large number of relatives arrived with servants and courtiers. On a doorframe (sixth photo) one can see how Christian IX measured the heights of his children and grandchildren as they grew taller. Among the names visible in the sixth photo are Willy (King Georgios I of the Hellenes), Nicky (Emperor Nikolay II of Russia), Tino (King Konstantinos I of the Hellenes), Carl (King Haakon VII of Norway) and Dagmar (Empress Maria Fyodorovna of Russia).
Eventually these family gatherings had outgrown Bernstorff and were moved to the much larger Fredensborg Palace. Emperor Aleksandr III of Russia was the life and soul of these gatherings and they were never quite the same again after his death in 1894. Thereafter they moved back to Bernstorff.
Following the death of Christian IX in 1906, Parliament in accordance with the late King’s wishes granted the use of Bernstorff as a summer house to his youngest son, Prince Valdemar, who had been born at Bernstorff in 1858. When Prince Valdemar passed away in 1939 the right of disposal was offered to his second son, Prince Axel, who found it too vast an undertaking and preferred to go on living in the villa Bernstorffshøj adjacent to the palace park. During a dinner in 1949, Prince Axel did however manage to talk a government minister into giving him and his family permission to be buried in the park. The grave of Prince Axel, his wife Princess Margaretha, their sons Prince Georg and Count Flemming of Rosenborg, and their daughter-in-law Princess Anne can be seen in the seventh photo.
The Danish Emergency Management Agency took over the palace as a school in 1941 and four years later the park was opened to the public. DEMA moved out last year and in May 2009 Bernstorff Palace reopened as a hotel and conference centre. Guided tours are held once a month and the palace can also be hired for social events. Last month the 85th birthday of Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, Prince Axel’s daughter-in-law, was celebrated with a lunch for family and friends at Bernstorff Palace.