Once again, but this time almost irrevocably for the very last time, we were invited by our Patron to a Christmas Reception at Bernstorffshøj, which has been the British Ambassador’s residence since 1978. Being the first working day after St Andrews Day both he and Scotland were remembered with whisky given by our club member Flemming Karberg of Hans Just.
Following tradition, there was music, carol singing and mince-pies.
For some time, two faces, those of James I & VI of Scotland and his wife Anne of Denmark have been missing from the residence.
Something else that has disappeared, presumably in the search for efficiency, is the account of the history of the British Embassy in Copenhagen, from the embassy’s web-site. As it contained a history of Bernstorffshøj, this seemed an appropriate resting place for the text which I recovered from its bin in digital limbo, with the help of the Waybackmachine – though with some additions and corrections.
The History of the British Embassy in Copenhagen
The earliest Missions to Denmark
The first envoy to Denmark known by name is Sir John Baker, Special Ambassador to the King of Denmark in 1514. But at that time there was no fixed Embassy, and envoys came for short periods for a defined mission.
Some early Ambassadors were well-known figures. The (later) Duke of Marlborough was on a mission in 1683 to escort Prince George of Denmark, the younger brother of King Christian V to England before his marriage to Princess Anne.
In the Danish tradition Robert (later Viscount) Molesworth, who was Ambassador from 1689 to 1692 was controversial. Irish born, he was a strong supporter of the Williamite revolution. However he found his posting to the Danish court to get the Danes ‘onside’ with the Anglo-Dutch led Confederate cause, very difficult. Should the negotiations which were finalised just before he landed, have failed, his instructions were to threaten war. Throughout his stay French money continued to ‘work miracles’. Contrary to the Danish tradition, he was not forced to leave Denmark. He left to inspect his liberated estates in Ireland after receiving permission from William III, once the allied fleet had defeated the French at the Battle of La Hogue. It is true he left suddenly, initially he was planning to return. It is less well known that several of the Danish courtiers as well as the French envoy lost large sums of money to him because they had wagered on James II and French forces successfully invading Britain. After his return to England he wrote An Account of Denmark as it was in the year 1692. This was critical of the Danish absolutist system of government and it soon became a European best-seller. The Danish court sponsored ripostes to it, supported by High-Church Tories in England. Later, Molesworth was to become a radical Whig member of the English and Irish parliaments and a member of the Irish Privy Council. Among those inspired by him and his writings were Adam Smith’s teacher, the philosopher Francis Hutcheson, and several of those who signed the American Declaration of Independence.
Walter Titley (in Denmark 1730-1768) who began as Secretary in charge of affairs, and ended as Envoy Extraordinary was one of the longest serving British diplomats of his time. He lived in Lyngby where he entertained the royal family on many occasions. His tomb is in one of the sepulchral chapels attached to Sankt Petri Kirke.
Another prominent early Ambassador was Sir Robert Murray Keith, in Denmark from 1771 to 1772. He was instrumental in rescuing Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark (sister of King George III of England) in the dramatic events after the fall of Struensee in 1772, and succeeded in arranging for her to leave Denmark for exile in Hanover. He left Denmark with her. There are accounts of these events in The Visit of The Royal Physician by the Swedish writer Per Olov Enquist and there is also the film A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære) from 2012.
Bredgade 26 was the Residence of British Ministers and Ambassadors for 125 years, from 1854 to 1979. Prior to 1854 there was no fixed Mission or Residence for the Minister. The house was originally constructed for Squire Christen Jensen Linstrup in 1751 to a design by Niels Eigtved, the Court Master builder (who also built other famous buildings in Copenhagen, notably Eigtved’s Pakhus next to the Foreign Ministry). Linstrup was a merchant with the Danish East India Company. He built the house with large limestone blocks from his estate Gjorslev Manor on Stevns (near Stevns Klint). This was the source of many jokes (“at være i kridthuset” is to be in someone’s good books; “at tage på kridt” is to buy on credit). He was ennobled in 1756 under the title of Lindencrone – hence the name of the house. His son sold the house in 1812 and after a succession of owners Sir Andrew Buchanan took out a lease for the British Legation in 1854.
The British Government bought the house outright in 1898 for 390,000 kr.. It was used both as the Ambassador’s Residence (until 1978) and Legation offices (until 1946), interrupted only by the Second World War. In 1978 the British Government sold the property. It is now used by a variety of commercial companies.
The Present Embassy: Kastelsvej 36-40
After the Second World War, it was clear that Bredgade was no longer suitable on a permanent basis to be the Legation as well as the Residence. The Mission operated on a temporary basis from Bredgade until June 1946, with the press and visa operations working from Frederiksgade 21. The Legation moved to Kastelsvej in June. It was upgraded to an Embassy in 1947. The site consists of three buildings, originally large suburban houses, Nos 36-40. The Embassy initially occupied only two of the buildings – Nos 38 and 40, the two houses furthest from the road. The Embassy took over the third building, No 36, in 1972. The site already had a diplomatic history: the buildings have been diplomatic missions for Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Siam (now Thailand), and Residences for the USA and Germany.
The whole site owes its present form to the Copenhagen factory-owner Alfred Grut. He built No.32, now the red building which is the Spanish Ambassador’s Residence, in 1912, and bought the whole of the property behind it where the Embassy buildings now stand. He then progressively built the other houses and lived in two of them, Nos 36 and 40, for a time with his family. It was originally intended that all the houses should look out onto a road running along what is now the pathway alongside the Embassy – ie an extension of Bergensgade to Kastelsvej. For various reasons this never became a road proper (though legally it is still one). The pathway was sometimes known as the Kiel Canal, in allusion to the then German Embassy next door. It is occasionally also known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail from its use by demonstrators at the US Embassy in the 1960s and 1970s.
KASTELSVEJ No. 40
This was built by architect Thorvald Gundestrup in 1917. It is the most impressive of the three houses. Alfred Grut lived on the ground floor after he sold No.32. Count Eigil Knuth, a captain of the Royal Life Guards, occupied the first floor, and Johannes Poulsen, an actor at the Royal Theatre, lived in the attic.
In 1923 the property was bought by the German Foreign Ministry for its Legation. It was used as offices and as the Residence for a series of Ministers until 1945. The last German envoy to live here was Cecil von Renthe-Fink, from 1937 to 1942. It was confiscated in 1945 and was leased to the British Legation from 1946. The Embassy purchased it outright in 1976.
This is a somewhat smaller house than No. 40, and was built in 1920, again by Thorvald Gundestrup. The first to rent it was the Legation of Siam. From 1938 till 1939 it was the Czechoslovakian Legation. In 1940 the Germans took it over as a consulate (Czechoslovakia was annexed by Germany on 15 March 1939) and built the bridge which may still be seen between the two buildings. The Germans bought it outright in 1944, but in 1945 it was confiscated. In 1946 it was leased for thirty years to the British Government and was finally purchased outright in 1977.
No. 38 is supposedly haunted by one of the Germans who lived or worked there during the war. In the 1960’s two women members of the Embassy staff shared the flat on the second floor. One said that she heard him now and then. When the other returned home one evening, she saw a light and heard a shot on the stairs to the flat. She had a nervous breakdown. The then Ambassador, Sir John Henniker-Major, (1962-66) who received her report, accepted it and arranged immediately for another flat to be leased for the two in the Øbro Centre in Østerbrogade. Thereafter the flat was occupied by John Crowley, Commercial Officer, who also admitted to hearing noises now and then.
This was the first of the three houses to be built, the architect being Heinrich Hansen (1860–1942). Alfred Grut lived on the ground floor here too for a time. Its most prominent early tenant (first floor, 1916-17) was Erik Scavenius, long-term Danish Foreign Minister and eventually Prime Minister. He was married to Grut’s cousin.
Between 1933-37 it was the residence of various American Ministers who lived on one of the floors. From 1939 the house was owned by Fanny von Kauffmann, whose son Ernst lived in the house from 1947 to 1972. On his death the British Embassy bought the property.
The British Consulates in Denmark
The Consulates were originally quite separate from the Embassy. The first English (and also Scottish) Consuls recorded in Denmark actually lived in Helsingør, where foreign ships had to stop to pay the Sound Dues (about 20 ships per day in 1850). Collection of Sound Dues ceased in 1857, and the Consulate was downgraded to a Vice Consulate in 1871.
A full Consulate was opened in Copenhagen in 1868: it also dealt with commercial matters. There are no records showing where the Consulate was situated until about 1936 when they had rented offices at Vesterport, opposite the Central Railway Station. The Consulate came onto the same site as the Embassy, at Kastelsvej, in 1946. There are now no Vice-Consulates anywhere in Denmark.
There has been a network of Honorary Consuls in Denmark since the late 19th century. In 1921 there were 17 Honorary Consulates in Denmark proper, one in Tórshavn in the Faeroes, and four in Iceland, which was then Danish territory. By the early 1990’s there were eight plus one in Tórshavn and one in Greenland.
The Present Residence: Bernstorffshøj
Bernstorffshøj and the house situated beside it, Brødrehøj, were built in the second half of the 19th C at the edge of Bernstorff’s Park. They were originally designed as summer villas for businessmen. However, once Bernstorff Slot, in the adjacent park, was bought by the Danish Royal family as their summer residence, they were increasingly used by minor members of the Royal Family or as accommodation for guests, including senior members of other Royal families, notably Princess Alexandra who was married to Edward VII.
After the death of Christian IX in 1906, Bernstorff Slot became the home of the King’s youngest son Prince Valdemar and his French wife Princess Marie of Orleans. Their son Prince Axel and his Swedish wife Princess Margrethe were given Bernstorffshøj as their wedding present in 1919 and lived there for the rest of their lives. Prince Axel died in 1964, Princess Margarethe in 1977.
In June 1936 the original 19th-century house was seriously damaged by a fire caused by a maid leaving an electric iron plugged into a socket. This enabled Prince Axel to rebuild on a grander scale. His architect was Helweg Møller whose logo was a star which appears on the door handles and other places. Prince Axel had been a naval officer and the house was designed to evoke being on a ship, with the bridge situated on the top terrace and the compass set into the marble in the front hall.
During the German occupation of Denmark groups of Resistance members met in the house, while Brødrehøj next door was used as their arsenal. But the Germans became suspicious and for a time Prince Axel was put under house arrest.
How it became the Residence
After Princess Margarethe’s death, her heirs, HH Prince Georg of Denmark and HE Count Flemming of Rosenborg and the trustees decided to divide the Bernstorff estate into smaller building sections, approached by a new road. By May 1978 they had almost decided to demolish the house and divide what is now the garden into six separate plots.
At the same time, the British Government had decided to sell off the old Residence at Bredgade and find something easier to maintain. By chance, the Ambassador, Dame Anne Warburton met Princess Margarethe of Bourbon Parma, who lived next door in Brødrehøj, at a dinner party. She heard enough about Bernstorffshøj to whet her appetite and went to visit it privately. She recommended its purchase and HMG took possession in September 1978. Dame Anne moved into the house in early 1979 in time for the Royal Visit in May 1979.
Prince Axel’s and Princess Margrethe’s collection of books was purchased with the house in 1978, and may still be seen in the Library. Some of the books have Queen Alexandra’s cipher and book plate, from the library at Hvidøre, the mansion in Klampenborg which she shared with her sister Empress Dagmar. The collection gives an intimate insight into the personal tastes and interests of Prince Axel. Two of his great passions were fishing and sailing and the books on these two subjects alone would constitute an admirable collection. Some of the books contain written messages from members of Royal Families (notably Scandinavian Royalty) and therefore automatically become items of great interest. Most of the books are in English and Danish, but there are also many in Swedish, Norwegian and French.
The trees are interesting. A beautiful Norwegian maple dominates the lawn. Queen Elizabeth II planted an oak tree and Prince Philip a beech in 1979 (they are indicated by signs in the garden). The walnut tree was planted in 1944 to mark the Silver Wedding of Prince Axel and Princess Margarethe. The metasequoia is reputed to have been planted as a seedling by Prince Axel when he brought it back from a visit to China as a midshipman. In 1990 the gardens were re-landscaped. What had hitherto been a large lawn was broken up by beds of flowering bushes, a rose-garden, and magnolia trees. Two sculptures (by Barbara Hepworth and Andy Goldsworthy) were placed at this time.