Historian Says Author Was Son of Swedish King : Hans Christian Andersen: Royal Child?

Associated Press

The son of the shoemaker and the washerwoman is born in poverty, so ugly that he has no friends. But he is watched by a guardian angel and grows up to become wealthy and famous. It turns out that he is really the child of a king.

A fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen?

Perhaps not.

New research supports the theory that this was the secret, real-life story of Andersen, creator of “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and other tales.

Historian Jens Jorgensen said the writer, who died in 1875 at the age of 70, was probably the illegitimate child of Denmark’s crown prince and later king, Christian VIII, and a Danish aristocrat, Elise Ahlefeldt Laurvig.


The secret lovers were unable to wed because the prince’s marriage had to be reserved for a political alliance. So the child was given into the care of a housekeeper, “a fallen woman” who already had one daughter out of wedlock, Jorgensen said in an interview.

Years of Speculation

Andersen’s biographers have long distrusted the author’s own accounts of a lowly birth. Elias Bredsdorff wrote in a 1975 biography: “Much of what he told about his family background was pure fiction.”

Jorgensen has assembled circumstantial evidence that he says explains many of the anomalies of Andersen’s life. A book setting out his case is scheduled for publication in Denmark in October.

He said he started his search in the records of the Slagelse high school, which Anderson attended from 1822 to 1826 and where Jorgensen is now principal.

Slagelse is in rolling farmland 45 miles west of Copenhagen on the way to Odense, the provincial capital where Andersen grew up.

Looking through musty records, Jorgensen found that Andersen paid more than twice as much as other students to attend the school, and he traced the tuition to the royal family. Yet Andersen’s name never appears on the rolls.


“To enroll you had to show a birth certificate. But he didn’t have one,” said Jorgensen, who also writes children’s stories.

He said Andersen’s only existing birth certificate was issued in 1823, when he was 17 years old.

The biographers say Andersen was born April 2, 1805, two months after his parents were married. His father, shoemaker Hans Andersen, was then 22, and his mother, Anna Maria Andersdotter, was nearly 40.

Andersen claimed to have been born in Odense, but Jorgensen has pieced together another story more fitting Andersen’s world of make-believe.

He said he believes Andersen was actually born in the castle of Broholm, where oral tradition says an illegitimate son of Prince Christian was born on April 2 “and was given to good people.”

Housekeeper at Castle

The baroness of the castle, Edel Marie Kjier, was close friends with the 17-year-old Elise Ahlefeldt Laurvig, who was known to have been pregnant around that time, he said.


Records show that a woman with the same name as Andersen’s mother, Anna Marie Andersdotter, was a housekeeper for the baroness’s parents. All traces of the housekeeper are lost after 1805, Jorgensen said.

He said Andersen clearly had royal patronage from an early age. When he was about 5 he started making regular visits to the castle in Odense, where he played with Christian’s son, Frederik.

The cobbler’s son had the quiet help of the royal family for many years afterward. Though he showed no talent as an actor or singer, he was employed by the Royal Theater in Copenhagen for three years.

Jorgensen said he found letters from the period when Andersen attended school in which townspeople expressed wonder at Prince Christian’s frequent visits to Slagelse, then a quiet town of 5,000.