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A Noblewoman from Schleswig-Holstein Reflects on her Idyllic Childhood in the Late 18th Century (Retrospective Account)

Despite illnesses and untimely deaths in her family, Countess von Bernstorff’s picture of her childhood and familial surroundings radiates contentment, comfort, and love. The social breadth of her significant relationships is noteworthy. The conjugal family was but one link in a larger chain of important human relationships.

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Between the Capital and the Manor. Childhood Memories of a Daughter of a Nobleman from Schleswig-Holstein

Elise von Bernstorff

I was born on January 27, 1789, in Copenhagen, and received the name Elise by holy baptism on February 15.

My parents were Magnus Count of Dernath, then in Danish services, and Charlotte, neé Countess of Bernstorff. My father did not have any siblings and died as the last of his family, since his sons had preceded him to the grave. [ . . . ]

On my mother’s side, the closer relations were all the more numerous, and besides the grandparents Bernstorff, I am naming here my mother’s siblings, not only because they will play such a major role in these pages, not only because from early childhood onward, I was devoted to them in enthusiastic love and admiration, but because the second, my mother’s favorite brother, Christian, became my husband in 1806. [ . . . ]

My grandfather on my mother’s side was the Danish Minister of State, Andreas Petrus Graf v. Bernstorff, owner of the magnificent Bernstorff estate near Copenhagen. [ . . . ]

I have only sunny, happy memories of my early childhood. I spent the summer with its pastoral delights just as cheerfully as the winter in Copenhagen. The solitariness in which I grew up – because sisters had been denied and brothers snatched away from me – did not feel to me as such at all, especially not before I received a governess, since at that time I played around the entire day near my Mom in her room, mostly with dolls that I loved like children.

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