Royal Scandal in the Court of The Queen of Denmark-Norway
During the latter half of the 18th century, Denmark-Norway was ruled by a king by the name of Christian VII. His wife was Caroline Matilda of Great Britain. Christian’s reign, which lasted from 1788 until his death in 1808, was colored by the king’s insanity. Due to Christian’s mental illness, he was only nominally king, and power was in the hands of whoever controlled the court at the time. At one point of time, it was the king’s physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, who was in charge of the affairs of state. Additionally, it was this physician with whom the queen was having an affair.
Born in 1749, Christian VII was the son of Frederick V of Denmark and his first wife, Louise of Great Britain. Christian’s mother is recorded to have died before her son reached the age of three. Frederick is said to have taken little notice of his young son, and remarried. Christian’s step-mother was Juliana of Brunswick-Wolffenbüttel, who is said to have been a domineering woman.
Juliana bore the king a physically deformed son, and being ambitious, saw Christian as an obstacle between her son and the Danish throne, thus resenting him. Frederick’s second marriage was unhappy, and the king eventually died at the age of 42. Christian became the King of Denmark-Norway in 1766.
Princess Caroline Matilda
Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, who was born in 1751, was the ninth and youngest daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. Unlike her future husband, Caroline Matilda seems to have had a more wholesome childhood. As her father died suddenly three months prior to her birth, Caroline Matilda was raised by her mother at Kew and at Leicester House, away from the English court.
She is said to have enjoyed outdoor activities, and grew to be an attractive young woman. Additionally, she is said to have been able to speak Italian, German and French, and was an accomplished singer due to her beautiful voice. A marriage was arranged between Caroline Matilda and Christian, her first cousin, and in 1766, the pair were married.
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Painting of Caroline Matilda (Public Domain)
Johann Friedrich Struensee
Johann Friedrich Struensee was born in 1738 in what is today Germany. His father is said to have been a superintendent-general of Schleswig-Holstein, who was also a Pietist. Struensee, however, was more interested in the ideas of the Enlightenment, and was a doctor by trade. Additionally, it has been said that Struensee befriended the right people at the right time.
Whilst he was practicing his trade in Altona, Struensee is said to have befriended some aristocrats, who would provide him the ticket to Christian’s court as a physician. Thus, Struensee, an adherent of Enlightenment ideals, found himself in the court of an absolute monarch.
Portrait of Struensee, 1770, (Public Domain)
The marriage of Christian and Caroline Matilda is said to have been politically motivated. The marriage was arranged in order to strengthen the ties between Denmark-Norway and Great Britain, to check the power of France, and to bolster the Protestant religion. The marriage is said to have been unhappy, as the king did not like his new wife, and his stepmother, now the Dowager Queen, was also unsympathetic towards her, and discouraged the other ladies in court from befriending the queen. Nevertheless, the royal couple had a child together, and Caroline Matilda grew close to Louise von Plessen, her lady-in-waiting (who was exiled from court in 1768).
Christian VII and Caroline Matilda dance at the wedding held at Christiansborg Palace. (Public Domain)
In 1768, Christian embarked on a tour of Europe, and when he returned in the following year, brought back Struensee to his court. The physician seems to have been able to handle the king’s madness, and in return, Christian placed his confidence in him. It has been claimed that initially, the queen did not like this new member of the court. Struensee, it is said, was aware that in order to remain in the king’s favor, he had to be on good terms with the queen. Thus, the physician is said to have sought to repair the relationship between the king and the queen, which he succeeded. Struensee is also said to have either succeeded in treating the queen’s venereal disease, which she had caught from her husband, or saved her son from smallpox by having him inoculated.
In any event, by 1770, the queen and the physician had become extremely close, and an affair between the two began. Meanwhile, Struensee became the king’s principal advisor, and began to implement the ideas of the Enlightenment in the kingdom. These included the abolition of torture, the freedom of the press, and the limitation of the death penalty.
The queen also seemed to have grown bolder, and showed herself in public riding on horseback dressed as a man. Additionally, in 1771, the queen gave birth to a daughter, Princess Louise Augusta, officially the daughter of Christian, but widely believed to have been the child of Struensee.
Engraving of Caroline Matilda giving birth. (Public Domain)
Struensee held absolute power for ten months, when Christian sank into a condition of mental torpor. In the meantime, the scandalous actions of Caroline Matilda and Struensee brought them many enemies, who eventually succeeded in ousting the pair in early 1772. Struensee was tried, and found guilty of lèse-majesté (the crime of violating majesty) for his affair with Caroline Matilda, and was executed by having his right hand cut off, beheaded, and quartered. The queen was a little more fortunate, as she was imprisoned, before the British managed to negotiate her release. She was sent to Celle Castle in Hanover, where she died of she died of scarlet fever in 1775.
By Wu Mingren
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