Christian VII of Denmark and Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain
It’s fair to say that, by the time she died in 1775, Carline Matilda of Great Britain was tired of men. Not only was she the sister to ‘Mad’ King George III of Great Britain, but she was also the wife of Christian VII, one of the worst monarchs in the history of Danish royalty. Her marriage to the mentally unfit Dane might have produced a healthy daughter but it was, by every other measure, a tragedy. And it was Caroline Matilda herself who was the real victim in the whole affair.
Caroline Matilda enjoyed a sheltered childhood. While she was the youngest daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, she grew up away from the royal court. So it would have been a huge shock for her when she was married to her first cousin, King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway at the age of 15. Not that an older bride would have been able to deal with the king’s ways. While they were perfectly suited in some ways – they were both Protestant and of similar social rank – it’s clear it was doomed from the start. In fact, they married ‘by proxy’ in St James’s Palace in London on October 1, 1766. Christian’s place at the altar was taken by her own uncle and she didn’t meet her groom in person for another few weeks.
When she did meet and started to get to know Christian, she would have been dismayed. While Caroline Matilda was criticised as being plain, plump and even pushy, her new husband was mentally unstable. He was consistently cold and indifferent to his young wife. Once Caroline Matilda had provided an heir, Crown Prince Frederick, in 1768, Christian preferred to spend his time in Copenhagen’s brothels than with his family. With time, he became increasingly paranoid. He hallucinated and became delusional. The king even mutilated himself. And then he publicly declared that he didn’t love his wife and could never love her.
Driven by Christian’s ways, Caroline Matilda took solace in the arms – and bed – of Johann Friedrich Struensee, a Germany physician to the royal court. Thanks to this relationship, Struensee became increasingly influential, even dictating court matters. Before long, Christian’s own stepmother and his own brother conspired to put an end to the threatening affair. In the spring of 1772, the doctor was arrested and found guilty of the ‘crime of familiarity’ with the Queen and was executed. Caroline Matilda was also found guilty of adultery. However, with British ships waiting off the coast of Denmark, it was decided that she should be allowed to live. She moved to Celle, close to Hanover, and lived in exile. She died of scarlet fever in 1775.