Caroline Matilda (1751–1775)

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Caroline Matilda (1751–1775)

Queen of Denmark and wife of the mad and profligate monarch Christian VII, who formed a romantic and political liaison with the brilliant statesman Count Johann Friedrich von Struensee. Name variations: Caroline Mathilde; Caroline Guelph. Born onJuly 11, 1751, at Leicester House, St. Martin's, London, England; died of scarlet fever on May 11, 1775, in Celle Castle, Brunswick, Germany; posthumous daughter of Frederick Louis, prince of Wales (eldest son of King George II of Great Britain) and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (1719–1772); sister of George III, king of England; married her cousin Christian VII (son of Frederick V of Denmark), king of Denmark and Norway (r. 1766–1808), on November 8, 1766 (divorced 1772); children: (with Christian VII) Frederick VI (b. 1768), king of Denmark and Norway (r. 1808–1839); (with Johann Struensee) Louise Augusta (1771–1843).

Her brother became King George III of England (1751); betrothed to Christian VII (January 10, 1765); married Christian by proxy (October 1, 1766), in actuality (November 8, 1766); following a palace revolt staged by Christian's stepmother and his half-brother, the heir presumptive, her lover was executed and she was exiled to Celle in Germany (1772); conspiracy formed to liberate her, but she died of scarlet fever before her rescuers could intervene (1775).

When Caroline Matilda was born on July 11, 1751, her father, Frederick Louis, prince of Wales, had been dead for four months and her brother, George (III), had been named successor to the throne of England. A lively, pretty girl, the youngest of nine and her mother's last child, Caroline Matilda responded to her siblings' benevolent indulgence and her mother Augusta of Saxe-Gotha's strict and loving care with a desire to please and a will to obey authority. She learned languages—German, English, and French—easily, and she sang beautifully.

Until she was nine, Matilda, as she preferred to be called, had experienced only the warm and tender benefits of love. Now, she was introduced to the notion that love may inflict hurt as well. Her favorite brother, George, had fallen in love with an unsuitable girl, Lady Sarah Lennox . He courted her despite his fear of his mother's wrath but succumbed to authority when the earl of Bute, his mother's close friend and fellow dynasty builder, threatened to withdraw his affection and approval. George consequently renounced Sarah—with no thought of taking her for a mistress—then dutifully married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818) and remained faithful to her. Caroline Matilda's quiet life continued at Carlton House outside London and at Kew, surrounded by the Kew Gardens, which her mother had established with Bute's help in 1759. George's submissiveness had cast a shadow on his sister's path, however, and Matilda's progressive distancing herself from Bute suggests a decreasing willingness to accept authority unquestioned. She realized that George felt differently when, two years later, he made Bute his prime minister. It would be Caroline Matilda's fate to demonstrate that when women of royalty are no longer willing to sacrifice them selves to uphold a throne, a kingdom is placed in present or permanent peril.

Matilda's good health and robust appearance—promising a long and fruitful life—were the qualities that convinced the Danish envoy, Count Bothmar, that she must be the bride of his sovereign, Prince Christian VII of Denmark. He had come for her elder sister, Louisa Anne (1749–1768), but found her too frail for the task. George resisted the match, thinking his little sister Matilda too young for marriage, but Bothmar had an ally in the Princess Dowager Augusta, who thought her youngest daughter a perfect fit for the Danish crown. Her ambitions easily overruled the fact that Matilda had lived a secluded existence and was totally untrained in manners at court. Caroline Matilda informed the Danish ambassador that she knew plants better than people and could make greater use of the flowers nature produced than of those decorating the speech of courtiers. Only 15 years old, she had no inclination to marry a distant prince, but her mother lectured her on the duty of royalty, and George was reminded of England's anti-French and Protestant cause, which a union with Denmark would serve. Against such inducement, Matilda's tears and increasing depression could produce no argument. George consented, and, on January 10, 1765, the betrothal was announced in both countries. On October 1, 1766, Caroline Matilda was married by proxy at Carlton House, and the next day she departed for Denmark.

She had a rough crossing. Her ship did not reach Rotterdam until October 11th. She proceeded from there to Utrecht in a Dutch vessel and then went overland to the English colony of Hanover and on to Hamburg, from where she sailed down the Elbe to Altona, the frontier city between Denmark and Germany. Her tears returned as she bade farewell to her English train in Altona to give herself into the hands of Danish courtiers whose language she did not speak. Even so, Danish historians describe her pleasure at being the center of attention in the cities through which she journeyed. They admired her lively and mild disposition, her beautiful blue eyes, flawless skin, pretty hands and feet, and lovely voice.

All alone among Danish courtiers and ladies, she traveled up through Schleswig Holstein, across Funen and on to Sealand, where Christian VII, her future husband, met her at the ancient city of Roskilde, 20 miles south of Copenhagen. He found her actual visage much improved over the portrait that had been painted during her time of sorrow and tears. Noting her blue eyes, exquisite coloring, and sweet expression, he kissed her hand and cheek. With a second breach of etiquette, he handed Caroline Matilda into her gilded equipage and sat down beside her. Together, they rode to the castle of Frederiksborg where she was to reside until the wedding ceremony on November 8th.

Seemingly, all was well. Caroline Matilda had found favor with Christian, and his people had cheered them all the way to the capital. She was accepted also by the king's grandmother Sophia of Bayreuth , and his stepmother, the queen dowager, Maria Juliana of Brunswick (1729–1796). The second wife of Frederick V, Maria Juliana wanted her own son, Christian's half brother and heir presumptive, to inherit the throne. She had had to resign herself to Christian marrying and possibly begetting an heir and had fashioned her hopes for a bride who would at least be pleasant and at best barren. Finally, Matilda found in her Mistress of the Robes, Madame de Plessen , the maternal guardian she needed. She reminded Matilda of her mother; like her, she was formal, strict and knowledgeable. Madame de Plessen was also observant; on the trip from Altona to Copenhagen, she had realized that Matilda was untrained in courtly etiquette, and she had made herself indispensable as teacher and guide.

The warring factions at court, at whose center Caroline Matilda would be placed, declared themselves almost immediately. The initial defeat was suffered by Madame de Plessen. As the wedding party drew to a close, the king's sister and her husband led the guests in a wild dance through all the ground floor apartments of the palace. When they came to the double doors of Matilda's rooms, however, they found her Mistress of the Robes denying them entry. Christian thrust Madame de Plessen aside, and with his wife and several hundred couples he danced through the bedrooms and galleries until they had finished their rounds. Though Madame de Plessen had yielded temporarily, her fierce standards of behavior and her sense of respect owed women of royalty dictated her further instructions to the young queen with the result that in a matter of weeks, Caroline Matilda found herself alone with her Mistress of the Robes behind the double doors. Arguably, she herself had pushed the king away when on Madame de Plessen's advice she would show Christian his place by keeping him waiting while she finished a game of chess or simply locked the doors against his advances.

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (1719–1772)

Princess of Wales and mother of George III of England. Name variations: Augusta of Saxe-Coburg, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Born Augusta, princess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, on November 30, 1719, in Gotha, Thuringia, Germany; died on February 8, 1772, at Carlton House, London, England; buried at Westminster Abbey; daughter of Frederick II, duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, and Madeleine of Anhalt-Zerbst (1679–1740); married Frederick Louis, prince of Wales (1706–1751, son of George II and Caroline of Ansbach ), on April 27, 1736; children: Augusta Guelph (1737–1813), princess royal; George William Frederick (1738–1820), later George III, king of England; Edward Augustus (1739–1767), duke of Albany and York; Elizabeth Caroline (1740–1759); William Henry (1743–1805), duke of Gloucester; Henry Frederick (b. 1745), duke of Cumberland; Louisa Anne (1749–1768); Frederick William (1750–1765); Caroline Matilda (1751–1775).

When the 17-year-old Augusta of Saxe-Gotha arrived in Greenwich, England, for her marriage to Frederick Louis, prince of Wales, she was clutching her doll. It didn't help that Frederick was out of favor with his father George II, king of England. To the consternation of the king, Frederick was exceedingly influential at court. George's growing antipathy caused him to have Frederick and Augusta evicted from their palace apartments and moved to lodgings at Leicester House.

In a time span of less than 14 years, Augusta gave birth to nine children, before the death of her husband in 1751. (She was pregnant with Caroline Matilda at the time of his death.) Her first born, the future George III, was then only 13. Augusta was heavily influential in the life of her royal son and heavily influenced by her close friend the earl of Bute. Both were largely responsible for George III's views on politics.

A sensible, confident, and intelligent man would have understood the situation of a 15-year-old bride in a strange country taking motherly advice from a mature woman; but Christian was neither sensible nor confident, and his intelligence did not help him. He had become king at the demise of his father, who had whored and drunk himself to death. His primary teacher, Rewentlow, who had wanted to make a man of the small and slender prince, had beat him into submission like a dog. The Swiss teacher, Reverdil, who joined the court in 1760 as Christian's teacher in French and geometry, had been horrified at Rewentlow's methods and tried to teach his pupil in a more humanitarian way. But he was too late. Christian, who had been mostly left with servants when not in the care of Rewentlow, had learned from them the intemperance that would characterize his later behavior. He had the notion that he was destined to be someone great; above all, he wanted to be tough, untouchable, and invulnerable. He thought he saw the world in a different light from that of everybody else and wanted to prepare himself to be a part of that world by becoming "harder" all over. Reverdil discovered that when Christian felt his stomach or his head, he was testing them to see if they were getting harder. To that end, he frequently engaged in combat with his pages and courtiers. He would revel through the nights with his companions and get into brawls with the night watchmen. On one occasion, Reverdil surprised Christian who was strapped to the floor enjoying a whipping by his Groom of the Chamber, Christian Holck. Or he would entertain himself with boys, among them a young black lad. Christian would play horse and the boy would be his rider.

Considering Christian's behavior, the Danes were understandably eager to get their sovereign married, and they put high hopes in Caroline Matilda's ability to settle him down. She might, in fact, have been able to do so, or at least mitigate his behavioral excesses by a relationship of playful encounters befitting their ages—15 and 17—had not the territorial strife at court been so pervasive. Reverdil tried to bring the king and queen together, insisting among other things that Christian sleep with his wife. But the king's young men, especially Christian Holck, tried to keep them apart for fear the queen might gain control over the king at their expense. They mocked her and called her names, in which endeavors they were aided by Christian's notion of marriage as a ridiculous affair and husbands as ludicrous creatures who could not possibly be "tough." Expectedly, Madame de Plessen despised them and advised the queen to put up with none of Christian's sexual games. She urged Matilda to let him know it was a matter of her discretion whether or not she would welcome him in her bed. The king quickly tired of waiting and returned to his nights of excess in the city.

Nonetheless, Caroline Matilda did get pregnant, and in January 1768, she gave birth to a son, the future Frederick VI. Immediately after, Christian dismissed Madame de Plessen unbeknownst to Matilda who grieved at the loss of the only person she considered a true friend. He also denied the queen permission to accompany him on a grand tour of Germany, England, and France, which lasted from May of 1768 to January of 1769. She had hoped to revisit England and her relatives; instead, she spent her time caring for her little son and waiting on Christian's grandmother and his stepmother, Maria Juliana.

How fortunate you are, to marry where you wish! If I were a widow, I would marry the man I loved and give up my throne and my country.

—Caroline Matilda, speaking to her ladies

This interlude of relative tranquility would be the last Caroline Matilda would enjoy at the Danish court. It was extended for a brief time after the king's return by Christian's temporary attentiveness to his wife and her acceptance of his favors. They dined together and appeared in public as a happy couple. Christian's increasing melancholia and bouts of delusion, however, tired him of the queen's company, and again he found his chief companion in Christian Holck.

Maria Juliana of Brunswick (1729–1796)

Queen of Denmark and Norway. Name variations: Queen Juliana; Juliana Bevern; Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; Marie of Brunswick; Maria Juliana of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel. Born Juliana Mary on September 4, 1729, in Wolfenbuttel, Germany; daughter of Ferdinand, duke of Brunswick; died on October 10, 1796, in Fredensborg, Denmark; became second wife of Frederick V, king of Denmark and Norway (r. 1746–1766), on July 8, 1752; children: Frederic (1753–1805, who married Sophia of Mecklenburg [1758–1794]); stepmother of Christian VII, king of Denmark and Norway (r. 1766–1808). Frederick V's first wife was Louise of England (1724–1751).

Matilda could not compete with her husband's courtier. And to her increasing despair, she saw herself further outnumbered with Christian's addition of yet another young man to his retinue: Johann Frederick Struensee, a German physician he had met on his journey. In contrast to the king, Struensee was a tall man, well built and broad shouldered. He had a full, sensuous face, a large nose, daring blue eyes and a steady gaze, which, joined with a calm demeanor, would quiet Christian and temporarily rescue him from himself. Struensee quickly grasped the situation at the Danish court: the king's attachment to a group of courtiers and a famous courtesan Catherine Bootlet who fed his masochistic tendencies, and the queen's emotional, social, and political isolation. Madame de Plessen's replacement by the sister of the courtier on whom Christian depended the most, and whom Matilda hated above all men, had put the enemy inside the doors of her apartments. The jealousy of her stepmother had increased with the birth of Matilda's son, the crown prince Frederick, an event that had temporarily dashed Maria Juliana's hopes albeit not her designs on the crown. Finally, Matilda was a pawn in the warring influences of Russian and French ambassadors vying for Danish support in their proand anti-English politics. Her only consolation lay in the baby prince as the one human being she could love and expect love from in return. That his health from the first had been delicate intensified her devotion.

As Christian's attendant on a second journey to England and France, Struensee had added opportunity to study the king and offer remedies as needed. By the time they returned to Copenhagen, he had become indispensable. Christian subsequently tried to introduce his physician to Matilda, but she refused to even talk to the gallant doctor whom she considered another of the king's favorites who would turn him against her.

Then Matilda fell ill of some undiagnosed disease. She thought it dropsy and was unwilling to seek help. It took steady persuasion from both her brother and her husband—who was temporarily better—to permit Struensee to examine her. They appealed to her sense of duty as wife, mother, and queen, and ultimately she relented; she spent two hours with the physician on his first visit and called him back each day thereafter. Caroline Matilda was not only cured within a fortnight; she was given prescriptions for exercise, fresh air, and distraction as a prevention of future depression. Specifically, she was urged to take up riding, which to her delight and surprise proved to be a sport for which she had a special aptitude.

Struensee's next step was to convince the queen that she needed to resume her relationship with the king. Christian's show of sanity, he explained, was only temporary. Consequently, said Struensee, the one closest to the king would be the person with the greatest influence, for Christian would continue to be invested with official authority. That person, he pointed out, might be Christian Holck, Prime Minister Bernstorff, or herself. Struensee's calm and reasonable manner was persuasive; it steadied Matilda's physical and emotional health and promised a relationship of trust and mutual dependence, which, kept within bounds, might have guided the entire court.

But again, something happened that changed Matilda's attitude, this time not from antipathy to sympathy, but from respect and confidence to love and adoration. Copenhagen was attacked by smallpox; 1,200 children died, and Matilda was frantic at the thought of losing her son. She looked to Struensee, who calmly announced that the crown prince had to be inoculated, a practice that was novel in Danish court circles and relatively untried elsewhere as well. Together, the mother and physician brought the two-year-old boy to the country for his vaccination, and for ten days and nights they watched his reaction. Courtiers began to whisper they were lovers, but Matilda was oblivious to the gossip. She had from childhood seen her widowed mother in the company of the earl of Bute who had assisted her in her endeavors, and she saw nothing amiss. The rapid recovery of the young prince sealed the fate of his mother before she even realized the extent of her infatuation with his physician. Gradually, not only Christian's but Matilda's reliance on Struensee became total, and together Struensee and Matilda became Christian's guardians. Holck saw his power reduced and unsuccessfully appealed to Bernstorff to side with him against their common enemy before it was too late. But the prime minister assured the noble that an upstart doctor could in no way unseat either of them. He even agreed to Matilda's suggestion that Struensee be made Christian's reader and private secretary, a post that carried with it the designation of councillor. It furthermore entailed a key to the royal apartments, and soon Struensee could be seen dining with the king and queen, reading to the queen, riding, walking, and playing cards with her. Their becoming lovers in May 1770, just prior to Matilda's 19th birthday, seems the logical corollary of those activities performed in the context of a court that was girded all about with bickering parties and presided over by a king who was descending into madness. Christian was well contented in the company of his wife and her lover, who were kind to him, and asked nothing by way of his participation.

In 1770, Prime Minister Bernstorff arranged a trip to Holstein for Christian and Matilda in hopes of distracting public attention from the latter's relationship with Struensee. The couple refused to go without their doctor, however, so all three of them left, after Christian—read Struensee—had given orders that no decision be made until their return, especially pertaining to support of Russian alliances. Bernstorff then realized the degree to which the doctor had involved himself in politics and the extent of his power. In panic, the Danish prime minister appealed to George III of England who arranged for his mother to have a visit with his wayward sister on her way back to Copenhagen. Matilda reluctantly agreed to meet at her sister Augusta Guelph 's palace in Brunswick but sent a last minute notice that she was too ill to make the journey. Her mother therefore suggested Lüneburg for the rendezvous, and they met in June 1770. Princess Dowager Augusta quickly assessed the situation—a determined young woman in love, an almost entirely withdrawn husband, and an all-powerful lover—but her appeals were to no avail. She had seen her daughter for the last time.

When Prime Minister Bernstorff was dismissed in 1770, George III again appealed to his sister in the name of Danish-English connections but received the reply that he was to communicate with her only through her ministers, and his ambassador was denied access. Meanwhile, Struensee had started his reforms to bring Denmark into the 20th century. He began by addressing the problem of the national debt, followed by arrangements for freedom of the press, and in an amazingly short period of time he became known throughout Europe as a champion reformer. The subjects he aimed to reform, however, were offended at his issuing decrees and regulations in German because he had not learned Danish. They were also scandalized by his relationship with the queen and highly critical of his treating crown prince Frederick like a common child. Struensee had replaced the boy's diet of spiced meats, ale, and pastries with one of boiled rice, bread, milk, and vegetables and ordered exercise outdoors in all kinds of weather. Matilda spent much time with her son, playing and gardening with him, for which both were criticized, accused of behaving like peasants. Struensee's felicitous treatment of the young prince, which helped him grow into a robust, intelligent man further incurred the wrath of Queen Dowager Maria Juliana whose hopes of advancement for her own son were once again diminished. Maria Juliana's ambition remained unreduced; it found response in others' dissatisfaction with Struensee's rule and the queen's behavior, and ultimately resulted in plans for a coup d'état.

From then on, events accelerated. On July 1, 1771, Matilda was delivered of a baby girl. News of the princess were proclaimed from the balcony of Christiansborg palace, and two weeks later, Christian conferred on Struensee the titles of privy cabinet minister and count, invested with absolute power in Christian's name. The court physician and political reformer had reached the pinnacle of power, but his stay there was to be brief.

On January 17, 1772, Queen Dowager Maria Juliana's group of conspirators, armed with Christian's signatures on their warrants for arrest, apprehended Struensee and brought him to Copenhagen's citadel. Matilda tried to gain access to the king but found his doors barred. Accompanied by a maid and her baby daughter Louise Augusta , Matilda was escorted to the castle of Kronborg. She had been denied her request to say goodbye to her four-year-old son.

The English ambassador Sir Robert Murray Keith dispatched a message to George describing his sister's imprisonment in a heavily barred room, without either fireplace or shutters, as flagrantly illegal; she had not yet been accused of any crime. The queen dowager he threatened with an English declaration of war, which effected a speedy removal of Matilda to Kronborg's royal apartments. But George ignored his sister's pleas for rescue, despite his knowledge that were she tried for adultery, she might be charged with high treason.

Louise Augusta (1771–1843)

Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein. Name variations: Louise Augusta Oldenburg. Born on July 7, 1771; died on January 13, 1843; legitimized daughter of Caroline Matilda (1751-1775) and Johann Struensee; married Frederick Christian, duke of Schleswig-Holstein, on May 27, 1786; children: Caroline Amelia of Augustenburg (1796–1881); Christian Charles (b. 1798), duke of Schleswig-Holstein; Frederick Emile (b. 1800), prince of Nöer.

Struensee and Matilda were mutually tricked into signing documents of admission of adultery. He was shown her forged signature whereupon he, too, signed. Her hand was guided by one of her judges as she collapsed in the process of writing her name. She had acted throughout with composure and dignity, but on seeing her lover's signature on the incriminating document, she fell back in her chair and covered her face with her hands.

Struensee was brutally executed. His body was quartered and laid upon a wheel, while his head and right hand were cut off and raised on poles. Matilda was rescued from the lifelong imprisonment Maria Juliana had planned for her at a remote castle in northern Jutland by her brother. Though George had finally decided it was his duty to help her, his queen Charlotte refused to welcome Matilda back to England, so Matilda settled on Celle in the English colony of Hanover. There she would have a miniature court and be granted an allowance of £8,000 a year. George sent an escort of two sloops and a frigate to transport her there but ignored her pleas for permission to take with her into exile her ten-month-old daughter, who, she bravely ventured, had no connection with the Danish royal family despite the court's confirmation of her legitimacy.

In the fall of 1772, Caroline Matilda was installed at the castle of Celle, a luxurious but lonely place set in the middle of heavy forested land and the nearest house 15 miles away. Books, music, needlework, cards, and—increasingly—religion took up her time. Matilda was joined there by her old friend Madame de Plessen, whose loyalty remained unconditional. When de Plessen took a house in Celle, they met almost every day. Planning her garden became another resource and, to mitigate the loss of her children, Matilda adopted a four-year-old orphan.

Yet the last phase in Matilda's life was not entirely without drama. A group of Danish exiles from Queen Dowager Maria Juliana's court, who had taken refuge in Altona, formed a plot to return their one time queen to Copenhagen and invest her with supreme power during the king's incapacity and her son's minority. They needed someone outside their circle, however, who could contact Matilda without raising suspicions about their undertaking. They found their man in Nathaniel Waxhall, a "high-minded but egocentric enthusiast." He had read about his countrywoman's fate at the Danish court and yearned to come to her rescue. George, with accustomed reticence, pledged his approval of the plans for his sister's restoration if they were successfully executed.

However, just before midnight on May 11, Carolina Matilda died in her sleep, having been infected by scarlet fever or possibly typhoid. A week later, this rather laconic message appeared in a Copenhagen paper: "Yesterday we were informed by intelligence from Celle that Queen Caroline Matilda after a few days' illness the night before last at eleven o'clock exchanged temporality for eternity." Christian's comment on learning the news: "Too bad, she had pretty calves" sums up his condition.


Bech, Svend Cedergreen. Brev fra Dorothea. Copenhagen: Politikens Forlag, 1975.

Chapman, Hester W. Caroline Matilda. London: Jonathan Cape, 1971.

Lange, Victor. Fra Struensetiden. Copenhagen: Jacob Lunds Boghandel, 1926.

Reverdil, Salomon. Struense og det danske hof. Copenhagen: Host og Son, 1916.

Inga Wiehl , Yakima Valley Community College, Yakima, Washington

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Caroline Matilda (1751–1775)

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Caroline Matilda (1751–1775)