The youngest and posthumous daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, by Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Caroline Matilda was raised in a secluded family atmosphere away from the royal court. At the age of fifteen, she was married to her first cousin, King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway, who suffered from a mental illness and was cold to his wife throughout the marriage. She had two children: the future Frederick VI and Louise Augusta, whose biological father may have been the physician Johann Friedrich Struensee.
In 1769, Struensee entered the service of the Danish king; initially Caroline Matilda treated him coldly, but he quickly won the Queen's heart and they began a love affair. Struensee gained more and more power and instituted a series of reforms that Caroline Matilda supported. Struensee's reforms and his relationship with the Queen generated powerful enemies, who included Christian VII's stepmother Queen Dowager Juliana Maria and her son Prince Frederick. Juliana Maria directed a plot to overthrow the lovers, which ended with the execution of Struensee and Caroline Matilda's divorce and banishment. She died in Celle, Hanover, at the age of twenty-three from scarlet fever.
Caroline Matilda was born in Leicester House, London, on 22 July (11 July in the Old Style) 1751 as the ninth and youngest child of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. Her father died suddenly about three months before her birth, on 31 March 1751. At birth, she was given the style and title Her Royal Highness Princess Caroline Matilda, as daughter of the Prince of Wales, though, by the time of her birth, the title of Prince of Wales had passed to her brother George (who became King George III in 1761). Both of her names were used to distinguish her from her paternal aunt, Princess Caroline.
The princess was christened ten days after being born, on 1 August, at the same house, by the Bishop of Norwich, Thomas Hayter. Her godparents were her brother George, her aunt Caroline, and her sister Augusta.
She was brought up by her strict mother away from the English court and was described as natural and informal, and for this reason, she was uninterested in politics and court intrigues as an adult. She spent most of the time with her family in Leicester House, but during holidays they moved to Kew Palace. Caroline Matilda enjoyed outdoor life and riding, and, despite the irregularities of her and her sisters' education, she was musically gifted, an accomplished singer with a beautiful voice and also could speak three languages: Italian, French, and German.
In 1764, a marriage was suggested between the Danish House of Oldenburg and the British House of Hanover, specifically between Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, and a British princess. The Danish Crown Prince was the oldest surviving son of King Frederick V and his first wife Princess Louise of Great Britain, and in consequence, first cousin of the children of the late Prince of Wales. The marriage was considered suitable because both the British and Danish royal families were Protestant and of the same rank, and thus had the same status as well as religion. Additionally, the deceased Queen Louise had been very popular in Denmark. Initially, the marriage negotiations were intended for the eldest unmarried daughter of the Waleses, Princess Louise Anne, but after the Danish representative in London, Count von Bothmer, was informed of her weak constitution, her younger sister Caroline Matilda was chosen for the match instead. The official betrothal was announced on 10 January 1765.
On 14 January 1766, in the middle of preparations for the wedding, King Frederick V died and his 17-year-old son became King Christian VII. On 1 October of that year in the royal chapel of St James's Palace (or according to other sources, in Carlton House) the marriage was celebrated by proxy, in which the groom was represented by Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany. Two days later, Caroline Matilda departed from Harwich for Rotterdam, and three weeks later she arrived in Altona, where she left her British entourage and was welcomed by her appointed Danish courtiers. Twelve days later, Caroline Matilda arrived in Roskilde, where she met her future husband. The official wedding ceremony took place on 8 November 1766 in the Royal Chapel at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. Marriage celebrations and balls lasted for another month. On 1 May 1767, Caroline Matilda was crowned Queen of Denmark in Copenhagen.
The young Queen at the Danish court was described as particularly temperamental, vivid and charming. She was thought too plump to be described as a beauty, but she was considered attractive: it was said of her that "her appearance allowed her to avoid criticism of women, but still captivate the male eye." However, her natural and unaffected personality was not popular at the strict Danish court, despite the fact that originally she was warmly received in Copenhagen. The weak-willed, self-centered, and mentally ill Christian VII was cold to his wife and not in a hurry to consummate the marriage. The reason for this attitude towards his wife could be because the King was actually forced to marry by the court, who believed that with this, his mental problems would improve; in addition, part of the court felt that Christian VII preferred the company of men to women. Despite rumors of homosexuality, the King had a mistress with whom he began a relationship in Holstein in the summer of 1766, and often visited courtesans in Copenhagen, of which the most famous was Anna Katrina Bentgagen, nicknamed Støvlet-Cathrine.
Caroline Matilda became close to her Overhofmesterinde, Louise von Plessen, who regarded the King's friends, such as Conrad Holck and Enevold Brandt, as immoral and acted to isolate Caroline Matilda from her spouse. This was not difficult, as Christian VII did not like her. The couple was further estranged when Louise von Plessen advised Caroline Matilda to claim to be indisposed when the King expressed a wish for physical intimacy, with the thought that distance would make the King more eager; instead, though, it only made him more unwilling. At the end, and after being persuaded by his old tutor Reverdil, Christian VII consummated his marriage for the sake of the succession, and after the Queen gave birth to Crown Prince Frederick on 28 January 1768, he turned his interest to the brothels of Copenhagen.
Though Caroline Matilda was not interested in politics, after the birth of an heir, she came to play a key role at the court. Her dislike of the favorites of her husband increased when, in 1768, Holck managed to exile Louise von Plessen from court, leaving the Queen even more isolated. She refused to accept von Plessen's successor, Anne Sofie von Berckentin, whom she suspected to have taken part in the plot to exile Plessen. Thus, Plessen was not replaced until Margrethe von der Lühe agreed to accept the post in 1768.
In May 1768 Christian VII took his long tour of Europe, including stays in Altona, Paris, and London. During his absence, Caroline Matilda took care of her son and aroused attention when she took walks in Copenhagen; this was considered scandalous, as royal and noble Danish women normally only traveled in town by carriage. Caroline Matilda spent the summer at Frederiksborg Castle with her son before returning to Copenhagen in the autumn. During the absence of the King, there were rumors about an affair of the Queen with a certain La Tour, a handsome actor and singer from the French language theater Hofteatret. La Tour was the lover of her lady-in-waiting Elisabet von Eyben, but he was known to receive gifts from "a higher hand" and it was said that his visits to von Eyben's chamber were in fact visits to the Queen. The allegation of an affair is not considered to have been true, but La Tour was exiled after the return of the King, perhaps because the rumor was damaging enough in itself. In addition to von Eyben, Caroline Matilda made friends with Christine Sophie von Gähler, Anna Sofie Bülow, and Amalie Sofie Holstein, who were known for their love affairs. According to the letter writer Luise Gramm, they encouraged her to participate more in social life, dance, and flirt.
The King returned to Copenhagen on 12 January 1769, bringing with him Johann Friedrich Struensee as Royal Physician. He had met Struensee in Altona at the beginning of his travels. During 1769, the King's mental health deteriorated, but Struensee could apparently handle the King's instability, which was a great relief to the King's advisers, and Christian VII developed a confidence in him. During 1769, Struensee encouraged the King in his attraction to Birgitte Sofie Gabel, reportedly because he believed a relationship with an intelligent woman would make the King more mentally stable and his insanity easier to handle, but this failed, and the attempt to provide the King with a mistress made the Queen hostile toward Struensee.
After this, Struensee encouraged the King to improve his relationship with Caroline Matilda, and Christian VII showed his attention to her in the form of a three-day birthday party on 22 July 1769. The Queen was well aware that Struensee was behind these improvements, and her interest in the charming doctor developed. She was grateful that he improved the King's behavior towards her, thereby also improving her position at court. Later, in the summer of 1769, Caroline Matilda had an attack of dropsy, and at the insistence of her husband, she turned to Struensee. He advised the Queen that entertainment and exercise are the best medicine; the royal physician's advice helped Caroline Matilda, and Struensee gained credibility before her. Confidence strengthened when Struensee successfully inoculated the infant Crown Prince Frederick against smallpox. The attraction which had arisen between the Queen and the Royal Physician amused the King, but it was initially caused by the desire of Struensee to bring together Christian VII and his wife. In January 1770, Struensee was given his own rooms at Christiansborg Palace. In the meanwhile, the King became more and more passive, isolated and less counted upon as his mental health deteriorated. He entrusted more and more of the daily state affairs to Struensee, as he had by then become accustomed to trust him.
By the spring of 1770, Struensee became the Queen's lover. Later, during the divorce proceedings between Caroline Matilda and Christian VII, courtiers who accompanied the Queen during this time reported that they suspected the affair since at least late 1769. The rumors forced the Queen to limit her contact with Struensee for a while, but this didn't last for long: by the summer of 1770 the proximity between Caroline Matilda and Struensee was known in all the capital and the provinces. Shortly after, the royal couple made a tour through the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein and the German border, accompanied by Struensee. During the trip, the Queen and Struensee were observed to behave in a suspicious manner towards each other, and rumors started spreading that they were lovers. With the help of Caroline Matilda, Struensee was able to expel Holck and other political enemies from court, including Margrethe von der Lühe, Holck's sister and Royal Mistress of the Robes, who, despite her blood relation with Caroline Matilda's enemy, was close to her.
In the summer of 1770, Caroline Matilda's mother, the Dowager Princess of Wales, made a visit to the continent, where for various reasons she wanted to communicate with her daughter. Originally, the meeting was scheduled in Brunswick, but later was moved to Lüneburg; Caroline Matilda saw her mother in Lüneburg not earlier than August 1770 and this was the last meeting between them; reportedly, the Queen received her in breeches, which at that time was regarded as scandalous. During this meeting, Struensee was constantly at the side of the Queen, so the Dowager Princess of Wales couldn't find an opportunity to talk freely with her daughter and only could instruct Woodford, the British Minister to Saxe-Lauenburg, to caution Caroline Matilda about her behaviour. In the end, neither Woodford nor the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (who visited his sister in the same year in Copenhagen) succeeded in this purpose.
In September 1770 came the fall of the Chancellor Count Johann Hartwig Ernst von Bernstorff, reportedly thanks to the intrigues of both Struensee and Caroline Matilda; when the Dowager Princess of Wales asked her daughter about these rumours, the Queen responded to her mother's lamentations with an arrogant phrase: "Pray, madam, allow me to govern my own kingdom as I please!" On 18 December Struensee became Maître des Requêtes ("Master of Queries"; Privy Counsellor), and in July 1771 when he entered the cabinet it was declared that his orders would have the same effect as if they were signed by the King himself; on 22 July (the day of the Queen's birthday) the signatures of Struensee and his assistant Count Enevold Brandt were officially announced. From then, Struensee's authority became paramount, and he held absolute sway between 20 March 1771 and 16 January 1772: this period is known as the "Time of Struensee".
On 29 January 1771, in honor of the King's birthday, the Queen founded the Mathildeordenen. The Order has one class, and was intended to honor the royal family and their closest friends. The badge of the Order was a monogram "M", framed by a circle of precious stones and branches covered with green enamel. The Order was suspended on a pink ribbon with three silver stripes. A man wore the Order on a tape around his neck, and a lady with a bow on the chest. The Order Charter consisted of seven articles, and was written in French. Presentation of the Order was held once in the same day, at the dinner in honor of the King's birthday: it was granted to twelve people, among whom was Caroline Matilda herself, Struensee, Christian VII, the Queen Dowager Juliana Maria, Prince Frederick (the King's half-brother), and Struensee's close friends. After the coup in 1772, which resulted in the execution of Struensee and the exile of Caroline Matilda, the Order was abolished.
Having virtually unlimited power, Struensee issued no fewer than 1069 cabinet orders, or more than three a day; for this reason, he has been criticized for having an imprudent "mania" for reform (despite the fact that all these orders were based on sound, rational principles) and because he didn't follow native Danish and Norwegian customs, seeing them as prejudices and wanting to eliminate them in favour of abstract principles. This led to the extreme unpopularity among the conservative circles at court, lead by the Dowager Queen Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and her son Prince Frederick. Caroline Matilda shared the unpopularity of her lover, due to her support for his reforms and her behavior, which was offensive to a nation that had a traditional veneration for the royal house of Oldenburg, and brought the Crown into contempt: her way of openly demonstrating her new happiness was seen as shocking, as when the couple reportedly barely concealed their affair during the masked balls of Caroline von Schimmelmann.
Until now without influence, Caroline Matilda became the center of the Court's attention, and gathered followers called the Dronningens Parti ("The Queen's Party"). She gained a new confidence, and showed herself in public riding astride on horseback, dressed as a man. This was seen as scandalous, and according to Luise Gramm, she had been encouraged to do this by her lady-in-waiting Elisabet von Eyben. Struensee introduced a reform in which burgher class people were allowed to dine informally with the royal family, and the Queen acquired friends outside the aristocracy such as Johanne Marie Malleville, which was seen as a scandal.
On 17 June 1771 the court took summer residence at Hirschholm Palace in present-day Hørsholm municipality. Here, Caroline Matilda lived happily with her son and her lover, and was painted with the Crown Prince in the style of the newly modern country life by Peter Als; this summer is described as an idyll. She also planned a new summer villa, Frydenlund in Vedbæk. One month later, on 7 July, the Queen gave birth to a second child, a daughter named Louise Augusta. The event was coldly received at court, although the Dowager Queen Juliana Maria agreed to be the godmother of the newborn, if the Queen agreed. The King recognized the paternity of the child, who officially became a Princess of Denmark and Norway, but the Queen's behavior and the girl's resemblance to Struensee caused the courtiers began to think that almost certainly he was the biological father of the princess, who was called "la petite Struensee". However, during the process against Caroline Matilda, her daughter was never mentioned in any document, because Struensee previously gave "satisfactory answers" about the circumstances of the birth of the princess.
Shortly after Louise Augusta's birth, rumors began in the court and population that Caroline Matilda and Struense wanted to imprison the King and declare the Queen regent; these accusations, in fact were absurd in themselves, as Christian VII was more a protection than an obstacle to the lovers. By the end of 1771 the lovers began to worry, and Caroline Matilda suspected that the Dowager Queen Juliana Maria planned a plot against her and Struensee. In October, Struensee thought that it was necessary to abolish freedom of the press, which was one of the most brilliant of his reforms. According to legend, Struensee rushed to the Queen's feet, begging her to let him, for their common sake, leave the country, but Caroline Matilda refused to let him go. At the same time he confessed to one of his friends it was only thanks to the support of the Queen that he retained his post. On 30 November the court moved to Frederiksberg Palace, where security measures had been increased by orders of Struensee. Then the order to disband the Royal Guard caused a military march to Fredericksburgon Christmas Eve, and the court became clear about the real mood of the people. At the same time, there were rumors that the British diplomat Robert Murray Keith proposed to give Struensee a large sum of money if he were to leave the country, but there is no documentary evidence for this.
The court returned to Copenhagen on 8 January 1772. By this time, Struensee and Caroline Matilda were already in serious danger. In early January, a former supporter of Struensee, Count Schack Carl Rantzau, discontented with the fact that Struensee did not accept his political views, decided to overthrow the favorite. Dowager Queen Juliana Maria had during the summer watched the progress of the events at Fredensborg Palace, where she lived in seclusion with her so. Rantzau gave her fake evidence that the lovers were going to overthrow the King, prompting the Dowager Queen to act against them. Details of the case were specified on 15 January at the Dowager's residence, and the execution of their conspiracy was scheduled for the night of 16-17 January, after the end of a masked ball at the Hofteatret in Christiansborg Palace. Although Rantzau hesitated at the last moment, everything went according to plan: at the agreed time, Struensee, Brandt, and their followers were arrested.
On the same night Caroline Matilda was captured by Rantzau who, with cynical cruelty, hastily escorted her with her daughter to Kronborg Castle, in Helsingør, where they remained imprisoned under close surveillance by guards. As the Queen later told the court, on the evening of 17 January she saw from the windows of her chamber the festive illuminations made in honor of her fall in Copenhagen. Only a few friends were allowed to visit the Queen at Kronborg, where she had the consolation to be with her daughter, because her son the Crown Prince stayed with his father. The fall of Caroline Matilda was necessary to overthrow Struensee, although he didn't receive power thanks to the Queen, but because of his dominance over the King; however, the Queen was a powerful ally of Struensee, and for this reason it was necessary to remove them at the same time.
The interrogation of Johann Friedrich Struensee began on 20 February 1772, but in recognition of the "crime of familiarity" with respect to the Queen, he admitted to nothing for three days after that. Later, Struensee tried to shift as much of the responsibility for adultery on Caroline Matilda. Struensee's main political associate and friend, Enevold Brandt, was interrogated at the same time, and reportedly admitted his knowledge of the favorite's crimes. A committee of four nobles was sent to Kronborg to interrogate the Queen; during their first visit, and probably following the advice of Keith, Caroline Matilda refused to speak with them, replying that "she doesn't recognize anyone's court other than the court of the King." In the later visits of the committee, the Queen denied her relationship to Struensee in the hope of saving him. On 9 March, a confession signed by Struensee was presented to Caroline Matilda; she also signed a confession and took much of the blame on herself, hoping thus to mitigate the fate of her lover, although she is believed to have been pressed or manipulated to admit the affair by the interrogator.
On 24 March an indictment against the Queen was presented to the court, consisting of thirty-five members of the nobility; on 2 April she was given a lawyer, who said that the Queen was innocent, and her confession was signed under pressure, and solely to protect Struensee. The judgment was handed down on 6 April and two days later the Queen was notified: her marriage with Christian VII was dissolved, although not under dynastic or moral grounds; in addition, the name of the former Queen was banned during church services. Struensee and Brandt were sentenced to death, and executed on 28 April. As Caroline Matilda later recalled, she intuitively knew about the death of her lover.
In Great Britain the news about the arrest of Caroline Matilda were met with great excitement. After the divorce, and following the orders of her brother King George III, Robert Murray Keith began to negotiate her release, but without success. At the same time, George III had been provided conclusive evidence against his sister, and it was reported that the British monarch was advised that his sister couldn't remain at the Danish court. After Caroline Matilda's death, it was discovered that the Dands offered to send Struensee and his allies into exile in Aalborg in north Jutland, but the British government strongly refused to consent to this and even threatened to break diplomatic relations with Denmark and begin a military intervention. A British squadron arrived off the shores of Copenhagen, but a few hours before its arrival George III received the news that the Danish government guaranteed the freedom of the former Queen. Keith was also able to secure the return of her dowry, a pension, and Caroline Matilda's right to retain her royal title.
By May 1772 the British and Danish governments had been able to figure out where Caroline Matilda would live; at the suggestion of George III, the new residence of his "Criminal Sister" was to be Celle Castle, located in the Electorate of Hanover. On 3 May the former Queen, accompanied by Keith and a delegation of Danish nobles, departed from Helsingør in two frigates and a sloop; her two children, Crown Prince Frederick and Louise Augusta, remained in Copenhagen and she never saw them again. On 5 June she arrived in the district of Stade (where the Danish delegation finally left her), and was greeted in an elaborate ceremony, and the next day a reception was held in her honor. From Stade, the former Queen went to Göhrde, and stayed there for a few months in the hunting Electoral state, and then finally went to Celle. On 20 October Caroline Matilda made her solemn entry into the city, where a proper court was organized for her. Thereafter, she rarely left Celle, with only few visits to Hanover.
In Celle, Caroline Matilda had a very quiet life. Here she was finally reunited with her beloved former hofmesterinde (Mistress of the Robes) Countess Louise von Plessen. The former Queen was often visited by many relatives and friends, among whom was her older sister Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, which is considered by many contemporaries, a way to keep her watched. The main entertainment of Caroline Mathilde in Celle was a small theater, which was built especially for her in the castle, as well a library with numerous books in German and English; in addition, she became known for her charity toward poor children and orphans. Keith, who visited Caroline Mathilde in November 1772, later reported to Lord Suffolk he had found her in a contented mood and the she didn't want to have any relations with the Danish court, except those that directly affect the well-being of her children.
Although no longer Queen, Caroline Matilda still played an important role in Danish politics, because she was the mother of the future King. In September 1774 she was visited by the traveler and adventurer Nathaniel Wraxall; during this visit he collected a lot of information about the life of Caroline Matilda in Denmark, which later formed the basis of his memoirs. He returned in October, already as a secret agent of a group of restive Danish nobles. Some were exiled in Hamburg for their support to the former Queen (notably Baron Frederik Ludvig Ernst Bülow (spouse of Anna Sofie Bülow), and Count Ernst von Schimmelmann (son of Caroline von Schimmelmann) and one remained in Copenhagen. They were eager for a change: the return of Caroline Matilda as Regent and Guardian of the Crown Prince. Caroline Matilda was ready to act, but only with the consent of her brother George III; she also feared for the lives of her children. George III was ready to support his sister and the plot, but on the condition that first, the conspirators had to gain enough power in Denmark. Wraxall visited the former Queen three more times in Celle and discussed with her the details of the plot; then he went to London, to discuss the plan with George III. With him, Caroline Matilda sent a letter to her brother, in which she asked for his approval for the conspiracy, which she referred to as "this scheme for my son's happiness". However, while waiting for an audience with the King in London, Wraxall learned about the death of Caroline Matilda.
Caroline Matilda died suddenly of scarlet fever on 10 May 1775. On her deathbed, she wrote a letter to her brother in which she claimed her innocence. She was buried in the crypt of the Stadtkirche St. Marien near her paternal great-grandmother Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who was also divorced and exiled in Celle.11 July 1751 – 8 November 1766: Her Royal Highness Princess Caroline Matilda
8 November 1766 – April 1772: Her Majesty The Queen of Denmark and Norway
April 1772 – 10 May 1775: Her Majesty Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark and Norway
Robert Neumann – The Favourite of the Queen (Der Favorit der Königin) (1935)
Edgar Maass – The Queen's Physician (1948)
GV Blackstone - Caroline Matilda, William Heinemann (London, 1955)
Norah Lofts - The Lost Queen (1969)
Per Olov Enquist – The Visit of the Royal Physician (Livläkarens besök) (1999)
Bodil Steensen-Leth - Prinsesse af blodet (Princess of the Blood) (2000)
In The Dictator (1935), Caroline Matilda is played by Madeleine Carroll.
Herrscher ohne Krone / King in Shadow. Dir Harald Braun, W. Germany (1957)
In A Royal Affair (2012), Caroline Matilda is played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander.
Peter Maxwell Davies – Caroline Mathilde (ballet; 1991)