Caroline Mathilde with her husband Christian 7. and the lover Struensee. Painter: Kristian Zartmann. Photo: Den Hirschsprungske Samling

Caroline Mathilde

A dramatic love affair at Christiansborg Palace

Queen Caroline Mathilde fell in love with Johann Friedrich Struensee, the physician of her husband King Christian VII.

Struensee was the king’s right-hand man. He took care of the king’s health, the king’s mind and the kingdom. However, Struensee was never able to get to grips with the king’s mind. Christian VII was mentally ill and Struensee was not able to cure the king. Yet, when Caroline Mathilde fell passionately in love with him, Struensee held her in the palm of his hand.

In Caroline Mathilde’s footsteps

Caroline Mathilde has left many traces at the royal palaces. As a 15-year-old, she married Christian VII in Christiansborg Palace Chapel. The chapel burnt down in 1794, but the secret passage between the palace and the chapel is still there.

Caroline Mathilde walked along this passage with a little gold crown on her head, determined to carry out the role of queen in accordance with the wishes of the Danish people.

Caroline Mathilde lived at Christiansborg Palace

The young queen moved into the magnificent Christiansborg Palace with its 348 rooms. However, the doors were locked and the corridors were deserted. Neither the king nor his court were interested in Caroline Mathilde. After the birth of his son, Christian VII went travelling.

In the spring of 1768, the king’s horses were harnessed to a train of carriages on Christiansborg’s riding arena, and the king set off across the marble bridge leaving Slotsholmen ((Castle Island) behind him. In January 1769, the king returned, accompanied by a new passenger – Struensee.

Outings to the forests near Hermitage Royal Hunting Lodge

Caroline Mathilde was sceptical about the royal physician, but after Struensee vaccinated the infant prince against smallpox, he won her trust and, soon afterwards, her heart.
The couple went on long rides in North Zealand’s forests and Caroline Mathilde became an accomplished rider.She discarded her sidesaddle, donned riding breeches and rode on a saddle designed for a man. This saddle still hangs in the Royal Stables.

During the day, they would go riding in the forests near the Hermitage Royal Hunting Lodge, and at night Struensee would steal into Caroline Mathilde’s bedroom. Struensee had free access to the queen’s bed, and before long Caroline Mathilde was pregnant with their daughter Louise Augusta.

Struensee rules the kingdom

With both the king and the queen at his side, Struensee held control over the kingdom. The king was whimsical and unworldly and signed everything that his physician put in front of him.

With Christian VII’s signature, the physician introduced freedom of speech, abolished torture and capital punishment for theft, abolished a number of holidays and dismissed the Royal Guard.

The Dowager Queen’s revenge

The nobility simmered with rage at what they saw was Struensee’s arrogance. The nobility schemed with Dowager Queen Juliane Marie to bring down Struensee. He was arrested for lèse majesté, decapitated and dismembered. His body parts were then put on public display on Vester Fælled, a public common west of Copenhagen.

The damning evidence was Caroline Mathilde's garter, which was a gift from Struensee. The queen was incarcerated in Kronborg Castle. Her two children were taken from her and she was exiled to Germany. She ended her days in Celle where she died of fever at the age of 23.

Caroline Matilda painting by: Kristian Zarhtmann. Foto: Den Hirschsprungske Samling
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