Caroline Matilda

Portrait of Caroline Matilda by Francis Cotes (1766). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Gabby Storey

Caroline Matilda was born in 1751, and was the posthumous daughter to Frederick, prince of Wales, and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. She grew up at Leicester House, London, living in isolation from the rest of the court with her immediate family.

A marital alliance was proposed between the Danish House of Oldenburg and the British House of Hanover, namely between the Crown Prince of Denmark, Christian, and a British princess. Princess Louise Anne was initially suggested, however her younger sister Caroline Matilda was later chosen, with the betrothal announced on 10 January 1765.

The proxy marriage was held on 1 October 1766, with the final ceremony held at Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, on 8 November. The royal couple were crowned monarchs of Denmark and Norway on 1 May 1767.

The marriage was not initially successful, and rumours of ill mental health and homosexuality surrounded Christian VII. Though the couple were estranged, they eventually consummated the marriage and a son, Crown Prince Frederick, was born on 28 January 1768.

Whilst the king was on tour in the summer of 1768, rumours of affairs circulated around the queen, though unfounded. The king returned to Copenhagen in January 1769 with the doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee who was able to treat the king’s mental instability.

After initial distrust, Caroline and Johann established a friendship, and rumours soon circulated that the two were lovers. The trust between Christian and Caroline in Johann allowed him to rise in power and act with the king’s authority.

Caroline founded the Mathildeordenen on 29 January 1771, intended to honour the royal family and friends. She became freer in behaviour and attitudes, and was often dressed in male attire, riding astride on horseback.

On 7 July 1771 Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Louise Augusta. Rumours circulated about the paternity of Louise, though Christian acknowledged her as his own. It was also claimed that Caroline intended to depose Christian and rule as regent.

Supported by the Dowager Queen Juliana Maria, on the night 16-17 January 1772 Caroline was captured and escorted to Kronborg Castle, and Johann was arrested alongside his followers. The couple were interrogated in February and both admitted to being lovers.

Both parties were found guilty, with Johann executed and Caroline divorced and sent to exile in Celle Castle, Hanover. Both Frederick and Louise remained with Christian, and Caroline was never to see them again. Caroline lived a quiet exile in Celle until her death of scarlet fever on 10 May 1775.

Recommended Reading

C. F. Lascelles Wraxall, Life and Times of Her Majesty Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark and Norway, and Sister of H. M. George III. of England, from family documents and private state archives 3 volumes (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1864)

Michael Bregnsbo, “Danish Absolutism and Queenship: Louisa, Caroline Matilda, and Juliana Maria,” in Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort, ed. Clarissa Campbell Orr, 344-367 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Michael Bregnsbo, Caroline Mathilde: magt og skæbne: en biografi (Copenhagen: Aschehoug, 2007).

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