Augusta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, Duchess consort of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, Johann Friedrich Struensee, King Frederik VI of Denmark and Norway, King George III of Great Britain, Princess Louise Augusta of Denmark and Norway
Divorce and exile
The interrogation of Johann Friedrich Struensee began on February 20, 1772, but concerning the “crime of familiarity” with respect to the Queen, he admitted to nothing for three days. Later, he tried to shift much of the responsibility for the adultery onto Caroline Matilda.
Struensee’s main political associate and friend, Enevold Brandt, was interrogated at the same time, and reportedly admitted his knowledge of the favourite’s crimes. In parallel to this, the Queen’s staff were also questioned, and the testimony of her chamber staff, particularly her head chamber woman Charlotta Hedevig Matthie, her lady’s maids Kristine Sofie Frederikke Bruun, Anna Charlotte Margrete Horn and Engel Marie Arensbach, and her chamber maid Anna Petersen, were particularly incriminating, as well as that of her lady-in-waiting Elisabeth von Eyben.
A committee of four nobles was sent to Kronborg to interrogate the Queen; during their first visit, probably following the advice of Keith, Caroline Matilda refused to speak with them, replying that “she doesn’t recognise anyone’s court other than the court of the King.”
On their later visits, she denied her relationship with Struensee in the hope of saving him. On March 9, 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 March 24 an indictment against the Queen was presented to a court consisting of thirty-five members of the nobility; on April 2 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 April 6 and two days later the Queen was notified: her marriage with Christian VII was dissolved, although not on 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 were executed on April 28. As Caroline Matilda later recalled, she intuitively knew about the death of her lover.
In Great Britain the news of the arrest of Caroline Matilda was 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 he was advised that she could not remain at the Danish court.
After Caroline Matilda’s death, it was discovered that the Danes had 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-Norway 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 May 3 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 June 5 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 honour. From Stade, the former Queen went to Göhrde, where she stayed for a few months before finally going to Celle. On October 20 Caroline Matilda made her solemn entry into the city, where a proper court was organised for her. Thereafter, she rarely left Celle, with only a few visits to Hanover.
Later life in Celle
In Celle, Caroline Matilda led a very quiet life. Here she was finally reunited with her beloved former hofmesterinde Countess Louise von Plessen. The former Queen was visited by many relatives and friends, among them her older sister Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, which many contemporaries considered a way to keep her watched.
Her main entertainment was a small theatre, 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 towards poor children and orphans.
Keith, who visited Caroline Matilda in November 1772, later reported to Lord Suffolk that he had found her in a contented mood and that she did not want to have any relations with the Danish court except those that directly affected 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 traveller and adventurer Nathaniel Wraxall; during this visit he collected a lot of information about her life in Denmark that later formed the basis of his memoirs.
He returned in October as a secret agent for a group of restive Danish nobles. Some were exiled in Hamburg for their support for 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 of Caroline Matilda’s death.
Caroline Matilda died suddenly of scarlet fever on May 10, 1775. On her deathbed, she wrote a letter to her brother in which she proclaimed 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.
Great Denmark Street in Dublin is believed to have been named in her honour in the year of her death.