Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, Copenhagen, Dowager Princess of Wales, Johann Friedrich Struensee, King Christian VII of Denmark and Norway, Louise von Plessen, Queen of Denmark and Norway, Royal physician
Queen 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 were 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 Frederik on January 28, 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 her husband’s favourites 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 had 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 a 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 travelled 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 rumours 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 King Christian VII, perhaps because the rumour 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.
Affair and Scandal
The King returned to Copenhagen on January 28, 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, to the great relief of 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 project failed, and the attempt to provide the King with a mistress made the Queen hostile toward Struensee.
Struensee then encouraged the King to improve his relationship with Caroline Matilda, and Christian VII showed his attention to her with a three-day birthday celebration on July 22, 1769. The Queen was well aware that Struensee was behind her husband’s improved behavior.
Her gratitude was reflected in her new interest in the charming doctor. 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 were the best medicine; this advice helped Caroline Matilda, and Struensee gained credibility with her.
Her confidence in him was further strengthened when Struensee successfully inoculated the infant Crown Prince Frederick against smallpox. The attraction that had arisen between the Queen and Struensee amused the King.
In January 1770, Struensee was given his own rooms at Christiansborg Palace. In the meantime, the King became more and more passive, isolated and uninvolved in government 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 trusting him.
By the spring of 1770, Struensee had become 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 had suspected an affair since at least late 1769.
The rumours forced the Queen to limit her contact with Struensee for a while, but not for long: by the summer of 1770 Caroline Matilda and Struensee were known to be close throughout the capital and the provinces. When the royal couple made a tour through the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein and the German border, accompanied by Struensee, he and the Queen were observed behaving 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. The meeting was originally scheduled in Brunswick, but later was moved to Lüneburg, where Caroline Matilda saw her mother not earlier than August 1770.
It 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 Queen’s side, so the Dowager Princess of Wales had no opportunity to talk freely with her daughter and could only 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 December 18, 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 July 22, (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 March 20, 1771 and January 16, 1772: this period is known as the “Time of Struensee”.