Despite what the fairy tales tell you, the life of a princess is not happily ever after. A prime example of this is the life of Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain. She was born on July 22, 1751 the daughter of the Frederick, the Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. In keeping with Hanoverian tradition, Frederick and his father King George II hated each other as hard as they could. However, Frederick died suddenly three months before Caroline Matilda’s birth. She was named after her grandmother, Queen Caroline, and her paternal aunt, Princess Caroline. (Read more about Princess Caroline in this post: http://www.historynaked.com/princess-caroline-great-britain/ ) To keep things less confusing on the name front, she was always referred to by her first and middle names.
After her father’s death, her mother left the English court and raised her daughters strictly at Leicester House in London. As a result, she was completely ignorant of the manipulations and machinations of court life. She had a strange education, but could speak three languages and enjoyed being outside and riding as well as music. Caroline Matilda was considered to have a beautiful voice. She was considered “too plump” to be beautiful, but was vivacious and charming. When a marriage was suggested between the Danish Crown Prince, Christian, and a British princess, Caroline Matilda was put forth as a candidate. The two were close in age, with Christian at 16 and Caroline Matilda at 15. Christian’s mother had been a British Princess, Louise of Great Britain, and so the prospective bridal pair were cousins. However, this was not unusual for royal weddings. Princess Louise had been extremely popular in Denmark, so this was considered a good match. The betrothal was announced on January 10, 1765.
While wedding plans were still being made, King Frederick V died and Christian became King Christian VII of Denmark. Caroline Matilda traveled to Denmark and the official wedding ceremony took place November 8, 1766 and she was crowned queen the next May. Sounds like a perfect end to a lovely story. Well, there were some problems. Christian was not well. He had grown up in a very turbulent court, and it took its toll on the young man. He suffered from nervous breakdowns and episodes of both schizophrenia and mania. As a child, he was diagnosed with dementia praecox, however, he was fully expected to grow out of it. You don’t grow out of schizophrenia.
Caroline Matilda was completely out of her depth in the cliquish world of the Danish court. Different court factions would trigger manic episodes in the young king then take advantage of them to get what they wanted. Christian ran with a very wild crowd of young men who commonly trashed castles, and sought out prostitutes. His favorite was a woman named Boots-Catherine, who true to her name took part in various BDSM episodes with the king. He declared in 1767, he could never love Caroline Matilda because “it was not fashionable to love one’s wife.” That had to hurt for a young wife to hear. Despite all this, Caroline Matilda became pregnant and gave birth to a son on January 28, 1768. During her pregnancy, Christian descended further into madness and would practice self harm or just have Boots-Catherine do it for him.
During this time, the poor girl’s only friend was her lady in waiting Countess Louise von Plessen. Her mother-in-law, Dowager Queen Juliane Marie, kept the other ladies in court from being friendly with the lonely young queen. In fact, the other lady’s at court enjoyed reminding Caroline Matilda her husband preferred the company of prostitutes to her. Nice. The poor girl couldn’t even take a walk in the garden as noble women were only supposed to take carriages. Juliane Marie had her own problems following the wildly popular Princess Louise, but this just seems vindictive. Louise considered the king and his wild friends immoral and encouraged the young queen to deny him her bed. This does not lead to a plethora of heirs. After the birth of their son, Frederik, Christian was influenced to banish Louise von Plessen from court, despite tears and begging from his wife. Caroline Matilda was completely alone in a hostile court.
Christian, however, was having the time of his life. In May 1768, he went on a tour of Europe, which was basically checking out every brothel and bar on the continent. This left his wife and child alone in Copenhagen. Caroline Matilda eventually befriended some of her ladies in waiting, but they were as scandalous as her husband as they had many affairs. One, Elisabet von Eyben, was sleeping with an actor from the French language theater named La Tour. There were rumors he was seeing Caroline Matilda, but this has never been proven. Though at this point, who could blame the poor girl.
Finally, Christian returned to Copenhagen in January of 1769 bringing with him a new doctor to be installed as Royal Physician. Johann Friedrich Struensee was able to handle the king’s moods and was able to bring a semblance of calm. He encouraged the king to repair relations with the queen, which sparked Caroline Matilda’s interest in Struensee. He also inoculated Crown Prince Frederik against smallpox. Caroline Matilda’s trust in Struesee grew and she began exchanging ideas about the best way to raise the Crown Prince. She appointed him her secretary and Christian appointed him his official reader. He was given his own rooms at Christiansborg Palace, and was entrusted with more and more of the daily state affairs. It was only a matter of time before the lonely young queen turned to the caring doctor for more than royal devotion.
The two became lovers, and their affair was the open secret of the court. By spring of 1770, Struensee was the constant companion of the queen even accompanying her to meet her mother, the Dowager Princess of Wales. Her mother confronted Caroline Matilda with the rumors of her affair, to which she replied “Pray, madam, allow me to govern my own kingdom as I please!” By this time, Struensee was signing orders and they were given the same regard as if they had been signed by the king himself. This period of time is called the “Time of Struensee”, which on its face its government by a usurper. However, Struensee implemented many reforms and enlightened laws. He even encouraged Caroline Matilda to ride out in breeches, which scandalized the court. Caroline Matilda was finally happy. She spent a wonderful summer which culminated in the birth of a daughter on July 7, 1771. There was no doubt the child was Struensee’s.
It was not to last. Court conservatives led by Dowager Queen Juliane Marie. She teamed up with the ministers replaced by Struensee and had him arrested after a masked ball. The queen was to be arrested as well, but since she was the reigning queen and most of them still believed wholeheartedly in the divine right of kings they did not go through with it. What they did do was shuttle her into a carriage with her infant daughter and took her into the night. She was under house arrest in the old castle of Kronborg for weeks not allowed to see her son, while the Danish and English courts debated her sentence. Back in Copenhagen, Struensee’s trial began and it was straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale. Juliane Marie had paid ladies in waiting to put flour on the floor to look for footprints to see if a man had been visiting Caroline Matilda. The ladies also testified that they found Caroline Matilda’s garters in Struensee’s possession. He confessed everything. Faced with his confession, Caroline Matilda spilled her guts as well, but later recanted. Her marriage with Christian was dissolved. Struensee was executed and his decapitated head was put on display. The ladies in waiting attending Caroline Matilda told her gruesome stories about her lover’s execution in hopes of seeing her crack. Nice girls.
What to do with Caroline Matilda? She couldn’t stay in Denmark. She couldn’t marry anyone else because she was damaged goods. However, she was still a princess of Great Britain so she could not be executed. Denmark tried to exile her to Aalborg with Struensee’s other supporters, but George III vehemently objected. He threatened to break of diplomatic relations and a fleet appeared off the Danish coast. Eventually, it was decided to send her to British controlled Celle in Germany. She never saw either of her children again. However, she did form a little court and reunited with her friend, Louise von Plessen. Maybe not happily ever after, but better than nothing.