Christian VII of Denmark

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Christian VII (29 January 1749 – 13 March 1808) was King of Denmark and Norway, and Duke of Schleswig and Holstein from 1766 until his death. He was the son of Frederick V, King of Denmark, and his first consort Louisa, daughter of George II of Great Britain.


King of Denmark

He became king on his father’s death on 14 January 1766, weeks before his 17th birthday. All the earlier accounts agree that he had a winning personality and considerable talent, but he was badly educated, systematically terrorized by a brutal governor, Detlev Greve zu Reventlow, and hopelessly debauched by corrupt pages, and while he seems to have been intelligent and certainly had periods of clarity, Christian suffered from severe mental problems, possibly schizophrenia.

After his marriage at Christiansborg Palace on 8 November 1766 to his cousin Princess Caroline Matilda (known in Denmark as Queen Caroline Mathilde), a sister of King George III of Great Britain, he abandoned himself to the worst excesses, especially debauchery. In 1767, he entered in to a relationship with the courtisan Støvlet-Cathrine‎. He publicly declared that he could not love Caroline Mathilde, because it was "unfashionable to love one's wife". He ultimately sank into a condition of mental stupor. Symptoms during this time included paranoia, self-mutilation and hallucinations. He became submissive to upstart Johann Friedrich Struensee, who rose steadily in power in the late 1760s. The neglected and lonely Caroline Mathilde drifted into an affair with Struensee.

In 1772, the king’s marriage with Caroline Mathilde was dissolved by divorce. Struensee was arrested and executed in that same year. Christian signed Struensee's arrest warrant with indifference, and under pressure from his stepmother, Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who had led the movement to have the marriage dissolved. Caroline Mathilde, retaining her title but not her children, eventually left Denmark in exile and passed her remaining days in at Celle Castle in her brother's German territory, the Electorate of Hanover. She died of scarlet fever there on 11 May 1775, at the age of 23.

The marriage had produced two children, the future Frederick VI and Princess Louise Auguste. However, it is widely believed that Louise was the daughter of Struensee - portrait comparisons have supported this.

Christian was only nominally king from 1772 onwards. From 1772 to 1784, Denmark was ruled by Christian's stepmother Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his physically disabled half-brother Frederick and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg. From 1784 onwards, his son Frederick VI ruled permanently as a prince regent. This regency was marked by liberal and agricultural reforms but also by the beginning disasters of the Napoleonic Wars.

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