The short life of Queen Caroline Matilda had it all: a royal marriage, love affairs, court intrigue, masquerade balls, brutal exiles, and heinous executions. The British-born, Danish-crowned royal was one half of an 18th-century power couple—until she began a torrid affair right under her husband's nose. Get to know the romantic, risky, and riskily romantic life of Caroline Matilda, Princess of Great Britain and Queen consort of Denmark and Norway.
The Jacksons. The Jolie-Pitts. The Kardashians. What do all of these families have in common? No, not fame…ok, fame. But they’re also huge. Her Royal Highness Princess Caroline Matilda knew all about big families. She was the youngest of nine siblings! Sadly, by the time Caroline Matilda came screaming into the palace, a full family was not around to greet her.
Only a few months before her birth, Caroline Matilda's father succumbed to a lung injury and took his final labored breaths. While losing a father is hard enough for any family, it's an even bigger deal for a royal brood. Caroline's dad was the first person in line for the British throne, meaning that when he kicked the bucket, Caroline's big brother inched closer to the crown. And with his rising power, Caroline's sway rose too...
When it comes to over-achieving siblings, Caroline Matilda had it covered. Her big brother became king, her big sister married a German prince, and another brother served in the Royal Navy. However, as a young girl, Caroline Matilda could not have cared less. She spent her childhood learning foreign languages and singing beautifully. Looking back, this was the most peaceful time of Caroline's life.
It’s no secret that back in the olden days, people used to get married at very young ages. But how young is too young? Caroline Matilda, born in 1751, was betrothed to her future hubby at the tender age of 13. It’s a lot less creepy and icky when you realize that Caroline's soon-to-be-spouse, the Crown Prince of Denmark, had just celebrated his 16th birthday. But still, too soon!
Long-distance relationships are extremely difficult unless—unless you're Caroline Matilda, of course. Caroline Matilda celebrated her marriage to Christian, the Crown Prince of Denmark, without even leaving Britain. Instead, she had a "proxy wedding" where a stand-in took the place of her husband. Who was the lucky guy? Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany, AKA Caroline's own brother.
Blind dates can be fun. But what about blind weddings? By the time Caroline Matilda set sail for the Danish capital of Copenhagen, she hadn’t yet met her betrothed. And there was another plot twist just around the corner. By the time Caroline arrived in Copenhagen, she wasn’t marrying a prince anymore. Christian's father had just passed, meaning that Caroline's new husband was now the king of Denmark.
Who doesn’t dream of marrying a dashing, young prince who can whisk them off to a kingdom far, far away? Well, Caroline Matilda lived that dream—with a twist. Instead of a romantic courtship, Caroline didn't actually meet her husband until just before their wedding. When that time came, she learned that Christian was not what she had expected...
If personality traits like “informal” and “unaffected” bothered the Danish court then just imagine how they felt about traits like “weak-willed” and “self-centered.” King Christian VII suffered from mental illness early on in his life and modern scholars believe that he was schizophrenic. The Danish court might have deliberately set up Caroline Matilda for an unhappy marriage.
“When are you getting married?!” asked every mother of every son ever. Now amplify those expectations by an entire court of nobles and you’ll get the pressure that Christian VII was facing. The Danish court hastily arranged his marriage to Caroline Matilda because they believed that a wife would improve his mental condition. Romantic!
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
Caroline Matilda’s prince charming just keeps getting less and less, well, charming. In the summer before Caroline Matilda arrived in Copenhagen, Christian VII had already started a love affair. That’s right. By the time this prince had been engaged to his princess, he already had a thing going on the side. And he was just getting started…
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Christian VII broke his wedding vows to Caroline Matilda before she even walked up the aisle, he continued breaking them long after he tied the knot too. The Danish King had a habit of frequenting the courtesans around Copenhagen. He even had a preferred courtesan, Anna Katrina Bentgagen, who became his official mistress.
Arranged marriages—particularly those where the couple only meets days before their wedding—are dicey affairs. The “what ifs” are endless. Unfortunately for King Christian VII and Queen Caroline Matilda, their union went about as well as you'd expect. The King was deeply uninterested in his bride and treated her “coolly” even in the early days of their relationship.
Christian wasn't the only one who treated Caroline like trash. All of Denmark seemed to join the anti-Caroline brigade. The new queen's courtiers and the Danish public considered her “too plump” to be beautiful. Apparently, her appearance was so bland that other women weren't even jealous of her, despite her wealth and her status as queen. Ouch.
“Natural”, “informal” and “unaffected.” Those are just some of the words that the Danish court in Copenhagen used to describe Caroline Matilda’s personality. She sounds like a pretty cool person to me but to the strict court of Denmark, Caroline spelled trouble. The new queen became incredibly unpopular with her Danish subjects. And they weren’t the only ones to give her the cold shoulder…
Christian VII did not bother to hide his complete lack of interest in Caroline, so it didn't take long for the Danish court to start wondering what was behind his icy treatment. Over time, the rumor mill spun so intensely that many people started to believe that Christian VII was gay. Obviously, this wasn't true, but it shows you just how much he hated Caroline.
Friends are hard to come by in new countries. Those friends are even harder to come by with all of the intrigue swirling around a royal European court. Fortunately for Caroline Matilda, she found an ally in her Chief Court Mistress, Louise von Plessen. She helped the Queen navigate the treacherous political waters in the Danish court. However, when it came to marriage advice, von Plessen was a complete disaster...
Christian VII showed no interest in his wife after their marriage, which was a big problem for Caroline, whose only job was to produce a royal heir. Desperate to romance her own husband, Caroline Matilda took a tip from her Chief Court Mistress and bafflingly decided to play hard to get. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work. Christian VII would call on his wife, Caroline would pretend to be indisposed, and instead of Christian feeling sexily rebuffed, he'd just go romance one of his many mistresses.
Eventually, the royal couple consummated their marriage, either out of a sense of royal duty or simply to get their handlers off their backs. It’s funny to think what an awkward affair that must have been. Maybe someone was able to convince Christian VII that his wife was, in fact, a courtesan. Whatever finally brought them together, their one hook-up luckily bore fruit.
Teen pregnancies can be challenging, unless you’re Caroline Matilda, Queen Consort of Denmark and Norway. Caroline Matilda became a mother at the age of just 17 when she gave birth to the Crown Prince Frederick. By all accounts, she was a loving and doting mother. But somehow, even this caused a scandal in the ultra-strict Danish capital…
Head to any park or walk down any street in any major city and you’re likely to see joggers and, gasp, mothers walking with their babies. In 18th century Denmark, Caroline Matilda caused quite the stir by daring to do such a thing. She often went for walks with her son through the Danish capital, even though royals only rode around in carriages. Despite the outcry, Caroline didn't stop leaving the castle for a dark reason.
European royal courts can be utterly brutal places—and Queen Caroline learned this the hard way. She found herself powerless in the Danish court despite, you know, being queen. She was helpless to do anything when her husband’s courtier had her best friend Louise von Plessen exiled. Caroline felt even more alone than ever, so when her husband went on a summer vacation, she finally lashed out.
King Christian VII departed Copenhagen for a European tour in the summer of 1768, leaving his wife and their child behind. And, according to some, the Queen wasted no time. The Danish courtiers began whispering about their Queen. Allegedly, the moment her husband’s European tour began, Caroline Matilda started an affair with a handsome actor named La Tour.
La Tour and Caroline Matilda knew they had to keep their romance under wraps, so they came up with a clever plan. The thespian would claim to be seeing Caroline Matilda’s lady-in-waiting, Elisabet von Eyben. But courtiers and palace dwellers speculated that when La Tour went into Elisabet's chambers, the lady inside was actually the Queen herself.
Christian VII returned to Denmark after his European tour and immediately learned of the rumors of his wife’s infidelity. The veracity of those rumors is still uncertain but one thing is crystal clear: the King wasn’t happy. Christian VII exiled La Tour from Denmark based on speculation alone. Can’t imagine why…it’s not like he was the shining image of faithfulness.
At the end of his royal vacation, King Christian VII brought back a special souvenir: the German physician and philosopher, Johann Friedrich Struensee. Struensee became the king's official Royal Physician because he was good at dealing with the King’s mental issues. In the long run, however, it would be Caroline Matilda who benefitted most from Struensee’s arrival…
These 18th-century people had the strangest ideas about mental illness. Struensee, for example, believed that the cure for Christian VII’s mental illness was for him to carry on a relationship with an intelligent woman. Considering the fact that the king was already married to Caroline Matilda, she didn’t take Struensee’s insinuations kindly. Not only was Struensee getting her husband yet another mistress, but he was also calling her an idiot at the same time. Double burn.
Caroline Matilda did not, at first, welcome Struensee into the Danish royal court. When Struensee first arrived, he attempted to push the Danish King closer to the noblewoman, Birgitte Sofie Gabel. Understandably, courtiers and historians noted that the Queen was openly hostile towards Struensee—but that animosity wouldn't last long...
Struensee must have undergone a major change of heart. Just after trying to break the royal couple up, he then attempted to get them back together. The doctor convinced Christian VII to throw his wife an extravagant three-day party for her 18th birthday. After this, Caroline Matilda began to warm to Struensee. Spoiler: She maybe warmed to him a little too much...
Those 18th-century physicians and courtiers were no good at treating mental illness but they knew a thing or two about physical illness. Shortly after her 18th birthday, Caroline Matilda got a spell of dropsy. Struensee, acting as the Royal Physician, cured the Queen by suggesting entertainment and exercise. And his position in Caroline's eyes would only get better from there...
Smallpox was, for a long time, the scourge of the pre-vaccination world. Not even royals were safe from the terrible virus—six reigning monarchs would succumb to smallpox. You can imagine Caroline Matilda’s relief, then, when Struensee successfully inoculated her infant child, Crown Prince Frederick, against the disease.
Caroline Matilda began to think favorably of Struensee. I mean, the man did improve her relationship with her husband, cure her dropsy, and inoculate her son against smallpox. Apparently, the two became very friendly and their friendship amused the King, so Christian VII gave Struensee his own rooms at the palace. He would regret this later.
There were only rumors that Caroline Matilda had carried on an affair with the actor La Tour. But it is fact that she carried on an affair with another man. Caroline Matilda and Struensee became romantically involved in the spring of 1770—less than two years after Struensee had arrived in Copenhagen. According to some courtiers, the two had actually been romantic since 1769…and they weren’t shy about their affair.
Royal tours were opportunities for the public to get to know the royal family. Or, at least, to see them waving from a carriage. The Danish people of the border provinces were surprised then, when on a tour with her husband the King, they observed Caroline Matilda acting very, very affectionately with Struensee. Rumors of the couple’s affair were now widespread…
Oh, the palace intrigue. Caroline Matilda and Struensee must have been feeling particularly powerful after returning from their scandalous tour. Using their newfound influence with the infirm King, the Queen and Struensee had courtier Conrad Holck and other political enemies booted from the palace. I can just imagine the Queen at the door waving, “And that’s for von Plessen!”
News of Caroline Matilda’s scandalous behavior had gone far and wide across Europe. Her mother, the Dowager Princess of Wales, wanted to warn her daughter to rein in her affair. She traveled from Britain to Copenhagen but never had the chance to speak openly with Caroline Matilda because Struensee was by her side the entire time. All this gets even more scandalous when you consider that she allegedly received her mother while in her breeches.
It doesn’t seem like Caroline Matilda was going to be too receptive to any matronly advice anyway…Caroline Matilda and Struensee worked together to have the Chancellor, Count Johann Hartwig Ernst von Bernstorff, dismissed from office. When her mother confronted her about it, Caroline Matilda had a tart comeback at the ready.
She simply replied, “Pray, madam, allow me to govern my own kingdom as I please." Let's see how that turns out, shall we?
After the Chancellor’s dismissal, the power and influence of the Queen consort and her love interest only grew. In court, Struensee announced that his orders would have the same effect as if the King had signed them himself. Historians dispute who, between Caroline Matilda and Struensee, wielded more influence but my money is on the queen.
Struensee and Caroline Matilda wasted no time exercising their unlimited authority. Between March of 1771 and January of 1772, Struensee issued upwards of three orders a day, angering the conservative factions throughout Norway and Denmark. Caroline Matilda shared in Struensee’s unpopularity as she supported his reforms and they continued flaunting their affair.
Caroline Matilda and Struensee did have some supporters for their more liberal-minded causes. Caroline Matilda—who must have enjoyed raising eyebrows—was seen gallivanting on horseback…in men’s clothing! What’s more is that she hosted dinner parties and made friends with people who were, gulp, outside of the aristocracy! Honestly, she sounds like my kind of queen.
The Danish court summered at the Hirschholm Palace where Caroline Matilda and Struensee spent plenty of romantic time together. After the summer, Caroline Matilda gave birth to a daughter, and it didn’t take long for the rumors to start flying. The courtiers whispered—rather loudly—that the new baby was, in fact, Struensee’s. Some courtiers even referred to the newborn as “la petite Struensee.”
After the birth of her second child, with the rumors of the child’s parentage in question, the court intrigue reached new heights. Rumors began spreading that the Queen consort and Struensee were plotting to imprison King Christian VII. This is highly unlikely, however, given that the King and his favor for the couple were their only protection from other courtiers.
Apparently, when tensions in the Danish court reached their highest point, Struensee became terrified that he would soon lose his life. In a panic, he rushed to the bedchambers of his Queen consort and fell to her feet, pleading her to let him leave Denmark. If this story is true, Caroline Matilda would have regretted ordering Struensee to stay.
Fake news isn’t just a 21st-century problem. Even 300 years ago, fake news ran wild. King Christian VII’s stepmother, the Queen Dowager Juliana Maria, received false evidence from a two-timing courtier that Caroline Matilda and Struensee were plotting to overthrow her stepson. Fake or not, the evidence prompted Juliana Maria to act…
The rich don’t go broke like the rest of us and royals don’t go to prison like the rest of us. Julianna Maria had Caroline Matilda “arrested” in January of 1772 and “imprisoned” in an honest-to-God castle. But even in her palatial "cell" Caroline Matilda couldn’t escape the court. The worst part of her ordeal was being accompanied by a bunch of courtiers who hated her. Meanwhile, Caroline's lover Struensee didn’t get off so easy…
Caroline Matilda and Struensee openly flaunted their affair, but when things got messy, they denied everything. Finally, after some questionable interrogation techniques, the couple confessed to their romance. The Church of Denmark promptly dissolved the marriage between Caroline Matilda and Christian VII. Mercifully, they also absolved Caroline Matilda of any moral wrongdoing, maybe because her husband had been with every courtesan in Copenhagen.
The worst thing to happen to Caroline Matilda following was that the Church of Denmark banned her name during church services. Struensee, on the other hand, faced a far darker fate. The Danish court sentenced the disgraced Royal Physician to the guillotine. Caroline Matilda later recalled that she “intuitively” knew about her lover’s sentence.
Caroline Matilda wasn’t just married to a king; she was the sister of one too. King George III of Great Britain reacted strongly to the news of his sister’s arrest. Danish authorities had considered banishing Struensee and his allies—including Caroline Matilda—to the hinterlands of Jutland, but George III objected. He threatened military action, going so far as to launch a squadron, if the Danes treated his sister harshly. Thankfully, the Danes relented.
Reunions are usually sweet, but not Caroline Matilda's. At the intervention of her brother, the Danes exiled their queen to Celle Castle in Germany while her children remained behind in Copenhagen. Sadly, Caroline would never see either of her babies ever again. Her consolation prize was reuniting with her old friend, Louise von Plessen. But if you thought this meant that Caroline was done with court intrigue, think again.
Caroline Matilda continued dabbling in court intrigue even when she was in exile. She became the centerpiece of a plot to overthrow the government in Denmark and crown her as Regent. The plot even had the support of Caroline's very powerful brother, King George III. It seemed like everything was in place to pull off the coup...until it all crumbled.
Just as the would-be usurpers were making the final arrangements for their power-grab, they received a piece of news that derailed their plans. The woman at the center of their scheme, Caroline Matilda, had suddenly perished of scarlet fever. At the time of her death, Queen Caroline was only 23 years old. Despite her short time on earth, she crammed in more drama than anyone.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to email@example.com. Thanks for your time!
Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your help!
The Factinate team
If you like humaverse you may also consider subscribing to these newsletters: