Roskilde Cathedral – Power struggles and insanity

As we saw in the post about the masonic crown prince, when Frederick V died, the crown was passed to his son from his first marriage, the crazy King Christian VII. His step mom Queen-Dowager Juliana Maria and his half-brother, hereditary prince Frederick are also important figures in today’s post.


Christian VII (29 January 1749 – 13 March 1808) was King of Denmark-Norway and Duke of Schleswig and Holstein from 1766 until his death. His reign was marked by mental illness and for most part he was only nominally king.

When Christian VII was only two years old, his mother Queen Louise died (1751), and the following year his father married Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. His childhood was hard. Early historians claim that he had a winning personality and considerable talent, but that he was poorly educated and systematically terrorized by a brutal governor, the Count of Reventlow (Christian Ditlev Frederik Reventlow) He was intelligent and had periods of clarity, but suffered from severe emotional problems, possibly schizophrenia. That Christian became King just weeks before his 17th birthday, might not have been beneficiary for neither the young man himself, nor the country. Christian’s mental illness did affect government decisions. His royal advisers changed depending on who won power struggles around the throne, and his court physicians were especially worried by his frequent masturbation.

The young King was betrothed Great Britain’s King George III’s sister, the  fifteen-year-old Princess Caroline Matilda, whom just happened to be Frederick’s first cousin. If you thought marriage would have a calming effect on the mentally ill King, you are wrong. Christian abandoned himself to the worst excesses, especially sexual promiscuity. He publicly declared that he could not love Caroline Matilda, because it was “unfashionable to love one’s wife”, and in 1767 he entered into a relationship with the courtesan Støvlet-Cathrine (who was banished in 1768 by Fredericks step mother, as she believed the mistress had influence over the King) Frederick ultimately sank into a condition of mental stupor. Symptoms during this time included paranoia, self-mutilation and hallucinations.


In the late 1760s, Christian came under the influence of his personal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee – a progressive and radical thinker, who rose steadily in power. To top it all off, the neglected and lonely Queen Caroline Matilda entered into an affair with Struensee. I have already written a post about this scandalous love affair from the hunting lodge where it is said to have actually happened: Royal Shenanigans. Have a look see, there are pictures of the lodge.

Though controlling the insane king, Struensee was de facto regent of the country from 1770 to 1772, and introduced progressive reforms signed into law by Christian VII. And just when you think things are complicated enough – in comes the evil stepmom! Frederick’s father’s second wife, Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was disliked by both Frederick and his consort Caroline Mathilde, and she has been portrayed in very negative ways.

Juliane Marie became the centre of the opposition of Struensee’s de facto ruling of the country, and she belonged to the group participating in the coup d’état that brought down the government of Struensee by exposing his affair with the queen. She arranged for the king to sign the arrest of Struensee after she had already made the arrest, issued in the name of the king. In 1772, Struensee was executed and Queen Caroline Mathilda was exiled, after her marriage with the King was dissolved by divorce. Christian’s marriage with Caroline Matilda produced two children: the future King Frederick VI and Princess Louise Auguste. However, it is widely believed that Louise was the daughter of Struensee, a hypothesis supported by portrait comparisons.

The son of Juliane Marie, Hereditary Prince Frederick, was now made regent. In reality, he was the puppet of his mother, who was the real and undisputed ruler during his regency. After the coup, Frederick was made to sign a letter thanking her for having “saved” him. Her government was one of extreme conservatism. She restored the privileges of the nobility and was regarded as the hero of the aristocracy and the savior of their privileges. The opposition, on the other hand, called her a devil and the cause of all misfortune of Denmark.

Royal CopenhagenHere’s a lil’ trivia for ya:

Have you ever heard of Royal Copenhagen, the high end porcelain manufacturers? Juliane Marie founded the factory in 1779. (Picture from Royal Copenhagen’s website)

After the coup, Frederick VII did not see much change in his personal situation. He was for the most part kept isolated, locked in his room at night, and tied to his chair during meals. He was mistreated and did not have many joys in his life.

Juliana Marie was given the responsibility of the upbringing of the crown prince, Frederick VI. The crown prince greatly disliked her, because she tried to stop him from seeing his sister, who was his closest friend. According to stipulations, the Crown prince should be admitted to the council as soon as he had his confirmation. To prevent his admittance, Juliana Maria postponed his confirmation until after his sixteenth birthday in 1784, and filled the council with her followers.

In 1784, the crown prince was declared of legal majority and from then on he ruled permanently as a prince regent. She handed him a document with instructions of how he should rule. The Crown prince, however, had no intention to allow Juliana Marie and her son to continue their rule though him. He managed to have his insane father, the king, sign an order dismissing the supporters of Juliana Maria from the council and declaring that no royal order was henceforth legal unless co-signed by the Crown Prince. During his first session with the council, he fired the government loyal to Juliana without warning and appointed his own officials, and the regency of Juliana and her son was thereby ended. Juliana lived the rest of her life discreetly at the court (I wonder if she ever had second thoughts about what she did? Probably not, she did act in the best interest of the Royal house.)

Christian died at age 59 of a stroke on 13 March 1808 in Rendsburg, Schleswig. He was buried in Roskilde Cathedral (in Frederick V’s chapel) and the prince regent succeeded as King.


Did you think we were done with Roskilde Cathedral yet? Nope, much more to come, so check back later! (Although there might be other posts in between)

The previous posts in this series can be found here:

Roskilde Cathedral – Royal Graves and UNESCO World Heritage

Roskilde Cathedral – The King’s Door

Roskilde Cathedral – the Nave

Roskilde Cathedral, King Pantsless

Roskilde Cathedral – The Chancel (and a brief history of two womanizing kings)

Roskilde Cathedral – Twice a Queen

Roskilde Cathedral – are they all called Dorothea?

Roskilde Cathedral – The Renaissance Ruler

Roskilde Cathedral – The Masonic Crown Prince


6 comments on “Roskilde Cathedral – Power struggles and insanity

  1. Pingback: Hamlet’s Elsinore | Travel Much?

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