Hello dear readers and welcome to our spiciest installment of ULTC yet! This month we are getting SCANDalous in SCANDinavia….sorry, I will see myself out. That’s right: the story of Christian VII of Denmark-Norway is not for the kids. So if you and your children normally read our blog as an educational bedtime story – 1. Great parenting work and 2. Try Goosebumps this week (stick with the classics). This club has it all: sex, violence, illicit affairs, executions, wicked stepmothers, teen marriage.

This club has it all…

Familiar Territory

But first, let’s set the stage. We find ourselves in the second half of the 18th century; a time period not unfamiliar to us. Our good friend George III is king of Great Britain. Maria is the Princess of Portugal and a few years away from inheriting the throne from her father. England and France had recently fought the Seven Years War, with England emerging victorious. This was good news for England’s friend to the east, Denmark-Norway, also known as the Twin Realms. Today Denmark and Norway are separate entities, but from 1523 to 1814, the two kingdoms were joined under the same crown. Its location and access to the Baltic Sea made it a valuable ally, particularly as Russia was beginning to grow its power and influence at the end of the 18th century.

For 20 years, Frederick V had been on the throne of Denmark-Norway. His first wife, Louise, was the daughter of George II (George III’s predecessor) and together they had five children (Frederick also had five children with his mistress but who’s counting…). Christian was Frederick and Louise’s oldest surviving son, aka the heir. When Christian was two years old, his mother died. Within a year, his father had remarried, this time to Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Frederick and Juliana had one child, a boy also named Frederick. Remember these people because Christian’s stepmother and half-brother would come to play a significant role in his life. 

In 1766, Frederick V of Denmark-Norway died at the age of 42, leaving behind his 17-year-old son to take up his mantle. What set Denmark-Norway apart from many of its fellow monarchies, like Great Britain, was the fact that it was an absolute monarchy. The king was the supreme authority, not beholden to any government or any laws that limited his power. This was the role that the teenage Christian inherited from his late father, and it was not long before his peers were wishing they had a little more control and influence over the young monarch.

A young and impressionable Christian, who no doubt observed his father’s bad habits and behavior.

Teenage Dream

Much like Caligula and Charles VI, Christian appeared to have the makings of a great monarch when he first inherited the throne as a teenager. Late 19th century historian William Reddaway wrote that “there is abundant evidence that [Christian] impressed contemporaries as highly talented, and not a little that he showed ambition to use his talents well”. In other words, the young king seemed to have potential! But there are other sources that claim Christian was doomed from the beginning due to the poor example set by his father Frederick. Frederick was an alcoholic and lived a life not unlike 90% of the frat bros I went to college with – full of booze and women (although most guys in school were definitely lying about the women…). The fear that Christian would follow in his father’s footsteps may have been the reason why the teenage king was encouraged to get married so quickly after his ascension: surely having a wife would keep him in line. The lucky lady (or unlucky as we will see) was the fifteen-year-old sister of our buddy King George III of England, Caroline Matilda. It was an important marriage in order to solidify an alliance between Denmark-Norway and England and it was made official in November of 1766. Two years later, Caroline gave birth to a son, named (shockingly) Frederick. But unfortunately for Caroline, and for Denmark-Norway, it soon became clear that the marriage would not be enough to save Christian from the demons knocking on his door.

The Good Doctor

Sources are divided as to when exactly Christian’s behavior and demeanor began to noticeably change, with some saying it was before his wedding to Caroline and some pinpointing the shift as after. Regardless, the sources are all aligned on the fact that the major turning point came in 1768 during a tour of Germany when the young king came down with some type of physical illness. A doctor named Johann Friedrich Struensee was summoned to care for him and was so successful in nursing him back to health that Christian hired him as his personal physician. Interestingly enough, Struensee had spent a lot of time working with mentally ill patients throughout his career and seemed to have some pretty progressive ideas about how the brain worked. For example, “it was apparent to him that skull fractures and concussions could give rise to insanity” (Schioldann). So perhaps that made the doctor uniquely prepared to handle Christian’s increasingly bizarre and reckless behavior. In Struensee’s memoirs written in anticipation of his own execution (spoiler alert!!!), Struensee highlighted the following concerns that he had about Christian’s mental state:

  • “Peculiarity in his mind and character”
  • “Great guardedness and contempt of all those who were around him”
  • Unhappiness with being king, and at times a disbelief that he was actually legitimately the king
  • Easily angered if contradicted 
  • Would physically hurt himself 
  • Would break out into fits of violence 
  • Had a tendency to live in a fantasy world
  • Was paranoid that he was going to be assassinated
  • Would break into inappropriate and random laughter
  • Excessive partying 
  • Had “a bad habit that one could guess without naming it”

This “bad habit” that Struensee was referring to was, to put it delicately, Christian’s habit of pleasuring himself. Yes, it’s exactly what you are thinking. The king apparently did it so often that it was legitimately thought to be the source of his mental decline. In fact, the “official” diagnosis of Christian’s condition at the time was “masturbatic insanity”. In other words, he was indulging in his naughty hobby so much that it was literally driving him crazy. If only this was the simple explanation for men’s behavior…

Dirty Little Secret

Struensee was sure to point out in his writings that there were periods where Christian seemed to be his old self, capable of successfully and competently performing his duties as king. But during the majority of the time when he wasn’t capable, it was clear that he needed someone to step in. And the good doctor took it upon himself to be that person. This did not make him popular with the aristocratic crowd. As Christian declined, Struensee’s status continuously improved. In 1771 he was named “Privy Cabinet Minister”, an influential position in the king’s inner circle. It was a promotion that royally pissed off Struensee’s peers who believed that the doctor was getting a little too big for his knickers. But more importantly, it was widely viewed that Struensee had effectively made himself regent as a result of Christian’s unpredictable and unstable state. Because the Twin Realms was an absolute monarchy, any legislation or official decrees continued to have the king’s signature – but how much was Christian actually deciding and how much was Struensee pulling the strings from behind the scenes? 

Queen Caroline and Struensee tried their best to keep Christian’s condition a secret in order to protect the reputation of the crown, but the king’s late night partying and violent outbursts were hard to cover up. And amidst this drama, there was another secret the pair was keeping. Caroline gave birth in 1771 to Princess Louise Augusta, an occasion that would normally be met with celebrations for the safe delivery of the newest royal family member. But instead, little Louise brought a torrent of speculation upon the king’s wife and faithful minister. Now I hate to throw my girl Caroline under the bus without any hard proof, but the history books are pretty aligned on the fact that Caroline and Struensee were having an affair and that Louise was actually Struensee’s child. This was seemingly confirmed by Christian himself who at first refused to acknowledge the girl (he would later change his mind and Caroline would live her life with the status of a legitimate princess). If Struensee wasn’t popular before, this scandal DEFINITELY did not win him any friends. In fact, it probably cemented his fate and fueled his enemies – the greatest of which was Christian’s stepmother, the Dowager Queen Juliana Maria. And she was about to take evil stepmother to a whole new level. 

Full disclosure, I have not yet seen this movie about the love triangle between Christian, Caroline and Struensee. But according to The Hollywood Reporter it is “gripping, sumptuous and enthralling”!

Fatal Attraction

On January 17, 1772 the old queen orchestrated the arrest of Struensee and Queen Caroline, allegedly with Christian’s official approval. Both were charged with attempting to overthrow the king and obtain power for themselves. And of course there was the grievous crime of adultery with the king’s wife, which was not left out of the arrest warrant. It’s difficult to know if Christian was lucid enough at this time to actually have given the order for the arrest of his wife and councilor, or if he even wanted to for that matter. It is more likely that Juliana Maria and her son, Christian’s half-brother Frederick, were the brains behind the whole operation. After Struensee and Caroline’s arrest, a “trial” took place and they were found guilty. Both left behind writing during their time in prison in which they emphatically denied all of the charges. Caroline was convinced that she had been framed and that it would have been absolutely ludicrous for her to try to usurp power from her husband without any supporters (like Struensee, she had not made any friends after news of her affair broke). Struensee was sentenced to death and was publicly executed on April 28, 1772. Things with Caroline were a little more delicate because she was related to the King of England and executing her would have undoubtedly started a war. So instead, Christian had their marriage annulled and the disgraced queen was sent to live in Germany. Sadly she died there three years later from scarlet fever at the young age of 23. Christian never remarried. 

A recreation of Struensee’s arrest. As you can see he was taken in the middle of the night and was clearly not expecting company. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA.

With Struensee removed from the picture, the mother-son duo of Juliana Maria and Frederick filled the vacuum of power left by Christian’s mental decline. Juliana Maria ruled as de-facto regent until 1784 when Christian’s son came of age to be regent himself and kicked her out. But throughout all of the power struggles, Christian remained the actual king. In fact, Christian VII was king for another 36 years after the coup by his stepmother and half-brother. But what role did he actually play over those three and a half decades? Did he ever stop the one-handed parties? Tune in next week as we continue our spicy Scandinavian series and dive into the science of sex! Viewer discretion advised…


Aileen Ribeiro | Published in History Today Volume 27 Issue 6 June 1977. “The King of Denmark’s Masquerade.” History Today,

Caroline Mathilde, Queen. “The Queen of Denmark’s Account of the Late Revolution in Denmark [Electronic Resource] : Written While Her Majesty Was a Prisoner in the Castle of Cronenburgh; and Now First Published from the Original Manuscript, Sent to a Noble Earl.” In SearchWorks Catalog,

REDDAWAY, W. F. “King Christian VII.” The English Historical Review, XXXI, no. CXXI, 1916, pp. 59–84.,

S.M. Toyne | Published in History Today Volume 1 Issue 1 January 1951. “Dr. Struensee: Dictator of Denmark.” History Today,

Schioldann, Johan. “‘Struensée’s Memoir on the Situation of the King’ (1772): Christian VII of Denmark.” History of Psychiatry, vol. 24, no. 2, 2013, pp. 227–247.,×13476199.

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