It has come to my attention that the Danish production company, Zentropa, are producing a movie about Queen Caroline Mathilde and her affair with Johann Struensee. It’s directed by Nikolaj Arcel, a Danish director, and is going to be in both English and Danish. In the role as Struensee, we have Mads Mikkelsen who is working on his international career, but who is already world famous in Denmark. Playing the queen is Alica Wikander, a Swedish actress and dancer.
The manuscript is based on either “Princess of the Blood” by Bodil Steensen-Leth, which I read to exhaustion as a teenager, or on “The Visit of the Royal Physician” by Per Olov Enquist. I’ve read the latter many times, and it is highly recommendable. I am not aware of whether the former is released in English.
The film is expected to premier in March 2012, so there is a wait still, but I look forward to hearing more and more about this film.
On the 8th of December 1766, the brother of George III, Caroline Mathilde, daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, married her Danish cousin in The Church of Our Lady (Vor Frue Kirke). She was fiften, her husband sixteen and a king of all of six months. Caroline Mathilde had grown up apart from her brother’s court, due to her mother’s widowhood and was by all accounts a sheltered, young woman who had been transplanted in a strange evironment under the expectation that she would easily understand how to maneouvre herself. Christian VII, her husband, had grown up in the midst of a court in turmoil, with his father’s wife more or less openly disliking him. He was subject to physical punishment throughout all of his childhood – which promptly ended when he was 16 and his father died. The young man suffered from nervous breakdowns, bouts of scizophrenia and mania. He was diagnosed with dementia praecox and was fully expected to recover from it as he grew older.
Of course, this is no fairy-tale story.
After the wedding Caroline found herself alone at a strange court, amongst courtiers who divided themselves into cliques. The young and eager men encouraged the king in his bouts of mania, and they would often wreak havoc upon the castles themselves and seek out prostitutes in the lower city, often those of sadomasochistic inclination. It is well-known that Christian VII sought the company of a prostitute aptly named Boots-Catherine in 1767 and he also famously declared that he could not love Caroline because “it was not fashionable to love one’s wife.” As Caroline became pregnant with their first child he sunk even deeper into debauchery, paranoia and hallucinations the result of which being that he would often harm himself, or seek our Boots-Catherine to physically demean him.
Meanwhile, Caroline had only the head of her household, Countess Louise von Plessen, to turn to as her husband’s stepmother the Dowager Queen Juliane Marie, discouraged the other ladies of the court to be openly friendly with the lonely girl. I’m not trying to make Juliane Marie sound like a monster, since she surely had many trials in her own life what with giving birth to a physically and mentally disabled son and trying to overcome the Danish people and her husband’s love for his firste wife Louise of England.
It is clear that with the mental disabilities apparent in both sides of the Danish-English family that yet another marriage between cousins was not a good idea, but that was of course never the concern for any royal family at the time.
In 1768, on the 28th of January, the now Queen gave birth to her first child, a son whom they named Frederik. It wasn’t long thereafter that Christian VII decided to go on a tour of Europe, leaving his wife at home alone with her infant child. He didn’t leave until after banishing Countess von Plessen from his court, and no amount of beggin on Caroline’s part could persuade him to take her back. I believe he may have accused her of having a negative influence on his wife. Christian left a court inhabitated by women and perhaps gave his wife a welcome break from his loud and boisterous friends who enjoyed rubbing Caroline’s nose in her husband’s affair with a prostitute. She and the Dowager Queen(s), as Christian’s grandmother, Sophie Magdalene, was still alive. They retired to Frederiksborg Castle for the summer, and came back to Copenhagen in the autumn where Caroline Mathilde attracted a scandal by taking walks in Copenhagen, where noblewomen would only ride carriages.
Christian came back from his travels on the 12th of January 1769, bringing with him a new doctor, Johann Friederich Struensee, whom he had found in Altona and decided to employ as his physician. At the time the smallpox was the single greatest threat towards children, high as well as low, and Caroline Mathilde, who were are afraid the disease would reach the castle asked the newly arrived doctor if he would inoculate her son. She did so knowing that the risks of doing so might be as great as her son contracting the disease itself. Thankfully, Frederik survived and Caroline developed a confidence with the doctor, with whom she began exchanging ideas for the raising of her son. The king also came to greatly confide in his doctor, as he by Struensee’s methods for the first time in years was able to calm his mind and lessen the need for self-mutilation.
Caroline Mathilde’s confidence in Struensee grew even deeper when he came to realise how despicably her husband treated her, and when he positively affected Christian to treat his wife with more respect. The result was a more amicable relationship between the young couple and a strenghtening of Caroline’s position at the court. As a show of gratitude Caroline appointed Struensee her secretary and Christian him his official reader.
The relationship between Struensee and Caroline quickly turned romantic as one might imagine when a neglected young girl, who’s never known romantic love, meets a “tall, dark stranger”. Well, you get what I mean. Struensee became her closest friend, a man with whom she could discuss her child intellectually, a man who understood how to handle a girl like her. They engaged in a sexual relationship that quickly became an official secret in the court. Even the king knew and condoned the relationship. This time is known as the Time of Struensee, his 16-month reign, where he also managed to exile the king’s hitherto closest friend and confidante, and take up that position himself. He became a minister in no time, and even quicker did he manage to send away the former Prime Minister, and dissolve the former Council. He formed a new one with himself as the King’s only minister. Even more shocking to the general public of Copenhagen was that he encouraged the Queen to ride out – dressed in a man’s clothing
In June 1771 the Queen moved to Hørsholm castle, north of Copenhagen, and there Caroline spent an idyllic summer with her lover and her court. It is a large possibility that she also moved away from the King and the rest of the court because the 7th of July Caroline Mathilde gave birth to a girl. Her daughter was christened Louise Augusta, after Caroline and Christian’s respective mothers, and although the King acknowledged the child as his Louise Augusta was often called “la Petite Struensee” around the court. Most modern historians seem to agree that Louise Augusta was, in fact, Struensee’s child.
And although we might agree that Struensee was little short of a usurper and a dictator, he introduced freedom of speech and disbanded an old law forcing commoners to stay where they were born lest they left and took with them their labour force. He also made sure the Crown Prince was given a modern upbringing after the principles of Rousseau. I’ve not studied said principles in length but I am left with the impression that his upbringing was a little too heavy-handed, or to put it another way it nearly killed the small boy and his early childhood was also seen to be the reason for his somewhat peculiar adult behaviour.
Struensee’s reign could never last, of course. In the heat of the moment both he and Caroline must have forgotten that there was a formidable force in their opposition. Juliane Marie, who most certainly believed in the divine right of kings, was hardly pleased at seeing a commoner take her husband’s throne, and Caroline Mathilde must have been perceived as nothing short of a common whore debasing herself in such a way as to have an extramarital affair. (Please note that I personally do not advocate slut-shaming). Christian couldn’t have cared very much, so long as he was distracted from the governmental work that he had never cared much for.
Juliane Marie, along with ministers Struensee had unseated, struck after a masked ball in the night between the 17th and 18th of January 1772, and they arrested Struensee and his main accomplice Enevold Brandt who were then presented with a warrant on them, signed by the King. The men of Juliane’s party also had orders to apprehend the Queen. Of course, a Queen of the realm could never be arrested but she was taken into a carriage in the dead of night, with her infant daughter but without her son, whom she hadn’t been allowed to see. They drove her, for how many hours I daren’t imagine, to Helsingør (or Elsinore, as Shakespeare called it) and put her into custody at Kronborg, an old, drafty, renaissance castle. There she was kept for a matter of weeks, while it her “sentence” was discussed by the Danish and English courts.
Meanwhile in Copenhagen the trial for Struensee and Enevoldt had begun, and it came to light that paid by Juliane Marie, Caroline’s ladies had left flour on her doorstep to see whether a man would visit her at night. They had also found garters amongst Struensee’s possessions that the maids swore had originated in Caroline’s boxes. He admitted to having an affair with the Queen in a pleading tone, and his confession made Caroline confess also. A confession she later drew back, perhaps because she realised that she would never be allowed to return either to Copenhagen or England if she confessed.
Struensee’s pleading did not help him and he was sentenced to death. His sentence was carried out the morning of the 28th of April. Although the King had signed the death sentence he was said to be unaware of what was happening to his former friend. Juliane Marie, however, witnessed it from her windows. The crowd also witnessing the execution were said to be quiet after the executioner held up Struensee’s severed head.
The next day the ladies who were with the Queen, would discuss it in every gory detail in front of an obviously distraught Queen. In May her own fate was finally decided. Her brother would not take her back, as she was obviously not going to be able to marry anyone, and neither would the Danish court so she was instead deported to Celle, in northern Germany which was under British rule. There she was finally re-united with Louise von Plessen and a small, but loyal, court. In 1774 she began plotting to be re-instated as her son’s guardian and she would write her brother, King George III of Great Britain, and ask him of her support.
She never was to be re-united with either of her children. Caroline Mathilde, a Princess of the blood of England, and former Queen of Denmark, died suddenly on May 10th 1775. She had contracted scarlet fever. She was buried in the church of St. Marie in Celle, and hasn’t been moved to Roskilde Church, the final place of rest for all Danish Kings and Queens.
Although she was no longer Queen at her death, she would still call herself Caroline Mathilde of Denmark until the end.
Juliane Marie’s influence, and he governed Denmark informally until his father’s death in 1808.
Louise Augusta was married to Duke Frederik Christian of Augustenborg in Sønderbog, southern Denmark. Her sons went on to try and dethrone Christian the 8th, who would go on to marry their sister, Caroline Amalie. You know, just any normal big, happy family.
Yes, I know this blog is called Writing The Renaissance and I promise you that it will actually contain content pertaining to said period. But it just to happens that I spent part of my summer holiday in Berlin, and once in Berlin I couldn’t resist visiting the old 17th century Charlottenburg Schloss, or Castle.
Charlottenburg was erected between 1695 and 1699, and originally named Lietzenburg, it was intended as a summer residence for Sophie Charlotte, wife of the Elector Frederick, who in 1701 went on to become King of Prussia, Frederick the First. It was upon Sophie Charlotte’s death that the castle was renamed Charlottenburg.
The castle is built in the Italian Baroque style, and seperated into two wings, which are nowadays called the Old Wing and the New Wing. And I will say, that if there was one thing that annoyed me upon visiting, it was that you had to be two admission tickets, one for the Old Wing and one for the New Wing. And they were both 10 euros, and then extra if you wanted permission to photograph. As a result, knowing that I’ll be back in Berlin soon enough, I only visited the Old Wing. I do regret not visiting the New Wing, but being a student I simply couldn’t defend spending 20 euros on admittance to one museum alone.
The downstairs of the Old Wing is kept in a very recognisable rococo-style, with everything that entails of gilded ceilings, tapestries and chinoiserie. Being that Charlottenburg is a summer residence it’s not a very big castle, and walking through the wing you’re following a very natural path, taking you through the private and public rooms of the royal family. It’s not incredibly big, and the reason for that is probably that the castle wouldn’t have been used for anything beyond socialising. At any rate, the castle has a very intimate feel about it.
As I mentioned the nod to China, the so-called chinoiserie, was ever-present throughout especially the rooms belonging to the female members of the dynasty. Above is a detail from a spinet where you can see Chinese ladies playing in their gardens, presumably at the Imperial Chinese court or something similar.
There even was an entire room, walls entirely covered by mirrors for some reason, where what I presume to be original china (I can’t really tell the difference, but as it used to be a royal castle I don’t think my assumption is entirely wrong), was proudly displayed in golden cases in displays like the one above. Yes, even complete with the figurines. Yes, all four walls. I admit that I did quite a double-take upon entering the room, which made a curator look at me like he thought I was rather odd, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.
Of course, no castle is complete without a chapel, and this is where the Prussians worshipped in the summer. I found it quite beautiful, though there seemed to be quite a lot going on to my Protestant eyes. I’m not averse, by any means, to decoration in churches, I actually find it quite beautiful, but I’m not used to it from visiting Danish churches.
On the opposite end to the altar and pew, there is this display and if anyone held any doubts as to whether the monarchs themselves believed in the divine right of the sovereign ruler, I think they can be put to rest quite gently upon seeing this.
This is a painting which hung in the first room you entered once upstairs – from the chapel you entered into a sort of grey area, with restrooms, and then out under the (very low, watch your heads!) staircase which was set in a very bright and white passageway in which there also hang some terribly racist paintings that I didn’t get any good shots of. Otherwise, there’d be a whole post on the Western perceptions of the Noble Savage, right there.
The painting portrays either a coronation or a wedding, but as there were no plaques on any paintings in the castle (by far, the most annoying thing), I couldn’t say. I think it’s a wedding though. I got really close to it, though, and it had some very lovely details of the crowd gathered.
The upstairs of the Old Wing were held in a decidedly different style than the downstairs, post-French Revolution and neo-classicist entirely. Where the downstairs was very colourful, lots of tapestries and such, the upstairs left a much paler and whiter impression, with white walls and so on.
I think this is Elisabeth of Bavaria again, and her ladies, dressed up Medieval ladies. Elisabeth’s husband became king in 1840, right when Romanticism in Europe was at its heights, and there was a raging fascination with all things Medieval. They look rather lovely, don’t they?
The German eagle, so sadly hijacked by Hitler and his Nazis, but lest we forget, it’s no different from the American bald eagle and nothing makes me happier than seeing Germans use it to express pride in their nation, for example in relation to the World Cup which had just ended (with Germany winning bronze and not gold as they should have, grrr) when I was in Berlin. Young Germans aren’t as afraid as their parents and certainly grandparents were, of using their flag and other national symbols nowadays, which is really a step in the right direction.
An Angelic Muse of some sort.
This is what his plaque says, anyhow. Homer, Horatius, Shakespeare, Dante, Calderon, Someone I Can’t Make Out, Goethe. When I explained this painting to a friend he casually remarked that it was the equivalent of hanging an Andy Warhol or somesuch, poster on your wall. It says a whole lot about you in the way that it communicates your desire to show how into art or literature you are. Either way, I had a good chuckle over this.
A lovely marble bust that I’m very sorry to admit that I can’t id. I love her nose, it’s so full of character. (If you know who it is, please let me know, I hate not knowing these things.)
The medieval headdress on this one and the complete lack of writing on the bust leads me to believe that this is a woman playing dress-up, or perhaps just an imagination based upon a courtier.
The upstairs also included a room where all the paintings where of the Virgin Mary, and one where all the paintings where of Roman locations, such as the a church with nuns praying, the Pope’s chair and a river with sailors sailing by a church in the morning. It had a slightly chaotic but quite lovable feel to it, altogether.
This is the view from the gardens, which are now a public park right on the Spree and quite a lovely spot indeed. How’s that for a first proper post?
Next time I’m in Berlin I vowed to myself to not only visit the New Wing but also Sanssouci, the German Versailles. Until next time, fair readers~