Christian VII of Denmark

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Christian VII
Christian VII 1772 by Roslin.jpg
Portrait by Alexander Roslin, c. 1772
King of Denmark and Norway
Reign14 January 1766 – 13 March 1808
Coronation1 May 1767
Christiansborg Palace Chapel
PredecessorFrederick V
SuccessorFrederick VI
See list
Chief Ministers
Born(1749-01-29)29 January 1749
Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark
Died13 March 1808(1808-03-13) (aged 59)
Rendsburg, Duchy of Holstein
(m. 1766; div. 1772)
IssueFrederick VI of Denmark
Louise Auguste, Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg
FatherFrederick V of Denmark
MotherLouise of Great Britain

Christian VII (29 January 1749 – 13 March 1808) was a monarch of the House of Oldenburg who was King of Denmark–Norway and Duke of Schleswig and Holstein from 1766 until his death in 1808. For his motto he chose: "Gloria ex amore patriae" ("Glory through love of the fatherland").[1]

Christian VII's reign was marked by mental illness and for most of his reign, Christian was only nominally king. His royal advisers changed depending on who won power struggles around the throne. From 1770 to 1772, his court physician Johann Friedrich Struensee was the de facto ruler of the country and introduced progressive reforms signed into law by Christian VII. Struensee was deposed by a coup in 1772, after which the country was ruled by Christian's stepmother, Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his half-brother Frederick, and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg. From 1784 until Christian VII's death in 1808, Christian's son, later Frederick VI, acted as unofficial regent.[2]

Early life[edit]

Birth and family[edit]

Christian's birthplace, Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, c. 1750

Christian was the son of King Frederick V and his first wife Louise of Great Britain. He was born in the Queen's Bedchamber at Christiansborg Palace, the royal residence in Copenhagen. He was baptized a few hours later the same day. His godparents were King Frederick V (his father), Queen Dowager Sophie Magdalene (his paternal grandmother), Princess Louise (his aunt) and Princess Charlotte Amalie (his grand-aunt).[3]

Title page of the libretto for La Contesa dei Numi, Copenhagen, 1749

A former heir to the throne, also named Christian, had died in infancy in 1747, and the newborn was thus crown prince from birth; therefore, hopes were high for the future of the new heir apparent. Christoph Willibald Gluck, then conductor of the royal opera troupe, composed the opera La Contesa dei Numi ("The Contention of the Gods"), in which the Olympian Gods gather at the banks of the Great Belt and discuss who in particular should protect the new prince.[4]

At birth, Christian had two elder sisters, Princess Sophia Magdalena and Princess Wilhelmina Caroline, and the family was joined by another daughter, Princess Louise in 1750. In 1751, almost three years after Christian's birth, his mother Queen Louise died during her sixth pregnancy, just aged 27 years.[5] The following year, his father married Duchess Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who gave birth to Christian's half-brother, Prince Frederick in 1753.[6]

Childhood and education[edit]

Christian as a boy

After the early death of his mother, the prince was largely denied parental affection. His stepmother Queen Juliane Marie showed no interest in him, preferring her biological son Prince Frederick. Prone to debauchery and increasingly affected by alcoholism, the father himself became increasingly indifferent to the shy, sensitive child, who was also prone to epileptic seizures. Nonetheless, early historians state that Christian had a winning personality and considerable talent, but that he was poorly educated and systematically terrorized, and even flogged, by a brutal tutor, Christian Ditlev Frederik Reventlow, the Count of Reventlow. He seems to have been intelligent and had periods of clarity, but had severe emotional problems, possibly schizophrenia, as argued by Doctor Viggo Christiansen in Christian VII's mental illness (1906).[full citation needed]

Early reign[edit]


Coronation portrait of Christian VII by Jens Juel

After a long period of infirmity, Frederick V died on 14 January 1766, just 42 years old. At the death of his father, Christian immediately ascended the thrones of Denmark and Norway as their sixth absolute monarch, a few weeks before his 17th birthday. Later the same day, Christian was proclaimed king from the balcony of Christiansborg Palace. Christian's reign was marked by mental illness[7] which affected government decisions, and for most of his reign, Christian was only nominally king. His court physicians were especially worried by his frequent masturbation.[8] His royal advisers changed depending on who won power struggles around the throne.


Christian VII and Caroline Matilda dance at the wedding held at Christiansborg Palace, the image has inscriptions in French

Later the same year, the young king married his first cousin, the just 15-year-old Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, in a dynastic marriage. They had been betrothed already in 1765. Her brother, King George III of Great Britain, was anxious about the marriage but not aware that the bridegroom was mentally ill. They were married in a proxy wedding ceremony on 1 October 1766 in the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace in London, with the Princess's brother, Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany, acting as the representative of the groom. After her arrival in Copenhagen, another wedding ceremony took place on 8 November 1766 in the royal chapel at Christiansborg Palace. Marriage celebrations and balls lasted for another month. On 1 May 1767, Christian VII and Caroline Matilda were crowned King and Queen of Denmark and Norway in the royal chapel of Christiansborg Palace.[9]

The king visiting the newborn crown prince and the queen after the birth.

The marriage was unhappy, and after his marriage, the king abandoned himself to the worst excesses, especially sexual promiscuity. In 1767, he entered into a relationship with the courtesan Støvlet-Cathrine. He ultimately sank into a condition of mental stupor. Symptoms during this time included paranoia, self-mutilation, and hallucinations.[10] The king showed little interest in the queen and only reluctantly visited her in her chambers. Reverdil had to step in, among other things with love letters written in the king's name, in an attempt to make the marriage lead to a pregnancy and thus an heir to the throne.[11] On 28 January 1768, Queen Caroline Mathilde gave birth at Christiansborg Palace to the royal couple's probably only child, a son and heir to throne, the future King Frederick VI.


The progressive and radical thinker Johann Friedrich Struensee, Christian's personal physician, became his advisor and rose steadily in power in the late 1760s to de facto regent of the country, where he introduced widespread progressive reforms. Struensee was a protégé of an Enlightenment circle of aristocrats that had been rejected by the court in Copenhagen. He was a skilled doctor, and having somewhat restored the king's health while visiting the Schleswig-Holstein area, he gained the king's affection. He was retained as travelling physician (Livmedikus hos Kong Christian VII) on 5 April 1768, and accompanied the entourage on the king's foreign tour to Paris and London via Hannover from 6 May 1768 to 12 January 1769. He was given the title of State Councilor (etatsråd) on 12 May 1768, barely a week after leaving Altona. The neglected and lonely Caroline Matilda entered into an affair with Struensee.[12]

From 1770 to 1772, Struensee was de facto regent of the country, and introduced progressive reforms signed into law by Christian VII. Struensee was deposed by a coup in 1772 after which the country was ruled by Christian's stepmother, Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his half-brother Frederick, and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg.[13]


The king divorced Caroline Matilda in 1772 after they had produced two children: the future King Frederick VI and Princess Louise Auguste. Struensee, who had enacted many modernising and emancipating reforms, was arrested and executed the same year. Christian signed Struensee's arrest and execution warrant under pressure from his stepmother, Queen Juliana Maria, who had led the movement to have the marriage ended. Caroline Matilda, retaining her title but not her children.[citation needed] She eventually left Denmark and passed her remaining days in exile at Celle Castle in her brother's German territory, the Electorate of Hanover. She died there of scarlet fever on 10 May 1775 at the age of 23.[14]

Later life[edit]

profile relief by Nicolai Dajon (1748–1823)

Christian was only nominally king from 1772 onward. Between 1772 and 1784, Denmark-Norway was ruled by his stepmother, the Queen Dowager Juliane Marie, his half-brother Frederick, and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg. From 1784, his son Frederick VI ruled permanently as prince regent. This regency was marked by liberal, judicial, and agricultural reforms, but also by disasters of the Theatre War, French Revolutionary Wars, and the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, also at the same time the Norwegian separatist movement was on the rise.[15]

Death and succession[edit]

Christian VII's sarcophagus in Frederick V's Chapel at Roskilde Cathedral

Christian died at age 59 of a stroke on 13 March 1808 in Rendsburg, Schleswig. Although there were rumours that the stroke was caused by fright at the sight of Spanish auxiliary troops which he took to be hostile. Ulrik Langen, in his biography of the king, did not indicate that there was any external cause. He was buried in Roskilde Cathedral and was succeeded by his son Frederick VI.[16]


Contribution to science[edit]

In 1769, Christian VII of Denmark invited the Hungarian astronomer Miksa Hell (Maximilian Hell) to Vardø. Hell observed the transit of Venus, and his calculations gave the most precise calculation of the Earth–Sun distance to that date (approx. 151 million kilometres). Hell's companion János Sajnovics explored the affinity among the languages of the Sami, Finnish, and Hungarian peoples (all members of the Finno-Ugric language family).[17][18][19]

Cultural depictions[edit]

Kristian Zahrtmann: Scene from the court of Christian VII. History painting from 1873 at the Hirschsprung Collection.
Kristian Zahrtmann: Interior from the court of Christian VII. History painting from 1881 at the Hirschsprung Collection.

Christian VII, the story of his marriage, and his wife's affair with Struensee has featured in many artistic works:







  1. ^ Magne Njåstad. "Christian 7". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Frederik the Heir Presumptive". kongernessamling. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  3. ^ "Kongelig fødsel og dåb – om kirkebøgerne – fra Dansk Historisk Fællesråd" (in Danish). Retrieved 18 February 2013.
  4. ^ "Charlottenborg – et stop på din musikalske byvandring gennem København" (in Danish). The Royal Danish Library. Archived from the original on 15 September 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  5. ^ "Louise af Storbritannien". (in Danish). Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  6. ^ Holm, Edvard (1894). "Juliane Marie". Dansk biografisk Lexikon, tillige omfattende Norge for tidsrummet 1537-1814 (in Danish) (1st ed.). Copenhagen: Gyldendals Forlag. 8: 612.
  7. ^ Jan Sjåvik. The A to Z of Norway p.49
  8. ^ Ihalainen, Pasi (2011). Scandinavia in the age of revolution Nordic political cultures, 1740-1820. Farnham, Surrey, England Burlington, Vt: Ashgate. pp. 73, 74. ISBN 978-0754698661.
  9. ^ Monrad Møller, Anders (2012). Enevældens kroninger. Syv salvinger – ceremoniellet, teksterne og musikken [The coronations of the absolute monarchy. Seven anointings – the ceremonial, the lyrics and the music] (in Danish). Copenhagen: Forlaget Falcon. pp. 128–49. ISBN 978-87-88802-29-0.
  10. ^ Magne Njåstad. "Caroline Mathilde". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  11. ^ Engberg 2009, p. 37.
  12. ^ Magne Njåstad. "Johann Friedrich Struensee". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  13. ^ Terje Bratberg. "Christian 7". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  14. ^ Arvid Bornstein. "Celle". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  15. ^ "Jens Moestue – en patriotisk opprører?".
  16. ^ Ulrik Langen, 2008, s. 485ff
  17. ^ Kragh, Helge (2008). The Moon that Wasn't: The Saga of Venus' Spurious Satellite. Springer. p. 199. ISBN 3-7643-8908-7, ISBN 978-3-7643-8908-6.
  18. ^ Jacek Juliusz Jadacki, Witold Strawiński, Jerzy Pelc. In the World of Signs: Essays in Honour of Professor Jerzy Pelc, Rodopi: 1998, p. 459. ISBN 90-420-0389-8, ISBN 978-90-420-0389-7.
  19. ^ Mikko Korhonen. Finno-Ugrian Language Studies in Finland, 1828–1918, Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 1986. p. 226. ISBN 951-653-135-0, ISBN 978-951-653-135-2.
  20. ^ Meyerbeer & Letellier (1999–2004) I, 15 (Foreword by Heinz Becker) (1980) 250; Becker (1989), 108–9
  21. ^ Die Liebe einer Königin at IMDb
  22. ^ The Dictator at IMDb
  23. ^ King in Shadow at IMDb
  24. ^ A Royal Affair at IMDb
  25. ^ Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 6.


  • Reddaway, W. F. "King Christian VII," English Historical Review (1916) 31#121 pp. 59–84 IN jstor
  • Sjåvik, Jan (2010) The A to Z of Norway (Scarecrow Press) ISBN 978-0810872134

In Danish[edit]

  • Amdisen, Asser (2002). Til nytte og fornøjelse : Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737-1772) [For benefit and pleasure : Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737-1772)] (in Danish). Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag. ISBN 87-5-003730-7.
  • Barz, Paul (1985). Doktor Struensee : Rebell von oben [Doctor Struensee: Rebel from above] (in German). Munich: Kabel Ernst Verlag. ISBN 3-8225-0001-1.
  • Christiansen, Viggo. Christian den VII's sindssygdom. Odense Universitetsforlag, 1978
  • Dehn-Nielsen, Henning. Christian 7. Den gale konge. Sesam, Copenhagen, 2000
  • Den Store Danske encyclopedia. Danmarks Nationalleksikon/Gyldendal, Copenhagen, 1996
  • Engberg, Jens (2009). Den standhaftige tinsoldat – en biografi om Frederik 6 [The Steadfast Tin Soldier – a biography of Frederick VI] (in Danish). Copenhagen: Politikens Forlag. ISBN 978-87-567-9325-4.
  • Enquist, Per Olov. Livläkarens besök. Norstedts Förlag, Stockholm, 1999
  • Fjelstrup, August. Skilsmisseprocessen imellem Kong Kristian den syvende og Dronning Karoline Matilde.' Strubes Forlag, 1968.
  • Hansen, Norman Hall. Caroline Mathilde. Ejnar Munksgaards Forlag, Copenhagen 1947
  • Holm, Edvard (1889). "Christian VII". Dansk biografisk Lexikon, tillige omfattende Norge for tidsrummet 1537-1814 (in Danish) (1st ed.). Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandels Forlag. III: 511–515.
  • Holm, Sven. Struensee var her. Danmarks Radio, Copenhagen, 1981
  • Laing R. D. og Esterson A.:]z; Familieliv. Rhodos, Copenhagen 1974
  • Langen, Ulrik (2008). Den afmægtige : en biografi om Christian 7 [The Powerless: A Biography of Christian VII] (in Danish). Copenhagen: Jyllands-Postens Forlag. ISBN 978-87-7692-093-7.
  • Lauring, Palle. Historiske Portrætter. Aschehoug Dansk Forlag, Copenhagen 1960
  • Reverdil, Elie Salomon François. Struensee og det danske hof 1760-1772. A. F. Høst & Søn Forlag, Copenhagen 1917
  • Salmonsens Konversations Leksikon, Schultz, Copenhagen, 1926
  • Steenstrup, Joh. et al. (Ed). Danmarks Riges historie. Det Nordiske Forlag, Copenhagen

Primary sources[edit]

  • Alenius, Marianne, ed. (1986). Mit ubetydelige Levnets Løb. Efter Charlotte Dorothea Biehls breve (in Danish). Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanums Forlag.
  • Cedergreen, Svend, ed. (1975). Brev fra Dorothea. Af Charlotta Dorothea Biehls historiske breve (in Danish). Copenhagen: Politikens Forlag.

External links[edit]

Christian VII
Born: 29 January 1749 Died: 13 March 1808
Regnal titles
Preceded by Count of Oldenburg
Succeeded by
King of Denmark and Norway
Duke of Schleswig

Succeeded by
Preceded by Duke of Holstein
with Paul (1766–1773)